Five Albums You Should Be Listening To Right Now
Reverb-heavy surf rock, country from Neko Case's bandmate, and the best cellist in pop.
Every two weeks, titans of the mediasphere give Nerve their music recommendations. This week: Jonathan Keefe, whose writing has appeared at Slant Magazine and Country Universe. He regrets that he does not have a forthcoming book to plug.
1. Dex Romweber Duo, Is That You in the Blue?
Dexter Romweber's influence is all over some of the biggest acts in rock music today; The White Stripes, The Kills, and The Black Keys are just some of the direct descendants of his time as frontman for Flat Duo Jets. Is That You in the Blue? is Romweber's second album with his sister Sara, and it matches or surpasses most of those bands (all of whom I like) in terms of ambition. The record is firmly rooted in the blues, but its best cuts push beyond formalism, offering surf-rock that's swathed in heavy reverb and some demon-possessed rockabilly.
Listen: "Jungle Drums"
2. Matraca Berg, The Dreaming Fields
Berg falls into the same camp as Kelly Willis, Kim Richey, Mandy Barnett, and Shelby Lynne: women who should be absolutely huge stars in country music but weirdly aren't. It makes especially little sense in Berg's case, seeing how she's written signature songs for the likes of Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, and Deana Carter. But stardom just didn't happen for Berg, and The Dreaming Fields is her first album since 1997. She lost none of her songwriting prowess during that absence, and The Dreaming Fields is a testament both to Berg's singular talent and to the insight and real intelligence that the best country music offers.
Listen: "If I Had Wings"
3. Delicate Steve, Wondervisions
I don't typically go for instrumental records, but Delicate Steve's debut really emphasizes melody in a way that I can get on board with. It's an album of brilliantly constructed modern pop songs, and Wondervisions doesn't go all math rock or get bogged down in effects the way Battles or Holy Fuck can. The arrangements have some actual heft to them, but the melodies are always light and nimble. It's my favorite debut album of the year thus far.
Listen: "Don't Get Stuck (Proud Elephants)"
4. Ben Sollee, Inclusions
One of the things that I love about cellist Ben Sollee is that he doesn't use his primary instrument as some kind of gimmick, like some artists who play instruments that are rare in pop music do. Inclusions is a terrific, unassuming pop record by someone who just happens to play the cello. The songs come first, and Sollee's writing is sharp and his voice is pure and soulful. I'll admit to my bias in that Sollee is from Kentucky like me and I know several of the musicians who contributed to the record, but Inclusions is fully deserving of the national-scale acclaim it has earned.
Listen: "The Globe"
5. Kelly Hogan & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Beneath the Country Underdog
Known for singing back-up for Neko Case on tour, Kelly Hogan, like Case, has one of my absolute favorite voices. Beneath the Country Underdog is the strongest of her solo records, and it includes covers of a few classic country tunes and of a few songs that should be classic country tunes, including a flat-out gorgeous version of the Magnetic Fields' "Papa Was a Rodeo." Hogan's just a powerhouse singer, and Case's fans would do well to check out this album.
Listen: "A Mighty Thin Line (Between Love and Hate)"