Blackstar -David Bowie
I’ve largely ignored his post-1978 work, which generally seemed to be struggling for relevance, but this final LP is haunting, consciously uncommercial and pretty impressive. Very dark and somber in tone, with long but focused songs awash (but not buried) in electronic, soul and dub flourishes, this isn’t too far removed from early Roxy Music or later Radiohead. His vocals are wispier than previous, but suit the mood, and he seems at ease throughout—the record flows very organically.
Two Bit Monsters – John Hiatt
Before becoming an Americana mainstay Hiatt aspired to an Elvis Costello-style songcraft and vibe. This curiously-overlooked album is among my favorites, with tough, stripped-down arrangements and an incredible set of tunes, including the goth-y “Back to Normal”, “Cop Party” and the countryish “Pink Bedroom.” later covered by Roseanne Cash. Like Elvis C, the wordplay is front and center, but he can also rock convincingly when the occasion calls ( “String Pull Job”).
Beat – Bowery Electric
I listen to a lot of shoegaze which, admittedly, does tend to sound the same after awhile. These guys, however, have a little bit of a different approach, with trip-hoppy beats, drone and techno elements mixed in with the expected distorted vocals and flanged guitars. For all the epic, mutilayered sonic barrage, the songs are actually tightly-constructed and fat-free; proponents of gentler electronic and dream-pop genres will find this a gateway drug.
Gyrate – Pylon
Stripped-down, New Wavish/punkish white funk with a really good drummer; spiritually akin to (but rawer than) early Talking Heads, though they also share some of the jittery rhythm of 80s English bands like Gang of Four or Joy Division. The chick singer purrs, yowls and howls unrestrainedly—she really inhabits these songs—-and they’re completely free of the commercial polish/trendiness of brethren like B-52s or Blondie. Try this—it’s got a good beat and it’s easy to dance to.
Man Woman Life Death Eternity – The Church
Something of a retreat from the spacy, atmospherics of recent years to the more song-oriented, Ziggy meets Piper-era Pink Floyd vibe of their earlier work. Their twin guitar attack is more subdued and Steven Kilbey’s chanted vocals and angsty/poetic lyrics are more front and center here—he seems unusually committed to the writing, and the songs are not just vehicles for their usual instrumental excursions. That these guys haven’t lost their muse, or ambition, after 35 years is actually quite impressive.