Anna St. Louis
If Only There Was a River (Woodsist)
Woodsist calls this the “debut” of Kansas City native Anna St. Louis— odd, since they also released her First Songs full-length last year. Maybe they want us to grade her on the “beginner” scale, but the truth is that If Only There Was a River doesn’t represent much of a leap from First Songs—it’s another set of hushed, spare, acoustic fingerpicking with occasional bass or cello, and it’s all really pretty. But St. Louis’ croon, restrained almost to the point of indifference, provides diminishing returns, as her tonal consistency makes the album less a river and more a comely pond.
Peel Dream Magazine
Modern Meta Physic
The monochrome album cover depicting bored, beautiful youth comes straight from the classic Belle and Sebastian playbook, and unsurprisingly, Peel Dream Magazine sounds like the Glaswegian touchstones, albeit without the grief and guilt. PDM also sounds like Stereolab, albeit without the politics—and once you throw in Joe Stevens’ British vocalisms (he’s a New Yorker), Modern Meta Physic quickly establishes itself as a stylish album of comportment, above all. The strummy “Anorak” and swirling “Due to Advances in Modern Tourism” have some life to them, but most of Modern Meta Physic breezes by without making much impression. You know you won’t miss anything if you go brush your teeth, and the album itself conveys a muted, domesticated quality, a weekend soundtrack for sweater season.
Jassbusters (Mexican Summer)
New Zealand eccentric Connan Mockasin’s last album was 2013’s Caramel—indulgent and charmlessly louche (see the five-part suite “It’s Your Body”), it was a comedown for many fans of his 2011 single “Forever Dolphin Love,” an epic, affecting stroke of tone and timbre. The much-anticipated Jassbusters is a concept album linked to Bostyn ’n Dobsyn, a five- part “absurdist melodrama” film Mockasin will screen on tour. Despite the suggestion of Art, there’s isn’t much going on—Jassbusters sounds like a tossed-off set of lounge funk demos interspersed with cringe- worthy excerpts of the film dialogue. Meanwhile, Mockasin takes the piss out of various vocal personae, from the torch singer of “Last Night” to the seducer of the cheesy-and-sleazy ’70s sex jam “Charlotte’s Thong.” Jassbusters isn’t unpleasant, but Mockasin’s disregard for his own talent kind of is.
Room 25 (Self-released)
Chicago rapper Noname (née Fatimah Warner) caught attention as a featured guest on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, and her self-released mixtape, Telefone, wound up on various year-end best-ofs in 2016. Still, it’s thrilling to hear how assured and accomplished her new album Room 25 is, musically, lyrically, and tonally. That last item is the neatest, most subversive trick: Noname sounds like a girl next door, or that sweet kid at the bus stop, her voice always smiling, which makes her sexually-frank, politically charged vignettes hit that much harder, as with her white-cop ventriloquizing on “Prayer Song.” The effect is strengthened by relentlessly blue-skied tracks full of loose musicality—elegant, open piano chords on “Montego Bae,” a gorgeous string passage on “Window,” and Noname’s relaxed-but-intricate flow throughout. Radical without even sounding rebellious, Room 25 is a stunner and a keeper. (And you can name your own price on Bandcamp, so why not actually keep it?)