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8 Tracks: Life's a mess, then it's over

There's a trio of fantastic records featuring drummer Jim White all out in the first half of 2024.
Anna White
Courtesy of the artist
There's a trio of fantastic records featuring drummer Jim White all out in the first half of 2024.

8 Tracks is your antidote to the algorithm. Each week, NPR Music producer Lars Gotrich, with the help of his colleagues, makes connections between sounds across time.

Jim White has probably played drums on an album that you love: Smog's A River Ain't Too Much to Love, PJ Harvey's White Chalk, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack for The Proposition, to name a few. On a full kit or even just a snare and some brushes, his touch and textures just hit different. "You can hear the rainbow of his emotion in the swells, the dropouts, the attacks," Chan Marshall told The New York Times in a recent profile. She should know: White can be heard on Cat Power albums going back as far as 1998's Moon Pix. In his drumming, there's a restless wonder. To my ears, White's melodic sense of rhythm recalls Max Roach, but shot through with a punk abandon — his patterns root around the inside of a song, take a walk around it, uplift and upend its virtues and flaws.

There's a trio of fantastic records featuring White all out in the first half of 2024. All Hits: Memories, his first solo album, features lots of creative drumming, of course, but also experiments with keyboards and samplers. Swallowtail deepens his telepathic collaboration with guitarist Marisa Anderson, their circular improvisations like a spinning top that wobbles but never topples. And then there's the first album in 12 years by the decades-spanning instrumental rock band Dirty Three.

Dirty Three leads off this edition of 8 Tracks. Since I was busy showing out-of-town family around Washington, D.C., I asked some colleagues to share recent favorites, and a theme somewhat emerged about the passage of time — how we confront, learn and love in a world that won't stop turning.

Dirty Three, "Love changes everything I"

If you've never seen Dirty Three's Tiny Desk from 2012, it's a good example of the Australian power trio's dynamic: Warren Ellis is a high kickin', wild whoopin' violinist as Mick Turner rumbles gnarled guitar chords; meanwhile, Jim White keeps everything together on the drums, but edges the emotion to its beautifully chaotic conclusion. The opening entry of the six-part Love Changes Everything retains that energy, but leans into an unknown wilderness waiting to be explored: Turner's fuzzed-out twang skronk and Ellis' hymn-like string work in opposition to each other until the final moments when White's muffled mallets switch out for sticks and a motorik beat. A life-affirming mess and then it's over. —Lars Gotrich

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in B minor - Presto

The finale from this C.P.E. Bach symphony might date from 1773, but it wields the feral horsepower of a punk band. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach, and his wild and unkempt music couldn't be more different from his father's. The jagged rhythms, whiplash swerves, and dissonant stabbing strings all point to a composer with vision and confidence. Here, the younger Bach forges a new, passionate emo style of music far ahead of his time. —Tom Huizenga

Rosali, "On Tonight"

"Yeah, you freak me out," Rosali sings on the opening track of her new album, Bite Down. "And that's what I came for," she continues, the twist of her words setting the tone for the rest of the album, which often takes unexpected, joyful turns. Comparing singer-songwriter Rosali Middleman and her band to Fleetwood Mac is apt. While recording Bite Down, they even joked about it being their Tusk: "That record is also pretty long and it just kind of floats between moods, but there's a continuity to it even though the songs are all different," Rosali shared. As the bassline sets a steady pace under Rosali's warm voice, "On Tonight" strikes a perfect balance of sounding comfortingly familiar while also full of new possibilities. —Elle Mannion

Cara Beth Satalino, "The Great Liberator"

"We don't know who we are, I suppose we're still learning," Cara Beth Satalino sings with certainty and a sigh. "It's too dark to see what's in front of me / There's a bright star burning, the earth is still turning." There are echoes here of The Microphones, when Phil Elverum, in his 45-minute "Microphones in 2020" epic, matter-of-factly states, "The disinterested sun would still rise every morning same as now / Dawn was loud." But in Satalino's quietly bucking folk rocker, replete with curlicues of pedal steel and a pinched-but-passionate vocal delivery, she acknowledges the futility of time, but still makes time to "watch the eagles catch the sun." You can feel the streaks of light through swaying trees. —Lars Gotrich

Amber Mark, "Comin' Around Again"

The sun returns every morning and does love ... or at least messy memories of it. Amber Mark's set at NPR Music's 15th anniversary concert made a fan out of me: Her verve and vitality leapt from the stage. With its country funkin' sway, "Comin' Around Again" signals a lighter touch, but no less depth from the R&B singer. In fact, this single takes me back to the late '90s, when Mariah Carey leaned into church chords and handclaps, Prince-inspired production flourishes and a mindful playfulness that comes from one too many spins around the sun. —Lars Gotrich

Chappell Roan, "Good Luck, Babe!"

The music of rising pop star Chappell Roan never truly clicked for me until I saw her recent Tiny Desk performance, where she performed a set of her theatrical, funny songs about situationships and freaky romance in messy drag makeup and a cigarette butt-covered wig. Her latest single, "Good Luck, Babe!" is as addictive and frank as her previous material, but sharper in its message about not facing and living through your truest desires. "Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling," she sings in the song's Kate Bush-ian chorus. "You'd have to stop the world just to stop the feeling." —Hazel Cills

Bryson Tiller, "Rich Boy"

When the Louisville, Ky., singer Bryson Tiller released Trapsoul in 2015, he was helping to complete an osmosis between R&B and rap long in the making. In the years since, most R&B loverboys have mimed a trap swagger, and many rappers have carried R&B's melodic soul. Tiller, for his part, still continues to tap the well, as on "Rich Boy," from his new self-titled album, which samples the titular Alabama rapper's 2006 hit, "Throw Some D's." Referential of rap in the way rap is referential of everything else, the song uses the original's hydraulic bounce for a joyriding ladies' anthem. —Sheldon Pearce

Pedal Steel Noah, "Love Will Tear Us Apart"

Whenever a Pedal Steel Noah video crosses my feed, I can't help but watch and grin. With his brother on bass and their dog, Kara, mugging cutely for the camera, the 16-year-old pedal steel guitarist approaches '80s post-punk and new wave covers from a refreshingly stunning angle. Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was an early fan favorite; now included on an EP, which includes a couple originals, it's not hard to hear why: Noah Faulkner understands how Ian Curtis stretched the melody with an unbearable moan, but leans into the elongated ache with a twang. —Lars Gotrich

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.
Elle Mannion
Hazel Cills
Hazel Cills is an editor at NPR Music, where she edits breaking music news, reviews, essays and interviews. Before coming to NPR in 2021, Hazel was a culture reporter at Jezebel, where she wrote about music and popular culture. She was also a writer for MTV News and a founding staff writer for the teen publication Rookie magazine.
Sheldon Pearce
[Copyright 2024 NPR]