A weekly roundup of required listening from The Times’ music team. This week’s picks include a politically minded effort from Southern rock staples the Drive-By Truckers, the modern soul of Wet and more.
Drive-By Truckers, “American Band” (ATO Records)
With the election days away, here’s as topical a soundtrack as one can find. On “American Band,” this long-running Southern rock group treats songs as if they’re ballot measures, ticking off one issue after another and doing so with a staunch, partisan point of view. Issues of gun control figure heavily — see the simmering keyboard and hard-nosed guitars of “Ramon Casiano” — but so do broader thoughts of patriotism, as evidenced by the spooked anger of “Darkened Flags.”
Yet this is an album as much as about emotions as it is topics. The mournful, fearful “Guns of Umpqua” shows how quickly contentment can be destroyed, and the brave “What It Means” — a 6 1/2-minute strummer in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — does its best to turn the confusion of a violatle election season into a heartfelt conversation.
— Todd Martens
Lambchop, “FLOTUS” (Merge Records)
The singer, songwriter and visual artist Kurt Wagner has led his band Lambchop into the thistle of Nashville country and western music through a dozen studio albums. At first, Wagner guided a mini-orchestra's worth of collaborators — strings, keyboards, heavy bass, the occasional horn — through his literate, existential twang-soul koans. The best suggested a merger between Chet Atkins and Curtis Mayfield — with Leonard Cohen's droll delivery. But he's simultaneously explored meditative electronic beat music, and on the remarkable "FLOTUS" (For Love Often Turns Us Still), Wagner has drenched his baritone in vocal effects and, with two collaborators, woven downtempo beat music and his effervescent lyricism into something really magical.
The candlelit ballad "Howe" flickers with melodicism, a piano moving through chords and a tiny electronic beat while a dubby bass guides the rhythm. Each track mesmerizes minus overt drama. The 18-minute centerpiece, "The Hustle," rolls along like German band Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," except instead of celebrating the open highway, Wagner's thoughts wend down a gravel road to a party where there was "talk of love in Tennessee / Of the beauty of the ‘70s."
— Randall Roberts
Public Image LTD "Metal Box" (Universal)
Few places in rock history are as secure as John Lydon's, but few are as weirdly underrated as Public Image LTD. His post-Sex-Pistols band was an essential bridge between punk and disco and all the new sounds that came commensurately with that shift. At the time, that was practically heresy, but now it feels incredibly prescient (and in line with punk's self-destructive, reinventive nature).
"Metal Box," released in 1979, was the act’s masterpiece, and now it's finally reissued with a batch of live sets that find Lyndon carving out something new from the husk of a genre he helped create.
— August Brown
Wet, “The Middle” / “Turn Away” (Columbia)
This Brooklyn trio made a splash in January with an impressive debut album, “Don’t You,” that seemed to pose a willfully provocative question: Can soul music function minus any semblance of soul? In sleek, edge-less songs like “Deadwater” and “Weak,” Wet answered yes by replacing passion as we commonly think of it with a kind of hollowed-out despair — powerful stuff at a moment when we look to our smartphones for signs of life.
Wet brandishes slightly tougher textures in two new songs it released last month ahead of a tour that will bring the band to the Fonda Theatre on Saturday night. Yet singer Kelly Zutrau still sounds trapped behind glass, as visible and untouchable as a text message.
— Mikael Wood