Cass McCombs, The Musical Art Quintet, Ayshay, Atlas Sound, Wax Idols — what we're listening to right now.
Cass McCombs' Wit's End, released in the spring, was as elegant and somber as a candle-lit church. It was consistent, too, both sonically and thematically. In contrast, Humor Risk, the singer songwriter's second LP this year, is eclectic, brighter, and less restrained. "Robin Egg Blue" is a breezy, nod your head side-to-side number, and "Mystery Mail" is crunchy hard rock. However, Humor Risk is hardly all smiles. After all, it's Cass McCombs. "The Same Thing" is upbeat, but the lyrics are chilling. And "To Everyman His Chimera" (a female monster that breathes fire) sounds like a sequel to Wit's End's "County Line"— it's stripped down and fraught with tension. On the whole, Humor Risk is as infectious as pop but so substantive that it resists being called it. (James H. Miller)
THE MUSICAL ART QUINTET
(CLASSICAL REVOLUTION RECORDS)
This lively local string quintet formed at Sunday jam sessions at Revolution Cafe (homebase of its label) with the purpose of fusing classical to Argentine, Cuban, African, and electronic dance rhythms. Not a novel concept, but main composer-bassist Sascha Jacobsen's concoctions hop nimbly through a world of styles while impressing with ear-catching intricacy and handsome technique. ("Turtle Island String Quartet high on Ástor Piazzolla" springs to mind.) Occasionally the project errs slightly in its earnestness — the jazzy positivity of "Life is Beautiful" is a bit relentless, although little kids will dig it — but indelible tracks like "Milonga de San Francisco" and Afrobeat-inflected "Fela Feliz" are spirited treats that will have you twirling across the floor. Musical Art Quintet performs Fri/18, 8 p.m., $10/$20 at the Collins Theater, 1055 Ellis, SF. www.musicalartquintet.com. (Marke B.)
It's nice when a record begins and immediately you feel as if you are being summoned into a secret ceremony. Raised in Kuwait and born in Senegal, Ayshay (Fatimi Al Quadiri) translates traditional Islamic songs into haunting and hypnotic spells on Warn-U. These tracks creep way under your skin, layered and looped vocal chants, alongside witchy electronics that bridge the gap between Grouper, Zola Jesus, Dead Can Dance, and Ofra Haza. There is something refreshing and rewarding about a debut that understands its scope. These four songs, coming in at 20 minutes, illuminate a singular vision and new voice that we're sure to hear a lot from in years to come. Simultaneously sensual and creepy. (Irwin Swirnoff)
The incomparable Bradford Cox's genius lies in his ability to mate transcendent lightness with cumbersome human vulnerability. His third release as Atlas Sound, Parallax, is the most refined example of this skill thus far. Shimmering harmonic tones blossom throughout Cox's celestial pop songs, but his stream-of-consciousness vocal musings are forever steeped in melancholy. "When you're down, you're always down," Cox cries over twinkling harpsichord loops on "Te Amo." "My Angel Is Broken" is an anthem for the downhearted driven by summery surf guitar riffs. Featuring piano and backing vocals from MGMT's Andrew VanWyngarden, "Mona Lisa" is a jangly cosmic joyride. The album's closing track, "Lightworks," floats off into oblivion like a lost balloon in the night sky. (Frances Capell)