A veteran of Iceland’s experimental Múm as well as the St. Petersburg Conservatory, multi-instrumentalist Gyða Valtýsdottir delivers an absorbing hybrid of those two worlds on Epicycle. The instrumentation hews to the traditional, but the sensibility and choice of material are adventurous, as Valtýsdottir interprets Crumb, Partch and Messiaen alongside Prokofiev, Schubert and Schumann. The cherry on top is her take on “Seikilos Epitaph,” a piece dating from circa the first century AD—the earliest known notated music. The musicianship is exquisite and the results are mysterious and mesmerizing throughout. “Louange à l’Éternité de Jesus” from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is a stunning work in any setting, morphing through countless shades of emotion from melancholy to hopefulness to terror to holy prostration. The concluding “Ave Generosa,” by Hildegard, provides an enigmatic ending to a spellbinding album.
Multi-Task (Trouble In Mind)
Atlanta’s Omni comprises duo Frankie Broyles (Deerhunter) and Philip Frobos (Carnivores)—their self-titled debut last year was good minimal art rock, and Multi-Task is even better minimal art rock, with angular guitar riffs, punchy bass lines, drums totally locked into the grid. The songs are tight and knotty, but not devoid of melody—you can even sing along with lead single “Equestrian” and punchy declarations like “you can’t afford it / you know you’re worth it.” After a jangly beginning, “Choke” turns into swinging no-wave—a cross between Meat Puppets and Minutemen, as much as Gang of Four and Wire. And Frobos’ cold Britishisms are cut with a Southern lilt and good humor, humanizing the wind-up toy backing tracks. Half an hour of Multi-Task might be long enough, but it’s plenty good enough.
Mountain Moves (Joyful Noise)
Longtime indie-art faves Deerhoof are angular and taut like Omni, but more academic and yeah, less fun. I know off-kilter time signatures are “cool,” and Deerhoof’s technique is unimpeachable, but I’m not sure what ends they serve. There’s a bemused air, but the album is shot through with menaced, anxious lyrics—“Slow motion detonation / Future that you could have saved”; “You could outlive your executioners / But you’re on TV, you’re expendable”; etc. Reference points are odd—some fleeting ’80s guitar rock moments, and a plodding “Smooth Criminal” funk groove in multiple spots, including “Come Down Here & Say That” with underutilized guest Laetitia Sadier. A reprieve comes via Xenia Rubinos, who brings soulful levity as she la-las through the whimsical piano-driven pop of “Singalong Junk.” But Greg Saunier’s drums, never the most interesting element, are always among the heaviest, and Mountain Moves feels like a workout.
The Babe Rainbow
The Babe Rainbow (Sony)
Three surfer boys from the Aussie hippie beach town of Byron Bay, The Babe Rainbow delivers a suitably groovy debut LP. In Oz, the Babes are on King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s label—and like the Giz they’re versatile, though not as ferocious. Mostly, they’re hanging loose while hanging together—guitarist Jack “Cool Breeze” Crowther sounds casual but never sloppy, while on “Losing Something” and “Half a Kiss,” singer Angus Darling comes off like Devendra Banhart without the baggage. There’s nothing deceptive in the song titles—“Peace Blossom Boogie” has a light T. Rex hipsway; “Cosmic Now” is ’60s flower psych; and “Monkey Disco” comes with wah guitar, springy bass and the good ol’ four-on-the-floor. The Babe Rainbow is stony party music par excellence.