Rhapsody Streamnotes: May 29, 2013

Fifty-eight records this month. Genre-wise I figure they break down to 15 rock, 15 jazz (didn't know where else to put Haden), 9 electronica, 8 country/Americana, 7 rap, 3 r&b (counting Autre Ne Veut), 1 world. Looked a little harder than usual for jazz. CDs for Ceramic Dog and Stetson arrived after I reviewed them from Rhapsody. Bought a copy of the Uncluded, but haven't had time to play it yet, which is probably why the grade hasn't shed its minus. Doing a better job this month at searching out things you probably haven't heard of, although almost everything here is preceded by a reputation (exceptions, for me, are Ehwald and Kropinski, where I followed the label). Some records came late to Rhapsody: Taylor Swift and Atoms for Peace were previously tagged as "missing." Could be that prolonged contact with Swift might raise the grade, but I gave it two plays and felt no need to listen further. Same could be said for some other high B+ records: Autre Ne Veut, Handsome Family, maybe Nat Birchall. Swallow them all and you'll wind up with 250 A-list records as opposed to my usual 120 -- plenty for most dedicated, far-ranging consumers.

No more than a handful of these were things I didn't expect to like -- Low, for sure, and I probably should have known better than Justice and Petra Haden and maybe Little Women. From the metacritic file (scaled back but not quite dead) the top-rated records I haven't heard are: My Bloody Valentine, Flaming Lips, Laura Marling, Frightened Rabbit, Suede, Charles Bradley, Foals, John Grant, Marnie Stern, Villagers, Foxygen, Mountains (12 of the top 40). Not much point there. Still plenty of time before the turkey shoot.

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 April 26. Past reviews and more information are available here (3381 records).

Adult.: The Way Things Fall (2013, Ghostly International): Detroit electropop group, married couple Nicola Kuperus and Adam Miller, fifth album since 2001; originally reminded me of 1980s new wave disco bands like OMD and Cabaret Voltaire, but rather than regimenting the beats they get trickier, more sophisticated -- haven't heard their early records but they do seem connected to Detroit techno. Choice cut: "Nothing Lasts." Part of a bleak second side, the sort of gloominess one can only dance through. A-

Terry Allen: Bottom of the World (2013, Tia): Singer-songwriter from Lubbock, TX -- the town he immortalized on his still-finest album, 1979's Lubbock (On Everything). First studio album in a decade or more, dressed up the opener ("Four Corners" [of Colorado]) but didn't bother to keep it up, running slow and slower as the album drags on, burying his dog and John Wayne. B+(**)

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Brooklyn Babylon (2012 [2013], New Amsterdam): Composer-arranger-conductor, made a big splash with his debut Infernal Machines in 2009 and will make a similar impression with this 18-piece big band suite. Starts off with a fine theme, and any time he picks up the pace and/or volume he threatens to rip the roof off. Still, why would someone with so much firepower call for a piccolo solo? B+(**)

Atom[TM]: HD (2013, Raster-Noton): Uwe Schmidt, German electronicist, based in Chile; Discogs lists over 70 aliases including Atom Heart (which is how Rhapsody files this), Señor Coconut, Tobias Selbermann, and Weird Shit. Beats off kilter, words mechanicistic (unless you dig "I love you like I love my drum machine"; "Ich bin meine Maschine" is even more literal. Odd note out is a remix of "My Generation" -- pretty good one, at that. B+(**)

Atoms for Peace: Amok (2013, XL): Thom Yorke album with a few others, name comes from an Eisenhower speech, a classic instance of Orwellian doublespeak. Nothing so clear on the album, which seeks a higher register and stays there, alien to a strange old world. B+(*)

Autre Ne Veut: Anxiety (2013, Software): Brooklyn native Arthur Ashin hides behind the French name, his second album diving into full-fledged faux soul, catchy and creamy, like it should be. B+(***)

Bibio: Silver Wilkinson (2013, Warp): British electronica producer, his birthname, Stephen Wilkinson, creeping back into the title. Record itself is a bit of a hodge podge, with some pieces reminding me why I liked the last one (Mind Bokeh), some more ambient pieces, and some puzzlers. B+(*)

Big Baby Gandhi: Unreleased Freestyles + Other Bad Song Ideas (2013, self-released, EP): Six songs, 21:39, some old freestyles and rejects from past mixtapes; high and warbly beats, raps self-referential to the nth, not that he doesn't have that stoner charm. B [bc]

Big Baby Gandhi and Yuri Beats: America Eats Its Babies (2013, Greedhead, EP): Five cuts, 10:22 unless my stream source is shortchanging me; reviews talk about Gandhi's "retirement" -- going back to school to become a pharmacist or something -- but this isn't much of a swansong: namechecks for "Annie Hall" and "Madonna," one explicit sex ditty, not sure the title is even addressed implicitly. B [dl]

