Album reviews: Prince, Les Big Byrd, Mueller & Roedelius, Harmony Rockets with Peter Walker, and Molly Burch

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Molly Burch brings a strong voice to her sophomore release, First Flower. Publicity image Molly Burch brings a strong voice to her sophomore release, First Flower. Publicity image

Prince

Piano & a Microphone 1983 (Warner Bros.)

In case you somehow missed it, the first posthumous release from Prince’s storied vault is out—the mere fact of which gives a shiver, because what could be next, and then after that, ad infinitum in gloria? Meanwhile, there’s this album of not-even-demos, basically Prince spitballing at the piano. It’s beyond casual, but still serves as a reminder that he’s better than nearly anyone at nearly everything—on a stomping version of the B-side “17 Days,” Prince peels off right-hand leads like piano’s his main thing. A gorgeous fragment of “Purple Rain” follows, as does a tantalizing glimpse of the unreleased “Wednesday,” and while it’s slightly bumpy overall, Piano & a Microphone 1983 provides an instant and potent flash of the depth of what we’ve lost.

Les Big Byrd

Iran Iraq IKEA (PNKSLM)

You’d be forgiven for assuming Les Big Byrd was German, as the first measures of leadoff track “Geräusche” quickly establish an agreeable Neu!/Harmonia vibe, with a lovely simple keyboard line floating above an archetypal motorik groove. But it’s a sort of Swedish supergroup, its members having played in a ton of bands and written songs for Charli XCX and Robyn. Iran Iraq IKEA is a deceptively whimsical album, featuring a lot of lighthearted coating for world-weary laments—“A little less dumb, a little more numb” goes a typical refrain. The energy flags down the stretch, but that’s partly to say that Iran Iraq IKEA would have made a darn good EP.

https://lesbigbyrd.bandcamp.com/

Mueller & Roedelius

Imagori II (Grönland)

Meantime, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, octogenarian co-founder of the aforementioned Harmonia is still around, making beautiful music, here with Gotan Project’s Christoph Mueller (as the title suggests, this is the duo’s second album). There are some unfortunate turns—“Ich Du Wir” has a cheesy ’80s soundtrack vibe, and guest Kenichi’s vocals on “Fractured Being” and “Lonely Game” are more distracting than anything. But “Foghorn” and “Daumenwalzer” burble with texture, developing and unfolding patiently but with purpose. No reputations are sullied, and Imagori III already sounds worth checking out.

Harmony Rockets with Peter Walker

Lachesis/Clotho/Atropos (Tompkins Square)

From Tompkins Square, stalwart torchbearers for American primitive (whatever that is), comes the marvelous Lachesis/Clotho/Atropos (named for the Greek fates), a fruitful collaboration led by Mercury Rev’s Harmony Rockets. Wilco’s Nels Cline and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley are in fine form here, but the main attraction is cult figure Peter Walker, who released two “folk raga” albums in the late ’60s and was Timothy Leary’s “musical director” (whatever that is). With three pieces spread over 44 minutes, there’s a bounty of treasure within, especially on the sprawling, protean “Lachesis,” and the serene closer “Atropos.”

Molly Burch

First Flower
(Captured Tracks)

First Flower is the
second record from Austin-based Molly
Burch, and it’s an engaging, seductive keeper. Having studied jazz vocals at UNC-Asheville, Burch is in complete control of a rich, sultry voice, and she’s not just a singer, she’s a storyteller, by turns mopey and funny, vulnerable and assured. Her song settings sway and roll, a vibrant blend of vintage uptown country, torch song, and the softer side of Texas rockabilly, and her band is Austin-impeccable. Burch brings her wry take on heartache to Richmond’s Strange Matter on October 11.

https://mollyburch.bandcamp.com/

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