Spiritualized leaves us (maybe, but probably not) with the essential And Nothing Hurt, while Chilly Gonzales’ Solo Piano trilogy ends on a contemplative note, and Chicago MC Joey Purp sounds better than ever on his third mixtape. Plus, we take a look at the latest from Mothers and Ava Luna.
Spiritualized, And Nothing Hurt
Painstakingly constructed alone in his home, And Nothing Hurt is arguably the purest and most sentimental music J. Spaceman, a.k.a. Jason Pierce, has crafted as Spiritualized since the swooning zeniths of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space—still fused to a razor-sharp edge of romantic apocalypticism, of course. 2008’s Songs In A&E and 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light found Spiritualized utilizing every style and tool formed in its nearly three decades of writing lush anthems, from over-the-top layering to stripped-bare minimalism, but Nothing Hurt is the band distilled into its most affecting essence. Sure, there’s still the uptempo Stones-esque groove of “On The Sunshine” and the kitchen-sink chaos of the eight-minute epic “The Morning After,” but these songs are surrounded by the near-flawless one-two punch of lullaby-rock openers “Perfect Miracle” and “I’m Your Man”; the ambling, Wilco-esque paean to moving forward “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”; and the sparse waltz “Damaged.” If this really is the final Spiritualized album, as Pierce keeps threatening, it’s one hell of a grand statement to go out on.
RIYL: Spiritualized’s deep catalog, which sounds like a blend of Velvet Underground, shoegaze, Britpop, orchestral pomp, and a lot of drugs.
Start here: Anywhere is solid, but opener “Perfect Miracle” really captures the album’s vibe. [Alex McLevy]
Ava Luna, Moon 2
New York’s Ava Luna has always found itself on the fringes, making funk-indebted dance music that is somehow routinely pegged as indie rock. It’s easy to see why, as the band skirts a line around influences like Talking Heads and Stereolab, but those only ever feel tangential to the band’s approach. On Moon 2, Ava Luna uses the album as a way to flaunt what it’s gotten so good at over the past decade. The title track flutters between both genres and grooves with a clear purpose behind it, and wisely, it never downshifts. That axiom holds true for the rest of Moon 2, as every song is a big, bold dance party, with only the superfluous intro and outro breaking up the action. As a result, Moon 2 plays more like a collection of standout tracks than the kind of album that needs to be taken in from beginning to end, but it’s effective all the same. Nearly every song could be slotted into a playlist at a club without screwing up the flow, and that’s an achievement in itself.
RIYL: Dirty Projectors. Talking Heads. Synth-drenched funk songs.
Start here: “Mine” distills the band’s best elements into one compact song. It shows a little bit of everything Ava Luna can do while still feeling focused and deliberate. [David Anthony]
Joey Purp’s 2016 effort, iiiDrops, was something of a sleeper, a disparate sampler of styles from a Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa compatriot that impressed even if it never exactly cohered. His distinguishing characteristic was the almost palpable hunger in his delivery, making each bar sound like a life-and-death salvo. This quality is clarified on the winning new Quarterthing, a minimalist live wire of a record, on which Purp’s half-sung words seem to glide atop the beats like a bird over scorching late-summer asphalt. His voice comes out at a faint, digital rasp, providing a sense of cohesion even as the production—from Chicago royalty like Nate Fox, Nez & Rio, and Knox Fortune—cycles through electro (“Look At My Wrist”), ramshackle live drums (“Godbody Pt. 2”), lean soul (“Hallelujah”), and a whole lot more. It’s Purp’s most singular and focused record by a long shot.
RIYL: Vic Mensa. Sir Michael Rocks. Iamsu.
Start here: The excellent single “Bag Talk” is more representative of Quarterthing’s overall feel, but goddamn if “Hallelujah” isn’t Joey Purp’s appeal crystallized, all charisma and hustle and bright Chicago brass. [Clayton Purdom]
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Chilly Gonzales, Solo Piano III
Canadian-bred, Europe-based pianist Chilly Gonzales might be best known for lending his expert ear as an arranger and producer for artists like Feist, Drake, and Daft Punk, but his own work over the past decade has been vital in repositioning keyboard composition in a modern context. The final part of his popular Solo Piano trilogy finds Gonzales, a.k.a. Jason Beck, in contemplative mode, with the brief tracks (all dedicated to various historical figures and musical inspirations) mostly following a quieter path—opening track “Treppen” sets the cinematic tone with its dark, hushed melody. Given Gonzales’ penchant for showmanship, the minimalist approach comes as a bit of a surprise, but the buildup of “Present Tense” (you can just picture the hand flourish off the keys at the end) and the dazzling arpeggios of “Blizzard In B Flat Minor” show off his virtuosic skill. A master player like Gonzales always has an ace up his sleeve: While those showier pieces grab attention on first listen, the more meditative ones slowly sink their hooks in, too.
RIYL: Jean-Michel Blais. Nils Frahm. Ólafur Arnalds.
Start here: With its shifting tones and nimble chord structure, “Present Tense” delivers more of Gonzales’ usual flair than the album’s more languid moments. [Tabassum Siddiqui]
Mothers, Render Another Ugly Method
As many of Kristine Leschper’s peers in the indie-pop realm give themselves fully to the pursuit of pop music (i.e., Japanese Breakfast and Mitski), Mothers are heading in another direction. Fans of the Georgia four-piece’s 2016 debut, When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, will likely be shocked by how little follow-up Render Another Ugly Method resembles its predecessor. Where the songs on Long Distance progressed in straight lines and paid homage to indie-rock conventions, Ugly Method is art rock indebted to the likes of Palm and even Deerhoof at its most muted. The album largely flips between deconstructionist rock songs (“Pink,” “Blame Kit”) and minimalist fare (“‘It Is A Pleasure To Be Here,’” “Mother And Wife”), and while both styles work well, they don’t always complement one another. All told, Render Another Ugly Method is a transitory step for Mothers, one that’s equally messy and compelling, showing that Leschper’s voice as a songwriter and singer remains her own, no matter how many effects she puts on top of it.
RIYL: Palm. Deerhoof. Animal Collective. Stereolab.
Start here: “Pink” plays to Leschper’s strengths while boldly showing her desire to break away from convention. [David Anthony]
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