Arts editors pick their favorite recent releases

Image courtesy of Dirk Neven via Wikimedia Commons.

Jesse’s pick: “Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))” by Jaimie Branch

The untimely and tragic death of trumpeter Jaimie Branch in 2022 at age 39 shook the music community. Since her debut album “Fly or Die” was released in 2017, Branch quickly became one of today’s most notable and creative musicians. Her music’s scrappy energy and uplifting spirit explain why people love her, and fortunately, Branch has left us one final album. Recorded last April with her regular band (Lester St. Louis on cello, Jason Ajemian on bass and Chad Taylor on drums), Branch was still mixing and programming this new record at the time she died. Released on August 25, “Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))” is an exuberant and diverse set of music that you are likely to enjoy regardless of your musical background or interests. Though Branch may be associated with the “avant-garde,” nothing is intimidating or esoteric here. Highlights include the bright melodies of the appropriately named “Borealis Dancing,” Branch’s “punk jazz” vocals on “Burning Grey” and the blissful exuberance of the album’s highlight “Baba Louie.” Branch showed us again on this release that she found a way of making “free jazz” accessible without diminishing the intensity or joy in the music. Now, it will be up to others to continue where Branch left off.

Jesse’s pick: “Rabbit Rabbit” by Speedy Ortiz 

Speedy Ortiz Image courtesy of David Lee via Wikimedia Commons.

Indie band Speedy Ortiz and frontwoman Sadie Dupuis return with their first album since 2018’s excellent “Twerp Verse,” this time with songwriting that has taken on a new emotional depth. In an interview with The New York Times, Dupuis said the lyrics on “Rabbit Rabbit” were motivated by her efforts to heal unprocessed childhood trauma. Dupuis used the mantra of the album’s title to bring good luck. The lyrics throughout the album show a focus on coping with stress and mental health, such as on “Cry Cry Cry,” where Dupuis sings—”three ways to cry, and one is silence/couldn’t see tears have meaning,” and the refrain later in that song “Do I still deserve my sanity?” However, the music is far from downcast, and the sweet and sour aesthetic in the dense arrangements and tart guitar playing (from Dupuis and Andy Molholt) are central to the band’s style. The music and lyrics of “Rabbit Rabbit” feel more natural and personal than “Twerp Verse,” the latter album having a bit too much of a Pavement influence. Now is the time to catch up with one of the most exciting bands working today—Speedy Ortiz is on tour, and if you didn’t see them in Kingston on September 6, they’ll be at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom on December 16.

Allen’s pick: “everything is alive” by Slowdive

Slowdive’s newest record in 6 years is their second post-reunion work, reestablishing their modern presence after a historic early career. The British group helped pioneer the genres of shoegaze and dream pop in the early 1990s, emerging as one of the most influential bands in these scenes. The signature, ethereal dual vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell sound airy and mature, whispering more often than they choose to belt. Although the group retains components of their previous sound, the singing changes are indicative of an overall stylistic shift. The opening track “shanty” begins with whirring electronics and up-tempo, lighter drumming; this softer feel is also notable on tracks like “alife” and “kisses,” the former of which utilizes a winding guitar part that lends itself to a floaty atmosphere. Across the first three tracks, the sound varies enough to stay interesting, but it feels like each individual song lacks some necessary development. “andalucia plays” is especially indicative of this repetition, which feels a bit uninspired and aimless. However, a variety of highlights on the album are still worth noting. The lead single “kisses” contains a fantastic chorus, aided by a fuller-sounding studio mix. Following this song, “skin in the game” provides darker, heavier contrast with some excellent, ghostly vocal harmonies. Electronic arpeggiation is revisited on “chained to a cloud,” which contains singing that sweeps in nicely alongside the percussion. As a whole, “everything is alive” manages to avoid stylistic stagnation while incorporating fresh elements into the band’s sound. Slowdive’s future looks bright if they can successfully continue in new directions, solidifying their immense legacy.

Allen’s pick: “Defeat” by Animal Collective

For over two decades Animal Collective has been pushing the boundaries of psychedelic music, meshing a variety of styles together throughout their distinct discography. Most recently, the band put out “Defeat,” a gargantuan single lasting nearly 22 minutes. Their upcoming album “Isn’t It Now?” will be released later this month, with “Defeat” listed as the project’s 5th track. The journey begins with a droning section that utilizes a sitar-sounding instrument. Singing enters as the density slowly accumulates, drawing on inspiration from the Nnew Aage- style of ambient music. Lush, meditative instrumental backing expands and contracts while powerful harmonies—a mainstay of the band’s aesthetic—add a necessary emotional weight to the piece. These lyrics ring out in a triumphant manner, as if the musicians are shedding some sort of pressure from themselves. Drums rise from the silence and allow the work to transition into its next section, a rhythmic, punctuated interplay between percussion and lyrics. This is classic Animal Collective at work, managing to toe the line between accessible, poppy melodies and experimental structures. The listener once again enters a slower section that adds non-musical ambiance into the mix, giving the track a naturalistic feel. Intensity slowly rises and falls before the piece comes to its close, concluding an odyssey of sonically vivid ideas. Although each section can function individually, the band does a great job of ensuring their overall cohesion through seamless transitions; as a dedicated fan, I am thrilled to see the direction taken on their upcoming album. 

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