AU, Both Lights
Twelve seconds. That’s how much time it takes for multi-instrumentalist Luke Wyland to join drummer Dana Valatka on album opener “Epic” with a math-rock-induced, soaring guitar riff that would make Eddie Van Halen blush. The duo wastes no time capturing listeners on their third album by doing what they do best: namely, everything. Both Lights is the Portlandia crew’s most triumphant effort to date: a mashup of freak-folk, art-pop à la Brian Eno, and colossal, indie jamboree.
The album takes a marked turn on the next track, “Get Alive,” where Wyland plays keyboard, sampler, lap steel, banjo and melodica, in addition to letting his bass-y, Mark-Sandman-meets-Morrissey croon take center stage; and he is joined by a veritable cast of characters, including Colin Stetson on saxophone and Holland Andrews supplying vocals—both musicians are heard again on the album.
Both Lights, which took two years to produce, shifts like a roller coaster in tempo and sonic fullness as it unfolds, from the soft lull of “Crazy Idol” to the mechanistic, metallic first two singles “Solid Gold” and “OJ.” Both of those songs capture the joyous danciness and dark undertones of their inspiration, which came from AU’s reinterpretation of Kasai Allstars and Konono No.1 tunes on a recent compilation, Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers. Yet, together, the tracks capture AU’s fervent, improvisational style, complex textures and clever, everything-but-the-bathroom-sink approach in one emotional musicological experience. April 3, The Leaf Label (Austen Diamond)
Justin Townes Earle, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
A mere four years after releasing his debut album, Justin Townes Earle’s new release showcases an artist with distinct ideas about where he wants his music to go, matched by the skills to get him there. Earle’s previous album, 2010’s excellent Harlem River Blues, led the singer/songwriter to new heights, including a 2011 Song of the Year award from the Americana Music Association for its title track, but that success was undercut somewhat by a return trip to rehab and delayed tour just as the album was released.
Here’s hoping Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now isn’t met with the same drama, allowing the public to wallow in the sound of a unique voice in modern American music. Earle holed up in North Carolina in fall 2011 and recorded these 10 new tunes live with no overdubs over the course of four obviously productive days. Earle’s country-blues base is influenced by his love of Memphis soul on songs like “Memphis in the Rain,” album-opener “Am I That Lonely Tonight?” and the jaunty bop of “Look the Other Way”; almost every song boasts horn blasts straight out of the Stax Records playbook. “Baby’s Got a Bad Idea” will please fans of his rockabilly roots, and ballads like the title track and “Down on the Lower East Side” are instant classics, sure to be part of Earle’s live shows for years to come. March 26, Bloodshot Records (Dan Nailen)