Yes We Mystic
Ten Seated Figures (DevilDuck Records)
Yes We Mystic is perhaps the most artistically ambitious Winnipeg band of the moment.
Ten Seated Figures, the group’s second full-length recording — which was released April 19 and launched with a hometown show at the Garrick on April 27 — is more than a simple collection of songs. It’s a full-on performance piece, replete with a second "band" of actors/musicians/performers, also called Yes We Mystic, who appear with the band members on the album cover, "play" the song in the modern-dance romp that is the video for Young Evil and battle the real Mystics in a fantastical trestle-wrestling video for Please Bring Me to Safety (which also features Winnipeg actor Arne MacPherson).
Singer/guitarist Adam Fuhr, who also produced the album, has said Ten Seated Figures is about memory, false memory and distorted reality. The alter-ego band is thus a part of the conceit: a way to add visual and performative depth to the concept.
Musically, the project is solely in the hands of Fuhr and his bandmates — Jensen Fridfinnson (synth, violin), Jordon Ottenson (drums, percussion), Jodi Plenert (bass, synth) and Keegan Steele (synth, mandolin, co-songwriter) — and the quintet has leapt wholeheartedly into the digital world to create a cinematic soundscape in which keyboards, strings, beats and voices are layered upon each other to create artfully arranged and orchestrally dynamic sheets of sound.
It’s not an easy listen at first, as the mix (by Montreal’s Marcus Paquin, who has worked with Arcade Fire and the National) is so densely packed that it’s hard to discern what’s what and who’s who, apart from Fuhr’s dramatic lead vocals. This, too, seems to be part of the notion of what is real and what is not. With repeated listens at volume, however, the record comes to life, and the layers of Yes We Mystic’s musical onion peel away to reveal an album that owes a great debt to progressive art pop of the ’80s, and which will hopefully spur listeners to see the band live and engage with the full YWM experience.
★★★★ out of five
Stream these: Young Evil; Win Ben Stein’s Money; Felsenmeer.
— John Kendle
The Secret (Frontiers)
Magic is one of the themes of The Secret, Alan Parsons’ latest project, and it is best represented by the instrumental opening tune, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Its many moods over nearly six minutes are like an orchestrated soundtrack to a ’60s animated Disney film or a magician’s stage act, with Steve Hackett, Nathan East and Vinnie Colaiuta helping to embellish Parsons’ passion.
On his first solo studio album since 2004, Parsons — without longtime collaborator Eric Woolfson (who died in 2009) — is back with a familiar approach: a handful of lead vocalists; crystal, smooth sounds; and pop songs with classical and progressive rock elements.
Parsons recently turned 70 and won his first Grammy this year after over a dozen nominations, picking up best immersive audio album for Eye in the Sky — 35th Anniversary Edition. His first nomination was at the 1974 Grammys for his work as an engineer on Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, so it’s no surprise, then, that many songs on The Secret have autumnal lyrics dealing with the passing of time.
Parsons himself sings As Lights Fall, which has myriad echoes of Eye in the Sky, and it sounds autobiographical: "My sword was cast in songs of light/In sparks and waves, enchanted nights."
Former Foreigner singer Lou Gramm takes lead on Sometimes, a string-drenched highlight that sticks to the seasoned topics — "The older grow wiser/And fall in love sometimes" — while Jason Mraz sings Miracle, another song with precedents in the Alan Parsons Project discography.
Some songs sag a bit, like Years of Glory, and on Soirée Fantastique, an otherwise charming duet between Parsons and Todd Cooper, the French pronunciation feels like a parody.
★★★½ out of five
STREAM THESE: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, As Lights Fall.
— Pablo Gorondi, The Associated Press
Hurts 2B Human (RCA)
Right out of the gate on her new album, Pink gives you just the song you expect from the punk superstar: a pop ballad oozing with confidence and giving her signature "f-off" vibe. Her background vocalists sound like a posse as she sings out, "Don’t hustle me/Don’t f—- with me."
Hurts 2B Human sounds largely like Pink’s typical esthetic — mostly pop with a punk attitude and a few sentimental piano ballads sprinkled in. Just like her 2017 album Beautiful Trauma, Pink dabbles in myriad styles, but this time recruits the help of more collaborators. Khalid, Cash Cash, Wrabel and even Chris Stapleton make appearances.
The album lands clearly in the pop camp. First single Walk Me Home is catchy with all the right ear-worm ingredients, but this same formulaic pop tendency hurts her on other songs. Her energy and booming vocals may draw listeners in, but the album falls short with some tracks lacking originality.
My Attic sounds like a tune that’s been done before: a Fergie-style Big Girls Don’t Cry using a thinly veiled metaphor of an attic to describe the things she keeps hidden. "I keep hiding the keys in all these places even I can’t find/Hoping one day you’ll find them all ‘cause I wanna let you see inside my attic."
This isn’t to say all Pink’s sentimental tracks are kitschy. 90 Days incorporates a James Blake/Imogen Heap production style with a balanced blend of Wrabel and Pink’s vocals over distorted layers to create a strong track.
