Sonic Reducer: Kate Mcgarry, Midlake, Low On High

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Where to begin—her craft? Her freedom? Her depth? Her joy? It’s all here on vocalist Kate McGarry’s latest. She opens with a slow, dark “Let’s Face the Music” in a breathtaking arrangement by guitarist Keith Ganz, profoundly re-imagining Irving Berlin’s song for our fractured time. McGarry’s mesmerizing arrangement of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed” captures the vulnerable hypersensitivity of crazy love, and her own “Man of God” reveals a gifted songwriter with a spiritual bent. Not every track rises to the elevated level of these three, but McGarry’s warmth, her willingness to jump off musical cliffs, and her ability to richly and precisely render complex emotional life make it all worth hearing. She is very ably supported by Ganz, Gary Versace (piano, organ, accordion), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Clarence Penn (drums). (MM)

Midlake The Courage of Others (Bella Union)

Paste , one of the most visible mainstream music rags, alleged that Midlake’s woodsy 2006 breakthrough The Trials of Van Occupanther sounded at its best like Grizzly Bear and that overall, Midlake didn’t own it. But Van Occupanther was one of the most original and sustainably enjoyable albums of the ’00s. I don’t get how a brilliant concept album set in the late 1800s could’ve been derivative. I also don’t get the buzz around the astute Texas indie-rock group’s long-awaited follow-up, The Courage of Others . While lyrically powerful, the music and vocal delivery sometimes border on Spinal Tap-esque hokeyness à la “Stonehenge.” The effectiveness of lines like “Into the core of nature, no earthly mind can enter” is all but lost amid dull and monotonous arrangements that are the antithesis of Van Occupanther’s dynamic set of story-songs. And yes, you really did hear the lyric “it is what it is” in “Fortune.” (AP)

LOW ON HIGH LOW ON HIGH (Strawberry Violet Music)

When underground filmmaker Jon Moritsugu and his wife—actress and muse Amy Davis—moved to New Mexico, the state not only inherited the king and queen of “freaked-out, fucked-up filmic art,” it also got a new rock band. Long known for DIY masterworks such as Mod Fuck Explosion and Fame Whore , Moritsugu and Davis are now responsible for the scumrock excellence known as LOW ON HIGH, represented here by 13 crunchy, no-wavy tracks with titles like “Wastoid,” “Crush,” “Hustler” and “Superstar.” Be sure to keep an eye out for the band’s next local appearance. (JCC)

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