Saturday, January 4, 2020


Music Week

January archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 34687 [34643] rated (+44), 214 [212] unrated (+2).

Too late to try to write anything significant here, and doubtful that delaying another day will change much. Still spending a lot of time adding lists to the EOY Aggregate, and still a long ways from catching up. My plan is to stop after folding in the Jazz Critics Poll results, although I'm already feeling like I'm getting diminishing returns. A week ago it seemed like Taylor Swift might be making a run for 4th place, but this week she loses ground to Bob Dylan, and is closer to losing her 5th slot to Waxahatchee (currently -1) and maybe even Dua Lipa (-7).

Fair number of records below, but fewer A-list than is usual at this time of year. Could be I'm getting diminishing returns from the EOY lists, or perhaps I'm the one running out of steam. Picked up my first 2021 rating, but release date was Jan. 1, and it's a follow-up to the week's top rated album. I had the 2020 promo queue cleaned out until Samo Salamon's latest arrived today (not counted in the unrated). I haven't dipped into the 2021 promo queue yet, which is 11 deep. I'll get to them in due course, but figured it would be confusing to consider them early.

Little progress on anything else. Still haven't done the December Streamnotes indexing, nor answered the pending queue of questions. Jazz Critics Poll should be unveiled at NPR later this week, but I haven't heard much detail yet, so wouldn't be surprised to find it slipping a week. Everything is counted, and this year I've forwarded the compiled ballots to the critics, so I expect the error count will be closer to zero than usual. I hope to get some cosmetic development done, but nothing actually depends on it.


New records reviewed this week:

3unshine: We Are 3unshine (2019 [2020], Real Show): Chinese "Mandopop" group, three girls -- Ji Xingyue ("Abby"), Fan Lina ("Cindy"), and Wang Xiaodie ("Dora") -- from Bozhou, Anhui, inland between Shanghai and Beijing. First such record I've heard, and only heard about it from a purloined email. No telling how many more records like this there are, but this one is fun, especially when it starts to click midway through. B+(**)

AC/DC: Power Up (2020, Columbia): Australian rock band, debut in 1975, massively successful, with over 200 million albums sold worldwide (Black in Black counting for a quarter of those, the second highest-selling album in history). Releases thinned out after 1990, with a new one every 5-8 years. I've seen a few people tout this as their best, which seems possible yet doesn't inspire me to backtrack. I did find it listenable, and found something respectable in how simple their basic formalism is. B

Alma: Have U Seen Her? (2020, PME): Finnish pop singer Alma-Sofia Miettinen, called her first EP Die My Hair (from what I've seen, her hair is significantly brighter and more unnatural than Billie Eilish's). First album, although Robyn-like she released most of it through EPs. Choice cut: "Loser." B+(**)

BbyMutha: Muthaland (2020, The Muthaboard): Rapper Brittnee Moore, from Chattanooga, first album after a dozen EPs (going back to 2014). At 31, has had a life, with physically abusive father, turbulent adolescence (depression, ADHD, expelled from school, drugs, pregnant with twins at 17), now a single mom with four children and her father living next door to help out. She was so stressed after finishing this she vowed it would be her last album. I feel much the same listening to it, but don't doubt there is some genius among the debris. A-

Brandy: B7 (2020, Brand Nu/Entertainment One): R&B singer Brandy Norwood, a star since her 1997 debut went 4xPlatinum. Seventh album, first since 2012. B+(*)

Dean & Britta: Quarantine Tapes (2020, Double Feature): Wareham and Phillips, married couple, best known for their band Luna (from 1992), but have also recorded several albums as a duo (from 2003). Recorded at home, old songs given minimal dressing. Most striking for me is the most familiar: "I'm So Bored With the USA." B+(**) [bc]

Drunken Kong: Where We Start (2020, Tronic): Japanese techno duo, D. Singh and DJ Kyoko, EPs since 2015, second album (plus remixes of each). Beats sharp and catchy, and while they repeat a lot -- 16 tracks run 107:47 -- they seem to know when to break up the flow with a subtle shift of focus. B+(***)

Dueling Experts: Dueling Experts (2020, Mello Music Group): Verbal Kent (from Chicago, yet another Dan Weiss) and Recognize Ali (from Ghana, Nii Ayitey Ajin Adamafio), both with long lists of separate credits (Kent's going back to 2004, Ali's to 2014). Enough distance to generate some tension, the edge reduced somewhat by the grungy din. B+(***)

Hazel English: Wake UP! (2020, Polyvinyl): Australian singer-songwriter, Eleisha Caripis, moved to Bay Area, first album after several EPs. B+(*)

Erasure: The Neon (2020, Mute): British electropop duo, Andy Bell and Vince Clark, eighteen studio album since 1986. Beats OK, vocals leave something to be desired. B

R.A.P. Ferreira: Purple Moonlight Pages (2020, Ruby Yacht): Rapper, initials for Rory Allen Philip, born in Chicago but grew up in Maine and Wisconsin, previously recorded a half-dozen albums as Milo (2011-18). Understated underground, produced by the Jefferson Park Boys (best known: Kenny Segal), the "poetry" basic but smart, with feat. spots for Mike Ladd and Open Mike Eagle, and a lightly sung "Creator Has a Masterplan" for the coda. A-

R.A.P. Ferreira: Bob's Son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the Garden Level Cafe of the Scallops Hotel (2021, Ruby Yacht): Refers back to another of Ferreira's aliases: Scallops Hotel. Drop off is slight. Twelve tracks, 35:06. B+(***) [bc]

The Full Salon: The Full Salon (2018 [2020], self-released): New York bassist Henry Fraser's "polycephalic seven piece ensemble," the vocals (Mel Stancato) but also the guitar, synth, drums moving it closer to art rock than jazz, though not without moments of surprise. B [bc]

A Girl Called Eddy: Been Around (2020, Elefant): Erin Moran, from New Jersey, based in England, second album, long time after her eponymous 2003 debut. B+(*)

Marquis Hill: Soul Sign (2020, Black Unlimited Music Group): Trumpet player, from Chicago, started as a mainstream player, moves into some kind of crossover zone here, with this grand tour of the zodiac in hip-hop beats and spoken word. Music is neither bad nor special. The astrology is nonsense. B

Rui Ho: Lov3 & L1ght (2020, Planet Mu): Born in China, based in Berlin, typographically challenged electropop artist, "non-binary," first album, synths are light and airy, chinoiserie bits filtered through manga, beats danceable, voices ubiquitous but hard to pin down. B+(**)

Hum: Inlet (2020, Earth Analog): Rock band from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, released four albums 1991-97, quit in 2000, regrouped 2011 but no new album until this one. Suggested genres include shoegaze and alt-metal. Melodies have some appeal, but also some sludge. B

Illuminati Hotties: Free I.H.: This Is Not the One You've Been Waiting For (2020, self-released): Los Angeles "tenderpunk" group led by Sarah Tudzin, second album, although barely -- 10 tracks, 23:16, dubbed a mixtape -- the subtitle as much as admitting this is a stopgap. B+(*)

Juice WRLD: Legends Never Die (2020, Grade A/Interscope): Chicago rapper Jarad Higgins, died at 21 of an overdose during a drug bust, so this third album was released posthumously. Album includes songs dedicated to XXXTentacion (shot dead at 20) and Lil Peep (OD at 21) -- still, hardly grimmer than his previous titles Goodbye & Good Riddance and Death Race for Love, or his mixtape Wrld on Drugs. Sample lyrics: "I'm a high guy/ kinda fly too"; "we don't live long"; "hell if I know." B

Maria Kannegaard Trio: Sand I En Vik (2020, Jazzland): Pianist, born in Denmark, lived in Norway since age 10, half-dozen albums since 2000, this a trio with Ole Morten Vågan (bass) and Thomas Strønen (drums). Strong rhythmic backbone. B+(***)

The Killers: Imploding the Mirage (2020, Island): Rock band from Las Vegas, sixth studio album since 2004, Brandon Flowers sings and plays keyboards, a big part of their sound. Not terrible, but not very interesting either. B

Sonny Landreth: Blacktop Run (2020, Provogue): Singer-songwriter, born in Mississippi but long-based in southwest Louisiana, broke in with Clinton Chenier's cajun band, 18th album since 1981, mostly blues. B+(*)

Bob Mould: Blue Hearts (2020, Merge): Ex-Hüsker Dü singer-guitarist, 14th solo album since 1989. Reverberations and echoes of his early work. I've long since lost interest, but hear something I once admired every time. B+(*)

Keir Neuringer/Ensemble Klang: Elegies & Litanies (2019 [2020], Ensemble Klang): Alto saxophonist, American, wrote all of the pieces here, including spoken text. Group is Dutch, "playing only the newest of new music," with saxes, trombone, guitars, keys, and "stuff we like hitting" (sounds like Han Bennink fans). For one thing, the texts add to the music. Also, the 14:50 finale, "Litanies of Trees," is the best piece of ambient music I've heard in recent memory -- at least until the words 10-minutes in, which again are a plus. A- [bc]

Kyle Nix: Lightning on the Mountain & Other Short Stories (2020, self-released): Alt-country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, first solo album after five fiddling with the Turnpike Troubadours. Some good songs, hot fiddle, annoying tics. B+(*)

Christopher Parker & Kelly Hurt: No Tears Suite (2020, Mahakala Music): Leaders (piano and voice) hail from Little Rock, where 63 years ago nine black students sought to attend classes in a previously all-white Little Rock Central High School. Gov. Orval Faubus led the white opposition, which was overcome only after Eisenhower sent the National Guard in to protect the students. This is their story, narrated by Hurt, performed by a sextet -- there is a second version performed by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. B+(**)

Poppy: I Disagree (2020, Sumerian): Alias for Moriah Rose Pereira ("American singer, songwriter, musician, YouTuber, and religious leader"). Originally signed with hip-hop label Mad Decent, but went to heavy metal Sumerian for her third album -- most obvious impact has been to her cover art, but there's some kind of musical synthesis as well, as she garnered a Grammy nomination for "Best Metal Performance" ("the first female artist to ever be nominated in the 30 year history of the category"). No reason for metal fans to put any more store in the Grammys than I do. And not amusing or weird enough for camp. B+(*)

Soho Rezanejad: Honesty Without Compassion Is Brutality (Volume 1) (2019, Silicone): Born in New York, based in Copenhagen, does electronics but main focus is voice. I was attracted by the title, which is a dilemma for critics who are often celebrated for "brutal honesty," or scoffed at as suckers or sell-outs. It's not always clear, just as it's difficult to take these cerebral pursuits as "acted compassion." B+(*) [bc]

Soho Rezanejad: Honesty Without Compassion Is Brutality (Volume 2) (2020, Silicone): More is more: more variety, more depth, more opaque. But the drums are real. B+(*) [bc]

Jeff Rosenstock: No Dream (2020, Polyvinyl): From Long Island, early bands include the Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry! Fourth solo album since his 2012 mixtape I Look Like Shit. Rocks hard, not sure there's much beyond the surface. B

Ana Roxanne: Because of a Flower (2020, Kranky): RA describes her as "an intersec Southeast Asian musician based in Los Angeles," and notes her "love for singing." Bandcamp puts her in New York, but includes a Philippines tag. First album, after an EP. Voice gives way to some nice ambient electronica. B+(*)

Royce Da 5'9": The Allegory (2020, EOne): Detroit rapper Ryan Montgomery, eighth studio album since 2002. I get most of this, especially the smart girl in the skits, but what's with the anti-vaccine shit? B+(**)

Sports Team: Deep Down Happy (2020, Island): English indie rock band, met at Cambridge but moved to London, first album after two EPs. Pretty upbeat, their happiness infectious, lead singer Alex Rice a voice that sticks with you. B+(***)

Cristina Vane: Old Played New (2020, Blue Tip): Born in Turin, Italy; studied classical voice before falling into classic country blues, picking up a resonator guitar, moving to Southern California to busk on the beach, winding up in Nashville. Voice strong and clear, guitar sharp, six songs (five I've tracked down to old masters), 27:57. B+(***)

Cristina Vane: The Magnolia Sessions (2020, Anti-Corp): Voice and guitar, mostly original songs, solo except for a chorus of cicadas. Left to her own devices, she leans folkie more than classic blues. Still impressive. B+(**)

Luke Vibert: Luke Vibert Presents Amen Andrews (2020, Hypercolour): British electronica producer, 30+ albums since 1993, some with aliases, like Wagon Christ, Plug, and Amen Andrews -- reviving the latter here, for a set of "raucous breakbeat bangers." B+(**)

Luke Vibert: Luke Vibert Presents Modern Rave (2020, Hypercolour): Main thing I'm struck by here is how little "modern rave" has changed from the hard-hitting dance rhythms rave pioneers like Vibert came up with in the early 1990s. But with so little new, retro just brings back memories of youth (relative, in my case). B+(***)

Luke Vibert: Luke Vibert Presents Rave Hop (2020, Hypercolour): I always have trouble making marginal distinctions in electronica, but generally approve of good dance beats. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

London Is the Place for Me 7: Calypso, Palm-Wine, Mento, Joropo, Steel & Stringband ([2019], Honest Jon's): I loved this label's first volume of "Trinidadian Calypso in London" back in 2002, but didn't realize it had turned into a long series. Mostly calypso, some West African, mostly minor fare. B+(**) [bc]

London Is the Place for Me 8: Lord Kitchener in England, 1948-1962 (1948-62 [2019], Honest Jon's): Single-artist volume in a multi-artist series, Aldwyn Roberts toured Jamaica and New York before arriving in England, where "he was much in demand for live perforances," returning to Trinidad in 1962 as a major star. Some familiar songs here, probably better heard on Klassic Kitchener, Volume One. B+(***) [bc]

Uzelli Elektro Saz (1976-1984) (1976-84 [2020], Uzelli): Turkish compilation, based on electrifying a folk instrument (the saz), so it fits somewhere on the ancient-to-postmodern continuum. B+(**)

Old music:

Don & Dewey: Jungle Hop (1957-64 [1991], Specialty): Rock and blues duo, Don Harris (1938-99) and Dewey Terry (1937-2003), from Pasadena, recorded a bunch of singles for Specialty 1957-59, returned in 1964 -- enough (with some outtakes) to collect 25 songs here. No hits, missed them completely when I was snapping everything I could find in this "Legends of Specialty Series," but when I saw a cover scan I had to check them out. Tried a bit of everything, with filler covers like "Pink Champagne" and "Justine" faring best. B+(**)

Ensemble Klang: Tom Johnson: Cows, Chords & Combinations (2009 [2010], Ensemble Klang): Dutch new music group, instrumentation more like a jazz sextet (two reeds, trombone, piano, guitar, percussion). I was tempted to parse the cover with Johnson first (as with their more recent collaboration with Keir Neuringer), but he is only the composer here, with five short pieces from his Rational Melodies, plus three longer ones (13:16-17:28). The cows are a bit much, but "Vermont Rhythms" justifies its 17:28. B+(***) [bc]


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell: Spiders (2020, Out of Your Head Untamed): Alto sax/piano duets. [bc: 1/5, 12:31/42.46]: +

Nick Dunston: Atlantic Extraction: Live at Threes (2020, Out of Your Head Untamed): Bassist, group from 2019 album. [bc: 1/3, 3:13/48:11]: +

Michael Formanek Quartet: Pre-Apocalyptic (2014 [2020], Out of Your Head Untamed): Bassist, with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver. [bc: 2/7, 22:06/66:08]: ++

Steve Lehman: Xenakis and the Valedictorian (2020, Pi, EP): Alto sax solo, a slim sample from a slim quarantine project. [bc: 1/10, 0:46/9:06]: -

Bob Vylan: We Live Here (2020, Venn, EP): Brit rapper, biracial I gather, dash of Sleaford Mods; title single a smash anti-anti-immigrant anthem. [bc: 2/8, 5:20/18:41]: ++

Anna Webber: Rectangles (2019 [2020], Out of Your Head Untamed): Tenor saxophonist, quartet with piano-bass-drums. [bc: 3:39/38:19]: ++

Dan Weiss Starebaby: Natural Selection (2020, Pi): Drummer-led quintet with two piano/keyb players (Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn), guitar (Ben Monder), and electric bass (Trevor Dunn). [bc: 29:02/78:14]: -


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Hal Galper Quintet: Live at the Berlin Philharmonic 1977 (Origin, 2CD) [01-15]
  • Samo Salamon & Friends: Almost Alone Vol. 1 (Sazas)
  • Amber Weekes: My Romance: A Special Valentin (Amber Inn Productions, EP) [02-14]