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  • Disc Reviews

    by Max Ink Staff Writers


    Damon Locks and Black Monument Ensemble - Now

    Damon Locks and Black Monument Ensemble - Now

    Damon Locks and Black Monument Ensemble

    Album title: Now
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Mar 2021
    Label: International Anthem
    (82) Page Views

    Backed by nearly a dozen talented singers and musicians, Locks’ word salad acumen and compassionate activism inhabits rabble-rousing house-parties where spliced life bring live vibes to clever edits, micro-managed samples and intriguing social themes. A powerfully woke collage, “Now,” speaks truth to power, re-imagining reality through not-so-subtle cultural montage, hip snippets, communal grooves and fringe synergy intermingling with courtrooms, playgrounds, backstreets and neighborhoods. Musical mosaics engage angelic soul floating over free-jazz blow-outs, African rhythms weave between electronic concoctions while feverish beat-poet choirs spiral around assorted field-recordings, drum-circle furies and gospel-fostered jams. An immersive conversation one experiences rather than merely hears, the vibrant Black Monument Ensemble invites you to witness and absorb, assembling a contemporary sound documentary fortified by individual histories, collective messages and integrated legacies.

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    Mark Mallman - Happiness

    Mark Mallman - Happiness

    Mark Mallman

    Album title: Happiness
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Mar 2021
    Label: self-release
    (104) Page Views

    Never one to go halfway, Minneapolis keyboard showman Mallman composes over-the-top pop from philosophical topics; candid stamina questioning, referencing and breathlessly testing restless definitions all while making tasty, sugar-coated raves. Mark’s first album in five years, the savvy, “Happiness,” blends funk-rock pleads, snarky tantrum anthems and epic power-pop romps with red-hot riffs, manic stanzas, earnest verses and dance-friendly hooks seeking peaceful equilibrium in a chaotic mosh-pit of emotional extravaganzas. A musical companion to Mallman’s uplifting memoir, “The Happiness Playlist: The True Story of Healing My Heart with Feel-Good Music,” the album’s theatrical passion is matched by solid thoughts, honest options and open hearts.  A relentless consent to whatever may come, “Happiness,” conquers crushing anxiety and deep grief with reassuring urgency, evangelical melodies and crackling gratitude.

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    Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles - Keys

    Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles - Keys

    Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles

    Album title: Keys
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Mar 2021
    Label: Drag City
    (113) Page Views

    Chicago guitarist Bill MacKay and Durham banjo player Nathan Bowles have long established careers as stellar sidemen, so it seems inevitable they would one day end up collaborating on a project together. The result of long-distant interactions after an initial encounter being booked as a duo became a steadfast friendship, “Keys,” grew from mutual influences, intuitive roots and technical respect. Drawing from a rich background in bluegrass, country-gospel and jazz improvisation, delicate investigations play with spaces between the sharp plucked notes and bittersweet cantilevered phrases; casually natural ballads swinging in fitful meditations as rustic percussive shuffles wash in thoughtful clockwork. Still waters run deep as each player’s tentative methods build passive tapestries whose inventive interventions and hesitant tensions resonate in lonesome emotions and soothing resolution.

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    Karate, Guns & Tanning - Concrete Beach

    Karate, Guns & Tanning - Concrete Beach

    Karate, Guns & Tanning

    Album title: Concrete Beach
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Feb 2021
    Label: self-release
    (302) Page Views

    Molten commotion washed in corrosive six-stringed glitter, “Concrete Beach,” is hard pulverized fun from start to finish. Booming beats, funky solos and enraged mayhem steamroll over techno-squeaky riffs pitted against thundering synth-punk struts while snarling, chaotic robotics bolt cosmic breakdowns to well-stocked narcotic-rock caught inside dream-pop dreadlocks. Razorbacked ricochet shoegaze caves into clanging dangers from half-asleep machinery seething in steely doses of sonic implosions, the entire affair flirts with alert apocalyptic urges, teasing crushed industrial sludge bubbling beneath swampy grinds and reverb-drenched chants perfect for strobe-lit mosh-pits or intergalactic battlefields. Armed to the teeth, KG&T’s acid-washed arsenal plant sonic bombs and light cruise-missile fuses while lyrical nun-chucks debunk mind-numbing thunder, launching overloaded goading with heavy angsty energy bringing immense splatter-proof backdrops to backlit satellite cavalry.

