FKA twigs, "LP1" (Young Turks/XL Recordings)
Tahliah Barnett used to be a silent dancer in other artists' pop videos, where she was such a striking presence that the stars sought her out. That same charisma permeates her debut album, "LP1," as FKA twigs. A confident, quietly subversive R&B record equal parts sound and silence, the 10 tracks of obsession suggest futuristic Massive Attack pared to the bone, with many measures of echoed space and many others dotted with beats, bleeps and burps. Released on the label founded by British minimalists the xx, "LP1" confirms a kindred spirit.
The first single, "Two Weeks," is the most beguiling, a crawling, expansive work of longing featuring bass-wobbles and skittering synthetic high-hats that pan from left to right and back again. "Closer" is a headphone trip: Tiny rhythms poke through the silence, barely seeming to support the weight of the drama above. But that sparseness hides a surprising structure, and brings better into focus a potent young voice.
DJ George Costanza, "Country Rap Mix" (free mixtape)
One of the more insidious musical trends in recent years has been the rise of bro-country and country-rap. The current crew of beefcake-heavy Southern hunks likes to party hard, and that drunken debauchery is central to the victorious new "Country Rap Mix" by DJ George Costanza. Featuring bits and pieces of hits by superstars including Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and others, Costanza juggles verses and choruses while adding sonic steroids in the form of heavy bass, party-starting bullhorn screams, and random self-shoutouts of "DJ George Costanza!" (sampled from Jason Alexander's "Seinfeld" character) at key moments.
Best, though, is how deep the half-hour mix goes. Mixed in are twangy hip-hop innovators such as David Banner, Kid Rock, Nelly, B.o.B. and Bubba Sparxxx, as well as unlikely country crossover star Darius Rucker. The mix hits an early peak when Costanza drops LL Cool J's verse from Brad Paisley's jam "Accidental Racist" — before moving into Mississippi rapper David Banner's "Cadillac on 22s." Judging by the volume of mixtape tropes and funny sound-effect samples, Costanza seems to have done this as a lark, part comedy, part exploration. But that combination is what makes the mix so much fun to jam.
Andrew Bird, "Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of" (Wegawam)
Chicago singer, violinist and songwriter Andrew Bird honors Chicago expats the Handsome Family on "Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of," a grimly funny, often-morbid collection of country-tinged songs written by the Family's Brett and Rennie Sparks. Best known these days for "Far From Any Road," used as the opening theme for "True Detective," the husband-and-wife team is finally drawing deserved attention for its work over the past two decades.
Long an admirer, Bird picks some stunners, many of which harness downer country themes and then take them to extremes. Like most Handsome Family songs, "So Much Wine" features a first line that demands attention — "I had nothing to say on Christmas Day/ When you threw all your clothes in the snow" — and carries us through a harrowing day filled with "so much wine" and blood.
"The Sad Milkman" is set at night: "Above the dark house/ On a black tar roof/ Stood the sad milkman/ In love with the moon." "Giant of Illinois" tells the story of Robert Wadlow, a.k.a. the Alton Giant, who despite his size was felled by an infected blister. Bird, accompanied by acoustic guitar and a touch of pedal steel, sings the surreal chorus describing his final moment with poetic wonder: "Delirious with pain, his bedroom walls began to glow/ He felt himself floating up through falling snow/ And the sky was a woman's arms."
Nils Lofgren, "Face the Music" (Fantasy)
Best known these days for his regular work as part of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, guitarist-singer-songwriter Nils Lofgren has been a professional musician since Neil Young tapped him at 17 to play piano and guitar on "After the Goldrush," Young's pensive early 1970s folk-rock classic. A half-decade later, Lofgren did the same for "Tonight's the Night." The early work helped land his blues-rock band Grin a record deal, where his tenor teamed with sticky-sweet pop melodies, and an impressive amount of cowbell, to make a run at stardom.
Platinum sales eluded him both as a band member and as a solo artist, despite that over the following decades Lofgren has released a steady stream of albums — as evidenced by this bountiful 10-disc collection. Never the hottest lyricist, Lofgren shines as a multi-instrumentalist and singer. Early blues-funk jam "Beggar's Day" rolls along on a hot rhythm; "One More Saturday Night" is a country-rock gem. "Someday" sounds like a lost Springsteen rocker, and features Young on backing vocals.
To say this box is comprehensive is an understatement. At nearly 200 tracks, "Face the Music" is an overwhelming bounty, perhaps too much so. But the testaments within the extensive book that accompanies it prove Lofgren's influence. Among others preaching the Lofgren gospel are Ringo Starr (who employs Lofgren as part of his All Star Band), David Crosby, Sting and Bruce Springsteen.