Rhapsody Streamnotes: July 8, 2010

Played the Tokyo Police Club, the National and Macy Gray before Christgau's July Consumer Guide came out, although I had heard about Gray from Christgau. Dead Weather and Pernice Brothers after, although I had noticed them before and meant to get to them sooner or later. African stuff remains hard to find -- in fact, most of the honorable mentions I looked for didn't show up (not all on the missing list). With no more Consumer Guides likely, I guess I'm on my own, my fallback sources more erratic, less dependable -- you know, the kind of critics who convinced me to bother with Besnard Lakes.

Usual caveats apply: 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 9. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Bettie Serveert: Pharmacy of Love (2009 [2010], Second Motion): Dutch rock band, fronted by Carol Van Dyk, sing in English and could pass for American except for the names. I've been remiss in checking them out, with an unrated copy of their 1992 debut Palomine in the stacks somewhere, and nothing else in the database even though Christgau A-listed Private Suit (2000) and Log 22 (2003). Actually, my first choice -- if Rhapsody had it, and they don't -- is their Velvet Underground covers set, Venus in Furs. This is perfectly listenable unaffected alt-rock, starts strong, wobbles a bit, ends strong, just like you're supposed to do. B+(**)

Bettie Serveert: Private Suit (2000, Hidden Agenda): Christgau cites the songcraft: "crisply songful after years of feedback and drone." I find it remarkably clear and unaffected, rock only in the sense that most singer-songwriters start there, with occasional flashes of Velvet Underground, "Pale Blue Eyes" division. B+(***)

Bettie Serveert: Log 22 (2003, Hidden Agenda): Rocks a little more than Private Suit, still nowhere near as rote as the new one, although only "White Dogs" and "The Ocean, My Floor" really make something of it -- the Velvet Underground touchstone here is more like "Sweet Jane." Could be that multiple plays would put one or both of these records over the top. All that would take is an interest in singer-writer Carol Van Dyk, which hasn't quite clicked yet, but I wouldn't rule it out. B+(***)

Against Me!: White Crosses (2010, Sire): Postpunk band from Florida, dedicated an early album to Axl Rose, but actually has a lot of strong leftist political content. Too bad I find their so thick and dreary, because they do have cogent, important things to say. B-

Deer Tick: The Black Dirt Sessions (2010, Partisan): John McCauley group/alias, third album, named for the studio (if I recall correctly). Leans Americans, brightest on last year's Born on Flag Day, a good deal more worn and bleary here, wretched even. B

Janelle Monáe: The Archandroid (2010, Bad Boy): From Kansas City, KS, hooked up with OutKast for Idlewild, now drops her debut album. It's a big one, 18 cuts, 68:35, Big Boi on the producer list, lots of guests, enough singles snap -- rap pieces, soul shouts, plain ole pop -- that it may hit big. First time through I'm struck by the classical moves, at one even point flashing on "Bohemian Rhapsody." I don't mean that as bad as I usually mean it. No idea how will it will wear. B+(**)

The Besnard Lakes: The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (2010, Jagjaguwar): Canadian group, what we used to call prog, alternately layered lush like Pink Floyd and/or pompous like Genesis if not quite ELP. Split into two sides, each starting with instrumental prologues, many songs split into two parts or movements. B

Tokyo Police Club: Champ (2010, Mom & Pop Music): Toronto group, first album was bright and rousing, a fresh flash on timeless rock and roll; this sophomore album shows they're getting older, slowing down, thinking harder, trying to make up for what they're losing. B+(**)

Bettye LaVette: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (2010, Anti-): Old-style soul singer, has a remarkable voice, was born a little late (1946) to catch the up wave of her style and didn't get noticed until recently. Her British songbook extends from the Invasion well into the 1970s, is rather eclectic and far from hitbound. She picks her way through them cautiously, an idea that doesn't quite gel even though it's sometimes intriguing. B

