Album reviews: Novella, Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau and Chicano Batman

Album reviews: Novella, Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau and Chicano Batman


Change of State (Sinderlyn)

Perilous are the genres doggedly loyal to form in some way, like the blues or reggae. Just follow the chord progression, or chunk the guitar in a characteristic rhythm—and voilà: doing it. But what percentage of overall attempts to make reggae music have been horrific? Ninety?

Novella courts disaster on its second full-length by clearly conjuring a parade of beloved trancey rock styles from the last 50 years—but huzzah, the group delivers the goods. Recorded with James Hoare—whose stock keeps rising around here—the driving Change of State evokes The Byrds, Silver Apples, Neu!, My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab. Starting with “Does the Island Know”—which sounds like a post-punk reworking of the disco missile “I Feel Love”—the songs shimmer, and sound like they’d blossom even more in concert, different waves of overtones blooming in each room. There are bummers—the saggy “Seize the Sun” and the stupefyingly punishing snare track in “Side By Side.” But highlights are plentiful, including the expansive “Thun,” the vibrating “Come In” and the jangly title track. Hollie Warren and Sophy Hollington’s dispassionate, reverberating duet harmonies are spot-on, and Change of State is both poised and propulsive. state

Chris Thile &
Brad Mehldau

S/T (Nonesuch)

Insanely talented, prolific jazz pianist Brad Mehldau teams up with Chris Thile, a bluegrass mandolin prodigy at 13 and currently the youngest elder statesman of American roots music. Their debut collaboration is equal parts originals and covers of Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and (hey kids!) Elliott Smith. Thile’s voice is weak tea and often, frankly, irritating, though he does sound great on an understated reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie.” As ever, his mandolin playing is splendid, with firework melodic runs and percussive chopping that underscores Mehldau without muddying the texture. Mehldau’s a monster—his left hand transcends comping; it knows what the right hand is doing and does it too. The exuberant duet passages in “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” give voice to Dylan’s inner vaudevillian, and the album includes several straight instrumentals, from Mehldau’s adventurous “Tallahassee Junction” to the cherished Irish tune “Tabhair dom do Lámh” to a beautiful rendering of Smith’s “Independence Day.” Thile and Mehldau are a musical match made in public-radio heaven that works on Earth.

Chicano Batman

Freedom Is Free (ATO)

Chicano Batman has been coiled to spring on wider ground for years. The band served notice in 2009 with a fabulous self-titled debut; the follow-up Cycles of Existential Rhyme led to opening gigs for both Alabama Shakes and Jack White, in addition to well-received slots at Coachella and Bonnaroo. Though he never brings the dramatics like the Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Bardo Martinez’s kindhearted voice, which sometimes heads into falsetto range, makes a benevolent guide for an album that drips with wah guitar, snaky bass lines, frisky percussion and heavy doses of garagey organ. Proud Angelenos, Chicano Batman nevertheless preaches the gospel of the timeless, universal soul groove—similar to the Dap-Kings, with recreations less meticulous and more extensive. Freedom Is Free hints at The JB’s, Cymande and Funkadelic throughout, and the concluding “Area C” throws a curveball of “Meddle”-era Pink Floyd. The production is compact and dry, suggesting the band plays these tunes pretty straight live, so the room should be full of elated, swaying bodies when Chicano Batman comes to the Southern on March 24. free

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