Mike Keneally
Wing Beat Fantastic

The spirit of Frank Zappa permeates Mike Keneally’s recorded oeuvre, and that’s hardly surprising as Keneally toured with Zappa and played on five of his albums. On Wing Beat Fantastic, Keneally works with an equally distinctive collaborator—XTC’s Andy Partridge. This pairing yields a set of quirky, melodic songs that manage to sound catchy while remaining unflinchingly adventurous. Partridge provides the lyrics and some drum loops, while Keneally handles all the guitars, keys, and lead vocals. And let’s not forget Keneally’s trademark background vocals—an eerie choir that drifts across the album like a sonic version of the Northern Lights.

Fans of this virtuoso’s serpentine electric lines will find plenty to celebrate here. His jangly acoustic chording and crisp flatpicking get plenty of airtime, but it’s his arranging that will keep you mesmerized. Richly layered parts unfold in startling ways: Guitars seamlessly morph into voices or horns, and synth pads mutate into backward 6-string riffage. Kudos to Mike Harris for mixing a perfect album to explore with headphones late at night. —Andy Ellis

Must-hear track: “Wing Beat Fantastic”