Critic's Picks: La Sera, Black Joe Louis, Wye Oak, and Julianna Barwick
Liner notes: Phil Spector meets The Byrds in a rock-and-roll dive bar as shimmering female voices, crashing drums, and chiming guitars intertwine to create two minutes of pop heaven.
Behind the music: La Sera is a side project of Brooklyn's Katy Goodman, a.k.a. Vivian Girls bassist Kickball Katy, who also took part in the short-lived group All Saints Day last year. This latest extracurricular venture subtracts the dissonance from the blurry garage noise of the Girls for a sweeter kind of escapism.
Liner notes: Old-school R&B conventions get an incendiary jolt on this blazing garage-soul raveup as Austin, Texas, belter Lewis delivers a furious performance that suggests Stevie Wonder jamming with Sly and the Family Stone.
Behind the music: Produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno, the aptly named Scandalous is a rowdy and sometimes R-rated set ranging from primal Delta blues to driving funk attacks. Though they could pass for a veteran act, Lewis & the Honeybears joined forces just four years ago, when Black Joe was booked to open for Little Richard and needed a band on short notice.
Liner notes: "I'm saving up all my strength for when I finally fail at keeping you safe," murmurs Jenn Wasner to a gently pulsing beat in this gorgeous meditation on mortality. She composed the lyrics a few hours after learning of the murder of a distant relative and the passing of power-pop hero Alex Chilton on the same day last March.
Behind the music: Originally known as Monarch, the Baltimore psychedelic folk duo of Wasner and multi-instrumentalist Andy Stack later became Wye Oak, taking their name from a massive 96-foot Maryland white oak that collapsed in a 2002 thunderstorm.
Liner notes: This luminous track is best experienced as one movement of an album-length piece devoted primarily to a cappella singing, with occasional sparse instrumentation. Featuring endless overdubs of Barwick's wordless, angelic vocals, it's eerie, soothing, and thought-provoking—like New Age music with substance.
Behind the music: Also taking an arboreal bent, the Louisiana-bred, Brooklyn-based Barwick named her breathtaking work after a hollowed-out kid-friendly tree on the farm where she grew up. Following two self-released projects, she's joined kindred spirit Sufjan Stevens' label.