Medium Rotation — Bleed Out; 2007; Natural Brown Prom Queen

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS Bleed Out (Merge) — Presumably, John Darnielle has somehow eradicated the need for sleep. A Nobel is surely forthcoming. How else to explain the amazing output in recent years from the previously prolific and now practically omnipresent songwriter. With his main band, the Mountain Goats, Darnielle has released four full-length studio albums of new material in the past two and half years, with a couple massive live albums as parsley on the side of that heaping plate. More remarkably, it’s all been good, evidence of indefatigability more than counterproductive workaholism. Bleed Out, the latest effort, even manages to give a good name to that scourge of rock ‘n’ roll: the concept album. Darnielle drew on the parade of action films he watched to while away the hours when pandemic protocols prevented him from touring, making the album sound like a creative id’s reaction to the average early Saturday night lineup on Cinemax back in the day. Sure, the connections can be clear enough to seem like especially tuneful fan fiction, as on “First Blood”: “Devastating schematics/ Rough drafts of the twenty-third psalm/ Paul Kersey never left his apartment/ John Rambo never went to Vietnam.” More often, the tracks simply deliver Darnielle’s expert storytelling merged with insinuating hooks, and doused with knowing humor. When “Training Montage” tweaks the trope with the lines “Notches on the wall of my solitary cell/ Sweat dripping out of every pore/ It feels like it takes forever/ It’s maybe five minutes on screen,” it’s a whole other kind of get-up-and-cheer moment, but thrilled nonetheless. In addition to the cuts already mentioned, dig the heroic action of “Mark on You,” “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome,” “Guys on Every Corner,” “Hostages,” and “Incandescent Ruins.”

MIYA FOLICK 2007 (Nettwerk) — Giving the title 2007 to her new EP suggests Miya Folick is looking backwards, and that’s someone true. She clearly and admittedly mines her own experience on the new songs collected here, going through a cathartic exploration of her evolving self since her last proper solo release, the 2018 album Premonitions, which was her full-length debut. In every other respect, Folick’s new material is determinedly forward-thinking, positioning her as the sort of emerging artist sure who jars listeners with the force of her invention. Opener “Oh God” sounds a little like the spawn of Kate Bush and Tori Amos, but it’s also strikingly bold on in its own terms as it finds roughshod beauty in the aimlessly of a youthful existence (“I used to walk around downtown at night/ Start conversations with strangers when they’d ask me for a light/ I was smiling in the face of time/ I was a touch naïve, but it really felt sublime, sublime”). In Folick’s reckoning, appreciating the compromises of the past is an integral part of growing up. Knowing that misgivings and mildly melancholic nostalgia go together like gin and vermouth positions Folick as a kindred of Mitski, and, sure enough, our best American girl pitched in on the writing of one of the new EP’s standout tracks, “Bad Thing.” 2007 achieves what the best EPs always do; it makes the listener crave more. The tracks already mentioned are good starts, as are “Cartoon Clouds” and “Ordinary.”

SUDAN ARCHIVES Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw) — Judging by her history, Brittney Parks seems like an artist who isn’t going to be easy to pin down. She taught herself how to play a violin when she could still communicate her age by holding up one hand, and toyed with just about every musical style on her way to adopting the stage name Sudan Archives and releasing the lavishly praised 2019 debut Athena. The supposition about her unwillingness to stay in one creative place is proved completely accurate by her sophomore full-length, Natural Brown Prom Queen. Opener “Home Maker” set the standard, briefly toying with orchestral music and lithe jazz before locking into a soulful dance groove that Parks’s voice settles upon like shiny copper plating. She has pointed things to say, about community, self-empowerment, and the extra barriers thrown in the way of Black women, but the music she crafts is so precise, enveloping, and rapturous that the message is clear without becoming a heavy blanket. Her sonic calculations of consistently ingenious, whether the way “Selfish Soul” buffs up a schoolyard chant into a powerhouse mantra or the percolating, cool nerviness of “Milk Me.” She’s poised gracefully on the thin, nearly invisible tendril that runs between Janelle Monáe insistent R&B and FKA twigs’s inside-out soul abstractions. Sudan Archives cat-burglars the best of both and makes then smacks it all together into something that is so clearly her own possession that no one would dare ask her to cede it. She’s earned her tiara and sash. Cast your vote for these additional Prom themes: the stealthily scathing “NBPQ (Topless),” “Copycat (Broken Notions),””Freakalizer,” and “Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant).”

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