What to Listen to This Week

Sonic mastermind Johnny Jewel helped refine the ‘80s-worshipping synthwave genre into a phenomenon.


If you’re still ambivalent about Bob Dylan after hearing “Visions of Johanna,” you’ll never be persuaded otherwise. The third and best track on 1966′s Blonde on Blonde is far from a standard, perhaps because it’s so obtuse that the only way to cover it convincingly is to know what it’s about. But what it’s about is entirely irrelevant: This is Dylan at the peak of his writing, with some of the most intense imagery ever found in a rock-’n’-roll song (listen in particular to how the ending seems to tie up all the loose ends while leaving nothing resolved whatsoever).


What happens when a really good guitarist ventures into the coffeehouse-cliché world of looping pedals? Jeff Parker’s Forfolks is one answer. The Tortoise guitarist doesn’t just improvise over snippets of his own playing, he takes individual tones and loops them into ambient blurs, creating a real sense of momentum rather than simply building layers. His solos, meanwhile, are sweetly melodic. There’s one line on “Four Folks” that’s reminiscent of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and an old Boy Scouts song. It’s both, it’s neither—it’s jazz.


If you love the aesthetic of a driver peering out from under dark sunglasses while whooshing through a neon cityscape to the throb of a synthesized bassline, you have Italians Do It Better to thank. The Portland label founded in 2006 by producer and sonic mastermind Johnny Jewel helped refine the ‘80s-worshipping synthwave genre into a phenomenon. Its latest offering is an album of Madonna covers, also called Italians Do It Better, that brings a little of the actual ‘80s into a sound that’s more about the decade’s mythos than real revivalism.


Jana Rush’s Painful Enlightenment must be one of the most harrowing electronic albums ever made, a stark and uncompromising visualization of the artist’s depression. Opener “Moanin’” has us thinking the Chicago producer’s third album might just be a five-finger exercise, so deftly does it flip its central free-jazz sax sample, but the next track, “Suicidal Ideation,” dispels that thought: nine minutes of arrhythmic drums, belligerent male voices, and what sounds like violence with a machete. Not for the faint of heart.