Rhapsody Streamnotes: September 18, 2012

Given my total wipeout in the month of August, it seemed likely I would wind up skipping a month with these notes, but I figure I picked up enough in the last couple weeks to make a showing. They are, after all, the easiest calls I make: often just one play, then jot down some quick notes (often before it's done). Things that seem exceptionally good (or promising) may get a second spin, if for no other reason to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. But stuff that sounds like crap from the start (yes, I'm thinking of Dirty Projectors, also Animal Collective) doesn't get a second chance, at least for now. Actually, I could see getting into AC's relentless termite munch, but I doubt I would be better off for the experience. And it's possible that one might bend the mind to the DP's unmusicality to recognize something highly improbable (and therefore remarkable -- Pavement is the classic example), but not even its fashionability convinces me I should bother: I'd rather spend more time with ZZ Top, not to mention searching out more exotic beats, like Mati Zundel and Kottarashky.

At 33 records, the shortest month of the year, but not that far behind March (36). I've recently resumed updating the metacritic file -- still have quite a bit to do, which will push recent releases (including AC and DP) further up the list. A lot of pecking order things don't feel right yet (Spiritualized tied for 4th? El-P tied for 7th?), but it's never been more than a gross, rough hewn guide.

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 August 17. Past reviews and more information are available here (2844 records).

Animal Collective: Centipede Hz (2012, Domino): Busy, busy: nearly every song has something to like, and something to hate or at least shake your head in dumbfounded wonder, a ratio that compares unfavorably with their last two poll-topping releases. More exposure may help reconcile the antipodes -- Tatum, for example, reacted as negatively to his first spin of the new Dirty Projectors, and in my book that record is much worse than this one, but he stuck with it until it won him over, or vice versa. Even though I sometimes do recommend difficult music, I don't find this promising enough to work it through. B-

Bang On!: [Sic] (2012, Big Dada): Liverpudlian rapper Elliott Egerton, styles his grime as "punk-donk-dub-hip-hop," preferring a heavy bang to quick beats. B+(**)

David Byrne/St. Vincent: Love This Giant (2012, 4AD): Like Sting, Byrne now has many more records on his own than with the band that made him famous, and likewise nothing he's done since holds a candle to his prime band period, but you have to give him credit for trying odd things out. Third collaboration in a row, this with Annie Clark (who would probably sell more records without him). He sounds same as he ever did but even more into his idiosyncrasies, so she offers periodic returns to normality. Album cover pic gives me the creeps. B+(*)

Calexico: Algiers (2012, Anti-): Tucson band, its roots in California, its heart (sometimes) in Mexico, whence you get whiffs of mariachi, so mild you'd scarcely notice if they didn't occasionally slip into Spanish. Large catalog going back to 1997, nothing I've heard before, so it's hard to place this placid but not uncharming offering, recorded in New Orleans, or anywhere. B

Ravi Coltrane: Spirit Fiction (2012, Blue Note): Saxophonist, can't help but follow in his father's giant steps given that nearly everyone else is doing the same. Sixth album, split between two groups: a quartet with Luis Perdomo, Drew Gress, and E.J. Strickland with three joint improvs, and a quintet with Ralph Alessi, Geri Allen, James Genus, and Eric Harland that does three pieces by the trumpeter. Due dilligence here might involve listening to each group separately rather than shuffled, as my first sense is that this is jumbled, all over the place. Does have its moments, though, especially when the trumpet jumps in. B+(**)

Ry Cooder: Election Special (2012, Nonesuch/Perro Verde): Topical political songs as classic blues, only the one about a Republican going to Tampa to party takes a view that isn't down and out -- or, I suppose, you could describe Mutt Romney as up and out. Jim Crow appears a couple times, which may not be topical but seems to be something in the Kool Aid. B+(***)

Amy Cook: Summer Skin (2012, Roothouse/Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter from San Jose, based in Austin, has struggled with self-releases since 2000, titles like The Firefly Sessions and Bunkhouse Recordings. Not much stuck here, but I like the basic vibe, and probably should have paid more attention. B+(*)

Elizabeth Cook: Gospel Plow (2012, Thirty One Tigers, EP): After two good country albums -- Welder, of course, but also Balls -- a 7-cut 19:31 EP, gospel songs, more or less, starting with Blind Willie Johnson and winding up with Lou Reed ("Jesus"). Stopgap product, niche filler, no disappointment, nothing you need. B+(*)

Dan Deacon: America (2012, Domino): Last four cuts here, 21:47, are considered a suite, electronic tapestries with heavy beats, especially in "USA, Pt. 1: Is a Monster" -- a mix closer to prog than to minimalism or ambient. That part is fun as long as you can project through its clownishness, but the occasional vocals detract, not so much by humanizing as by tipping the mix over the top. B+(*)

Divine Fits: A Thing Called Divine Fits (2012, Merge): Socalled "indie supergroup" debut, meaning the principals have resumes in bands you may have heard of: Spoon, Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, New Bomb Turks. Tunes and beats are above average, vocals OK, pleasant enough but nothing memorable after four plays, the sort of record you might convince yourself is good but will wind up shelving and forgetting. B+(***)

JJ Doom: Key to the Kuffs (2012, Lex): Daniel Dumile (MF Doom) project, with producer/MC Jneiro Jarel (Omar Jarel Gilyard). Underground beats, blips, bloops, whistles and warbles; rhymes mysterious, underwater, oblique, but maybe that's just Doom's delivery. B+(**)

Bob Dylan: Tempest (2012, Columbia): First thing I noticed is how his voice, which seemed to fashionably maleable four decades ago, has narrowed into self-caricature, his lines chewed up and spit out, punctuating a rhythmic tic that must make it even easier to write songs. People complain about the two long topical songs at the end -- the title song on the Titanic and a lament for John Lennon -- as they complained about Desire, possibly preferring enigma to narrative, probably because you can read so much more into the former, maybe because the latter makes you wonder if he's just a hack. A pretty great hack, I'd say, but he's done better, much. B+(**)

Nanci Griffith: Intersection (2012, Proper): Songs for the new depression, from the abandoned steel mills of Pennsylvania to the perpetual blight that is Mississippi, with covers from Loretta Lynn and Blaze Foley, and the primal scream of "Hell No (I'm Not Alright)," which starts off as a domestic breakdown and rages on to the halls of Congress. B+(**)

Hiss Golden Messenger: Poor Moon (2011 [2012], Tompkins Square): M.C. Taylor, formerly of country-rock group Court and Spark, moved to NC to get closer to the roots -- not clear that he succeeded, but he has a light, good-natured folk appeal, and is aware that "A Working Man Can't Make It No Way." B+(*)

Kottarashky & the Rain Dogs: Demoni (2012, Asphalt Tango): From Bulgaria, Nikola Gruev offers minimalist samples of folk and dance, elaborated by a band featuring guitar and synth by Hristo Hadzhiganchev plus clarinet-bass-drums. The grooves pull up short of gypsy hyperdrive, suggesting less is more, and making the case nearly every time. A-

Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn't (2012, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter from Sweden, third album (plus a couple EPs), sensitive relationship songs, slow enough he can make all of his points, a touch of lushness; I've resisted him, but it's getting hard -- "you don't get over a broken heart/you just learn to carry it gracefully" sums him up nicely. A-

Lionel Loueke: Heritage (2012, Blue Note): Jazz guitarist, born in Benin, studied in Ivory Coast, Paris, and Boston (Berklee). Works mostly with recognizably African rhythms and chants, but doesn't strike me as particularly adroit at either. Got help from Robert Glasper, if that's what you call it. B

Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (2012, Astralwerks): Getting old, hanging on, recycling beats and motifs, nudging them toward the middle of the oeuvre where nothing stands out so you might as well listen to the lyrics, which remind that their ace in the hole has always been smarts. No chance this will wind up as the PSB album you go back to, but I expect to play it a few more times. Getting old myself. A-

Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions (2012, Top Dawg): Rapper, Matthew Hanley, young enough he cites 50 Cent as an influence, and honors him by working within the same range, just tighter and more contented -- what more does a young man need than weed and sex? B+(**)

Serengeti: C.A.R. (2012, Anticon): Chicago rapper, deep underground, very prolific, should make a project of sorting him out some day. Christgau's review is chuck full of quoted couplets that don't strike me as convincing on their own, but the densely overtoned beats kept my interest, and everything else was gravy. A-

Serengeti: The Kenny Dennis EP (2012, Anticon, EP): Six cuts, 17:01. Dennis is a character (or real person?) who's appeared on several of Serengeti's albums: white working class, Cubs authority, not sure what else. This grabs you at the ball game, but then I lose track. B+(**)

