Music Suitcase: Favorite Albums from September 2019

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What a month for international music! With at least 13 nationalities and 8 languages represented in the 16 albums I’ve closen here, this is by far the most musically and lingquistically diverse batch of albums I’ve selected. It’s also probably the most crowded with quality offerings; Usually I’d give a 4-out-of-5 star rating to maybe 3 or 4 albums in a month, at most, but I’d say about half of these deserve that.

The New Pornographers, In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights

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The Canadian indie rockers maintain their impeccable balance of complexity and catchiness, featuring more expansive arrangments and more guitar work than 2017’s Whiteout Conditions without losing its pop and shimmer. They also continue that album’s trend of more interplay between the band’s three lead singers, but further their sound with orchestral strings on a handful of songs. Highlights: “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile,” ““Colossus of Rhodes,” “Dreamlike and On the Rush”

Tinariwen, Amadjar

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Mali’s desert rock elder statesmen focus on the more traditional half of their signature blend of native assouf music with rock and roll for their 7th album. This is partly because they’ve eschewed the familiar Western recording studios for songs written and recorded under the stars as the band, Tuareg refugees all, traveled through north Africa to a festival. Highlights: “Kel Tinawen,” “Wartilla,” “Madjam Mahilkamen”

Sequoyah Murray, Before You Begin

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Staunchly unclassifiable, the brilliance of this Atlanta artist’s debut album lies in the rich resonance of his baritone, in exquisite arrangements using mostly electronic instrumentation, and its artist’s willingness to follow his muse absolutely anywhere. It’s a genuinely unique sound, flirting with new wave and gospel and Afro-pop and a dozen other styles, and it‘s teeming with’soul. Highlights: “I Wonder,” “Is Enough,” “Before You Begin”

Kefaya & Elaha Sohoor, Songs of our Mothers

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Potentially the most profoundly international album of this exceptional month, Songs of our Mothers features traditional songs of Farsi women, sung by an Afghani exile with West African and Middle-Eastern roots, filtered through a variety of instrumentation and production by an Italian-and-English duo, who incorporate jazz, electronica, folk and myriad other sounds. Highlights: “Jama Narenji,” “Gole Sadbarg,” “Lalay Lalay”

Gruff Rhys, Pang!

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The former Super Furry Animal returns to singing in his native language of Welsh, in a collaboration with South African electronica producer Muzi. Rather than augment Rhys’s finger-picked guitar-and-vocal compositions with synths though, Muzi merely re-structures these playful, gentle songs and bequeaths a sense of buyoancy to the work. Highlights: “Bae Bae Bae,” “Taranau Mai,” “Arnedd i’m Danedd”

The HU, The Gereg

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The HU blend Mongolian throat singing and rock and roll, with both traditional and western instrumentation. The guttural vocals give the album a more heavy metal vibe than the guitars would suggest. Powerful, singular, and a total trip. Highlights: “Yuva Yuva Yu,” “Shireg Shireg,” “Wolf Totem”

The Highwomen, The Highwomen

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The country supergroup composed of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby releases its debut album. These are fierce, feminist, often funny songs about womanhood, motherhood and national sociopolitics and some of them will probably make you cry. Highlights: “Highwomen,” “My Only Child,” “My Name Can’t Be Mama Today”

The Garifuna Collective, Aban

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Polyrhythmic and infectious, the music of Belize’s Garifuna people, as channeled through its most celebrated ambassadors, is uplifting and delightful throughout. Highlights: “Wiya Waist,” “Hamala,” “Uganu (News)”

Pixies, Beneath The Eyrie

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The indie legends’ third album since their reunion is stranger, darker and more versatile than recent efforts, and sounds a little bit more like the early stuff. Highlights: “On Graveyard Hill,” “Silver Bullet,” “Daniel Boone”

Temples, Hot Motion

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This British neo-psychedelia outfit’s third album returns the band to bright, jaunty guitar rock. The songcraft is elaborate but tight and the production is fab. Highlights: “Hot Motion,” “Holy Horses,” “The Beam”

Kano, Hoodies All Summer

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Dovetailing with rap’s present British invasion, grime scene veteran Kano unleashes a 6th, more message-driven album with strong but simple beats. Highlights: “Class of Deja,” “Trouble,” “Teardrops”

The Lumineers, III

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The indie folk band’s ambitious concept album wraps its songs, about three generations of a tragic family, around tight rhymes and beautifully crafted melodies. Highlights: “Leader of the Landslide,” “Gloria,” “Jimmy Sparks”

Calvin Arsenia, LA Sessions

Known for live performances centering on his harp and his voice, Arsenia shifts gears in the studio for an EP which blends jazz, R&B and flavors of Broadway. Highlights: “Falling Over,” “Poseidon,” “Back To You”

Guaxe, Guaxe

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Psychedelic rock with more than a hint of 90s-inspired dirtiness to it, this Brazilian band’s debut is warm and dynamic. Highlights: “Desafio do Guaxe,” “Pupilxs,” “Nilo”

Sui Zhen, Losing, Linda

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Australian artist Becky Sui Zhen’s third full-length is an ethereal, artificial intelligence-themed concept album about loss in the digital era. Highlights: “Matsudo City Life,” “Being A Woman,” “Perfect Place”

Girl Band, The Talkies

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This smart, sophisticated noise rock band from Ireland super-imposes chatoic guitar and crude vocals vover an incredibly tight rhythm section. Highlights: “Going Norway,” “Caveat,” “Prefab Castle”

Stef is a Bronx-bred, California-dwelling, 1977-born Libra-Aquarian lifelong music junkie. He is also a writer, improviser, singer, director and voice actor. .

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