11:43 am Nov. 19, 2012
Listen to the first few records by the Chicago black metal band Nachtmystium (Nov. 19, St. Vitus), and it’s hard to spot too much that's out of the ordinary. Their 2002 debut Reign of the Malicious cribbed nakedly from their chief inspirations—most noticeably, the crypt-cold, thin-guitar sound of the Norwegian group Darkthrone. That all changed—suddenly and radically—in 2008, with Assassins: Black Meddle, Part 1. That heady title offered a hint at the album's contents. It was grand and sweeping and conceptual and often appropriated the strange moods and eerie textures of the album that inspired its title, Pink Floyd's Meddle. The title track traded machine-gun blast-beats for steady hardcore gallop, and the slow, eerie spiral of songs like "Code Negative" felt like detuned prog, with silvery tentacles of guitar curling and retracting over and over. Its sequel strayed perhaps too far toward the middle—it felt slightly more calculated and overworked than Part 1—but on this year's Silencing Machine, frontman Blake Judd merges the group's furious past with their more tempered later work. On the whole, the tempos are ramped back up to the blistering hailstorm of conventional black metal, but threaded through the songs are sinister, undulating guitar melodies, almost requiem-like in their severity. At roughly its halfway point, "The Lepers of Destitution" splits clean open, exposing a yawning chasm from which anguished yelps and screeches race upward. It's a chilling moment—the rough approximation of every story about hell condensed into two terrifying minutes. It also contains the basic blueprint for a possible way forward for Judd: scaling back his vision, and keeping the devil in the details. The Utah metal band Gaza (Nov. 24, The Acheron) is more interested in pairing blasphemy with blunt force trauma. Their latest album, No Absolutes in Human Suffering, freights the feral pummel of hardcore with doom metal's crushing heft. Om (Nov. 21, Bowery Ballroom) are more measured. Comprised of members of the legendary stoner metal band Sleep, they specialize in roaming, dronelike songs that expand like black clouds in a clear sky. Metz, (Nov. 19, Mercury Lounge) on the other hand, are all about precision. Their raucous debut is made up of fuzz-covered garage-punk that alternately twitches and roars. Supersuckers (Nov. 21, Mexicali Live) take a similarly ragged approach to their interpretation of country music, just as Aerosmith (Nov. 20, Madison Square Garden) did for the blues. Recently reunited after an eight-year absence and endless public bickering between vocalist Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry, the group's 14th album of original songs approximates the smirk, swagger, and sheen of their work in the late '80s.
Aerosmith's attempts to recreate the past at times feel a bit calculated, but R. Kelly's (Nov. 21 & 23, The Theater at Madison Square Garden) come across both serious and sincere. He first played r&b archaeologist in 2004, in the wake of an infamous sex scandal with an underage participant. The record he released—a double-album called Happy People/U Saved Me—was one of the best of his career, its first half a faithful recreation of Chicago step music, it's second a heartfelt gospel album. That he returned to more contemporary environs after that brief dalliance was something of a disappointment; Kelly's supple tenor and masterful phrasing is arguably better suited to the elegance of classic soul than the electro-bounce of its modern counterpart. (It should probably be mentioned that modern music is a better backdrop for Kelly's knowing, ribald sense of humor. Would the line, "Like Jurassic Park, I'm your sexasaurus baby" work in any other context?). On his two most recent albums, 2010's Love Letter and this year's only slightly less-rewarding Write Me Back, he's playing historian again, masterfully capturing the easy glide and clear-eyed romanticism of the soul music of the late '60s and early '70s. He disappears into character in his live performances, staging shows that have less in common with the flash-and-glitter of pop music than the stateliness and theatricality of a vintage '50s musical. In this context, Kelly plays both the master of ceremonies and the gallant leading man, and the libretto is an amalgam of every great romantic trope of the 20th Century. It's Kelly's earnestness and commitment that sells it. Ray LaMontagne (Nov. 20, Capitol Theatre) also looks over his shoulder at the past, fusing the rasp of Stax soul with the tired heart of country. Keyshia Cole (Nov. 20, Best Buy Theater) is tougher and more resilient. If Kelly can drift toward oversentimentality, Cole ruthlessly resists the same, her lithe voice darting like a shadowboxer between thumping production. It's the kind of music for which Faith Evans (Nov. 24, Apollo Theater) wrote the blueprint. Her work in the '90s was bellicose and threatening, soul music pocked with deep valleys of hurt. On his latest single "Waves," rapper Joey Bada$$ (Nov. 20, S.O.B's) captures that same spirit of tenacity, painting a picture of triumph in a laid-back delivery that recalls Q-Tip. Curren$y, (Nov. 20, Highline Ballroom) on the other hand, despite also having a symbol for money in his moniker, is wilder and freer, delivering gleeful rhymes about getting stoned, getting rich, and getting lucky over bass-heavy beats.