The National: High Violet (2009-10 [2010], 4AD): Brooklyn group, originally from Ohio, with two pairs of brothers and vocalist Matt Berninger (appealing deep voice, reminds me of Dave Alvin), although they also seem to be using lots of guest musicians, including Sufjan Stevens. Fifth album since 2001, their last one, Boxer, got broad critical acclaim and this broke high on the charts. Nicely framed, the voice serious and mature, and for that matter what I could make of the words. Drumming is even more impressive. A-

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists: The Brutalist Bricks (2009 [2010], Matador): Seems well schooled, not quite as formally retro as Dave Edmunds or Marshall Crenshaw. Hard to resist as long as he keeps it fast, which is usually the case, but weird or worse when he slips up, as in the bit where he wonders "where was my brain?" You'll wonder too. B

Caribou: Swim (2010, Merge): Dan Snaith, from Canada, has a couple of previous albums of homebrewed electronica. This one is a step forward beatwise, much of it quite appealing, but every now and then the synths and/or voices get churchy, rubbing me the wrong way. B+(*)

The Roots: How I Got Over (2010, Def Jam): Selling point is such cross-genre contributors as Dirty Projectors, Monsters of Folk, and Joanna Newsom, none of whom make this sound any less like the Roots. Choppy beats, rocking hard, serious raps, with a bit more to the musical mix than DJs glean -- pretty good band, but you knew that. They're still on their run. A- [later: A]

Eminem: Recovery (2010, Interscope): Long (76:56), loud, full of pop hooks but beat up and bruised. A couple of songs return to his well worn personal story without showing any sense of resolution, although the personal touch helps even if he's hopelessly fucked up. Others are trite, like "WTP" -- stands for "white trash party" -- which may be his fate. Can't focus, but he's got a knack. B(*) [later: B+(***)]

Uffie: Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans (2010, Ed Banger/Elektra): Anna-Catherine Hartley, b. 1987 in Miami, raised in Hong Kong, based in Paris. Cartoonish electronica, cute voice, doesn't mince words. B+(**)

Macy Gray: The Sellout (2010, Concord): It's tempting fate releasing an album about selling out on a label as corrupt as Concord, but this is actually a very straightforward, somewhat old-fashioned r&b album -- reminds me of '50s rock and roll but less frenetic. Seen two reviews thus far, both pans, but sounds to me like her best. A-

The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards (2010, Third Man/Warner Brothers): Jack White thang, with sharp and metallic input from Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita to strike a horror metal chord, which somewhat surprisingly I find more appealing -- at least more humorous -- than all the other Jack White thangs. Short at 35:09, could be considered EP length these days but would have filled an LP way back when. B+(***)

The Pernice Brothers: Goodbye, Killer (2010, Ashmont): A singer-songwriter with some things to say embedded in a brotherly band that runs light and has long lost its feel for country. Short at 32:05. Played this two and a half times and the sound smoothed out but it's still on the cusp. B+(***)

The Chemical Brothers: Further (2010, Astralwerks): Rhapsody calls their electronica "big beat," which seems especially appropriate here. Most of this moves so inexorably it's hard not to just bow and make way. B+(***)


Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • Ideal Bread: Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform)
  • Tracey Thorn: Love and Its Opposite (Merge)

Records I found but couldn't play:

  • Mary Gauthier: The Foundling (Razor & Tie)
  • Lage Lund: Unlikely Stories (Criss Cross)
  • Tony Oxley/Derek Bailey: The Advocate (Tzadik)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

The Apples in Stereo: Electronic Projects for Musicians (1995-2007 [2008], Yep Roc): B-sides, bonus cuts, outtakes, promo fluff, a couple of previously unreleaseds including "Stephen Stephen" from The Colbert Report; since their obsession is sonic, not much differs here from their primo product. B+(***)

