Music review: New albums by The Holy Circle, Lafayette Gilchrist, Eze Jackson and Multicult

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The Holy Circle. Handout image.

The Holy Circle “Sick With Love” (Deathbomb Arc)
Synthesizer-based pop mood swings have gone through a litany of derided genre tags over the past four decades; one person’s synth-pop may be another’s dream pop and still another’s new wave. So let’s step right into this kiddie pool: If dream pop is your thing but Beach House sounds like musical Goop, have I got a band for you.

Local trio Holy Circle’s shimmering, reverberating drone sculptures sound smelted from that halcyon early-1980s era when synth bands hadn’t yet realized that MTV could turn their surly beauty and bad attitudes into Top 40 wallpaper. The six songs on “Sick With Love” recall the dystopian mirth of “Replicas”-era Tubeway Army, the sizzling layers coursing through the Cocteau Twins’ “Head Over Heels,” the unknown menace haunting Cindytalk, combined with a sun-kissed beauty that is entirely the band’s own.

Album closer “Midnight Hush” is the best introduction to Holy Circle’s mammoth sound here: It’s a one-minute-and-48 second blast of Rob Savillo’s gnarled guitar repetitions sizzling over Terence Hannum’s growling electronic textures and haunted-house beat right before the angelic voice of Erica Burgner-Hannum sneaks in and exhales something you can’t quite make out—and then the whole things abruptly stops. This is sensual disturbance as ritualistic penance, music that punishes pleasure with silence. 

Take the album title as a statement of purpose: Love is an illness gorgeously afflicting the songs’ thematic terrain. Burgner-Hannum’s controlled delivery and thousand-yard exhale most immediately recall Electrelane’s Verity Susman, with whom she shares a gift for using her voice as another rippling texture. That spectral vocal element adds heartache to the crushing “Fever Break,” which extends the love as illness metaphor to febrile wooziness, and the “Lovely One,” which will make you wonder why there isn’t more goth trip-hop in the world. 

Album standout “Free and Young,” though, is the track here you won’t soon forget. A monolithic shocking fuzz ignites the song before dissipating into a levitating, lilting cadence that suspends Burgner-Hannum’s breathy delivery. It’s a song of smoldering longing and regret, unwinding at a 3 a.m. pace, an hour when an intoxicant such as love or lust easily snake oils the brain into believing the body’s muscles better and nerves more. The Holy Circle plays a record release show Aug. 4 at the Metro Gallery with L’Avenir, Painter Mirror and DJ Orioles Losing Record.

Lafayette Gilchrist “Dark Matter” (Lafayette Gilchrist Music)
Pianist Lafayette Gilchrist has never sounded quite this luxurious on record. Absolutely not trying to knock the quality or performances on any of his previous releases, but the 11 tracks on “Dark Matter,” recorded during a solo live concert at the University of Baltimore’s Wright Theater in 2016 by producer Wendel Patrick, sumptuously capture all those things you adore about a Gilchrist live set that have sounded/felt more subdued on record: the athletically nimble fingerings, the changes of moods, the champagne effervescent runs, the tempo shifts that change the entire attitude of a tune, the thoughtfully reflective moments that flirt with crippling melancholy.

Such a plush setting for Gilchrist’s playing—which remains a singular amalgamation of blues, funk, hard bop and stride combined with a head-spinning gift for rhythmic ideas—spotlights the intelligence that always runs through his compositions like never before. “Dark Matter” is finally that album that captures the explosive emotional tidal waves Gilchrist creates onstage.

Most of the tunes here haven’t been released before, though Gilchrist fans will hear themes and ideas he likes to play around with in concert. In lead-off track “For the Go-Go,” Gilchrist takes a pulsating stride line and mixes in melodic and rhythmic flourishes that echo the go-go music from his native Washington D.C.

“And You Know This” opens with melody that evokes New Orleans blues that Gilchrist offsets with a bassline counter, adding a ska-like sway to the slinking tune. There’s a cheekiness running through “Happy Birthday Sucka,” a rumbling, stumbling groove animated by Gilchrist’s at times melodic, at times wisecracking accents. And works such as “Black Flight” and “Blues for Our Marches to End” showcase Gilchrist’s ability to turn political mediations into emotional knockouts.

