Mudhoney, “Almost Everything” (Sub Pop)
Mudhoney seem to be getting the hang of this rock thing. Thirty-five years into their shockingly consistent and great existence, the Seattle grunge* figureheads show little sign of the ravages that afflict nearly every rock group who's ever endured for over three decades.
If you're a loyal Mudhoney fan, you'll dig Plastic Eternity (out April 7) as much as any of their previous 11 studio albums. All the tried-and-true elements are present and in elite fitness.
Subtle deviations do creep in, though. “Souvenir of My Trip” receives electrifying jolts of synth ripples and wails that recall Quincy Jones's theme for Ironside, all within the band's familiar rugged guitar/bass riffing and Mark Arm's anthemic bellowing. Methodical, metronomic, and menacing, “Flush the Fascists” sounds like Devo on heavy downers, with Arm dropping his voice a few octaves and intoning about Rembrandts and Japanese bidets. What is not surprising is how lead guitarist Steve Turner peels off a nerve-fraying, corkscrewing solo that would make Butthole Surfers' Paul Leary grimace in approval. “Move Under” motors swiftly with almost the same beat as PiL's “Chant,” and Turner and Arm are in scorching form, with the former loosing all kinds of distorted-flute-y, Guess Who-like tones (get Bachman!).
The excellently titled “Tom Herman's Hermits” laments the scandal of the titular Pere Ubu guitarist not having a Wikipedia article and is almost as ominous as “Heart of Darkness.” “Little Dogs” finds Arm drawling Iggy Pop-like about his affection for diminutive canines over Mudhoney's most pleasant-sounding, radio-friendly tune. Is this the first time that Arm has expressed sincere joy on record? I think so. It's a respite from all the environmental-doom lamentations and anti-vax-idiocy-censuring happening elsewhere on Plastic Eternity. (All of which are totally justified, I hasten to add.)
The album’s first single, “Almost Everything,” boasts their most dance-floor-friendly rhythm, with wonderful bongo accentuation. But lest you think festivities beckon, Mudhoney keep the guitars and bass rocking and roiling with sinister intonations that seethe throughout, always on the verge of explosion. Meanwhile, Arm drops some of his heaviest existential musings: “Will forever end? How did forever begin? / Where do you begin and where do I end? / And if there’s an end, why did it all begin?” “Almost Everything” feels at once like a newish direction for Mudhoney and as familiar as your best friend's scowl.
*No so-called grunge band ever, ever wants to be classified as “grunge,” even if doing so ultimately boosts their career and bank account.
Mudhoney perform November 18 (21+) and 19 (all ages) at the Crocodile.
Suarasama, “Untukmu Yang Berperang” (Drag City)
Normally home to indie rock of various stripes, Drag City surprised its followers in 2008 by dropping Suarasama's Fajar di Atas Awan, an album that draws on qualities from the music of North Sumatra, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, India, Southeast Asia, and Pakistan. The group's creative core—multi-instrumentalist Irwansyah Harahap and vocalist Rithaony Hutajulu—worked as ethnomusicology lecturers at University of Sumatera Utara after they graduated from the University of Washington, and formed Suarasama in 1995.
Originally released in 1998, Suarasama's Fajar di Atas Awan is a spiritual song cycle that induces utmost bliss and calm. Sounding like a rarefied species of Anglo-American folk transposed to the Far East, the tracks on Fajar patter and lope by on an array of hand percussion while Harahap (who passed away in 2021 at age 60) plucks various string instruments (acoustic guitar, mandolin, Malaysian Gambus, and a self-built saz-guitar) into ornate, hypnotic patterns. Hutajulu's singing conveys a throaty pathos and feathery gravitas, and it's sometimes shadowed by Harahap's less-beautiful, weathered pipes. A reverent, gentle beauty animates every second of Suarasama's music.
Their 2013 full-length, Timeline (which receives its first reissue on May 12), somehow burrows even deeper into mystical sonic realms than Fajar. Resonant drones hum alongside intricately strummed string instruments while masterly singer Hutajulu pours out her soul with exquisite poise. Sung in a language most Western listeners won't understand, these pieces nonetheless will move you to your core. And the musicianship is breathtaking; a track such as “Journey” hits with the same mesmerizing complexity as a raga executed by Ravi Shankar and tabla player Alla Rakha. Fans of 2013 Stranger Genius Award winners for music, Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, will love this record.
The album's first single, “Untukmu Yang Berperang,” slinks in with a bass-y riff played on a Malaysian bowl lute (I think) that suggests Tuareg desert rock trance-inducement, as Hutajulu sings with a velvety confidentiality. Minimalist percussion clacks and pitter-pats over and under the unwavering, seductive lute riff, and it's love at first listen. If you're willing to open your mind and heart to it, your chakras will follow.