Why you need to hear the album that took Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks ten years to make
Gaby Moreno & Van Dyke Parks, "¡Spangled!” (Nonesuch). With so much music washing through culture at any given moment, the tossed-off and the carefully nurtured are too often treated equally in the marketplace. An album a decade in the making — such as this collaboration between the L.A. songwriter, session man, producer and arranger Parks and the Guatemala-born, Los Angeles-based singer, guitarist and songwriter Moreno — gets equal billing on a release date alongside a batch of disposal ditties built by producers in an afternoon. That’s not right.
"¡Spangled!” came out in early October, and sounds built to endure. Parks, of course, is best known for his work on the Beach Boys’ “Smile” and possesses enough backstage L.A. stories to fill volumes. Moreno met him a decade ago at a European music festival, and they were so musically taken with each other that they quickly started discussing a longer collaboration.
After gathering momentum over the past few years, the project bore "¡Spangled!” and offers repeated lessons in the importance of patience. A song cycle spinning with Spanglish, border-bending strings, brass and that uniquely Van Dyke-ian timpani, the 10 tight songs are centered around the promises, hopes and challenges facing both border communities and the American experiment at large. As such, it feels precisely of the moment.
Mikal Cronin, “Seeker” (Merge Records). The new guitar-rock album from the native Southern Californian was born in solitude after a series of busted-up relationships and a creeping sense that, in his words, “I needed to clean up, to stop leaning on external crutches to get through the anxiety. I needed to grow the ... up.”
As with Cronin’s first three albums, it draws from electric guitar-driven music from across subgenres: psychedelia, country rock, slowed-down garage rock and the Beatles after they discovered acid (but before they went overboard with it).
Cronin, who is also bassist for former high school classmate Ty Segall’s stellar Freedom Band, has gathered that same posse in service of “Seeker.” As with Segall, he’s got little time for pretension. His songs are built with an artisan’s eye for detail, with touches of piano, oddly alluring chord changes and moan-along choruses.
In the video for one of the album’s best songs, “Show Me,” Cronin stares in the camera in close-up as Neil Young-suggestive electric guitar chords strum. Midway through the song, as we watch Cronin cruising with friends and bandmates through the hilly neighborhoods of northeast L.A., a host of stringed instruments invade, adding a dreamy vibe to an otherwise awakened work.
Sudan Archives, “Glorious” (Stones Throw). The first new track from the breakout singer-producer-violinist since last year’s “Sink” EP surrounds the artist, who performs as Sudan Archives in a distinct rhythmic space. Resonant and occasionally jerky, the midtempo beat supports her string-driven melodies, many of which are drawn from tunings learned through YouTube videos of Sudanese and other North African players.
The song is taken from Sudan Archives’ forthcoming debut album, “Athena,” and features a verse by rapper D-Eight. In the Ross Harris-directed video for “Glorious,” the extravagantly styled artist plays her violin as if in the middle of a dance circle, maneuvering in transparent platform shoes and singing about the chase for the almighty dollar.
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