For Gilchrist newcomers, “Dark Matter” has those moments that a jazz fan will mark as stylistic echoes: a dash of Sony Clark’s wit, Wynton Kelly’s cheer, Phineas Newborn Jr.’s technical prowess, John Hicks’ adventurous versatility, Don Pullen’s impish creativity, Nina Simone’s political insistence. But the novelistic way Gilchrist brings that all together is what locals have enjoyed for more than 20 years. Lafayette Gilchrist plays a CD release show Aug. 22 at Keystone Korner with saxophonist David Murray.

Eze Jackson “FOOL” (self-released)
Veteran local MC Jackson opens his third solo album with two slight change-ups on opener “Be Great.” The first is the gospel organ swell that producer Dwayne “Headphones” Lawson uses as the song’s entire swaying tapestry. The second is Jackson outright soul-singing the  “I just want you to be great” chorus to introduce the song. By the time he gets to his first verse, he’s seated you in church to preach his sermon about survival and resistance through vulnerability: “I met Jesus at the pulpit, found God in self, decided not to forfeit/ From life, done right, done wrong, apologized/ Done things that made it so hard to smile inside.” It’s an artist pouring everything he has into articulating his ultralight dreams, and “Be Great” totally calibrates the consciousness for this statement album by a grown-ass man.

Jackson has consistently showcased his versatility and smarts on both his solo albums and fronting the increasingly impressive Soul Cannon, but even those paying attention over the years might be surprised at how complete a vision “FOOL” delivers. Ten songs, 10 different producers—showcasing some local beat makers who should be better known, including Kariz Marcel, BoomBap Dlow, August Flight Gordon, Ms. Tris Beats—shaping 10 different songs that touch on blackness, anxiety, internalized trauma, relationships, family, friendship, gratitude and more.

Jackson’s humor and humanity are more than enough to make it all cohere, but that he does so while patiently exploring, without having to spell it out for the cheap seats, what it means to age as a black man in a 21st-century American city, is consistently moving and frequently stunning. 

“I know you hurting, I don’t need to be insensitive/ but the time we got on this earth is kinda tentative,” he casually delivers in the summery keyboards-and-beat rustle of “You Need Some,” one of the most succinct interrogations of hip-hop masculinity since Kelvin Mercer countered “f— being hard, Posdnuos is complicated” on De La Soul’s “Buhloone Mindstate” back in ’93. A few other MCs are voicing their self-examinations with such quotidian flair—Mykelle Deville, Open Mike Eagle and Quelle Chris come to mind—but few artists pull off this kind of public brain opening with such an ear-grabbing suite of songs. 

Multicult “Simultaneity Now” (Learning Curve/ Reptilian Records)
Multicult is one of a handful of local acts—see also: Abdu Ali, Black Lung, DDm, Horse Lords—whose live shows, for a variety of reasons, are dependably don’t-miss events. In Multicult’s case, it’s because bassist Rebecca Burchette and drummer Jake Cregger anchor an obnoxiously tight rhythm section and Nick Skrobisz slices through their rumblings with a throaty growl and garroted guitar lines. 

“Simultaneity Now,” the band’s fifth album, extends the trio’s streak of crafting the finest updates on the rattling noise-rock Touch & Go and Amphetamine-Reptile used to put out, spiked with the rhythmic pummel of 1980s industrial throb.

Plus, the trio simply knows how to let a neck-snapping bassline double as the melodic hook. Burchette’s low end often maps out a song’s basic structure, with Cregger’s stickwork moving in and out of patterns that mimic drum-machine precision. Drum and bass provide a start-stop lurch behind Skrobisz’s serrated vocals and bursts of distortion. “Simultaneity’s” backing pulses surge behind Skrobisz’s voice like a stalker, a shadowy presence waiting to see where its victim lives before deciding to pounce.

And five albums in, Multicult’s remarkable consistency has resulted in a world-building sonic landscape all its own. Skrobisz’s lyrics feel intentionally difficult to make out, a scream struggling to be heard amid the actual and virtual noise overcrowding our headspaces. Rhythmically, the band straddles metal’s heaviness and dance music’s pulsating tempos, and such steely combinations often result in a futuristic Birthday Party-ish primal scream. “Simultaneity Now‘s” lead-off track “Caterwaul” is one such song: Skrobisz chokes chords into twanging shrieks atop Burchette’s and Cregger’s hard-hitting jabs, turning out a discombobulating jolt that successfully drowns out everything else—at least for its nearly three minutes. Multicult plays the Metro Gallery Aug. 1 with City of Caterpillar and Big No.



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