What to Listen to This Week: Few People Sound as Badass as Betty Davis

Plus: Cosmic-trickster humor, field recordings and dapper urban pop.


Betty Davis, who passed away earlier this month at 77, cut three of the most scorching funk-rock albums of all time between 1973 and 1975, Betty Davis, They Say I’m Different and Nasty Gal (after ushering her ex-husband Miles into his incendiary electric era). She’s a force of nature, howling with as much gusto as Robert Plant as the music clatters like she’s dragging something heavy. Few people have ever sounded more badass on record, and though her imposing presence didn’t translate into sales, her cult has steadily grown each year.


The shaggy, hardworking indie rock of Big Thief blossoms over nearly an hour and a half on their wild and woolly new double album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. Singer Adrianne Lenker’s cosmic-trickster humor suggests Robert Hunter’s best work with the Grateful Dead, and they’ve at once become a full-blown country band (“Spud Infinity,” “Red Moon,” the wonderful “Blue Lightning”) while going farther out on a limb than ever with dark, hip-hop-flavored tracks like “Blurred View.”


As Raum, local ambient hero Grouper and San Francisco guitarist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma have crafted the best album ever about the shared experience of watching movies. Daughter is a tribute to late filmmaker Paul Clipson, and one of the first things we hear is the sound of a projector running before the album toggles between different field recordings and permutations of guitar and piano. It’s a “cinematic” album that, rather than being big and bombastic like a blockbuster, is slow and patient like an art film.


The Aluminum Group is one of the most undersung groups of Chicago’s turn-of-the-millennium explosion of creativity. Like their onetime producer Jim O’Rourke, brothers John and Frank Navin are fascinated with the kitschy sophistication of Burt Bacharach, lounge music and smooth soul. Yet the bright electronic bounce of their wonderful 2002 album Happyness, plus their arch wit and tender evocations of same-sex love, sets them apart as some of the great purveyors of dapper urban pop.