Peter Margasak, Reader staff writer
Bettye Swann, The Complete Atlantic Recordings Louisiana soul singer Bettye Swann is best known for the stellar sides she cut for Capital and Money in the mid-to-late 60s, but she went on to do strong work for Atlantic too—and that material has finally gotten a CD reissue. Only a couple of these 23 tracks—which include killer stuff tracked at Philadelphia’s legendary Sigma Sound—enjoyed chart success, but during her time with the label (1972 to ’76) Swann adapted her smooth, supple singing to changing tastes and thicker arrangements.
Boots Brown, Dashes to Dashes This drummerless improvising quartet from Sweden sounds better than ever on its second album. Guitarist David Stackenas, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, trumpeter Magnus Broo, and bassist Johan Berthling transplant cool-jazz ideas from the likes of Jimmy Giuffre and Lee Konitz into a free-improvisation context—two of them might play buoyant, swinging lines, while the others create delicious tension by going against the grain with dissonant abstraction.
Ensemble dal Niente, Aaron Einbond: Without Words Chicago’s Ensemble dal Niente proclaims its ambition with its first album, a collection of pieces by New York composer Aaron Einbond. He built most of them from delicate environmental sounds, both urban and rural, combining them thrillingly with musique concrete and radical extended techniques. On the title piece, soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett weaves violent wordless utterances and borrowed texts through massive reed splats and punishing string thwacks—with some sounds enhanced or obliterated by electronics.
Peter is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Michael Golas, guitarist for Quinn Tsan and Exit Ghost
Amen Dunes, Love There’s something in the new album from New York’s Damon McMahon that makes me nervous, like everything is about to fall apart into tiny bits. His project Amen Dunes embraces that feeling all too well, though, and pulls through each crooning phrase with a heartfelt sincerity and release (without dragging a song out). It’s a raw songwriter’s album that I keep coming back to, and it furthers my appreciation for everything coming out on Sacred Bones Records.
Mississippi Records Tape Series A good friend turned me on to this extensive collection of mixtapes made by Portland’s Mississippi Records, which digs deep into rare recordings, collecting them according to the theme in the title—examples include Trust Your Child (subtitled Difficult Childrens Music) and Death Might Be Your Santa Claus. The tapes vary in style, but they generally stick to soul, blues, and rockabilly, suitable for the start of the hot summer months ahead. Though you can find these floating around online, Mississippi offers a killer subscription service that will send you all sorts of goodness every month.
Sufjan Stevens, The BQE When I revisited this soundtrack a few months back in search of some inspiration, I was instantly reminded of how much fun Sufjan’s instrumental works can be. This was written to score a full-length film Sufjan produced that focuses on the beauty (or rather the lack thereof) of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s a joyful ride whose colorful parade of sounds sweeps romantically at times and jokes with itself at others.
Michael is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Elena Ailes, artist and MFA student
Elektra and Mutek’s collaborative EM15 festival I am a grown-ass woman and I love electronic music, so I jumped at the invitation to join a few dear friends last week for the 15th edition of notable electronic-music festival Mutek Montreal. Among the particularly gratifying highlights was Ben Frost, an experimental composer based in Iceland. With two trap sets onstage, his performance was intense, visceral, crazy loud, and unexpectedly gorgeous. My emotions have never taken such a quick turn through the whole spectrum. On the opposite end of the boom-boom scale, Mossa and Stephen Beaupré brought everything a happy dance floor requires. Mossa literally played an electronically augmented honeydew melon like a marimba, and Beaupré followed up with an equally smart and sexy set. That room was all smiles.
James Brown, Live at the Apollo When you’re driving back to Chicago from Canada with three techno professionals still swooning over set lists from the weekend just past, and you yourself are sonically hallucinating from all the abuse you just doled out to your eardrums, this 1962 recording is a savior. It washes the soul clean with honest emotion and the sweetness of a younger Mr. Brown. He was maybe more powerful live later in his career, but this is the album that restores my faith in humanity.
Nils Frahm, Screws When you get home, and tired doesn’t even begin to describe you, listen to Nils Frahm. On this 2012 album he does unfamiliar and perfect things with a piano, and all you can be is grateful.