Album reviews: DAWN, Steve Gunn, Mono, Sneaks, Tim Presley’s White Fence, and TOY

London's TOY hits the sweet spot on new album Happy in the Hollow. Publicity image. London’s TOY hits the sweet spot on new album Happy in the Hollow. Publicity image.


New Breed (Young Action)

Danity Kane veteran Dawn Richard has forged a reputation as an R&B iconoclast, collaborating with Dirty Projectors and working on Adult Swim. Here she puts forth her NOLA roots with wizened old- people’s voices at the start of several songs—though New Breed doesn’t sound particularly rooted in New Orleans, or anywhere. Richard’s a bold and compelling presence as she explores volatile relationships from a number of angles, but the material’s wildly uneven; there’s catchy stuff (“shades”), bombastic stuff (the title track and “spaces”), and a lot of funky wallpaper. ***

Steve Gunn

The Unseen In Between (Matador)

On Unseen, Gunn continues to file down his edges; unobjectionable and tasteful to a fault, the nine songs here all feel padded out in length, and while there are some majestic, swirling codas (props to second guitarist James Elkington), there’s also a lot of tepid meandering. Gunn’s vocals, constrained in range and mood, can’t help but add to the sense of stasis, and while I’m not a lyrics person and have no particular beef with his vague poesy, yeah, there’s also that. ***


Nowhere Now Here (Temporary Residence)

Twenty years and 10 albums in, Japan’s Mono is still exploring epic, mostly instrumental, occasionally metallic rawk. And folks who find Nowhere Now Here to be a profound album title might also dig these turgid, relentless “compositions” that clearly aim for the awe-inspiring. The amazing part is that Nowhere Now Here can simultaneously be so overbearing and so insipid.  *1/2


Highway Hypnosis (Merge)

For her third album as Sneaks, D.C.’s Eva Moolchan enlisted producers to flesh out her skeletal grooves, but Highway Hypnosis still pretty much sounds like demos in the real world. Moolchan’s no- wavey bass is still underpinned by retro drum machines and topped by retro synths, and her detached chanting is still in full effect—there’s just slightly more sonic punch and window dressing. Highway Hypnosis isn’t as effortlessly tuneful as It’s a Myth or as frisky as Gymnastics, but it’s still cool, and at times (“Beliefs” and “Money Don’t Grow On Trees”) Sneaks finds a groggy version of her magic. ***1/2

Tim Presley’s White Fence

I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk (Drag City)

With the first two White Fence albums in 2010-11, Tim Presley became my lo-fi hero. Presley had explored jangly and countrified rock in Darker My Love, but White Fence offered divinely stony psych-pop. This is the first White Fence album in five years, and the first since a pair of patchy albums by Drinks, Presley’s thorny collaboration with Cate Le Bon. Hawk gets off to an annoying start with a dissonant, water-torture guitar chime on the title track, and although Presley does play nicer the rest of the way, most of Hawk sounds like first drafts from the drug den—which isn’t to say it doesn’t have highlights, like the Roxy Music sketch “Neighborhood Light” and the Orbison-meets-Barrett “I Can Dream You.” ***


Happy In The Hollow (Tough Love)

London’s TOY comes real close to the sweet spot between experimental indie and radio rock on this fourth album. The band is capable of whipping up a krautrock groove fed by wiry guitars (“Energy,” “Mechanism”) and taking wistful if not woozy turns (“The Willo,” “You Make Me Forget Myself”). It all swings pretty well, tied together by pulsing synthesizers and Tom Dougall’s dreamy incantations, and even if there aren’t any sure-fire hooks, Happy in the Hollow doesn’t flag or wear out its welcome. ***1/2

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