Brawls in the Briar (Super Secret)
Adam Ostrar, né Busch, former Charlottesville resident and WTJU DJ, was also a main mover behind Curious Digit, Manishevitz and SONOI. On Brawls in the Briar, Ostrar is joined by members of Califone and White Rabbits, and combines characteristics of all those bands. The tracks gently stir, rooted in acoustic guitar and Ostrar’s genial croon, adorned with countless touches—early-Floyd organ, triangle, borderline Frippertronics guitar, etc. Ostrar issues plenty of enigmatic lines, but also achieves emotional liftoff, as on the coda of “Another Room”: “The day is ending / the sun is setting in the spoon / I don’t want another room / I want yours, dear.” Understated and beguiling, Brawls in the Briar feels like a secret album that people share and bond over. Ostrar returns to Charlottesville, appearing at Low Records on October 23.
Jagjaguwar makes magnificent use of that Bon Iver money by giving wider release to Jamila Woods’ assured debut HEAVN, an R&B album that should have wide appeal (it makes sense that she’s playing the Austin City Limits and Afropunk festivals back-to-back this month). Woods came through Chicago’s youth arts program, where she met Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper (who shows up on “LSD” here). Race ruminations dominate HEAVN, and rather than gloss the relative privilege I have no business glossing, I’ll just say that Woods carries a lot of baggage from Southside Chicago to Northside Prep School to Brown University and back, with what sounds like strength and grace. Her voice isn’t on the level of Erykah or Solange, but it’s charismatic and flexible, lighthearted on the title track and cathartic on “Way Up.”
Out of Range (Paradise of Bachelors)
L.A.’s twangy-shambly Gun Outfit has been around for about a decade now; I’ve always liked them but have never gorged on their albums or found an unforgettable song. Nothing changes on Out of Range, and my previous good will is tested by the promo copy: “St. Augustine rides with John Ford and Wallace Stevens on a Orphic-Gnostic suicide drive toward the hallucinatory vanishing points of the Southwestern desert, debating the denouement of the decaying American dream.” Barf. Hard to say if the lyrics live up to the pretention, because Dylan Sharp mumbles—then again, the unassuming voices are part of the charm, as are the (predominately) breezy grooves and the whining, intertwining guitar work. And they sound like they’d light up the stage on songs like the stomping “Sally Rose” (!) and the hazy but driving “Strange Insistence.”
Soundspecies & Ache Meyi
Soundspecies & Ache Meyi (Manana)
English label Manana debuted this year with a trio of releases, all collaborations between folkloric Cuban and international electronic artists. Manana has admirably navigated the pitfalls of this highly suspect mission, and the resulting albums are blessedly worthy of the label “vigorous hybrid,” as opposed to “lightweight pap” or “godawful train wreck.” Here, Soundspecies sublimates compositional urges, primarily providing atmosphere to the oceanic polyrhythms of Santiago bembe group Ache Meyi, led by mononymous brothers Hector and Rafael. This decision comes partially from practicality—the vocal melodies often switch keys, making harmonic accompaniment a cluttering prospect—but also from righteous respect for Ache Meyi, which pays off. The results are mesmerizing but kinetic, the percussive layers emerging and receding hypnotically.