Sunday, July 31. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous [half] week:
Wednesday, July 27. 2011
I squirreled away so much stuff for the Weekend Roundup I thought I should dump it out early:
Monday, July 25. 2011
No closure on Jazz Consumer Guide, although I finally had a productive day yesterday doing the things I need to do to wrap up this cycle. I could say much more, but I'm in such a bad mood I'd probably regret it. At least the upside is that with no one pushing me to flag duds I'm only listening to records I've already decided are real good or better, and that's much more pleasing than digging into the now-overstocked low priority queues. Very little incoming mail, which may just be seasonal. Thought about punting again so I could wrap this up with a bang, but decided I have enough prospecting to share.
Les Doigts de l'Homme: 1910 (2011, ALMA): French quartet, three guitars (Olivier Kikteff, Yannick Alcocer, Benoit "Binouche" Convert) and acoustic bass (Tanguy Blum), dedicated to Django Reinhardt -- album title takes the year of Reinhardt's birth. Fourth album. Two cuts add clarinet for some welcome variation; otherwise very inside its thing. B+(*)
Art Hirahara: Noble Path (2010 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, from San Francisco Bay Area, based in Brooklyn. AMG lists four previous records, but only one appears on his website discography. Piano trio, with Yoshi Waki (bass) and Dan Aran (drums). Wrote 8 of 12 songs. Puts a nice spin on covers ranging from Porter to Ellington. B+(**)
Cedar Walton: The Bouncer (2011, High Note): Pianist, b. 1934, has a ton of records since 1967, this one being typical, both in his lyrical runs and in the way he handles horns -- Vincent Herring (alto sax, tenor sax, flute) on 5 cuts, Steve Turre (trombone) on two. Wrote six of eight cuts, adding one from bassist David Williams, recalling one from J.J. Johnson. B+(**)
Starlicker: Double Demon (2011, Delmark): Rob Mazurek (cornet), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums). Mazurek is a guy with lots of ideas, which you can trace through the various Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet configurations on up to his Exploding Star Orchestra. Where the latter typically engages a dozen musicians, this trio manages to cover the same space much more compactly. Does put more pressure on the cornet to lead, and for once he does. A-
Ernie Krivda: Blues for Pekar (2011, Capri): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1945 in Cleveland; AMG credits him with 24 records since 1977, starting on Inner City with a lot on Cadence/CIMP -- labels I don't get and have trouble finding, so this is the first I've heard by him. Given the labels, I pictured him as more avant, but he has album titles like Tough Tenor, Red Hot and Focus on Stan Getz and Perdido, so clearly I need to do some research and get my bearings. "Pekar" is late cartoon auteur Harvey Pekar, who's quoted in the booklet: "Ernie Krivda is one of the best jazz tenor sax men in the world." Five covers (including tunes by Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon) followed by two originals, each running 8-12 minutes. Four cuts are spiced up with trumpet (Sean Jones on two, Dominick Farinacci on the others), and all of them are barnburners with a powerful swing undertow. Not sure if that's how Krivda usually plays, or just how Pekar liked it. B+(***)
Daniel Levin: Inner Landscape (2009 , Clean Feed): Cellist, sixth album since 2003, a solo, tough to do. Gets some extra sound out early using the body for percussion, which provides some useful variety. B+(**)
Taylor Ho Bynum/Joe Morris/Sara Schoenbeck: Next (2009 , Porter): Maybe one of those records you're supposed to play extra loud, because at my normal volume I'm not hearing much of anything here -- scattered squiggles of Schoenbeck's bassoon, scratch guitar, isolated bits of cornet. Doesn't jive with reviews I've read, and doesn't seem likely to come together even if I were inclined to give it extra effort. B-
Claire Daly Quintet: Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose (2011, Daly Bread): Baritone saxophonist, fifth album since 1999, first I've heard although I've noted her winning Downbeat's poll several times. Also plays alto sax and flute here, credibly in both cases, but the big horn is the treat. Quintet includes piano (Steve Hudson, who wrote or co-wrote about half of this), bass, drums, and Napoleon Maddox ("human beat box"). Mary Joyce was a relative ("father's first cousin") who among other things drove a dogsled from Juneau to Fairbanks in 1935-36 (1,000 miles) -- a story capped off in the closer ("Epilogue"). B+(***)
Tom Harrell: The Time of the Sun (2010 , High Note): Plays trumpet, flugelhorn; has close to 30 albums since 1976, a postbop player with tricky compositions and (occasionally) brilliant runs. Best moments here are on the simple side, squaring off against Danny Grissett's piano. Adding Wayne Escoffery's tenor sax seems like too much trouble, although he can impress, as always. B+(*)
Rich Halley Quartet: Requiem for a Pit Viper (2010 , Pine Eagle): Consistenty superb tenor saxophonist, based in Portland, OR, has a background as a natural scientist which may make him more sympathetic to rattlesnakes than most of us. Quartet pairs him with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. While the contrast and interplay is interesting, most of the time the two play in unison, which aside from some not especially pleasing harmonics wastes the opportunity the second horn opens up -- how much so is clear from when it happens. B+(**)
Stan Killian: Unified (2010 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, from Texas, based in New York, debut album, mostly quartet with Benito Gonzalez on piano, bass and drums split, and guest horns featured on the cover: Roy Hargrove, Jeremy Pelt, David Binney. Postbop to open, although when he picks up the pace he sounds more like retro bebop. B+(*)
Ivo Perelman Quartet: The Hour of the Star (2010 , Leo): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, has been on a hot run lately and keeps it going here. Actually just 4 of 6 cuts are quartet, with Matthew Shipp on piano; the others just Joe Morris on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Shipp pushed Ware harder, but the rhythmic density he brings here is a plus. Perelman was never as heavy as Ware, Brötzmann, et al., but he skits agilely around the corners. B+(***)
Steve Coleman and Five Elements: The Mancy of Sound (2007 , Pi): A sequel to last year's Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, cut around the same time with the same band. I didn't care much for the previous album, and was surprised to find it polling well in year-end lists. My problem is vocalist Jen Shyu: I find her distracting and unnecessary even when I can't understand her (most of the time, especially on the 5-part Yoruba-derived "Odú Ifá Suite"). The horns -- Coleman's alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet, Tim Albright's trombone -- weave around interestingly, and the rhythm section is superb, again. B+(*)
David Gibson: End of the Tunnel (2010 , Posi-Tone): Trombone player, fifth album since 2002, the first three on retro-leaning Nagel-Heyer. Quartet, with Julius Tolentino on alto sax, Jared Gold on organ, and Quincy Davis on drums. Strong showing for Gold, who contributes two tunes (vs. five for Gibson, plus covers of Herbie Hancock and Jackie McLean), and the horn pairing works out nicely, with Tolentino aggressive and the trombone adding some much needed bottom funk. B+(**)
Larry Goldings: In My Room (2010-11 , BFM Jazz): Organ player, b. 1968, fourteen albums since 1991 and many more side credits. This is a change of pace: solo piano, rather delicate and measured. The title cut, from Brian Wilson as the Beach Boys turned introspective, is a find, although the Lennon-McCartney that closes the set drifts off into indeterminate space. About half originals, half covers (mostly from the same period, with the Stephen Foster and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" even more venerable). B+(*)
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Uri Caine/Arditti String Quartet: Twelve Caprices (2010 , Winter & Winter): Jazz pianist who has taken quite a bit of classical music as his starting point, some of which I've begrudgingly found interesting (e.g., Plays Mozart) and some appalling (e.g., Robert Schumann: Love Fugue), faces off for a set of improvs with Irvine Arditti's well established classical string quartet. The strings are abstractly modernistic, the piano cutting against the grain. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Wadada Leo Smith: Lake Biwa (2002-04 , Tzadik): Well-regarded album featuring Smith's Silver Orchestra. Can't find any track credits, so presumably the whole group plays everywhere, but I have my doubts about the three pianists, two bassists, and/or three drummers. The other slots include alto sax (John Zorn), tuba (Marcus Rojas), violin (Jennifer Choi), and cello (Erik Friedlander), as well as Smith's trumpet. Four long pieces (11:14 to 23:50), dense, cluttered, sometimes gets under your skin, then something amazing happens. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Evan Parker & Konstrukt: Live at Akbank Jazz Festival (2010 , Re:konstrukt): Two solo shots on soprano sax (14:07 and 8:50), done as only Parker can do them, the first with a lot of circular breathing, the second less tricked up. Followed by two "collective improvisations" with Parker sparring with a Turkish group, including a second soprano sax (Korhan Futaci), guitar, drums, percussion. These average 22 minutes of engaging noise, the sort of contretemps that Parker can conjure up any time he has the inkling. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Billy Jenkins: Jazz Gives Me the Blues (2011, VOTP): English jazz guitarist, b. 1954, has some very interesting records scattered about his discography -- 1998's True Love Collection, with its bent '60s pop retroviruses is a favorite -- but lately he's reinvented himself as a gravel-mouthed blues slinger, which is mostly what you get here, but now and then you sense the guitar wants to sneak out and play something fancy. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2010 , Blue Note): Trumpet player, b. 1982 in Oakland, CA; second album after one on Fresh Sound New Talent. Mostly postbop quintet, with Walter Smith III shagging him on tenor sax, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums, although Jason Moran takes two shots on Fender Rhodes. Hits quality notes over staggered rhythms. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Johnny Varro: Speak Low (2011, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1930, cites Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson as influences, came up with Buddy Hackett, played for Eddie Condon; not much discography as a leader until he hooked up with Arbors in 1992, but this is his 11th album with them (side credits go back to 1954 with Phil Napoleon). Standards, with Warren Vaché (cornet) and Harry Allen (tenor sax) vying to see who can be the most debonair, with Nicki Parrott (bass) and Chuck Riggs (drums). Maybe a little too debonair there. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, July 24. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Friday, July 22. 2011
Perhaps the most annoying of the many annoying things about the debt ceiling crisis is that this guy who's supposed to be on our side keeps harping on his desire to construct a "grand bargain" which actively, enthusiastically harms our future, legitimizes our enemies, and all for what? Nothing that I can see. So every day as I turn on the news I pray that the Republicans will stick to their cruel, moronic principles and deny Obama his "grand bargain." It's not that I underestimate the ill effects of defaulting on the national debt. But there are many easier solutions, especially in the short-term, and you would think that those most directly effected would see that.
