Hanna Benn, "Unfasten" (This Is Meru). Former Pollens vocalist/guitarist Hanna Benn moved from Seattle to New York a couple of years ago, which was a huge loss to the local music community. But at least we can feast on the fruits of her relocation and creative battery-recharging in the Big Apple. For example, "Unfasten," an orchestral ballad of steely fragility and insular beauty. Old mofos like me will think of gently psychedelic folkies like Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan for comparisons; younger mofos may flash to Julianna Barwick and Ian William Craig. Not to say that "Unfasten" is blatantly derivative of any of those fine artists; rather, it wafts in the same exalted air as their best works. (The lyrics come from a poem titled "Boneless Bird" by Melanie Noel from her 2013 volume, The Monarchs.) Looking forward to hearing the rest of Benn's album, DIVIDE, which comes out January 19.
Steve Reich, "Quartet: III. Fast" (Nonesuch). New Steve Reich material! Hallelujah! "Quartet: III. Fast" sounds at once elegantly urgent and preternaturally calm, a paradox that master minimalist composer Reich has been manifesting for many decades. Speaking of "Quartet," Reich says, "The piece is one of the more complex I have composed. It frequently changes key and often breaks off continuity to pause or take up new material. Though the parts are not unduly difficult, it calls for a high level of ensemble virtuosity. The form is one familiar throughout history: fast, slow, fast, played without pause. The slow movement introduces harmonies not usually found in my music." This composition—performed by International Contemporary Ensemble on two vibraphones and two pianos—will appear on the Pulse/Quartet album, out February 2 via Nonesuch.
WEEED, "Haze II" (Important). The stoner-rock vibe is strong with Bainbridge Island's WEEED, to nobody's surprise. But there's nothing laggard about "Haze II." They may be potheads, but the dudes in WEEED teem with good ideas, among them a gargantuan riff—as memorable as Black Sabbath's "Iron Man"—that would make Monster Magnet's Dave Wyndorf throw devil horns. If this is stoner-rock, it's some of the most interstellar of its species. Love WEEED's can(nabis)-do spirit. "Haze II" comes from the forthcoming THIS LP on Important.
Mask Off, "Staying Alive" (Bandcamp). Keeping with the theme of Seattleites who moved to New York City (although he now lives in LA), I present the latest effort by Sam Mickens, a singer/guitarist who used to front turbulent prog-rockers Dead Science in his Emerald City days. Mickens's latest project, the four-piece Mask Off, delves into not unfamiliar territory for the former Everyday Music employee (disclosure: we worked together there in the mid '00s): stormy, non-obvious art-rock shot through with Mickens's tremulous croon, which fluctuates from touching delicacy to domineering David Bowie-meets-Bryan Ferry drama. Rock rarely gets this ambitious anymore.
Shopping, "The Hype" (FatCat). Here's some classic post-punk rejuvenation from London's Shopping, who sound a lot like the wave of '00s-era DFA Records bands that worshipped ESG and Gang of Four with equal fervor. Shopping's bass-heavy attack, uptight funkiness, and dour female/male vocal interplay also echo those of Au Pairs and Bush Tetras, and that is always a great thing. "The Hype" is the lead single from Shopping's Edwyn Collins-produced The Official Body LP, out January 19.
Noteworthy December 15 album releases: Eminem, Revival (Aftermath/Shady); N.E.R.D., No_One Ever Really Dies (Columbia/i am OTHER); Jeezy, Pressure (Def Jam); Frank Turner, Songbook (Interscope); Asking Alexandria, Asking Alexandria (Sumerian); Brockhampton, Saturation III (EMPIRE); Linkin Park, One More Light: Live (Warner Bros.); G-Eazy, The Beautiful & Damned (RCA).