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One of the early contenders for best debut album of 2018, "Hollow Ground" (Jagjaguwar), the first full-length album by Cut Worms (aka Max Clarke), will make some listeners nostalgic for a time they're not old enough to remember. With a vintage twang to make Dwight Yoakam envious, Cut Worms opens the album with "How It Can Be," as good on a country radio station as it is for college radio, a perfect example of Cut Worms' versatility. The baritone sax on "Coward's Confidence" conjures visions of poodle skirts and saddle shoes, while "Don't Want to Say Goodbye" could be a lost Everly Brothers number. "Like Going Down Sideways" has the emotional power of classic Gene Pitney. There's more retro country-pop to be found on "Cash for Gold" and "Think I Might Be in Love."
Azniv Korkejian records as Bedouine on her gorgeous eponymous Spacebomb Records debut. Singing, playing guitar, and backed on several tracks by string and horn sections, Bedouine takes her place among contemporary SoCal singer-songwriters. Enjoy the atmospherics on "Back to You" (with the Joni-esque line, "California city parks/they talk in exclamation marks"), the romantic lullaby "Dusty Eyes," and the spoken-sung "Solitary Daughter." The dark "Summer Cold" may have been written about an attack on her native Syria, but it could also apply to gun-crazy America. Album closer "Skyline" soars to thrilling heights.
If you dig Mitski, you're sure to appreciate EMA's (aka Erika M. Anderson) sonic booms and breaths on "Exile in the Outer Ring" (City Slang). Alternating currents ("Down and Out" followed by "Fire Water Air LSD") give the album its unpredictability. The audio assault of "33 Nihilistic and Female," coming after "Aryan Nation," raises the stakes. A hopeful resolution isn't found on "Receive Love" or "Always Bleed." The outer ring isn't just, in EMA's words, "where the darkness began," it's where it resides.
The first thing you should know is not to be distracted by the infectious funk and dance beats on "M.A.H.," "Rosebud" and "Poem" from "In a Poem Unlimited" (4AD) by U.S. Girls (aka Meg Remy). Sure, feel free to shake your groove thing. But listen closely while you do, because U.S. Girls wants you to think on your feet. "M.A.H." (mad as hell) is about calling out a lying lover. "Rosebud" (co-written by gay musician Rich Morel) has a message of encouragement, while "Poem" (co-written by Morel) has something to say to everyone glued to their phones, as it floats along on a Moroder-style keyboard beat.