EMBRACISM, Kirin J Callinan, Terrible/Siberia/XL
Kirin J Callinan, the Australian singer, guitarist and song-vandalizer, is 27, but his voice, low and abraded, sounds like it’s been around the block longer than that. Blindfolded, you might hear a man in his early 40s who’s had some months or years of sleeping in bus stations.
This may be the best thing about him, because no matter how impulsive or unwise the choices he makes on his first solo record, Embracism, they sound as if they’re coming from a mature place. He does not achieve the sound of maturity through restraint, the way sensitive men usually do it. He barks and howls and croons most disturbingly; he wants to put you on alert a little bit, to let you smell an animal who isn’t totally all right.
Little adds up here: There’s a natural sense of drama, but also abrupt endings and songs that go on past where they should end. (Chardonnay Sean, at 6-and-a-half minutes, is a mini-epic in search of momentum; Stretch It Out is an oblique, strobing bore with an excellently wayward final 20 seconds.) The album has pop skills but also structural anarchy. Callinan, who used to be in the unremarkable band Mercy Arms, is a very good guitarist, up to the task of tight funk, atmospheric echo-wash or crackling noise. But the music on Embracism isn’t categorically guitar music at all. It has new-wave synths, romantic choruses, deep industrial pulsing with recitations. Sometimes it’s like an early-80s Echo and the Bunnymen record; sometimes it’s not far in spirit from albums by, say, Scott Walker or Lydia Lunch — endeavors obsessed with power and disunity, as literary as they are musical.
Not much happens in his lyrics, but they contain plenty of embodied religion, unexecuted sexuality, and the weird, sloppy musk of a male method-acting performance. In the first image of the title track, “a circle forms around two lads:” They’re fighting with bloody noses, but probably enacting some kind of love, too. Such is the rest of life, he implies:
You gotta prove yourself
show your strength
Everything is ecstasy and hurt, tenderness and violence. In Come On USA, he denounces America while insisting, almost threateningly, “I cry when I listen to Springsteen”; two songs of love lean on car-crash imagery.
Callinan’s got something for sure, but not yet an album. Embracism, scattered and high on the power of its gestures, has its arresting moments. It will be something to talk about. But it can also be one of the most unpleasant listening experiences in recent memory, including Yeezus. For each solid purchase on a strong lyric there’s a mess somewhere else; for nearly every powerful accretion of sound there’s a nearly unbearable one. The record’s volatility both saves and mars it.
MIRAGE, Brian Landrus, Kaleidoscope
Brian Landrus uses a couple of choice moments on Mirage, his carefully sculptured new album, to clear an unobstructed path for his own sound. One track on which this happens, Kismet, is a three-minute improvisation on bass saxophone, a notoriously bulky instrument that Landrus handles with feathery grace. He sounds unhurried and thoughtful, deeply attuned to the horn and its register. It’s a disarmingly effective coda, like a souffle that lingers in the mind long after the meal.
Mirage revolves around the adaptable modern-jazz quintet that Landrus calls Kaleidoscope, with guitar and piano alongside bass and drums. And as was the case on Capsule, the album he released last year, his standout partners here are guitarist Nir Felder, who glides through any solo opportunity he’s given, and drummer Rudy Royston, who lays down grooves that feel at once sturdy and playfully supple.
What’s different about Mirage is that Landrus has also incorporated a string quartet. Its members — Mark Feldman and Joyce Hammann on violins, Judith Insell on viola and Jody Redhage on cello — bring warmth as well as precision to their task. And Landrus, who has worked broadly with large ensembles, including Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project, knows how to blend all of his parts into an integrated whole. (Truesdell conducted the strings and helped Landrus produce the album.)
There has been no shortage of youngish jazz bandleaders dabbling in chamberesque effect, but Landrus, 34, stands out here for the poplike angle of his music. With rare exceptions, like Sammy and A New Day, this album forgoes highbrow connotation in favor of a vibrant melodic accessibility. The title track begins with strings in intriguing bloom, but soon delves into a kind of R&B slow jam. I’ve Been Told rides a reggae groove, unabashedly. Someday puts some shimmer on an in-the-pocket waltz.
Landrus gives himself room to maneuver, most often playing baritone saxophone. He has a cooler style than other low-reeds specialists: He doesn’t chase the phantasmagorical, like Colin Stetson or Scott Robinson; or go in for pyrotechnics, like James Carter; or bask in boppish aplomb, like Claire Daly or Gary Smulyan. He doesn’t floor you.
But the tenderness in his playing feels as warm and accessible as his writing. The other unaccompanied track on the album, Reach, arrives at its midpoint. This time he’s playing a contra alto clarinet, with results as shadowy and delicate as you could want.