Two years ago, the United States shut down — a boggling thought to say the least.
In my spring music guide last year, I referenced a note of optimism coming from the 2021 music calendar, and I can say again with confidence that I have the same feeling about this year. One beautiful consistency throughout the last two years is the resiliency and creative opportunism of musicians around the globe. Maybe I’m just over the cold and am searching for a reason to feel good again, but the music I’ve been enjoying this early spring season has a kineticism about it that feels electrifying.
Today, I offer you seven new releases that resonate with me in varying degrees. As always, there’s a healthy handful of Boston-area artists proudly representing New England; elsewhere, we’ll find a few artists as conceptual and sonic ambassadors of their regions of the world. From sultry folk to jolting Afrofuturism, to burning jazz fusion and avant-garde psychedelia, we’re marking two years of COVID-19 with a hearty spread of compelling new releases. Here’s to hoping I can drop the virus schtick next year.
Kaiti Jones ft. Harris Paseltiner, 'It Ain't Me Babe'
Indie folk singer-songwriter Kaiti Jones received a warm reception for her sophomore album “Tossed,” released last March, and now she’s returned with a collection of new singles to usher in her next era. The final installment of Jones’ “Weaker Daze” project finds her in collaboration with Darlingside’s Harris Paseltiner as the duo navigate a stark, ruminating cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Like the sultry vocal blend of She & Him, Jones and Paseltiner meld their bassy, rich vocal tones in a balmy unison.
Ibibio Sound Machine, 'Electricity'
Grace Jones meets Fela Kuti meets LCD Soundsystem; that’s how I’d describe “Electricity,” the tensely charged new release from London Afrofuturist group Ibibio Sound Machine. Churning and crackling with pops of crunchy synth lines like a power plant on the fritz, “Protection From Evil,” an album standout, plays like a frenetic seance, singer Eno Williams’ commanding chants springing from the backbeat with a spiritual urgency. This is a band to keep on your radar.
City of Four, 'Where Were We?'
Boston’s long lineage of jazz fusion — best showcased by the likes of Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kevin Eubanks — has greatly impacted and influenced modern jazz with its academic backbone and experimental prowess. On “Where Were We?,” the debut album from fusion collective City of Four, saxophonist Mike Caudill leads the quartet bounding through tangential compositions that flaunt each instrumentalist’s effortless ability. Lead single “Orbs” exhibits the genre at its most quintessential: Heavy jazz chops underscored by syrupy slap bass and jilted rhythm changes.
Vundabar, 'Devil For The Fire'
On “Devil For The Fire,” the fifth full-length release from Boston indie post-punk trio Vundabar, vocalist/guitarist Brandon Hagen chose to explore the human brain in a real way; he dove deep into the subconscious-driven genre of film noir and read studies on neuroplasticity. Such bookish source material, driven by a range of punky, ear-wormy compositions, yields an album of arty allegories relating life’s winding roads with the brain’s complex neural pathways. In short: Charmingly melodic, shaggy and deeply poetic.
Dietrich Strause, 'You And I Must Be Out Of My Mind'
The breezy folk songwriting that inhabits “You And I Must Be Out Of My Mind,” the fifth studio album from Boston singer-songwriter Dietrich Strause, is full of dreamy promise, like the view of a summer sunset from the backseat window. Flanked by an A-list production crew — whose prior collaborations include Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Lake Street Dive — Strause’s lush compositions and keen ear for arrangement, as heard on the single “Out Of Mind,” lies somewhere between the spectrum of Andy Shauf and Paul Simon.
Trombone Shorty, 'Lifted'
New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty has been starting parties with his festive, hard-hitting funk since the early 2000s, and his newest endeavor, “Lifted,” elevates the celebration even further. Bandleader Troy Andrews’ first album in five years pulls out all the stops — massive riffs, soulful hooks, lots and lots of horns — without infringing on novelty; not only can he absolutely shred the trombone, but the guy can really sing. It’s an ideal springtime release: Joyful and irresistibly fun.
Noah Deemer, 'The Sleepwalker'
While writing his debut album, “The Sleepwalker” (set for re-release this May), Noah Deemer began doing hypnosis in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. You could call the unsettling psychedelia of the album a culmination of these sessions, each song representing the warped chapters of a trance-like hallucination. Channeling the more indulgent backchannels of ‘70s DIY counterculture, “The Sleepwalker” feels like a forgotten treasure from 50 years back, like an unreleased Mort Garson record with a New York City bite.