It’s also one of the songs that sounds radio-ready, along with the title track, proving that Pink still has what it takes to stay relevant. The breadth of her collaborations are also commendable: the R&B style of Khalid and the country roots of Stapleton may not seem cohesive, but both sound equally at home on the record.
Overall, Hurts 2B Human is predictably Pink — to both its benefit and detriment.
★★★ out of five
Stream these: Walk Me Home, 90 Days
— Ragan Clark, The Associated Press
Baby, Please Come Home (The Last Music Company)
As a first-call opening act for heavyweights like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Buddy Guy, Texas blues guy Jimmie Lawrence Vaughan has few peers. His career extends back to the late 1960s and he even enjoyed some chart success with the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the 1980s. His playing style has changed little over the years, yet Vaughan remains the kind of guitarist who merits attention mostly due to the fact that it is what he doesn’t play, rather than what he does play, that sets him apart from the rest of contemporary blues guitar players.
Baby, Please Come Home is a reverential tip of the Stratocaster headstock to those players who influenced Vaughan, and the love shown in these versions is obvious. Aligning himself with a crew of like-minded pros (George Rains, Mike Flanigin, Greg Piccolo, Doug James, Kaz Kazanoff and others) he is able to recreate the sound of what it meant to get down back in the proverbial day. Lefty Frizzell’s No One To Talk To (But The Blues), T-Bone Walker’s I’m Still In Love With You and Gatemouth Brown’s Midnight Hour are all solidly brilliant, with Vaughan’s playing sparse yet intense.
His style relies less on note production than providing a kind of lyrical adjunct to the tune. Anyone familiar with the style and tone of the late Johnny (Guitar) Watson will find plenty to love in Vaughan’s clean and uncluttered lines.
Drummer Rains deserves special mention too. His style is key to the swinging situation of everything including the ballads here and it’s his impressive syncopation that drives every song. Vaughan is singing better than ever, too, and with the earthy Just A Game and I’m Still In Love With You, you can hear that progression totally.
★★★½ out of five
STREAM THESE: No One To Talk To (But The Blues), Hold It.
— Jeff Monk
Day After Day (Sunnyside)
Guitarist Ben Monder is hugely versatile and has demonstrated real sensitivity in ensemble albums under the leadership of other musicians. From free expression to country covers, his warm style pervades his music. As leader here, his new double-CD release features covers of pop/rock/country standards.
The first disc is entirely solo guitar, while the second adds flawless support by Matt Brewer on bass and Ted Poor on drums. The covers range from Burt Bacharach, Bread, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Dylan to Jimmy Webb and a tune identified with Bill Evans. Somehow Monder makes them all his own and even adds a beautiful 20th-century choral piece called O Sacrum Convivium and the theme from Goldfinger.
Regardless of the originals, the mood is predominantly melodic and gentle with occasional bursts that are basically required by the tunes. The Bill Evans reference is Emily, beautifully engaged. The Windows Of The World might make a few people want to revisit some of Burt Bacharach’s great songs from past decades.
A number of the tunes are complex in format. Monder simply makes them seem a part of his effortless technique. There are contemporary jazz guitarists who depend extensively on loops and other electronica, and while there is definitely a place for that, there is also a place for the introspective and at times delicate interpretations of a fascinating play list. If you enjoy jazz guitar played with skill and beauty, this two-CD album will offer continuing pleasure.
★★★★ out of five
STREAM THESE: Never Let Me Go, Emily.
— Keith Black
Bach to the Future (La Dolce Vita)
Like a ghostly phoenix rising from the ashes — in this case, the utter devastation wreaked by the April 15 fire at the historic Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral — comes this extraordinary new recording of the last recital performed on its Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ by one of the church’s head organists, Olivier Latry. The musician, who began his tenure in 1985, performs an all-Bach program of 10 works on the massive instrument (which survived the fire relatively unscathed) on his debut recording with La Dolce Vita, essentially capturing its full-bodied, powerful voice as a moment in time that will doubtlessly take years to sing again.
Connoisseurs will take comfort hearing such classics: Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 with its contrapuntal lines performed with crisp clarity. Latry also delivers an enthralling Fantasia in D minor, BWV 542; and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542; with Erbarm’ dich mein, o Herre Gott BWV 721, his own personal homage to the 855-year-old cathedral’s history and a former chaplain who greatly admired the work.
Other highlights include a contemplative Ricercare a 6 BWV 1079, contrasted by a thundering Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, or jubilant In dir ist Freude BWV 617 and Pièce d’orgue BWV 572 performed on this "king of instruments" inaugurated in 1868. However, the piece that resonates most profoundly in the wake of the great fire is Herzlich tut mich verlangen BWV 727, a chorale composed by Bach for the Easter season, beckoning with promise of hope and resurrection springing from the dark shadows of despair.
★★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Herzlich tut mich verlangen BWV 727.
— Holly Harris