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BeirutBEIRUT "NO NO NO" ($8.99, 4AD Records)

It’s been a long four years since the highly acclaimed band Beirut released any music. Front man Zach Condon and his horn section are held in such high esteem that they were part of the all-star band on Stephen Colbert’s inaugural Late Night Show. Like Colbert and his previous incarnation of a befuddled, conservative pundit, Beirut transforms its sound from heavy, Balkan folk to quieter, more straightforward indie pop. The disc took all of two weeks to record, a quick turnaround due to Condon admittedly attempting a loftier, orchestral offering to ultimately tossing it aside for this 29-minutes-in-total record.

The sparse "Gibraltar," with just Condon’s forlorn baritone, tom toms, tambourine and piano, is bright and optimistic, while the title track is a syncopated, brass-driven tune with a similar aesthetic. Condon’s been making music since his teens, so taking things in a new and simpler, more direct direction is perfectly fine. Those wanting a more sophisticated approach will like the dreaminess of "At Once" and "Fener," where the band switches gears mid-song from cheerful, toe tapping light rock to 70s-like keyboards and layered vocals. In total, this is a half-hour of great music Beirut fans will devour.

Eleventh Dream DayELEVENTH DREAM DAY "WORKS FOR TOMORROW" ($13.00, Thrill Jockey)

One of the best releases of 2015 comes from Chicago’s own Eleventh Dream Day who, nearly thirty years as a band, keep the indie-punk rolling on its powerful new release Works For Tomorrow. Anchored by the monster drumming of Janet Beveridge Bean, this disc, as a whole, feels in constant motion, never needing or wanting to pause for a moment.

The first track, "Vanishing Point," finds Bean pounding out a steady sprint while hollering, "I’m gonna take it slow!" drawing out that last word as the band does the polar opposite. With a now 5-member lineup, including second guitarist Jim Elkington (Tweedy), Eleventh Dream Day’s sound is grittier and more expansive as it grooves on the bluesy rocker "Go Tell It." "Requiem For 4 Chambers," an ode to the human heart and all of its gifts, both good and bad, is a deceptively tight tune with anthemic guitar licks. The combined, and all too brief, vocal stack of everyone near the end elevates the song out of rote rock formulas. Rick Rizzo and Bean’s pointed vocals on the outstanding "Cheap Gasoline" combine perfectly, leaving a lot of space for the instrumentals to travel urgently towards their intended destination.

LowLOW "ONES AND SIXES" ($12.00, Sub Pop Records)

Duluth-based LOW dives into the deep end of drama on their new effort Ones And Sixes. The trio of Alan Sparhawk, Mimi Parker and Steve Garrington has reached the highest of heights in terms of their creative collaboration. Dense, beautiful and brilliantly crafted are each and every song that deserves to be performed in the nearest cathedral. Flowing like dying prose, the lead track "Gentle" contains ethereal lines sung by Sparhawk and Parker as a mantra.

"Hunter/Watching/Waiting/Silence/Listen/Hello/Blessing/Treading/It doesn’t have to end this way" before Parker’s voice eventually slips away into an electronic abyss.

"No Comprende" is saturated in big, booming punctuations as a spaghetti-western score drifts in and out. On "Spanish Translation," Sparhawk expresses heartbreak so perfectly thanks to near desolate verses and a fury-filled chorus. But things become even more desperate on the pounding and driving "Landslide," where an eventual metal assault of guitars storms in like thunder. The sunniest LOW gets is on "No End," with its Beach Boy-style construction of multi-layered, descending vocals, instrumentation and effects. The final track "DJ" elevates the trio from their darkness with lyrics that tell the listener to forget institutions and the culture around us. Think for yourselves. "I ain’t your DJ/You’ve got to shake that."