Instead, we're stuck playing games with the guy Paul Krugman has characterized as the Conceder in Chief. Krugman writes:
Emphasis added. I'd be less irate if I had any reason to think that Obama even cares about the fate of the people who elected him, but I don't see any evidence that he does. You'd think that after eight years of George W. Bush any Democrat would be an improvement, but this is excruciating.
Monday, July 18. 2011
Not really, but very little, nothing that can't wait another week. Did at least get the master draft file split so I can start partitioning the draft between JCG(27) and JCG(28), but have yet to do anything with that. Feeling a bit better than I have over the last 3-4 weeks, but the improvement is slow coming and doesn't amount to much. Still only a week or so worth of work to pack it all up, but that's been the case for five weeks now. I'm totally bummed.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, July 17. 2011
No roundup: on the rare occasions when I bother to look, all I'm finding these days is further evidence of brain rot. The big story seems to be the impending national bankruptcy, but nowhere do I read the two most basic facts about the debt limit crisis:
Here's a fairly accurate quote on what's going on, courtesy of Steve Benen:
I don't know where to start here. If this is all a game, how much credit does Obama deserve? It's not as if the Republicans won't look stupid on their own. And it's certainly not the case that the masses are giving Obama a lot of credit for baiting the Republicans by only advancing their old junk proposals. Even if Obama has proven that the Republicans aren't really serious about deficits, how many votes has he won by being so clever?
Obama's gamesmanship comes with a price. By only parrotting the Republicans's proposals and sound bytes, people forget that there are alternatives -- indeed, ones that make more sense, but they're not on the table, because the Republicans don't talk about them, nor does Obama. The main thing -- indeed, about the only thing -- that Obama has accomplished as president has been to marginalize the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Indeed, when he goes hat in hand to Wall Street to replenish his campaign coffers, he has one hell of a story he can pitch: "You know that big bad Democratic congress back in 2009-11? Well, they did nada, and I'm the reason why."
Monday, July 11. 2011
No new Jazz Prospecting this week either, but I might as well flush the backlog -- now several weeks old. I haven't made any effort to wrap up the pending Jazz Consumer Guide column, and probably won't until I start to feel substantially better. Apologies to those who've written me, even those nagging me about their albums. Until my situation gets better everything's on hold.
R|E|D|S: Sign of Four (2009 , Origin): Quartet, first group record, an anagram of initials, although the order given on the back cover and inside is: Ed Epstein (baritone sax), Bjarne Roupé (guitar), Göran Schelin (bass), Dennis Drud (drums). Epstein was born in El Paso, TX; studied at University of Oregon, and played around the west coast before relocating to Sweden in early 1970s. Has one album, a couple dozen side credits, most notably with Johnny Dyani. Rest of the group is Danish, lightly recorded as far as I can tell -- Schelin has one album, Roupé some credits with Michael Mantler. Only birth date I could find is Drud in 1967, and he seems to have the least gray hair. Understated but moves smartly, the baritone a nice contrast to the guitar. B+(*)
Mark O'Connor Quintet: Suspended Reality (2007 , OA2): Saxophonist, lists alto first but all the pics I see show him with a tenor. Originally from Austin, TX; studied at UNT; now based in Chicago, writing a doctoral dissertation on Joe Farrell. Second album. Quintet includes trumpet (Victor Garcia), piano (Ben Lewis, or Mark Maegdlin on one track), bass (Jonathan Paul), and drums (Tom Hipskind). Wrote 8 of 10 tracks, all but "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and a Johnny Griffin tune ("A Monk's Dream"). A mixed bag. At first I was impressed by the sax tone and presence, but the trumpet detracts from that. Then I noted the complex Afro-Cuban rhythms of "Cady's Groove," but those too were a passing fancy. Some real talent at play here; just not sure for what. B+(**)
Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections (2011, Cuneiform, 2CD): Smith's idea of organic is plugged in: his credit is for "electric trumpet" as well as trumpet; he uses four electric guitarists, two electric bassists; Angelica Sanchez plays Wurlitzer as well as acoustic piano; and he has two laptop credits. Trumpet-led fusion inevitably recalls Miles Davis, but Smith has been there and done that in his Yo! Miles group with Henry Kaiser. But this is definitely post-Yo!: the mix is far more complex, as is the groove. The opener (dedicated to Don Cherry) and the multipart "Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification" (which finishes the first disc and sprawls over onto the second) pack quite some charge. Not so sure about the last two tracks, dedicated to Toni Morrison and Leroy Jenkins respectively. Maybe they stall a bit, or just test my endurance. [B+(***)]
Roswell Rudd: The Incredible Honk (2011, Sunnyside): The great trombonist of our era, entitled to this title even though he doesn't do much to earn it here. Most of the record is given over to a wide range of world music -- Cuban, Cajun, Chinese, Malian -- each with their special guests -- Michel Doucet's take on Rudd's own "C'etait dans la nuit" is the most successful. Even better is when Rudd strips down to basics, as on his "Waltzin' with My Baby" or an amazingly poignant "Danny Boy." B+(***)
Laszlo Gardony: Signature Time (2011, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1956 in Hungary, studied at Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest, then got a scholarship to Berklee and never looked back -- teachers there now. Tenth album since 1986, a quartet with Stan Strickland on tenor sax (and voice on one song, sort of scatting along), John Lockwood on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums and vibes. Wrote six of ten songs, covering "Lullaby of Birdland," Strayhorn ("Johnny Come Lately"), and two Beatles songs ("Lady Madonna" and "Eleanor Rigby"). Straightforward, develops the melodies, puts a little kick into the rhythm. The sax comes and goes, not essential, but adds some depth and variety when it's there. B+(*)
Anthony Wilson: Campo Belo (2010 , Goat Hill): Guitarist, b. 1968, son of big band arranger Gerald Wilson, has ten or so albums since 1997. This is a quartet with a Brazilian rhythm section: André Mehmari (piano, accordion), Guto Wirtti (bass), and Edu Ribeiro (drums). Not stereotypically Brazilian, but light and seductive nonetheless. B+(**)
François Carrier: Entrance 3 (2002 , Ayler): Alto saxophonist with his longtime trio -- Pierre Côté on bass, Michel Lambert on drums, always an excellent freebop group -- recorded at the Vancouver Jazz Festival with Bobo Stenson sitting in on piano. Stenson is excellent here, but spreads the group out. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last several weeks:
Sunday, July 10. 2011
The "weekend roundup" file came up empty this week. Had I been conscious, I would have recommended:
Current temperature in Wichita, KS: 109°F.
Saturday, July 9. 2011
One good thing about these queued-up monthly pieces is that they don't take much effort to post. Good thing, as I'm mostly running on fumes here, not even sure what kind.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on June 7. Past reviews and more information are available here.