Nat Birchall: World Without Form (2012, Sound Soul and Spirit): John Coltrane was by far the most influential tenor saxophonist since the Hawkins-Young split. Several generations of tenor players grew up trying to play like him, even to the point of carrying a soprano sax around, but few have made it work more completely than Birchall. English, from Manchester, with a handful of albums, he easily conjures up a sense of space that Coltrane usually struggled with, while Adam Fairhall does a nifty Tyner, accented nicely by Corey Mwamba's vibes. B+(***)

Jason Boland and the Stragglers: Dark & Dirty Mile (2013, Proud Souls Entertainment): Group from Stillwater, OK, a college town on the red dirt of the Cimarron River; together since 1999, barely noticed as far as I can tell, getting by on plainspoken songs and a bit of unexaggerated twang. B+(**)

Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (2013, Northern Spy): Guitarist Marc Ribot's power trio, with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Ches Smith on drums; second album together, but where Party Intellectuals featured Ribot's name and leaned jazz, this one is hard rock but finds fancier ways to get dissonant. Six songs have lyrics, three sung by Ezter Balint, the others one each from the trio; solid enough the songs carry the singer, while the guitar busts loose. A- [+cd]

Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap (2013, self-released): Chancelor Bennett, from Chicago, second freebie, has a double-jointed underground sound, a big grin on the vocals, especially on the subject of "Cocoa Butter Kisses." Takes a while for this to settle in, partly because he seems so offhand. At one point, he pauses as if searching for a rhyme, and comes up with "do you realize that everybody in the world hates the fucking Lakers?" Didn't realize that, but can relate. A- [dl]

Daft Punk: Random Access Memories (2013, Daft Life/Columbia): French house duo from the 1990s, has a checkered history including two Alive albums, the second pretty good, so they carried over the live drums for a live feel on this 74-minute studio album, looking for old sound effects, even talking about them a bit, but also spinning cheesy little pop tunes. B+(**)

Daughter: If You Leave (2013, Glass Note): When I first saw this, I flashed on the one-shot New York group that released Skin on avant-jazz label AUM Fidelity back in 2003. No such luck: these are Brits, a trio built around singer-guitarist Elena Tonra. Understated, everything neatly folding back on itself. B

Deerhunter: Monomania (2013, 4AD): Opens with two cuts of thrash noise that coheres in unexpected ways, quite an accomplishment. Then come songs barely framed by the noise, and by the end of the album they're skittering across their sound so adroitly I wound up flashing on Pavement. A-

Peter Ehwald: Double Trouble (2013, Jazzwerkstatt): German tenor saxophonist, leads a group with two bassists (Robert Landfermann and Andy Lang) and a drummer (Jonas Burgwinkel). Starts rough and ready, then settles into a charming slow groove, not what you'd call ballads but improv at an easy speed. B+(***)

Ex Cops: True Hallucinations (2013, Other): Alt-rock by the numbers: AMG's review likens them to the Velvet Underground, the Bats, Spacemen 3, Feelies, and the Chills, but that doesn't make them as memorable. B+(*)

Fantasia: Side Effects of You (2013, RCA): Won an American Idol cup, an accomplishment that amounted to zero interest for me personally -- I've never watched, but my wife did off-and-on and was especially taken by her. Fourth album but first I've heard: harder beats and more grit than I expected. B+(**)

John Fogerty: Wrote a Song for Everyone (2013, Vanguard): Nothing is more certain to raise the hackles on critics than re-recording your old hits: seems lazy and crass even when it isn't outright fraud -- as Merle Haggard has done, more than once. This one is done with so many guest stars it has the air of a tribute, but since Fogerty himself is on hand, no one can steal his voice, let alone compete with it. High quality but inessential and not much fun. Still, "Fortunate Son" has never sounded angrier. B+(*)

Foot Village: Make Memories (2013, Northern Spy): California noise band, four drummers with some synth and tuba and vocals, debuted in 2006 with Fuck the Future and have five albums now, if you count this 6-cut 34:38 vinyl only. Long first cut sets the tone, which only grows fiercer until the closer ("The End of the World") backs off. B+(*)

Patty Griffin: American Kid (2013, New West): Countryish singer-songwriter from Maine, seventh album since 1996, a tribute to her father, starts with a freedom of the road song that reminds one "you don't have to go to war," then one on the isolation of the road, "Don't Let Me Die in Florida." Her one cover is "Mom & Dad's Waltz," sung for every last drop of emotion. B+(***)

Petra Haden: Petra Goes to the Movies (2013, Anti-): Charlie Haden's daughter, grew up in a broad world of music but has to hang onto a concept to get an album together. Movie music is awful more often than not, and she takes to the bad and ugly as well as the good. Does get some help -- at least the "all vocals" concept didn't stick. C+

The Handsome Family: Wilderness (2013, Carrot Top): Brett Sparks does most of the singing in a voice that is both utterly plain and oddly majestic, a curious front for mischievous songwriter Rennie Sparks -- or at least that's my take. Mostly songs about animals this time, "Octopus" the first one you really notice, and a cut above an average they don't seem to care much about. B+(***)

