Cyann & Ben, Kristin Hersh, Richard Swift, The Good, the Bad & the Queen

Cyann & Ben

Sweet Beliefs

(Ever Records)

Imagine the sadness that would well up if we each stopped to realize the impermanence of nature—the flow of the Tao, the gentle bend of the leaves with each passing breeze. Hippie talk aside, Cyann & Ben evoke that exact mood and imagery. Windswept, synth-driven numbers flow into one another for over 40 minutes. Sometimes they are epic, other times they are pensive and watery. The band has been placed within the lineage of Pink Floyd and Stereolab, and rightfully so. But Cyann & Ben are less concerned with interstellar travel, and more concerned with terrestrial stillness. Dipping their toes into the streams of standard songwriting and prog-rock exploration, Cyann & Ben occupy an intangible space between British and West Coast psychedelia. It's music for bright afternoons, and pink-skied evenings. And like Brightblack Morning Light, theirs is music to both fall asleep and wake up to. DOT RYAN

(Throwing Music)

With the notable exception of 1994's manic masterpiece Hips and Makers, most of Kristin Hersh's post–Thowing Muses career has been spent making a series of solo records that were pleasingly pretty in tone but virtually indistinguishable in execution. Perhaps it was rediscovering the cathartic qualities of cascading power chords with her new band, 50 Foot Wave, or simply a concerted effort to make something more memorable, but Learn to Sing Like a Star is both a triumphant return to the ragged beauty of her earlier work and a willful expansion of her palette. As introspective as ever, but never self-pitying, Hersh delivers lines like "Getting up is what hurts" with a fresh sense of conviction that hints at an artist getting ready to hit a second high-water mark. HANNAH LEVIN

Kristen Hersh plays Easy Street Records, 20 Mercer Street, 691-EASY, Free. 6 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 22.

Richard Swift

Dressed Up for the Letdown

(Secretly Canadian)

I always did like Richard Swift. The L.A. songwriter's first outing, The Novelist, was a scratchy little pop masterpiece, built of tape hiss, toy piano, and muffled drum machine. It was like unearthing a collection of 78s that had been stashed in an attic for the last 70 years. But that gimmick usually only works for an artist's debut, and thankfully Swift didn't run with the one-trick-pony act. Both his sophomore album, Walking Without Effort, and this latest one, Dressed Up for the Letdown, are albums in which influences like Randy Newman rub elbows with Lennon and McCartney. Yet, Swift seems to know which classical elements he should carry over from his faux-Smithsonian debut; soft piano tickles and guitar strums are paired with Jazz Age horns and echoey hand claps. The whole recalls the old image of the scruffy singer-songwriter hunched over his piano, smoking cigarettes in his bathrobe all afternoon while the sun filters through Venetian window blinds. It's as if Swift completely missed the digital age, something a Luddite like me will always be thankful for. BRIAN J. BARR

The Good, the Bad & the Queen

The Good, the Bad & the Queen


The opening track wastes no time living up to everything this latest reinvention from Damon Albarn promised: Danger Mouse pushing the post–Lee Perry echo like the Clash in Sandinista! mode, with pulsing reggae bass from the Clash's own Paul Simonon and Albarn at his soulful best on vocals. But while any number of the highlights here suggest a mash-up of their other bands' old records, there are just as many gems that leave those histories behind. Take "'80s Life," whose lonely triplet feel recalls the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" without the cheese—at least until those Beach Boys harmonies kick in to offset Albarn's aching vocal. Or the haunted English folk of Albarn's devastating "Green Fields," recycled from Marianne Faithfull's criminally underheard Before the Poison. But no matter what approach is taken on any given track, this project has the feel of true collaboration—fueled as much by Danger Mouse's echo-driven sense of atmosphere and Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen's stick work as it is by Albarn hooking up with one of rock's most undervalued bassists for a melancholy tribute to his British homeland during wartime. ED MASLEY

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