SPOON Lucifer on the Sofa (Matador) — Ten albums deep, there’s only so much boat rocking Spoon is likely to do at this point. They can change recording locales and approaches, layer on different sonic techniques, and try to tap different, novel sensibilities in the songwriting, but the finished product is sure to sound like Spoon with a slightly different costume. You know what? That’s a good thing. That’s the conclusion anyone with eager ears is likely to draw from Lucifer on the Sofa, which the band recorded in Austin and Los Angeles during the time that COVID-19 made its unwelcome presence known. “The Hardest Cut” is arguably closest to classic Spoon, but the great appeal of the record is the way everything feels like a proper extension of all that’s come before. Track after track showcases irresistible hooks, punchy guitar work, thumping rhythms, and the offhand swagger of Britt Daniel’s lead vocals. They might play with glam-rock touches here (“On the Radio”) or try out some bombast that’s both easygoing and anthemic there (“Wild”). It all still has the DNA that’s long been stored securely in Spoon Labs. Guitarist Gerardo Larios and bassist Ben Trokan join the lineup for this record, both sounding firmly at home in these comfy, unpretentious rock ‘n’ roll confines. Get some more heaping scoops of salty rock goodness with “Held,” “Feeling Alright,” “Satellite,” and the title cut.
BIG THIEF Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You (4AD) — Let us exalt the overachievers. The last time Big Thief peddled new studio shenanigans, they released two hefty albums within six months of each other. In the time since, they’ve hardly been slackers, as evidenced by individual members popping up in all manner of musical side projects. Circling back to Big Thief proper, they deliver an album with no less than twenty tracks and danged near an hour and half running time. Acts have been prone to counterproductive sprawl going back at least to the time when longboxes were all the rage, but Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You has the ideal killer to filler ratio. The songwriter is precise, the playing intricate, the emotional tenor consistently astounding in its bracing honesty. Though spare remains the best descriptor for the overall vibe, there’s a rich expansive to many of the songs, even a hit of real pop sensibility burbling up (“Little Things” is like the Sundays with an Americana bent). In every respect, Big Thief is giving us more to love. Believe in these cuts: “Spud Infinity,” “Little Things,” “Flower of Blood,” “No Reason,” “Wake Me Up to Drive,” and “Simulation Swarm.”
HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF Life on Earth (Nonesuch) — When Hurray for the Riff Raff’s new record company, Nonesuch, announced the artist’s first act under their venerable banner, the tight dozen tracks were deemed “nature punk.” That coinage was seemingly inspired by the ways Alynda Segarra let their lyrics be informed by doomy knowledge that the big spinning rock of the album’s title is set to start roasting humans right off of it. But the terminology works in general, especially as Segarra has allowed their signature sound to evolve from spare and penetrating to lithe and fervent. It also sounds familiar enough, yet jolted with a skittering unpredictability. Studio-massaged texture are more likely to enter the songcraft equation, all propulsive and enveloping like storm winds blowing in to enhance the the yearning sounds of “Wolves” or the tipped-toward-Tori “Jupiter’s Dance.” A cynic might think Segarra is racing to keep up with contemporaries (“Pierced Arrows” has a kinship to the swoon-stirring wonders on Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow), but the shift feels precisely right. Life on Earth has echoes of earlier Hurray for the Riff Raff records, and those echoes are more resonant for the time and space they traveled to get here. In addition to the tracks already mentioned, live it up with “Pointed at the Sun,” “Precious Cargo,” and “Saga.”