The Haxan Cloak: Excavation (2013, Tri Angle): Bobby Krlic, a sort of ambient-industrial thing with a haunting depth but not much dynamic -- the little on "The Drop" helps. B+(*)

Jenny Hval: Viscera (2011, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian singer-songwriter, first album, found it looking for a new one. Has that ethereal feel the label likes plus a little more backbone. B+(*)

Iggy & the Stooges: Ready to Die (2013, Fat Possum): With Ron Asheton dead, the old Stooges lineup is buried, but James Williamson goes way back (Raw Power) and his return makes a difference here, even when his guitar reminds one more of classic '70s riffing than the dumbed-down primitivism that put the group on the map. What is dumb is the album cover, with suicide vest and crosshairs -- these guys are old enough to start thinking about serious mortality, not that thinking has ever been their point. B+(*)

Inspectah Deck & 7L & Esoteric: Czarface (2013, Brick): Minor Wu-Tang figure meets Boston underground duo for discreet turntablism with comix themes -- maybe the book would help draw you in? Or at least explain some shit? B+(*)

Jamaican Queens: Wormfood (2013, Notown): Detroit group, synth pop more or less, male vocals awkward, has a penchant for pilfering melodic bits and stringing them together into pastiches -- was surprised to hear a bit of "Baby's on Fire" first thing, but I stopped trying to keep track at Bowie, noting only that when they slow down they get even cruder at it (and less annoying). B

Justice: Access All Arenas (2013, Because): French electronica group, popular enough to fill arenas, which leads to an almost cartoonish amplification and simplification of their music, not that there ever was much to it anyway. C+

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jamo Ko (2013, Out Here): I'll take the good politics on faith, noting only that as the Salafists tear up Mali this is the soundtrack they strive to stomp out. The groove is more immediately accessible, and while it never slips into the stratosphere like the best music from south of the desert, it offers a steady supply of grit. A- [cd]

Uwe Kropinski: So Wie So: Acoustic Guitar Solos (2012 [2013], Jazzwerkstatt): German guitarist, b. Berlin 1952, has nearly two dozen albums since 1985. He starts with "Funky Box," tapping for literal effect as well as strumming the guitar. Beyond that the solos are more introspective, which seems par for solos on any instrument. B+(*)

Oliver Lake/Christian Weber/Dieter Ulrich/Nils Wogram: All Decks (2011 [2013], Intakt): Festival date with trombonist Wogram joining the alto sax great's Swiss pickup trio. Improv, which means great sax runs, solid trombone, and a little brain fart at the end. B+(**)

Little Women: Lung (2012 [2013], AUM Fidelity): Second group album, an avant jazz quartet with two saxes -- Travis Laplante on tenor, Darius Jones on alto -- plus guitar (Andrew Smiley) and drums (Jason Nazary). One long piece, 42:16, with a nine-minute intro that is nearly inaudible. Loud enough up to a stop around the 37-minute mark, with four-note repeated riff and much thrashing on drums; then they whimper on home. B-

Low: The Invisible Way (2013, Sub Pop): Duluth, MN, slowcore band, together twenty years now. Always seemed like a concept, but I've never found an album that lived up to it, or even many moments. B-

Natalie Maines: Mother (2013, Columbia): Singer (but not songwriter -- she does get three co-credits here) from Lubbock, TX; best known as the lead voice in Dixie Chicks; best remembered for dissing GW Bush back when Country Music was too busy waving the flag to think. Title track is from Roger Waters, following an Eddie Vedder opener, and winding up with five songs by Ben Harper or Eddie Louris. Don't blame her for souring on Country, but that doesn't leave her with much. B-

Merzbow/Pándi/Gustafsson: Cuts (2012 [2013], Rare Noise): AMG credits Masami Akita (dba Merzbow) with 136 albums since 1979; they also list 57 albums since 1988 for saxophonist Mats Gustafsson; Balász Pándi is a drummer with a mere three albums, including this one (counted under all three names). Noise improv, Merzbow's electronic static roughed up in real time by the others, sometimes even beat into something that is almost . . . musical, then again not. B

Roscoe Mitchell: Duets With Tyshawn Sorey and Special Guest Hugh Ragin (2013, Wide Hive): Saxophonist, 72, a mainstay of the Art Ensemble of Chicago since the late 1960s. Don't have the credits to break this down, but it sounds like the duos give way to trios when trumpeter Ragin jumps in. Also, figure drummer Sorey for the piano -- actually quite impressive -- and Mitchell, in standard AEC operating procedure, adds to the percussion. So a lot going on, and spectacular when they crank it up. A-

The National: Trouble Will Find Me (2013, 4AD): Eminent indie band, sixth album since 2001, the last two (at least) big poll contenders. I was caught unawares by High Violet, although I can't tell you why -- something I don't detect here, not that most of the songs don't fold up neatly enough. More like they just don't make me care enough to unfold them. B+(**)

Neon Neon: Praxis Makes Perfect (2013, Lex): Side project for Gruff Rhys and someone dba Boom Bip, couldn't resist the title. The beats are loud and have an old-fashioned danciness but the vocals are a major turnoff. C+