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    Anna Fox Rochinski - Cherry

    Anna Fox Rochinski - Cherry

    Anna Fox Rochinski

    Album title: Cherry
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Feb 2021
    Label: Don Giovanni Records
    (247) Page Views

    Tomorrow-pop propped in slinky riffs, sexy beats and savvy caveats, Rochinski coolly mixes the smooth and jagged in joyful proportions. Zany chicanery punctuates the lush production with casual sass as the strangely tangy, “Cherry,” maneuvers around obvious options into tasty aberrations; empowered beliefs stalking sensual relief between cyber-siren torch-songs and sneaky poly-rhythmic taunts. The multi-talented Quilt singer-songwriter shines in solid-state autonomy, conducting adventurous experiments framed in conventional templates, updated and refurbished with chrome-plated harmonies, spiced multi-track splices and enticing dynamics. Her mischievous glee laced among synchronized kinks provides sly desires fired in space-age bop, premeditated cravings igniting wicked initiatives. Punch-drunk hungers tucked under sultry covers, Rochinski is in her element, surrounded by studio accoutrements and her dazzling imagination, speaking her mind and unleashing her heart.

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    New Bums - Last Time I Saw Grace

    New Bums - Last Time I Saw Grace

    New Bums

    Album title: Last Time I Saw Grace
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Feb 2021
    Label: Drag City
    (290) Page Views

    Naturally engineered, like falling leaves, rolling stones or mountain streams, Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn’s collaborative magic spins nimble acoustic grooves into grinning roots-pop ruses, preordained refrains colored in sparkling spontaneity. Platonic, ironic and organic, the duo’s deft sophomore effort reaps polished modesty and breezy genius seven years after their test the waters debut, flushed in refreshing depth, thoughtful dodges, refined harmonies and crisp interactions. Stripped-down and living-room friendly, “Grace,” embraces earthy subversion, dressing traditions in subtle muscle, fleshed in pleasant cleverness and layered with mirthful mercy.  From sturdy country dirges to proto-folk woes, the New Bum’s two-guitar attack chases rock ‘n roll ghosts brimming in vigorous whimsy, genuine gusto, baroque overtures and rippling intuition. A tuneful testament to overlapping talents bonding over mutual influences.

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    Julien Baker - Little Oblivions

    Julien Baker - Little Oblivions

    Julien Baker

    Album title: Little Oblivions
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Jan 2021
    Label: Matador
    (271) Page Views

    Focused on closure, flowing in exposure, Baker’s resounding lockdown response, “Little Oblivions,” sponsor bittersweet quandaries, brutal psychic wounds seeking palatable salvation. Shedding shame, pursuing renewal and targeting departures, Baker’s latest reflect her recent time off the road where she finished her degree and allowed herself some well-deserved self-care to absorb the past five years. A lot happened to Julien since her stark cathartic debut and the new album’s band-boosted ruminations shelter inside fog-bound synths, intricately varnished guitars and thick consistent rhythms; confiding shrines lit in critical thinking and set ablaze with heightened enlightenment. Scholarly apologies venting therapeutic sentences channeling even-handed self-examination; “Oblivions,” rises from personal turmoil to ponder, launder and conquer, bravely wading through lonely emotions accompanied by heady echo, freight-train refrains and supportive choruses.

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    Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound

    Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound

    Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

    Album title: SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Jan 2021
    Label: Marathon Artists
    (249) Page Views

    Zesty express-lane court jesters finessing delectable confections from joyous pedalboard orgies cavorting in prismatic flash, sizzling precision and fleeting stampedes, Australia’s excessively heavy, psychedelic prog-rockers launch ballistic mischief in riff-filled missiles. Flirting in immersive excursions, these teasing speed demons reek spectacular havoc beneath chomping at the bit stomps, edgy skyscraper shreds and paisley power-pop pomp. Vintage whimsy dosed in baroque-folk, gleaming daydreams and cosmic harmonics, “SHYGA!” layers eclectic tendencies into refreshing energy for cleansing mind-bending frolics as rug-cutting struts hustle space-rock boogie shaking in contagious rakish playfulness. Jet-propelled helter-skelter celebrating inebriated races down rainbow-coated rabbit holes, PPC’s earnest urgency, adventurous chemistry and liberated mayhem fuel unhampered fretwork fantasies packed in elastic lysergic lyrics; dare-devil heavens channeling frantic kickass antics with weaselly glee and booming grooves.

