Ben LaMar Gay, "Muhal" (International Anthem). Ben LaMar Gay's Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun has been receiving a lot of enthusiastic critical attention lately, and it's well-deserved. A collection of tracks culled from seven unreleased albums recorded over the last seven years of furious creativity by the Chicago-based artist, Downtown Castles is full of bold and unusual rhythms and textures that bridge the worlds of jazz, abstract electronic music, minimalism, and Brazilian funk with stunning distinctiveness. Listening to its 15 tracks, I had a hard time picking just one to feature here. The deeper you get into the record, the more you understand the connection LaMar Gay has with conspirators such as Joshua Abrams, Nicole Mitchell, and Bitchin Bajas—some of America's foremost sonic adventurers. "Muhal" sounds like a bizarre collab between jazz iconoclast Henry Threadgill and hiphop maverick Divine Styler, with pressurized, punch-press beats out of the industrial-techno scene. It's unlike anything I've ever heard—and I've heard a lot of music over the last 50-plus years.
Beach House, “Black Car” (Sub Pop). I haven't liked a Beach House song in, like, forever. But this Sonic Boom-produced gem from their new album, 7, strikes just the right muted, spooky chord that appeals to the Broadcast/Melody's Echo Chamber fan in me. There's also a subliminal patina of ambient wonder haloing "Black Car" that recalls 10cc's "I'm Not in Love," which is always a bonus. Victoria Legrand is in prime ice-queen form here. For once, a Beach House track has made me do something besides shrug or yawn.
Last Poets, “Understand What Black Is” (Studio Rockers). Last Poets are back—well, Umar bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole are, anyway; the group's personnel's frequently fluctuated over the decades. And if these griots are not testifying with the flammability they did nearly 50 years ago, well, being in one's 70s will temper your fury, no matter how revolutionary you once waxed. Cited by many rappers as key progenitors of the form, Last Poets mastered a declamatory style of rhythmic oratory over stark, hand-percussion beats that facilitated effective delivery of their urgent messages about oppression, racism, capitalism, and the splendors of black thighs. Records like Last Poets and This Is Madness flung a vivid, visceral street poetry that can't not leave an enduring impression. By contrast, the lead title track from Last Poets' Understand What Black Is is a relatively laid-back yet steadfast slice of loping reggae that exudes pride for black people's essential positive qualities, at a time (still!) when bigots are calling the cops on black folks for the most ludicrous, innocuous reasons and police brutality toward POC continues unchecked. "Understand what black is/The source from which all things come/The security blanket for the stars... It's not a color/It's the basis of all colors."
Zomes, “Ringdans” (Near Unison). Zomes' music seems to be beamed down from a superior, calmer world where beauty, peace, and reason reign. Consisting of former Lungfish guitarist Asa Osborne (Baltimore) and Hanna Olivegren (Stockholm), Zomes create otherworldly folk hymns that have roots in sacred minimalism. There's something supremely precise and methodical about their compositions, yet they radiate a warm tranquility. All of their records provide bullet-proof sanctuaries against harsh reality: Trust me, I've road-tested them. "Ringdans"—off The First Stone, out May 14—is the epitome of mellifluity, an undulant dream of a sigh of a phantasmal melody that you want to waft for a couple of eternities. Dunno about you, but I need this sort of thing badly right now.
Trick Candles, “Fast Times” (self-released). Tons of modern rock bands draw inspiration from new wave's first wave, and Seattle's Trick Candles are among them. Thankfully, "Fast Times" expertly captures the glammy, sleazy spirit of much of the best late-'70s/early-'80s new wave, with the contrast between Robbie Luna's desperate lead vocals and Prisilla Ray's serene backing coos really launching the song to adorable earworm status. You can find "Fast Times" on Trick Candles' new Pretend We're Alone EP.
Noteworthy May 11 album releases: Beach House, 7 (Sub Pop); Ry Cooder, The Prodigal Son (Fantasy); Aïsha Devi, DNA Feelings (Houndstooth); Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (Domino); Simian Mobile Disco, Murmurations (Wichita); La Luz, Floating Features (Hardly Art); Junglepussy, JP3 (Junglepussy); The Sea and Cake, Any Day (Thrill Jockey); The Body, I Have Fought Against It, but I Can't Any Longer (Thrill Jockey); Mark Kozelek, Mark Kozelek (Caldo Verde); Skating Polly, The Make It All Show (El Camino); Samara Lubelski, Flickers at the Station (Drawing Room); Drako, Fully Loaded (Babygrande); Carla Bozulich, Quieter (Constellation).