Belle & Sebastian, "We Were Beautiful" (Matador). Disclosure: I've only owned If You're Feeling Sinister (I'm a sucker for a song title like "Stars of Track and Field"), and haven't followed bookish Scottish pop charmers Belle & Sebastian very closely over the ensuing two decades. Maintaining this detachment toward them, I've respected their subtle craftsmanship while not getting wholeheartedly enamored of it. But every so often, B&S will come along and woo me for a few minutes. "We Were Beautiful" is another example of their mellow aural seduction. The song contrasts kinetic, quasi-drum & bass rhythm with dreamy synth sighs and soothing pedal steel before it ascends into a celebratory, horn-blaring epiphany on the chorus ("We were beautiful before this went down/We were beautiful before the years came tilting upside down/We were beautiful before we got wise") that recalls the Boo Radleys circa Wake Up!. Recorded in Glasgow and produced by B&S and Brian McNeill, "We Were Beautiful" is slated to appear on a release later this year. (Belle & Sebastian perform at the Paramount August 8 with Big Thief.)
Mick Jagger, "Gotta Get a Grip" (Polydor/Interscope). Fuck me running, I like a Mick Jagger solo joint in 2017? Admittedly, my expectations re: new material by the Rolling Stones frontmouth are catastrophically low, and have been for decades. So imagine my surprise when "Gotta Get a Grip" hipchecked my biases with its gritty swagger of methodical funk that echoes perhaps the Stones' last potent dance track, Tattoo You's "Slave." Yeah, "Gotta Get a Grip"'s lyrics are boilerplate "multi-millionaire sociopolitical observation-zak™," but they're swept away in the sexy juggernaut of glinting, wah-wah'd guitars and deep, churning rhythm that's sounds like Big Audio Dynamite, if they were recording for On-U Sound. Hell, it's sure better than Vinyl.
Haunted Horses, "Assembly" (Cerial Social). If Seattle's burgeoning post-punk movement has a standard bearer, it's probably Haunted Horses. The duo of drummer Myke Pelly and guitarist Colin Dawson have been clanging and banging with doomsday vigor over the last five years. Their new "COME" EP proves they're not waning at all in this important endeavor. The new material's a continuation of Haunted Horses' project to make rock grate again. "Assembly" rumbles and judders with the corrosive power of early Killing Joke. It's a steel-gray alarm bell to wake up and smell the smoldering rubble.
James Elkington, "Wading the Vapors" (Paradise of Bachelors). The need for melancholy folk rock made by lugubrious-voiced white dudes persists. A medium-sized, rabid demographic demands endless iterations of the consoling, delicate/intricate balladry of Nick Drake, Michael Chapman, Bert Jansch, and their ilk. James Elkington strums acoustic guitar and glumly intones in this vaunted vein with aplomb on his debut solo album, Wintres Woma. "Wading the Vapors" is a spidery standout that lifts you up by bringing you down. Yep, that old paradox. It still has juice in it, shockingly. Fans of Daniel Bachman, Ryley Walker, and William Tyler may also dig what Elkington's laying down. (Elkington performs at Neumos August 4 with J Mascis and Steve Gunn.)
F ingers, “All Rolled Up” (Blackest Ever Black). Nonplace exotica—an offspring of the music created by geniuses like Jon Hassell and Haruomi Hosono—is one of my favorite made-up genres. F ingers (not a stellar band name, tbh) shimmer neatly into this imaginary category with "All Rolled Up." The track sounds like disco you might hear inside a seashell—distant, mysterious, twitchy, redolent of ether and agua. On further inspection, it recalls the tragically overlooked Talk Talk side project .O.rang, its humid instrumentation contrasting with Carla dal Forno's eerily dispassionate female vocals. Spellbinding! “All Rolled Up” is a taster for the Awkwardly Blissing Out album, due out in August.
Noteworthy July 28 album releases: The Fall, New Facts Emerge (Cherry Red); Arcade Fire, Everything Now (Columbia); Vic Mensa, The Autobiography (Roc Nation); Alice Cooper, Paranormal (Ear Music); Ben Gibbard, Bandwagonesque (Atlantic/Canvasback/Turntable Kitchen); Lushloss, Asking/Bearing (Hush Hush); Annie Hart, Impossible Accomplice (Uninhabitable Mansions); Golden Retriever, Rotations (Thrill Jockey); Umm, Double Worshipper (Majestic Litter); Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders, Garcia Live, Vol. 9: August 11, 1974, Keystone Berkeley (ATO).