Herbert

Plus reviews of records by Mojave 3, Barbara Mortgenstern, Coachwhips.

Herbert

Scale

(K7!)

There are concepts, and there are concepts—which provokes thought and conversation depends on the creator's articulation and the audience's concern. For an artist in the relatively hedonistic world of electronic music, Matthew Herbert has faith in his listeners, whether offering his best album yet (Scale, which Entertainment Weekly deems "about the violent pursuit of oil"), or the opportunity to join a new country ("X") in an online manifesto. "I have an exhaustion with the direction of the physical world," Herbert writes there. "Why do I share similar ideals with someone in Brazil or Iraq but have no formal bind to represent that?" Since 2004's Plat du Jour, which sampled entirely from food and attacked both production giants and the war, Herbert has shown himself as an extreme idealist. But it's likely that Scale—which demands no action other than, if you like, dancing—will ultimately have more unifying effects than his utopian society. Musically, Herbert knows exactly what he wants to say. Scale's experimental, jazzy house sensibilities are so pleasant, it takes multiple listens to catch "allied slaughter" and "friendly torture" in the opening (and best) track, "Something Isn't Right." Herbert sampled coffins, gas pumps, and meteorites for Scale, but anxiety isn't its only topic. Longtime collaborator Dani Siciliano sings with an unvarnished sexiness throughout, making allusions like "You see my/And how it's/And how it wants to feel your" extra tantalizing. In another of Herbert's manifestos, "Personal Contract for the Composition of Music," he states, "Mediocrity is not an acceptable conclusion." For his audience, that concept's always been clear. RACHEL SHIMP

Mojave 3

Puzzles Like You

(4AD)

Just as notebooks and travelogues filled the subdued folk of 2000's Excuses for Travellers and Neil Halstead's 2002 solo release Sleeping on Roads, Puzzles Like You, Mojave 3's latest, is rife with tales of truck drivers, small towns, and lovers' retreats (to and from one another), this time with bulkier guitars, generous harmonies, and tambourine and lap steel—the comfy sounds of Americana. How can the British do down-home better than we do? Even the wood block in "You Said It Before" rings like fireflies in a jar, despite the song's lamenting over a former lover's eyes. The anxious drums of "Ghost Ship Waiting" jump in the car and call the listener "back to the sound of the wild," whether that's ocean air, a spruce tree, or a falafel cart. Overall, Puzzles is unnervingly bright, minus the band's characteristically gentle droop, save for a brief respite in closer "The Mutineer." It ensures that for the next 41 minutes, your road trip will be photo-op perfect. But where do you go from there? KATE SILVER

Barbara Morgenstern

The Grass Is Always Greener

(Monika)

If Kurt Weill were alive today, he'd be Barbara Morgenstern. Who knows? Maybe the celebrated co-writer of "Mack the Knife," "September Song," and countless other three-minute marvels of down-to-earth sophistication took a few decades off before returning as the Berlin-based, electropop songwriter, programmer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and producer. If so, she's a lot funkier this time around. Subtle syncopation pervades The Grass Is Always Greener's every element: nuanced piano, well-tempered beats, tricky IDM tropes transformed in the service of listenability, even vocals (no insignificant feat given that most are in German). She's a better singer than Weill, too—willowy, limpid, and seductively unaffected in the sense of always being exactly at 98.6. Still, as colorists adept at masking their classical origins, the composers are birds of a feather. Morgenstern even folds metallic guitar into the album's liquid architecture, whipping up a lustrous harmonic froth on "Die Japansche Schranke." ROD SMITH

The Coachwhips

Double Death

(Narnack)

Listening to an album freezes you in your seat. You see nothing and hear precisely engineered sounds. But when you show-go, you body-slam, and if a bass is overturned, c'est la vie. Double Death, the Coachwhips' latest and (sadly) final album, is the best of both worlds. The CD throws 1:30 punches of garage-rock-cum-thrash, plus Surfer Rosa–esque studio commentary and several fabulous covers (the Velvets, Adam Ant). Lyrics are blurred and the Kinks recycled, but there's enough adrenaline to render both moot, besides which, "Look into my eyes when I cum" isn't exactly a turn-on. The accompanying DVD's live clips are handheld and equally bruising, thanks to guitarist John Dwyer's intensity: hair in eyes, guitar neck in mouth, and knuckles to teeth. I haven't had a visceral reaction to an album since junior high, but this one made my knees knock. MAIREAD CASE

 
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