Listening recommendations from the past, present, Portland and the periphery.
Fifty years after their debut, cult L.A. band Sparks—scowling bandleader Ron Mael, his coquettish brother Russell, a revolving cast of goons—is finally on the cusp of ubiquity, with their Adam Driver-starring movie musical Annette coming on the heels of fawning Edgar Wright documentary The Sparks Brothers. Get a head start with 1974′s Kimono My House, as close to a definitive album as can be found in their zigzagging career. But their best album is 1979′s No. 1 in Heaven, a disco monster that makes the afterlife seem as scary as the guy who runs it.
DIY kids love Parannoul, and it’s easy to see why. The anonymous Korean emo-shoegaze-math-rock project’s second album, To See the Next Part of the Dream, adopts the unrealistically filtered yet emotionally roiling aesthetic of teen drama and soap opera, and even if you don’t speak a word of Korean, it’s easy to glean the album’s theme: human despondency in a beautiful world. It’s rare to find a rock record that goes this far out of its way to be gorgeous. It’s got the best album cover of the year, too.
Portland harpist-producer Sage Fisher, aka Dolphin Midwives, makes the leap to a more pop format on her new full-length, Body of Water. Her knack for sound design carries over from her earlier, more abstract work, but this time around there are low, insistent beats and pitch-shifted vocals that whoop and holler like circling witches. Portland has been the home of some of the best recent New Age albums—including by Fisher’s labelmate, Crystal Quartez—and Body of Water is a fine addition to the canon.
It’s surprising Henry Cow isn’t more beloved given that their twin values of leftism and musical complexity also define the latter-day math rock scene. But then again, this is hair-raising stuff—an Anglo-German collective fronted by a woman named Dagmar who, with the voice of a Roald Dahl headmistress, sounds absolutely delighted shrieking about the horrors of capitalism over thick brambles of guitar and percussion. 1975′s In Praise of Learning is one of the best, gnarliest prog rock albums ever.