Album Review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, ‘Multi-Love’

(Crossposted from Rolling Stone, 7/24/2015)

Psychedelic crew mourns the end of a three-way love story

Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s music has often explored feelings of dizzying isolation, but on their third LP, New Zealand-born frontman Ruban Nielson embraces the power of three. Taking cues from the bubbly soul of Stevie Wonder and the melodrama of the Tijuana Brass, Nielson offers lo-fi musings on a polyamorous relationship that ended when his lover was forced out by a woeful immigration policy. All the psychedelic cool in the world can’t hide his ire: “America, open up your doors/Is it right to always fight against the other?” he pleads on “Puzzles.” Just as in his personal life, Multi-Love sees Nielson coloring outside the lines for a vibrant vision of connection. (3.5/5)

Track Review: HÆLOS “The Sun Rising” (The Beloved Cover)

homepage_large.bcbe3d75(Crossposted from Pitchfork, 7/10/2015)

Listen up—1998 is calling. (Or is it paging?) A young trio of London trip-hop aficionados, HÆLOS continue Britain’s legacy of creepy electro-pop, tiptoeing coolly into the airwaves like Massive Attack’s enigmatic kid sister. Following last month’s debut EP, Earth Not Above, the group decided to put their own spin on the Beloved’s 1989 hit, “The Sun Rising”.

Where the original acid house version elicits late-night images of sweltering warehouse raves, HÆLOS’ downtempo take speaks to the quiet of the dawn; the brutal glare of the light when it hits the heavy eyelids of the 24-hour party people. Just as in the original, HÆLOS sample the pious vocal leaps of Emily van Evera, member of the UK chamber choir Gothic Voices. A siren groans lazily in the distance, as if to rally the people out of the shadows. “Movement outside/ Silence inside,” whispers HÆLOS’ Lotti Benardout, her silken voice reclining serenely against a classic breakbeat. “Restless lovers spread your wings/ As the day begins.”

Track Review: MULA “Playa (Borchi Remix)”

homepage_large.56e114a4(Crossposted from Pitchfork, 7/6/2015)

Comprising sisters Anabel and Cristabel Acevedo, plus their friend Rachel Rojas, the Dominican electronic trio MULA is the Caribbean’s answer to the ongoing North American witch-wave of the 2010s. (In true feminist tradition, the band’s name is a bold reclamation of a derogatory term connoting a female mule.) Having released their debut LP this spring, the band recently unveiled a heap of remixes featuring producers from all over Latin America.

Mexico City producer Pablo Borchi supplements their otherwise hair-raising summer jam, “Playa”, with a gentle samba shuffle and nu-cumbia groove. However, there’s a slightly menacing undercurrent to their sultry pleads for beachtime fun; it’s akin to Bananarama’s island gothic anthem, “Cruel Summer”, or the crafty moans of Oaxaca dance pop villain Selma Oxor in “Quiero Salir (I Want to Go Out)”. One minute you’re sitting giddily in the back of a party bus with your college buds. The next minute you’re bound and gagged in a deserted resort town, littered with driftwood, rotting coconuts, and bad juju.

Best of 2015 So Far: Björk, ‘Vulnicura’

Translated from Latin to “Cure for Wounds,” Björk’s ninth studio album, Vulnicura, is her most humanizing work yet. Co-produced by Venezuelan newcomer Arca and UK ambient musician The Haxan Cloak, these 9 songs chronicle the demise of her marriage to artist Matthew Barney. Opening with a manifesto for emotional integrity (“Stonemilker”), followed by industrial-tinged numbers (“Lionsong”) and frenetic compositions (“Family”), the album sees Björk reverting back to the high orchestral drama of Homogenic and Vespertine. It climaxes at “Black Lake,” a 10-minute Dear John letter addressing a series of intimate grievances. “I am one wound,” she pronounces, “My pulsating body, suffering being.”

Most devastating about “Black Lake” are the grueling pauses between her every bullet point, searing with the hot, screeching hesitation of the string section, filling every vacant space with tempered moans. Having debuted at the Museum of Modern Art this past spring, the corresponding video sees Björk pounding violently at her own heart, as if to purge it from her chest. One can’t help but recall the eroticized self-destruction in her 2001 single, “Pagan Poetry,” recorded at the very start of her relationship with Barney. (“I love him / He makes me want to hurt myself.”) Love requires a constant upheaval and compromise of one’s identity; but Vulnicura sees Björk beginning to piece together what parts of herself survived the wreckage.

(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 7/2/2015)

Track Review: Helado Negro, “Young, Latin and Proud”

homepage_large.8de09eb6(Crossposted from Pitchfork, 6/30/2015)

La Raza takes the spotlight in the latest single by Ecuadorian-American producer Helado Negro, aka Roberto Lange. It doesn’t pack the kind of punch you’d expect from a song title that evokes the militancy of Latino legends, such as the Young Lords or the Brown Berets. Sonically speaking, it hardly even follows the effervescent, tropical synth pop trajectory of his 2014 album, Double Youth. But perhaps the crawling pace and low-lying vocals mark a turn in pan-Latin consciousness: one in which the old promise of a uniformly beige, “cosmic race” no longer carries the sparkle it used to.

This song conjures a more honest vision of the future, in which generations of Latinos meet from various corners of the diaspora with the will to better understand one another, despite all their differences. “[Your grandmother] is young, Latin and proud, [your parents] are young, Latin and proud,” he sings, “One day you’ll be old, Latin and proud.” Helado Negro’s single is a dream of a colorfully varied, empowered group of people, walking confidently toward the sunset.

Track Review: Samantha Urbani “U Know I Know”

homepage_large.a518e610(crossposted from Pitchfork, 6/26/2015)

You may recognize her as the leading lady of NYC pop outfit, Friends, or as the luxuriously silky voice alongside Dev Hynes on his 2013 album, Cupid Deluxe. But Samantha Urbani is a powerful singer-songwriter in her own right, as evidenced in her new solo venture. Following her springtime bop “1 2 3 4”, she welcomes the summer with “U Know I Know”, a reflective R&B dispatch from “La Isla Bonita”, co-produced by Test Icicles member and Hynes collaborator Sam Mehran. Sung with a light reggae lilt, Urbani’s verses betray a long-term love gone astray by indecision, but sealed indefinitely by the hand of fate. When she said he’d always be her baby, she really meant it. Her voice soars with a hook that holds to your ear like velcro on a Trapper Keeper. “You’ll go, I’ll go, but we know,” she says assuredly, “we’ll always meet right here.”