William Parker/Conny Bauer/Hamid Drake: Tender Exploration (2010 [2013], Jazzwerkstatt): Recorded at Roulette in New York, three titles each named for a trio member, probably pure improv. Bauer is a German avant-trombonist (aka Konrad or Conrad), been around since the early 1970s, notably in Zentralquartett. He's not a commanding soloist, but adds all sorts of sounds and colors to one of the most relentlessly creative bass-drums duo ever. B+(***)

Pistol Annies: Annie Up (2013, RCA): Sophomore album, Miranda Lambert you know about, and Ashley Monroe too, so only Angaleena Presley lacks a matching solo career, putting her one solo credit here. Not as hot, in any sense of the word, as the debut, a cozy singalong, remarkable for the melodies and drawls, attention to detail and avoidance of cliché -- all too rare where they hail from. A-

Mike Pride: Drummer's Corpse (2012 [2013], AUM Fidelity): Drummer, plays avant-jazz but also noise and metal. Title track runs 33 minutes, adds six guests on drums and gong to otherwise noisy guitar and chaotic vocals. Second track is 26 minutes, mostly atmospheric guitar and bass with some edge but broken up with multiple recitations, some at the same time -- in the end, another way to annoy you. B

Mike Pride/From Bacteria to Boys: Birthing Days (2012 [2013], AUM Fidelity): Drummer-led piano trio with Alexis Marcelo and Peter Bitenc, preferably plus a saxophonist -- Darius Jones on their roughhousing first album; Jon Irabagon, Jonathan Moritz, or Jason Stein (bass clarinet) taking turns here. Results are scattered, or maybe you'd prefer eclectic? B+(*)

Joshua Redman: Walking Shadows (2012 [2013], Nonesuch): Tenor saxophonist, habitually drops in one track on soprano too, father was Dewey Redman; made a big splash when he came up, changed his style notably when he played Lester Young in Robert Altman's Kansas City, and has been swapping in concepts furiously for the last decade -- this is one of the hoariest of clichés, the strings-backed ballad album, spotting composers as moldy as Bach and the Beatles. Brad Mehldau produced and offered his trio, joined on half the tunes by a string orch conducted by Dan Coleman. The trio is forgettable, the strings awful, and while sometimes the sax rises above the muck, too often it doesn't. (Redman's original, "Let Me Down Easy," is a partial exception, with a strong Mehldau line and strings that for once don't suck him down.) B-

The Replacements: Songs for Slim (2013, New West, EP): Only a partial reunion, Slim Dunlap replaced guitarist Bob Stinson in 1987, cut two albums under his own name, suffered a severe stroke in 2012. This blasts through five songs in 13:57, two Dunlap originals, covers from Gordon Lightfoot, Leon Payne ("Lost Highway"), and "Everything's Coming Up Roses." B+(*)

Dawn Richard: Goldenheart (2013, AltaVoz): R&B chanteuse (enough with the divas), has a previous album under another name and who knows what else -- aside from Diddy's Dirty Money nothing I recognize. People I respect love this and hate this, but it's so even-keeled I can't do either. B+(*)

Rilo Kiley: Rkives (2004-07 [2013], Little Record Company): Outtakes from the group's last two albums, more or less. I'm not enough of a scholar to weigh respective versions, or even to dwell on the fine aspects of relationship songs, but I will note that Jenny Lewis is remarkably talented at steadying the group sound and planting her voice as its sensible center. A- [cd]

RP Boo: Legacy (2013, Planet Mu): Kavain Space, from Chicago, sometimes cited as the originator of "footwork music" ("the fast, repetitive, rhythmically syncopated music & dance style that's a grandchild of Chicago house"). The staccato stutter works for a while but the novelty (and the repetition) can wear thin. B+(**)

Savages: Silence Yourself (2013, Matador): Brit all-female punk quartet. Good idea but not a new one, the singer somewhere between Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde vocally, the bass chops resonante, the songs . . . well, I don't recall any, but they weren't bad. B+(*)

Colin Stetson: New History Warfare, Vol. 3: To See More Light (2013, Constellation): Saxophonist, plays everything from alto down but favors the big bass sax, and makes extensive use of circular breathing, which gives his tones resonance and a warbly rhythm, even though no other musicians are credited, and and music was reportedly laid down live with no overdubs or loops. They did dub in some vocals later, credited to Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), and they add to the eeriness of it all. Nothing else quite like it. A- [+cd]

Still Corners: Strange Pleasures (2013, Sub Pop): Studio duo (live quartet) built around singer Tessa Murray and "multi-instrumentalist" (mostly means keybs) songwriter Greg Hughes. Light electropop shading toward ambient, pleasant enough but hardly strange. B+(*)

Taylor Swift: Red (2012, Big Machine): Fourth album (not counting two live ones and a Holiday Collection), sixteen songs, 65:09: in the old days this would have appeared as one of those double LPs marking major serious artistdom, like Blonde on Blonde or Exile on Main Street or Songs in the Key of Life or Physical Graffiti, but confined to a single CD she did the next worst thing and settled for making it more expensive and scarcer -- it's taken a good six months for this to make it to Rhapsody. A bunch of relationship songs, some making up and some breaking up, none of which hooks as indelibly as "Mean," but they have big drums and that hit feel, and if I gave her more of a chance she'd probably beat me into submission -- maybe even make me think the price is worth it. B+(***)

The Thermals: Desperate Ground (2013, Saddle Creek): Portland group, half-dozen albums, grunge roots I'd say rather than punk, a couple (Kathy Foster and Hutch Harris) among the trio, which is why "Our Love Survives" comes through most emphatically, though no less desperately than the rest. B+(*)

Tyler, the Creator: Wolf (2013, Odd Future): After Bastard and Goblin, no evidence of linear progression in the LA rapper's bad boy persona, but then he's not what you'd call a big thinker. What he does have is an understated, easy rolling beat track, and if you can space out on the words -- not so hard, really, especially at more than 75 minutes -- this almost works as underground shit. B

Ben UFO: Fabriclive 67 (2013, Fabric, 2CD): British DJ, has a previous Rinse remix tape, cobbles together a very long one here (27 cuts, mostly 5-6 minutes each), not that it ranges very far -- nice, consistent electronic timbre, medium beat, quite listenable. B+(**)

The Uncluded: Hokey Fright (2013, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Duo, rapper Aesop Rock and anti-folksinger Kimya Dawson. His weak spot is writing more words than he can possibly find music for; hers is that her musical imagination rarely goes beyond nursery rhymes. But they do more than cancel out each other's weak spots: he makes her funkier, and she makes him smarter. A-

Wavves: Afraid of Heights (2013, Mom + Pop Music): Surf rock stooges, where Iggy aspired to be "your dog," they are happy to "still be your dog." B


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

  • Jayce Clayton: The Julius Eastman Memory Depot (2013, New Amsterdam)
  • Four Tet: 0181 (2013, Text)
  • Ghostpoet: Some Say I So I Say Light (2013, Play It Again Sam)
  • Hiss Golden Messenger: Haw (2013, Paradise of Bachelors)
  • Jenny Hval: Innocence Is Kinky (2013, Rune Grammofon)
  • Jerusalem in My Heart: Mo7it Al-Mo7it (2013, Constellation)
  • Lydia Lunch: Retrovirus (2012 [2013], UgExplode)
  • Colin Stetson & Mats Gustafsson: Stones (2013, Rune Grammofon)
  • Bob Wiseman: Giulietta Masina at the Oscars Crying (2013, Blocks/God Finds Cats)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei (1969 [2006], Inside Out/Revisited): First album from the Krautrock band, split off from the original Amon Düül commune, a mix of layered guitars and keyb, violin and vibes, percussion from all over, chants, charges, and choirs; the title track runs 20 minutes, complex and enchanting; the reissue moves it up front, balancing it off with two bonus tracks, 10 minutes each, extending the vibe. B+(***)

David Axelrod: Songs of Experience (1969, Capitol): A producer at Capitol in the late 1960s, this was the second album he put his name to (after Song of Innocence); instrumental, the sort of high schmaltz you often get with movie music, with at least one cut ("The Fly") transcending the level of dreck. B

The Balinese Gamelan: Music From the Morning of the World (1966, Nonesuch): An early entry in Nonesuch's Explorer Series, and as such one of the first serious attempts to discover world music beyond the usual Latin and Irish confines, David Lewiston's field recordings from Bali have an anthropological purity to them: clanging, jangly percussion; odd-pitched strings; occasional high-and-lonesome vocals. Reissued twice with different covers and subtitles, the prize is the 1988 Nonesuch CD with two extras, notably the 22:08 "Ramayana Monkey Chant," but Rhapsody has the 2003 Nonesuch reissue, Indonesia: Bali: Music From the Morning of the World, which reverts to the LP lineup, time 41:20. A- [dl]

Ray Barretto: Acid (1968, Fania): Congalero from Spanish Harlem, with over sixty records a major figure in salsa and Latin jazz from 1960 to his death in 2006; this is widely lauded, as good a place to start as any; two English lyrics don't spoil the fun, but what you need to hear are the intense rhythm rolls. A-

Blue Cheer: Vincebus Eruptum (1968, Philips): Blues-rock band from San Francisco, sort of an American version of Cream although none of the trio were musicians of the same caliber; starts with a dense "Summertime Blues," good for a cheap hit; no real hooks in the rest -- they just grind it out. B+(*)

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Gorilla (1967, Liberty): Art school/trad jazz refugees, originally the Bonzo Dog Dada Band but they decided to go for parody and/or oom-pah -- probably too many tuba players in the band; not sure how interesting a band can be that credits Adolf Hitler on vibes and wastes one of their longest songs boring you with a complaint about being bored. B+(*)

Can: Monster Movie (1969, Mute): My brief experience with the Krautrockers spanned three overly regarded 1972-74 albums -- Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, Soon Over Babaluma -- when they were turning into the continent's Yes, so I was surprised by all the variety shown in The Lost Tapes surprised me, and this first debut album shows why those were outtakes. The guitar is derivative, but from the Velvet Underground, and Malcolm Mooney's vocals offer a frenetic if not fully integrated cross between Lou Reed and Syd Barrett, but what was uniquely their own was the drumming that drives the second side to 20:27. A-

The Joe Cuba Sextet: Wanted Dead or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push) (1967, Fania): Born in New York in 1931, of Puerto Rican descent, Cuba played congas and developed an abbreviated, upbeat strain of salsa, making him "The Father of Latin Boogaloo"; the refrains here are almost cartoonish, which works for novelty, but the rhythm is lightyears beyond what we're used to. A-

Karen Dalton: It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best (1969, Capitol): Folk singer, of Cherokee descent, born in Oklahoma, had two kids by 19, when she ran away to New York. This was her first album (although some earlier tracks were eventually released as 1966, and there's a live tape from 1962) and she didn't last long, living on the streets, dying with AIDS; there is a bit of Billie Holiday in her voice, but her guitar rarely connects with it -- best chance is on simple blues like "It Hurts Me Too," otherwise this takes a lot of effort. B-

Tod Dockstader: Eight Electronic Pieces (1961, Folkways): Musique concrète pioneer, took his fascination with radio noise as a start and came up with machines to orchestrate those noises; like much early electronic music, the emphasis is on sound over melody or rhythm -- that he comes up with any is part of the surprise. B+(*)

The Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) (1967, Reprise): The title cut was a minor hit (and future nugget), by far the most impressive thing here, although the trad jazz throwback "Tunerville Trolley" is a hoot, and the filler attests to the band's integrity, even where the psychedelic fuzz is muted. B+(**)

The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath (1968, Reprise): Nominally the group's fourth album, but the original musicians had all been swapped out, replaced by composer David Axelrod and producer Dave Hassinger, who built this out of Jewish and Christian liturgy, like their previous Mass in F Minor but this 24:46 album has a much loftier reputation; B

John Fahey: The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites (1964 [1999], Takoma): The guitarist's first album, original pieces (plus one by Clarence Ashley) rather than the promised historical dip, not that history doesn't dwell everywhere Fahey picks; the CD adds four covers, offering the taste of recognition. A-

Brigitte Fontaine: Comme à la Radio (1969, Saravah): French singer, her voice (here at least) almost as declamatory as Nico's, a minimalist effect playing off the exotica of the band -- otherwise known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. B+(***)

Kim Fowley: Outrageous (1968, Imperial): Son of a Hollywood actor, good enough to launch a career based on playing off his connections, gaining fame as someone who could get away with crap no one else could not so much because he could conceptualize it as because he was utterly shameless -- one such idea was releasing an LP of blank vinyl; this record took more effort, but once you learn a few blues chords and can claim incoherent screaming as a freak out and drugged out ranting as insight, it's really not what you can call work; and lest he accidentally slipped anything serious in, the title discounts it. C-

The Godz: Contact High With the Godz (1966, ESP-Disk): New York folkie band with a half-dozen albums albums on this "anything the artist wants" label -- no relation to the metal band founded in 1978 in Ohio -- these nine songs run 25:01 including the 1:34 Hank Williams coda, their most memorable message "all I wanna do is lay in the sun," repeated 2:56 with strum, bang, and harmonica. B+(***)

Françoise Hardy: Françoise Hardy (1963, Disques Vogue): French singer-songwriter, a star at home -- the preferred word now seems to be "icon" -- but no one speaks French here so she's exotic enough to be considered "alt"; Spin listed her debut, not this -- the second of five eponymous 1962-65 albums and the only one I could find, but I'm struck by how stock the arrangements sound. B+(*) [S]

Pierre Henry: Messe Pour Le Temps Présent (1967, Philips): Henry's musique concrète mass, co-written by Michel Colombier, starts with "Psyché Rock," then "Jericho Jerk" and "Teen Tonic" -- they rock like "Telstar," earning the sobriquet les jerks électroniques; the other pieces on what was originally 2LP and in 1997 were expanded into 2CD are indeed concrète -- scratchy, abstract, atmospheric, which is not such a bad thing; note that even the Roman Catholic Church, under Vatican II, was hipper than it is now. B+(***)

The Meters: The Meters (1969, Josie): New Orleans funk band, with Art (as opposed to Aaron) Neville they didn't sing much, but pumped the organ, scratched out guitar and bass lines, and had Ziggy Modeliste on drums, and Allen Toussaint producing. B+(**)

The Monkees: Head (1968, Colgems): Soundtrack to a film designed to reinvent the TV mophead group as something else -- you were expecting, maybe, Sgt. Pepper? With its skits and bits of fractured dialogue, more like The Who Sell Out, except more literal, a going-out-of-business sale: "hey hey we are the Monkees/you know we love to please/a manufactured image/with no philosophies." B+(**)

The Monks: Black Monk Time (1965 [2009], Light in the Attic): Garage rock band formed by GIs stationed in Germany, cut one obscure album, turned into a cult item after a 1994 reissue, with tributes and films since; has some definite sonic quirks, but plays like a long joke, and wears awful thin in the bonus tracks (e.g., "Cuckoo"). B+(*)

Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano (1969, Columbia Masterworks): Avant composer from the Arkansas side of Texarkana, joined the CP in the 1930s and fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War against Franco -- those who did were branded "prematurely anti-fascist" and regarded as security risks by the US, so he moved to Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1997. These piano pieces are richly abstract, the speed and difficulty handled by punching them into a player piano -- the result kind of like Jerry Lee Lewis pounding his way through Varèse, or Cecil Taylor playing boogie woogie. 1750 Arch Records reissued this in 1977, followed by three more LP volumes, Complete Studies for Player Piano, and Wergo came up with a fifth volume in 1988, followed by CD reissues. Rhapsody's version is the 4CD 2008 release on Other Minds: too much for a single setting, but I can't say as there's any drop off in quality. A-

Nico: The Marble Index (1969, Elektra): Christa Päffgen, a German fashion model who gained 15 minutes of fame as an Andy Warhol superstar, a more on the first Velvet Underground album, and maybe a few more for her bleak recording career; this was her second, with John Cale orchestrating, his high church organ mode at times breaking into chaos, her voice chilled, strucken down. B+(**)

Pauline Oliveros: Four Electronic Pieces, 1959-1966 (1959-66 [2008], Sub Rosa): Long ones, too, running 14-19 minutes, made up of wave generators and variable-speed tape machines, mostly noise, much of it sounding like tuning in radio tones only with a bit less fuzz, and at least some of it headache-inducing, or at least way too cathartic for everyday listening -- a more novel, and more artful, Metal Machine Music; that, of course, was the point. B+(**)

Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle (1968, Warner Brothers): Choir boy turned LA schmoozer-songwriter, played with the Byrds and Mothers of Invention but was better known for his work (and drug recreation) with Brian Wilson during the Beach Boys' darkest (and weirdest) days; first album, twelve songs, some cartoonish, some I'm not even that sure of (there's AMG again, with "Baroque Pop" ready to explain everything, followed by "Psychedelic/Garage"). C+

Pearls Before Swine: One Nation Underground (1967, ESP-Disk): Singer-songwriter Tom Rapp is basically a mild-mannered folkie, but his use of Hieronymous Bosch details for album covers made quite an impression on the LSD-addled -- turns out that psychedelia, like beauty, is in the pretty much mind of the beholder. B

The Pentangle: Basket of Light (1969, Transatlantic): English folk-rock supergroup, with Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitar and Jacqui McShee singing; third album, the guitars gently turning over one another, the soprano vocals sinking deepest into the traditional pieces. B+(**)

Perrey-Kingsley: The In Sound From Way Out! (1966, Vanguard): Jean-Jacques Perrey, from France, and Gershon Kingsley, from Germany, play early synthesizers on jaunty little tunes they wrote, mostly punctuated with extra synth sounds that seem inspired by Spike Jones; electronic music was in its infancy in the 1960s, but rarely has it been done with this much juvenile mischief. B+(**)

The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (1967 [1993], Collectables): Later Red Krayola, a band which more/less still exists, at least through its latest (2010) release; essential member is Mayo Thompson, the guitarist who also played for Pere Ubu through the 1980s; the usual classifications fall way short here: while the "free form freak-out" pieces here aren't as chaotic as the name suggests, they are very unconventional, the melodic elements skewed, percussion all over the place, atonal and arrhthmic and all that, with quasi-songs slipped in between -- "War Sucks" for one. A-

The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (1967 [2011], Sonic Boom, 2CD): Consumer options include the bare bones 1993 CD on Collectables, a twofer on Charly that adds their inferior second album, God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail in Her, and this vastly expanded edition; this upholds your interest, a case of "more is more," but caveat emptor: most of the more is redundant, including both mono and stereo mixes of the album, plus one with the songs minus the "freak outs." B+(***)

Rotary Connection: Rotary Connection (1968, Cadet Concept): I'd rather call them an experiment than experimental: bassist Phil Upchurch had some minor jazz cred, and singer Minnie Ripperton was black but didn't sound like it (or much of anything else); mostly they covered contemporary hits -- "Lady Jane," "Soul Man," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" -- twisting and tweaking them but not into anything very interesting. B

Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid (1966, Impulse): Very much under John Coltrane's spell this early on -- Albert Ayler liked to refer to Coltrane and Sanders as "the father" and "the son," mostly because he saw himself as "the holy ghost" -- struggling on two long pieces (and one short one) spanning the earth and beyond, assisted by a quintet that included Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Dave Burrell on piano. A-

Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought (1969, Impulse): Two side-long pieces, the saxophonist sounding superb except when he occasionally coughs up a chunk of lung, which can be harrowing; the double basses can hold your attention for long vamps, and percussion is suitably exotic, and Leon Thomas alternately warbles and wows. B+(***)

The Seeds: The Seeds (1966 [1987], GNP/Crescendo): One of the Nuggets bands -- "Pushin' Too Hard" was theirs -- managed to maintain their guitar-punk sound through eleven sharp cuts, and the CD reissue doesn't lose much tacking on their second album, A Web of Sound, stretching out to a 14:27 "Up in Her Room." A-

The Sonics: Introducing the Sonics (1967, Jerden): Tacoma, WA, garage band, got a reboot after their 1965 debut Here Are the Sonics!!! stiffed, repeating their local hit singles ("The Witch" and "Psycho") but with different filler -- a couple new originals ("High Time" is the nugget) and some r&b replacing the familiar r&r covers. B+(**)

Alexander Spence: Oar (1969, Columbia): Canadian guitarist, sometimes drummer, played in Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Moby Grape before he flipped out on acid, was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and cut his one-and-only solo album; intended as a demo, comes off as a slow countryish plaint, except for moments when it flips into something else. B+(*)

Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon (1967, Nonesuch): First album from one of the pioneers of electronic music, the two 15-minute sides are composed of synthesized blips and bleeps, a fairly minimal palette by later standards, yet cohere remarkably, breaking ground both as technology and as music. A-

Morton Subotnick: The Wild Bull (1968, Nonesuch): Second album, less immediately appealing but with lots more drumlike sounds, scattered drones, some entering from far stage left, as the composer is finding more angles to the music; short, a bit less consistent. B+(***)

Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon/The Wild Bull (1967-68 [1994], Wergo): But not enough to drag this historically important twofer down. A-

Sun Ra: The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (1961 [1962], Savoy): The Arkestra lands in New York, if not from Saturn at least from Chicago, and they celebrate with a little bit of everything they do, including an odd vocal, flute solos, boogie piano, and percussion all over the place -- nothing electronic squiggles if that's what you expect by futuristic, but still way ahead of the times. A-

The 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966 [1993], Collectables): Legendary garage band from Austin, TX; spawned Roky Erickson, or vice versa, but while Erickson maintained his reputation for idiosyncrasy, this sounds more like a band, the guitar thick and crunchy, the psychedelic fuzz some kind of sonic parlor trick, "You're Gonna Miss Me" the hidden nugget. A-

The 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (1967 [1993], Collectables): The sonics are less gimmicky -- just as well, they have their own sound anyway, although it's not solid enough to wholly capture the Dylan cover, but it works when they go long for two of their most remarkable songs, "Slip Inside This House" and "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)." A-

The 13th Floor Elevators: Bull of the Woods (1968 [1993], Collectables): Third album, "noted for its moody, dreamy, and fuzzed-out psychedelic sound," which means none of the songs particularly stand out or even come through all that clearly. B+(**)

The Clifford Thornton New Art Ensemble: Freedom & Unity (1967 [2001], Atavistic): First piece was named "Free Huey" but the politics were less clear, mostly a desire to compose complexity and redouble it through improv; leader plays valve trombone, which with two bases holds the scattered horns and vibes together, barely. A-

Tropicália: Ou Panis Et Circensis (1968, Philips): Mark Kurlansky covered the various student revolts in eastern and western Europe in his book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, and paid heed to tumultuous events in the US, but one important place he missed was Brazil. Tropicália was as politically charged as any music in the world, with Caetano Veloso the theoretician and Gilberto Gil the melodist -- they dominate this compilation. While I can't vouch for the lyrics, I will venture that this builds on MPB like Sgt. Pepper and Their Satanic Majesties Request moved beyond the early Beatles and Stones. I wouldn't attribute any of those leaps to psychedelics, when revolution was so much more mind-blowing. A [dl]

Townes Van Zandt: For the Sake of the Song (1968, Poppy): The Texas singer-songwriter's first album, shows a promising sense of detail but it's as flat and repetitive as the dust-swept plains, the songs all merging into a strange sameness. B

Caetano Veloso: Caetano Veloso (1969, Philips): The second of several eponymous albums (sometimes labeled for its first song, "Irene"), the vocals recorded in jail with accompaniment added later, ranging from rockish fuzz guitar to slabs of string orch, with a few songs in English; despite everything, this has a lot of presence. A- [dl]

Scott Walker: Scott (1967, Smash): Scotty Engel, changed his surname when he joined the Walker Brothers, kept it when he split (given the governor Wisconsin, perhaps he should reconsider, but he has a much larger following in the UK); first record, mostly mordant songs from others (Jacues Brel, Barry Mann, Tim Hardin), given Spector-ish productions and operatic vocals -- not as awful as all that, but sure has the potential. B-

Scott Walker: Scott 2 (1968, Smash): No clue why anyone would consider this "alternative" -- the songs are wrapped in strings, the lushness only cut by the bad attitude of a voice meant for Broadway; worth hearing once is Jacques Brel's "The Girls and the Dogs," although you probably won't like it if you're a girl, or for that matter a dog. C+


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
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal