Sonido Gallo Negro, "Sendero Mistico" (Glitterbeat)
A nine-piece instrumental band from Mexico City that specializes in a surreal blend of music including old-school South American cumbia, Peruvian chicha and Mexican boogaloo, Sonido Gallo Negro (translated as "Black Rooster Sound") makes work that's simultaneously vintage and ultra-modern.
The group's second album (and first international release), "Sendero Mistico," floats through its 35-minute, 10-song span with rolling rhumba momentum and eerie, psychedelic flourishes. Rising from the city's eastern Aragon neighborhood, Sonido Gallo Negro often performs clad in monk robes or matching red outfits, and live footage confirms a band obsessed with resurrecting buried sounds and turning them into something completely new.
Sharon Van Etten, "Are We There" (Jagjaguwar)
Sharon Van Etten's gradual ascent as a songwriter has been as exciting to witness as her best work is to enjoy. A New York musician predisposed to darkness on "Are We There" after surviving an abusive relationship, she exorcises these horrifying memories with a focus so honed as to nearly draw blood. There are sirens and blows to the head, mornings filled with dread. On "I Love You But I'm Lost," she recoils from her lover, sings of "tear stains on the last page."
Big sounds for massive outpourings of emotions, the piano-and-guitar-driven dramas illustrate the decay of the relationship, one she describes in "Our Love" as "a half-mast flag in wind." A gun arrives on the devastating "Your Love Is Killing Me." She sings of the moment "when our minds become diseased," of a relationship so toxic that the body becomes the enemy: "Break my leg so I won't run to you. Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you. Burn my skin so I can't feel you. Stab my eyes so I can't see." Van Etten sings this refrain with a pure-toned, delicate voice while guitars, organ and percussion offer a musical depth as menacing as the lines.
Open Mike Eagle, "Dark Comedy" (Mello Music Group)
The fourth album from a skilled Los Angeles rapper with a sharp wit and vocabulary and unashamed to acknowledge a thin wallet, used car and love of multisyllabic verbiage, Open Mike Eagle's new "Dark Comedy," which comes out Tuesday, offers flocks of ideas. An inventive lyricist willing to sweat the rhythmic-linguistic details in order to construct brilliantly engineered verses, Eagle is in top form throughout; you can hear the sweat being expelled, the joy in wordplay with every new verse. "Informations" tackles data overload and the coming man/machine future: "I'm part flesh and part energy / The last text I sent you was from the heart, literally."
On "Sadface Penance Raps" he admits to self-destructive tendencies ("I watch bad movies because that's what I deserve") and harsh self-torture ("Thumbtack in my shoe really, really tiny / Whenever I feel sad it reminds me"). His bones are brittle, he sings, and "no one in the world ever gets what they want — and that is beautiful." The record's closer, "Very Much Money (Ice Cream Dream)," has an intentionally misleading title. The opposite of your typical get-rich-get-paid lyric, it's a love letter to the humble life and features a golden refrain: "My friends are superheroes / None of us have very much money though / We wear the same underwear as billionaires / None of us have very much money though."
Listen to Open Mike Eagle's "Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)" here.
Toumani Diabaté and Sidiki Diabaté, "Toumani & Sidiki" (World Circuit)
The first father-son teaming of Mali kora masters Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté is a mesmerizing listen from first to last. A 10-song recording of traditional West African songs and one original composition, all played by the pair in unison on the 21-stringed harp, "Toumani & Sidiki" channels melodic narratives from throughout the music's history. Described in fascinating liner notes as "instrumental reinventions" of standards arranged and improvised by the two, their first recorded collaboration offers breathtaking synchronized sound.
In the classic tradition of the West African griot, or storyteller, the pair have titled these works for specific people, incidents or organizations involved in the recent Malian civil unrest. "Toguna Industries" rings with gymnastic kora runs to open before settling into a hypnotic, shimmering melody, and celebrates an agriculture company that helped peasant farmers recover from the crisis. "Dr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra" honors an interim prime minister whose brief tenure, according to the notes, "was renowned for its honesty and refusal to bow to corruption." As these are instrumentals, though, such details are mere footnotes. The body of this tome — the music itself — offers more than enough weight.