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Album Reviews

Hotline TNT is helmed by Will Anderson (on the right), but the interplay between him and fellow guitarist Olivia Garner (second from right) has come to define the band’s massive, shoegaze-influenced wall of sound.

Photo by Wes Knoll

Will Anderson was teaching at a New York high school—until Jack White’s record label came knocking. Now, his band is shooting into the shoegaze stratosphere behind their second record, Cartwheel.

Hotline TNT singer and guitarist Will Anderson started writing songs as a way to work through personal relationships, so it’s no surprise that the New York band’s second LP, Cartwheel, encapsulates Anderson’s modern-day, bard-like quest for romance—for better and for worse—through heavy fuzz pedals, distorted guitars, and layered sonic textures that cascade over propulsive rhythms. Slick engineering from punk artist Ian Teeple and Aron Kobayashi Ritch lift the record into the sweeping shoegaze stratosphere, that bottomless niche of music where heartbreak and mammoth, verbed-out riffs cry on each other’s shoulders.

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This astral prog playground is a wild ride through space and time … signatures. Marco Minnemann provides the backbeats.


Yuval Ron

Somewhere in This Universe, Somebody Hits a Drum

Before you even listen to it, it’s clear that Yuval Ron’s Somewhere in This Universe, Somebody Hits a Drum is a very serious record. Stoic, in full astronaut gear, Ron floats in space on the album’s artwork, a definitive image for the odd mental cinema the record scaffolds—with the crucial role of drummer played by Marco Minnemann. It’s there on the final frontier, equipped with astral, analog synthesizers, arresting time signatures, and a generous helping of self-satire, that Ron presents his open jazz/metal echo of classic prog dipped in an absurd crystalline fondue.

It all begins with a march and a regal Gregorian yodel heralding the space voyage, and unfolds through Ron’s peaceful-stream-meets-metal-arpeggios guitar, and the occasional tubular bell and aural suggestion of space monsters (by growling, distorted effects). Matt Paull on keys and Roberto Badoglio on bass complete the quartet, together cultivating a fertile prog playground … in space.

Must-hear tracks: “Wi-Fi in Emerald City,” “I Believe in Astronauts”

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The former Trip Shakespeare frontman sings about not being able to return, but he’s done just that with 12 new tunes.

Matt Wilson & His Orchestra

When I Was a Writer

Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Matt Wilson fronted the band Trip Shakespeare in the late ’80s and ’90s. A genre unto themselves, the band was known for its big-energy spontaneous live shows, and intelligent yet quirky songwriting by Wilson and his brother Dan. Alas, Trip Shakespeare was the (my) generation’s Big Star: critically acclaimed but limited commercial success.

Wilson started writing songs again in 2015 after a hiatus, and he’s working an acoustic and piano rather than a Strat these days, accompanied by a harp, banjo, and bass. Still, the soul of his songwriting is immediately familiar. I resonated with the interplay between the sometimes prominent harp and Wilson’s 6-string in the gently percussive songs, which are chock-full of his signature big vocal harmonies projecting his somewhat melancholy, sometimes despondent lyrics. When I Was a Writer is inspired writing and playing, and it’s a treat hearing Wilson doing his thing again.

Must-hear tracks: “Decent Guy” and “Space Cruising”

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The envelope-pushing former Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley collaborator chooses his finest performances on this kaleidoscopic 40-year retrospective.

Gary Lucas

The Essential Gary Lucas

To paraphrase Casey Kasem, Gary Lucas keeps his feet on the ground and reaches for the stars. Since emerging as part of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band in 1980, he’s honored the blues, folk, and world traditions as well as leapt into the stratosphere of jazz, art-rock, experimental, soundtrack, classical, and textural music. He’s recorded close to 50 albums as a leader or collaborator, and his instrumentals “Rise Up to Be” and “And You Will” were foundations for co-writing “Grace” and “Mojo Pin” with Jeff Buckley, when the latter was in Lucas’ band, Gods & Monsters.

Disc one features that longtime psychedelic rock outfit. The second spotlights rarities, solo performances, and songs with Beefheart, Nona Hendryx, Los Van Van, and others. The star is Lucas’ cosmic virtuosity, ripping raw down the rural backroads of acoustic 6-string or transforming Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro” into poetry that illuminates the entire emotional and sonic spectrum of electric guitar.

Must-hear tracks: All 36 of them

At L.A.’s Grammy Museum in 2011, Gary Lucas’ highly personal musical vision takes Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro” on an unpredictable sonic journey, ranging from delicate texturing to hard-edged shred. On another night, it might sound wildly different.

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Art-rockers Conrad Keely and Jason Reece make whopping orchestral waves on their 10th studio album, X: The Godless Void and Other Stories.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

X: The Godless Void and Other Stories

Trail of Dead formed in 1994. I’d heard the name often but never heard them. Now that I have, there’s a lot to unpack about this epic, symphonic art-rock and its progressive accessibility. Godless Void combines post-punk angst and remarkable musicality akin to T.o.D’s own influences, Rush and Sonic Youth, and matches it with spirited urgency.

Conrad Keely and Jason Reece alternate on vocals, drums, and guitar, resulting in captivating mood changes and fascinating breakdowns. In “All Who Wander,” massive percussive tsunamis rip into wailing, down-tuned guitar arpeggios. Emotional, anthemic vocals call Morrissey to mind, and even the band’s use of synths is choice. On “Gone,” piano and cascades of guitar delay blossom over ominous industrial beats.

Speaking of crescendos, “The Opening Crescendo,” starts the journey and sets the pace for pummeling buildups and melodic reprises. Keely says the album was built around the cyclic manipulation of one musical motif. It sounds incredible.

Must-hear tracks: “All Who Wander,” “Who Haunts the Haunter”

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