Medium Rotation — Boat Songs; Headful of Sugar

MJ LENDERMAN Boat Songs (Dear Life) — The new album from Asheville-based singer-songwriter MJ Lenderman is a revival triumph for the era of sloughy dudes with guitars and an attitude grounded in sardonic misery. Boat Songs, the third solo album overall from the Wednesday guitarist, boasts muscular instrumentation in twang-tousled performances, as if Built to Spill and Son Volt brokered a benevolent merger a couple decades back. Lenderman’s songcraft sometimes calls back even further: “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat” feels like nineteen-seventies Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter fare, but with a twisty electric guitar solo toughening it up, and “Tastes Just Like It Costs” recalls Neil Young knocking off some sleepy rust. It’s a special kick to catch Lenderman putting all the meaty puppetry of his music to lyrics that are kindred to the freewheeling, any-topic-can-be-a-pop-song freewheeling ethos of John Darnielle, exemplified by single “Hangover Game,” which directs some friendly snark at Michael Jordan’s notorious “flu game” during the 1997 NBA playoffs. In addition to the songs cited, set sail with “TLC Cagematch,” “Toontown,” the Gram Parsons–like “Under Control,” and the murky “Six Flags.”

SUNFLOWER BEAN Headful of Sugar (Mom + Pop) — When the pandemic struck, putting a hard hold on touring and other hustles musical artists rely on to keep the lights on, the Brooklyn-based trio Sunflower Bean took as impetus to really dig into the process of making their next record, devoting more time to finessing the new songs than they felt they had previously. The extra elbow grease shows in their third studio album, Headful of Sugar, which is packed to the shiny crown with sharp, intricate pop gems. They lilt from the melancholy, tingly “In Flight” to the chugging “Post Love” and hit on every charming swoop of craft in between and all around. Julia Cumming’s lead vocals consistently spark with personality, and her bass playing merges with that of guitarist Nick Kivlen and drummer Olive Faber so smoothly and solidly that the tracks can feel like they emerged fully whole. Of course, that quality is itself compelling testimony for how much care they put into the material. Keep sweetening up your senses with “Who Put You Up to This?,” “I Don’t have Control Sometimes,” “Stand By Me,” and “Feel Somebody.”

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