Human Bell (Thrill Jockey)
This disc sounds like a cross between local favorites Lungfish and Arbouretum for good reason: Dave Heumann fronts Arbouretum and Nathan Bell played bass in Lungfish from 1996 to 2003. And like those bands at their most sublime, Human Bell massages the part of the brain that triggers simultaneous head nodding, eye closing, and body swaying. These are instrumental soundscapes, vast and, at times, dense. Songs such as "Hanging from the Rafters" and "Outposts of Oblivion" are brilliantly paced and don't build towards a resolution so much as they fray, come untethered, and float away.
I'm Not There (Columbia/Son)
Like the movie, the soundtrack to Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan film is a freewheeling affair full of delightful surprises. Neither the song selection nor the artists selected for this sprawling, two-disc set pander to mainstream tastes. There's no overblown version of "Like a Rolling Stone" by Lenny Kravitz, or sensitive, Sunday morning take on "The Times They Are A-Changin" by Norah Jones. Instead, a motley, but impressive, assortment of lesser-knowns deftly balance musical sensitivity and hipster cache on 34 tunes from the Dylan songbook. A few songs with local connections are among the numerous highlights: Baltimore native John Doe delivers rousing versions of "Pressing On" and "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," and Mason Jennings offers a dignified reading of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," Dylan's 1964 song about the killing of a Baltimore hotel worker. Otherwise, a coterie of indie rockers nearly steals the show—Sonic Youth ("I'm Not There"), Jim James ("Goin' To Acapulco"), Karen O ("Highway 61 Revisited"), Stephen Malkmus ("Ballad of a Thin Man"), and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy ("Simple Twist of Fate")—while a pair of Dylan's contemporaries, Richie Havens ("Tombstone Blues") and Ramblin' Jack Elliott ("Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"), add gravitas and grit to the proceedings. Haynes' film isn't a typical biopic, and this isn't your typical soundtrack. It isn't exactly a tribute, either. Like the film, it nods to Dylan and stands alone as a well executed work of art.