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There are a lot of things to celebrate about summer: warmth, sunshine, a free-floating sense of entitlement to kick back a bit. This particular summer season just so happens to herald the release of an impressive crop of new and upcoming albums by local artists.
Here are the ones you should listen to:
Bent Knee, "Land Animal"
For Bent Knee, the point has never been to make things easy. From the start, the Berklee-born sextet’s grand, ambitious music invited comparisons to prog rock, a school oft-maligned for its virtuosic — some might say showy — tendencies. Bent Knee eschews the term, pointing instead to genre-defying artists like Björk and Radiohead as inspiration. Whatever the case, the band deftly traverses the line between accessibility and complexity, and in its best moments refines the most out-there ideas into sharply aimed missiles.
“Land Animal,” coming out June 23, is Bent Knee’s fourth, and strongest, effort to date, as well as its first release on Sony’s Inside Out Music imprint. The band has always had a flair for the dramatic, but here it delivers fleeting moments of grace amid furious motion. Singer Courtney Swain has a belt like a knife and a croon like a lullaby, and she manages to wring emotion out of some of the most implausible shifts in time and tone. On “Land Animal,” Bent Knee seems as interested in writing pleasing melodies as on upending expectations — as easily as the music makes you marvel, it provides delirious release.
Palehound, "A Place I’ll Always Go"
Palehound emerged a few years ago as part of a local blossoming of scraggy-yet-technical indie rock spearheaded by the likes of Speedy Ortiz and the now-defunct Krill. Palehound’s 2015 debut “Dry Food” showcased frontwoman Ellen Kempner’s impressive guitar chops and a knack for charmingly quirky hooks. “A Place I’ll Always Go,” coming out June 16 (but you could have a "First Listen" via NPR), feels gentler, less clamorous than its predecessor, pitting Kempner’s whispery vocals against soaring melodies.
When I interviewed Kempner in 2015, she was just beginning to open up about her sexuality, something she says she struggled to come to terms with during college. In the lead-up to the release of “A Place I’ll Always Go” she has been frank about the revelation of her queer identity and open about newfound romance in her life. And indeed her writing is more direct, more intimate, as a result. “She keeps me up at night,” Kempner croons on the single “Room,” trembling in awe of love’s discovery, but buoyed by it, too.
The Suitcase Junket, “Pile Driver”
A repurposed gas can. A guitar scavenged from a dumpster. And yes, a suitcase: These are just a few of the items that Western Mass. musician Matt Lorenz exploits to cacophonous effect in his one-man band The Suitcase Junket. Lorenz, a master of multitasking, plays guitar while drumming with his feet and boasts the astonishing ability to sing two notes at once using a technique similar to the one made famous by Tuvan throat singers. When it comes right down to it, though, Lorenz relies as much on methods tried-and-true: bluesy guitar riffs, tenacious melodies and a singing voice both weathered and nimble. You don’t need to witness his physics-defying performance to be captivated; the music stands on its own.
The Suitcase Junket’s first albums were homemade, bare-bones affairs that captured the scrappy ethos of Lorenz’s peculiar endeavor. On “Pile Driver” he edges tentatively into wider sonic territory, even indulging in the occasional vocal harmony or overdub. But the rattle of those junkyard drums are never far off, a pleasantly bewildering reminder of The Suitcase Junket’s odd and singular origins.
Jenna Moynihan and Mairi Chaimbeul, “One Two”
The fiddle-harp duo of Jenna Moynihan and Mairi Chaimbeul represents the best of today’s traditional music: innovative, sensitive and hinging on the intimate interplay between expert instrumentalists. Both Moynihan and Chaimbeul are recent graduates of Berklee College of Music and, at least to some degree, the products of the energized roots music scene the school has helped foster in Boston. Moynihan, a fiddler from Lakewood, New York, moves deftly beyond her training in Scottish music, mining the propulsive rhythms of American old-time and Swedish fiddle tunes. Chaimbeul, a harpist who grew up on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, flickers from syncopated bass lines to corkscrewing harmonies to nimble melodies, occasionally managing to execute all three at once.
“One Two” is Moynihan and Chaimbeul’s first full-length album. Like the duo’s 2014 EP, “Back & Forth,” “One Two” features a mixture of traditional tunes and original compositions. And like so much music of its ilk, it relies as much on the players’ choice of repertoire as on their ability to execute it. Unlike their peers, Moynihan and Chaimbeul never confuse ingenuity with heavy-handedness, and they are consistently subtle while remaining deeply attuned to the beauty of their material. Though they never employ words, the two nevertheless seem to be speaking their own language — one we are lucky to get to try to divine.
Avenue, “Mass Ave & Lenox”
Avenue’s third full-length outing sees him at his most fully-realized. “Mass Ave & Lenox” is the Boston rapper’s homage to his South End neighborhood, a vivid reminiscence that exudes the shimmer of summer heat on blacktop. It pulses, too, with the threat of violence — Avenue counts himself among the city's dealers and gangsters -- the ratatatat of gunfire puncturing sepia-toned samples and drowsy beats. But Avenue’s eye for grittiness does not preclude a penchant for poetry. “Yeah, she got me caught in the lies/ ‘Stead of seeing the bigger picture I just crop off the sides,” he raps on “Social Media Love,” a melancholy excavation of a relationship’s jealousies and insecurities through the prism of its online life. As in tune as Avenue is to the menace of the streets, in his telling there is tenderness, too.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of albums Bent Knee has released. We regret the error.