ROKIA KONÉ AND JACKNIFE LEE, Bamanan (Real World) — You don’t have to understand the language Rokia Koné sings in on Bamanan to feel the power of her words. A gifted performer from Mali, Koné expresses herself with resonant intensity, the songs obviously steeped in her culture but also making boundaries — of genre, of geography, you name it — seem like contrived nonsense through the purity of her tones. Working with Irish producer Jacknife Lee, Koné stays true to her homeland while welcoming a sonic palette that scratches out fresh territory between jubilant and ethereal. The enticing groove of “Shezita” or the delicate tones underpinning “Soyi N’galamba” give a good idea of what the duo is up to, adhering to established structures while flouting rules. The album is so organically cohesive that it’s a wonder the two never met in person during its making, instead trading tracks across digital distances. There are all sorts of ways to make borders immaterial. Marvel more at “Bi Ye Tulonba Ye,” “N’yanyan,” and “Dunden.”
GANG OF YOUTHS, Angel in Real Time (Warner) — Let’s bring earnestness back to rock ‘n’ roll. The third album from Australian band Gang of Youths take the indie version of arena rock, as endearingly trailblazed by the likes of the Hold Steady and the National, and defibrillates its heart into aching, heavy beats with lyrics about familial secrets that are equally wounded and wounding. Frontman David Le’aupepe practiced therapy through lyric writing after the 2018 death of his father brought to light all sorts of hidden history. The songs across Angel in Real Time find Le’aupepe wearing emotions on his sleeve so vastly and openly that they practically weave themselves into a whole new garment that envelops him whole. “Brothers” plainspoken recounting of the truth-seeking journey (“We thought that he was only half-Samoan/ That his mother was a German Jew/ But I went and found his birth certificate/ And he lied about that too”) is a good indicator of the single family album spilling out in rhythm and melody. Cuts “Tend the Garden” and “Unison” practically rattle the rafters with their building intensity. For more revelatory ravishment, add “You In Everything,” “In the Wake of Your Leave,” “Returner,” “The Kingdom is Within You,” and “The Man Himself” to your gang.
SASAMI, Squeeze (Domino) — SASAMI just keeps transforming on Squeeze. The second album from former Cherry Glazerr keyboardist Sasami Ashworth ricochets around different styles as if to argue that anyone who limits themselves to just one way of making music is a grade A sucker. On “Call Me Home” and “Tried to Understand,” she can loft in with chiming, yearning vocals and elegant pop-rock structures reminiscent of Aimee Mann, only to spin around and wields a hard rock jackhammer on a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Sorry Entertainer.” Album opener “Skin a Rat” races with metal intensity, and industrial gears clack to make the beating heart of “Say It.” The album is freewheeling in the best possible way, and yet there’s an evident control and sharp-eared attentiveness to everything that emanates from it, maybe best demonstrated by “Not a Love Song,” which is lifted with such heist-like precision from the Mitski style guide that the Laurel hellion might not even notice the page is missing. In addition to the gems noted above, grab ahold of “Skin a Rat,” “Make It Right,” and the title cut.