SURF ROCK IS DEAD, Existential Playboy

(SRiD): ***

The Brooklyn-base duo’s first full-length album invites commiseration and release in a set sparked by friction between sunny sounds and bleak lyrics. Hopeful truism “Beer buddies never die” floats above guitars slicing through throbbing synths during “Solid Ties,” while “Diabolik” is a remarkably cheery breakup song. Chiming guitars counterbalance fear expressed as a relatable cosmic shrug during “Our Time,” “Watching the Dead” and “Immaculate” (“One move forward two steps back/ The whole and part share epitaph”), like shadow and light.


(World Circuit): ****

As Fela Kuti’s drummer, Tony Allen was a hugely influential Afrobeat architect; trumpeter Hugh Masekela was an international icon of civil rights and South African jazz. The two legends discussed collaborating for decades before convening with producer Nick Gold in 2010, but not until after Masekela’s death in 2018 did Allen and Gold finish those recordings with a crew of British jazz players (Ezra Collective keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Mutale Chashi, tenor saxophonist Steve Williamson, vibraphonist Lewis Wright). More than an improvisatory jam, “Rejoice” is a righteous tribute to Masekela and Allen, who died April 30 in Paris. Masekela’s soulful chants and succinct trumpet solos are undergirded by Allen’s sublimely elastic rhythms and spatial mastery. No brooding requiems here. Highlights: the funky “Agbada Bougou,” “Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same),” “We’ve Landed.”

PAM TILLIS, Looking for a Feeling 

(Stellar Cat): ***½

The title track sets the tone of the country veteran’s 11th studio album with a relaxed groove and earned wisdom (“Who can point a finger/ Who can say what’s wrong/ Oh we all get high and low/ Turning over every stone/ Looking for a feeling”). Like bittersweet stunners “Last Summer’s Wine” and “The Scheme of Things,” “Dolly 1969,” and the percussion-textured “Burning Star,” its loamy feel evokes ’70s country-soul more than Tillis’ slick ’90s hits, and is a natural fit for her expressive, chocolate-y tones.


(Sacred Bones): ***

Taking cues from film, the actor/musician’s ambitious solo debut introduces its carny funhouse world with cinematic instrumental “Flag Day” before seguing into the psychedelic title track. The remaining 14 tracks reveal a strong pop sensibility, a flair for grand arrangements, chameleonic vocals, and more ideas than patience; unlike, say, Portland rocker Kyle Craft, Jones hasn’t yet synthesized classic influences (the Beatles, Bowie, Pink Floyd) into melodic hooks and sharp songwriting — his vision’s more daring than focused. But it piques interest in hearing how he shapes his storytelling instincts moving forward.

CHELSEA WILLIAMS, Beautiful & Strange

(Blue Élan): ***½

The Sun Valley native continues to demonstrate a knack for strong pop hooks, most notably with infectious lead single “Red Flag,” a giddy evocation of budding romance. Williams, who got her start busking at the Glendale Marketplace, and producer/husband Ross Garren cradle her precise, tone-perfect delivery in dreamy, sometimes carnival-esque arrangements of tack and toy pianos, saw, horns and strings (“Something Sweet,” “Skin and Bones,” closing ditty “Fffun”). The highlight is “Dust,” a deceptively simple declaration of belief: “Take my hand, you’re my brother/ We were born in the same way/ You live on one side and I’m on the other/ But we’ll all be dust someday.”

RUTHIE FOSTER BIG BAND, Live at the Paramount (Blue Corn): ***½

The Grammy-nominated soul-folk powerhouse traded her usual lean stage setup for three backup singers and 14 musicians, including a 10-piece horn section, for this Austin concert recorded last year. Foster built her reputation on live shows; this is her second live release, following 2011’s grittier “Live at Antone’s.” At a time when live music is scarce on the ground, it’s rejuvenating to hear her transform opening anthem “Brand New Day” (given a New Orleans flavor here), gospel traditional “Death Came A-Knockin’ (Travelin’ Shoes),” Sean Staples’ “Joy Comes Back” and jazz standard “Mack the Knife” into heart-lifting testimonials to hope and resilience.

BOSQ, Wake Up (Bacalao): ***

Colombia-based DJ/producer Ben Woods’ latest foray as Bosq is a four-track palate cleanser of disco, African and funk grooves. Longtime collaborator Kaleta, frontman for Brooklyn’s Afrofunk ensemble Super Yamba Band, can be heard chanting on the title track and “Omo Iya,” and the percussively insistent “Mambue” benefits from the leathered calls of Son Palenque founder Justo Valdez, a bridge-building legend of Afro-Colombian music. Throbbing closer “El Carriquí” is one of three tracks with a horn section borrowed from Bogotá’s LaBOA, who help make this virtual house party one that ends too soon.

PURE X, Pure X (Fire Talk): ***

It’s been six years since the Austin quartet’s “Angel,” and the thickly fuzz-toned guitars and reverb-drenched vocals of their fourth album seem to channel the conflicting emotions of this particular moment. “Somehow I crash landed in Bible Belt America/ Send help, I’m losing sense of who I am,” guitarist/frontman Nate Grace calls during angsty opener “Middle America.” “Hollywood” follows like a country-dusted respite, its dreamlike melody swathed in calming guitars and hazy harmonies, while the “One step forward/ Three steps back” sigh of “Grieving Song” reaches for solace in acceptance.