According to Courtney Barnett, “Keep On” was a song she practiced every night when touring Europe last year. The stellar singer-songwriter took fellow Australians and label-mates Loose Tooth on tour with her and became enamored with one of their songs, plucking away at her guitar in various hotel rooms between gigs, trying to crack its secrets. When Barnett’s label, Milk Records, decided to pull together compilations of its artists covering one another, she probably didn’t have to agonize over which song she wanted to lay down.
With only two full-length solo albums to her credit thus far, the strength of Barnett’s artistic voice is mightily impressive. “Keep On” is a cover, but it sure sounds like a prime Barnett song, even beyond the obvious reasons. Her sensibility — wise, wry, endearing — comes through in every beat. With every song Barnett plays, she tells us how she really feels.
Hailing from Atlanta, the band Omni plays in a style that leaves me fairly helpless. In the most succinct description, Omni plays post-punk, placing their retro sound quite squarely in the chronological territory that loomed very large — and was just past contemporary — when I went through my formative experience in college radio. The trio’s new single, “Courtesy Call,” sounds to me like something Television might have come up with if they’d gone straight from the final mixing sessions for Marquee Moon to see an upstart band call the Fall play live and collectively said, “Let’s try to incorporate some of that jaggedness on whatever we do next.”
The new album from Omni, Networker, releases on November 1, 2019.
I am more skeptical than most about the prospect of a new music released by the Who. I’ve long operated with an instinctual suspicion about the merits of reunited bands, and I defer to my fine friend’s judgment that it was acceptable (just barely) for the Who to persist after the untimely demise of drummer Keith Moon, but maintaining the iconic moniker after bassist Entwistle passed away was a musical bridge too far. The remaining band members — lead singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend — are both solidly into their seventies, which isn’t necessarily disqualifying in this age of entertaining in perpetuity, but does sit a little awkwardly for an act that essentially made their mark by trailblazing the art of channeling youthful anger into rhythm, melody, and sledgehammer guitar sound. If nothing else, the rust that must have settled is considerable. The band’s pending release, Who, is only their second since 1982, and it’s been over twenty-five years since Townshend found enough new songs in him to release a solo album.
Anticipating all the preemptively arched eyebrows, the latest track from the Who essentially opens with Daltrey belting, “I don’t care/ I know you’re going to hate this song.” From there, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound exactly, perfectly like the Who. Daltrey’s voice is powerful, Townshend’s guitar work intricate and inventive, and a caustic sensibility scorching the whole thing. It sounds vintage and brightly new all at the same time. Even the song’s title, “All This Music Must Fade,” signals the product is shorn of sentiment. Without regret or simpering entitlement, the Who place themselves as just another band on the long continuum of rock ‘n’ roll, influencers to those who followed just as they themselves swiped chords and riffs and attitudes from their predecessors. So here’s another new song, they say, take it or leave it. To my surprise, I’ll take it.
Freewheeling and delightfully loopy, the new single from Jennifer Vanilla (a performing guise of Becca Kauffman, departing member of Ava Luna) is a dance music knuckleball. Sounding like a turbo-holy union of Laurie Anderson and Sparks, “Space Time Motion” is a sonic mantra for the future society forgot to build. It’s an arched eyebrow and enticingly chilly demeanor. It spins.
“Space Time Motion” is taken from Jennifer Vanilla’s forthcoming EP, titled J.E.N.N.I.F.E.R.
I should be taking this space to expound at length on the fascinating songwriting style of Sophie Allison, in particular the way her dreamy approach to a thick indie rock sound helps render direct emotional sentiments that are familiar of the surface (“I look in the mirror/ And the darkness looks back at me”) into something startling and leveling. But I’ll dig into the thought no further than that and instead let her song, under the performing guide Soccer Mommy, do the primary work this week.
According to the promotional commentary accompanying the release of “Lark,” the new single from Angel Olsen, the song took years to complete. It sounds like it, not because of some evidence strain or a fussed-over meticulousness. Instead, the tracks carries lovely dust from every part of Olsen’s artistic journey, as if accumulated while being carried around. It has the aching spareness of her first couple records, the welling force of certainty found on 2016’s excellent My Woman, and even the questing fulsomeness scattered across the odds and sods collection Phases. And it’s all corseted together with a searing intelligence and emotional openness that confirms the song as progression rather than scrapbook retrospection. It is the sound of an artist staying true to herself while moving forward.
Angel Olsen’s new album, All Mirrors, releases on October 4, 2019.