Clockwise from top left: Low (Photo: Shelly Mosman), Paul Weller (Photo: Nicole Nodland), and Spirit Of The Beehive (Emily Burtner)

Low goes fully experimental on Double Negative, while Philly’s Spirit Of The Beehive gains focus on Hypnic Jerks, and Paul Weller contemplates True Meanings.

Noname’s Room 25, Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final score, for Mandy, are also out today; look for our reviews around these parts soon.

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Low, Double Negative

[Sub Pop]
Grade: B-

The ambitious experimentalism of Low’s challenging new album Double Negative is simultaneously the best and worst thing about it. From the glitchy, “something’s wrong with the speakers” pulse of opener “Quorum” to the ambient minimalism of “The Son, The Sun,” everything here feels fresh, artistically invigorated, and unlike anything the band has done before. On the other hand, despite a few tracks that carry haunting and rich harmonies as strong as anything in Low’s repertoire (“Fly,” “Always Trying To Work It Out”), much of the album lacks the group’s signature talent for soaring harmonies and achingly raw emotion, instead submerging voices and melodies beneath layers of electronic fluctuations and hit-and-miss manipulations of tape and distortion. The result is fearless and impressive, but often lacking in the kind of inviting musicality that encourages repeat listening. It’s a headphones record that holds its audience at a distance: admirably fascinating, but rarely addictive.

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RIYL: Weirder Eno. Very little percussion. Normal Low played through a damaged sound system.

Start here: “Fly” strikes a compelling balance between the organic beauty of Mimi Parker’s voice and the studio trickery that permeates the record. [Alex McLevy]


Spirit Of The Beehive, Hypnic Jerks

[Tiny Engines]
Grade: B+

Philadelphia’s Spirit Of The Beehive has always derived great pleasure from incoherence, splintering its songs in ways that few of its peers would dare. The result of those efforts have been albums like 2017’s Pleasure Suck, which flipped between revelatory, pop-inspired experiments and frustrating sections where it felt as if the quintet were trying to get in its own way. Fortunately, on Hypnic Jerks, Spirit Of The Beehive has finally found a way to merge these fascinations. Songs like the title track and “Poly Swim” more concisely show the band’s power, and how it can turn three-minute songs into dense, expansive works. While Spirit still throws plenty of forks in the road, it’s gotten better at making sure these assorted pursuits converge at the end. Given that Hypnic Jerks was crafted to play as a mixtape, it’s impressive how it’s the most purposeful and focused record the band is yet to make.

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RIYL: Joan Of Arc. Acid flashbacks with a pleasant soundtrack.

Start here: The title song will give you the clearest picture of what Hypnic Jerks has to offer, just don’t expect any other track on the album to sound like it. [David Anthony]


Paul Weller, True Meanings

[Parlophone/Warner Bros.]
Grade:
B

Paul Weller is in a contemplative mood on his latest studio album, True Meanings, a sonic 180 from 2017’s eclectic A Kind Revolution. Driven by plaintive acoustic guitar and lush strings, True Meanings bends toward laid-back blues (“Mayfly”), sparse psychedelic rock (“Books,” which is buoyed by Lucy Rose’s lilting backing harmonies), and classic U.K. folk (“Come Along”). In fact, genre legends Martin Carthy and Danny Thompson add (respectively) meticulous picked guitar and genteel double bass to the latter. True Meanings’ other cameos are also evocative: The mortality-focused “White Horses” features lyrics from Erland Cooper of the London band Erland & The Carnival, which Weller interprets with a haunted, soul-stirring vocal performance. Forty-plus years into his career, the Modfather has once again ripped up his own playbook—and released a singular album.

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RIYL: Peaceful Sunday mornings in the country. Dusty ’70s U.K. folk LPs.

Start here: The quizzical opening track, “The Soul Searchers,” features shadowy acoustic riffs, quivering strings, and The Zombies’ Rod Argent adding Hammond organ scribbles. [Annie Zaleski]

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