Don't Miss Out on New Records from Cate Le Bon, Animal Collective and Erin Rae
Early February is a nice surprise with enough notable releases to last a month.
Sometimes a week is so stacked with outstanding releases that by the time I get through everything, the album featured in Tuesday’s new music review ends up connecting less once I’ve had time to catch up on everything. This past Friday was by far the most significant release day of the early year and will probably go down as one of the more notable offerings of 2022.
So, while the singles from Mitski’s Laurel Hell may find their way to a year-end songs list, you can’t miss these three records.
Cate Le Bon - Pompeii
Writing in solitude may not be a new technique for Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon, but the pandemic pushed her to new levels when writing and recording her exquisite new record, Pompeii.
Holing up in a Cardiff house, Le Bon took things to extremes by sealing doors to give herself an “uninterrupted vacuum.” While Le Bon is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist, Pompeii is written entirely on bass, which dominates with snaky city pop grooves throughout. Produced and mixed by longtime collaborator Samur Khoja, sultry saxophones and clarinet accent the songs from Euan Hinshelwood and Stephen Black and Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa does excellent work at complimenting Le Bon’s bass riffs.
Like Laurel Hell, Pompeii is an exercise in 80s synth work, full of Yamaha DX7s. Still, Le Bon continually casts her own sound that firmly locks the sounds into this early decade, like the cathartic “Moderation” or floating refrain of “Harbor.” Other highlights include the Station to Station-era Bowie sounds of “Running Away” and the roaming closer “Wheel,” but Le Bon’s Pompeii demands complete listens.
Pompeii is available now on Mexican Summer.
Animal Collective - Time Skiffs
Experimental indie icons Animal Collective are back, and they sound pretty damn good while staring at the beginning of their third decade. Confronting middle age, parenthood, and modern worries, the Baltimore band sounds as comfortable as they have been in ten years. One could chalk up this notion to all four members playing a significant role on Time Skiffs, the first time the group has been complete since 2012’s uneven Centipede Hz.
Besides experimental synth work, harmonies are what make Animal Collective stand out, and Time Skiffs has them in spades. The lead single “Prester John” is as pastoral as anything from Fleet Foxes, but the shimmering synths and Avey Tare’s funked-up bass lift the song to a completely different indie pop arena. Time Skiffs’ nucleus is the seven-minute “Strung with Everything,” a song that starts with a dreamy soundscape before blossoming into the most tolerable Mike Love-led Beach Boys effort. Riffing on Martha and the Vandellas, Tare quips, “the summer’s here and the time is crying, it spent all year in your head,” and turns climate change into a love song for the end times.
The record starts with the hottest run of the year so far, through Scott Walker tribute, “Walker” and “Cherokee,” which finds Tare meditating on modern America and self-improvement while acknowledging the cultural appropriation in his mode of transportation. Time Skiffs tails out in its last quarter, which curbs the album away from perfection, but I may reevaluate that stance with more listens.
Time Skiffs is available on Domino Records.
Erin Rae - Lighten Up
It was her cover of Gene Clark’s “Some Misunderstanding” that immediately piqued my interest in Erin Rae and led to many listens of her second album, Putting on Airs. A few years later, the Nashville singer-songwriter is back with a delightful set of timeless songs on Lighten Up, produced by Check This Out! favorite Johnathan Wilson, who assists with some cosmic country magic.
By building upon her Tennessee roots and adding warm California sunshine, Rae’s sound makes a west coast leap on Lighten Up, recorded at Wilson’s Topanga Canyon studio. “Can’t See Stars” blurs the line between country standards and current indie thanks to its steady backbeat and pedal steel guitar while featuring backing vocals from Kevin Morby. Unexpected orchestral arrangements and an array of pianos and Wurlitzers add new layers to Rae’s folk repertoire, like on breakup ballad “Gonna Be Strange,” which transports her a seventies AM radio.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make a damn good record, and Erin Rae has done just that with Lighten Up.
Lighten Up is available now on Good Memory/Thirty Tigers.