Joan ShelleyJOAN SHELLEY "OVER AND EVEN" ($11.00, No Quarter Records)

A timeless collection of a dozen low-key folksongs from singer/songwriter Joan Shelley is no retread of hippie-era Joni Mitchell. Instead, Shelley sings with a warm thoughtfulness about nature and love alongside luminous, crisp guitars that recall the earliest days of the alt-country movement two decades ago. Over And Even is a perfect country-folk soundtrack for fall, thanks to tracks like "Brighter Than The Blues." With it’s Scotch-Irish skipp rhythm, Shelley sings "Well, the leaves have fallen/The season’s past/I’ll go west, some place new/Where the lights are low/So the stars can glow/Brighter than the blue." The flow is mesmerizing as a sparkling tambourine keeps time. Fellow Kentuckian Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Billy) joins Shelley on vocal harmonies on "Stay On My Shore." Perfectly matched thanks to their refined sensibilities, the pair deliver a bittersweet tale of love and longing that is pure splendor. "Not Over By Half" is a high, lonesome track about how much more life ahead we often forget we have, while the title track is a sophisticated ode to mornings and nights that meanders along, no rush to get anywhere except to a spot on a comfortable front porch.

Iron and WineIRON & WINE/BEN BRIDWELL "SING INTO MY MOUTH" ($18.99, Black Cricket/Brown Records)

This cover album from Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell is a stroke of genius. No other front men in music today share such a similar, earthy 70s rock aesthetic. The album title comes from a lyric in the Talking Heads song "This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)," which is the first of a dozen covers. Minus the Heads’ world-beat nihilism, Bean and Bridwell transform this into an entirely new tune, brimming with warmth and sensitivity, pedal steel guitar and a moseying beat. On Sade’s emotionally raw and bare R&B hit "Bullet Proof Soul," the pair fill in the empty spaces with lengthier vocals, haunting strings and drums. The rest of the album is filled with plenty of 70s throwbacks…Ronnie Lane’s "Done This One Before," John Cale’s "You Know More Than I Know" and Marshall Tucker Band’s "Ab’s Song," a heartbreaking elegy that is tear inducing. A waltzy spin is put on Bonnie Raitt’s "Any Day Woman" that is 100%, pure Graham Parsons. Bridwell’s vocals are so like the Flying Burrito Brothers listeners will get chills thinking Parsons has been resurrected.


Gary Clark JrGARY CLARK JR. "THE STORY OF SONNY BOY SLIM" ($9.99, Warner Bros.)

Blues guitar phenom Gary Clark Jr. kicks off his sophomore effort with a brief a cappella duet of an old gospel song with an elderly gentleman. Somewhere, by the side of a road, the two can be heard harmonizing "I’ll keep bringing soul to Jesus/By the service…the service that I bring." Clark’s hymn melds right in to the first track ,"The Healing," a sultry ode to the pain-relieving properties of music, which, is most assuredly, Clark’s main religion. All genres are welcome here...rock, blues, R&B, hip-hop, gospel. Standouts include "Hold On," a 70s soul throwback, and "Star" thanks to its grinding, funky groove.

Beach HouseBEACH HOUSE "DEPRESSION CHERRY" ($12.00, Sub Pop)

The Baltimore duo Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally are back with their 5th full-length release, an all-out airy collection of sparse instrumentation and twee melodies where drums take a deep backseat. The track "Sparks" is a layered confection filled with wisps of Legrand’s vocals over electronic notes seamlessly stitched together. "Space Song" floats and dances in an atmosphere of a girl observed in post-break up, with the hope of eventually falling "back in place." Beach House swells with bright pops of electronica and breathy vocals throughout, transforming their style in to a sweet Euro-techno endeavor.

Jason IsbellJASON ISB "SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE" ($13.98, Southeastern Records)

Singer/songwriter Jason Isbell comes out swinging with optimism on the down-home, happy "If It Takes A Lifetime," the first track on his newest release. The former Drive-By Trucker’s Alabama country and soul rock roots shine through as he sings a lot about living and learning with intention ("24 Frames" and "The Life You Chose"). Isbell strums his guitar and gently sings about faulty relationships he observes and wants to avoid on "Flagship" and appeals to erase his less than sober and "socially impaired" former life on the jaunty "How To Forget." Having recently become a father with his wife, musician Amanda Shires who performs throughout, Something More Than Free is the brightest and most life affirming of Isbell’s output so far. / Issue 175 - September 7335
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