Medium Rotation — Portrait of a Lady; Endless Rooms; A Bit of Previous

SHILPA RAY Portrait of a Lady (Northern Spy) — Now seems like the ideal time for a take-no-shit woman howling lyrics of feminist dissatisfaction, doesn’t it? If Shilpa Ray doesn’t quite go full riot grrrl on Portrait of a Lady, her third full-length studio, she still opens a firehose of wholly justified rancor against an oppressive culture and all the insidious dudes who happily prosper from the systemic inequities. It’s tempting to say that titles such as “Manic Pixie Dream Cunt,” “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues,” and “Bootlickers of the Patriarchy” tell the whole story, but there’s so much to sweep of Ray’s music than that. The material is splendidly intricate in traipsing across genre, incorporating punk punch, the saunter of classic nineteen-sixties pop, and baroque barroom showpersonship that rouse Tom Waits himself to beaming appreciation tinged with envy. This is a record of an artist who decided long again that the correct response to pervasive injustice is to burn it all down. Now, she’s kicking up the ashes and still-glowing embers. In addition to the cuts already named, stand back and admire “Lawsuits and Suicide,” “Male Feminist” (which opens with a tweak to Mickey and Sylvia’s calling card by asking, “How do you call your two-faced loverboy?”), “Same Sociopath,” and “Charm School for Damaged Boys.”

ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER Endless Rooms (Sub Pop) — The Australian band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever toiled away on their third album, Endless Rooms, while their homeland employed lockdowns and other serious measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, one of the all-too-few nations to mount an appropriately serious respond to the global pandemic. The band members found working in isolation led to the imposition of tighter structures to the songs, freewheeling experimentation in the studio largely off the table. When they finally did convene, in the isolated ranchland studio pictured on the album’s cover, playing was about perfecting rather than noodling. The step up in craft doesn’t come with a commensurate diminishment of energy and punch. Indeed, the tightness probably enhances the band’s power, like water blasted through a tightening pipe. “Tidal River” has the angular agitation of Franz Ferdinand with a touch of the anthemic, echoing rock of the nineteen-eighties, when Big Country had a moment of high influence, and “See You at the Eastern Beach” has a similar jingle of classic college rock, specifically recalling R.E.M. when they first toughened up their sound. Yet there’s nothing particularly retro about the album. It sounds like now, or at least a version of now where rock music has a little more sway over the pop culture. Endless Rooms implicitly argues that the time is here for music fans start again paying attention to what some dedicated people with guitars, bass, keyboard, and drums can do. In addition to the songs mentioned above, cozy up with “My Echo,” “Blue Eye Lake,” “Vanishing Dots,” and the tender “Open Up Your Window.”

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN A Bit of Previous (Matador) — The simplest of typos would turn the title of the new Belle and Sebastian album into A Bit of Precious, and wouldn’t that be a fine name to affix to a greatest hits release by the Scottish act that’s been lilting pristine pop songs into the ether for more than a quarter century? Well past the point where any savvy seer might have expected Belle and Sebastian to expend all their creativity, the group is still concocting beauteous baubles of song that somehow adhere to their well-established shimmery delicacy while finding nifty new variations, whether in the softened Northern soul of “If They’re Shooting at You” or the brightly bopping “Unnecessary Drama.” Although they’ve kept busy enough in recent years with EPs and a soundtrack album, A Bit of Previous is the first proper full-length Belle and Sebastian album in some seven years. The span of time hasn’t staled the material. If anything, there’s a sense that the band, these days a septet and still and forever led by Stuart Murdoch, has used the days in between to rejuvenate themselves nicely. Spend more than a bit with “Prophets on Hold,” “Come On Home,” swooningly morose “Sea of Sorrow,” and “Working Boy in New York City.”

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