13 & God: Own Your Ghost (2011, Anticon): Members of Berkeley underground hip-hop group Themselves and Krautrock group The Notwist meet for discreet pleasures, mostly electrobeats with trip-hop vocals (as opposed to raps). They cut a previous eponymous album in 2005, so seem to be an on-and-off deal. B+(**)
Dave Alvin: Eleven Eleven (2011, Yep Roc): Ex-Blaster, has released much more in his solo career than brother Phil although the quality edge isn't that large, mostly depending on one brilliant outing, 1994's King of California. This is his best since, with a few songs interchangeable, and one ("Gary, Indiana 1959") that breaks new ground: basically a boogie-woogie lament for the loss of union power, and a remembrance of what that power meant. The weakest cut may be the one with Phil on it. The other duettist is probably the late Chris Gaffney, on "Two Lucky Bums," a fine way to go out. A-
Archie Bronson Outfit: Coconut (2010, Domino): English rock trio, no members named Archie or Bronson, on their third album. Shrouds their increased tunefulness in extra noise lest anyone think they're going soft. Smart move. B+(***)
Arctic Monkeys: Suck It and See (2011, Domino): British group, fourth album since their 2006 breakout combined punk freshness with British Invasion inevitability, a formula they aged out of awfully soon. Now they aspire to "dogshit rock and roll" but they're way too tame and structured, not to mention mired in the "humbug" they named their third album for. B-
Austra: Feel It Break (2011, Domino): Canadian electropop group, led by Katie Stelmanis -- picked the name out of Latvian mythology. Voice threw me a bit at first, probably all that operatic training, but aside from a little warbliness this gets pretty catchy. B+(*)
Bad Meets Evil: Hell: The Sequel (2011, Shady/Interscope): Detroit rap duo: Ryan Montgomery (also known as Royce da 5'9") and Marshall Mathers (even better known as Eminem), originally worked together before Eminem dropped The Slim Shady LP (which included a song with Royce called "Bad Meets Evil"). Not sure how much they did together up to Eminem's appearance on Royce's 2002 debut Rock City, but they went separate ways until 2010. No idea what their early shit sounds like, but they're on Eminem's label and budget here, hedging a bit by billing this as an EP, then doing a little profit-taking by offering a "Deluxe Edition" that bumps the basic 9-song 37:18 to an 11-song 46:08. Mostly machine gun slinging, the one redeeming social message a take on rich-vs.-poor, plus two (of three) guest shots deliver, with Slaughterhouse bringing "Loud Noises" and Bruno Mars ("Lighters") more evidence of genius. B+(**)
Battles: Mirrored (2007, Warp): More electronica than rock, but not trusting their beats to stand out they slip in alt-rock vocals and ambitions and tread heavily when they do. The mix is disconcerting, because they might be onto something. B
Beyoncé: 4 (2011, Columbia): Big star, launched in 1990s girl group Destiny's Child, sustained as much through her acting as by her music. I've heard two of the group albums, one of the solos, have seen her in two (of seven) movies, and don't recall ever seeing any of her numerous videos, so I guess I haven't done due dilligence. Still, I doubt that anything she's done would have prepared me for the overkill production of the latter half, especially the punk rigidity of "Run the World (Girls)" -- the lead single, I see, not that girls are ever going to run the world sounding like the Sweet. Easier to dissect is the ballad-heavy first half: every soul diva of her generation has dreamed of singing like Aretha Franklin, but only Beyoncé has had the ego to think she's done it. C
Black Lips: Arabia Mountain (2011, Vice): Garage band from Georgia, sounds like some band you can't quite place from the late 1960s -- a formula sureshot enough they've milked it for eight albums since 2003. Anything that reminds me of Sam the Sham, even if only on occasion, is OK with me. B+(*)
Blaqstarr: Divine EP (2011, NEET): Charles Smith, Baltimore DJ, came up through Diplo and MIA, has several EPs, nothing full-length. As best I can figure, this one runs six songs, 21:33. Sounds a lot like the oblique soul mixtapes of Frank Ocean and the Weeknd; maybe even resolves a bit clearer since there's less to balance out. A-
Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago (2006-07 , Jagjaguwar): Group, name a play on the French for "good winter"; or maybe just an alias for singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, from northern Wisconsin, where one is likely to think about winter a lot. I missed this when it came out, or more accurately was warned off. Christgau panned it, comparing its poetizing to Robert Creeley and finding it pathetically lacking. But it found its cult, finishing 8th in P&J, Despite the simple, folkish arrangements, I can't say anything about the lyrics; just that his sad, high-strung voice can be touching, if that's what you want. B
Bon Iver: Bon Iver (2011, Jagjaguwar): Second album from Justin Vernon, has already gotten scads of rapturous reviews -- first week out it jumped to no. 6 in my metacritic file -- as well as a few pans for losing his muse. Adds a lot of extra musicians which rarely turn into a lot of extra sound -- horns, pedal steel, vibes, with Vernon himself on ten or so instruments -- more like finely arranged details. Most of the song titles come from place names -- "Lisbon, OH" is the small town I know too well -- although there is also "Holocene." Looks like he's aiming for Sufjan Stevens territory; he's still a little short in humor and sweep, but seems like a good guy, fortunate to be overrated, modest enough he might grow into himself. B+(*)
Laura Cantrell: Kitty Wells Dresses: Songs of the Queen of Country Music (2011, Spit & Polish): A country singer who's too country for Nashville steps back even deeper into the tradition, focusing on the original queen of the honky tonks, and swaddles the effort in more pedal steel than I've heard in ages. Short, sweet, heartfelt. B+(***)
Country Mice: Twister (2011, Woo Woo): Brooklyn rock band fronted by a Kansas farm boy, with a short-ish (9-song 31:55) debut. The packaging oversells the Americana angle but the guitars are tightly woven, the vocals clean and thoughtful, and while they open with a raver they can slow down and maintain their poise. B+(**)
Cults: Cults (2011, In the Name Of/Columbia): New York duo, vocalist Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian O'Blivion -- what are the odds of that, even without the apostrophe, as I've seen it sometimes? -- on Lily Allen's boutique imprint. They love their shoegaze fuzz. They'd also like to be playing arenas. They got a look, and a sound, and they've studied their girl groups as well as new wave electropop. B+(**)
Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys (2011, Atlantic): Band from Washington state, been around since late 1990s, never seemed like something I'd be interested in, and my few album checks have been cursory. Still, this is remarkably engaging, with gentle melodies that never go squishy, words that always make sense (not that I can quote any back). Still don't want to get too involved, not least because I sense that I could. B+(***)
Joe Ely: Satisfied at Last (2011, Rack 'Em): One of the Flatlanders from Lubbock: where Butch Hancock was mostly a writer and Jimmie Dale Gilmore mostly a singer, Ely could do it all, peaking in the late 1970s but continuing to rattle off a good record or two per decade. Not quite as satisfying as, say, 2003's Streets of Sin or 1992's Love and Danger, he's still in his zone, with lusty rockers and shrewd ballads. Plus two Hancocks and a Billy Joe Shaver tune that promises "I'm Gonna Live Forever." B+(**)
Ford & Lopatin: Channel Pressure (2011, Mexican Summer): Joel Ford (Tigercity) and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), previously recorded together as Games (e.g., That We Can Play). Synth-driven pop, maybe retro if you started in the 1980s. Sorry about that. B-
Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (2010 , Matador): Toronto hardcore/punk group, third album plus a 2-CD compilation of too many singles. Members have aliases like guitarist 10,000 Marbles and bassist Mustard Gas. Singer Damian Abraham (Father Damian/Pink Eyes) is a howler, able to keep out front of the guitars, which is a notable physical achievement as well as a practical artistic one. Caught more words than I usually do: nothing I'll sing along with soon, but didn't trip me up either. The most commanding storm music I've heard since, oh, Hüsker Dü. A-
Handsome Furs: Sound Kapital (2011, Sub Pop): Montreal duo, Dan Boeckner (also of Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry, third album -- evidently the early ones were guitar-based while this is all synths and drum machines, although the shaggy layered closer strikes me as something guitarists might do. "Serve the People" is a notable lyric. "What About Us?" a reasonable question. "Cheap Music" -- naturellement. B+(**)
Iceage: New Brigade (2011, What's Your Rupture?): Danish punk group, four teenagers with an "Intro"-plus-11-song, 24:09 debut, only two songs over 2:29. Reportedly in English although it's hard to tell. Actually, punk's something of a misnomer, here mostly for density and thrash but they structure more complex melodies and have some effects that might prove to be catchy some day. B+(***)
