March 9David Byrne, “American Utopia”David Byrne is a treasured enigma, a genius whose work transcends both pop art and the progressive, weird-for-the-sake-of-weird, but still able to be sung by pretty much anyone. Byrne’s more recent output has been focused mainly on collaborative albums, most notably with Brian Eno and most recently with St. Vincent, but on “American Utopia,” it is just Byrne and some of his friends. The eccentricity is there, and optimism is there, and I had a smile on my face through most of my listening experience. Byrne has a beautiful absurdism to his lyrics that are at once both poignant and positive, giving insight into how a change in perspective can change an outlook. Musically, if you are a fan of any of Byrne’s prior work, you will find something to love here. There are a lot of weird, jovial electronics, palm-muted guitars, and Byrne’s trademark voice throughout.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, “Tearing at the Seams”After grinding in the folk scene for almost a decade, Missouri native Nathaniel Rateliff finally caught the attention of the world at-large with his debut album with the Night Sweats in 2013. After touring relentlessly and amassing a reputation for absolutely stellar live shows, he and the band return with their new record “Tearing at the Seams,” a fitting follow-up to a record that captured a lot of hearts. The band sounds much more full this time around, with warm brass and more varied drum beats leading the charge, and substantial background vocal work rounding out the sound to make it a full-on soul/Americana record that would make any producer at Muscle Shoals smile. This go around the Southern drawl seems a bit more pronounced, leading me to compare it to some more country-minded contemporaries like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton, but the record only toes the line on country music, never fully committing. I love the horns that pop up as accents throughout the record. It gives the band a distinct sound amongst their peers.
Between the Buried and Me, “Automata I”This is a band that I will drop everything for as soon as I hear new music is being released. Between The Buried and Me have been a favorite of mine since high school, and they have never released a bad album. Their last, “Coma Ecliptic,” was a little mellow for my taste, but there is no way anyone can call it a bad record. BtBaM tends to get lofty with their concepts and even loftier with the accompanying music, and the first piece of the “Automata” album is no exception. At the core of the record is a concept like something out of a “Black Mirror” episode. What if your dreams were broadcast around the world to be consumed by the masses, all without your consent? It is a harrowing but not altogether alien concept. Storywise, this Part I ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but I am given hope that a protagonist in a BtBaM album will survive until the end. Musically, there are so many disparate elements that come together to make a very satisfying, if short, package. The final track is always my favorite on their records, and closing track “Blot” is no exception. Merging Middle Eastern scales, sitar with aggressive death metal elements, and a soaring chorus make singer Tommy Rogers’s voice soar. I have a feeling that when the second part releases later this year, the ending will feel more complete, but as of this writing I just want more.
Other new releases: Newly remastered Jimi Hendrix material, Myles Kennedy, Judas Priest, Editors, Of Montreal, Three Days Grace, and more!Cooper Stapleton