Get Lonely (4AD)
If you've always admired John Darnielle's songwriting but couldn't get past the thin, bristling bark that's his trademark, Get Lonely could make a Mountain Goats fan of you yet. The man's stage whisper is no more polished or rehearsed than usual, but it's likely more palatable to newcomers. Longtime devotees will have to get used to the hushed tone and stop waiting for a big breathless rant. There's typically a deathly quiet song or two on every Mountain Goats record, but this may be the first time Darnielle has been so restrained through an entire outing. The obvious advantage is that, despite expert backing (cello, piano, sparse drums) by his usual gang of friends, there's not much to distract attention from Darnielle's infamous way with words. Following the autobiographical raging of last year's The Sunset Tree, the mood is solemn and the subject matter is sinister in a subtler way, with isolation stepping in for an abusive stepfather as the villain of choice. On "Woke up New" Darnielle's panicking at the thought of living alone in the wake of a departed lover, making too much coffee and feeling the walls close in. Ten songs in we're practically shaken to hear a horn and other lively instrumentation punch through "If You See Light," a brief but vivid account of waiting for your sins to catch up to you. Still Darnielle doesn't break out, instead foreshadowing violence with the line, "Waiting for the front door to splinter/ Waiting all winter." As always, he says so much with so little. The closing "In Corolla" opens with, "The day I turned my back on all you people I felt an itching in my thumbs"--and makes most other songwriters seem like amateurs. (Doug Wallen)
Download: "Half Dead," "Woke up New," "Cobra Tattoo."
Antonio Carlos Jobim
The Unknown (DRG)
When the Rio De Janeiro-born pianist/composer Antonio Carlos Jobim slowed down and resyncopated the intense rhythms of the samba and augmented them with French impressionist harmonies and jazz phrasings, he helped give birth to the bossa nova. That music has weathered many stylistic storms four decades after its emergence in the '60s, and Jobim's immense songbook contains the majority of its greatest hits. Those selections are heard here on this 1987 date recorded in Rio on Jobim's 60th birthday in his home studio, and released in the U.S. for the first time. It features Jobim's last great ensemble, which included his wife, son and daughter. For those familiar with this engaging, jazz-friendly genre, Jobim's well-known compositions are included here: the coastal-breezed "Wave," the bouncy "Desafinado" and of course the ubiquitous "Garota de Ipanema" which Jobim refashions into a new acoustic "remixed" version. Also included are several lesser-known compositions, from the brooding waltzy piano solo "Imagina" to the ebullient "Derradeira Primavera." Though some of this music has been tarnished--suffering many blows at the hand of karaoke singers--it shines in the hands of its eternal master. (Eugene Holley Jr.)
Download: "Wave," "Desafinado."
Ensemble (Fat Cat)
Olivier Alary, the French artiste behind Ensemble, tends to get your attention more through the names of his collaborators than anything else. He co-wrote a song on Bj�rk's Med�lla album, and has enlisted both Chan Marshall (of Cat Power) and Lou Barlow to contribute to his most recent release. But Alary's company is well-deserved. His lifelong fascination with soundscapes has yielded a uniquely subtle touch with composition. His music, pleasant on the first listen, gradually unfolds to reveal embedded layers of intrigue. Alary builds his songs around gentle moments of emergence--lush arcs of sound overlap, seemingly static for minutes on end only to lock into a crisp melody that'd been hidden in the arrangement all along. The effect is similar to cresting waves. In fact Alary devotes a song to a literal duplication of beach sounds. The track verges on self-parody (when it's not veering right over the top), but in truth it's not a bad way to ease out of the album. (Catharine Tung)
Download: "All We Leave Behind," "One Kind, Two Minds."
Ticket Crystals (All Tomorrow's Parties)
Slow, grindingly heavy and unearthly beautiful, Bardo Pond's first full-length in three years bridges the gap between delicate new folk and droning, metallic psych. "Destroying Angel," which concertgoers have been hearing for years, is a turbulent primal stew, the sort of murky depths from which any form of life might emerge. Fortunate then that it gives birth not to monstrosity, but to beauty in the swooning, alternate-universe keening of Charalambides' Christina Carter. The rest of the album continues this dynamic, shifting suddenly from light-filled folk magic spaces to darker, more improvisatory shadows. There's even a Beatles cover, the wonderfully narcotic "Cry Baby Cry," which breaks down entirely midtrack into erupting bouts of distortion. This is mesmerizing music--the kind of album that demands you stop everything, dim the lights and lie on the floor motionless until you've heard the whole thing. Ticket Crystals may seem medium-difficult if you're not used to the slow tempos and uneasy dissonances of experimental psych, but give it time and you'll recognize one of the year's best albums. (Jennifer Kelly)
Download: "Destroying Angel," "Lost Word," "Endurance."