Arts & Culture
Music Reviews: August 2016
The latest from Other Colors, Abdu Ali, and Wye Oak.
Natural Motion (Friends Records)
From the first beats of the first track of this new album, you immediately think: Okay, I’m listening. Within seconds, “Return to Life” blossoms into a beautiful spell, enchanting you as it dances across a vivid landscape, swinging between the sweeping desert twangs of a dusty spaghetti western and the sultry bossa nova of Copacabana on some 1960s summer night. Each song on this radiant record unfolds like a film score, layered and complex, evocative of some distant time or place. For us, for some reason, the instrumental intro for “You Know the One” really strikes a chord. But throughout, the local duo gently melds tender vocals into these vintage-tinged tunes, finding a happy place between genres—psychedelic pop, lo-fi indie, and easy listening—fittingly drawing inspiration from “forgotten AM radio hits and the smoother side of krautrock.” The result is a lush, atmospheric dream—one where you’re almost able to follow the pluck of fuzzy guitar chords with your fingers, or feel the steady punch of drums in your gut. You’ll find yourself not wanting to wake up.
Over the past few years, Abdu Ali has been knighted a king of the Baltimore DIY scene. His bi-monthly, boundary-breaking Kahlon parties at The Crown garnered diverse crowds and national attention, and his smattering of mixtapes grew exceedingly more accomplished as they straddled the line between aggressive dance music, earnest rap, and avant-garde performance art, all on the back of his hometown genre, Bmore Club. But on his new record, the 24-year-old has begun a metamorphosis, evolving from an intrepid prodigy into his full potential. Through passionate words, fearless beats, and unapologetic vigor, he hones his bold, unbridled sound into a mighty tour de force. He runs headfirst into the dark cloud of existential questions and battles heady topics like race, sexuality, love, hate, and survival. In the clearing, he finds himself lighter and stronger than ever before, recognizing and celebrating the pieces of his identity: being black, queer, young, an artist, from the city streets of Baltimore. In these times, his powerful messages of empowerment (“Keep movin’,” he chants) and acceptance (“I’m alive!” he shouts) are more important than ever before.
Tween (Merge Records)
This is not an album. According to Wye Oak bandmates Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, it is a “not-album,” born out of other lifetimes and past experiences—leftovers from the cutting room floor, melodies that never made it there in the first place. But all eight of these songs had a moment, however fleeting, when they had meaning, and now the local duo has given them room in which to exist. The album is not meant to be cohesive; it’s not supposed to be the Wye Oak you’ve come to know and love. At times, Wasner sings so softly you can barely hear her. At others, she growls like a deep, dark, slow-rolling thunder. Even still, there are explosive moments, and those that shimmer and shine. These new-old songs are a testament to the band’s 10 years together, having grown from indie darlings into accomplished, self-assured artists. This is not the band’s much-anticipated fifth album, either. It is a cathartic vessel to get them to the next place they want to go.