Liz Phair

Soberish

(Chrysalis ***)

While Liz Phair last released an album of new material in 2010 (the regrettable Funstyle, her diversion into hip-hop), she’s been rebooting her career for the past few years. In 2018 she released an expanded edition of her nineties classic Exile in Guyville including early Girly-Sound demos. Then in 2019, she published the memoir Horror Stories.

Guyville established Phair as a bracing, iconoclastic voice, ready to attack indie-rock’s male hegemony and celebrate female sexual desires. Her new release, Soberish, reunites her with Guyville producer Brad Wood, and it has some of its predecessor’s punchy tunefulness and raunchy directness.

Phair is too self-aware and self-possessed to try to recreate her youthful brashness, but she has held on to her sharp tongue (affectionately challenging Lou Reed on “Hey Lou,” a highlight) and sexual appetite (on the too-obvious “Bad Kitty,” not a highlight).

Soberish doesn’t neglect the pop chops she honed in the middle of her career (which spawned the 2003 hit “Why Can’t I”). While it foregrounds indie rock swagger, it makes room for the sweet ballad “Lonely Street” and the understated electro-pop of “In There” and lots of impressively intertwining vocal lines.

“There’s so many ways to f- up a life / I try to be original,” she sings in “Good Side,” and much of Soberish finds Phair both celebrating and regretting mistakes, so it’s apt that the album’s inconsistency, like her career’s, is part of the overall appeal.

— Steve Klinge

Georgia Anne Muldrow

Vweto III

(Foreseen Entertainment *** 1/2)

Georgia Anne Muldrow’s new album arrives with a mission statement.

Vweto III is intended for movement,” she writes on her Bandcamp site. “It’s to be played when you birth yourself back outside after a long introspective period ... it intends for you to be your own superhero.”

To achieve that inspiring aim, Muldrow has composed and produced a largely instrumental third movement in her trio of Vweto albums, which take their name from the word for gravity in the Congolese language Kikongo.

There are guest vocals from rapper Ayun Basa and singer Shana Jensen, but otherwise everything is performed and programmed by the album’s auteur, who is the daughter of jazz guitarist Ronald Muldrow. Her music convey’s a soulful authority — she’s often compared to Nina Simone — but it’s also restlessly twitchy (and glitchy) as it reaches for a higher plane.

Erykah Badu, with whom she collaborated on the 2008 song “Master Teacher,” has likened Muldrow to “the female Jimi Hendrix, the young Marcus Garvey, swinging music like Stevie Wonder.”

Muldrow’s facility with vintage keyboards is demonstrated on “Synthmania Rock” and “Passin’ Ooout!” Hip-hop heavy jams such as “Boom Bap Is My Homegirl” revel in low-end rhythm. “Action Groove” recalls the 1970s collision of Kraftwerk and hip-hop, and “Grungepiece” is a love letter to Jamaican dub.

It’s a wonder that the 37-year-old Muldrow — who’s released 21 albums — has remained less well known as a producer than male kindred spirits like Flying Lotus. But with last year’s Mama You Can Bet! and now Vweto III, Muldrow’s enticing music is getting the attention it deserves.

— Dan DeLuca

Rostam

Changephobia

(Matsor Projects ****)

Rostam’s Changephobia sounds like the generosity of spirit we owe each other this summer. After 15 months of pandemic isolation, the songs are like a refresher course in human experience.

Could we be so lucky as to lay our heads on someone’s shoulder in a cab to the airport again (“From The Back of a Cab”)? Can we get back to living together “for three nights in a hotel / Listenin’ to traffic underneath a blanket” (“Kinney”)?

Every day that feels a little closer to “yes” is a day that sounds like Changephobia.

Rostam, formerly of Vampire Weekend, has spent the last few years making his own solo records and producing for other artists (Frank Ocean, HAIM, and Solange, among others). His prowess as a pop songwriter is obvious across the 11 tracks on this new release, which mixes baritone saxophone, jangly guitar, delicately plinked piano, and dance-y drums with his gentle, prayerful voice.

He sounds like James Blake or Donnie Emerson when he goes low and sensual (especially on the title track), and former bandmate Ezra Koenig when he takes things high and delicate (“Starlight”).

On his last album, Half-Light, Rostam’s ideas were splayed across the floor, individually appealing but without a unifying vision. Here, with Henry Solomon’s saxophone giving quiet shape to the background of most tracks, he’s brought everything together.

— Jesse Bernstein