If R. Kelly—and, to a lesser degree, Keyshia Cole and Faith Evans—celebrates love's triumphs, Future Islands (Nov. 20, Music Hall of Williamsburg) are consumed with its failings. On their two most recent records, frontman Samuel Herring demonstrated a startling ability to perfectly summarize those little moments in which affection begins to pull apart. In the devastating "Where I Found You" from last year's In Evening Air, he forces himself to revisit every painful place that holds for him a memory of a lost love. "I remember our room/ and coming home to you," he sings sadly, as synths twinkle like spaceships in the background. That Herring's voice is a gruff, unsteady bark that often sounds like a controlled sob makes it perfectly suited to such wrenching subject matter. Even better is "The Great Fire," a duet with Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, whose brittle yelp makes the perfect pairing for Herring's broken Casanova moan. "If you let me be there again/ I'll be still, I won't say a word," they sing to each other, two lovers separated by miles, each oblivious to the other's longing. It's in the cataloging of private pain, secret crushes and mangled decisions that Future Islands excels. The New York band Tempers (Nov. 19, Glasslands) are gloomier still, Jasmine Golestaneh's morose moan snaking under ice floes of guitar. Telepathe (Nov. 23, Cameo Gallery) take the same formula, but tweak it slightly—the vocals are brighter and higher, but the wash of minor-key synths bears the distinct tang of despair. Heavens Gate (Nov. 20, Death by Audio) is a bewitching blend of all of the above: dark-cloud music the softens punk's swagger with shoegaze's bellow and groan.
There's little bellow or groan in the recordings of Simone Dinnerstein (Nov. 19, Le Poisson Rouge); her approach to piano playing is warmer and softer and more emotional—deeply-felt phrasings that grant even the most familiar pieces surprising depth and contour. By now, her story is something of a classical music legend: she self-financed a recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations while she was pregnant with her son, which was sent along to the classical label Telarc, who released it to much fanfare. It went on to scale the Billboard charts and establish Dinnerstein—who took a somewhat circuitous path to success—as something of a classical music superstar. Now that she is established, she shows no signs of tempering her idiosyncratic approach. On the just-released Something Almost Being Said, she takes a sidelong approach to pieces by Bach and Schubert, fiddling with the phrasing and expanding and contracting tempos at will. Her defiantly individualistic playing has caused consternation among some critics, but then Dinnerstein never seemed the kind of performer especially interested in appealing to convention. Her quirks are her greatest asset. That has long been the case, of course, with Bob Dylan (Nov. 21, Barclay's Center), whose fast-and-loose approach to his own catalog allows him to write his songs anew with each performance. For a time, Conor Oberst (Nov. 21, Carnegie Hall) was branded a devout Dylan disciple by over-eager critics, but his work has gotten more barbed and ragged since then. Tegan and Sara (Nov. 19, Bowery Ballroom) followed a similar trajectory, morphing quickly from the singer-songwriter approach of their early years to embrace ice-cold new wave. Joan as Policewoman (Nov. 20, Rockwood Music Hall) is smoother and more direct, making languid, grown-up pop music that at times recalls the melodic languor of Aimee Mann.
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