Ida Maria: Katla (2010 , Mercury): Norwegian singer-songwriter, goes by her first name (or two), last name Silvertsen. Second album. First seemed like pop with brains and a bit of brawn. This one muscles up, getting a lot louder and coarser, for those who like that sort of thing, especially in someone once referred to as a "pop dolly." B+(*)
Sarah Jarosz: Follow Me Down (2011, Sugar Hill): Young (b. 1991) bluegrass singer-songwriter, plays mandolin and banjo, second album, has some depth to her voice which makes her seem older -- an asset with old-timey music -- but also adds a pale mournfulness that can be wearing. Halfway through, especially after her "Ring Them Bells" (Dylan) cover I was thinking I'd overrated the latest Alison Krauss (still a possibility) but the second half doubled down instead of showing me anything new. B+(**)
Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between (2011, Luna Park): Singer-songwriter, cut a couple of notable albums in the 1970s that played off his racial ambiguity -- a pretty steady stream from 1970-83, with three widely-spaced returns in 1992, 1997, and now in 2011. That may be what he means by "in between" but where in 1992's Don't Call Me Buckwheat he was still looking back over his shoulder, he's cool today. Indeed, at 67 his biggest theme is that he still gets a kick out of rock and roll. Concludes with a reverb laden "Rock On" -- a one-shot we're old enough to remember well enough to appreciate how thoroughly he smokes it. B+(***)
Junior Boys: It's All True (2011, Domino): Canadian electropop duo, fifth album since 2004. Sort of a light, shifty thing, somewhere between trip hop and dubstep, maybe the latter slowed down to the former. Pleasant as it goes; may even grow on you. B+(*)
Ledisi: Pieces of Me (2011, Verve Forecast): Soul diva from New Orleans, surname Young. Fifth album since 2000: old-fashioned, conventional, works hard to make a modest impression. B+(*)
Let's Wrestle: Nursing Home (2011, Merge): English group, second album. I rather liked their previous basement-recorded lo-fi In the Court of the Wrestling Let's, a framework to build on. Producer Steve Albini had no problem toning up the guitars here, and front-loaded the muscle cuts; still, those are the least interesting things they do, and as the record slows down the songs open up. B+(**)
Thurston Moore: Demolished Thoughts (2010 , Matador): Sonic Youth founder-mainstay, has about a dozen solo albums now without undermining or endangering the franchise. More often than not he goes further out, but here he unplugs and turns his balladry over to Beck Hansen who adds harp and violin, doing his best to render it all fluffy. Still, by the end Moore manages to refocus on sonics, getting some shimmer and warp out of his acoustics, advancing toward his next career stage, sonic senescence. B+(*)
Matt Nathanson: Modern Love (2011, Vanguard): Boston singer-songwriter, eighth album since 1993, first time I've noticed him. Has a folkie rep but at first reminded me of the pop hookmanship of someone like Matthew Sweet (if not quite Marshall Crenshaw). Then came something awful with two guests from Sugarland ("Run"), which broke the charm. B-
Youssou N'Dour: Dakar-Kingston (2010 , Decca): Reggae album concept, intended not as a tribute but a forward-looking synthesis, with new songs (aside from "Redemption Song," added to the US reissue), some in Wolof, but also with Mutabaruka growling through his cameos. The riddims might inspire someone who wasn't already lightyears ahead of the curve, whose voice is richer and more supple than this music calls for. Frustrating. B+(*)
Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2 (2011, Nonesuch): Old songs, done simple, just voice and piano; presumably newly recorded, although they could have passed for song demos not least because he shows no real interest in tinkering with them like a jazz singer (or someone like Dylan) would. Starts leaning hard on Good Old Boys which holds up fine without the strings. Gets a bit loud on "My Life Is Good." No doubt about that. Nearly every song hails from a superior album, which makes this rather redundant, but it holds up nicely anyway. B+(**)
Planningtorock: W (2011, DFA): Electropop group, or alias for Janine Rostron, originally from UK but now based in Berlin, seeking the spirit of David Bowie past. By turns catchy and overwrought, lots of tics (especially classical) that alternately annoy and amuse. The prog rock impulse hops along. (I do rather like the instrumental "Black Thumber," where the Bowie fetish goes Low.) B
The Russian Futurists: The Weight's on the Wheels (2010, Upper Class): Singer-songwriter from Toronto, Matthew Adam Hart, with his fourth album since 2001. Trimmed and layered, repetitive enough to build something of its own obsessive detailing. B+(***)
Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (2011, Sub Pop): Ishmael Butler, best known as Butterfly in the early-1990s jazzy hip-hop crew Digable Planets; first album after a couple EPs. Has a rather dark underground sound, long song titles, rhymes I can't quite get a handle on. B+(**)
Shabazz Palaces: Of Light (2009, Switchblade Music, EP): Eight cuts, 22:06. Less obscure than the new album. B+(***)
Shabazz Palaces: Shabazz Palaces (2009, Switchblade Music, EP): Seven cuts, 22:57. More obscure than, well, if not the new album then at least the other EP. Or do I mean inscrutable? B+(**)
Sloan: The Double Cross (2011, Yep Roc): Rock band, mostly guitars with pop harmonies, from Nova Scotia (now Toronto), have cranked out eleven albums plus a best-of since their 1993 debut. Their first was pretty ordinary, and this one is just a lusher sort on the same ordinariness. B
Corey Smith: The Broken Record (2011, Average Joe's): Country singer from Georgia, has been kicking out albums since 2003 and remained so obscure AMG can't even keep them together. Deep drawl, trad sound, sings "Roots" and "Down to Earth" but tries so hard to show his tolerance ("I Love Everyone") he's gotta be sincere. Seems like a good guy but doesn't get very deep with his songs. B+(*)
Teddybears: Devil's Music (2010 , Big Beat/Atlantic): Swedish group, started playing grindcore c. 1990 although there's nary a hint of that here. This is more along the lines of cheese disco, where the humans hide behind bear suits on the cover and machines in the grooves, averring that "drum machines got no soul" when soul for them is nothing more than the pretext for a joke. Sure, they tend to be obvious; sometimes that's the best way to overcome the language barrier. A-
Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revelator (2011, Masterworks): Susan Tedeschi was one of a dozen or more white women blues singers who popped up in the 1990s, with six albums 1998-2008. I always found her vastly overrated, easily the least interesting of the batch. Derek Trucks has been a bit more proficient with eight albums 1997-2010, despite being 9 years younger. He's the snazzier guitarist, she's a better singer. They got hitched in 2001, but this is their first joint merger album. Better than anything either had done on their own. B+(***)
Touché Amoré: Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me (2011, Deathwish, EP): Post-hardcore is the generic term, not that the basic idea has evolved much since the early 1980s. Second album, if you count one that's only 20:47 (but 13 songs), let alone an even shorter first (18:23, 11 songs; 2009's memorably titled To the Beat of a Dead Horse). These things pretty much always sound great to me, but this one's a struggle. B
Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones (2011, Epitaph): English singer-songwriter, one of the last true sons of the empire, b. 1981 in Bahrain. Went to Eton, read history at London School of Economics, was snatched up by the banking industry. Most treat him as some kind of folksinger, but he started out in a hardcore band and can get loud. "English Curse" is more shouted word than sung. The following song namechecks Woody Guthrie, Dostoyevsky, and Davy Jones. Can remind one of Richard Thompson though I don't hear the nuance. But I will say that "Glory Hallelujah" makes me feel good all over. B+(***)
The Unthanks: Last (2011, Rough Trade): English group, principally Rachel Unthank (of Rachel Unthank and the Winterset) and Becky Unthank (sisters, evidently their real names), considered folk for no obvious reason other than that they employ strings and lack a drummer -- still, piano and guitar are more integral to their sound, which I can best describe as eery. B
Friday, July 8. 2011
The scheme here is to post whatever applicable reviews -- reissues and vault music, of course, and sometimes newer world music -- I have saved up when the monthly calendar turns over. Some months I have more. Some I have less. This one is actually pretty average, at least over the last couple years. But I'm feeling rather hobbled here. I came down with some kind of respiratory illness on June 22 and it's dogged me ever since. Have run a persistent fever, pulse rate elevated, short of breath, dry cough. First sign was chest pain but that turned out to be a false alarm. Since then, for every day I seemed to be getting better, there's been another turning for the worse. I should have posted this several days ago, especially since there was nothing to write but this intro.
Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 , Proper, 2CD): English trombonist, one of the major figures in Britain's trad jazz movement in the 1950s, looking back from age 80 on a career that did more than preserve past music: Barber was especially important in building British interest in American bluesmen, which led to all sorts of things, not least the Rolling Stones. I don't have good dates on everything here, but some of the earliest tracks come from a 1958 tour with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; later tracks feature bluesmen from Muddy Waters to Jeff Healey, but also Lonnie Donegan, Van Morrison, and Andy Fairweather Low. The guest star framework slights Barber's own play and his wry vocals, making room for old jazz hands like Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, and Trummy Young. But at least he leaves some space for Ottilie Patterson, his long-time singer and wife. Could use more of her, and more jazz instrumentals: Hall's "St. Louis Blues" is definitely a high point. B+(**) [R]
Johnny Hodges: Blues-A-Plenty (1958 , Verve): A download-only release, the latest gambit in reducing back catalogue to pure profit. Hodges was Duke Ellington's prize alto saxophonist from 1927 until his death in 1970, except for a few years in the 1950s when he wandered off, feeling underappreciated, or more specifically underpaid. But he never wandered far, and his personal albums are the crown gems of small group Ellingtonia. Here, for instance, his rhythm section includes Billy Strayhorn and Sam Woodyard, and they do "Satin Doll" as gorgeously as it's ever been done. And when Hodges wants a little more horn power, he taps his peers: Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), and Ben Webster (tenor sax). Aside from a Japanese release, the last time this appeared on CD was when Verve slipped this and a Sweets Edison album into the 2-CD The Soul of Ben Webster. Fabulous combination, but Hodges, as ever, was the sweet spot. I'd grade this higher if it were real. A- [R]
The Essential Lena Horne (1941-75 , Masterworks/Legacy, 2CD): Will Friedwald describes her as "the Jackie Robinson of show business," noting her Hollywood debut in 1942 in Panama Hattie: "It's not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that this film marked the mass-media debut of the concept of the African American as a real person." Still, part of her appeal must have been her looks -- gorgeous, but with straight hair and a narrow nose that could pass for white. She was born in 1917, grew up in Georgia and New York, joined the Cotton Club chorus line, toured with Charlie Barnet, and headed to Hollywood where she reprised her signature hit, "Stormy Weather." Still, her roles were limited, and she got blacklisted for progressive politics. (During WWII when she insisted on an integrated audience the Army rounded up some German POWs to join US black soldiers.) But she could always fall back on her singing. This starts with a few 1941 cuts, jumps to 1955-62, finally a couple later tracks, starting and ending with takes of "Stormy Weather." Lots of show tunes, many standards, with fairly anonymous big bands that underscore her mastery of timing and her clear and nuanced voice. A-
The Essential Earth Kitt (1952-57 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Multicultural before it counted, mother African and Cherokee, father a white rapist, moved at 9 from the South Carolina cotton patch to Harlem where she picked up French and worked that into her singing, dancing, and acting. Doesn't seem to have been a big star: a few 1953-54 singles charted, the highest "Santa Baby"; acting roles included playing Helen of Troy for Orson Welles in 1950 and Cat Woman in the 1967-68 television series Batman, with several Broadway musicals in between. But she was a cultural icon, one I recall fondly for chewing Lady Bird Johnson out over the Vietnam War. (She doesn't seem to have been especially political, but Johnson invited her to a luncheon and asked the question.) Kitt recorded from 1953-65, then came back in 1989 with I'm Still Here and worked steadily to her death in 2008, but this early slice seems to have been her prime. Some standards, some show tunes, quite a few things where she slips into French or Spanish or adopts a foreign vibe -- as in the calypso "Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding Bell" or "Uska Dara: A Turkish Tale" -- but ends with four W.C. Handy blues and the gospel "Steal Away," backed by Short Rodgers and the Jester Hairston Choir. She wrote three autobiographies, the last subtitled Confessions of a Sex Kitten. She had a long career replete with surprises. This is a tightly wound slice, idiosyncratic enough you have to wonder what people thought at the time. B+(***)
NYC Salsa: The Incendiary Sound of Latin New York (1970-79 , Fania, 2CD): One of the things that attracted me to New York in the mid-1970s was salsa music: on the radio, but especially on the streets pumping out of boom boxes. I wanted to make a project out of exploring it, but somehow the records I bought never quite jelled in my mind, and thrashing I pretty much gave up. The 1970s were the heyday of Fania records, their house band, the Fania All Stars, and their vast roster including many famous from elsewhere -- Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Colón were among the names I had heard much of. Still should be a project, but I doubt I'll ever be able to sort out so many artists who all sound the same to me: the hyper upbeat grooves with offbeat percussion, the massed brass flashes, the way-too-many singers. Liner notes don't provide dates or discography, but the ones I could look up landed in the 1970s, what they call the Golden Era. Seems more like the Brass Age, but on some level it still moves me. B+(**)
The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music (1988-2010 , Innova, 5CD): I've been avoiding this, if for no more reason than sheer length. NYFA is the New York Foundation for the Arts, set up in 1983. Since then they've provided fellowships for over 200 new music composers, and they're showing off 52 of them in this set. They run the gamut, but have been programmed to flow somewhat: the third disc is the most jazz-centric, with Iconoclast, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Fred Ho, John Lindberg (sometimes d/b/a BLOB), Newman Taylor Baker. The fourth and fifth shade more classical. The first is more avant, mostly primitivist rhythm pieces. Packaged in a double-width jewel case with a loose booklet for each disc packed with lots of information in small type, and priced like a sampler. B+(**)
The Reatards: Teenage Hate/Fuck Elvis Here's the Reatards (1998 , Goner): Memphis punk band, where James Lee Lindsey adopted his future solo name, Jay Reatard, on his way to a 29-year-old death. This reissues his/their -- band included guitarist Steve Albundy Reatard and drummer Elvis Wong Reatard -- first official album, Teenage Hate, from 1998, and a demo cassette that possibly dates back to 1996, totalling 39 songs, 73:53 on one disc. The album is sharper sonically, getting just enough rockabilly twang into their punk reduction to suggest that they knew what they were fucking with. Wears a bit thin toward the end, but could have been prophetic. B+(***) [R]
The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): The gypsy jazz guitarist's recording career runs from 1934 to his death in 1953, so plucking two sets from late on and declaring them to be the essential slice is preposterous from the start, but record companies make what they can from what they got -- last time in print RCA touted the same two discs as The Indispensable Django Reinhardt, although parts have also seen print as Djangology. Both sets were cut in Rome, so fans may even prefer to search out JSP's 4-CD superset, Django in Rome, but this is serviceable and representative. The sets were cut with local rhythm sections, not as sharp as the old Hot Club, but Stéphane Grappelli's violin keeps the 1949 tracks close to the model. But for the 1950s cuts, the violin is replaced with André Ekyan on alto sax and clarinet for a smoother flow, or thrill with the right song. B+(**)
Wire: 14 Sept 2002, Metro, Chicago [Legal Bootleg Series] (2000 , Pinkflag): The first band that came out of late-1970s Britain that could be called post-punk -- art school progressives, they took the idea of punk and wrapped it up into tight little packages with a lot of menace and drone. They ran from 1977 up to 1990 or so, lost a quartet member so cut an album as Wir, then reemerged around 2000 with the recognition that their best work was behind them so the way to carry on was to return to their original concepts. Live, they come off denser and darker than ever. Rhapsody has four of these "legal bootlegs"; looks like at least eight are available, and more where those came from. A- [R]
Till Brönner: Chattin' With Chet (2000 , Verve): German trumpeter-vocalist, no idea how he adds up given this is the only one I've heard; mostly a credible Chet Baker tribute with "When I Fall in Love" touching and the instrumental "My Funny Valentine" sly, the main shift a preference for synth beats; however, he throw in a rap on the side, and more smooth funk than is really healthy. B [R]
Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Odditties (1973-90 , Querbeservice): Kevin Ayers once released a trivia compilation called Odd Ditties, which seems to be the point of the title, except that the ditties aren't so odd: scattered demos and live shots, some in French with fiddle, several Stephen Foster songs recorded late; Kate's dead, and Anna can't do this alone, so be thankful. A- [R]
Leo Smith: Human Rights (1982-85 , Kabell): From the avant trumpeter's pre-Wadada rastafari days, scattered pieces with Smith's vocals and horn over guitar, synth and/or mbira, backed with a world music oddity mixing koto with Peter Kowald and Günter Sommer; parts of this could break pop, but no point getting too comfortable. B+(*) [R]
Wire: 25 Oct 1978 Bradford University [Legal Bootleg Series] (1978 , Pinkflag): One from their heyday, evolving from their second, Chairs Missing, to the softer third, 154, not that anything here qualifies as soft; surprising after all these years how many of their not-quite-tunes stick to the ribs, recognizable even scruffed up unlike their fastidious studio records. A- [R]
Wire: 21 July 1988 Astoria, London [Legal Bootleg Series] (1988 , Pinkflag): Late 1980s, as they decompressed with lighter, milder, more melodic fare -- The Ideal Copy and A Bell Is a Cup . . . Until It Is Struck were the forgettable studio albums -- but live they go for long, heavy, and dense, just like they always do. B+(*) [R]
Wire: 08 Dec 2000 Queen's Hall, Edinburgh [Legal Bootleg Series] (2000 , Pinkflag): Unless you're especially fond of their dense clatter, this takes a while to jell, and it's the old songs that do the trick -- "Lowdown," "Another the Letter," "12xU" -- well into a set that never lets up. B+(***) [R]
Neil Young/International Harvesters: A Treasure (1984-85 , Reprise): The ninth of what promises to be a very long series of new albums curried from old live tapes, this one catching Young's return to country roots after a few years kicking about eclectically, trying out everything from vocal synthesizers to soul horns; the next album was Old Ways, but this rocks much harder, framing period songs in cascades of electric twang. B+(***) [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.
