Neneh Cherry, “Blank Project” (Smalltown Supersound)
Cherry is back with her first proper solo album in 16 years after coming in from the cold with “The Cherry Thing,” a 2012 collaboration with Swedish free jazz band the Thing (who take their name from a song by her stepfather, trumpeter Don Cherry). This one was produced by electronic beat-maker Kieran Hebden, also known as Four Tet, and it’s an understated affair that flows with easy confidence and a mellower take on the art-pop/ hip-hop inclinations that Cherry burst upon the scene with on her ahead- of-its-time 1998 hit “Buffalo Stance.”
“Out of the Black,” a duet with fellow Swedish pop star Robyn, is not quite the epic meeting of voices one might have hoped for, but “Blank Project” is mostly a deeply personal, subtly enticing, long-overdue return to form.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Real Estate, “Atlas” (Domino)
Nobody wake up Martin Courtney. For five or so years, he’s been ambling through life as the frontman of Real Estate, a man at peace with his bliss and uninterested in finding a way out.
The calm, earthy and delicate “Atlas,” the third Real Estate album, is less ambitious than its second album, “Days,” and somehow more heroic. “Days” was an argument for structure, a reminder of the sanctity of paved road from a band often accused of wandering.
But the walkabout returns on “Atlas,” an album of modern indie-rock lullabies on which slowness is its own reward. This New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based band has elevated lethargy into a kind of poetry. Its guitars, by Courtney and Matt Mondanile, are forever plangent, and Alex Bleeker, on bass, provides unobtrusive propulsion. (The core band is rounded out here with keyboardist Matt Kallman and drummer Jackson Pollis.)
Real Estate has some things in common with fellow New Jerseyans Yo La Tengo, mostly in mood. But this band is about reduction, not density: It aims for maximum impact for the minimum input. Courtney’s lyrics are about emptiness and regret and the inability to neatly reclaim the past as it once was. That said, he rarely sounds too upset about it. (Bleeker sings one song here, “How Might I Live,” one of the album’s darkest moments, both because of the sense of purpose in his voice and the slightly sinister lyrics.)
Give Real Estate credit for deriving meaning from shimmering beauty, for seeing the poignancy in the ever-present sunlight. There is no narrative arc here, no sense of beginning and ending, no resolution.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times