The Apples in Stereo: #1 Hits Explosion (1995-2007 [2009], Yep Roc): Colorado group led by Robert Schneider, appeared in 1995 with a Beatles-ish multilayered pop sound and cashed in with this best-of after six albums. The sound is pretty much everything with them, suggested as much by such early album titles as Fun Trick Noisemaker, Tone Soul Evolution, and Her Wallpaper Reverie. I don't think any of these songs were actually hits, let alone #1s, and I'm not even sure they're best-ofs, but it's as good an introduction as any of their albums, especially the early ones where the sonic effects predominate. A-

Benton Flippen: Old Time, New Times (1970s-93 [1994], Rounder): Old-time fiddler from North Carolina, born 1920, hung around long enough the archaeologists finally got around to recording him, picking up scattered radio shots and a 1993 studio session; plays some banjo, sings some, makes the impression you'd hope for at each. B+(***)

Mick Goodrick: In Pas(s)ing (1978 [2001], ECM): American jazz guitarist, influenced Pat Metheny and taught John Scofield and Bill Frisell; not many records, but this one develops clean, crystal clear lines, impressive enough but John Surman juggles three reeds -- bass clarinet, baritone sax, soprano sax -- in a tour de force. A-

Kinito Méndez: Exitos de Kinito Méndez (1995-2005 [2005], J&N): Dominican merengue arranger-producer (vocalist?), born 1963, got his start young and worked is way through Cocoband and Rockabanda before going solo in 1995 with "Cachamba," presumably the first cut here -- don't know much more; the hits are pure formula, popping horns, romping basslines, chomping choruses, everything not just upbeat but riotously so. A-

Gabor Szabo: Gypsy '66 (1965 [1966], Impulse): The Hungarian guitarist's debut album, you can imagine the machinations -- why not do a gypsy guitar album, like Django but, you know, more modern, like with today's pop hits (you know, Lennon-McCartney, Bacharach-David), and hey, why not let Gary McFarland arrange and, like, play his marimba, and say, we can work Sadao Watanabe's flute in there somewhere? -- the word you're looking for it kitsch; the album would have been much better had Szabo stretched his original "Gypsy Jam" to 35 minutes and lost the rest. B-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Steve Davis Quintet: Live at Smalls (2009 [2010], Smalls Live): Similar to Davis's Images studio disc -- bright, energetic, straightforward hard bop -- but cut down a bit with just trombone and Mike DiRubbo's alto sax up front, and an upgrade on piano to Larry Willis. The live album artifacts help out, like the short playlist (four songs) padded out with more improv, or don't much hurt, like the extended bass solo and the patter. DiRubbo takes at least one song at Parker speeds -- he's always impressive -- and I like Davis's slow intro to "Day Dream." B+(**)

Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (2008, KMB): Quartet, brainchild of baritone saxophonist Josh Stinton, only plays Steve Lacy songs. Other members: Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Reuben Radding (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums). This album came out a couple of years ago and showed up on some year-end ballots, especially as best debut album. I meant to chase them down at the time, but didn't; remembered them again thanks to their new album, Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy -- also didn't get that one, and it's not on Rhapsody, but this one is. I've heard a lot by Lacy but can't pick out any of his songs, even album titles like "Trickles" and "Esteem." The shift from soprano to baritone precludes emulation, but the edge is there, the second horn adds further snap, and Radding has a lot to do. B+(***)

Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: Remember Now (2005 [2006], Not Two): Something from the back catalog, by my reckoning the second of four Slammin' the Infinite recordings. No pianist yet, so this is basically two freewheeling horns -- Swell's trombone and Sabir Mateen's saxes/clarinets -- against freewheeling rhythm. Offhand, about as explosive as the new one; while the piano is a plus in the new one, it is hardly necessary. This group projects tremendous energy, makes great noise, and has a fractal intrigue especially in its churning rhythm. Never heard of bassist Matt Heyner or drummer Klaus Kugel before, but they're very solid in this group. Would like to hear more. A-