Jackie Shane, “Sticks and Stones” (Numero Group). A pioneering transgender soul-singing dynamo, Jackie Shane has remained a cult figure for decades (she eluded my radar, somehow, and I pay close attention to these things). Based in Toronto, Shane blazed briefly but brightly in the '60s, her febrile, heartfelt vocals strutting over lean, sizzling R&B foundations. Numero Group does the world a solid by compiling her most scorching sides and unforgettable live performances full of fierce between-song banter for Any Other Way. Her covers of "Money," "Shotgun," "Knock on Wood," and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" give you an idea of the territory she was working. The irrepressible survivor's anthem "Sticks and Stones" kicks off the collection with a speedy gush of R&B that would make Little Richard dizzy. Jackie Shane—where the hell have you been all our lives?!
No Age, “Soft Collar Fad” (Drag City). Now off Sub Pop and signed to Chicago's eternally cool Drag City, No Age return from a three-year hiatus with an instantly winning noise-pop jammer. "Soft Collar Fad" is an effortlessly brilliant, concise reminder of why No Age blitzed so many indie-rockers' sweet spots during their FatCat/Sub Pop years. The song follows in the storied tradition of the Buzzcocks and Hüsker Dü's swarming melodic ebullience, topped off with a guitar tone that recalls Sterling Morrison's ravaged-raga riffs near the end of the Velvet Underground's "Run Run Run." Welcome back, weirdo rippers. ("Soft Collar Fad" comes from the album Snares Like a Haircut, out January 26, 2018.)
Patrick Cowley, “One Hot Afternoon” (Dark Entries). Dark Entries' recent excavations of Patrick Cowley's late-'70s/early-'80s soundtracks for gay porn films have yielded a treasure trove of sonic pleasure. The pulsing disco-funk opuses and sinister atmospheres Cowley—who also produced hits for disco superstar Sylvester—consistently cranked out to soundtrack dudes getting it on have transcended their original functional purposes and become engrossing for listeners of all sexual orientations—inside and outside of the bedroom. "One Hot Afternoon" comes from the third posthumous collection of Cowley's XXX-rated output, Afternooners, following School Daze and Muscle Up. It's a girthful slab of slo-mo, methodical funk, with a majestic, spacey melody whirling above the bumping and grinding rhythm. And it deserves all of the boners.
Walt Wagner, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt (Sub Pop). Here's one of the quirkier developments in Sub Pop's eclectic roster: Walt Wagner is a pianist known for his long stint at fancy Seattle restaurant Canlis. One night a couple of years ago, two of the label's execs dined there, and caught Mr. Wagner playing some material that you don't normally hear in places in which you can't afford to eat. The intrigued Sub Pop reps inquired about the adventurous ivory-tickler, and they eventually hashed out an agreement to have Wagner record covers by artists not typically admired by patrons who rank among the Fortune 500. Last October, Wagner cut the Reworks LP live at Canlis. In addition to My Bloody Valentine's "I Only Said," the Left Banke's "Desiree" (fantastic choice!), Prince's "Purple Rain," and Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love," Wagner tackles DJ Shadow's classic Endtroducing... joint, "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt." It's an ideal showcase for Wagner's nimble fingers, as he evinces the spine-tingling suspense from Shadow's original, which of course was built entirely from samples of songs by Jeremy Storch and Mort Garson. Layers upon layers of meta-creation going on here, but the result is gripping, in a very classy, cutlery-clinking kind of way—sans Shadow's head-nodding beats.
Black Hat, “Cracked” (Hausu Mountain). Former Seattle electronic musician Black Hat (aka Nelson Bean) moved to Oakland a few years ago and now is studying medicine in New Orleans, but he's still making music for the excellent Hausu Mountain label, which issued the cassette Impossible World in September. It reveals a less harsh side to Black Hat's production style, exploring the kind of alien-anomic melodies and intricate beat origami that made many of the best IDM artists of the late '90s and early '00s so engaging. "Cracked" is rhythmically kinetic, Plutonian exotica that bears some of the hallmarks of Warp Records' finest material (think Autechre in gentle mode, Disjecta, Plone, etc.). It's cool to see Bean revealing another facet of his creativity with so much finesse.
Noteworthy October 27 album releases: Bootsy Collins, World Wide Funk (Mascot); Snoop Dogg, Make America Crip Again (Doggy Style); Ty Dolla $ign, Beach House 3 (Atlantic); Weezer, Pacific Daydream (Crush Music); Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights (Matador); Willie Nelson, Teatro: The Complete Sessions (Modern Classics); John Maus, Screen Memories (Ribbon Music); Majid Jordan, The Space Between (OVO Sound/Warner Bros.); Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone (ATO); Theory of a Deadman, Wake Up Call (Atlantic/Roadrunner); Darlene Shrugg, Darlene Shrugg (Upset the Rhythm).