Bills & Aches & Blues
Various Artists | 4AD
Genre: Indie rock
Key track: Junkyard
Formed in 1980, 4AD is a record label owned by the U.K.-based Beggars Group. Founded by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent as Axis, the label changed its name upon discovering that the name already existed.
Right from the onset, the imprint became associated with some of the most exciting artists in the emerging goth rock, dream pop and alternative genres. Bands associated with the brand included the Pixies, Bauhaus, Dead Can Dance and others. All highly respected, the label’s first big hit was M/A/R/R/S 1987 international smash Pump up the Volume.
Over its four-decade history, such acclaimed acts as St. Vincent, Bon Iver, The National and Future Islands have released albums on 4AD. Present roster heavy-hitters include Grimes and Big Thief.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the idea of having current acts cover songs of their own selection from the back catalogue resulted in Bills & Aches & Blues. Featuring 18 covers, the album proves that 4AD is sitting pretty entering its fifth decade as a label.
Here are five things to know about the album:
1: Junkyard. U.S. Girls tackle this seminal grinder by the Birthday Party. Where Nick Cave’s old band was all about scaring your ears with grinding blasts of bluesy noise, this version is driven by strings, echoing percussion and a very slinky organ. Many familiar with the original will be surprised how well it works as a plaintive love song rather than a rocker.
2: Cannonball. Leave it to Tune-Yards to make this “hit” by the Breeders into an off-kilter, atonal slice of slightly weird space groove. The cover holds surprisingly close to the original in most ways, almost sounding like a cut-and-pasted remix than an actual new take on the tune.
3: Postal. One of the lesser-known early acts on the label was the sublime Piano Magic, whose lush and dreamy soundscapes couched some surprisingly appealing pop into their grooves. Denmark’s experimental is a great choice to render the song anew. Oddly, they sound more than a little like the Magnetic Fields.
4: Gigantic. Few bands have quite as devoted a following as Pixies, and only a select group of artists has covered the Boston quartet’s songs. This piano instrumental may indeed be the same chords in the same sequence as the original, but anyone would be hard-pressed to hear any of it here. In many ways, this makes this the most experimental and challenging cover on the entire album.
5: Sunbathing. Jenny Hval takes the shoe-gazing sonics of Lush’s song and turns it into an atmospheric, psychedelic whisper draped in seemingly endless reverb and delay. One wonders if the technology to make records sound like this had existed at the time of the original recording if it would have sounded quite similar.
Alex Little & The Suspicious Minds
Waiting to Get Paid | Light Organ Records
Key track: Across the City
Fronted by singer/guitarist Alex Little, this Vancouver quartet has all the right elements to become very popular. The band’s 10-song debut features a sound that inhabits a late-’80s/early-’90s Los Angeles sound very much like the Go-Go’s on songs such as the catchy single Big Lies, as well as the more post-punk pulse of Waiting to Get Paid or rootsier Dead Cold Eyes. Little is a powerful singer who delivers the, often, heavy lyrics with the kind of cool detachment that screams rock star. Guitarist Andy Bishop also deserves a shout-out for his sharp, cutting leads that really shred.
Ensemble Mik Nawooj
Death Become Life | ensemblemiknawooj.com
Key track: Death Become Life
Definitely not your average rap crew, this Oakland-based ensemble fairly describes its music as “orchestral hip-hop.” Composer JooWan Kim tackles such heady subject matter as the loss of his mother to Who Would Be Born, inspired by hippie-era author Herman Hesse’s book Demian. Backed by beats, strings, brass and woodwinds, the album could best be described as progressive-rock-meets-rap. The Fountainheads Suite that closes out the album includes three pieces that break down the work of classical music icons Mozart, Beethoven and Bach. So, yes, not your standard subject matter or music.
Nancy Sinatra: Start Walkin’ 1965-1976 | Light in the Attic Records
Key track: Summer Wine
Forever associated with These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, singer Nancy Sinatra gets a much-needed career overview from the expert compilers at Light in the Attic Records. While songs such as How Does That Grab You, Darlin’ are little more than follow-ups to her big hit, tunes such as the swinging light pop of Sugar Town or the blasting Lightning’s Girl show off a singer with both range and a pretty memorable growl. Also included in the 23-track set are Sinatra’s duets with Boots writer Lee Hazelwood and these nine tracks are total gems. Particularly the moody Summer Wine and back-porch boogie version of the Johnny Cash classic Jackson.
Ocelot | 577 Records
Key track: Post
Brooklyn-based JUNO Award-winning pianist Cat Toren joins forces with reeds player Yuma Uesaka and drummer Colin Hinton for this impressive trio date. Written over a year’s worth of gigging, including a 2019 residency in New Haven, Conn., the eight-track recording is very different from Toren’s previous work. Beginning with the atmospheric deliberations of Daimon II, a short, pensive piece showcasing Uesaka’s tenor saxophone, the album moves from the near-ambient Factum to the lovely closer Crocus with constant invention and surprises. This is outside jazz that can certainly appeal to listeners who aren’t sure they like such sounds.