For this column and the previous 86, see the archive.
Monday, July 4. 2011
by Michael Tatum
The twelfth Downloader's Diary -- yes, it's been almost a year since I started this little obsession -- is dedicated, in the spirit of Independence Day, to rebels and oddballs, or at least, rebels and oddballs in the context of this column. We have two electronica guys, one who digs sitars, another who specializes in pre-war 78s. We have two punk records, one you need a lyric sheet to decipher, another that's supposedly in English, yet I can't understand a word. We have, in what must be a first around these parts, a Tony-winning musical. And we have the number one album in the country. No, not Bon Iver -- Justin Vernon is sitting mopily at number two. We'll get to him next month.
Sorry Bamba: Volume One 1970-1979 (Thrill Jockey) As a nobleman's son, future bandleading guitarist Sorry Bamba was forbidden to play music, a state of affairs that changed when -- gotta love that caste system -- he was orphaned at the age of ten. At around the same time, Mali declared independence from France, and as we have seen in the "emancipation" of other African countries (from foreign rule, anyway) from Nigeria to Congo, that rush of liberation, coupled with the excitement to modernize, can make for exciting music. It must have helped that Bamba's hometown of Mopti (from the Fulfulde word for "gathering"), often referred to as "the Venice of Mali," sits at the confluence of the Niger and Bani rivers, actually spreading itself across three dyke-linked islands: like most towns linked to waterways, a natural hotbed of cross-cultural excitement, that in this case eight distinct ethnic groups (including Tuareg, Songhai, and Moor) call home. It's gratifying to hear Mali's familiar musical signatures (minor keys, modal scales, circular rhythms) in the context of classic big band Afropop, and while I might have warned Bamba off those embarrassingly garish psychedelia touches in the otherwise serviceable jam "Sayouwe," quaint little bits like that muted trumpet at the beginning of "Aïssé" more than compensate. My favorite moment though, comes at the end of the lithe "Astan Kelly," when Bamba pivots off two very strange, dissonant chords for a good fifteen seconds, before resolving them in the melodic way you would expect. Every time I hear it, I wonder: was that a mistake that he ran with and left in because it sounded so cool? Or was it a tension-release game planned entirely in advance? I say it's a moot point -- either scenario stands as proof of a keen musical mind at work. A
The Book of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording (Ghostlight) Aside from the fact I'm a fan of his long-running Comedy Central cash cow, Trey Parker and I have a little bit in common. First, we're both piano-playing veterans of high school theatre. Second, we both dated, with disastrous results, a Mormon girl. This makes me primed to appreciate his Tony-winning collaboration with South Park cohort Matt Stone and kindred spirit Robert Lopez, the mastermind behind the uproarious Sesame Street tribute/parody Avenue Q. In a nutshell, the plot follows two Mormon elders -- idealistic but completely naïve Kevin Price and buffoonish but ultimately endearing Arnold Cunningham -- serving a two year mission in Uganda, about which they know little other than it being the setting for The Lion King, whose soundtrack gets outrageously mocked in the hysterically blasphemous "Hasa Diga Eebowai." When the Ugandan townspeople jeer Price for his pomposity and inability to connect his faith to their cruel day-to-day reality, Cunningham, who knows even less about Mormonism than he does about Africa, improvises -- with creative inspiration siphoned from J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas -- his own (even more) ridiculous version of the gospel, eventually winning the townspeople over. Terry Teachout complained in the Wall Street Journal that the production was "flabby, amateurish and very, very safe," and I suppose none of these undeniably catchy, sometimes poignant, always funny songs will ever find their way into the Great American Songbook. But I defy you to find another Broadway show in which black and white actors share the same stage in equal numbers, or one in which in an interracial relationship isn't presented as a hurdle of controversy that less enlightened straw men have to jump, but merely as a simple attraction between two people. Especially given the Mormon Church's crusade against gay marriage in California, I get a special kick out of "Two By Two," in which an army of clearly gay chorus boys joyously sing about getting partnered up for their missions. And though you may find the moral -- that it's healthy to accept religion as a pliable metaphor rather than staunchly defend it as a literal truth -- old hat, given that a large majority of Americans, Mormon and otherwise, oppose that concept to the point of controlling what gets taught in schools and how much money goes to women's health clinics, I say it's a moral worth celebrating. A
The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours the Winners) When I was eighteen, on a somewhat ill-advised crusade to generate funds for my Senior Prom, I played a "piano bar" set for several old age homes, comprised mostly of -- because I was neither sophisticated enough to know, nor empathetic enough to learn, the Tin Pan Alley classics -- Beatle ballads and a few assorted pre-rock oddities. My third outing was at a convalescent home. After cheerfully warbling two quick rounds of "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," I stopped to shuffle my sheet music. As I did, a woman in a wheelchair, her head cocked to one side, continued to sing along as she stared into space blankly -- and she wouldn't stop. Although now I know I reached her in a positive way, at the time, it shook me up -- and has haunted me ever since. That may be why I connect to this record, in which Leyland John Kirby loops, manipulates, and strings together various quaint, pre-war 78s of schmaltzy parlor ballads into a suite that mirrors his own interest in Alzheimer patients' reactions to old music. In each piece, his strategy changes. In the opening "All You Are Going to Want to Do Is Get Back There," the seams are so imperceptible you can't tell where the loop begins or ends, but on the next cut, he repeats a haunting forty-second snatch of piano and separates them with a brief pause in which you can hear a needle audibly skipping its way into the scratchy groove. Later, the loops become shorter, more fragmented; motifs repeat only to be subverted. In one track, the sound swings from the left to the right stereo channel, like the pendulum in an antique grandfather clock. And in the peak -- if an album as staid as this can be said to peak -- two piano chords repeat nobly for three full minutes: memory persisting in the face of unforgiving time. The music is so compelling, eerie even as it comforts, that I would like to share it with my grandmothers. Unfortunately, one has deteriorated to the point where she tells the same handful of stories every time I see her. The other hasn't known my name for three years. A
Cults: Cults (In the Name Of/Columbia) The long held convention about agoraphobic producers like Brian Wilson and Phil Spector is that they spent hours upon hours in the studio because they wanted to create an inner world to insulate themselves from the big, bad world outside. But how -- aside from providing backing vocals or belting lyrics drafted by Gerry Goffin or Jeff Barry -- do the objects of their affection fit into the equation? Here, this Brooklyn duo answer that question with a sparkling debut on Lily Allen's Sony-distributed imprint, a thinly-disguised concept album in which guitarist Ryan Mattos (who bills himself as "Brian Oblivion") traps indie cutie Madeline Follin in the Tower of Song, from which she wails trapped underneath a latticework of reverb. After getting "Abducted" in the briskly-paced opener ("I knew right then that I'd never love her," Mattos confesses), Follin smacks down Jim Jones' spiked cup of Flavor-Aid ("To me, death is not a fearful thing," his ghost murmurs on Mattos' behalf, "it's living that's treacherous") and chastises his anti-social tendencies: "You really want to hole up/You really want to stay inside and sleep the light away." Separated from her family and stuck with a "new crowd" she's not sure she likes, she complains about plans being made for her even as she voices insecurity about moving on and starting a life with "someone new," playfully putting her foot down at the denouement of "Never Heal Myself": "I can never be myself/So fuck you." Mattos remains undeterred, constructing a post-Brill Building pop mélange so dense its musical weight is almost palpable, which is perhaps why it takes even melodies as sturdy as these so long to sink in. On the final track, Follin elects to "Rave On," and considering these guys will be hitbound if and when Mattos loosens up his hold on the music a little, that's probably a good career move. So why does Follin sound so resigned to her fate when she sings it? A
Fucked Up: David Comes to Life (Matador) Who is the real-life David Eliade, whose "inspiring story" is the ostensible subject of this eighty minute post-hardcore meta-opera? The (suspiciously citation-free) explanation on this Montreal sextet's Wikipedia page reveals little: "Eliade is the 'fifth Beatle,' and manages Fucked Up from behind the scenes . . . He is the only person involved with the band who knows how to tune a guitar. Unfortunately he has never attended one of Fucked Up's live shows . . ." So let's say he's a composite of every proletariat clock-punching Everyslacker these guys know, or perhaps an autobiographical doppelganger for resident yowler Damian Abraham. I'm slightly skeptical about Abraham's much-ballyhooed literary credentials -- even after several listenings I've yet to piece together any coherent storyline here, let alone find evidence of the thwarted terrorist plot (!!!) Larry Fitzmaurice adduces in his Pitchfork review, although the unreliable narrator motif (a classic meta-fiction staple) is a nice touch. Truthfully, I'd rather know why doomed inamorata Veronica's last name is the French word for "drink," or why Veronica shares her initials with David's ex-girlfriend Vivian, or if David himself has any relevant symbolic connection to theology professor and fascist sympathizer Mircea Eliade. But I'll leave those discussions for the college dissertations most likely already in the works. For most of us, the real draw here will be the explosive synergy between Abraham's searing vocals and the almost symphonic grandeur of the band, led by guitarist/composer Mike Haliechuk. Without Abraham, Haliechuk's music -- much cleaner/sharper than Hüsker Dü, to whom this record is often compared -- would be hypercharged AOR, anthems with context. And without the melodic weight of the music, Abraham would be one more howler in the post-hardcore vacuum. Fused together and burning brightly as a single glorious incandescence, they're one more reason why true literary types have been putting down their summer reading for rock and roll since Chuck Berry gave up cosmetology for Maybellene and Johnny B. Goode. A
Gold Panda: Companion (Ghostly International) Fans of the London-based laptop wizard probably don't need this digital-only item, which cobbles together three self-released 2009 EPs, adding on one negligible new track, but like most juvenilia, it provides useful insight into the artiste's creative process. It begins with what I call his greatest hit, the two minute quickie "Quitter's Raga," which niftily establishes his modus operandi: choppy snippets of melody tactically laid on top of solid, rhythmic bedrock. A handful of sitar samples aside, this relies less on flights of exotica than Panda's true debut, the excellent Lucky Shiner, which also means that it's less unified as a whole. On the other hand, compilations like this often give us a chance to pull off the face of that finely tuned clock to examine the wiring inside: for example, I love how the fuzzy surface noise underneath the keyboard hook of "Like Totally" becomes a hook in itself, or how that lowly, intentionally flatted synth flute sadly drags its feet through the moping new age parody "Lonely Owl." I could do with a little more however of tracks like "Win-san Western," in which a toy piano figure races across a stuttering breakbeat. Fast tempos: never underestimate them. B+
Iceage: New Brigade (What's Your Rupture?) While I'd be the first admit that I play the punk card in front of my ex-hippie parents as a means to set myself apart from them spiritually, in truth I reject most of the lo-fi, no-wave bands that come my way as unlistenable, tuneless caterwaul. The tuneless caterwaul proffered by this Danish quartet however, not a one of them out of their teens, is something special. Damned if I could tell you quite why -- usually when a band like this breaks out of the no-wave pack, their success is attributable to a talent for burying melodies in noise, or a penchant for foregrounding memorably clever lyrics delivered as football chants. You know -- songwriting. The strategy here is more like marshaling cohesion from chaos, and making it compel. Though the lyrics are reputedly in English, I can only understand a few snatches here and there, and Elias Bender Ronnenfelt's thuggish baritone isn't exactly what you'd call an instrument of great range, emotion, or feeling. But from the tribal thumping of Dan Kjaer Nielsen to the efficient thrashing of Ronnenfelt and second guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth, these upstarts showcase in twelve "songs" in twenty-four minutes their version of post-punk slash and burn, which essentially boils down to napalming the cornfield while they celebrate its destruction by joyously ransacking the farmhouse. Fierce, unrelenting, and startlingly vital from start to finish, you won't be quite sure what's hit you when it's all through. After which you'll have no problem shuttling yourself through their maelstrom one more time. A
Jill Scott: The Light of the Sun (Blues Babe/Warner Bros.) Scott has plenty of reasons to feel "Blessed," some of which she lists in that opening song (her parents, her son, last night's restorative sleep) and some of which she doesn't, namely her split from Hidden Beach Recordings, which has freed her to craft her sassiest, sexiest record, quite possibly the best neo-soul record since Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun -- she deserves her first Billboard number one. Suffice to say, if you've ever found Scott's records, even 2007's fine The Real Thing, a little too dependent on texture and flow, there will be no problem waiting for the songs to kick in. Part of its success can be chalked up the band, including guitarist Randy Bowland and bassist Adam Blackstone, who improvised backing tracks for Scott to use when she came into the studio without any pre-prepared material. But really this album is where Scott really opens up as a performer and as a singer -- compare the cover of The Real Thing (sweater-clad ingénue, chunky purse slung over her shoulder, looking like she's planning to take you shopping for sheets at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) to the pose she strikes here (slimmed down, sexed up, leaning with attitude against a classic car): who would you rather spend some time with? At first, I was a little surprised by two tracks in which she tells that new guy that they should put off sex till next time -- they seemed so out of character -- until I found out former lover and ex-drummer John Roberts broke up with her a few months after their baby was born. But with a little help from Eve, Doug E. Fresh, Anthony Hamilton, and others, elsewhere she gets gratifyingly loose and even a little dirty. In a nine minute "vent suite," she drops "the boom" on a guy who won't call her back, telling him off by revealing "somebody else has been sniffing my dress." Later, she delivers a "Womanifesto" that declares, "I'm more than just my ass," which leads to this brazen boast: "There's power in them rolling hills." Do tell Jill, do tell. A
The Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revelator (Sony Masterworks) Yes, but Delaney and Bonnie sought out great songs when they knew they couldn't write them ("Come See About Me," "Until You Remember," "Midnight in Harlem") ***
Neil Young and the International Harvesters: A Treasure (Reprise) "Leftin' then a-rightin'/It's not a crime, you know" ("Grey Riders," "Southern Pacific," "Are You Ready For the Country?") ***
Boubacar Traoré: Mali Denhou (Lusafrica) Hypnotic, calmative, and almost completely interchangeable with 2005's slightly peppier Kongo Magni ("Mondeou," "Dundobesse M'bedouniato") **
Tinie Tempah: Disc-overy (Capitol) Admitting that the underground makes him feel "out of place," he breaks into the UK mainstream riding what could be a new subgenre: arena grime ("Pass Out," "Miami 2 Ibiza") **
The Wave Pictures: Beer in the Breakers (Moshi Moshi) Dave Tattersall would be one more literate British post-punk popper, except as a guitarist he counts surf, flamenco, and soukous among his influences ("Little Surprise," "Blue Harbour") **
Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic) I admire that this Swedish export (real name: Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson) nurtures a fondness for updating sixties pop forms -- "99 Tears" here, "Be My Baby" there -- but her flat, affectless alto, fenced in by a meager range of about six notes, fails the memory of Ronnie Spector: witness the high note she flubs on "Sadness is a Blessing," the vaguely countrypolitan one in which she makes Zooey Deschanel sound like Patsy Cline, her questionable harmonizing technique throughout. It doesn't help that the expected post-adolescent relationship themes are dogged by some flimsy (and confusing) high school versifying: "Rather live out a lie than live wondering how the fire feels while burning/For life is like a flame and the ashes for wasting" -- wha? Believe it or not, the two major exceptions make their presence felt, of all things, rhythm first: the sardonically self-explanatory "Rich Kid's Blues" and -- especially -- the prickly ironic prick-tease "Get Some." Not because of that "I'm your prostitute" nonsense, though -- more because of that galvanic Bo Diddley beat. A few more of those and she might have gotten away with a lot more. B
Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Belong (Slumberland) Without abandoning the adolescent frustrations of their '80s Brit-Pop exemplars -- who after all knew what side their bread was buttered on -- the lyrics forsake the acutely observed details of their 2009 debut for a more generalized approach: compare the debut's opener "Contender," which quickly but effectively sketches a failed bohemian who gives up "books for film," then "film for time," to this record's title cut, which rues a love won and lost (in the only couplet worth quoting) "in hospitals and shopping malls/with heavy heads on locker walls." Especially with Flood and Alan Moulder beefing up their guitar sound, this would suggest they've got their sights set on the big time, and if they had come up with a few more tunes as catchy as the first three or four here -- with a special mention for the siren-song of a guitar hook on "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now" -- they might have taken this to the next level. But the tempos -- both a little slower and more stately than on the debut -- frame a guitar sound that's attractively fuzzy on first blush, but on repeated listenings reveals itself to be as thin as tissue paper, even with the addition of second guitarist Christopher Hochheim, who helps them ratchet up the volume but not architect a distinct aesthetic. This calls into question their sincerity: in song they can declare fealty to the object of their affection "even in dreams" because it's so much easier than committing to the reality of adulthood, but in reality these twenty-somethings should be long past the age of wondering "what the body's for." Does Kip Berman really require that girl to rock fishnets and leather for a night on the town, or still refer to the posters on his wall as "his only friends?" If he was fifteen I might entertain how painful life can be for the "pure of heart" -- but once you start pushing a certain age, unless you start cracking some jokes on the side, I'm going to start questioning how pure your intentions really are. B
Tyler, the Creator: Goblin (XL) I'm a little surprised that neither the pop music critics at GLAAD nor the hip hop historians at Fox News have come clean about the most offensive aspect of this notorious little item, which isn't lyrical, but rather musical: Tyler has to be endowed with the least demonstrative set of pipes of any rapper to grab headlines, and the pleasureless, mostly deconstructed backing tracks make sorting this out a chore for anyone not willing to dismiss him outright -- you know, to "listen" to him. He resents the "horrorcore" tag because he doesn't want to be put in a "box" -- fine. But if he thinks that there's more to his shock tactics than offending the easily offended, what could that possibly be? As his therapist alter ego quickly learns in the title track -- and the impenetrability of the music reinforces -- he spurns self-analysis, something you can't say about Tyler's hero Eminem, who early on let Dr. Dre voice the conscience that Tyler offs in the climax of "Yonkers," which with its Bernard Hermann cum RZA synth stabs sure sounds like horrorcore to me. And the dearth of self-analysis is the reason that Tyler's smarter detractors have no problem putting him into that box -- for example, he never once realizes that his liberal (small 'l' please) use of the word "faggot" throughout is his way of dismissing in others the emotional closeness he never got from his absentee father, or that the stalker tendencies (fictional, I'm sure) detailed in the painful "Her" constitute his way of simulating intimacy without actually leaving himself vulnerable to it. And you don't know how many times I actually had to listen to the record to get to the bottom of this. Please don't make me do it again. C
