Album Reviews: Flying Lotus, Gunter Herbig, The Young Sinclairs, Daughter of Swords, and Sugar Ray

Sugar Ray's Little Yachty is best served with a fruity cocktail. Publicity image. Sugar Ray’s Little Yachty is best served with a fruity cocktail. Publicity image.

Flying Lotus

Flamagra (Warp)

One of the most compelling post-Dilla beatmakers, Flying Lotus has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington, among others, as his amorphous funk has spread throughout left-field R&B, hip-hop, and jazz. On Flamagra, FlyLo is abetted by fellow travelers like Thundercat and Robert Glasper, along with why-not guests such as David Lynch and Little Dragon. The result is a Billboard No. 1 dance album that’s devoid of floor-ready bangers (“More,” featuring fellow Angeleno Anderson .Paak, comes closest). FlyLo’s indifference to song structures could read like laziness if everything weren’t so meticulously crafted, and after some tense passages, the second half of Flamagra mellows to a smolder on the gorgeous, wordless Mac Miller tribute “Find Your Own Way Home” and the slow jam “Land of Honey,” featuring Solange. [7.1]

Gunter Herbig

Ex Oriente: Music by G.I. Gurdjieff (BIS)

Gunter Herbig is a German guitarist by way of Portugal, born in Brazil—and he’s not the wild card here. That’d be Armenian-Greek mystic philosopher guru George Gurdjieff, who wrote these pieces in the 1920s with one of his follower/pupils, composer Thomas de Hartmann. Gurdjieff drew inspiration from various folk, religious, and ritual music traditions, much of it from the near east—Keith Jarrett has recorded some solo piano versions, and here Herbig offers solo electric guitar interpretations. The music is spare, dusky, and lightly haunting, if that’s a thing. Too heavy for an upscale candle shop, but perfect for a combo candle shop/tattoo parlor. [7.5]

The Young Sinclairs

Out of the Box (Requiem Pour un Twister)

Half of my joy over last year’s excellent Stimulator Jones debut was discovering that smooth R&B lover man Jones was actually Roanoke’s Sam Lunsford, whose Young Sinclairs had been crafting spot-on ’60s jangle pastiches for years. Out of the Box leaves The Byrds’ nest but stays consciously faux—“Stay All Night” is a sped-up “From a Buick 6”; “Get Along” is a sunnier “In the Midnight Hour.” In less talented hands, this would all be dreadful, but Lunsford is a savant with moves, and Out of the Box seems ready-made for hazy, lazy summer days. [6.8]

Daughter of Swords

Dawnbreaker (Nonesuch)

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig has burnished her neo-Appalachian bona fides in Mountain Man, and her bandmates from that wondrous trio show up on a few songs on Dawnbreaker (as do Americana heroes Phil Cook and Ryan Gustafson). The album title even echoes a line from “Bright Morning Stars,” a hymn featured on Mountain Man’s Magic Ship—but Dawnbreaker is Sauser-Monnig’s show; an insular pensiveness prevails, without the whimsy that helped Mountain Man avoid the austerity=authenticity trap. Which isn’t to say Sauser-Monnig falls victim to it—or plays victim, either —everything is rendered beautifully and there’s an abiding optimism that shines through, especially on the radiant “Gem.” [7.6]

Sugar Ray

Little Yachty (BMG)

I cut this band a lot of slack back in the day—Mark McGrath seemed likable enough, and he crushed “Rock and Roll Jeopardy!” And…I kinda loved “Someday” and “Fly.” So, since the album cover and song titles here clearly rendered “yachty” as a marina-based adjective, I hoped for some disposable confections. Oh well. McGrath quickly becomes tiresome as the popular jock who knows he can sing pretty with zero social risk, as the tunes jump from bland reggae to bland reggaeton to bland pop country to a tragic cover of Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” Nothing is memorable enough to outlast a fruity cocktail, and disposability becomes Little Yachty’s saving grace. (5.2)


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