By Bliss Bowen
THE WAR ON DRUGS, Live Drugs (Super High Quality Records): ★★★★
A gratifying 10-track live set emanating from concerts recorded during the Philly rockers’ exhaustive world tour behind 2017’s Grammy-winning “A Deeper Understanding.” Sequenced with a feel for emotional ebb and flow between performer and audience (a 12-minute “Under the Pressure” alone is a memory-triggering journey, and “Thinking of a Place” shimmers with dreamlike grace), songs are drawn mostly from “Deeper Understanding” and 2014’s “Lost in the Dream.” Two choice surprises: the Dylan-esque “Buenos Aires Beach,” from 2008’s “Wagonwheel Blues,” and a confessional take on Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr.” Released by frontman Adam Granduciel’s label, it’s needed catharsis.
MOVIE CLUB, Black Flamingo (Movie Club): ★★★
After three EPs in two years, the Venice-based instrumental duo’s first full-length enables guitarist Vince Cuneo and drummer Jessamyn Violet to explore a somewhat broader emotional palette. With its playful thump and double leads, “Broken Pier” echoes some of the surf-churning cheer of previous releases such as “Navy Seal” and “Surf Basement.” The title track and “Rainshadow,” featuring violinist Jessy Greene and Foo Fighter keyboardist Rami Jaffee, better emblemize the album, with thickly layered parts, shifting time signatures and heavy reverb building dramatic atmospheres; it’s less about melody than mood.
PHOEBE BRIDGERS, Copycat Killer (Dead Oceans): ★★★½
The prolific Pasadena-raised songwriter creatively reimagines four songs from this spring’s “Punisher” with violinist/arranger Rob Moose. The springy melody of “Kyoto” remains intact, with synths replaced by Moose’s cinematic strings; the otherworldly vibe of “Punisher” is transmuted here into something altogether more intimate. That dynamic repeats through “Chinese Satellite” and “Savior Complex.” Recasting musical context feels like a logical response to a chaotic year continually shifting the context of our life choices; as Moose’s elegant arrangements open Bridgers’ melancholy compositions, they intensify their contemplative focus and humanity.
JOHNNY NICHOLAS, Mistaken Identity (Valcour): ★★★½
“When your days are bright and sunny cherish each and every one/ ’Cause fate has a habit of spoilin’ all your fun.” So muses the road-weathered Asleep at the Wheel alum during “Mule and the Devil.” There’s plenty of dirt in the grooves throughout this solidly produced (by Joel Savoy) set of Louisiana- and Texas-style roadhouse blues and corkscrewed wit, courtesy of indispensable multi-instrumentalist Scrappy Jud Newcomb. And highlights such as the rollicking “Tight Pants,” the greasy title track and seductive two-stepper “River Runs Deep” evoke times when packing a honky-tonk dance floor while the band played onstage was still a gratifying—and viable—option.