Airborne Toxic Event: All at Once (Island)
Crystal Stilts: In Love With Oblivion (Slumberland)
Dirty Beaches: Badlands (Zoo Music)
Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams (Reprise)
Ty Segall: Goodbye Bread (Drag City)
Sloan: The Double Cross (Yep Roc)
True Widow: As High as the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth (Kemado)
The Vaccines: What Did You Expect From the Vaccines? (Columbia)
Mike Watt: Hyphenated Man (Clenchedwrench)
Wild Beasts: Smother (Domino)
None whatsoever. Thought I'd at least have my unpacking done, but it's sitting in a pile about arms-length to my right, topped by three new Satoko Fujii releases. I've tried to cut down on the personal stuff that goes into the blog -- part of the front of being a serious writer, I guess -- but I have nothing else left to say. I took ill Wednesday, June 22, with chest pains that panicked me to the point of going to the ER. Tests there showed no significant cardiac issues, but I had a mild fever, elevated pulse, and shortness of breath. Chest x-ray showed no major lung problems, so they dumped me off with a script for pain pills. Chest pain cleared up after a day or two, but the other symptoms persisted. Still persist, actually: I get better for a day or so, then worse. Doctor prescribed some antibiotics, citing a respiratory infection that's been around. Got better after a few days of those, but not now, a little more than halfway through the ten-day cycle. Haven't felt like doing much of anything, although I was able to take a few hours here and there to help a friend move. Haven't even read much, which is usually my compensation for illness. Did watch some TV -- one way to lower the stress when you suspect you're brain is rotting. No idea when this might clear up, or what I'll be left with when/if it does. Last week I fretted about failing to clean up a Jazz CG column that is virtually done. This week I didn't even think about it. And today I can't even imagine predictions to make.
Michael Tatum does have a new Downloader's Diary ready to post; I'll probably get it up tonight. I expect to post Recycled Goods sometime mid-week. I had quite a bit of stuff in the can before all this happened, including a lot of CTI reissues that I've been holding back until I catch up with the latest batch. Turns out I'm unlikely to get that done soon enough, so I'll hold them back yet another month, but there's still enough to post. Also figure on a Rhapsody Streamnotes later in the week. Again, mostly collected before I got sick, so it will be shorter than in recent months -- about 30 records in my file.
Sunday, July 3. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Paul Krugman: Wrong to Be Right: Now that more people have come around to Krugman's "prematurely correct" view that Obama's stimulus bill was way too small, more "I told you so":
Saturday, July 2. 2011
I was searching for tidbits for tomorrow's Weekend Roundup but this one is too significant not to stand on its own. I'll quote all of Paul Krugman's post, including the links, but the key quote is from President Obama:
The two links are to other Krugman pieces, but anyone can demolish those fallacies. The "confidence fairy" is a variant on the oldest con ever: trust me. Except here you're being asked to trust to "create jobs" the very same people who laid everyone off in the first place. And you are assuming that those people want the same thing you do -- more jobs, a tighter labor market, higher wages, a rising standard of living -- but what business really wants is higher profits, and one proven way to get higher profits is to reduce effective wages.
The "confidence fairy" fallacy at least taps into something real: every expansionary economy depends on confidence -- on investors eager to expand capacity, on workers moving to more productive jobs, on lenders willing to extend credit, on consumers willing to buy more and better products. On the other hand, confidence isn't something that everyone will catch if only Obama believes in it deep enough. People become confident when they see a growing economy and sense the opportunity to grow with it: when they have jobs and can imagine better ones in the future, when they're secure enough they can buy based on their future, when businesses can project a return from adding real capacity. None of those things are true now, nor will they be true as long as Obama and the Republicans think all they have to do is cross their fingers and wish for recovery.
On the other hand, "expansionary austerity" isn't based on anything at all. It isn't even an oxymoron. It's a contradiction. There never has been such a thing because every austerity program directly contracts the economy. It's a bit like going on a diet (and doing nothing else) and hoping you'll develop lots of muscle mass as a result. Actually, it's more like a starvation strike: the hope is that the belt-tightening will encourage some outside angel to intervene. That's actually how the IMF used to sell austerity programs: let's see you suffer first, then maybe we'll help you some. That's never worked over the long term -- the best short-term examples I can come up with are Germany and Japan after 1945, which suffered through a lot of austerity and finally got some help from the Marshall Plan (and in Japan's case the Korean War), but they quickly abandoned austerity and started investing in themselves to promote real growth. Still, even if you'd like to believe IMF fairy tales, what sort of angel could and would save America? Saudi-backed private venture firms? America is too big to be saved by anyone else; moreover, America has so much wealth left outsiders would be tempted to loot it rather than to build anything new.
Still, the worst falsehood here is "government-family equivalence": not just because it is dead wrong but because it is an example of the conservative's favorite con. This is the conflation of a political policy with the moral sentiment of a personal virtue. Each individual would be better off to work hard, to spend wisely, to save for the future, to take responsibility for bettering oneself. Individuals are better off when joined together into strong families. Conservatives take such basics and turn them into a club for battering those who are less able or just unfortunate while flattering themselves. Lots of conservative policies get glommed onto those virtues through the moral sentiment of self-responsibility, which is then tied to the false corollary: because people can improve their lot by hard work and dilligence and virtuous living (and by supplicanting themselves to the established order) that those who are rich are virtuous and deserving. Such sleight of hand fools many people -- especially those who see themselves as living those conservative virtues -- into voting against their own interests and against the welfare of most people like themselves.
It's important to disentangle conservative policies from virtues and moral sentiments, partly because so many of them are ill-formed -- the notion that estate taxes are a tax on death as opposed to a way to limit the concentration of unearned wealth, or the idea that the option of abortion, which is the only effective means of insuring that people make a conscious decision to raise children, is somehow an assault on motherhood or an endorsement of murder -- but also because sometimes shifting from the individual to the aggregate just doesn't work. Nowhere is that more clear than in economics, which is why micro and macro are often at odds with one another. At the individual/family/business level, it is certainly true that when the economy falters, when loss of income is threatened (let alone sorely felt), when savings are threatened (or in some cases have actually vanished), the right thing to do is to cut back -- which is what has happened. However, each individual act of cutting back hurts everyone else, deepening and extending the recession. What you want in that case is for some fool to restart the spending, to help make up for the losses that all that individual cutting back is causing. The obvious candidate for that fool is the government, for two reasons: one is that it is responsive to rational decision making in favor of a public interest; the other is that (at least the federal government in the US system) can raise however much money is needed to make up for the shortfall in individual demand. In both those regards the government is very unlike an individual, family, or even a business.
Nothing I wrote in that previous paragraph should come as a surprise. Economists have no trouble figuring out how much a government should spend in a recession to make up for the fall in private demand. Where economists disagree is not in the math, but in the moral sentiment as to whether it is better to keep an economic disturbance like the bursting of an asset bubble from undermining the broader economy or to make everyone suffer for the folly of the few -- surprisingly, a lot of economists seem to prefer mass suffering to messing with the brutal elegance of the market, mostly because they share those conservative moral sentiments that say the poor deserve their fate, just as the rich have been justly rewarded.
The question here isn't why conservatives spout nonsense such as was quoted above: it is, after all, useful for preventing anyone from using the government, which in theory is meant to serve all (or at least most) of us, from mitigating the effects of an economic system that is heavily biased in favor of increasingly separating the rich above everyone else. The question is why is Obama saying this exact same nonsense. The simplest answer is that Obama is actually a conservative: someone dedicated to preserving the privileged inequality of the rich. Which is another way of saying that most of the people who voted for him in 2008 (and will vote for him again in 2012) have made a grave mistake in thinking that he would do anything to make this nation more just and equitable.
I liked him better when his middle name was Hussein.