Jamila Woods


(Closed Sessions ***)

nolead ends Chicago poet and rapper Jamila Woods' verses have shown up of late on tracks by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ("White Privilege II") and Chance the Rapper ("Summer Sunday"), and she has a coming-out party on her full-length debut here. Joining the voices raised in this Black Lives Matter moment, her "VRY BLK" echoes the chilling detail in D'Angelo's "Charade." "Hello operator, emergency hotline," Woods rhymes in a deceptively singsong manner. "If I say 'I Can't Breathe,' will I become a chalk line?" Heavn, whose title track quotes the Cure's "Just Like Heaven," is particularly impressive musically, considering Woods identifies as an activist as much as an artist. She says the album is "about black girlhood, about Chicago, about the people we miss who have gone on to prepare a place for us somewhere else, about the city-slash-world we aspire to live in."

Like Chance's Coloring Book, Heavn isn't shy about infusing its hip-hop and jazz-inflected sound with gospel fervor and religious imagery. The initials in "LSD," produced by fellow Chicagoans oddCouple and featuring Chance, turn out to stand for nothing lysergic - just Lake Shore Drive, the road that hugs Lake Michigan, whose waters she imagines as having healing, baptismal powers: "You gotta love me like I love the lake." The album is not available via most conventional outlets, but is streaming free at soundcloud.com/jamilawoods.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins Tommy Womack
nolead ends nolead begins Namaste
nolead ends nolead begins (Self-released, ***1/2)

nolead ends "The end of the line is where you'll find a loser's blues like mine," Tommy Womack confesses three cuts into his new album. Bummer, no? Not really. The former frontman of Government Cheese has fashioned an artistically profound solo career inspired by his own life as an aging, just-getting-by roots-rocker. On Namaste, he does it again with unsparing honesty and wit while steering clear of self-pity.

Womack sings of having the "Comb-Over Blues" and a "Hot Flash Woman," while the folk narrative "God Part III" deals with some loftier matters. On "Darling Let Your Free Bird Fly," he takes his own advice, cutting loose for the album's most rollicking track. In contrast, "When Country Singers Were Ugly" serves up some woozy nostalgia before segueing into "Nashville," an affectionate hipster-jazz put-down of the changes in his home city.

If "End of the Line," "It's Been All Over Before," and "I Almost Died" deliver the starkest reminders of mortality, Womack fittingly ends with the gentle uplift of "It's a Beautiful Morning," whose sentiments seem more hard-earned than trite - "Life is for living, and living's for love."

- Nick Cristiano

nolead begins MSTRKRFT
nolead ends nolead begins Operator
nolead ends nolead begins (Last Gang ***)

nolead ends Like Daft Punk without helmets, Air without tasteful cravats, and Justice without having to lug around that heavy cross, the two members of MSTRKRFT - Death from Above 1979's Jesse F. Keeler and producer Al-P - make electronic dance-punk with twists of metal and soul, to say nothing of a sense of humor.

With its lively analog synths set to stun and its tin rhythms pounding, Operator has the sound of a funny, dirty, DIY affair. For instance, "Little Red Hen" is nasty, squelchy, and repetitious, with cheap, early house music hi-hats and more video-game belches than Pokémon Go. Those same cymbals are given a ride on the chintzy industrial affair "Priceless," with Angel Hair vocalist Sonny Kay coming across like a discount Trent Reznor. That's a compliment.

The rubber bandy "Runaway" (with Big Black Delta's Jonathan Bates) and the scorched-earth "Go on Without Me" (featuring Converge screamer Jacob Bannon) are similar in terror-tone to "Priceless," yet for all the screaming and aggro-industrialism, the overall effect of Operator is still cool, bold, and bright, with touches of presumably tongue-in-cheek humor. If MSTRKRFT is not meant to have a silly side this time out, then . . . dang, it sure seems to.

- A.D. Amorosi


Dinosaur Jr., Give a Glimpse of What You're Not; Angie Stone, Covered in Soul; Nels Cline, Lovers; Wye Oak, TweenEndText