Hear now: Tips on new Eleni Mandell, Lo-Fang, Lambchop, more
Below are a few tips on new releases of note, as published in Sunday’s Times.
Lo-Fang, “Blue Film” (4AD)
Lo-Fang is the pseudonym of Matthew Hemerlein, a singer and pop composer who wrote, recorded and played all the instruments on this debut. Drawing on digital R&B, modern pop, “Kid A”-era Radiohead and electronic music, he presents three- and four-minute song bursts that are tightly structured but labyrinthine in detail. “When We’re Fine” floats on a digital loop, a tiny-but-mighty rhythm, backward-spinning bleeps and bloops and a catchy chorus. An early contender for debut of the year, “Blue Film” comes out Feb. 25. Lo-Fang goes on tour with his most famous fan, Lorde, this spring. Highly recommended.
Eleni Mandell, “Let’s Fly a Kite” (Yep Roc)
A lovely record about the heart, children, commitment, joy and other Saturday afternoon-style pleasures, “Let’s Fly a Kite” presents Los Angeles singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell at her lyrically precise best. Nick Lowe’s backing band on the standard guitar, keyboards and drums employs a tasteful array of instruments — vibraphone, flugelhorn, violin and trumpet — to craft sophisticated but playful parlor music. “Little Joy” is one of the most loving songs to a child you’ll hear this season (Mandell is the mother of toddler twins). “Maybe Yes” takes a stand against ambivalence in a delicately expressed work that outlines reasons why “maybe” won’t cut it. Here and throughout “Kite,” Mandell’s wonderfully direct: “Maybe doesn’t turn me on/ Maybe’s not filet mignon/ If your answer’s ‘I don’t know’/ Maybe I will let you go.”
Lambchop, “Nixon” (Merge)
Few records have dented my psyche in the past 14 years more often than Nashville country-politan band Lambchop’s “Nixon.” A humble, unassuming record that blossoms in grand fashion with each listen, the 10-song work was created by wry mastermind Kurt Wagner with a dozen-plus Nashville session players and resides in a realm where orchestrated country, expansive Curtis Mayfield-style soul and independent rock meet. Wagner’s kind of a glum fellow, but humor and vivid observations lift his spirit, and when he moves into falsetto the songs erupt. The label that released it, Merge, agrees. It just issued a deluxe double-disc version featuring bonus 1998 sessions called “How I Met Cat Power.”
Afterhours, “Lowlife” (Not Not Fun)
A dimly lighted, textured instrumental album released by the consistently surprising L.A. label Not Not Fun, Afterhours’ “Lowlife” is precisely titled. Six songs that hit on mesmerizing breakbeat-inspired dance jams, minimal house and ethereal ambient music, the debut by Los Angeles-based Nicholas Crozier Malkin surprises from track to track and measure to measure. Each a different glimpse at predawn bliss, many of these tracks could have been released at any time in the last few decades. The beat-heavy “Sixty Forty” sounds like New York City trip-hop circa 1998 but falls off a cliff three minutes in, landing in a pool of ambient pleasure. “Lovesick” is nine minutes of hypnosis that explores a quick groove and rides it with gleeful, if restrained, abandon.
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