Album reviews: corncob, The Chats, Frank & His Sisters, and more

Local experimental musician corncob has captured the ear of our Tunes columnist with her album "RANDY." Publicity photo Local experimental musician corncob has captured the ear of our Tunes columnist with her album “RANDY.” Publicity photo


RANDY (Foil) 

From the holy-shit desk: Heather Mease found her way from Philadelphia to Charlottesville via UVA’s Ph.D. program in composition, and as corncob, has just released the riveting tour-de-force RANDY. Mease’s vocal performances—it seems inadequate to just call them vocals–bracingly meld coquettish seduction, dark comedy, fragility, and menace over synth/drum-machine/found-sound backing tracks that ooze, drift, and thump like crazy. Highlights include the macabre pillow talk “see you empty,” and “posting dumb shit on the internet,” which starts as a sepulchral chant before crossing a bridge of ’70s-spaceship computer sounds and erupting into an exhilarating albeit homicidal dance- pop anthem. RANDY is inspired, provocative capital-A Art. [9.0]


The Chats

High Risk Behaviour (Bargain Bin)

Within two seconds of “Stinker,” you know what you’re getting here—classic, bratty punk right up in your effing face. The Chats channel the Sex Pistols and the Damned, gleefully dishing dirty slices of grubby lives (“The Clap,” “Dine & Dash,” etc.), all at relentless speed and filtered through their Aussie lifeworld (40s are “750s”—metric system and all). The Chats crash the Fillmore Silver Spring on May 3. [8.5]


Smokey Haangala

Aunka Ma Kwacha (Séance Centre) 

A Zambian poet and journalist who died at 38 in 1988, Smokey Haangala also turned his observations on economic inequality into songs, via minimal, homemade-sounding recordings. On Aunka Ma Kwacha, his 1976 debut, Haangala melodiously warbles in several languages (including occasional English) over simple acoustic and electric guitar riffs and a drum machine—it’s almost like an unplugged version of fellow Zambians Amanaz, and this overdue reissue is a consistent, intimate charmer. [8.0]



Verböten (Split Single)

Suburban Chicago, 1982: Jason Narducy and his middle school buds have a punk band that rehearses in a basement and plays some shows (incidentally impressing the hell out of a kid named Dave who was visiting from D.C. and went on to play drums in a band called Nirvana). Narducy, who tours with Superchunk and GBV, also has a new musical about Verböten, which makes these early-’80s recordings—four studio, one live—potentially icky cross-promotion. Fortunately, they rip, totally and adorably—the songs are rudimentary punk done up fast and hooky, and the lyrics are kid-genius: “You gotta let it out / Right from your snout.” [8.4]


Khruangbin & Leon Bridges

Texas Sun (Dead Oceans) 

Khruangbin’s mostly-instrumental Con Todo El Mundo was a surprise crowd-pleaser in 2018; meantime, fellow Texan Leon Bridges had been burnishing a rep as a soul crooner reminiscent of Sam Cooke. While touring together, the artists recognized a creative kinship and started working on these songs. The results are what fans might expect—sun-baked, soulful psychedelia—and if the songs are a bit underdeveloped, they work as vibe, rightfully bound for “Heady BBQ” playlists. [7.2]


Frank & His Sisters

Frank & His Sisters (Mississippi Records)

Singer/guitarist/horticulturist (!) Frank Humplick wore life lightly and spread joy playing cafés and clubs across Tanzania and Kenya during his 1950s- ’60s heyday. His songs, translated from Kiswahili and Kichagga in the generous liner notes, are full of tenderness—and the trio, which indeed includes Frank’s actual sisters Maria and Thecla, harmonizes like the Carter Family, if the Carters were more cheerful and A.P. could actually sing melodies. Tying everything together is Frank’s versatile, elegant acoustic guitar picking, which includes flashes of Django, Joseph Spence, and Jimmie Rodgers. A delight. [8.9]

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Joe Bargmann

Honestly, corncob? Hmmmmm. I think I’ve heard it before, and better: Laurie Anderson, US Girls, Karen O., the spacier stuff by Charlotte Gainsbourg… corncob is derivative, at best.