Rhapsody Streamnotes: July 10, 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 [2008], 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 [2011], 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 [2011], 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 [2011], 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 [2011], 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 [2011], 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


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

  • Battles: Gloss Drop (2011, Warp)
  • The Caretaker: An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (2011, History Always Favors the Winners)
  • The Coathangers: Larceny and Old Lace (2011, Suicide Squeeze)
  • The CunninLynguists: Oneirology (2011, QN5 Music)
  • Kitty, Daisy and Lewis: Smoking in Heaven (2011, Sunday Best)
  • Marissa Nadler: Marissa Nadler (2011, Box of Color)
  • Charlie Parr: When the Devil Goes Blind (2010, Nero's Neptune)
  • Vieux Farka Toure: The Secret (2011, Six Degrees)
  • The Wave Pictures: Beer in the Breakers (2011, Moshi Moshi)
  • Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the Harvest (2011, Acony)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 [2011], 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+(**)

Till Brönner: Chattin' With Chet (2000 [2011], 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

Johnny Hodges: Blues-A-Plenty (1958 [2011], 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-

Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Odditties (1973-90 [2010], 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-

The Reatards: Teenage Hate/Fuck Elvis Here's the Reatards (1998 [2011], 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+(***)

Leo Smith: Human Rights (1982-85 [2009], 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+(*)

Wire: 25 Oct 1978 Bradford University [Legal Bootleg Series] (1978 [2010], 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-

Wire: 21 July 1988 Astoria, London [Legal Bootleg Series] (1988 [2010], 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+(*)

Wire: 08 Dec 2000 Queen's Hall, Edinburgh [Legal Bootleg Series] (2000 [2010], 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+(***)

Wire: 14 Sept 2002, Metro, Chicago [Legal Bootleg Series] (2000 [2010], 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-

Neil Young/International Harvesters: A Treasure (1984-85 [2011], 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+(***) [later: A-]

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:



Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)