Night (Iamsound Records) Beautiful, visceral, and strange,
King Night, the first full-length album by Chicago/Traverse City darkwave/chop ’n’ screwed hip-hop trio Salem, is the kind of soundscape that requires a sharp and sturdy pair of mental cleats. Often referred to as “drag” (not campy drag; more like a real bummer or a suicidal sloth on ’ ludes) and “witch house,” the music of John Holland, Jack Donoghue, and Heather Marlatt is a stew of all things crunky, church-y, cryptic, and creepy. (It’s something Tea Party Senate candidate and admitted satanic-picnic dabbler Christine O’Donnell might have hummed in the shower during her hazy college days). Organs and synths and Marlatt’s dense and echo-laden voice are layered over fuzzed-out guitars; staccato drum machines; bursts of stereo-system-wrecking bass; Donoghue’s horrorcore-like rhymes; and Holland’s woozy vocals. Samples, such as a choir singing “Silent Night” on the title track and warbled vocal loops from origins unknown, slice through the album’s relentless shoegaze drone like a hot scythe through a happy daydream. The whole album sounds and feels like a forbidden ritual, recalling the ceremonial air of music by John Balance’s Coil and Genesis P-Orridge’s Throbbing Gristle (the early years). King Night is rife with witchy ways. It may be a challenge for many ears upon first listen, but Salem eventually casts its marvelous spell, and leaves you hypnotized, if not also a little depressed. — Rob DeWalt
ANTONY & THE JOHNSONS Swanlights (Secretly
Canadian) I’ve often wondered why Antony & the Johnsons so often get lumped in with indie rock — and not only because they don’t sound particularly indie rocky. Antony’s evocative soprano should appeal to fans of opera or crooners, while the Johnsons are essentially a jazz ensemble. This isn’t a musical world that’s abrasive or indifferent in the slightest; this is one that envelops and overwhelms you emotionally — it’s an open invitation to music fans of all stripes. On Swanlights, Antony’s infatuation with death and rebirth is immediately rekindled with the opener, “Everything Is New” (a line that is reprised near the album’s end). And from there he continues to explore themes of transition. On “Ghost,” he implores a ghost to leave his heart and go into the light, and it comes off as Shakespearean in its anguish and imagery. An album highlight is the experimental and arresting “I’m in Love,” which boasts rich bass and twinkling synthesizers, manic hand claps, and an elegant string section. The subjects of these transformations are universal and vary from song to song — the birth of a child, the loss of a parent, newfound love, and the withering of a relationship. Antony’s music is a continual revelation; it feels so warm and comforting even when everything is new.
— Robert B. Ker LYDIA CLARK AND THE GOSPEL RYDERS It’s a Brand New Day (Crazy Red Head Productions) As a child, Lydia Clark played piano for services in her father’s church in Kansas. In New Mexico since 1964, she has performed rock, jazz, and country, as well as blues and gospel, and has written six children’s operas. She possesses a fine voice, strong and clear, for gettin’ out the gospel message. On It’s a Brand New Day, she does the tradition proud on nine songs, often in call-and-response mode with backup singers Hillary Smith and Joanie Cere. There are lots of other familiar names here, among them the singer’s brother, drummer Mark Clark, and bassist Justin Bransford, guitarists Ramon Bermudez Jr. and Pat Malone, and trumpeter Paul Gonzales. Six of the songs were written by Lydia Clark. The disc opens with the funk-groove title song. Clark waxes optimistic on a strong beat set up by Bransford and brother Mark with brass accents from Gonzales and saxophonist Glenn Kostur, and a fiery guitar solo by Dimian Disanti. The leader’s bluesy “Love One Another” and “King of Kings” are standouts, as are vital covers of Sister Rosette Tharpe’s 1940s song “Up Above My Head”; “Precious Lord,” a gospel standard by Thomas A. Dorsey; and, going way back to the mid-19th century, “Abide With Me” by Henry Francis Lyte. This is a short album, just shy of 35 minutes, but it’s full of good music and good feeling. — Paul Weideman
STEVE REICH Double Sextet and 2x5 (Nonesuch) When Steve Reich won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Double Sextet, the only real puzzlement was why he hadn’t received the award sooner. Of the four composers who defined musical minimalism in the 1960s — Reich, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass — Reich has traveled the furthest in his musical development, and at least two of his works,
Tehillim (1981) and Different Trains (1988), have long qualified as classics. When he was approached about composing a piece for the much-applauded ensemble Eighth Blackbird, Reich hesitated: each of the group’s six musicians plays a different instrument, but Reich’s style depends on using multiples of identical instruments to play against one another, often in canon. His solution was to write a piece in which the group would prerecord one part and then play a second part live, effectively overdubbing itself. The result is splendid on this first recording of the piece, in which upper voices often sustain chords above the pulsating bass line. No less effective is 2x5 (from 2008), in which five musicians from the Bang on a Can collective similarly play against a recording of themselves. Its instrumentation for a rock ensemble yields a still brighter timbre, and its ceaseless energy is hugely invigorating. Play this shimmering CD while you’re doing your housecleaning, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you finish. —James M. Keller