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Not only the lonely 

Car Alarm
Sea & Cake
(Thrill Jockey)

New in stores this week is Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey), which is sorta big news if you’re a Sea & Cake fan — a breed that has grown accustomed to three- or four-year delays between discs while the sometime bandmates go off to their assorted extracurricular ventures. (Some are artists or make solo albums; drummer/engineer John McEntire is on so many records by other artists it’s amazing he even has time for Tortoise.)

This time out, they moved right back to the studio after touring, and it shows: Opener “Aerial,” for instance, is less cushiony and internal than usual, plowing forward like an actual rock song. On “A Fuller Moon,” singer Sam Prekop steps through his lyrics briskly, as if the syllables might break beneath him if he took his time. After dividing the first and second acts with instrumental “CMS Sequence,” they pick the pace right back up with squeaky, bubbling electronics on “Weekend” and an off-kilter beat for “New Schools” to keep listeners on their toes before a hazy marimba offers a calming send-off on the short but lovely “Mirrors.”

The Hungry Saw

Prekop’s voice (one of my favorites in contemporary pop) has always sounded to me like it was made more for one-on-one communication rather than nightclub performance. Two other recent discs feature men I might say the same thing about, though they’re a good deal less sunny than Prekop: Stuart Staples’ vocals continue to be smothered (to good effect) halfway down the mix on The Hungry Saw (Constellation), a predictably moody Tindersticks record fans might have guessed would never happen, since a number of his bandmates left in 2006. Kurt Wagner, who is similarly willing to let a dozen instrumentalists share his vocal space on Lambchop records, offers another set of heavily orchestrated but unflappably subdued folk/pop on OH (Ohio) (Merge).

Dark Developments
Vic Chesnutt / Elf Power
(Orange Twin)

Lambchop compatriot Vic Chesnutt isn’t on OH, but he’s collaboration-happy more than ever this month. His new Dark Developments (Orange Twin Records) finds him teaming with Elf Power and something called the “Amorphous Strums,” and while he has lots of friends, he doesn’t seem particularly happy about people in general: “We Are Mean” examines the nonsensical Wall Street/Main Street, Red State/Blue State dichotomies cluttering popular discourse, and concludes, “I declare that everywhere we are mean. I exclaim we’re all the same. We are mean.” Another sunny ditty is titled “Little Fucker.”

Daniel Johnston
(Eternal Yip Eye Music)

From a guy who socializes plenty but sounds like he should stay in the house to one who spends a lot of time housebound but makes friends everywhere he manages to go: Eternal Yip Eye Music has just reissued two hard-to-find Daniel Johnston discs. 1990 and Artistic Vice both offer unreleased demo recordings (which could hardly sound more raw than the self-distributed tapes he made his name with) and feature liner notes by producer Kramer, formerly of Bongwater.

The Soul of Rock and Roll
Roy Orbison
(Sony Legacy)

Finally, an artist whose ever-present shades contributed to the impression that no matter how much success he had he’d always be alone: Roy Orbison, who has never been particularly well-treated by the reissue industry, finally gets a really comprehensive box set with The Soul of Rock and Roll (Sony Legacy). On four discs, this trove of oldies greatness gathers obscure early stuff such as the sound of Roy hilariously growling his way through “Tutti Frutti” with the Teen Kings (one of 12 unreleased tracks here). The set also, naturally, offers hits such as the heartbreaking “Crying,” the operatic “It’s Over,” and the spunky “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and fills a fourth disc with comeback-era highlights like the Traveling Wilburys’s “Not Alone Any More” and a live “It’s Over” from the last concert he gave, on December 4, 1987. In a tribute years back, Bruce Springsteen rhapsodized about communing with Roy’s records in his bedroom as a teenager, but this is one lonely man I wish I’d been able to hear in a school gym filled with screaming teenyboppers.•

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September 23, 2020

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