New Music | Friday Roll Out: The Muslims, Bria, F.A.B.L.E., Mac McCaughan, Insect Ark

Listening to the new Insect Ark, which isn’t new at all but rather the early stages of the band under the moniker, a compilation of outtakes, live improv tracks and such by Dana Schechter (Swans). While the colossal psychedelic doom created by Schechter and Andy Patterson (ex-SubRosa), particularly in the most recent The Vanishing last year was an amazing display of power. The Future Fossils EP (Consouling Sounds) is a different aspect of the project which is as strong as the band’s previous release but without the thunderous display. If there was ever a soundtrack for Dante’s Inferno, this would possibly be it.

Bria is the moniker of multi-instrumentalists Bria Salmena and Duncan Hay Jennings. The duo out of Ontario creates an intimate rendition of six country classics, Cuntry Covers Vol. 1 (Sub Pop) which is somewhat of a tease. Bria covers songs by Lucinda Williams, Waylon Jennings, The Walker Brothers, John Cale, and others. To the layman, if you’ve never heard these artists before I would suggest just listening to Bria tackle these tracks because they’re both lovely and haunting. There’s a dreamy aspect to each song, which may suggest something Mazzy walks this way, but that’s just in its shadowy gentleness, not as a blueprint. “Fruits Of My Labour,” the Williams-penned track tugs & pulls at one’s very soul, and Salmena’s weathered vocals are captivating. Considering what this is, six tracks isn’t nearly enough for one person to capture the essence of the band’s full scope. A full-length release is in order; it should be in demand!

The amazing thing about music is how some artists simply hit differently, and within Hip-Hop, that’s hard to come by. Enter: F.A.B.L.E. who emerges with this year’s (I’M)MORTAL (CulturePower45), an album rife with anthemic optimism from beginning to end. F.A.B.L.E. is a skilled storyteller, vocalist, as well as emcee. The album’s title isn’t just clever wordplay holding more than one meaning, but it also makes it clear F.A.B.L.E knows his limits…or lack of limitations. The album is also completely produced by F.A.B.L.E. himself, a beast behind the scenes, as well as the boards. Songs like “Give Me Mine” snaps hard as F.A.B.L.E accentuates just about every word as he opens the track. The background vocals echoing “They gonna give me mine” sound cavernous but it’s F.A.B.L.E. that captures attention because of his commanding delivery. There’s no ‘hood culture boastfulness here, and on “Broke feat. Since9inSix” uplifts, searching for ascension rather than descending into anything that’s stagnant or stale. But his production can’t be denied as well, like with “Love Me,” with its easily flowing melody coming across with 60s harmonies or on “Leave feat. Philmore Greene,” as beautiful melodies are juxtaposed with melancholic lyricism. (I’M)MORTAL is an amazing calligraphy of sound filled with thoughtful lyrics strewn throughout.  

When solo projects are at their most visible, it’s sometimes difficult to disassociate what the artist is primarily known for. After a dozen records or so it becomes even harder to separate the two because we all hear the same voice, some of the same instruments, and continually attempt to compare the two. It’s a constant but what everyone should focus on is the songwriting and its viability after decades of work.

Mac McCaughan is no stranger to indie rock and has always flourished within independence without flaunting it. It’s just hard work is all, and after years of Superchunk albums, solo work which sometimes morphed into a full-fledged band with Portastatic, and most recently within the last years has concurrently released material under his own name. Mac steps out again with the third release under his own name, The Sound Of Yourself (Merge), his second solo album. Here we find a multi-pronged McCaughan taking on different aspects of his own musical pedigree. Mac finds inspiration in driving, keyboard/synth-driven soundscapes, and melancholic thoughtfulness, all of which we find littered throughout the new album. There’s no downplaying Mac’s ability to incorporate that and much more here and still allowing uniformity to careen through the album. Songs like the instrumental “Moss Light” is brightly cinematic, while the watery “36 And Rain” douses with cascading melodies that find its eventual end.

Of course, many want to hear the driving melodies Mac seems to so easily bring out with songs like “I Hear A Radio,” edging along with a repetitive rhythm as harmonies bounce in and out as Mac sings “I hear a radio in the night, softer than the light, under the door…” Drums & bass keep the consistency as guitars ring out, layered with a keyboard underneath. It isn’t the only moment where we here this as “Circling Around” is one of the best definitive pop songs Mac has ever written, clearly distinguishing a verse-chorus-verse structure in its brilliance. “Dawn Bends” is filled with keyboards & acoustic guitars and keeps things simple without losing his touch within the song construct. There’s a prettiness about it that’s infectious. The slow easiness of the electro-pop of “Burn A Fax” doesn’t detract from the fact that this is still in fact a Mac album. The inclusion of horns here is both ethereal and enchanting.

While I’ve always been a Superchunk fan, I don’t think I’ve really been on board with other projects McCaughan has pieced together. His last album certainly led me in the right direction but with The Sound Of Yourself, it makes it pretty easy to say I’m his number one fan. Maybe even in a Misery/Kathy Bates type way.

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Groups are sometimes relegated to play their assumed role, but some of those same bands are quick to throw a middle finger in your face, followed by a swift punch to the grill. We have to be ok with that even if YOU aren’t ok with it. This is where The Muslims come in a self-professed “queer Muslim punk band” with members that are “all black and brown.” The band is upfront with who they are and completely unapologetic, as well they should be.

The Muslims aren’t a fly-by-night punk act, they’ve paid their dues throughout the past few years with three albums under the band’s collective belt, dropping its fourth and newest Fuck These Fuckin Fascists (Epitaph), and in title alone, we know what direction this continues to flow in. Again, that’s ok because, with so many BIPOC musicians, rappers, etc., we need the Muslims to say what they’re all NOT saying. Within the context of 12 songs, this album flies right by but some of us can relate to the quick frantic pace, accentuated by direct lyricism surrounding hate, police brutality, immigrants, the pandemic, and death.

The band kicks things up with “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” calling attention to POC killings even as the group powers through the track in just a minute & a half. But the band isn’t just about a 1-2 musical punch as “Crotch Pop A Cop” is testament to. The band includes melody when it wishes and here there’s plenty to go around, along with a message filled with humor…or is it? “Illegals” surely hits home for many; questions are raised as to who’s “illegal” and who’s not. This over a melodic bed of music as guitars churn and chug while drums find a rhythm to keep ahold of. But of course, the title track is an eye-grabber, attention-getter. When guitarist Sheikh QADR spits “Fuck these fucking fascists, they can kiss our asses,” it isn’t done with disdain or anger but as a matter of fact. “Fuck their family and friends…they can fuck off till they’re dead,” makes sure there’s no room for hate. But if someone brings that nonsense, they’ll be handled… expeditiously.

Fuck These Fuckin Fascists in name alone is fun to repeat over and over again, couple that with The Muslims’ punk ethos and musical style, it’s even better. It’s easy to be angry but The Muslims show restraint and simply tell it like it is.

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