CD reviews

NY Times News Service

Thu, Oct 10, 2013 - Page 11

BITTER RIVALS, by Sleigh Bells, Mom + Pop

Sleigh Bells is:

A) A plot by the speaker industry to decimate your current set and force you to buy new ones;

B) A concept developed in a secret cabal meeting of otolaryngologists looking for work;

C) A lean, brutal band maybe just a bit tired of punching so hard.

Bitter Rivals is the third album by Sleigh Bells, the New York duo — singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist-producer Derek Miller — that emerged fully formed four years ago with a straight-ahead concept: pulverizing guitars, block-rocking bass, sweet but durable vocals. It was music for construction sites and MMA bouts, shockingly intuitive and fresh.

Imagine the migraines, though. This third album is faithful to the band’s idea, but toned down: Miller’s guitars are less full and more abrasive, and the music has less swing than it did a couple of years ago, even though at this album’s best, it suggests turbo-charged R&B more than either of the group’s prior albums did. On a couple of songs, You Don’t Get Me Twice and Sugarcane, Krauss toggles between a brassy bark and a saccharine coo. There’s tenderness in her voice — it has settings other than “detonate.”

There are still small howitzers exploding here and there — the savage Minnie recalls the band’s earliest, scariest songs. But the last third of the album, especially, shows off gentler impulses — To Hell With You is, by this band’s standards, a love song, and 24 sounds like a new-age remix of a 1990s Janet Jackson number. This is the sound of Sleigh Bells catching its breath, and a reminder that warfare is more fun.


INTERIORS, by Glasser, True Panther Sounds

Sanctuary and loneliness, desire and apprehension, the synthetic and the organic are swirling cross-currents on Glasser’s second album, Interiors. Songwriter and singer Cameron Mesirow, who records as Glasser, builds crystalline sonic fortresses, surrounding herself in electronics and her own multiplied voice, as she ponders the risks of getting close to anyone else. “How long before I know you?” she asks, hopeful but still uncertain, in the chorus of the album’s poppiest song, Keam Theme.

Glasser and her producer, Van Rivers, have made a much glossier album than her 2010 debut, Ring. Where Ring was punctuated by physical percussion and casual human moments, Interiors is more immaculate and artificial. Each pretty sound gleams and reverberates just so, even when Glasser builds a rhythm track around the sound of her breath. Amid pointillistic arrangements — with few chords, lots of counterpoint and hints of Asian modes — Glasser’s lead vocals are buoyant, upfront melodies, approachable yet perfectly polished. Around them are countless oohs and ahs, a gauzy, windblown curtain of harmonies around the electronic apparatus. It would be even more ingenious if Glasser had pushed beyond the obvious influence of Bjork; songs like Forge mimic Bjork’s vocal lines and inflections all too closely.

Architectural metaphors — walls, windows, doors, roofs — fill the album’s lyrics. “This building puts a new angle through the sky/the city moans/In its reflection we can feel what lies ahead/more unknown,” she sings in Exposure. She maps thoughts about buildings and landscapes onto thoughts about relationships: openness, solidity, confinement, expanse. The album begins and ends with songs set by the sea. Shape begins with her worrying, “I let it get too deep.” And Divide, the finale, has her “meeting on the ocean, only for a momentary kiss.” It’s the escape she longs for from the structures she creates so well.



The metaphorical act of digging — through the loam of lived experience, into the bedrock of historical memory — means a great deal to alto saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts. For the better part of a decade, and possibly longer, she has been scavenging scraps of insight from her own lineage, and reassembling them in a suitelike work called Coin Coin. The first of its 12 chapters, released in 2011 on the Constellation label, featured an experimental large ensemble recorded in Montreal.

Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile is a more sinuous experience, and in most respects the more successful piece. Once again Roberts, a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, builds on that organization’s tradition of intertextuality: among other things, she’s exploring her ancestral ties to Marie-Therese Coincoin, a freed slave who became a prominent planter and matriarch.

Throughout the piece Roberts intersperses slippery musical motifs with bits of prose, both spoken and sung, that she has transcribed from conversations with her maternal grandmother. She does much of the vocalizing herself, assigning some passages to an operatic tenor, Jeremiah Abiah. The piece has evolved since she first began performing it in 2006, but its core remains intact, its power undiminished.

Her agile ensemble features trumpeter Jason Palmer, pianist Shoko Nagai, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. They play the album as an unbroken continuum, one track flowing into the next. The sanctified combustion of Albert Ayler informs this music, but its mood can also run beguilingly cool, as when a sauntering blues emerges out of scrabbling tumult on a track called Responsory.

And Roberts, who’s more than capable of caterwauling on her horn, favors a taut cry here. She knows that an album can’t convey the force of her presence, so she works dispassionately, with a focus on clarity, steadily delving deeper.