Path of Wellness
(Mom + Pop ***)
Do bands owe it to their fans to stick to what first won them an audience, rather than changing with the times? Of course not. If Charlie Watts quit Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, would they be justified in still calling the band the Rolling Stones? Yes, but it wouldn’t be the same.
Such are the issues and anxieties that Sleater-Kinney fans have struggled with since drummer Janet Weiss left the riot-grrl band after the unintentionally aptly titled 2019 album The Center Won’t Hold.
Singers and guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein carried on with a tour for the keyboard-heavy, St. Vincent-produced Center, leaving loyalists dismayed at the loss of the mighty drummer and the breakup of a feminist sisterhood.
Now, Tucker and Brownstein are back with their first album as a duo, recorded during a tense pandemic summer as protesters faced off with police in Portland. In some ways, the first self-produced Sleater-Kinney album feels like a concession: It’s much more guitar-oriented, angling toward classic rock.
Don’t expect Path to hit with the force of urgent early work like 1999′s Dig Me Out. And that’s OK: Weiss’ powerhouse propulsion is missing, and songs like the catchy “Favorite Neighbor” and sorrowful closer “Bring Mercy” don’t ring out with rebellious rage.
But the album does showcase a pair of uniquely simpatico creative partners, striving to evolve after a quarter century together.
There are missteps, like the labored “Complex Female Characters,” but Path has ample rewards as it seeks a balance between soul-soothing calm and heading off to the races. Tucker and Brownstein are still Sleater-Kinney, and they can kick up a storm, albeit not as violent of one as they did back in their glory days.
— Dan DeLuca
Spirit of the Beehive
(Saddle Creek ***)
Philly’s Spirit of the Beehive make collage-like, destabilized music that’s full of voices submerged below a surface of blurry synthesizers, scrambles of found sounds, and unsteady time signatures.
It’s alien but not alienating. Moments of shiny melodies and sunny guitar hooks regularly interrupt the anxious weirdness, and vice versa, like patches of blue sky appearing through low-hanging clouds.
Entertainment, Death, their fourth album, is full of bright spots. But it’s also a dark, nightmarish album, with lyrics that dwell on the inevitability of death, sometimes delivered sweetly, sometimes in an evil shout, often heavily processed.
The trio — Zack Schwarz, Rivka Ravede, and Corey Wichlin — relish subverting their noisy songs with pop and their poppy songs with noise.
Most tracks are less than three minutes, but they’re dense with ideas and hard to pin down. They dip into the psychedelic wildness of Animal Collective and Deerhunter (“Wrong Circle”), into the warped synth-pop of Philly’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow (“It Might Take Some Time”), into dreamy shoegaze (“Death”), into woozy soul-funk (“Rapid & Complete Recovery”), even, on “Wake Up (In Rotation),” into cheery indie rock.
Listening to Entertainment, Death is like entering the devilish fun house depicted on the cover: It startles, surprises, and delights, and it keeps you on edge.
— Steve Klinge
(Easy Eye Sound *** 1/2)
“Trying to make it in this messed-up world / I’m doing the best I can,” Robert Finley sings over the sinuous swamp groove of “Country Child.” Coming from someone who had to quit his carpentry job in 2015 after being declared legally blind and didn’t release his first album until age 64, those are not empty words. Their spirit of endurance is evident throughout Sharecropper’s Son.
The album is the soul-bluesman’s second collaboration with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who again served as producer-guitarist-cowriter and backed Finley with his usual Nashville session aces. The difference is that on 2017′s Goin’ Platinum! Finley didn’t write any of the songs. Here, he cowrote all but one — the gospel closer “All My Hope.” As on Finley’s 2016 debut, Age Don’t Mean a Thing, we get an autobiographical set that digs deeper.
The Louisiana-born singer swaggers through stompers like the title song and “Better Than I Treat Myself” with Otis Redding-like command, while ballads such as “I Can Feel Your Pain,” one of the instances where he sings falsetto, highlight his tender and empathetic side.
On the gospel-tinged soul ballad “My Story,” Finley sings: “You’re never too young to dream, never too old to live. ... That’s why I tell my story, so you can start dreaming, too.” It’s an undeniably uplifting moment that gives a universal resonance to his journey.
— Nick Cristiano