Reviews of recommended new releases from Life in a Blender, Eden Brent, Kristin Mueller and Leland Sundries.
Life in a Blender, We Already Have Birds That Sing (Fang Records)
This NYC-based chamber pop band is aptly named: Their sound seems to blend vestiges of acts as diverse as Tom Waits, Cake, They Might Be Giants, Mojo Nixon and quite possibly Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. If that sounds like an odd mix, youre right -- but darned if it doesnt work, as both eclectic oddball rock and winking satire.
The best tracks are the ones where bandleader Don Rauf affects an off-kilter growl that suits the offbeat material. Among these are Tongue-Cut Sparrow, a seedy story of a 1950s burlesque dancer that Rauf says mirrors the bands own 25-year career, and Shards, a Talking Heads-style tour through a recluses apartment: The pencil shavings, the sourballs, the paper clip dispenser They cheer me up, he declares to swinging ska horns.
Songs about Frankenstein (Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped), Cape Cod romance (Falmouth) and setting out to sea in a leaky boat (To Sea in a Sieve) are equally quirky and all oddly moving.
LISTEN TO: Good Answer, a shouting smackdown of pop-culture conformity.
Eden Brent, Jigsaw Heart (Yellow Dog Records)
Eden Brent remains something of a small miracle, mixing traditional blues into a satisfying gumbo of Mississippi boogie-woogie piano, soulful Americana and Ella-esque jazz swagger. Her last album, 2010s Aint Got No Troubles, was darn near perfect, and she continues to roll on her latest release -- Jigsaw Heart is equal parts rollicking celebration and melancholy musing, without a clunker in the bunch.
Brents softer side is especially strong on this disc; the slow, sad album opener Better This Way beautifully captures the final throes of a doomed love affair, and the title track drips with a hard-nosed, bluesy realism about the challenges of gathering up the scattered pieces of a new partners heart. But the album has plenty of winking fun too -- Lets Go Ahead and Fall In Love shows that Brent never met an innuendo she didnt like (spackling? really?), and Locomotive chugs along with buoyant verve.
LISTEN TO: Opportunity, a sultry Joan Armatrading cover.
Kristin Mueller, Deserts & Long Trails (
Much of Deserts seems to take place in that drowsy limbo between sleep and awake -- theres an echoey vibe that can be hypnotic but also surreal, and not a little bit eerie. Muellers tremulous vocals, meanwhile, recall Stevie Nicks at her witchiest. Buoyed by layered harmonies, twinkling keyboards and intertwining strings and banjos, its a moody masterpiece.
The albums smoky charms are its greatest strength; on Old Records, Muellers purr evokes the din of nostalgia and the weight of times passing, and lilting album closer Forgiveness betrays a melancholy sweetness. Not that Mueller, a drummer by trade, cant turn things up when she wants to -- Holy Bastard has a slow build before the horns and guitars kick in at the halfway mark, and Mueller lets loose with a fiery, Grace Potter-like verve.
LISTEN TO: Radio, stirring electro-folk with an alternative 90s feel.
Leland Sundries, Live at the Creamery (L'Echiquier Records)
Were still waiting for a full-length album, but until then this six-track live set -- well, eight tracks if you include bandleader Nick Loss-Eatons between-song comic monologues -- makes for a fine placeholder. It helps that it kicks off with the stomping new track Maps of the West, which stands among their best. The other songs, mostly culled from their two EPs, provide a good showcase for the Brooklyn bands literate, steam-punky alterna-folk.
In particular, Airstream Transmission offers a gruffer, even moodier take on the studio version from 2012s The Foundry, owing primarily to Loss-Eatons laconic Lou Reed-by-way-of-Leonard Cohen drawl and downright spooky harmonica. And Roller Derby Queen, a live version of the bands vinyl single from that same year, is raw rockabilly that suggests Leland Sundries hasnt even yet begun to swing.
LISTEN TO: Maps of the West, a harmonica- and banjo-laden road song.
Peter Chianca is editor in chief of Gatehouse Media New England's north-of-Boston newspapers and websites. Visit him at Pete's Pop Culture, Parenting & Pets Blog.