What Chaos Is Imaginary
Girlpool may never sound more urgent than on their 15-minute eponymous 2014 debut EP. It hinted at a folk-punk that members Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad quickly outgrew. The transitional Powerplant in 2017 took left turns both in the folk regard (the bouncy “Corner Store”) and the punk one (“Soup” flirts with metal). Their fourth offering is something else altogether. Tucker has since come out as trans, with a deepened vocal register here suited to the band’s new mastery of Elliott Smith’s chord changes on “Hire” and the mesmerizing, drumless “All Blacked Out.” The riff construction on the opening “Lucy’s” is all his own, however, and Tividad’s soprano has a more desolate edge on stunners like the organ-and-drum-machine title epic that pops out a bouquet of strings as it swells to five and a half minutes. More than on any other Girlpool release, the two carve out showcases for themselves, which makes the moments where they come together all the more climactic. — Dan Weiss
Live in London
“I’m 34,” Mavis Staples jokes after being serenaded with “Happy Birthday” by her London audience. But she adds: “It just ain’t no stopping me, is it”?
Apparently not. The 79-year-old gospel-soul matriarch sounds as robust as ever on these performances recorded in July. Accompanied by just her usual top-notch guitar-bass-drums combo and two backup singers, Staples ranges from her Staple Singers days up to her recent work with Jeff Tweedy, and includes selections by the Talking Heads and George Clinton. She’s soothingly reassuring on Tweedy’s “You Are Not Alone” and playfully seductive on Curtis Mayfield’s “Let’s Do It Again.” Most often, though, she summons a preacherly righteousness, as on “What You Gonna Do,” by her late father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples.
On “No Time for Cryin’,” which she cowrote with Tweedy, Staples observes, “It’s a mean old world we’re living in.” But just as in the battle for civil rights in the 1960s, she embraces the challenge of making that world better with infectious, undying conviction: “We got work to do.” — Nick Cristiano
(Mexican Summer ***)
Quiet Signs is perfectly titled: Los Angeles’ Jessica Pratt wants to draw us in with subtlety, space, and silences (one track is even titled “Silent Song”). Between Pratt’s hushed guitar, her lovely thin voice tinged with echo, and her slow, spacious songs, the album sometimes seems like it’s barely there for its 28 minutes. But that’s a virtue: the restraint captivates, and these are beautiful, abstract reveries.