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    Joan of Arc - Tim Melina Theo Bobby

    Joan of Arc - Tim Melina Theo Bobby

    Joan of Arc

    Album title: Tim Melina Theo Bobby
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Nov 2020
    Label: Joyful Noise
    (469) Page Views

    As a final statement, “Tim Melina Theo Bobby,” also serves as a great introduction. After 20 albums, Chicago’s Joan of Arc remain successfully eclectic balancing quirky curiosity for the mundane and staunch fondness for non-conformity, the album’s nimble inroads into slacker nostalgia follow enigmatic maps leading to solid post-rock observations and hypnotic avant-garage electronics. Simultaneously comforting and confronting, keen on pariah irony, meta-fiction visions and first-person certainty, “TMTB,” candidly examine mechanical humanity where assembled memories and experimental speculation intersect without regret, suspicion or repercussion; a theoretical playhouse of wires and feelings sheltering devilish embellishments and developing a well-kept fetish for post-millennial ghosts in the machine. The quartet, left after years of rotating members, exits the stage oddly confident and beautifully puzzling, equally open and impervious.

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    The Bird and The Bee - Put Up The Lights

    The Bird and The Bee - Put Up The Lights

    The Bird and The Bee

    Album title: Put Up The Lights
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Nov 2020
    Label: Release Me Records
    (417) Page Views

    A match made in heaven where Tinsel Town meets Santa’s Midnight Reindeer Lounge, L.A.’s incomparable The Bird and The Bee work their special electro-pop jazz magic on traditional carols, holiday standards and fireside originals for a welcome holiday escape. Smooth grooves, upbeat takes and glowing vocals create cozy rose-colored comfort and sophisticated sugar-coated joy as, “Lights,” entertains gift-wrapped happiness and romantic notions bundled underneath candlelit mistletoe with friendly synths, tight harmonies and swinging arrangements that bounce from bright, bossa novas to frosted waltzes and swooning ballroom ballads. The duo’s immaculate gala balances enchanting singer Inara George’s polished sunshine with savvy multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin’s smart, sparkling solos; lending lively, inspiring good cheer to a well-coordinated production whose cool proficiency supports shiny kindness inside a warm rapport.

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    Raye Zaragoza - Woman In Color

    Raye Zaragoza - Woman In Color

    Raye Zaragoza

    Album title: Woman In Color
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Oct 2020
    Label: River Rebel Records
    (479) Page Views

    A nomadic daughter of immigrants, singer-songwriter Raye Zaragoza is also a tireless fighter and defiant survivor whose calm resolve and fearless perseverance seeks unity in community with a lyrical spirituality rooted in nature and family. The solid, polished folk-songs on her Tucker Martine produced sophomore release, “Woman In Color,” build willful wonders animated with lively bass, sparkling electric guitars and tugging percussion cushioned in placid brass and soaring strings. Centered in subtle strengths, Zaragoza’s dark lustrous voice cuts through cantering anthems and galloping ballads while tackling biographical passions with hints of hurt behind touches of dreaminess to deliver poignant life lessons brimming in encouragement and concern. Political and personal, brave and sincere, Raye’s unwavering story-songs face injustice head on with nurturing certainty and liberated faith.

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    Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine

    Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine

    Róisín Murphy

    Album title: Róisín Machine
    By John Noyd
    Posted: Sep 2020
    Label: Skint
    (529) Page Views

    Rallying elaborate nostalgia as an updated and outspoken disco queen, cyber-maestro Róisín Murphy’s groovy tutelage streams glamorous anthems bubbling beneath irresistible beats, processing stroboscopic gospel into boombox boogie and smoldering techno-soul. Nightlife highlights meet tungsten funk, invoking bold Moroder brushstrokes onto a seething cerebral sensuality where astute moves build emancipated declarations with effervescent tension. Decades into her career, this iconoclastic talent peddles edgy futurism alongside trendy escapism for brazen innovations rich in roller-skate bass, chanking guitar, old-school synths and supple strings. While several tracks have been dropped over the last few years, “Machine,” preens and gleams as one seamless dancefloor odyssey; taunting sauntering struts whose glittery surfaces birth teasing hedonism as elated persuasions turn glossy options empowering slick wit and slinky thinking into hip-swiveling visions.

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