An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, September 19, 2022
Music: Current count 38717  rated (+32), 46  unrated (-2: 19 new, 27 old).
Rated count is down, but that's partly explained by multi-disc sets: especially the 8-CD Mercury box, which took more than a day (including one I did some cooking on). But I also played more old music, including a big chunk of the ridiculously packaged Beg Scream & Shout: The Big Ol' Box of '60s Soul (an A- in my database).
This week's two A- records were featured in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. I previously graded Etran De L'Aïr: Agadez, and The Mountain Goats: Bleed Out as A-; also Kabaka International Guitar Band and The Mountain Goats: Getting Into Knives as B+(***). I didn't get to Fox Green this week, and doubt I'll be seeing the Dusty Springfield comp (Ace rarely shows up on streaming services, although sometimes someone constructs a usable playlist; I still have no clue how to construct a playlist on Spotify).
Another Speaking of Which out Sunday night. I've started reading J. Bradford DeLong's big book (Slouching Towards Utopia), and it's already kicking off a lot of thoughts in my head. For instance, DeLong argues that before 1870 gains in technology and productivity were always diverted into more population (per Malthus) instead of more wealth per capita, but that changed after 1870 (basically doubling wealth every 33 years, until recently). It occurs to me that the 1870 shift wasn't global. In particular, Africa continued growing population, which correlates with low per capita growth, and widespread poverty. On the other hand, Asia did make the shift, mostly well after 1870, but the richest nations there are par with Europe, and most others are catching up fast (aside from politically excluded countries like Afghanistan and North Korea). It's a big book, so I'll probably be stuck on it for quite some time.
I've been wanting to do a Books post. Perhaps this week. Also have quite a bit of domestic work to get done, hopefully this week (but not likely until it cools off a bit). Only 7 September releases in my demo queue, and 2 of those not until 9/30. On the other hand, September is bringing more interesting new releases: in addition to the Miles Davis box below, there are new records waiting from the Beths, Gogol Bordello, Jesca Hoop, Samara Joy, Julian Lage, James Brandon Lewis, Rhett Miller, No Age, Rina Sawayama, Suede, and something called the Marxist Love Disco Ensemble. Also finally out is Jessica Pavone's Spam Likely, which I gave an A- to back in June.
New records reviewed this week:
Stacy Antonel: Always the Outsider (2022, self-released): Singer-songwriter, move to Nashville puts her in the country orbit, but she won't let that define her (even as she loads up on pedal steel). B+(*) [sp]
The Broken Spokes: Where I Went Wrong (2022, Broken Spokes Music): Country band from Houston, self-titled debut in 2016, singer Brent McLennan and guitarist Josh Artall write the songs, which feature more than a little western swing, and they keep the ballads on the sweet side. B+(**) [sp]
Charley Crockett: The Man From Waco (2022, Son of Davy): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, debut 2015, 11th album since 2015, 2nd this year. Trad sound, supplemented with horns. B+(**) [sp]
John Dikeman/Peter Ajtai/Nicolas Field: The Throes (2018 , Orbit577): Avant sax-bass-drums trio, recorded in Amsterdam. Major thrash, for five tracks, 61:17. B+(*) [bc]
Dave Douglas Quintet: Songs of Ascent: Book 1 -- Degrees (2020-2021 , Greenleaf Music): Trumpet player, postbop composer, long history as a preëminent player, most often leading quintets with someone equally skilled on reeds (Jon Irabagon here). Rhythm section is also superb: MattMitchell (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Thematically, he continues from last year's interest in Secular Psalms. There's also a Book 2 -- Steps, which is exclusive to his digital subscribers. B+(***) [10-07]
Homeboy Sandman: I Can't Sell These (2022, self-released): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, very prolific since 2007 (mostly in the EP-to-short-album range), counts this 20-track long-player as a mixtape, based as it is on uncleared samples. Helps with the music, but I mostly hear words, which fascinate and pick up momentum over the long haul. A- [bc]
Jockstrap: I Love You Jennifer B (2022, Rough Trade): English electropop duo, Georgia Ellery (also of Black Country, New Road) and Taylor Skye, first album after several EPs. Has an interesting glitchiness, which isn't quite the same thing as hooklessness. B+(**) [sp]
Freedy Johnston: Back on the Road to You (2022, Forty Below): Singer-songwriter from Kinsley, KS, moved to New York 1985, debut album 1990. Only his second album since 2010, nice and tuneful. B+(**) [sp]
Kimberly Kelly: I'll Tell You What's Gonna Happen (2022, Show Dog Nashville): Country singer from Texas, father and sister in the business, self-released her debut in 2007, this her third album, shows a lot of poise. Has a connection to Billy Joe Shaver that pays off with an ace cover of "Black Rose." B+(***) [sp]
Mach-Hommy: Dollar Menu 4 (2022, self-released, EP): Rapper Ramar Begon, born in Haiti, grew up in New Jersey, has an album dated 2004 but really picks up only in 2016, with 2021's Pray for Haiti his breakthrough. Released three Dollar Menu tapes in 2017, follows up here with Tha God Fahim: 9 songs, 25:06. B+(***) [sp]
Sana Nagano: Anime Mundi (2020 , 577): Brooklyn-based violinist, second album, trio with Karl Berger (vibes) and Billy Martin (drums). B+(**) [cd] [10-28]
Rachika Nayar: Heaven Come Crashing (2022, NNA Tapes): Brooklyn-based sound designer, uses guitar and electronics, third album, "a left-turn into electronic maximalism." B+(**) [sp]
Petrol Girls: Baby (2022, Hassle): English punk band, Ren Aldridge sings (or more often screams), started with an EP in 2014, no longer all girls, this is their third album, 11 songs in 34:00. B+(**) [sp]
Rick Rosato: Homage (2021 , self-released, EP): Bassist, originally from Montreal, based in New York, first album, solo: eight tracks, 22:51: the original title track, a Monk, one from Elvin Jones, the rest blues. B+(*) [cd] [10-14]
Santigold: Spirituals (2022, Little Jerk): Singer-songwriter Santi White, from Philadelphia, eponymous debut 2009, fifth album but first I've heard in a decade. No obvious gospel tropes or stylings here, but fine with me if the spirit wants to move. A- [sp]
Mista Savona: Havana Meets Kingston Part 2 (2022, Cumbancha): Australian keyboardist/producer, into dancehall, released a 2007 album called Melbourne Meets Kingston, followed it up in 2014 with a Mista Savona Presents Sizzla, then in 2017 with his first Havana Meets Kingston. Seems like a smoother mix than you get with reggaeton. B+(**) [bc]
Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers: Pretty Good for a Girl Band (2022, Domestic La La, EP): Australian girl band, leans punk but not real hard, released an EP in 2017 and a couple singles. This one runs 5 songs, 15:01. B+(*) [sp]
Kate Vargas: Rumpumpo (2021, Bandaloop): Singer-songwriter, plays guitar and flute, distinctive voice, fourth album since 2013. B+(**) [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Miles Davis: Live: What It Is: Montreal 7/7/83 (1983 , Columbia/Legacy): After hiatus 1975-80, Davis staged a minor comeback in the early 1980s, probably peaking with the live Star People in 1983. This is much the same band, with the leader on trumpet and keyboards, Bill Evans (sax/flute), John Sccofield (guitar), Darryl Jones (bass), Al Foster (drums), and Mino Cinelu (percussion). Nine songs, 82:59, heavy on the funk groove. B+(***) [sp]
Miles Davis: That's What Happened [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7: 1982-1985] (1982-85, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): Third disc reissues the Montreal date, available earlier this year on 2-LP. It's preceded by two discs of studio outtakes, mostly the residue of producer Teo Macero's editing. They are pleasantly inconspicuous. The live set is much hotter, but no more varied. B+(**) [sp]
Lou Reed: Words & Music, May 1965 (1965 , Light in the Attic): Looks like Reed is going to get the full posthumous archive exploitation, starting with his earliest and crudest demos, mailed to himself to establish copyright: some songs that would become famous, some long forgotten, some with John Cale joining in, a Dylan-ish "Men of Good Fortune." I've only heard the 11 tracks of the most basic edition, and haven't seen Greil Marcus's liner notes. Rest assured that there are other options to take more of your money. At this level, it offers minor charms and amusements, as well as much room for improvement. B [sp]
Lou Reed: I'm So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos (1971 , RCA): Guitar and vocal takes of 17 songs -- all 10 from his 1972 eponymous solo debut, 4 more from Transformer, 2 that appeared on later albums ("Kill Your Sons" on Sally Can't Dance, and "She's My Best Friend" on Coney Island Baby), plus a VU song Mo Tucker originally sung ("I'm Sticking With You"). The album mixes have always had their detractors, but bare demos feel a little monotonous. B+(**)
Charles Stepney: Step on Step (, International Anthem): From Chicago, died young (1931-76), has some side credits but is best known as a producer, initially for Chess in the 1960s, later for Earth, Wind & Fire and other groups. No albums under his name until this one, which collects 23 undated demo pieces for 78 minutes -- mostly keyboard vamps, with some extraneous patter. The NY Times had a long review of this that described it as "a legacy of love" for someone who was "underrated, under-known, but he was magnificent." Maybe so, but aside from beat samplers, I doubt many will care. B [sp]
Stereolab: Electrically Possessed [Switched On, Vol. 4] (1999-2008 , Duophonic/Warp, 2CD): British electropop, principally Tim Gane (guitar/keyboards) and Laetetia Sadier (vocals/other instruments), founded 1990, broke up 2009, regrouped 2019. Switched On was a 1992 album compiled from earlier EPs and singles, and two more volumes followed to 1998. This picks up with the 1999-2000 EPs The Underground Is Coming and The First of the Microbe Hunters, and then adds various scraps. Initial groove piece is terrific for 9:29, later vocals a bit less so. B+(***) [sp]
Stereolab: Pulse of the Early Brain [Switched On, Volume 5] (1992-2008 , Duophonic/Warp, 2CD): Fifth volume of miscellaneous cuts, has to dig a little deeper, which sometimes means earlier. B+(**) [sp]
The Mercury Blues 'n' Rhythm Story 1945-1955 (1945-55 , Mercury/Chronicles, 8CD): Two discs each for Midwest Blues, Southwest Blues, West Coast Blues, and East Coast Blues. Mercury started in 1945 as an independent in Chicago, but they aimed big and spread everywhere, adding labels like EmArcy and Norgran (for jazz) and Smash, moving into Nashville and on to Europe, getting sucked up by Philips (eventually merged into Universal). Despite this breadth, this box winds up leaning heavily on a few artists: on the blues end, Big Bill Broonzy and Sunnyland Slim, and somewhat jazzier, Roy Byrd, Dinah Washington, and Cleanhead Vinson. Comes in an old-fashioned long box with four 2-CD jewel cases, and a big and useful booklet. B+(***) [cd]
Stereolab: Peng! (1992, Too Pure): Described as an "English-French rock band," based in England but singer Laetitia Sadier is French, the others on this debut album have proper English names (Tim Gane, Martin Kean, Joe Dilworth), but also give credit to a Charles Baudelaire text. Finds its groove with "Perversion," then sustains with some Velvet Underground airs. B+(**)
Stereolab: Switched On (1990-91 , Slumberland): Starting off a future series, this combines four tracks each from two EPs (Super-Electric and Super 45) with the two tracks from their single Stunning Debut Album. Seems elementary, but sometimes a groove is all it takes (especially with those Velvet Underground overtones). B+(**) [sp]
Stereolab: Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements (1993, Elektra): Title sounds like mere description, but not all that accurate, as most of it is pretty catchy, even a bit song-like. B+(***) [sp]
Stereolab: Mars Audiac Quintet (1994, Elektra): Guitar grinds a little more. B+(**) [sp]
Stereolab: Refried Ectoplasm [Switched On Volume 2] (1992-93 , Drag City): A second compilation of non-album tracks, mostly from 7-inch singles, with one previously unreleased track. Steady groove pieces amplified with drone, a hook in its own right. B+(***) [sp]
Stereolab: Aluminum Tubes [Switched On Volume 3] (1994-97 , Drag City, 2CD): Mostly EPs and side projects (like the "One Note Samba" with Herbie Mann from Red Hot + Rio). This period straddles their best album (Tomato Emperor Ketchup) and the much lamer Dots and Loops, so no surprise that it's more scattered than the first two Switched On volumes. Also longer: 113:12. B+(*) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: