Joan Shelley, "Over and Even" (No Quarter). As strikingly well crafted as a Shaker cabinet, the new album from the Louisville, Ky.-based singer and songwriter is built with well-honed materials: electric and acoustic guitar, accordion, piano, banjo, tambourine, glockenspiel, violin and voices both solo and in delicate harmony.
Suggesting the handmade work of the British folk band Fairport Convention and the rural music of the American South, "Over and Even" seems simple by design, but each song is accented with striking detail. In opener "Brighter Than the Blues," Shelley yearns for escape to somewhere "where the lights are low/ So the stars can glow/ Brighter than the blues." She finds those places throughout the album.
Most everything on "Over ..." is built with measured precision. Detailed lyrics zoom in on creaking floorboards, note sweat running down someone's new cotton clothes. Guitar solos journey through bridges and into new instrumental realms. On "Stay on My Shore," Shelley harmonizes with fellow Kentuckian Will Oldham about lives at one with the natural world: "We feed the birds/ Syrup and seed/ So they stay near/ So we can see."
Equally striking is the musical depth. Liquid arrangements drift beneath melodies, pulling them into darkened corners. With sublime phrasing and images, Shelley and band during "Not Over by Half" illuminate "the blue of my veins and the tracks on my cheeks," silencing a lover in the chorus. "It's not over by half," she sings with haunting determination, "There's a gold in your eyes blooming out from the black."
Owiny Sigoma Band, "Nyanza" (Brownswood Recordings). A bicontinental project of Londoners and Kenyans, the Owiny Sigoma Band's infectious convergence relies mostly on both east and west African tones and rhythms. They employ them, however, in service of curiously catchy tracks that straddle borders.
Like its predecessor, "Nyanza" was issued by British tastemaker Gilles Peterson's Brownswood imprint, and those who know the DJ's preferences can immediately hear what drew him. With its funky polyrhythms and propellant bass lines, "Nyanza" often shakes like a Nairobi discotheque at peak hour. But elsewhere ("Nyanza Night," "Jah Mic"), the record turns meditative. The combination is tough to resist.
FIDLAR, "Too" (Mom + Pop Music). When it comes to snotty aggression and booze-fueled distortion, the Los Angeles punk band is humming at peak power on its wild new album, "Too." Featuring endlessly screamable songs that tackle partying and its consequences, FIDLAR's thematic concerns include hanging out and drinking bottomless bottles of beer ("40oz. on Repeat"); cruising along Pacific Coast Highway ("West Coast"); depression, romance and idiocy ("Leave Me Alone"); addiction and abstinence ("Overdose"); and "Stupid Decisions," "Bad Medicine," "Bad Habits."
Like Black Flag, the Germs, Circle Jerks and thousands of Los Angeles punkers that followed in their wake, FIDLAR (which is short for an unprintable acronym about life being a risk, dog) prefers its guitars grungy and its testosterone at peak levels. But unlike the also-ran majority of them, this quartet appreciates dynamics, surprise noises and curious structural diversions to go with the fury.