*City of Straw – Sightings* (Jagjaguwar)
Totally batshit noise that separates the custys from the heads. To some—many, perhaps—Sightings’ uncompromising seventh album, City of Straw will barely scan as music. Jon Lockie’s post-industrial drum-brain/trap-kit hybrid might sound like the emitted static of malfunctioning machinery, Mark Morgan’s guitar slashing and resigned vocals just another element in chaos. But the trio’s eight songs, including the nine-minute centerpiece title track, fairly burst with structure: machinery that is not broken at all, but designed to grind with arhythmic, atonal precision, equal parts sputtering and graceful. And when one finally hears the machine, Morgan’s pop songs are there for the taking, as if the harsh promises of Radiohead’s KId A were a rabbit hole, and City of Straw the Wonderland beyond.
*Dead Friends – Shawn David McMillen* (Tompkins Square)
Like Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny and the Sun City Girls’ Sir Richard Bishop, Shawn David McMillen is a modern acoustic guitar picker using every imaginative tool at his disposal. His new Dead Friends mixes sound collage with grids of semi-connected patterns (“The Moth”), breathy atmosphere touched by distant piano (“Frankenstein’s Kiss”), and a trio of duets with fellow Austinite (and former Bad Liver) Ralph White on fiddle and kalimba, which ground McMillen’s freeform experimentation with a deeper Americana. Though McMillen is adept at gorgeous concrète (like the gong-shattering “Beladona Along the Brazos”), the most emotionally connected pieces are the ones where he taps into a little structure (like the slide guitar driven “Our Weather”).
*Among the Gold EP* – Cheyenne Mize and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (Karate Body)
The new Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy full-length, The Wonder Show of the World, is a little dull, so instead of bumming about that, perhaps it’s best to focus on another under-the-radar Will Oldham EP that came out last November to virtually zero notice: a six-song set with Picket Line vocalist Cheyenne Mize (his duetting partner on last year’s almost-equally-under-the-radar Funtown Comedown). Here, the two tap into stunning pre-War pop music, including Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” and Gramophone fare like “Only A Dream,” “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” and “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” rendering them in spare acoustic arrangements, accompanied by nothing but Mize’s guitar, violin, or—on one blessed number—autoharp. Worth finding.