Mark Solborg: Solborg 4+4+1 (2012, Ilk): Danish guitarist, had a group called Mold with saxophonist Anders Banke, here fortifies his quartet with an extra horn section (trumpet, tuba/trombone, alto and tenor sax), then adds saxophonist Chris Speed as featured soloist. The horns would give an arranger a lot of options, but tend to slow down and bunch up in the middle. B

Staff Benda Bilili: Bouger Le Monde (2012, Crammed Discs): Kinshasa street musicians, the main four brought together by the shared crippling experience of polio, not that they're lamenting anything. Second album since they were discovered by French filmmakers and a Belgian label, as uplifting as the first, maybe even more transcendental. A-

Traxman: Da Mind of Traxman (2012, Planet Mu): Chicago DJ, Cornelius Ferguson, first album; short synth pieces, small concepts repeated enough to get the point, some with vocals, just as terse. B

Uncle Dave & the Waco Brothers: Nine Slices of My Midlife Crisis (2004, Buried Treasure): Dave Herndon, "an itinerant journalist who's been knocking around New York for decades," claims to have picked up the rudiments of songwriting from Lonesome Bob, although what attracted me to this obscurity was Jon Langford's cover art and backing band, which lifts the songs out of the gutter, which may be beside the point (cf. "Table for One"). B+(*)

Elle Varner: Perfectly Imperfect (2012, RCA): Soul diva, first album, a little husk to her voice, smoothed out by the album's plentiful hooks, guests, etc. My main problem is when she stretches into full diva mode, something she can't quite pull off, not that anyone should. B+(**)

Jessie Ware: Devotion (2012, Island): Brit soul singer, debut album after singing on SBTRKT's eponymous disc. Voice could be adorning someone else's electronic album here, but the DJ remains anonymous, not without reason. B

Keith Fullerton Whitman: Generators (2012, Editions Mego): Electronics whiz from NJ, did business early on as Hrvåtski, has 15 albums since 2002. Two pieces here, each 17:34, the first dedicated to Eliane Radigue, both starting from small seeds to generate intricate constructs of sine tones. B+(*)

Keith Fullerton Whitman: Occlusions (2012, Editions Mego): Subtitle: "Real-Time Music for Hybrid Digital-Analogue Modular Synthesizer." Two 17-18 minute pieces. A narrow palette of old-time synth sounds that hang tough, get dense, keep you guessing. B+(***)

The XX: Coexist (2012, XL/Young Turks): Two singers, enough to make or break a relationship, and a beatmaster whose recent moonlighting seems to have depleted his inventory. B+(*)

Yeasayer: Fragrant World (2012, Secretly Canadian): Brooklyn group, electrofunk, more or less, less focused on the one than on the many. B+(*)

Mati Zundel: Amazonico Gravitante (2012, Waxploitation/ZZK): Aka Lagartijeando, claims the "rhythms of the Argentinian backwoods" for his dance tracks, but a couple tracks in I'm thinking Tom Zé with the beats jacked up by Manu Chao, although by the end the melodies have straightened out and the drum machine has won out -- it's just that I never knew Argentina had "backwoods" (pampas are grasslands, and they got the leeward side of the Andes, presumably dry where Chile is verdant). But as a dancebeat album, this is laced with guitar, sly vocals, occasional raps, something else. A-

ZZ Top: La Futura (2012, Mercury): Rick Rubin-produced comeback, his main trick to get them to sound like they always did, at least when they were up to it, and remembered where those blues licks came from. They even get a little feisty toward the end. Aside from Mescalero (their last, in 2003), their best since Deguello. B+(***)


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

  • Gaz Coombes: Presents . . . Here Come the Bombs (2012, Hot Fruit)
  • M. Geddes Gengras/Sun Araw/The Congos: FRKWYS, Vol. 9: Icon Give Thank/Icon Eye (2012, RVNG Intl.)
  • Guelewar: Halleli N'Dakarou (1982 [2011], Terranga Beat)
  • Jagwa Music: Bongo Hotheads (2012, Crammed Discs)
  • Mala: Mala in Cuba (2012, Brownswood)
  • Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang: En Yah Sah (2012, Luaka Bop)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:



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

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal