Monday, August 5, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31860 [31831] rated (+29), 259 [257] unrated (+2).

I continue to be surprised at the pro-gun memes showing up in my Facebook feed. Consider this screed (from kin in Arkansas, if that matters):

"When I was in high school we had gun racks in trucks, and they had guns in them, and they were loaded. We even had fist fights! But never once did someone get pissed and go get a gun to shoot someone. We don't have a gun problem people, we have a people problem, a sin problem, a lack of heart and soul problem, a lack of respect for human life problem ,or even a mental health problem. . . . but we DO NOT have a gun problem! I think it's easier for some people to blame an inanimate object instead of taking responsibility."

This starts off with an anecdote which may have been true in the author's personal experience but is far from the general rule. Then it offers up a list of suspect people, blaming them and exculpating the guns they use to commit crimes. We watch a lot of crime stories on TV, and they invariably come down to motive and opportunity. Lots of people have motives that some people have killed for, but they don't do so because they never had the opportunity (or they had some scruples that inhibited them from striking out). Guns may do nothing on their own (there's a Steve Earle song called "The Devil's Right Hand" that argues otherwise), but when someone picks one up, they offer the opportunity of killing someone else, even at a distance. The basic idea behind gun control is to keep guns out of the hands of people who might use them criminally. One might argue that the government isn't smart or fair enough to make those decisions, but reasonable people could surely agree in minimal lists of guns that no one should have and people who should not have guns.

The problem there is finding reasonable people, especially among those on the right who have been propagating these stupid gun memes. Admittedly, there are people who would like to outlaw all guns, but they aren't numerous, and aren't in any position to reject reasonable compromises. My own position is that I dislike guns, and don't see any good reason for the vast majority of Americans (including myself) to own any, but I'm pretty resistant to the idea of outlawing things just because lots of people dislike them -- alcohol, drugs, and sex are cases we should have learned better than. On the other hand, I can occasionally see a case for prohibiting or strictly regulating some things that are especially dangerous, and I could understand wanting to include guns in that category.

Of course, there are some things that government is even more inept at dealing with than guns, and oddly enough they show up on the list of things pro-gun people like to blame gun violence on. Foremost is mental illness, which heads up Trump's list of scapegoats (along with ubiquitous things like violent video games). The fact is we don't do a very good job of treating (or even identifying) mental illness in this country, partly because we don't try (and conservatives are even more lax in this regard), but also because nobody's really very good at it. A rigorous system that tried to quarantine crazy people to keep them away from guns would be orders of magnitude more expensive and more hurtful than one that prohibited guns from all but the certifiably sane. Yeterday's meme blaming gun violence on drugs diagnosis without a solution.

I didn't mean to go down this rathole, but it just opened up -- as is so often the case. What I did want to do is quote a Barbara Ehrenreich tweet:

The mental illness we really have to fear is narcissism. It makes dumb, loathsome people feel virtuous and smart. Gun ownership is another form of narcissism. It makes little men feel big.

I'll also add this one from Adam Serwer, on Trump's Monday morning backpedal:

Trump sounds like a robot when condemning white supremacy and like himself when he's attacking religious and ethnic minorities because one is him pretending and one is him being himself.


Moving on, we have a week's worth of new music for you below. I added some grade data to my mid-year list aggregate, checking sites that hadn't produced lists and (usually) according one point for each record rated 80+ (based on AOTY lists. This had the surprise effect of boosting Sharon Van Etten's Remind Me Tomorrow to first place, 48-47 over Billie Eilish (gain from last week was 10-4). The only other notable shift was Weyes Blood, up from 15 to 10. Biggest drop was probably James Blake, 10-14.

Much of what I listened to last week came from looking at these lists. My other major source was Phil Overeem's July honor roll -- most impressively the MexStep record that came out mid-December, with no one noticing it in 2018 lists.

New batch of q&a from Robert Christgau up tonight: XgauSez.


New records reviewed this week:

Iggy Azalea: In My Defense (2019, Bad Dreams/Empire): Australian rapper, scored a crossover pop hit in 2014, doubles down on her hard edge here. B+(***)

John Bacon/Michael McNeill/Danny Ziemann: Refractions (2017 [2019], Jazz Dimensions): Drums, piano, bass, alphabetical order but consistently applied, playing seven Thelonious Monk pieces. Not as distinctive as the originals, but refracted in subtle and interesting ways. B+(***) [cd]

J. Balvin & Bad Bunny: Oasis (2019, Universal Music Latino): Colombian singer José Balvin and Puerto Rican rapper Benito Martinez, common denominator reggaeton. B+(**)

B.J. the Chicago Kid: 1123 (2019, Motown): Bryan James Sledge, from Chicago but now 34, third album, raps some, sings more, opens with exceptional groove and flow but piles up when he slows down. B+(*)

Chance the Rapper: The Big Day (2019, self-released): Chicago rapper, surname Bennett, reissued his debut mixtape 10 Day a while back and it was the freshest, most stimulating thing I've heard all year. He's older now (26), married, has a new child, has doubled down on his Christianity, and has chops enough to run this out to 77 minutes without interest flagging. A-

Chuck Cleaver: Send Aid (2019, Shake It): First album at age 60, a short one at that (10 tracks, 26:51), but hardly a newbie, as leader of Ass Ponys in the 1990s and, more famously, Wussy ever since. More Americana twang than I expected. Also more clang. B+(***)

Chick Corea/The Spanish Heart Band: Antidote (2019, Concord): Pianist, born in Massachusetts, Italian/Spanish descent, started in the late 1960s playing both avant, then fusion, then in 1976 discovered flamenco among his roots in one of his better known albums, My Spanish Heart. Here he returs to that diversion, with a similarly large band (8 pieces, fewer strings, plus vocals and tap dance). He repeats two songs, adds similar fare, lathers the rhythms with extra lushness. It might have sounded enticingly exotic way back when, but more like corn and shlock now. B-

Default Genders: Main Pop Girl 2019 (2019, self-released): Jaime Brooks, given name James, self-described as "a careless man's careful daughter," previously half of duo Elite Gymnastics, second album under this moniker. Mostly electronics, love the beats, like the fuzz, hardly caught any lyrics (some processed, else buried). B+(**) [bc]

Pablo Embon: Reminscent Mood (2018-19 [2019], self-released): Guitarist, originally from Argentina, now based in Israel, where he picked up some Middle Eastern airs to go with his Latin lilt. B- [cd]

Empath: Active Listening: Night on Earth (2019, Get Better): Philadelphia group, noisy pop, drummer from a similar (if less successful) group called Perfect Pussy. Short but not as deliberately elemental as punk: 9 songs, 27:12. B+(*)

Filthy Friends: Emerald Valley (2019, Kill Rock Stars): Side project of semi-famous musicians still working in more-or-less famous bands -- currently Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Peter Buck (REM), Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch (both Young Fresh Fellows), Linda Pitmon (The Baseball Project, along with Buck and McCaughey). Second album since they first recorded on an anti-Trump comp (30 Days, 30 Songs). B+(**)

Fred Frith: All Is Always Now: Fred Frith Live at the Stone (2007-16 [2019], Intakt, 3CD): English guitarist, started c. 1974 on the avant fringe of rock playing prepared guitar solos, but labels and company eventually slotted him under jazz (again, the avant fringe). Massive, wide-ranging trove of live performances from John Zorn's New York club, various duos and trio (one cut with a guest making four), most (16/23 tracks) from 2013-14. B+(***)

From Wolves to Whales: Strandwal (2017 [2019], Aerophonic, 2CD): Quartet formed in 2014, second album, last names also listed on cover: Nate Wooley (trumpet), Dave Rempis (alto sax), Pascal Niggenkemper (bass), Chris Corsano (drums). Remarkable spots embedded in leisurely table-setting, not that the latter stretches out too long. Both discs are relatively short (39:07, 41:33), and could easily have been edited down to one (perhaps too long). B+(***) [cd]

Rhiannon Giddens With Francesco Turrisi: There Is No Other (2019, Nonesuch): Folksinger/banjo player from Carolina Chocolate Drops, third solo album. Turrisi is from Italy, based in Dublin (where this was recorded), plays piano, accordion, frame drum, tamburello, lute, cello banjo, daf, and colascione. Shows how worldly Americana can be. B+(***)

Charles Wesley Godwin: Seneca (2019, self-released): Singer-songwriter from West Virginia, first album. Coal country stories, shrinks and pills. B+(*)

Maxo Kream: Brandon Banks (2019, Big Persona/RCA): Houston rapper, Emekwanem Ogogua Biosah, Jr., father Nigerian. Second album, solid, could catch on. B+(**)

MexStep: Resistir (2018, Third Root): Rapper from San Antonio, don't know any personal details, nor have I dug deep enough to say much about Third Root (perhaps a collective and/or a label). Produced by Marco Cervantes and Adrian Quesada, with various feat. guests. Scratches are old school, tejano flashes add color, and the politics is up front. A-

The Paranoid Style: A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life (2019, Bar/None): Singer-polemicist Elizabeth Nelson plus band, drops interesting words that make me want to get more out of the lyrics, but I struggle and flail. Maybe I'd try harder if I liked the music more, but I find it rushed, not that the album (11 tracks, 29:49) seems too short. B+(***)

Pink: Hurts 2B Human (2019, RCA): Eighth album, almost 20 years in. Played this right after Betty Who, and was immediately blown away by how huge the opener ("Hustle") sounded. More varied, less consistent, peaks midway with the title cut (feat. Khalid), ends with a ballad that shouldn't work but does ("The Last Song of Your Life"). B+(***)

Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker: Apsis (2018 [2019], Aerophonic): Leader plays alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, backed by bass, drums, and piano/electronics. Baker adds a lot here, even if the net result is just another saxophone tour de force. The soft landing cinches it. A- [cd]

Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism (2017 [2019], Mack Avenue): Drummer, fourth album as leader, long tenure with Wynton Marsalis. Mostly quintet with trumpet (Bruce Harris), alto sax (Godwin Louis), piano (Emmet Cohen), and bass (Russell Hall). Lively beat. Two vocals, presumably Riley, one a pretty jazzy "Wang Dang Doodle." B+(*)

Sasami: Sasami (2019, Domino): Surname Ashworth, singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, played keybs in Cherry Glazerr, first album. Dream pop, atmospheric, not quite as chilly as the cover. B+(*)

Betty Who: Betty (2019, AWAL): Australian pop singer, Jessica Anne Newham, third album. Maturing, which is part of her appeal, as long as she doesn't lose the beat. B+(**)

Mark Wingfield & Gary Husband: Tor & Vale (2018 [2019], Moonjune): Guitar and piano duo, Wingfield the writer, also credited with "soundscapes." Runs long, occasionally passing something of interest. B [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Tubby Hayes Quartet: Grits, Beans and Greens: The Lost Fontana Studio Session 1969 (1969 [2019], Decca): British tenor saxophonist, a star there from 1957, although his discography fades after 1967 and he died in 1973 at 38. Replete with multiple takes, the rhythm section is nothing special, but the saxophonist is in fine form. B+(**)

Old music:

Bob Moses: When Elephants Dream of Music (1982 [1983], Gramavision): Drummer, later adopted the preface Ra-Kalam (several variants), second or third album, a big band/kitchen sink production, with scattered vocals (including bit parts for Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan). Echoes of Ellington and/or Africa. [Reissued 2019 on Ra-Kalam with +4 tracks.] B

Pink: Funhouse (2008, LaFace): Fifth album, first one I was warned off of, still sold seven million copies. Big pop production, hook-filled songs, was probably more fun at the time. B+(**)

Pink: Greatest Hits . . . So Far!!! (2000-10 [2010], LaFace/Jive): A pretty solid rule of thumb is that insisting on a "so far" on a "greatest hits" album is career death. Whether that counts here depends on what you think about her next album, 2012's The Truth About Love (sold 7 million copies, a Christgau A, a middle B+ from me). Even within the five albums distilled here, this is front-loaded, probably the better place to start, and gets heavier over the decade. Still, she didn't fold as hard as other victims of the "so far" curse. While her later albums never touched the early ones, she still has her moments -- at least three songs on the new album would fit "Fuckin' Perfect" here. A-

Olaf Polziehn Trio Featuring Harry Allen: American Songbook Vol. 2 (2003, Satin Doll): German piano trio with Ingmar Heller (bass) and Oliver Mewes (drums), plus the ideal tenor saxophonist for such a retro-swing outfit. B+(**)

Olaf Polziehn/Ingmar Heller/Troy Davis/Harry Allen: American Songbook Vol. 3 (2006, Satin Doll): Same deal, different drummer, the saxophonist listed as "special guest" on the cover but same sized type. Also includes some cello from the pianist's wife, Julia. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Corey Christiansen: La Proxima (Origin): August 12
  • Harbinger: Extended (OA2): August 12
  • New York Voices: Reminiscing in Tempo (Origin)
  • Alberto Pibiri & the AI Peppers: The Nacho Blues (Alberto Pibiri Music)
  • Paul Silbergleit: January (Blujazz)
  • Paul Zauner's Blue Brass feat. David Murray: Roots n' Wings (PAO/Blujazz)
  • Miguel Zenón: Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (Miel Music); August 30