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Monday, January 26, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24422 [24392] rated (+30), 497 [493] unrated (+4).

Closed the count out Sunday evening, trying to get a jump on posting this early, but various distractions today will make this as late in the day as usual.

To save some time, I went ahead and rushed out Rhapsody Streamnotes without having tweeted everything. The tweet reviews are meant as advance news, so seemed like a waste of time to make up lost ground below. The records that lost out: Terri Clark, Peter Evans, Porter Robinson, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako. I was listening to the three Soundway records as I wrapped up Streamnotes, so they're the first of next column's reviews. After that, I was just browsing around for something interesting to listen to, and noticed that Rhapsody has quite a few releases from the American Music label, which was established in the early 1940s to record the older, but then still living, generation of New Orleans jazz musicians.

In the 1930s jazz moved from New Orleans-style groups -- usually five-to-seven members -- to swing, both in big bands and small groups (usually five or less), and in the 1940s jazz moved on to the more self-consciously virtuosic music known as bebop. Bucking this trend was a sudden revival of interest in traditional jazz, especially in San Francisco (with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band) and later in the '40s in England. The new trad jazz musicians were almost invariably white, but as with the folk-blues movement in the early 1960s, scholars and entrepreneurs went back to find what was left of New Orleans' early jazz musicians. The unrecorded Buddy Bolden, of course, was long gone, as was Freddie Keppard (1890-1933), who at least recorded a it in the mid-1920s. But Bunk Johnson (1879-1949) was justifiably ancient, older than King Oliver (1885-1939) let alone Louis Armstrong's slightly older peers, the late Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941) and Johnny Dodds (1892-1940), and the still active Kid Ory (1886-1973), Baby Dodds (1898-1959), and especially the trad-minded George Lewis (1900-68).

The only thing I had heard by Johnson was Bunk and Lu, a compilation of sessions with Lu Watters (one of the West Coast revivalists), so the chance to hear the vastly superior sets on American Music is most welcome -- and not just as a respite from 2014. But speaking of 2014, the latest A-list finds turned out to be two very different fringe-country artists, Kelsey Waldon and Bob Wayne. There are undoubtedly more out there, but it's becoming less and less obvious where to look next.

Sometime between now and the end of January I'll call it quits and freeze the year-end list. After last year's relatively early freeze date I added 69 records to the 2013 file. It certainly wouldn't be hard now to construct a list of 2014 releases I would like to have heard, but finding them and getting to them will be harder. And usually the pressures of the new year dim my interest in the old one. We'll see what happens this time.

New records rated this week:

  • 2NE1: Crush (2014, YG Entertainment): K-pop group, four girls, title should be a hit, ballads not bad, rap some, drop in occasional hooks in English [r]: B+(**)
  • Ballister: Worse for the Wear (2014 [2015], Aerophonic): free sax trio, Dave Rempis & Paal Nilssen-Love, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello/electronics in between [cd]: B+(***)
  • Caleb Caudle: Paint Another Layer on My Heart (2014, This Is American Music): country singer-songwriter, fine ear and nice voice for ballads, some pedal steel [r]: B+(***)
  • Terri Clark: Some Songs (2014, Bare Track): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peter Evans Quintet: Destination: Void (2013 [2014], More Is More): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fantasma: Eye of the Sun (2014, Soundway, EP): 5-cut EP with South African rapper Spoek Mathambo mixing something old, something new, else too [r]: B+(*)
  • Alex G: DSU (2014, Orchid Tapes, EP): singer-songwriter with heart on sleeve, not without pop resonance; ten songs, so short they don't add up to LP [r]: B+(*)
  • Gold-Bears: Dalliance (2014, Slumberland): Atlanta "twee-punk" group, no sharp edges with "explicit" vocals buried under guitar roil [r]: B+(**)
  • Tom Guarna: Rush (2014, BJU): jazz guitarist, quintet with Joel Frahm on sax and Danny Grissett on piano, postbop set, a little ripe [r]: B
  • Barry Guy New Orchestra: Amphi/Radio Rondo (2013 [2014], Intakt): two long pieces for large free ensemble, many name players with knack for dense chaos [r]: B+(*)
  • Ali Jackson: Amalgamations (2013 [2014], Sunnyside): drummer-led group (or groups), leans on his LCJO chums (like Wynton Marsalis), plays up Latin tinge [r]: B+(**)
  • Amira Kheir: Alsahraa (2014, Sterns): woman from Sudan, basic instrumental backing, typical of the arid Saharan milieu [r]: B+(*)
  • Kiasmos (2014, Erased Tapes): Icelandic techno duo with Olafur Arnalds (semi-famous), built on loops, approaches ambient but won't shake dance beat [r]: B+(*)
  • The Juan MacLean: In a Dream (2014, DFA): formula works fine: danceable beats, a swish of disco, singers equally functional [r]: B+(***)
  • Meridian Brothers: Salvadora Robot (2014, Soundway): Colombian group, started in salsa but evolved into something else, maybe psychedelia [r]: B+(**)
  • Porter Robinson: Worlds (2014, Astralwerks): [r]: B
  • Reg Schwager: Delphinus (2014, Jazz From Rant): Canadian jazz guitarist, richly melodic paired with Don Thompson's piano, not quite lush but like that [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Jazz Racine Haïti (2012 [2014], Motema Music): tenor saxophonist, dice-ups with Etienne Charles' trumpet sparkle, but singers dominate [r]: B+(*)
  • Skyzoo & Torae: The Barrel Brothers (2014, E1/Empire): nothing to say about this rap record except that I enjoyed a second spin [r]: B+(**)
  • Kelsey Waldon: The Gold Mine (2014, self-released): Kentucky singer, from cotton country not coal but knows down-and-out happens way too much [r]: A-
  • Bob Wayne: Back to the Camper (2014, self-released): real outlaw country, tales of crime that give me the willies, heaven and hell just a joke [r]: A-
  • Nate Wooley/Dave Rempis/Pascal Niggenkemper/Chris Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (2014 [2015], Aerophonic): avant pianoless quartet, sax soars, trumpet? [cd]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako (1975-77 [2014], Sterns Africa, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Muwei Power: Sierra Leone in 1970s USA (1975-76 [2014], Soundway): lost and found, multi-voiced, some highlife guitar, horns, lots of percussion [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Bunk Johnson: In San Francisco (1943-44 [1994], American Music): "real negro jazz" treated as a rare artifact in a SF museum, its innovators still real [r]: B+(*)
  • Bunk Johnson: 1944 (1944 [1991], American Music): New Orleans trumpet legend gets a new set of teeth, returns revitalized with the same old chops [r]: A-
  • Bunk Johnson: 1944 Second Masters (1944 [1992], American Music); mostly alternate takes, a bit more relaxed, plus some previously unreleased blues [r]: B+(***)
  • Bunk Johnson: 1944/45 (1944-45 [1994], American Music): more fine sessions from the leading light of the Dixieland revival [r]: B+(***)
  • Bunk Johnson: Bunk's Brass Band and Dance Band 1945 (1945 [1992], American Music): like they did it in the old days before Louis Armstrong rewrote the book [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Three Rivers (Richman): February 17
  • Ted Kooshian: Clowns Will Be Arriving (Summit)
  • John Mills: Invisible Designs (Fable): February 17
  • John Petrucelli Quintet: The Way (self-released): February 10
  • Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (BassKat): February 3


  • The Falcons: The Definitive Falcons Collection: The Complete Recordings (1955-63, History of Soul, 4CD)

Seems like I could construct a rather larger list of 2014 records I know something about and would like to hear. In fact, let's take a first shot at such a list right now (number in brackets is the EOY Aggregate point count):

  • The Bad Plus: The Rite of Spring (Masterworks) [18]
  • The Black Keys: Turn Blue (Nonesuch) [58]
  • Fred Hersch: Floating (MRI) [16]
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance (ECM) [10]
  • Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey: Going Back Home (Chess) [15]
  • Manic Street Preachers: Futurology (Columbia) [26]
  • Mogwai: Rave Tapes (Sub Pop) [38]
  • Pharoahe Monch: PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (WAR Media) [16]
  • Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (Relative Pitch) [15]
  • Morrissey: WOrld Peace Is None of Your Business (Harvest) [32]
  • Kassem Mosse: Workshop 19 (Workshop) [22]
  • Paolo Nutini: Caustic Love (Atlantic) [27]
  • Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters: Lullaby and . . . the Ceaseless Roar (EastWest) [64]
  • Ty Segall: Manipulator (Drag City) [114]
  • Shellac: Dude Incredible (Touch & Go) [39]
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: Root of Things (Relative Pitch) [10]
  • Shovels and Rope: Swimmin' Time (Dualtone) [19]
  • Andy Stott: Faith in Strangers (Modern Love) [66]
  • Taylor Swift: 1989 (Big Machine) [140]
  • Tanya Tagaq: Animism (Six Shooter) [18]
  • Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20) [53]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Don't have much to show here, but enough to run. I wasn't able to find anything very useful on renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine: I gather the central ("pro-western") government broke the cease fire, and now they're complaining about civilian deaths caused by Russian rockets. This is one of four major wars from 2014 -- Israel, Iraq, and Syria -- that have been allowed to fester and grow by the inability and/or unwillingness of the US to engage in diplomacy, especially with Russia. That failure is rooted in the kneejerk US belief that foreign affairs is always a test of will where only force matters. In particular, the US has been seduced by the idea that all problems can be solved by killing "bad guys" -- a notion that's rife in American culture, that is the basic idea behind the drone warfare program, that excuses all manner of secret operations. That American Sniper beat out Selma both in the box office and Oscar nominations is par for the week.

I skipped the "Israel Links" this week, not because I couldn't find them but because I didn't feel a need to bother. If you do feel the need, the first place to look is Mondoweiss.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Murtaza Hussain: Saudi Arabia's Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace: Point taken, although the late King Abdullah mostly continued policies of his predecessors, both in savagely repressing any hints of dissent in the Middle East's only real Islamic State and in promoting Salafist fundamentalism throughout the Islamic world, generously subsidizing interference in other nations' political affairs, always with cash and often with guns. On the other hand, maybe he should be remembered as "a man of peace": he was primarily responsible for signing the entire Arab League up behind UNSC Resolutions 235 and 338 as the basis for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Acceptance of that proposal would have been a major advance both for peace and for respect for international law as a means of resolving belligerent disputes. But Abdullah's proposal was simply ignored by US President GW Bush, who preferred giving Israel's Arik Sharon carte blanche to create "new facts on the ground." The episode was detailed in Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine, describing an April 2002 meeting between Abdullah and Bush:

    Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States were in tatters. The Saudis had been stewing for more than a year, in fact, ever since it became clear at the start of 2001 that this administration was to alter the long-standing U.S. role of honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to something less than that. The President, in fact, had said in the first NSC principals meeting of his administration that Clinton had overreached at the end of his second term, bending too much toward Yasser Arafat -- who then broke off productive Camp David negotiations at the final moment -- and that "We're going to tilt back ward Israel." Powell, a chair away in the Situation Room that day, said such a move would reverse thirty years of U.S. policy, and that it could unleash the new prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Israeli army in ways that could be dire for the Palestinians. Bush's response: "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things."

    What Abdullah was proposing was exactly what US official policy had been since 1967, so Bush's response must have been shocking -- but Bush was himself half way between 9/11 and invading Iraq, so his faith in force was running at a fever pitch. In one of his notorious malaproprisms Bush later described Sharon as "a man of peace." (Sharon's own autobiography was titled Warrior.) Surely when Bush passes he at least won't be remembered as "a man of peace" -- but obviously such words are cheap to political figures who have so much to bury.

    Also see Glenn Greenwald: Compare and Contrast: Obama's Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez:

    But when it comes to western political and media discourse, the only difference that matters is that Chávez was a U.S. adversary while Abdullah was a loyal U.S. ally -- which, by itself for purposes of the U.S. and British media, converts the former into an evil villainous monster and the latter into a beloved symbol of peace, reform and progress.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Adrian Bonenberger: There Are No War Heroes: A Veteran's Review of American Sniper: I haven't seen Clint Eastwood's movie, and it looks like the only way I might would be if I went alone -- my wife's reaction to every mention of the movie is so scabrous I doubt I could focus with her present. I don't follow many people on Twitter, but two I do -- Max Blumenthal and Matt Taibbi -- have been relentless in attacking the film (e.g., see Taibbi's American Sniper Is Almost Too Dumb to Criticize; I'm finding many rebuttals to Blumenthal's line that "Chris Kyle was just a popular mass murderer" but not the original source). I did read Nicholas Schmiddle's June 2013 piece on sniper Chris Kyle (In the Crosshairs) so have some sense of the story line, notably how he cashed in on his war "service": his bestselling memoir, how he became a "patriotic icon" for the gun crusade, and how he was shot and killed by a PTSD-damaged soldier. A movie of his life would seem to have all sorts of possibilities, and Eastwood showed himself capable of seeing more than one side of a war in his two Iwo Jima films. But one of those possibilities was to invest whole hog in the jingoism (and racism and murderousness) that floated around Kyle -- that made him a "hero" to the powerful people who patronized him. As Bonenberger points out, the controversy predates the film:

    This reflects a truth that the movie itself seeks to avoid: War is political, and a movie about war is bound to make political pronouncements. When you sit down to enjoy American Sniper, you are committing a political act, and your evaluation of the movie, and Kyle as a person, reflects your political attitudes. But it's more complicated than the simple equation that progressives dislike it and conservatives enjoy it. Politics notwithstanding, those who've seen it tend to describe the experience in religious terms: awe-struck congregations of Americans seeing the Iraq War the way it happened, traveling down the path to PTSD together. Ask around: Be it Texas or Williamsburg, it's not uncommon to hear of packed theaters with the patrons filing out in reverent silence after the closing credits.

    The very notion that this movie is "non-partisan" or "apolitical" is the most insidious notion of all. It asserts that fundamentally we all agree on wars that many of us see as very foolish and self-destructive (not to mention criminal) acts. What I fear is that time is being used to cement a mythic memory of the "Terror Wars" -- myths that only pave the way for more war.

    Also see: Peter Maas: How Clint Eastwood Ignores History in American Sniper.

  • Sebastian Budgen & Stathis Kouvelakis: Greece: Phase One: Useful background on the development of Greece's leftist Syriza party, which evidently won big in Greece's elections today. Also see Tariq Ali: Greece's Fight Against European Austerity.

  • Mike Konczal: The 2003 Dividend Tax Cut Did Nothing to Help Real Economy: Supposedly, cuts in dividends would spur investment and (maybe) increase employee compensation but it did neither -- especially if you compare affected C-corporations with unaffected S-corporations. Did lead to more payouts to already rich owners.

  • DR Tucker: Let Choice Ring!: Starts with a quote from Mitt Romney supporting woman's right to choose to abort a pregnancy, something he believed in when running for the Senate from Massachusetts in 1994 but has conveniently evolved his views on since the anti-choice stand has become Republican dogma. Tucker collects that and other links here, and take a strong stand in defense of abortion rights, something more pressing than it's been in many years precisely because it's being so threatened (see A Perilous Year for Abortion Rights, a NY Times editorial.) Unfortunately, Tucker sinks to exploiting various prejudices in support of his position. For instance, his link to the NY Times piece reads: "The radical anti-abortion movement in this country is out own Boko Haram, trying to kidnap women's rights in the name of an extremist and backward ideology." That anti-choice activists and Boko Haram may share a similar psychology about women doesn't justify exploiting anti-Islam prejudice against the former. Tucker goes on to argue that ending medical abortion would result in more "welfare queens" (indeed, a much larger welfare state), as if that might dissuade "your Republican friends." Appealing to bigots may seem like a cute idea, but one doubts doing so would ever do any good. There used to be a strong conservative case for abortion rights: parenthood is a great personal responsibility, and the social order depends on individual commitment to and fulfilling of that responsibility. Commitment derives from choice: a society where people choose to be parents is far stronger than one where it happens by haphazard chance. You don't hear arguments like that any more because Republicans have settled on building a coalition of bigots and haters, and there's still a sizable faction out to keep women in "their place" -- and that seems to trump freedom, responsibility, or any other ideal that fleetingly enters their minds.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (January 2015)

Pick up text here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24392 [24347] rated (+45), 493 [503] unrated (-10).

I thought I'd wrap up 2014 last week, freezing my year-end list and shelving my EOY aggregate, so I made a serious effort to cram in as much last-minute listening as possible. My freeze dates have typically fallen mid-to-late January (25th in 2009, 24th in 2010, 18th in 2011; 2012 was anomalous with January 1, and last year was January 9). I often wait for Pazz & Jop to post (usually later than this year's January 14). I have added the albums data to my file, and a couple dozen individual ballots. The main external event I'm waiting for now is Christgau's Dean's List: he's always based his annual summary on P&J data, and D'Angelo's surprise win -- which, by the way, he predicted several weeks ago -- gives him all the more to write about. (Also, his hiatus from posting CG reviews means he's likely to have more unreviewed records than usual on his list, and he often comes up with stuff no one else notices.)

I wound up posting the previous paragraph as a stub on my usual Monday. Two days later all I'm wrapping up is this post. If you follow my Twitter feed, you've already seen most of what follows. The 2015 records are all things I've picked up in the mail, played when I feel like listening to something that doesn't tie me down to the computer. (Although I'll note that the Red Garland set already picked up a vote in the 2014 Jazz Critics Poll -- someone got excited and jumped the gun. It and the Charles McPherson records are my first A-list finds of 2015.) I haven't checked out any 2015 releases on Rhapsody yet -- not even the Sleater-Kinney album that friends say is so good it might even overcome my usual objections.

Last two days I've still been adding to the EOY Aggregate. I have a checklist mostly derived from this link list and I'm somewhere in the R's, occasionally still picking up things of interest (e.g., the list from Potholes in My Blog). I also took the trouble of constructing a composite list from the individual staff top-tens at Reverb. I factored in a number of genre lists from Rolling Stone and Spin, and wrote quite a bit about them -- some last post and more I didn't bother posting but kept in the notebook. This will come to an end soon, but not quite yet.

Plan is still to freeze the year-end lists when I run Rhapsody Streamnotes, most likely later this week. I'd like to end the EOY Aggregate at the same time, but I do want to include Christgau's Dean's List whenever that finally appears. Last thing I'll probably do is factor in my own A-list: I haven't done that yet because it's always changing and the Aggregate is basically a record of what other people think, but I'd like to recognize a few albums that no one else has noticed, and I suppose I do count for something. (By the way, Milo Miles's late lists added a couple of those: e.g., Free Nelson Mandoomjazz and Duduvudo.)

By the way, the Aggregate remains very close and rather volatile. You may recall that War on Drugs jumped to an early lead, then lost it to FKA Twigs. Then a couple weeks ago, War on Drugs recovered the lead, only to lose it this week to Run the Jewels 2. Currently the top three points are 308-304-298, so they could well flip again. Fourth is St. Vincent at 279. Caribou is still in fifth at 200, but Flying Lotus has narrowed the gap at 196, Aphex Twin at 191, then a tie between Sun Kil Moon and Swans at 184. Swans had been in 6th recently, so I'm a bit surprised (and pleased) to see it slip. Also, Beck has slipped out of his longstanding hold on 10th place: at 163, now tied with Angel Olsen and trailing Sharon Van Etten. Taylor Swift continues to gain (now 18th), also Sturgill Simpson (22nd), Parquet Courts (26th), Azealia Banks (27th), Miranda Lambert (28th), and most of all, P&J winner D'Angelo (30th). I've never consciously played favorites here, but find it rather satisfying how neatly the standings are working out. Currently up to 487 lists with 4285 new records and 637 reissues/archives.

By the way, I haven't talked much about the reissues list, mostly because the actual sample size hasn't been very high. The leader right now has accumulated a mere 23 points -- just enough to tie Lily Allen, Mica Levi, The Juan MacLean, Pharmakon, Thee Silver Memorial Orchestra, Mark Turner, and The Twilight Sad for 163rd on the new list. I would have picked Bob Dylan's The Basement Tapes Complete as a priori favorite, and it has a fairly solid lead (23-17) right now over John Coltrane's Offering: Live at Temple University. Beyond that some surprises (Native North America) and somethings that might have been expected (the latest Miles Davis bootleg). Also three Led Zeppelin "deluxe editions" in the top-20, but that was mostly due to the practice of counting each record when listmakers came up with entries like "Led Zeppelin reissues."

I'll also note that among jazz records, Wadada Leo Smith's The Great Lakes Suites has pulled rather clearly ahead of Steve Lehman's Mise En Abime, 34-28 (111th to 138th). I'd say that the Jazz Critics Poll's results are more representative of jazz critical opinion, and Lehman beat Smith in a close race there. Third in the EOY aggregate is Mark Turner's Lathe of Heaven, which was the highest placing jazz album in Pazz & Jop this year, then fourth is Ambrose Akinmusire (second in P&J, followed by Lehman, Marc Ribot, and Bad Plus -- the latter 7th and 6th in my Aggregate).

New records rated this week:

  • African Express: African Express Presents . . . Terry Riley's In C Mali (2014, Transgressive): minimalism in the tropics, a hot desert anyhow, with drums, voices [r]: B+(***)
  • Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: Dereconstructed (2014, Sub Pop): back-to-basics rock and roll band with a bit of twang, loud and inarticulate [r]: B
  • Jon Batiste/Chad Smith/Bill Laswell: The Process (2014, MOD Technologies): piano trio looks for the perfect groove to float horns, voices, more grooves [r]: B+(***)
  • Elvis Bishop: Can't Even Do Wrong Right (2014, Alligator): at 71 contemplates his own mortality, deciding to keep on doing what he's been doing [r]: B+(**)
  • The Michael Blum Quartet: Initiation (2014, self-released): guitarist backed with piano-bass-drums, has a light touch and tone, well suited for his Jobim [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lukasz Borowicki Trio: People, Cats & Obstacles (2014, Fortune): Denmark-based guitar-bass-drums, wouldn't call it raw but still flexes muscle [cd]: B+(**)
  • Clipping: CLPPNG (2014, Sub Pop): LA hip-hop trio, fairly minimal beats with an industrial clang, monotone raps, could grow on you [r]: B+(**)
  • Richard Dawson: Nothing Important (2014, Weird World): British guitarist-singer produces long, twisted, distorted pieces, musicality hard to access [r]: B
  • Dej Loaf: Sell Sole (2014, World): Detroit girl rapper, sounds young, tends to go deadpan, not without winning charm but doesn't make it easy [r]: B+(*)
  • Akua Dixon: Akua Dixon (2014 [2015], Akua's Music): cellist, first album in her 60s, picks great songs and violinists to lead, sings one, her daughter another [cd]:
  • DJ Quik: The Midnight Life (2014, Mad Science): rapper, working at it since 1991, understands the importance of a good beat as well as street cred [r]: B+(*)
  • The Flaming Lips: With a Little Help From My Fwends (2014, Warner Brothers): "Sgt. Pepper" done mischievously, as if it were really about psychedelics [r]: B+(**)
  • Fred Frith and John Butcher: The Natural Order (2009 [2014], Northern Spy): the saxophonist keeps this within jazz, while the guitar sonics try to break out [r]: B+(**)
  • Herb Geller/Roberto Magris: An Evening With Herb Geller & the Roberto Magris Trio: Live in Europe 2009 (2009 [2014], JMood): all the more poignant since the alto sax great died [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Lucien Johnson/Alan Silva/Makoto Soto: Stinging Nettles (2006 [2014], Improvising Beings): tenor saxman from New Zealand comes out in a sparkling avant trio [cd]: A-
  • Manu Katché: Live in Concert (2014 [2015], ACT): French drummer roils the riddims, leading a quintet that turns into a showcase for Tore Brunborg [cd]: B+(**)
  • Justin Kauflin: Dedication (2014 [2015], Qwest/Jazz Village): young, blind jazz pianist, a mix of trio and quartet, the latter adding Matt Stevens on guitar [cd]: B+(**)
  • Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited (2014, Masterworks): various artists remake 1964 album, Kristofferson growls the hit [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles McPherson: The Journey (2014 [2015], Capri): alto saxophonist, tried to launch a bebop revival in the 1960s and is still chasin' that bird [cd]: A-
  • Migos: Rich Ni**a Timeline (2014, Quality Control Music): Atlanta hip-hop trio's long mixtape, asterisks on the cover, where they belong [r]: B+(*)
  • Mindtroll: And That's Just Some of the Good Ones (2013, self-released): 24, if you're counting, and not all good ones, 3 later punched up for EP [bc]: B+(**)
  • Mindtroll: EP #4 (2014, self-released, EP): four songs, three superb, remind me of the early B-52s, but a little odder, as befits the times [bc]: B+(***)
  • PC Worship: Social Rust (2014, Northern Spy): some kind of postrock ennui, exhausted and bewildered, and judging from this rather ear-damaged [r]: B-
  • Pinch & Mumdance: Pinch B2B Mumdance (2014, Tectonic): two Brit dubstep/grime producers, shroud their beats in deep mystery [r]: B+(***)
  • Eric Reed: Groovewise (2014, Smoke Sessions): pianist returns to his originals for a quartet, tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake punches them up [r]: B+(***)
  • SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land (2014, Young Turks): flat on the dancefloor, I'm afraid; second dubstep album loses a lot [r]: B
  • Schizophonia: Cantorial Recordings Reimagined (2014, Blue Thread Music): guitarist Yossi Fruchter rocks the old sacred music, jazzes it up too [cd]: B+(*)
  • Brian Settles and Central Station: Secret Handshake (2010 [2011], Engine Studios): tenor saxophonist's debut album, gets to quintet with extra percussion [bc]: B+(**)
  • Brian Settles Trio: Folk (2013, Engine Studios): another avant tenor sax trio, exceptionally sharp and clear [bc]: A-
  • Vance Thompson's Five Plus Six: Such Sweet Thunder (2014 [2015], Shade Street): a little light for a big band (5 brass, 3 reeds), but enough to swing [cd]: B+(**)
  • François Tusques/Mirtha Pozzi/Pablo Cueco: Le Fond de L'Air (2014, Improvising Beings): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Tusques/François Toullec/Eric Zinman: Laiser L'Exprit Divaguer (2014, Improvising Beings, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Warpaint: Warpaint (2014, Rough Trade): Emily Kokal sings, slow and moody, posing the question: is this dream pop? or just tired and sleepy? [r]: B
  • Watsky: All You Can Do (2014, Steel Wool Media/Welk Music Group): rapper, started in poetry slams but beats are musical enough, at least for such an awkward persona [r]: B+(**)
  • Anna Webber's Percussive Mechanics: Refraction (2014 [2015], Pirouet): saxophonist but mostly flute here, with clarinet and lots of percussion [r]: B+(*)
  • Whiskey Myers: Early Morning Shakes (2014, Wiggy Thump): southern fried rock band from Tyler TX, a mix of hippie raunch and class consciousness [r]: B+(*)
  • White Lung: Deep Fantasy (2014, Domino): postpunk/riot grrrl band from Vancouver BC, 10 songs, 22 minutes, doesn't feel short, just fast [r]: B+(**)
  • A Winged Victory for the Sullen: Atomos (2014, Kranky): ambient music duo, appealing and unthreatening [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976 (1968-76 [2010], Analog Africa): more like the derivative sound, but nuance counts for something [r]: B+(**)
  • Angola Soundtrack 2: Hypnosis, Distorsions & Other Sonic Innovations 1969-1978 (1969-78 [2014], Analog Africa): with independence looming, lots get rough/risky [r]: B+(***)
  • Red Garland Trio: Swingin' on the Korner (1977 [2015], Elemental Music, 2CD): [cd]: A-
  • I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70 (1969-70 [2014], Light in the Attic): hoping the magic rubs off on younger, cheaper talent, and sometimes it does [r]: B+(***)
  • The Sound of Siam Volume 2: Molam and Luk Thung From Northeast Thailand 1970-1982 (1970-82 [2014], Soundway): with more western pop/rock absorbed, less strange [r]: B+(*)
  • X__X: X Sticky Fingers X (1978-80 [2014], Smog Veil): archivists stretch Cleveland punk band's two singles with rough live cuts, almost get an album [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Elvin Bishop: Raisin' Hell: Live! (1976 [1977], Capricorn): still cranking out fun new records, but this was his heyday, celebrating an AM hit even [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Bass: NYC Sessions (Whaling City Sound): February
  • Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri): February 17
  • Lisa Parrott: Round Tripper (Serious Niceness): February 24
  • Reg Schwager: Delphinus (Jazz From Rant)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rap/Avant EOY Lists

Aside from country, the other genre Rolling Stone honored with a 40 Best Albums of 2014 list was rap. I transcribed the list:

  1. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2 [**]
  2. YG, My Krazy Life [B-]
  3. Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint [A-]
  4. Young Thug & Bloody Jay, Black Portland [A-]
    Rich Gang, Tha Tour Pt. 1 [*]
  5. Future, Honest [**]
  6. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Pinata [***]
  7. Migos, Rich Nigga Timeline
  8. DJ Mustard, 10 Summers
  9. Lil Herb, Welcome to Fazoland
  10. Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste [***]
  11. DJ Quik, The Midnight Life
  12. Lecrae, Anomaly
  13. Your Old Droog, Your Old Droog LP
  14. Clipping, CLPPNG [**]
  15. Step Brothers, Lord Steppington [**]
  16. Kevin Gates, Luca Brasi 2
  17. Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron [**]
  18. Mac Miller, Faces
  19. Rick Ross, Mastermind
  20. Big KRIT, Cadillactica [A-]
  21. Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo [***]
  22. Homeboy Sandman, Hallways [A-]
  23. NehruvianDOOM, NehruvianDOOM [**]
  24. Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty [***]
  25. Chief Keef, Back From the Dead 2
  26. IamSu!, Sincerely Yours
  27. Boosie Bad Azz, Life After Deathrow
  28. Serengeti, Kenny Dennis III [A-]
  29. The Roots, . . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin [**]
  30. Gangsta Boo & BeatKing, Underground Cassette Tape Music
  31. Ghostface Killah, 36 Seasons [***]
  32. 2 Chainz, Freebase EP
  33. Vince Staples, Hell Can Wait EP [*]
  34. Ana Tijoux, Vengo [**]
  35. Snootie Wild, Go Mode EP
  36. Dej Loaf, Sell Sole [*]
  37. PRhyme, PRhyme [**]
  38. Open Mike Eagle, Dark Comedy [**]
  39. E-40, Sharp on All 4 Corners: Corner 1
    Sharp on All 4 Corners: Corner 2
  40. Shy Glizzy, Young Jefe

I had heard 24/41 country records (58.5%). Here I've heard 24/42 (57.5%). I had six country albums at A-; five here. Both genres have roughly similar record counts: in my EOY Aggregate files, I break out 243 rap/r&b albums (includes singers not considered here like D'Angelo, Tinashe, La Roux, Pharrell Williams, Mary J. Blige, and Jason Derulo); my country breakout (includes folk and Americana items, but not all) runs to 176 albums. I've heard 77 of the former (31.6%), 55 of the latter (31.2%). For a comparison, I've only heard 44.2% of the jazz albums in the EOY list (270/610), while blues is 33.3% (12/36). This drops to 20.8% (28/134) for world music, 18.2%, (39/214) for electronica, 13.6% (9/66) for Latin, and 0.0% (0/268) for metal. I have no easy way to calculate rock or any other subset. My guess is that my share is close to 10%.

A first cut of my own top rap list (including 3-star HMs) looks like this:

  1. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada)
  2. The Green Seed: Drapetomania (Communicating Vessels)
  3. ¡Mayday x Murs!: ¡Mursday! (Strange Music)
  4. Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (Def Jam)
  5. Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (Island)
  6. Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (self-released)
  7. Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (Stones Throw)
  8. Sleaford Mods: Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sound)
  9. Statik Selektah: What Goes Around (Duck Down Music)
  10. Grieves: Winter & the Wolves (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  11. Nicki Minaj: The Pinkprint (Young Money)
  12. Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (Joyful Noise)
  13. Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (self-released)
  14. Hail Mary Mallon: Bestiary (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  15. Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (Warner Brothers)
  16. Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park)
  17. Atmosphere: Southsiders (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  18. Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up (Ipecac)
  19. Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
  20. Kool & Kass: Coke Boys 5 (self-released)
  21. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion)
  22. J Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (RCA)
  23. Common: Nobody's Smiling (Def Jam)
  24. Homeboy Sandman: White Sands (Stones Throw, EP)
  25. Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo (Top Dawg)
  26. Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons (Tommy Boy)
  27. The Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles: The Last Transmission (Now-Again)
  28. Calle 13: MultiViral (El Abismo/Sony Music Latin)
  29. Kevin Gates: By Any Means (Bread Winners Association)
  30. Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)

As with country, that conveniently came out to 30 albums. Not clear whether Rolling Stone excluded non-US and non-black rap albums (as far as I can tell, the only one they included was Ana Tijoux's), but I've included them here (with Kate Tempest, Iggy Azalea, and Sleaford Mods near the top). A broader list including contemporary r&b would add: Pharrell Williams, Girl; Jason Derulo, Talk Dirty; D'Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah; Leela James, Fall for You; Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions; Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love Marriage & Divorce; La Roux, Trouble in Paradise; Tricky, Adrian Thaws; Aretha Franklin, Sings the Great Diva Classics.

I should also note that Spin has a competing 40 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2014 (indeed, Spin's run similar lists for several years). It runs as follows (my grades in brackets):

  1. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2 [**]
  2. YG, My Krazy Life [B-]
  3. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Pinata [***]
  4. Homeboy Sandman, Hallways [A-]
  5. Young Thug/Bloody Jay, Black Portland [A-]
  6. Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste [***]
  7. Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty (Sub Pop) [***]
  8. Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron [**]
  9. Vince Staples, Hell Can Wait [*]
  10. Future, Honest [**]
  11. Dej Loaf, Sell Sole [*]
  12. Brenmar, High End Times Vol. 1
  13. Young Fathers, Dead [*]
  14. Serengeti, Kenny Dennis III [A-]
  15. Ab-Soul, These Days [**]
  16. GoldLink, The God Complex
  17. Atmosphere, Southsiders [***]
  18. Low Pros, EP1
  19. Migos, No Label II
  20. Ratking, So It Goes [B]
  21. Big KRIT, Cadallactica [A-]
  22. Le1f, Hey EP [**]
  23. Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo [***]
  24. Theophilus London, Vibes
  25. The Roots, . . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin [**]
  26. Buck 65, Neverlove [**]
  27. Ka, 1200 BC
  28. Hail Mary Mallon, Bestiary [***]
  29. Nehruviandoom, Nehruviandoom [**]
  30. Remy Ma, I'm Around
  31. Akrobatik, Built to Last
  32. Sage the Gemini, Remember Me
  33. Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint [A-]
  34. Open Mike Eagle, Dark Comedy [**]
  35. Ghostface Killah, 36 Seasons [***]
  36. ASAP Ferg, Ferg Forever
  37. Mick Jenkins, The Water[s]
  38. Kevin Abstract, MTV1987
  39. Sicko Mobb, Super Saiyan Vol. 1
  40. Rich Gang, Tha Tour Part 1 [*]

The Rolling Stone and Spin lists have 19 albums in common. Migos is on both lists but with different mixtapes. Spin picked up some UK rappers (Young Fathers, Theophilus London) and Buck 65 from Canada, whereas RS's only venture abroad was Ana Tijoux (from Chile). Spin was more likely to pick from the alt/underground (Atmosphere, Akrobatik, Ka, Hail Mary Mallon, Le1f, although RS had Step Brothers and Clipping). I've heard 27 records from Spin's list, 67.5% vs. 57.5% of Rolling Stone's list -- almost all explainable by my greater underground interest (and tendency to be unimpressed by street thug bravado).

Rolling Stone also published another genre list: 20 Best Avant Albums of 2014. Unlike the country and rap lists, this was the work of a single critic, Christopher R. Weingarten (whose own lengthy EOY list is worth consulting[*]). "Avant" is a pretty wide domain here -- my own experience is overwhelmingly tilted toward avant-jazz but I only count 4 of Weingarten's 20 albums as jazz (not that I have any idea what a couple are). The list, with my grades in brackets:

  1. Ben Frost, Aurora [**]
  2. Craig Leon, Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music, Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting [A-]
  3. Richard Dawson, Nothing Important [B]
  4. Vicky Chow, Tristan Perich: Surface Image
  5. Kevin Drumm/Jason Lescalleet, The Abyss
  6. Jon Mueller's Death Blues, Non-Fiction
  7. Wadada Leo Smith, The Great Lakes Suites [A-]
  8. A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Atomos [**]
  9. Untold, Black Light Spiral
  10. Stine Janvin Motland, OK, Wow
  11. James Hoff, Blaster
  12. Golden Retriever, Seer
  13. Marc Baron, Hidden Tapes
  14. Arne Deforce & Mika Vainio, Hephaestus
  15. Otomo Yoshihide & Paal Nilssen-Love: Otomo Yoshihide & Paal Nilssen-Love
  16. Africa Express, Terry Riley's In C Mali
  17. Brotzmann/Adasiewicz/Edwards/Noble, Mental Shake
  18. Ian William Craig, A Turn of Breath [*]
  19. Rose Buried in Sand, Excision
  20. Mica Levi, Under the Skin (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

So I've heard 6 of 20, 30.0% (counting a different but for all practical purposes identical edition of Craig Leon), way below my share of the country and rap lists. I won't bother trying to come up with my own "avant" list, since it would turn on "what is avant" rather than differences of opinion within a commonly accepted category. Plus, although I know avant jazz as well as any non-specialist critic, I haven't followed the post-classical strains -- the things Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann wrote about in the Village Voice -- since I was a dabbler in the late 1970s, so what little I know there is especially spotty.

[*] Evidently Weingarten is a controversial figure, for reasons I don't begin to understand. But the noise did motivate me to "score" Weingarten's EOY list (100 long, includes all 20 of his avant albums). I've heard 42 of them, graded: A- (8), *** (7), ** (13), * (5), B (3), B- (3), C+ (2), C (1) -- i.e., a slightly left-shifted bell curve. The things he likes on the low end of my grade scale is almost all stuff I find overbearing -- Swans, Skrillex, Little Big Town, Scott Walker. The things I haven't heard are mostly obscure but a couple veer toward metal. His list does include quite a bit (and roughly equal quantities) of country and hip-hop -- the former tend to be solidly commercial, the latter lean toward obscure mixtapes. About 5% of his list is jazz, but none of that is mainstream. To sum up: a critic who listens widely, often tackling very difficult music, and finding his own way to be rigorous about very different things.

I couldn't make sense of the controversy, but did find this bit of interview, where he says:

I would love to one day have a Robert Christgau-style consumer's guide of 10,000 record reviews I wrote over the course of a decade. I think that would be a beautiful 40th-birthday present for myself. I guess that's going to depend on whether Twitter survives. I would like to continue doing this for the rest of my life, because it helps keep me in touch with music. Even if one day I have to be a zookeeper or a janitor or a failing coffee-shop owner, this is going to help me keep in touch with what's going on and make me feel like I am making my own decisions about music instead of just following other people's opinions on it. Even if I'm shoveling shit, I can be confident that I'm forming my own opinions on music instead of just swallowing the hive mind.

By the way, I ran a set of comparisons based on P&J data to see which critics were most similar to me. The test was simple: I took 166 records I had rated A- or higher and jotted down who had voted for them (87 got no votes, not hugely surprising given that my list was about half jazz, but obviously some of those shut out weren't jazz). Weingarten was one of 52 critics with 3 A-list albums on his ballot (Miranda Lambert, Craig Leon, Charli XCX) -- 33 critics had more (of 612, so about 5.3%) had more, so he would wind up at about 90 percentile. (Note that our similarity scores as Glenn McDonald calculates them should be 0 because I didn't vote for any of those three albums, nor did we intersect on the singles ballot. Top-tens don't tell you much.)

For the record, the critics who picked more than three of my A-list records on their P&J album ballots were:

  1. Michael Tatum (1)
  2. Robert Christgau (1)
  3. Matt Rice, Dan Weiss (2)
  4. Jason Gubbels, Chris Herrington, Steve Knopper, Jon LaFollette, Christopher Monsen, Phillip Overeem, Cam Patterson (7)
  5. Thierry Cote, Joey Daniewicz, Keith Harris, Kevin John, Ryan Maffei (5)
  6. Michael Barthel, Christopher Barton, Stuart Berman, David Cantwell, Traviss Cassidy, Nick Farruggia, Matt Gewolb, Geoffrey Himes, Thomas Inskeep, Todd Kristel, Tom Lane, Cameron Macdonald, Jim Macnie, Brian McManus, JT Ramsay, Michael Robbins, Alfred Soto (17)

A lot of familiar people on that list: roughly half are people I read and/or who are known to read me. One of the main effects is that there are relatively few records that these 33 critics picked that I haven't heard. For instance, Monsen has 72 records on his EOY list. I've heard 64 of those 72, so 88.8%. (At least 6 of the 8 records are not on Rhapsody. Robert Plant is, but not enough to base a review on. I'm not sure about DJ Quik, but I've never been impressed by him.) Jason Gubbels has a list of 150 records: I've heard 122, or 81.3% (and happen to be playing one of the missing as I write this). Dan Weiss has a list of 68 (posted on Facebook): I've heard 48, for 70.5%. Matt Rice has a list of 50: I've heard 44, so 88.0%. Tom Lane has a list of 30: I've heard 27, so 90.0%. Shorter lists, of course, are easier to cover.

Lower similarity almost always means less intersection in listening. Jason Gross, like Weingarten, has three A-list records on his P&J ballot (Sleaford Mods, Mursday, and Charli XCX). He has a list of 66 records: I've only heard 27, for 40.9% -- similar to the 42% with Weingarten. One more example: Sasha Frere-Jones' list of 50: I've heard 29, so 58.0%. He didn't vote in P&J, and didn't rank his list, so I don't know how those intersections play out.

Spin also did Metal and Pop lists. No point bothering with the former, but I also transcribed Spin's 20 Best Pop Albums of 2014, where they effectively delimit pop not as shorthand for popular but as yet another deviant cult niche (like, you know, metal).

  1. Betty Who, Take Me When You Go [*]
  2. Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear [B]
  3. ASTR, Varsity
  4. Taylor Swift, 1989
  5. Lana Del Rey, Untraviolence [***]
  6. Charli XCX, Sucker [A-]
  7. Lykke Li, I Never Learn [**]
  8. Royksopp & Robyn, Do It Again [***]
  9. La Roux, Trouble in Paradise [***]
  10. Yelle, Completement Fou [**]
  11. RAC, Strangers
  12. various, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  13. Nick Jonas, Nick Jonas
  14. Clean Bandit, New Eyes
  15. Tove Lo, Queen of the Clouds [B]
  16. Jason Derulo, Talk Dirty [A-]
  17. BenZel, Men
  18. Bleachers, Strange Desire
  19. Jesse McCartney, In Technicolor
  20. Lily Allen, Shezus [A]

More Rolling Stone Lists

Rolling Stone also did a 20 Best Pop Albums of 2014, with 7 of the same 20 songs:

  1. Charli XCX, Sucker [A-]
  2. Taylor Swift, 1989

  3. Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence [***]
  4. Maroon 5, V
  5. Ariana Grande, My Everything [**]
  6. 2NE1, Crush
  7. Lykke Li, I Never Learn [**]
  8. various, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  9. Kimbra, The Golden Echo
  10. Ed Sheeran, X
  11. "Weird Al" Yankovic, Mandatory Fun
  12. Pharrell Williams, Girl [A-]
  13. La Roux, Trouble in Paradise [***]
  14. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour [B-]
  15. Calvin Harris, Motion
  16. Kitten, Kitten
  17. Nick Jonas, Nick Jonas
  18. One Direction, Four
  19. Shakira, Shakira [A-]
  20. Sia, 1000 Forms of Fear [B]

Then there was 20 Best EDM, Electronic and Dance Albums of 2014 (I've heard 70%):

  1. Flying Lotus, You're Dead [***]
  2. Skrillex, Recess [B-]
  3. Caribou, Our Love [**]
  4. Aphex Twin, Syro [A-]
  5. Todd Terje, It's Album Time [A-]
  6. Bunji Garlin, Differentology [**]
  7. Moodymann, Moodymann [*]
  8. Andy Stott, Faith in Strangers
  9. Fatima Al Qadiri, Asiastisch [**]
  10. Traxman, Da Mind of Traxman Vol. 2
  11. Joey Anderson, After Forever
  12. Bassnectar, Noise vs. Beauty
  13. Big Freedia, Just Be Free [*]
  14. Duck Sauce, Quack [*]
  15. Lee Bannon, Alternate/Endings
  16. Lee Gamble, Koch [*]
  17. Basement Jaxx, Junto [*]
  18. The Bug, Angels and Devils [*]
  19. Arca, Xen [B]
  20. Dillon Francis, Money Sucks, Friends Rule

Rolling Stone's 20 Best Reissues of 2014 (I've heard %):

  1. Bob Dylan and the Band, The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
  2. The Beatles, The Beatles
  3. Mike Bloomfield, From His Head to His Heart to His Hands
  4. The Allman Brothers Band, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
  5. Chuck Berry, Rock and Roll Music: Any Old Way You Choose It
  6. Sly Stone, I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-70 [***]
  7. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, CSNY 1974
  8. The Posies, Failure
  9. The Seeds, Singles A's and B's 1965-1970
  10. Bob Carpenter, Silent Passage
  11. King Crimson, Starless
  12. various, Native North America Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 [*]
  13. The "5" Royales, Soul & Swagger: The Complete "5" Royales 1951-1967
  14. Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour '74 (40th Anniversary Edition)
  15. Nils Lofgren, Face the Music
  16. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin III (Deluxe Edition)
  17. Captain Beefheart, Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972
  18. Wilco, Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014
  19. The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies (Legacy Edition)
  20. various, Bowie Heard Them Here First

Country EOY Lists

Bits are cheap, so some folks at Rolling Stone scratched their heads and came up with a list, 40 Best Country Albums of 2014. It's one of those things you have to click through one album per page (and of course, the pages don't fit within a browser window so you have to scroll too). I did all that work as part of folding the data into my EOY Aggregate, but having written down the list, I thought I'd just save you the trouble and post it. (Of course, if you do click through you'll get the album covers and some reviews.) It's a decent list as these things go: I counted similar country lists from All Music Guide, Billboard, Baltimore City Paper, Exclaim, Huffpost Music Canada, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, PopMatters, Rhapsody, Something Else, The Telegraph, The Village Voice, and Wondering Sound. I think it's the deepest such list (Telegraph went to 37, and AMG is close to that) -- deeper even than the specialists. And quite properly it includes what's commonly called Americana, which is to say rock with a little country (or blues) seasoning as well as some more folkish sorts.

For a little added value, I'll include my grades in brackets (where I have them, 60% of the time; stars are shades of B+):

  1. Miranda Lambert, Platinum [A-]
  2. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music [***]
  3. Eric Church, The Outsiders [*]
  4. Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes [**]
  5. Litle Big Town, Pain Killer [C+]
  6. Lee Ann Womack, The Way I'm Livin' [A-]
  7. Dierks Bentley, Riser [B-]
  8. Rosanne Cash, The River & the Thread [**]
  9. Sunny Sweeney, Provoked [*]
  10. Willie Nelson, Band of Brothers [A-]
  11. Nikki Lane, All or Nothin' [*]
  12. Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 [*]
  13. Kenny Chesney, The Big Revival
  14. John Fullbright, Songs [*]
  15. Sam Hunt, Montevallo [B]
  16. Lori McKenna, Numbered Doors
  17. Angaleena Presley, American Middle Class [A-]
  18. Shovels & Rope, Swimmin' Time
  19. Robert Ellis, The Lights From the Chemical Plant [B]
  20. Country Funk Volume II: 1967-1974
  21. Doug Paisley, Strong Feelings
  22. Eli Young Band, 10,000 Towns
  23. Sundy Best, Bring Up the Sun and Salvation City
  24. Lee Brice, I Don't Dance
  25. Jennifer Nettles, That Girl [B]
  26. David Nail, I'm a Fire
  27. Tim McGraw, Sundown Heaven Town
  28. First Aid Kit, Stay Gold [B]
  29. Mary Gauthier, Trouble & Love [A-]
  30. Garth Brooks, Man Against Machine
  31. Brad Paisley, Moonshine in the Trunk [B-]
  32. Billy Joe Shaver, Long in the Tooth [A-]
  33. Lera Lynn, The Avenues
  34. Dolly Parton, Blue Smoke [*]
  35. Justin Townes Earle, Single Mothers [**]
  36. Lady Antebellum, 747
  37. Lucinda Williams, Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
  38. Cory Branan, The No-Hit Wonder [*]
  39. Jerrod Niemann, High Noon
  40. The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down

Only record on the list I was serviced was Dolly Parton's -- not likely to happen again. Only one I bought was Miranda Lambert's, so everything else came my way via Rhapsody (or didn't, for Williams, McKenna, Brooks, Doug Paisley, Country Funk II, and several others I looked up. Some I didn't look up -- never before heard of Sundy Best, hadn't registered much about Niemann or Brice, and I've heard way too much Lady Antebellum already.

I didn't exactly grow up with country music, but I grew up close enough I could relate. My folks watched a lot of Hee-Haw, and somehow I watched a lot of Porter Wagoner. My mother was a devoted fan of George Jones; my father was more into comics like Jimmy Dickens and Minnie Pearl. So when peers like Harold Karabell and George Lipsitz tried to steer me toward Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard, my resistance melted pretty quickly. George Jones even helped repair my schizophrenic relationship with my mother. In the 1990s I made a serious effort to catch up with every major figure in jazz, blues, and country. While that led to my Jazz Consumer Guide gig, there was also a brief period when I was getting 20-40 alt-country releases a year, and I'd usually find 3-5 very good records hardly anyone else noticed. That doesn't happen any more, but the experience gives me some hints to work from.

Not sure how many country-folk-bluegrass-Americana records I heard last year -- probably close to 100. Enough to put together, well, not a top-40 list, but maybe a top 30 (dipping down into the high HMs, which if country is your thing isn't a bad idea). A first pass on such a list looks like this:

  1. Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (Masterworks) *
  2. Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville) [**]
  3. Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (Slate Creek) **
  4. Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life) **
  5. Rodney Crowell: Tarpaper Sky (New West) **
  6. Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop) **
  7. Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (Sugar Hill/Welk) **
  8. Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin: Common Ground (Yep Roc) [**]
  9. Doug Seegers: Going Down to the River (Rounder) **
  10. Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (In the Black) **
  11. Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters (In De Goot/Relativity) **
  12. Tami Neilson: Dynamite! (self-released) **
  13. John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (New West) **
  14. Amy LaVere: Runaway's Diary (Archer) **
  15. Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (Legacy) **
  16. Jonah Tolchin: Clover Lane (Yep Roc) **
  17. Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers (1928-37, Dust-to-Digital) **
  18. Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (Lightning Rod) **
  19. The Delines: Colfax (El Cortez) **
  20. Matt Woods: With Love From Brushy Mountain (Lonely Ones) **
  21. Johnny Cash: Out Among the Stars (1981-84, Columbia) **
  22. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain) **
  23. Scott H. Biram: Nothin' but Blood (Bloodshot) **
  24. Karen Jonas: Oklahoma Lottery (self-released) **
  25. Rod Picott: Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail (Welding Rod) **
  26. Jack Clement: For Once and for All (IRS Nashville) **
  27. Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis: Our Year (Premium) **
  28. Amy Ray: Goodnight Tender (Daemon) **
  29. Smoke Dawson: Fiddle (1971, Tompkins Square) **
  30. Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (Tompkins Square) **

Scheinman may not be country enough for you, but that's where the social realism fits: the genre-cross -- she is one of the world's greatest jazz violinists -- seems to have thrown everyone. Langford, Hiatt, Tolchin, the Delines, and possibly others tend to be treated as alt-rock but they're close to the fuzzy line. My original sort also picked up The Baseball Project, Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas, and Hard Working Americans, but to get down to 30 I decided they were outside the lines. Common Ground is explicitly a blues album, but you tell me the difference. In previous years I've tried explicitly grouping blues and and gospel with the country albums: had I done that here, you'd pick up: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63); Leo Welch, Sabougla Voices; Bushwick Gospel Singers, Songs of Worship Vol. 2; Benjamin Booker; Sleepy John Estes, Live in Japan (1974); Danny Petroni, The Blue Project; John Nemeth, Memphis Grease.

I also have 2-star HMs for (including blues): Elvin Bishop, Can't Even Do Wrong Right; Carlene Carter, Carter Girl; Rosanne Cash, The River & the Thread; Davina & the Vagabonds, Sunshine; Brigitte DeMeyer, Savannah Road; Justin Townes Earle, Single Mothers; Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes; EG Kight, A New Day; Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither; Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else; Old Crow Medicine Show, Remedy; John Schooley, The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World; Peter Stampfel, Better Than Expected; Randy Travis: Influence Vol. 2: The Man I Am; Look Again to the Wind: Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears Revisited. At this level I'm not doing much more than random sampling.

Next stop, perhaps, Rolling Stone's 40 Best Rap Albums of 2014. Probably about as solid. Much more problematic is likely to be RS's 20 Best Avant Albums of 2014, but then one person's avant is another's breakfast gruel.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Daily Log

Got all the Pazz and Jop albums data entered into the EOY aggregate list, adding it in the comment field, ahead of my grades. As such, it didn't really count for anything, other than as a comparative reference. (I could see adding Metacritic ratings as well, but that would be a horrible lot of work -- not that P&J wasn't -- took me two full days.) Found a few counting errors and apprised Glenn McDonald. Main such errors were when voters picked a single in the albums category instead of the album it appeared on. I suppose it's possible that some people edit the metadata on their iPods to that effect, but even so, why not vote for the single on the singles ballot? I added all of those cases back in (but didn't try to rejigger the standings), but thus far McDonald hasn't followed suit and updated the Voice website.

One extra thing I did was to go through my 2014 A-list and check who voted most frequently for my records (including compilations and reissues). Thanks mostly to Black Messiah, I wound up with 414 critics (of 612, so 67.3%) picking at least one A-list record (79 out of 166). Without Black Messiah the voter count drops to 355, or 58%; dropping all records that got 25 or more votes -- roughly speaking the top 40 overall, specifically the most popular 10 from my list -- the voters count drops to 182, or 29.7%.

One thing I did with this data was to figure out which voters were most likely to pick records on my A-list. Aside from my own perfect ten, the leading lights are:

  1. Michael Tatum (1)
  2. Robert Christgau (1)
  3. Matt Rice, Dan Weiss (2)
  4. Jason Gubbels, Chris Herrington, Steve Knopper, Jon LaFollette, Christopher Monsen, Phillip Overeem, Cam Patterson (7)
  5. Thierry Cote, Joey Daniewicz, Keith Harris, Kevin John, Ryan Maffei (5)
  6. Michael Barthel, Christopher Barton, Stuart Berman, David Cantwell, Traviss Cassidy, Nick Farruggia, Matt Gewolb, Geoffrey Himes, Thomas Inskeep, Todd Kristel, Tom Lane, Cameron Macdonald, Jim Macnie, Brian McManus, JT Ramsay, Michael Robbins, Alfred Soto (17)

Beyond that there are 52 critics with 3, 133 with 2, and 195 with 1 -- an almost picture-perfect distribution. McDonald only considers the 10 albums on my ballot (well, also 10 singles, but I don't take them all that seriously), so he finds fewer alliances: my "centricity" score is .061 (ranked 538 of 601). The ballots most similar to mine are from Gubbels (.174), Ted Cox (.141), Tatum (.128), Jim Farber (.110), Robert Nedelkoff (.102), Weiss (.101), Michael Fournier (.096), Christgau (.088), Lyndsey Parker (.083), Roy Traykin (.083), Maureen Miller (.081), Carol Cooper (.079), Rice (.079), and Carlo Wolff (.079). Subjectively, I'd say my method is better than theirs: the intersection is much stronger because it's based on more data (166 albums instead of 10), and I'm much more familiar with my list.

The number of other voters for my album picks were: 28 (Wussy), 7 (Lily Allen), 5 (Kate Tempest), 3 (Steve Lehman, Strypes), 1 (Paul Shapiro), and 0 (Duduvudu, Green Seed, Jenny Scheinman, and Revolutionary Snake Ensemble).

I'm tempted to extend my method to subtract any album I graded B- or below from the critics' positive counts -- which will most likely put half of the list under zero. (That would only involve checking about 60 albums, but they do include some relatively popular ones -- Sharon Van Etten (15), Beck (16), YG (25), Jack White (44), Ariel Pink (52), Perfect Pussy (56), Scott Walker (58), Sam Smith (75), Kelis (88). At the top end of my list, this wouldn't have much effect: Tatum's only non-A-list vote was for Drive-By Truckers, which I have at B+(**) -- a good record, just not one I really recommend. Christgau also voted for Drive-By Truckers plus Azealia Banks, in my book a B+(***). (I have, by the way, replayed both of those records without regrading them. I would, however, have split more had I not raised the initial grades I gave to Withered Hand and Black Portland (listed by both Tatum and Christgau).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Daily Log

Updated website late Monday night with 385 lists counted (3909 new records, 593 old). Curious as to trends as I add new lists, but I haven't done a good job of keeping track of how the standings have evolved, so I thought I'd start with keeping these basic stats.

Pazz & Jop came out today. D'Angelo won the albums poll -- something Christgau had predicted but I thought impossible, given its late release, and that on most of the lists that did include it, it didn't finish all that high. Beyond that, the next four slots went to the top four records in my aggregate: Run the Jewels 2, The War on Drugs, St. Vincent, and FKA Twigs. On the other hand, the spread was much greater than I ancitipated -- especially how much FKA Twigs dropped relative to the others. (I expected Run the Jewels to win, so that it finished way ahead of War on Drugs and St. Vincent was less of a surprise.)

The rest of the top-10 caught me more or less by surprise. The one I most expected was Taylor Swift (19 on my list, jumped to 7), and Angel Olsen (12 to 8) and Spoon (13 to 9) were certainly possible. Sturgill Simpson (26 to 6) made a bigger jump, as did Against Me (32 to 10). Still, those two records had been running strong lately. Also making large gains (31 to 12) was Miranda Lambert -- about what I expected -- and Azealia Banks (33 to 14). But the real surprise gain in the top-20 was Ex Hex (51 to 11), and beyond that New Pornographers (73 to 23), Wussy (76 to 25, but we knew that was coming), Rosanne Cash (86 to 33), and Charli XCX (87 to 34). Two Christgau favorites only made modest gains: Black Portland (101 to 85) and Withered Hand (108 to 92). My own favorite, Lily Allen rose from 170 to 137.

Those gains came at the expense of other albums: Caribou (5 to 21), Sun Kil Moon (6 to 18), Swans (7 to 19), Aphex Twin (8 to 17), Flying Lotus (9 to 13), Beck (10 to 16), Sharon Van Etten (11 to 15), Future Islands (14 to 30), Todd Terje (15 to 32), Damon Albarn (16 to 86 -- pretty heavy UK/Europe bias here), Mac DeMarco (17 to 54), Perfume Genius (18 to 28), Ty Segall (21 to 27), Jack White (22 to 44), Freddie Gibbs/Madlib (23 to 35), Real Estate (25 to 42), Cloud Nothings (27 to 37, Shabazz Palaces (28 to 50), Wild Beasts (29 to 131). The latter is the highest EOY aggregate place to not make P&J's top-100 (followed by: Temples, Alt-J, Sleaford Mods, Royal Blood, Arca, Ought, Metronomy, GOAT, Jessie Ware, Jungle, Ben Frost, The Bug, Kate Tempest, Interpol, Mastodon, Young Fathers, East India Youth, La Roux, Iceage, Banks, Schoolboy Q, Timber Timbre -- most are UK, a couple Canadian, Iceage from Denmark).

Highest finisher in P&J not already on my list: Split Single: Fragmented World (Inside Outside) at 162-60-6.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24347 [24286] rated (+61), 503 [505] unrated (-2).

It's been cold outside, and I've done very little but cram new lists into the EOY Aggregate File and listen to marginal list picks -- some well-regarded (and often awful), some quite rare (and occasionally wonderful). And this time they've really piled up: the 61 in the count above includes a couple corrections for bookkeeping omissions, but there are still 58 records listed below -- eight per day on average, with all the A- records getting at least two spins (although few of the ***-HMs got a shot to improve their lot -- the best prospects are Karen Jonas, Tom Trio, Matt Woods, and Wild Rockers 3). I will admit I saved a few minutes by hitting the reject on Ariel Pink -- graded it leniently as a hedge against missing something, although I hope you don't bother to call me on it. I did make it all the way through Scott Walker but playing them back-to-back was a big mistake. For the record, both are tours de force, conceptually brilliant and catchy in perverse ways -- I can see why some people love them, or at least find them amusing, but they perturb the universe in ways I find appalling. Not a lot of jazz in the list below, although I'm most of the way through the Polish Fortune (or ForTune or For Tune) albums -- surprisingly diverse for a label I had pegged as strictly avant.

The Kinks was a diversion. Their albums are gradually coming out in bonus editions, and I had written up the first three a while back. I was looking for a new 2-CD compilation on Legacy, but found a 5-CD box and a 1-CD best-of instead, and didn't really feel like bothering with either, but I found five more 1966-71 albums -- four I could swear I once had on LP but only Muswell Hillbillies had been recorded in the database (B+). For some reason, Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the English Empire) (1969) isn't available (and it looks like only about half of it is on the 5-CD box). I lost interest in the group shortly after Kink Kronikles (1972), with only Everybody's in Showbiz (1972: B) and Low Budget (1979: B+) in the database.

The EOY lists are still a work in progress, but one that should come to an end soon -- I'll add in Pazz & Jop when it appears later this week, Christgau's Dean's List whenever that appears, and maybe I'll drop in my own list (just to give Lily Allen a boost). Usually at this point the top ranks are stabilizing, even spreading out a bit, but a funny thing happened when I sorted the list a few days ago: War on Drugs (the early leader) edged back ahead of FKA Twigs for the top spot (the current margin is 272-268, with Run the Jewels a close third with 260, St. Vincent a solid fourth with 246). The other thing that's happened is that after Caribou, the 6-9 slots have tightened up and are pretty much dead even at 170-169-167-167 for Sun Kil Moon, Swans, Flying Lotus, and Aphex Twin. Beck is well back with 148 for 10th, and the next dozen or so albums have been pretty stable even though the deltas are pretty tight: 145 (Sharon Van Etten), 142 (Angel Olsen), 139 (Spoon), 130 (Future Islands), 125 (Todd Terje), 123 (Damon Albarn), 120 (Mac DeMarco), 116 (Perfume Genius), 109 (Taylor Swift), 103 (Lana Del Rey), 102 (Ty Segall), 97 (Jack White), 93 (Freddie Gibbs/Madlib). The only order change there was Del Rey passing Segall. Below that the list is a bit more dynamic, with a three-way tie at 88 between Parquet Courts, Real Estate, and Sturgill Simpson. Further down at 68, D'Angelo is still rising, most recently passing Scott Walker and Ariel Pink (two of the year's most horrible albums, by the way).

I haven't been scoring lists, but one I was struck by was David O'Brien's at Atlanta Constitution Journal: his top-50 includes 13 of my A-list albums (D'Angelo, Spoon, Leonard Cohen, Big KRIT, Mary Gauthier, Dave & Phil Alvin, Ought, The Delines, Statik Selektah, Parquet Courts, Thurston Moore, Angaleena Presley, and Cloud Nothings -- make that 14 with Tami Neilson), plus 3 more in the HMs (Rodney Crowell, Miranda Lambert, Billy Joe Shaver). I also count 7 3-star B+ and 8 more 2-star -- that's where the median lies. He likes some records I don't (Swans, Sharon Van Etten, Beck, Jack White, YG), has a minor interest in metal (Mastodon and YOB in the HMs), doesn't show any jazz or electronica (not even Caribou), or any of the more narrowly Christgauvian cult items (absence of Wussy almost certainly means he hasn't heard them).

One more announcement: I've added Francis Davis' annual list of jazz (and some other) musicians who passed away in 2014 to the Jazz Critics Poll website: Always Say Goodbye.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. I've started to play some 2015 jazz, but mostly I'm still trying to mop up late finds from 2014.

New records rated this week:

  • Alt-J: This Is All Yours (2014, Canvasback/Atlantic): British neo-prog group, makes beguiling chamber pop, pretty, pleasant, the future of elevator music [r]: B
  • Grazyna Auguscik Orchestar: Inspired by Lutoslawski (2013 [2014], Fortune): vocalist backed mostly by strings, not something I go for, but not so bad [cd]: B+(*)
  • Courtney Barnett: The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (2012-13 [2014], Mom + Pop Music): Australian singer-songwriter, not much of an accent [r]: B+(*)
  • Gorka Benitez: Gasteiz (2012 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): tenor sax trio, sweetened by replacing the bass with Ben Monder's guitar, in turn brings out the flute [r]: B+(**)
  • Beverly: Careers (2014, Kanine): lo-fi pop duo, singer-guitarist Drew citron helped out by drummer-singer Frankie Rose (Dum Dum Girls, etc.) [r]: B+(*)
  • Jonatha Brooke: My Mothers Has 4 Noses (2014, Bad Dog): songs from a one-woman play, as a daughter faces her mother descending into dementia [r]: A-
  • Bushwick Gospel Singers: Songs of Worship Vol. 2 (2014, The Church of Universal Knowing): Peter Stampfel insists he's just a fan, but they sound/play/weird like him [r]: B+(***)
  • Billy Childs: Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (2014, Masterworks): pianist + strings + 10 singers + more retread 10 songs, 2 not so bad [r]: B-
  • Theo Croker: AfroPhysicist (2014, Okeh): deliriously scattershot, with Dee Dee Bridgewater singing three, but the trumpet does stand out [r]: B+(*)
  • First Aid Kit: Stay Gold (2014, Columbia): Swedish sisters ease up on their folkie act, settle for generic pop, prisoners of their harmonies [r]: B
  • Lee Gamble: Koch (2014, Pan, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Steve Gunn: Way Out Weather (2014, Paradise of Bachelors): could be way too smart for the folkie singer-songwriter he presents himself as, but hard to tell [r]: B+(*)
  • The Heliocentrics & Melvin Van Peebles: The Last Transmission (2014, Now-Again): spoken word should be more riveting; still sets the spacey beats [r]: B+(***)
  • Arve Henriksen: The Nature of Connections (2014, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian trumpet player leads string-laden sextet, chamber jazz quick frozen [r]: B
  • Honeyblood: Honeyblood (2014, Fat Cat): two Glasgow girls, rough enough for noise-pop, but the lyrics I caught were mostly cliches, not even camp [r]: B
  • The Hotelier: Home, Like Noplace Is There (2014, Tiny Engines): punkish group with higher ambitions but hard to decipher, maybe not worthwhile [r]: B+(*)
  • Jachna Tarwid Karch: Sundial (2013-14 [2014], Fortune): flugelhorn-piano-drums trio, slow even for chamber jazz, hoping the harmonies flower [cd]: B+(*)
  • Karen Jonas: Oklahoma Lottery (2014, self-released): Virginia singer-songwriter, has poise and a knack for spinning country stories [r]: B+(***)
  • Kenosha Kid: Inside Voices (2014 [2015], self-released): Pynchon-reading guitarist from Athens GA leads a sextet, three horns, some kind of postbop [cd]: B
  • Khun Narin: Electric Phin Band (2014, Innovative Leisure): Thai group, lead instrument is a 3-stringed lute called a phin, plus bass and three drummers [r]: B+(**)
  • Leszek Kulakowski Ensemble: Looking Ahead (2014, Fortune): third-stream pianist, not that classical and jazz mean anything different anymore [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Lawrence Arms: Metropole (2014, Epitaph): Chicago post-punk group, perhaps mellowed with age but can still talk the talk, er, rant [r]: B+(**)
  • Little Big Town: Pain Killer (2014, Capitol Nashville): wouldn't you expect Nashville's Mamas & Papas to have family values? what about personalities? [r]: C+
  • Jan Lundgren: All By Myself (2014, Fresh Sound): bebop-oriented Swedish pianist rehearses fourteen standards, played solo, straight, lovely [r]: B+(**)
  • Magnolia Acoustic Quartet: Cinderella (2012 [2014], Fortune): Polish group, pianist Kuba Sokolowski de facto leader, plus sax, bass, drums [cd]: B+(**)
  • Microwaves: Regurgitant Phenomena (2014, New Atlantis): Pittsburgh noise/post-punk group, songs short, vocals buried so deep they hardly matter [r]: B
  • Myrczek & Tomaszewski: Love Revisited (2013 [2014], Fortune): Wojciech M., a Sinatra-ish crooner, backed by pianist Pawel T., do standards and scat [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tami Neilson: Red Dirt Angel (2008, self-released): New Zealand's country princess faces Nashville demons and slips in "Missin' the Groom" joke [bc]: B+(**)
  • Tami Neilson: Dynamite! (2014, self-released): short but diverse: honky tonk, rockabilly, folkie duet, paean to Texas, title cut beyond category [bc]: A-
  • Charlie Parr: Hollandale (2014, Chaperone): folk guitarist in the Fahey-Kottke tradition throws in a little Son House for resonance [r]: B+(*)
  • Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love (2014, Captured Tracks): maybe if they hadn't formed to play a band in a movie they'd try to be more, you know, musical [r]: B-
  • Ariel Pink: Pom Pom (2014, 4AD): lo-fi eclecticism yields fantastic range of upbeat kitsch, not without humor but I'm less sure of humanity [r]: C-
  • PRhyme [Royce da 5'9"/DJ Premier]: PRhyme (2014, PRhyme/Universal): classic turntablism, but the bitch rants, money grubbing, and don't-give-a-f take their toll [r]: B+(**)
  • Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right (2014, Hardly Art): Detroit post-punk, hooks similar to the Fall's, but lacks the accent/class analysis [r]: B+(**)
  • Royal Blood: Royal Blood (2014, Warner Brothers): leave it to the aristocracy to make such utterly basic, chord-crunching rock & roll [r]: B
  • Ruby: Waiting for Light (2014, Fireweed): UK singer-songwriter Lesley Rankine carries on, eclectic, means sometimes it works, unpredictably [bc]: B+(**)
  • Linda Sharrock: No Is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women (2014, Improvising Beings, 2CD): 45 years after debut, band supplies old avant, she adds attitude [cd]: B+(***)
  • Emilio Solla y La Inestable de Brooklyn: Second Half (2013 [2014], self-released): Argentinian tango meets Brooklyn horns and Meg Okura's violin [cd]: B+(**)
  • St. Paul & the Broken Bones: Half the City (2014, Single Lock): more than Sam Phillips was shopping for in the '50s, but that value has depreciated [r]: B+(*)
  • Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso (2014, Partisan): singer Amelia Heath, electronics wiz Nick Sanborn, America's answer to trip-hop, meaning no sense of impending doom [r]: B+(*)
  • Throttle Elevator Music: Area J (2013 [2014], Wide Hive): fusion brought indoors, call it "garage jazz," a rockish platform for Kamasi Washington's sax [r]: B+(**)
  • Tom Trio: Radical Moves (2013 [2014], Fortune): Tomasz Dabrowski's avant trumpet trio -- Nils Bo Davidsen on bass, Anders Mogensen on drums [cd]: B+(***)
  • Trzy Dni Pozniej: Pokoj Jej Cieniom (2014, Fortune): vocal trio, three Polish women, backed by electronics and viola, serious but not cloying [cd]: B+(**)
  • Viet Cong: Cassette (2014, Mexican Summer): [r]: B
  • Scott Walker + Sunn O))): Soused (2014, 4AD): insufferably operatic singer emotes over the ambient drone of horror movies; is this a joke? [r]: C
  • Don Williams: Reflections (2014, Sugar Hill): back on Sugar Hill, the perfect retirement home for a guy who never made a hit look like work [r]: B+(*)
  • Hank Williams III: Ramblin' Man (1999-2010 [2014], Curb, EP): third post-contract album Cub put together, 7 cuts, shit they'd hate if they didn't own it [r]: B+(*)
  • Matt Woods: With Love From Brushy Mountain (2014, Lonely Ones): Knoxville country singer, goes out of his way to make his career difficult [r]: B+(***)
  • Waclaw Zimpel To Tu Orchestra: Nature Moves (2014, Fortune): works minimalist themes into something sublime, then adds free jazz energy [cd]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers & Hoss Hair Pullers (1928-37 [2014], Dust-to-Digital): enticing pickings from unknowns, the scratch groove feels like my roots [r]: A-
  • Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers (1958-64 [2011], BBE): 2011 comp started annual series, rockabilly hot but a little weirder [r]: B+(**)
  • Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers 3 (1956-66 [2013], BBE): third volume of crackling obscurities edges slightly into stoned surf [r]: B+(***)
  • Native North America, Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 (1966-85 [2014], Light in the Attic, 2CD): 2cd survey of Native American musicians, not that different [r]: B+(*)
  • Sun Ra and His Blue Universe Arkestra: Universe in Blue (1971-72 [2013], El Saturn): two good cuts (one a black power anthem), three were they get lost [r]: C+

Old records rated this week:

  • The Kinks: Face to Face (1966 [2004], Sanctuary): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Kinks: Something Else by the Kinks (1967 [2004], Sanctuary): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Kinks: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968 [1998], Sanctuary): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Kinks: Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (1970 [2004], Sanctuary): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Gene Argel: Luminescent (Origin): January 20
  • Joey Calderazzo: Going Home (Sunnyside): March 31
  • Chamber 3: Grassroots (OA2): January 20
  • George Colligan & Theoretical Planets: Risky Notion (Origin): January 20
  • Hypercolor (Tzadik): advance, January 20
  • Renaud Penant Trio: Want to Be Happy (ITI Music)
  • Denia Ridley & the Marc Devine Trio: Afterglow (ITI Music): January 20
  • Marc Seales: American Songs Volume 3: Place & Time (Origin): January 20
  • Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research: Hat and Shoes (Between the Lines): February 10
  • Joanna Wallfisch with Dan Tepfer: The Origin of Adjustable Things (Sunnyside): March 3

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers (1958-64 [2011], BBE): B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers 3 (1957-66 [2013], BBE): B+(***) [rhapsody]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Weekend Update

The big news of the week was the massacre in the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where ten journalists (mostly cartoonists) and two police were gunned down. This was followed by a shooting of a police officer at Montrouge, and an attempt to take hostages at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, resulting in four more deaths (five counting the assailant). French officials hunted down and killed the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, but the story doesn't end there. Whereas mass shootings by non-Muslims in Europe and America (including one in Norway in 2011 that killed 77 people) are typically treated as "lone wolf" aberrations, any such violence committed by Muslims automatically triggers a chain reaction where all the usual reactors resume the positions they took after 9/11, mostly to escalate US, European, and Israeli violence against Muslims. The effect is much like watching a train wreck, where no matter how clear every detail seems, one is helpless to prevent or even affect the crash.

The most immediate response has been a huge outpouring of racist rhetoric from Europe's right, especially from the strategically placed, shamelessly opportunistic Marine le Pen. And as rightists almost reflexively respond, this has already resulted in a number of attacks against mosques in France. Meanwhile, more respectable elites have tended to the propaganda campaign. In particular, Charlie Hebdo has become an icon of free speech, championed by people who spend billions of dollars every year to shape public discourse to advance their own agendas. Over the longer term they will use this attack as an excuse to launch -- actually, to continue -- many more of their own. Moreover, those attacks -- indeed, this week's mosque attacks -- will scarcely raise a ripple in the western press, or a twinge of conscience in the belligerent elites.

Needless to say, this kneejerk reaction is insane. If, say, one suffers and barely survives a heart attack, the normal response is to take a look at your own life and see you can do better -- stop smoking, eat differently, exercise more, take a daily aspirin, whatever. It's not to go out and bomb Afghanistan, or burn down a convenient mosque. And this is not because you feel personally culpable for the heart attack. It's more because the only change you can make is to yourself. Yet terror attacks, which for nearly everyone are mere impersonal news, are never allowed to evoke a moment's self-examination. There's a complex psychology behind this, but it's ultimately because the elites (especially the right-wingers who predominate) have something to hide, and much to fear if this is ever discussed rationally.

The attackers in Paris, for instance, identified themselves as affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was effectively invented in the 1980s when the United States recruited Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to raise an Islamist army ("the mujahideen") to sabotage the Soviets in Afghanistan. The US was arguably naive to do so, but American Cold Warriors had often (and successfully) used religion against "Godless Communism," and colonial powers had routinely recruited Islamic clerics to help control the masses -- in fact, the US used Iranian clerics to organize the mobs that helped overthrow Iran's democracy in 1953. So what could go wrong? (This was, after all, the Reagan administration, where naivete was little less than a worldview.)

When recruited by the US, the Saudi monarchy and Pakistan's Islamist dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq built their Afghan war machine with the clerics they had in hand -- the fundamentalist Wahhabi and Deobandi sects, militantly orthodox especially in their excoriation of heretics (especially Shiites) and used to using their religious beliefs as a platform for war -- nor did they limit their scope to Afghanistan: since its founding, Pakistan has been obsessed with India, while Saudi Arabia was locked in a long struggle with secularizing, socialist, and nationalist forces throughout the Arab world. It was only a matter of time before the muhahideen turned their venom against their patrons, especially the infidel ones.

Still, jihadism was never more than a sliver movement within Islam. If you read Gilles Kepel's definitive history of jihadism up to 2000 (Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam), you will see that before 9/11 the movement had largely burned itself out. In that context, 9/11 was a "hail Mary pass" -- an effort not to strike the enemy so much as to provoke a monster, which would then invade the Land of Islam and drive the faithful to take up arms. Thanks to the ignorance and ego of GW Bush, Bin Laden was successful in his provocation. His only disappointment was in how few Muslims rose to fight alongside him. But a small number did, joining the ranks of those caught up in local wars -- some like Iraq the result of US imperial adventures, others like Syria only slightly removed -- adding a religious fire to those conflicts. And very rarely, as in Paris last week, the blowback comes home.

All this has been plainly obvious for many years, even as a succession of presidents (and both apologists and antagonists) have been oblivious to the consequences of their actions. And by consequences I don't mean the rare blowback event -- I mean the obviously direct consequences of aerial attacks and covert operations, of sanctions and propping up cruel dictators, of repeatedly proving to the world that US leaders have no respect for foreign lives, least of all Muslim ones. There are a great many reasons why the US should withdraw from such behaviors. Fear of reprisal (of blowback) is a relatively minor one, but even it isn't as silly as refusing to do the right thing, and insisting on repeating past mistakes, for fear of looking like you're giving in to terrorism. Elites like to brand terrorists as cowards, but the real cowardice is failing to do the right thing for fear of looking weak.

Only by changing our ways will this problem ever go away.

Some more links and comments follow (some on other topics):

  • Juan Cole: Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists in Paris: This is a variant, or complement to, my argument above. I'll add one small note on return on investment. Al-Qaeda sacrificed three (maybe five, or a bit more) fighters on this operation. How many people they killed may matter as a provocation, but this isn't a war of attrition. So it really comes down to recruitment: how many new fighters will flock to Al-Qaeda after this? That, in turn, depends on how many Muslims are alienated by France's reaction (and any other countries where right-wingers use this to try to advance). The number doesn't have to be very big to make the action worthwhile. But also understand that they're starting from a deficit, because this act itself is as offensive to most Muslims as it is to everyone else.

    The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

    Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. [ . . . ]

    The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.

  • Teju Cole: Unmournable Bodies: Since the massacre, I've seen many Charlie Hebdo cartoons in my twitter feed -- a good many offensive, stupid, or both. I have no idea how representative they are -- I've read that the magazine is non-partisan, analogous to Mad in the US, so there must be a mix (if not a balance) of views. And I know there's no lack of offensive and/or stupid cartoons on the right in America, and that (especially where Obama is concerned) these all too frequently slump into blatant racism. Of course, if you go back in history you can find even worse: see, for a relevant example, the cartoons reproduced in John W. Dower's War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War for shockingly racist depictions of Japanese during WWII -- war always brings out the worst in people. None of this is meant as excuse: as Hamas put it in their PR reaction: "differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder." But we shouldn't forget that Charlie Hebdo wasn't singled out for attack because it represented a free press; it was singled out because it had allowed itself to become a propaganda organ in a virtual war against (at least one strain of political) Islam.

    More than a dozen people were killed by terrorists in Paris this week. The victims of these crimes are being mourned worldwide: they were human beings, beloved by their families and precious to their friends. On Wednesday, twelve of them were targeted by gunmen for their affiliation with the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Charlie has often been aimed at Muslims, and it's taken particular joy in flouting the Islamic ban on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It's done more than that, including taking on political targets, as well as Christian and Jewish ones. The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited as evidence of Charlie Hebdo's willingness to offend everyone. But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre. It is not always easy to see the difference between a certain witty dissent from religion and a bullyingly racist agenda, but it is necessary to try. Even Voltaire, a hero to many who extol free speech, got it wrong. His sparkling and courageous anti-clericalism can be a joy to read, but he was also a committed anti-Semite, whose criticisms of Judaism were accompanied by calumnies about the innate character of Jews.

    This week's events took place against the backdrop of France's ugly colonial history, its sizable Muslim population, and the suppression, in the name of secularism, of some Islamic cultural expressions, such as the hijab. Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one of the magazine's cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism); another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim Crow-era illustrations. [ . . . ]

    But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions. The A.C.L.U. got it right in defending a neo-Nazi group that, in 1978, sought to march through Skokie, Illinois. The extreme offensiveness of the marchers, absent a particular threat of violence, was not and should not be illegal. But no sensible person takes a defense of those First Amendment rights as a defense of Nazi beliefs. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were not mere gadflies, not simple martyrs to the right to offend: they were ideologues. Just because one condemns their brutal murders doesn't mean one must condone their ideology.

    Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech -- as so many commentators have done -- it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly. The only person in prison for the C.I.A.'s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

    Since the attacks, money has poured into Charlie Hebdo, and with all the publicity the next press run will be bumped from the usual 60,000 to one million copies.

  • Michael S Schmidt/Matt Apuzzo: Federal prosecutors recommend charges against ex-CIA chief David Petraeus: Allegedly, Petraeus disclosed top-secret files to journalist Paula Broadwell, who was sleeping with him as well as writing a fawning hagiography. The key point here is that Obama and Holder have prosecuted leakers to an unprecedented degree, so what kind of favoritism would it be if they let Petraeus off the hook? A pretty obvious one, I'd say. But much as I'd like to "send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison," I'd rather see pardons for Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and all the others who have been or would be prosecuted for disclosing what the CIA and NSA has been doing with our tax dollars. The difference is that Petraeus didn't do the public any favors with his leaks. He did them purely as an act of self-promotion -- coincidentally his only real accomplishment during his long tenure in the Army and at the CIA.

  • Other Charlie Hebdo links:

    • Mat Taibbi: Cartoons Are Worth Fighting For: "The answer here isn't more self-censorship, but standing on the principle of everyone learning to calm down, get a life, and tolerate the occasional weird idea." Yes, but tolerance, while vastly preferred over intolerance, isn't the real goal. The goal should be to get to a just and equitable society, and to do that we need to get to the truth. Free speech and a free press are necessary to facilitate that.
    • Diana Johnstone: What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say?: "Along with taking innocent lives, they have surely deepened the sense of brutal chaos in this world, aggravated distrust between ethnic groups in France and in Europe, and no doubt accomplished other evil results as well."
    • Tariq Ali: Maximum Horror: "Charlie Hebdo sees itself as having a mission to defend republican secular values against all religions. It has occasionally attacked Catholicism, but it's hardly ever taken on Judaism (though Israel's numerous assaults on Palestinians have offered many opportunities) and has concentrated its mockery on Islam. French secularism today seems to encompass anything as long as it's not Islamic. [ . . . ] Defending its right to publish, regardless of consequences, is one thing, but sacralising a satirical paper that regularly targets those who are victims of a rampant Islamophobia is almost as foolish as justifying the acts of terror against it. Each feeds on the other."
    • Arthur Chu: Trolls and Martyrdom: Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie: "Shooting people is wrong." But that doesn't mean that the people who shouldn't be shot are all right. (For some reason that is a principle a lot of Americans have trouble with: we live in a society that seems to want to settle every dispute with a gun, somehow believing that problems go away when you kill the people most identified with them.) Interesting factoid: "They're only even called Charlie Hebdo as an inside joke after the original publication, Hara-Kirk Hebdo, got shut down for mocking former President Charles de Gaulle immediately after his death."
    • Josh Marshall: Is There a Future for French Jewry? There are about 600,000 Jews in France. In 2013 a bit more than 3000 emigrated to Israel (at least according to the figures here). After events like the attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris last week, as well as "a series of attacks on French Jews over recent years," Israeli sources expect more to emigrate to Israel next year. Marshall somehow took the bait and is projecting the collapse of the entire community. This is a meme that pops up every few years -- see Tony Karon: Where do France's Jews Belong?, published in 2004 when Sharon was offering French Jews a safe haven in the midst of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. One thing that's missing here is stats on the other side of the coin: I've seen estimates that over 700,000 Israelis have moved abroad, and while the US and Germany (!) are the most frequently cited destinations, France cannot be far behind. (Most of the Israeli jazz musicians I'm familiar with live abroad, and France is a popular base.)
    • More Guns: The Cure-All? After 9/11, I remember Eric Raymond arguing that we should allow passengers on airplanes to carry guns so they could defend themselves, as if the hijackers wouldn't have been the first to take advantage of that option. So no surprise that someone should come forward with the idea that if only the office workers at Charlie Hebdo had been packing heat . . . (not that the dead police weren't). No need to read this article for that, but you might be interested in how a Kansas gun shop owner was shot dead and robbed. Steve M. also pays more attention to David Brooks' take on Charlie Hebdo than you should.
    • Philip Weiss: Don't let's go to the war of civilizations again: "Speaking of double standards, our obsession with radical Islam overlooks the incredible peacefulness of most Arab societies [ . . . ] and the wide destruction we've wrought in the Middle East. Steve Walt used to keep a counter on how many Muslims we've killed -- over 200,000 Muslims a few years ago. Bill Kristol and George Packer and Roger Cohen seem to think the answer is to undertake actions that will kill more, because we are now in a civilizational clash. That will just radicalize more Kouachis and make us all more unsafe."
  • Israel links:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Max Blumenthal: Politicde in Gaza: How Israel's Far Right Won the War: In a scholarly journal, with footnotes, a first draft at the history of the 2014 war. Sample quote:

    With rocket sirens sounding around the country, calls for genocide by Israeli public figures grew more frequent and forceful. Moshe Feiglin -- one of ten deputy speakers of the Knesset so extreme that Likud employed a series of legal tricks to boot him from its 2009 electoral list -- issued a detailed plan to "exterminate" or "concentrate" all residents of Gaza.57 Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of the religious nationalist settlement, Kiryat Arba, issued an edict declaring that Jewish law supported taking "crushing deterring [sic] steps to exterminate the enemy."58 Meanwhile, Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer on Arabic literature at Bar Ilan University, opined in an interview on the day after the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found that the only way to deter young Palestinian men from militant activity was to rape their sisters and mothers. "It sounds very bad, but that's the Middle East . . . [y]ou have to understand the culture in which we live."59

    Incitement at the top emboldened Israeli teens flooding social media to spin genocidal fantasies of their own. David Sheen, an independent Israeli journalist, translated dozens of frightening Twitter posts by adolescent Israeli women alternating between revealing selfies and annihilationist rants. "Kill Arab children so there won't be a next generation," wrote a user called @ashlisade.60 Another teenage female Twitter user, @shirzafaty, declared, "Not just on summer vacation we hate stinking ugly Arabs, but for the rest of our lives."61 On a mortar shell that was to be launched into a civilian area in Gaza, a young Israeli soldier complained about a boy-band concert that was scrapped because of the fighting: "That's for canceling the Backstreet Boys, you scum!" he wrote.62

  • Stephen Kinzer: Joining the military doesn't make you a hero: Certainly one reason not to join the military. Of course, there are many more.

Miscellanous tweets:

  • Tom Hull: Re Voltaire on Jews, Maher on Muslims, note how people who lose their religion still feel most confident dumping on others' beliefs.
  • Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu wants Jews to leave France and move to the nation he describes as the key target of anti-Semitic terror: [link]
  • Matt Haig: Rupert Murdoch thinks all Muslims should apologise for terrorism. So on behalf of white people, I'd like to apologise for Rupert Murdoch.
  • Max Blumenthal: Netanyahu could not address the Paris killings without mentioning Hamas and Hezbollah and insinuiating some connection [link]
  • Matt Taibbi: Bush was like an ordinary mean Republican politician with a tiny FunnyBot hiding in his frontal lobe.
  • Matt Taibbi: I think Bush's paintings are kind of cute. It's like art for dogs or some thing.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24286 [24247] rated (+39), 505 [509] unrated (-4).

A bit out of sync here, having closed the count last night but adding two incoming discs today -- otherwise last week was pretty barren at the mailbox. Actually, I could have posted this early, but what's held me back was stuffing the EOY aggregate list -- now up to 310 lists, 3470 new records, 524 reissues/comps/vault jobs. I'm getting close to wrapping that up -- the last step is usually to fold in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop album results, or Christgau's Dean's List, whichever comes last. I've picked up some more jazz lists, including the Jazz Critics Poll (down to 150), and I've also picked up a cluster of lists from the Christgau-focused Expert Witness group -- close to two dozen ballots to Odyshape's Expert Witness Pazz & Jop album poll (see below), plus some longer lists from that direction (including 150 albums from Jason Gubbels). The top twenty albums in Odyshape's poll, followed by their bump in my aggregate file:

  1. Wussy, Attica!: +30 (9 to 39), 254th place to 67th
  2. Withered Hand, New Gods: +21 (9 to 30), 253 to 93
  3. Miranda Lambert, Platinum: +38 (36 to 74), 54 to 26
  4. Old 97's, Most Messed Up: +23 (8 to 31), 278 to 83
  5. Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans: +15 (11 to 26), 202 to 106
  6. Lily Allen, Sheezus: +13 (4 to 17), 456 to 167
  7. Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste: +27 (44 to 71), 38 to 28
  8. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal: +33 (44 to 77), 39 to 25
  9. D'Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah: +41 (13 to 54), 171 to 42
  10. Angaleena Presley, American Middle Class: +14 (16 to 30), 137 to 91
  11. Young Thug & Bloody Jay, Black Portland: +17 (14 to 31), 169 to 86
  12. Tune-Yards, Nikki-Nack: +19 (33 to 52), 64 to 46
  13. Toni Braxton & Babyface, Love, Marriage & Divorce: +12 (12 to 24), 185 to 116
  14. Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty: +10 (4 to 14), 497 to 204
  15. Run the Jewels 2: +63 (150 to 213), 4 to 3
  16. Taylor Swift, 1989: +23 (71 to 94), 21 to 19
  17. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager: +21 (47 to 68), 34 to 32
  18. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues: +22 (42 to 64), 43 to 34
  19. Spoon, They Want My Soul: +33 (81 to 114), 18 to 13
  20. Sisyphus: +4 (3 to 7), 790 to 422

The EW voters aren't the only factor here: Run the Jewels has been gaining ground steadily for several weeks, and D'Angelo has picked up speed after a very late start. Nor is their (or should I say our?) representation untoward: I expect that close to two dozen critics will vote in both Odyshape and Village Voice polls, so if they/we weren't counted here, that would introduce a skew there. Even so, it's likely that a dozen or more of this list of twenty will place higher in P&J than in my aggregate.

There's probably a lot more interesting data that could be mined from the aggregate chart, but the one thing I want to point out here is that the top four have narrowed: the points are 236-223-213-205 (with Run the Jewels passing St. Vincent). Fifth place Caribou is down at 159, followed by 152, 144 (twice), 138, and 125. Usually at this point the top few slots are spreading out, so this is about as close a top bunch as you'll ever see.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Alvvays (2014, Polyvinyl): Toronto alt-rock group, gets pop kudos for singer Molly Rankin plus a good dea of jangle mixed in with the guitars [r]: B+(*)
  • Basement Jaxx: Junto (2014, Atlantic Jaxx): had big albums c. 2000, but steady streaming product now; they do know how to keep a dance beat running [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions (2014, Capitol): a real pro r&b singer, past her angst, past her divadom, gets guests and passes them too [r]: B+(***)
  • Benjamin Booker: Benjamin Booker (2014, ATO): no bluesman, a rocker so straight up he cites Jack White, but actually is fuzzier, crankier, grungier [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Brendler: Outside the Line (2014, Posi-Tone): bassist-led two-horn quartet, Rich Perry on the inside, Peter Evans quantum leaping outside [r]: B+(***)
  • Hollie Cook: Twice (2014, Mr. Bongo): reggae spawn of Sex Pistols, Culture Club, and Slits may or may not aim for minisculism but hits it [r]: B+(*)
  • Ian William Craig: A Turn of Braeth (2014, Recital): trained as an opera singer, makes lovely abstract music with tape loops of voice samples [r]: B+(*)
  • Chet Faker: Built on Glass (2014, Downtown): Australian singer-songwriter/electronica producer, crafts songs as tidy as Beck, but less pat [r]: B+(**)
  • Bunji Garlin: Differentology (2014, RCA/VP): soca star from Trinidad, favors hard ragga over lilting calypso, works sometimes, can be too much [r]: B+(**)
  • Polly Gibbons: Many Faces of Love (2014 [2015], Resonance): Brit standards singer's US debut packaged like a big deal with DVD, but same old same old [cd]: B+(*)
  • GOAT: Commune (2014, Sub Pop): Swedish band appropriates world musics but won't get nailed down to tribal specifics, prefer feeding their amps [r]: A-
  • Leela James: Fall for You (2014, J&T): a soul singer for today, neither retro nor nu, just at ease working out problems of everyday life [r]: B+(***)
  • Luke James: Luke James (2014, Island): R&B singer from New Orleans, takes sweet time connecting until his falsetto flares to the heavens on the single [r]: B+(**)
  • Jungle: Jungle (2014, XL): indulging all the usual stereotypes, a Brit Earth Wind & Fire -- falsettos less fluid, beats a bit grimey [r]: B+(**)
  • Nikola Kolodziejczyk Orchestra: Chord Nation (2011 [2014], Fortune): Polish big band plus extra reeds and strings, snappy as many more I could name [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lee Scratch Perry: Back on the Controls (2011-13 [2014], Upsetter Music, 2CD): seems to have forgotten that the producer's job is to mint hits, so doubles down on the dub [r]: A-
  • Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: El Buscador (2008 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Poland's premier tenor saxophonist, flanked by Adrian Mears' trombone, with Latin tinge [r]: B+(***)
  • Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: A-Trane Nights (2008-09 [2014], Fortune): same group, same dynamic, but only one night on my promo -- where's disc 2 [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Adam Pieronczyk: The Planet of Eternal Life (2013 [2014], Jazzwerkstatt): solo soprano sax, easy on the ears when played this methodically, but, you know [r]: B+(**)
  • Quraishi: Mountain Melodies (2014, Evergreene Music): an Afghan rubab master, his instrument a poor cousin to the sitar, makes something out of poverty [r]: B+(**)
  • John Schooley: The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World (2014, Voodoo Rhythm): old-timey banjo shrouded with real metal machine music [r]: B+(**)
  • Shamir: Northtown (2014, Godmode, EP): 5-cut, 19:58 EP for a very young soul man, growing up way too fast [r]: B+(*)
  • Sonny Simmons & Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (2011 [2014], Svart): alto sax blows way over French sitar-bass-drums trio's exotic but sturdy rhythm [r]: B+(***)
  • Sly & Robbie: Underwater Dub (2014, Groove Attack): dub stripped down to bare basics, just beats/accents/echoes, but in such hands who needs more? [r]: B+(***)
  • Sly & Robbie: Dubrising (2014, Taxi): but if you do want more, this adds vocals on timeless topics like war and the effects shoot up the sky [r]: A-
  • Betty Who: Take Me When You Go (2014, RCA): Aussie teen-pop starlet hits the fast ones just fine but has a little trouble with the ballad [r]: B+(*)
  • Ksawery Wojcinski: The Soul (2013 [2014], Fortune): bassist turned one-man-band, singer too, ending with a gorgeous bit of gospel chorus [cd]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Bring It On Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke (1959-76 [2014], Ace): Trayvon Martin wasn't the first killed by a confused/stupid white with a gun [cd]: A-
  • Chris Butler: Easy Life (1970 [2014], Future Fossil): in fact, confused/stupid armed whites with guns have been known to kill their own, like in Kent OH 1970 [bc]: A-
  • Chubby Jackson Big Band: New York City 1949: Ooh, What an Outfit! (1949 [2014], Uptown, 2CD): big band will swing or bop, whichever's fastest/hardest [r]: B+(***)
  • Bill Jennings: Architect of Soul Jazz: The Complete Early Recordings 1951-1957 (1951-57 [2014], Fresh Sound): guitarist's early combos, with singers, honkers, organ players, a vibraphonist [r]: B+(**)
  • Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych From Peru's Radical Decade (1968-74 [2014], Tiger's Milk): or the real garage bands of Lima learn to play "Hey Joe" [r]: B+(*)
  • Junior Wells: Southside Blues Jam (1969-70 [2014], Delmark): near-classic Chicago blues with Buddy Guy and Otis Spann, but a little short on jam [r]: B+(***)
  • Wilco: What's Your 20? Essential Tracks 1994-2014 (1994-2014 [2014], Nonesuch, 2CD): can't recall any of these 38 tunes, nor did I mind hearing any, nor will I soon [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Raiders of the Lost Dub (1981, Mango): dub never did Black Uhuru any favors, but this early Sly & Robbie effort puts them into the flow [r]: B+(**)
  • Arthur Russell: World of Echo (1986, Audika): [r]: B+(**)

Grade changes:

  • Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (2014, Lightning Rod): [was B+(**)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jovan Alexandre: Collective Consciousness (Xippi): February 24
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (ACT): February 10
  • Mark Wade Trio: Event Horizon (self-released): February 17


  • Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (Def Jam)
  • Bring It On Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke (1959-76, Ace)
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?)
  • Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada)
  • Verckys/Orchestre Veve: Congolese Funk Abrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969 (1969, Analog Africa)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2014 Part Two)

Pick up text from here (except for Holiday Music section, previously run).

Daily Log

Jazz Times Critics Poll list:

  1. Sonny Rollins: Roadshows Volume 3 (Doxy/Okeh)
  2. Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (Blue Note)
  3. Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy to Fats Waller (Blue Note)
  4. Mark Turner: Lathe of Heaven (ECM)
  5. Steve Lehman: Mise en Abime (Pi)
  6. Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance (ECM)
  7. Chick Corea: Trilogy (Stretch/Concord)
  8. Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation (Impulse)
  9. Brian Blade: Landmarks (Blue Note)
  10. Yosvany Terry: New Throned King (5Pasion)
  11. Tom Harrell: Trip (HighNote)
  12. Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM)
  13. David Virelles: Mbókò (ECM)
  14. Diego Barber & Craig Taborn: Tales (Sunnyside)
  15. Andy Bey: Pages From an Imaginary Life (HighNote)
  16. Otis Brown III: The Thought of You (Blue Note)
  17. Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age! (Okeh)
  18. Marc Ribot: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi)
  19. Cookers: Time and Time Again (Motema)
  20. Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer: Wiring (Intakt)
  21. Arturo O'Farrill: The Offense of the Drum (Motema)
  22. Jeff Ballard: Time's Travels (Okeh)
  23. Sean Jones: Im-pro-vise Never Before Seen (Mack Avenue)
  24. Fred Hersch: Floating (Palmetto)
  25. Bad Plus: The Rite of Spring (Sony Masterworks)
  26. Billy Childs: Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Sony Masterworks)
  27. Henry Butler/Steven Bernstein & the Hot 9: Viper's Drag (Impulse)
  28. Joshua Redman: Trios Live (Nonesuch)
  29. Avishai Cohen's Triveni: Dark Nights (Anzic)
  30. Dan Weiss: Fourteen (Pi)
  31. Billy Hart: One Is the Other (ECM)
  32. Christine Jensen: Habitat (Justin Time)
  33. Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music)
  34. Eric Revis: In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed)
  35. Melissa Aldana: Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (Concord)
  36. Frank Kimbrough: Quartet (Palmetto)
  37. Hiromi: Alive (Telarc)
  38. Nels Cline Singers: Macroscope (Mack Avenue)
  39. Edward Simon: Venezuelan Suite (Sunnyside)
  40. Stanton Moore: Conversations (The Royal Potato Company)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24247 [24221] rated (+26), 509 [490] unrated (+19).

Rated count off this week, partly because I replayed a fair number of 2014 releases around P&J ballot time, partly because I got stuck on re-evaluating Wadada Leo Smith's The Great Lakes Suites. To make a long story short, I concluded that the first disc is solid A-, but I still have some doubts about the second. I still prefer Smith's Red Hill (and still have Smith's The Stone (Akashic Meditation) well off the pace). The Great Lakes Suites came in a close second in NPR's Jazz Critics Poll.

Aside from those dead spots, everything else I rated last week came from Rhapsody (or at least the computer). I did get a comeuppance for my excessive pride over exhausting my 2014 queue: two large packages from Europe (France and Poland) with obscure 2014 releases, plus a few more from domestic sources. With all the year-end polls done, I didn't feel any rushing need to catch up. Rather, I kept on collecting year-end list data, trying to pick at anything I could find that seemed promising.

I totally screwed up on Twitter this past week. I may try to catch up a bit in the next few days, but more likely I'll just try to stuff what I can into a December 31 Rhapsody Streamnotes, then freeze the year-end file (and deep-freeze the 2013 list). Then we will enter 2015, and again try to scale back (somewhat).

New records rated this week:

  • Yemi Alade: King of Queens (2014, Effyzzie Music Group): [r]: B+(**)
  • Melissa Aldana: Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (2014, Concord Jazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Arca: Xen (2014, Mute): [r]: B
  • Banks: Goddess (2014, Harvest): [r]: B+(**)
  • Battle Trance: Palace of Wind (2014, New Amsterdam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rubén Blades: Tangos (2014, Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Michael Blake: Tiddy Boom (2014, Sunnyside): [r]: A-
  • Jimmy Cobb: The Original Mob (2014, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
  • Donald Edwards: Evolution of an Influenced Mind (2013 [2014], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kevin Gates: By Any Means (2014, Bread Winners Association): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brantley Gilbert: Just as I Am (2014, Valory): [r]: B-
  • Grouper: Ruins (2014, Kranky): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz (2013 [2014], Melvin): [r]: B+(*)
  • I Love Makonnen (2014, OVO Sound, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • ICP Orchestra: East of the Sun (2014, ICP): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Oliver Lake Organ Quartet: What I Heard (2013 [2014], Passin' Thru): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ludovic Morlot/Seattle Symphony Orchestra: John Luther Adams: Become Ocean (2013 [2014], Cantaloupe): [r]: B+(***)
  • Objekt: Flatland (2014, Pan, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Noah Preminger: Background Music (2010 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: A-
  • Sleaford Mods: Austerity Dogs (2013, Harbinger Sound): [bc]: A-
  • Sleaford Mods: Divide and Exit (2014, Harbinger Sound): [bc]: A-
  • Ana Tijoux: Vengo (2014, Nacional): [r]: B+(**)
  • Leon Vynehall: Music for the Uninvited (2014, 3024): [r]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Lewis: L'Amour (1983 [2014], Light in the Attic): [r]: B

Grade changes:

  • The Green Seed: Drapetomania (2014, Communicating Vessels): [was A-] A
  • Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 [2014], TUM, 2CD): [was B+(***)] A-
  • Wussy: Attica! (Shake It): [was A-] A

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Grazyna Auguscik Orchestar: Inspird by Lutoslawski (Fortune)
  • The Michael Blum Quartet: Initiation (self-released)
  • Lukasz Borowicki Trio: People, Cats & Obstacles (Fortune)
  • Herb Geller/Roberto Magris: An Evening With Herb Geller & the Roberto Magris Trio: Live in Europe 2009 (JMood)
  • Jachna Tarwid Karch: Sundial (Fortune)
  • Lucien Johnson/Alan Silva/Makoto Soto: Stinging Nettles (Improvising Beings)
  • Nikola Kolodziejczyk Orchestra: Chord Nation (Fortune)
  • Leszek Kulakowski Ensemble: Looking Ahead (Fortune)
  • Magnolia Acoustic Quartet: Cinderella (Fortune)
  • Myrczek & Tomaszewski: Love Revisited (Fortune)
  • Adam Pieronczyk Quartet: A-Trane Nights (Fortune)
  • Schizophonia: Cantorial Recordings Reimagined (Blue Thread Music)
  • Linda Sharrock: No Is No: Don't Fuck Around With Your Women (Improvising Beings, 2CD)
  • Emilio Solla y La Inestable de Brooklyn: Second Half (self-released)
  • Tom Trio: Radical Moves (Fortune)
  • Trzy Dni Pozniej: Pokoj Jej Cieniom (Fortune)
  • François Tusques/Mirtha Pozzi/Pablo Cueco: Le Fond de L'Air (Improvising Beings)
  • François Tusques/François Toullec/Eric Zinman: Laiser L'Exprit Divaguer (Improvising Beings)
  • Ksawery Wojcinski: The Soul (Fortune)
  • Waclaw Zimpel To Tu Orchestra: Nature Moves (Fortune)

Daily Log

Comment I wrote to Facebook on P&J odds:

The leaders in my EOY list count are: FKA Twigs, War on Drugs, St Vincent, Run the Jewels, Caribou, Aphex Twin, Swans, tie between Flying Lotus and Sun Kil Moon. However, the P&J electorate is skewed in various ways -- no, I don't have a mathematical model, just a bunch of hunches -- and P&J has a later deadline than anything I've counted so far, so my own P&J guess is Run the Jewels, followed by St Vincent, FKA Twigs, and War on Drugs, with Aphex Twin and/or Flying Lotus having a small chance of breaking into the top four. Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert will certainly do much better than my count suggests (currently 21 and 62) -- I figure them for top-10 and top-20, but not top-5 and top-10. (Swift has only led one list so far, vs. 4 for Lambert.) Tune-Yards is a previous P&J winner with a strong bias, but is 67 in my count -- I figure top-40 is likely but not certain. At least one respected prognosticator has picked D'Angelo. I don't see how that can happen, and doubt he'll match Beyonce's 4th place finish last year, but top-20 is likely and top-10 not out of the question. As I understand the rules, Beyonce will have to get more new votes this year than she got last year, and I don't see any way that can happen. In fact, she hasn't done very well this year even in lists that were way too early last year to have given her a chance. (She's only appeared on 9 of 185 lists this year, but has won three of those.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Pazz & Jop Ballot

I voted in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll yesterday. My ballot:


  1. Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Brothers/Regal) 19
  2. Steve Lehman Octet: Mise en Abîme (Pi) 14
  3. Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (Edgetone) 10
  4. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada) 10
  5. Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik) 10
  6. The Green Seed: Drapetomania (Communicating Vessels) 9
  7. Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (Masterworks) 9
  8. The Strypes: Snapshot (Island/Photo Finish) 7
  9. Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (Accurate) 7
  10. Wussy: Attica! (Shake It) 5


  1. Pharrell Williams: "Happy" [Girl, Columbia]
  2. Leonard Cohen: "Almost Like the Blues" [Popular Problems, Columbia]
  3. Charli XCX: "London Queen" [Sucker, Atlantic]
  4. Lily Allen: "Hard Out Here" [Sheezus, Warner Bros./Regal]
  5. Iggy Azalea: "Fancy" [The New Classic, Island]
  6. Jason Derulo: "Marry Me" [Talk Dirty, Warner Bros.]
  7. Parquet Courts: "Black and White" [Sunbathing Animal, What's Your Rupture?]
  8. Peter Stampfel and the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Banjo Squadron: "NSA Man" (Better Than Expected, Don Giovanni]
  9. Nicki Minaj: "Anaconda" [The Pinkprint, Young Money]
  10. Sunny Sweeney: "Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass" [Provoked, Aunt Daddy]

The songs all came from album tracks, with eight of ten on my A-list, but only one redundant to the albums ballot. The songs are overwhelmingly from major labels -- a testament to today's big pop production machine -- whereas the albums are more scattered (three majors, seven independents). Four albums are jazz, but none of the singles. The albums were carefully considered from the 1004 albums (952 new, 52 comp/archival) released in 2014 that I listened to seriously enough to grade. The songs were picked out much more arbitrarily. Jasons Gross and Gubbels generously shared their year-end song lists, but even after sampling a few things off the top of each I doubt that I've heard 20% of either list (nearly all in the context of albums, but surprisingly few appeared on albums I've heard). I also checked out Spin's year-end list, but closed it after the top two came nowhere close. I suspect that more digging would find a lot of things I'd feel bad about leaving out, but the top half of the list is likely to remain pretty solid.

The albums, of course, were much more rigorously considered. The only one on my ballot that's likely to get more than five votes is Wussy.[*] In my EOY list file, Attica! currently sits on line 347 with 6 points and only one mention so far on a top-ten list (5th on Greg Kot's Chicago Tribune list), but I know at least that many voters certain to vote for it. I was on the fence myself, slightly preferring Digital Primitives' Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin', also considering Parquet Courts' Sunbathing Animal and Old 97's Most Messed Up, and completely forgetting about the year's best compilation, Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story. I normally pay little attention to what other people are voting for, but it seems possible (if not exactly likely) that Wussy will sneak into the top-40, so I felt like doing that.

On the other hand, Wussy is likely to flat out win Odyshape's 2014 EW Pazz & Jop poll, so there's less excuse voting for it there, let alone need or value. So I'm making one change to the ballot above for Odyshape, replacing Wussy with the Jimmy Spruill compilation. It was, after all, an oversight, buried by my bookkeeping system down in the reissues and vault music. Had I thought of it before casting my P&J ballot I probably would have included it there.

I've long hated the top-ten cutoffs, which forcibly magnify marginal distinctions. No competent critic should be limited to ten highly recommended records in a year. When I ran a poll similar to Odyshape's in 2002-03, I tried to rectify this by allowing voters to extend their ballots: records from 11-20 got three points, 21-30 got two points, and anything past 30 was given one point. The long lists had little effect on the standings, but they added many more distinctive records to the totals. I wish Odyshape had adopted this embellishment, but they seem to regard P&J as some sort of holy grail.

I've found about 130 A- or higher albums this year (plus another 200+ high B+ records, and that list -- not my top-10 -- is the real EOY list. I've split the full EOY list into jazz and non-jazz parts -- about 60% of the new albums I've listened to this year were jazz, and they were mostly heard on CD whereas the non-jazz were mostly streamed. I don't consider compartmentalizing jazz to be either natural or desirable, but the differences in sample size and methodology, my status as an expert in jazz and a rank amateur in nearly everything else (except classical, where I'm a committed ignoramus) justifies the split.

[*] Kate Tempest's Mercury Prize-nominated album has some critical support, but thus far it's almost exclusively in Europe. She's tied for 56th place in my EOY count, finishing in the top 20 in 11 polls so far, but no higher than 8th. Steve Lehman won NPR's Jazz Critics Poll, but hardly anyone votes for jazz in P&J. Then there is Lily Allen's major label pop record, but it only has three mentions in EOY lists thus far, none higher than 46th. I expect it to do somewhat better in P&J, but a breakthrough doesn't look to be in the cards. The only other record with even one EOY list mention is Jenny Scheinman's, with just one on an unranked country genre list.

I've been having some discussions about oddsmaking for the P&J poll, so I thought I'd share some of that with you here. My projections are based on two things: a fairly large amount of aggregated EOY list data, and some half-baked ideas about how the critics who vote in P&J differ from my aggregate lists. The biggest difference is that P&J voters are almost exclusively American, whereas about half of the lists I've been counting come from elsewhere.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24221 [24186] rated (+35), 490 [509] unrated (-19).

With Rhapsody broken for most of the last two weeks (v. Saturday's Condemned to Hack post), I wiped out everything that was left in my 2014 queue, wrote up my first 2015 album, and started scrounging through the nether regions of the unplayed queue. The three records listed under "old music" below were actually advance copies from 2004-07, most likely unplayed because I was waiting for finals that never came. There is a good deal more like that -- probably between 50 and 100 records, some final copies (but those are more obviously by choice). I long prided myself on playing everything that came my way, but evidently there were limits -- while my 2014 "pending" list is currently (momentarily?) empty, and my 2013 was reduced to one slab of vinyl, some earlier lists show a dozen or more records as "pending."

Also cleaned out the Christmas records (v. yesterday's Holiday Music Special). Chuck Powell wrote in afterwards to point out that I "missed the only good one": John Zorn's Dreamers Christmas. As I said, I wasn't actually searching for "good" Christmas music; I was just cleaning house. I did have a fleeting thought of using Rhapsody to check out some relatively current product, but didn't have the stomach for it. (Sample titles from Billboard: Pentatonix, That's Christmas to Me; Idina Menzel, Holiday Wishes; Michael Buble, Christmas; Darius Rucker, Home for the Holidays; Josh Groban, Noel; Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped in Red; Mannheim Steamroller, 30/40; Amazon also recommends: Ellen's The Only Holiday Album You'll Ever Need, Vol. 1 (note contradiction); Christmas at Downton Abbey; Dave Koz & Friends, The 25th of December; Christmas With Nashville (the TV series, a "limited collector's edition"); Motown Christmas; A Boston Pops Christmas.)

I also thought about rumaging through my database for previous grades, but I don't have genres tagged so any sort of completism would have been impossibly tedious. Still, some samples:

  • Louis Armstrong & Friends: What a Wonderful Christmas (1950-66 [1998], Hip-O) B+(***)
  • Tony Bennett: Snowfall: The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (1968 [2007], RPM/Columbia/Legacy) B-
  • Tony Bennett: The Classic Christmas Album (1968-2008 [2011], Columbia/Legacy) B+(*)
  • Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/The Partyka Brass Quintet: Carla's Christmas Carols (2008 [2009], Watt) B+(*)
  • Ramsey Lewis: Sound of Christmas (1961 [2004], Verve) D+
  • Johnny Mathis: Gold: A 50th Anniversary Christmas Celebration (1958-2006 [2006], Columbia/Legacy) C+
  • Anita O'Day: Have a Merry Christmas With Anita O'Day (1942-70 [2013], Kayo Stereophonic) B+(*)
  • Phil Spector: A Christmas Gift for You (1963, Abkco) B

That's about half of the albums I've rated with "Christmas" in the title -- not many but not nothing either; the only other one rising to low-B+ is John Brown's Merry Christmas, Baby (2007). Someday I might try to survey the "classics" I've missed -- James Brown, Dave Brubeck, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Vince Guaraldi, Spike Jones, Elvis Presley, John Prine, Mike Seeger, Frank Sinatra -- but I've seen that Ramsey Lewis album show up in an "all-time top five" list, and it's hard to convey just how awful it is.

With all the computer problems I've been facing the last few weeks, I missed posting anything on the 9th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Village Voice and most recently found a home for at NPR. A record 140 jazz critics voted this year. The key links:

When Rob Harvilla was involved, both at the Voice and during the poll's brief residency at Rhapsody, I was also asked to write up my own annotated ballot, but that hasn't happened with NPR. While my own ballot is here, a better place to look is my still-evolving file here. Part of the value is that the A-list goes much deeper than top-ten: currently I have 64 new jazz records on the list (plus 65 on the corresponding non-jazz list). But I also give you the complete context with lists of all the other records I didn't think were that good. When I do my EOY list counts, I don't stop at 10 because most of what interests me is further down on the lists -- and frankly, I trust critics with big lists to have done more homework (even if some of it looks suspiciously rote).

But if I could ask one follow-up question of the voters, it would be: which of the top-50 (or top-100) albums have you not listened to? My answer:

  1. Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring (Sony Masterworks) 88.5 (15)
  2. Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden, Last Dance (ECM) 83 (14)
  3. Fred Hersch, Floating (Palmetto) 67 (12)
  4. Tom Harrell, Trip (HighNote) 56 (9)
  5. Frank Kimbrough, Quartet (Palmetto) 45.5 (8)
  6. Avishai Cohen, Dark Nights (Anzic) 42.5 (11)
  7. Melissa Aldana, Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (Concord) 39.5 (9)
  8. Sean Jones, Im·pro·vise Never Before Seen (Mack Avenue) 37 (6)
  9. Mary Halvorson, Reverse Blue (Relative Pitch) 34 (5)
  10. Denny Zeitlin, Stairway to the Stars (Sunnyside) 32.5 (6)
  11. Billy Childs, Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Sony Masterworks) 30 (4)
  12. Michael Blake, Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside) 29 (5)
  13. Diego Barber & Craig Taborn, Tales (Sunnyside) 28 (4)
  14. Martin Wind, Turn Out the Stars (What If? Music) 28 (4)
  15. David Weiss, When Words Fail (Motéma) 26.5 (5)
  16. Johnathan Blake, Gone But Not Forgotten (Criss Cross) 26 (4)
  17. Jemeel Moondoc, The Zookeeper's House (Relative Pitch) 25 (3)
  18. Ron Miles, Circuit Rider (Enja/Yellowbird) 24 (4)
  19. Matthew Shipp, Root of Things (Relative Pitch) 23.5 (5)
  20. Hush Point, Blues and Reds (Sunnyside) 23 (5)
  21. Jerome Sabbagh, The Turn (Sunnyside) 23 (5)
  22. Bobby Bradford & Frode Gjersted, Silver Cornet (Nessa) 23 (3)
  23. Audio One, The Midwest School (Audiographic) 22 (3)
  24. Sylvie Courvoisier, Double Windsor (Tzadik) 20 (4)
  25. Andy Bey, Pages From an Imaginary Life (HighNote) 20 (3)
  26. Jimmy Cobb, The Original Mob (Smoke Sessions) 20 (3)

Looking over this list, there are a couple items that seem like very strong A-list candidates (Moondoc finished high on the three ballots that named him, and they're all critics I tend to agree with; same for The Midwest School, plus I heard a cut on bandcamp that blew me away), plus a lot of no doubt quality records -- solid B+ fare with a chance of being better than that. Also occurs to me that I screwed up in several cases -- I must have received download links from Sunnyside and ECM that I failed to act on, and I let HighNote take me off their mailing list when I expected to write much less about jazz than I wound up doing. On the other hand, this rather underscores the point that the labels with good PR distribution are the ones that place in polls like this. They don't have to be big: Pi only released five albums this year, but they placed 1-6-14-33-54. On the other hand, major labels Universal (Verve/Blue Note/ECM) and Sony (Okeh/Masterworks) hogged 11 of the top 20 slots. (Warner's Nonesuch had two top-50 spots at 36 and 43.) And when obscure labels do place, that's often thanks to independent PR firms (e.g., Braithwaite & Katz helped the superb Finnish label TUM take 2nd, but they only placed Wadada Leo Smith, who finished 3rd and 17th the last two years; on the other hand, Smith's other record this year, on Rare Noise (Red Hill), wound up way down at 140th).

I should probably note that this is probably the first year since the first poll in 2005 where my top pick was the poll's top pick. (The winner back then was Ornette Coleman's Sound Grammar -- not a squeaker or anyone's idea of an upset.) Still, I wouldn't read this as implying a convergence of critical opinion -- it's just an exceptional album that hit several different pleasure spots. My only other A-list album was the latest installment of Sonny Rollins' Roadshows -- now that's a consensus pick! Only one more A-list in the next ten (Vijay Iyer), two in the following ten (Thumbscrew and Eric Revis), and three more (Marty Ehrlich, James Brandon Lewis, Farmers by Nature) in the top fifty (making a total of eight). There are a few things we disagree over (I should probably recheck Akinmusire -- I was very surprised to see his record on Davis' ballot; my recall of what's wrong with Jason Moran's Fats Waller rehash is clearer, and I can see that Darius Jones' The Oversoul Manual is a love-or-hate matter), but most of the top-50 records are very respectable efforts -- not sure how much of that to pin on my bias towards sax over piano (lot of piano records on the list), but I'm inclined to think that I rate those records down a bit only because I've looked much further.

My three A- records this week are all pop, all December releases with virtually no EOY list presence thus far. Charli XCX evidently had some advance publicity, popping up on six lists, including 5th place at Rolling Stone and 43rd at Spin. Nothing yet for highly touted D'Angelo (Metacritic score is 95 for 23 reviews -- their second highest rating this year for a new record, edged out by Machine Head's Bloodstone & Diamonds with only 5 reviews; metal albums often have ridiculously high scores because only metalheads can stand to review them) or for Nicki Minaj (Metacritic 71 for 22 reviews; NYT: "full of compromises and half-successes"). I found them all on Rhapsody, and connected almost instantly to Charli XCX. On the other hand, D'Angelo got a lot of spins and is still pretty marginal for me, although no doubt it is a very distinctive album.

I continue to add lists into my aggregation as I find time (and lists). FKA Twigs maintains a small lead over War on Drugs, and there's little reason to think the former has much of a UK bias. I have to rate it a slight favorite to win P&J, but any of the top four would win -- FKA Twigs, War on Drugs, St. Vincent (3), and Run the Jewels (tied at 4 with Caribou although I'd count the latter out) -- with momentum and skew if anything favoring Run the Jewels.

File has grown to 2195 records, but that's still way short of last year's 7867. The 157 polls is also well under half of last year's total (not that the number for 2013 is easy to count). The leader's current score is 148, vs. Kanye West's 356 last year. All of those totals will wind up less than last year because I've changed the methodology.

Pazz & Jop ballot is due December 26, so more on that then. My guess is that about twenty voters there are heavily Christgau-influenced, which this year can be measured by votes for Wussy, Withered Hand, and Black Portland -- very little support for any of those albums elsewhere (current scores: Black Portland 8, Wussy 6, Withered Hand 5). I'll post another Rhapsody Streamnotes by the end of the month, but probably not next week.

New records rated this week:

  • Dean Blunt: Black Metal (2014, Rough Trade): more of a left-field IDM guy, but looking for dramatic gestures, or maybe just a product niche [r]: B+(*)
  • Fiorenzo Bodrato: Travelling Without Moving (2012 [2014], CMC): bassist, frames spoken word like hip-hop, only more complex and sublime [cd]: B+(***)
  • Patrick Breiner's Double Double: Mileage (2013 [2014], Sulde): tenor saxophonist leads rough and scratchy double-bass quartet, pulsing with energy [bc]: B+(*)
  • Peter Brötzmann/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Soul Food Available (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): avant sax-bass-drums trio, live at Ljubljana doing their thing [cd]: B+(***)
  • Malonie Carre: Forever (2014, self-released): singer-songwriter; finally hit the bottom of my 2014 queue -- how appropriate is that? [cd]: B
  • Charli XCX: Sucker (2014, Atlantic): big beat dance pop with postpunk sneer and swagger; imagine "London Queen" as flipside to "I'm So Bored" [r]: A-
  • D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (2014, RCA): 14 years in the desert wilderness, returns with fractured funk, oblique, mysterious [r]: A-
  • Jeff Davis: Dragon Father (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): drummer-led postbop quintet, cornet and alto sax up front but Russ Lossing's piano roughs the edges [r]: B+(***)
  • Sax Gordon: In the Wee Small Hours (2013 [2014], Delmark): tenor saxophonist, mostly honks in blues bands but goes for ballads here [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hildegard Lernt Fliegen: The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains (2013 [2014], Yellowbird): vocalist Andreas Schaerer contorts around horns/recorders [bc]: B+(*)
  • Anthony Jefferson: But Beautiful (2014, self-released): standards singer from New Orleans, rich and subtle voice on songs that could easily go awry [cd]: B+(**)
  • Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither (2011 [2014], Signature Sounds): Dave Alvin, Loudon Wainwright, Josh Ritter, others raid the songbook [r]: B+(**)
  • Collette Michaan: Incarnate/Encarna (2014, self-released): jazz flute, camouflaged by Latin beats and chromatic harmonica, offset with trombone [cd]: B
  • Nicki Minaj: The Pinkprint (2014, Young Money): unlikely to duplicate Beyonce's P&J rush even though a better album, just neither great nor safe [r]: A-
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Terrie Ex: Hurgu! (2013, PNL): guitar-drums duo, half of Vandermark's Lean Left or a smaller fraction of the Ex [bc]: B+(**)
  • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Erta Ale (2014, PNL, 3CD): eleven-piece group, only two reeds and three brass, more rumble room for the rhythm [bc]: B+(***)
  • Arturo O'Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra: The Offense of the Drum (2014, Motéma Music): pianist competent as ever, gets bump from the horns [r]: B+(**)
  • Sonya Perkins: Dream a Little Dream (2014, self-released): standards singer, good songs, decent piano trio, delicious guest spot for Warren Vache [cd]: B
  • Scurvy: Fracture (2010, Johnny Butler Jazz): scraping the bottom of my barrel, came up with this pretty good avant-fusion group, kudos for the trombone [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Judy Silvano with Michael Abene: My Dance (2014 [2015], JSL): jazz singer backed by nothing but piano; when pressed, she responds with tons of scat [cd]: B-
  • Chris Smither: Still on the Levee (2014, Signature Sounds, 2CD): for his 70th, the folksinger offers his own tribute, old songs redressed, guests invited [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Snow & Thollem McDonas: Two Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2014, Edgetone): two avants, complex verging on difficult [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jesse Stacken: Helleborus (2014, Fresh Sound New Talent): the pianist continues to grow, but he's not the first leader to be eclipsed by Tony Malaby's sax [r]: B+(***)
  • Subtle Lip Can: Reflective Drime (2014, Drip Audio): violin-guitar-drums, an abstract turmoil of soft sounds, not jarring but definitely abrasive [cd]: B+(**)
  • Scott Wendholt & Adam Kolker Quartet: Andthem (2011 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): trumpet and tenor sax for the leaders, bass and drums for lift, the Monk explodes [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • George Van Eps: Once in Awhile (1946-49 [2014], Delmark): radio shots from guitar legend, feat. pianist Stanley Wrightsman and tenor sax Eddie Miller [cd]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Phil Driscoll: Drops of Praise (2006, Jordan/Koch): [cdr]: B
  • The Gang Font feat. Interloper (2007, Thirsty Ear): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Carl Hancock Rux: Apothecary RX (2004, Giant Step): [cdr]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Andrew Drury: The Drum (self-released): February 17
  • Andrew Drury: Content Provider (self-released): Febuary 17
  • Kenosha Kid: Inside Voices (self-released): March 3

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Holiday Music Special

Many years ago I read that Christmas music outsells jazz -- a factoid that helped harden a prejudice against the stuff into a grudge. There are objectively worse things about the music, like the compulsions retailers feel to play it nonstop during the four (or more) weeks of the "season," as if doing so triggers Pavlovian reflexes to spend. I get some quantity of it every year. Sometimes I review it and pack it away, but mostly it piles up, and I have way too much of that. So this year I'm making an effort to clear the decks. Hopefully this won't encourage anyone to send me more next year.

Eddie Allen: Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (2009, DBCD): Actually no name credit on the cover, but Allen is the leader and arranger, plays trumpet along with Cecil Bridgewater, and is backed by French horn, trombone, bass, and drums. Song selection so standard it could be a high school assignment. Not sure if stating the head then improvising off it works as jazz but it does break the holiday tedium. B-

Chris Bauer: In a Yuletide Groove: Harmonica Jazz for the Holidays (2011, self-released): "Seydel harmonica artist," has two albums, the other Straight Ahead. Quintet with keybs, guitar, bass, and drums, plus a guest vocal from producer Rob Poparozzi. Standards, favors pop like "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" but works in "My Favorite Things" and "Ave Maria." The very definition of chintzy, but the harmonica is a versatile lead instrument. B- [cd]

Alexis Cole: The Greatest Gift: Songs of the Season (2009, Motéma): A jazz singer with at least eight albums I've never heard, credits this "with family & friends" and throws in a plug for World Bicycle Relief. The friends include some names I've heard of (Don Braden, Alan Ferber, Jon Cowherd, Ike Sturm, Zach Brock). Climactic pop move: "Jesus is the best part of Christmas/365 days a year/Jesus is here." C+ [cd]

Nathan Eklund: Craft Christmas (2011 [2012], OA2): Trumpet player, leads a basic keyboard-bass-drums quartet, song credits range from Trad. to Guaraldi with one original. The trumpet leads are eloquent, but the two vocals detract. B- [cd]

Tobias Gebb Presents Trio West: Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (2009, Yummy House): Drummer-led piano trio, with Eldad Zvulun on piano and Meal Miner on bass. Short song list, but several tunes get two passes, with "We Three Kings" recast as a waltz, "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" done in samba, and "O Tannenbaum" in funk and salsa variants. B [cd]

Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986 [2014], Sackville/Delmark): Bass, piano, drums, soprano sax, listed roughly in what I take to be the rank order of their fame, although Galloway -- the only one still alive -- is a first-rate trad jazz player. (Or maybe it's just left-to-right to caption the cover picture.) Standard fare, not as rowdy as you'd hope -- seductively subtle, even. B+(*) [cd]

The Hot Club of San Francisco: Hot Club Cool Yule (2009, Azica): Group -- motto is "What Would Django Do?" -- has a dozen albums since 1993. Violin leads over the guitars, sometimes slipping into something pleasantly innocuous, but the guest vocals snap you back, even on the generic "Baby It's Cold Outside." B- [cd]

Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time Is Here (2012, self-released): A full-fledged big band, arranged and conducted by Vance Thompson, also listed as fifth trumpet. More listenable than most, at least until they add the choir(s). B- [cd]

Elisabeth Lohninger Band: Christmas in July (2011, JazzSick): Singer, has an appealing voice ready to swing and fluent in uncounted languages, backed by Axel and Walter Fischbacher (guitar and piano). Twelve songs from nearly as many countries, with a Mel Tormé tune from the US and "Stille Nacht" from Austria. B+(*) [cd]

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Celebrations (2010, MEII Enterprises): Subtitle "interprets festive melodies from the Hebraic songbook," so not our usual Xmas album, but it does start with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." Pianist Marlow is a New York Jew who specializes in Afro-Cuban/salsa/bossa nova and his group spreads out the ethnic polyculture, including the marvelous Michael Hashim on sax. Ends with a 6:37 lecture on philosophy that bears repeating. A- [cd]

Ellis Marsalis: A New Orleans Christmas Carol (2011, ELM): A pianist from New Orleans, anyway, although not one particularly noted for the style. The patriarch of the Marsalis clan, his jazz career only emerging after his sons became famous, he decorates the usual tunes with marching drums, son Jason's vibes, and two singers I've already forgotten. B- [cd]

Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (2012, self-released): Scruggs, from Atlanta, plays tenor and soprano sax, called his first album Jazz Fellowship and kept that as his group name. He explains: "Using ancient canticles, hymns, and folk melodies, I chose eleven pieces to formulate a layered chronology that illustrates the profound, spiritual mystery of the radical biblical story of the birth of Christ." Sounds ambitious, and I enjoyed the absence of trad Xmas fare . . . until it got woven in. B [cd]

Donna Singer with the Doug Richards Trio: Kiss Me Beneath the Mistletoe (2012, Emerald Baby): About half originals, mostly co-credited to husband Roy Singer (assume he's the uncredited duet partner on two songs), and I must admit I was touched by bassist Richards' song about leaving donuts for Santa Claus. The other half is split between spirituals and classic fluff like "Let It Snow" with something of a fetish for mistletoe. B [cd]

The United States Air Force Band: Cool Yule (2009, self-released): Big band, plus strings, some extras like oboe, a female vocal trio called the "Andrews Sisters" (quotes included), and a male barbershop quartet called the "Crew Chiefs" (again, quotes obligatory). Makes you wonder if they hadn't faked the death of Glenn Miller and kept him working at some "dark site" all these years. I'm tempted to slag them on principle, but frankly they could keep this band running for decades for less than a single F-35, and it would be a better use of the money. Highlight: the cha-cha "Auld Lang Syne" (and yes, that's as good as they get). B [cd]

Ezra Weiss: Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical (2009, Northwest Childrens Theater and School): Been sitting on this, something I'd never expect to have any interest in, and still don't. But the story has a few touchstones I recognize -- mad hatters and decapitating queens and such -- and the music is not without interest. B [cd]

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Condemned to Hack

As I've mentioned several times recently, Rhapsody recently introduced a new website design. This depends on Adobe's execrable Flash product for streaming music -- I'm not sure that is new but this is the first time I noticed a dependency. I've been running Rhapsody reliably on Ubuntu Linux, on a system which is up-to-date (14.04 LTS). The new website initially worked on this machine, but when I did a routine Ubuntu update it broke, giving me an error message that I must have Flash installed and enabled, and a URL to Adobe to "Get Flash." I spent many hours trying to figure this out, and probably made things worse along the way. Long story short, I finally got it working tonight. Still, the results are troublesome. Let me explain.

Flash (or Shockwave Flash) is proprietary (non-free) software developed and maintained by Adobe. It consists of an authoring product, which Adobe makes money on, and a player, which Adobe distributes without charge (but also without source code). Since only Adobe can compile the source code, they can choose which platforms they want to support. For a long time, they supported Linux, but in 2012 they decided to freeze Linux development at release 11.2. (They've since moved on to release 16.0 for Microsoft and Apple.) If you use Firefox go to Adobe's download website from a Linux machine, they offer you version in various package formats. For Ubuntu you want "APT for Ubuntu 10.4+" -- Ubuntu, by the way, has since moved on to 14.04. When you click on the "Download" button, Firefox invokes the Ubuntu Software Manager to handle the package, which is identified as "adobe-flashplugin."

As I understand it, the "adobe-flashplugin" package doesn't actually include the Flash Player binary. What happens is that when you install the installer, it goes out to get the program(s) to be installed -- a bit of indirection which keeps Adobe's "crown jewels" separate from the software depositories which are used to install Linux systems. One problem here is that "adobe-flashplugin" winds up installing a slightly earlier Flash Player version ( than the one advertised. That is most likely Adobe's bug. What makes this worse is that Firefox has been configured to automatically disable old versions of plugins that are believed to have security risks, and the version installed is one of those. I don't know whether the real latest version (.425) would be acceptable to Firefox. I do know that when Firefox offers a link to "Update" the offending plugin, it steers you back to Adobe's website, which gives you the wrong version again. I also know that it takes some twiddling to reinstall Adobe's "adobe-flashplugin" since Ubuntu's Software Center thinks it's already installed and up-to-date (you have to remove it then re-install it). Finally, you have to tell Firefox to allow the website to use Flash despite the security risks. (Hopefully, this is website specific, so you're not opening up a security hole for other websites.)

Now, all that's bad enough, but I had several other problems I had to figure out before I could get the above procedure to work. Linux people never have liked Flash -- even back when it was the only way to stream video and audio over the web, it was buggy, mysterious, and couldn't be fixed. So there have been many efforts to first emulate and eventually to supersede Flash. One hint I found was that Firefox was showing two Shockwave Flash plugins -- the installed by Adobe (when I was expecting -.425), and another at from some mysterious source. Firefox allows you to disable plugins but not to uninstall them, but I didn't get any different results from Rhapsody when I alternately disabled one or the other plugin. Finally, I took a look through the package list and uninstalled everything that looked like it had to do with Flash: namely, I removed flashplugin-installer, pepperflashplugin-nonfree and freshplayer-plugin, they verified that Firefox had no Flash plugins. Then I repeated the installation from Adobe, restarted Firefox, called up Rhapsody, and told Firefox to let me use the insecure Flash plugin. Finally, it worked.

No sooner than I got Rhapsody working again, I ran into another nasty bug. I haven't had time to comment on Francis Davis' 9th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, lately sponsored by NPR, because I've been preoccupied working on my piece of the project, which you can find here. I managed to get all the ballots counted and cross-checked by 4AM Thursday morning -- the schedule was to go live sometime Thursday but NPR didn't actually get their end together until Friday morning. However, I spent all of my time looking at my private copy of the website, and didn't notice that when I uploaded the code things broke. What happened was that any string with accented characters -- artist names like Miguel Zenón (11th) or album titles like David Virelles' Mbókó (14th) -- simply vanished. So I had to figure this out, and fix it.

Turns out that my working machine was running PHP 5.3 while the server is running PHP 5.4. One huge difference between the two is that in 5.4 the lords of PHP decided to make UTF-8 the default character set, replacing the default ISO-8859-1, which all of my data is encoded in. I've been a stickler about accents ever since college, when one of the jobs I had working on Paul Piccone's Telos was to go through the typeset galleys and use presstype to add the missing diacritical marks. When I later worked for typesetting equipment manufacturers, I specified the unified multilingual font package at Varityper, and I worked on a Japanese typesetter at Compugraphic. I later internationalized the prepress software package developed at Contex, and oversaw localization of the software for France. I saw aware of Unicode almost from the start, and I knew the guy at SCO who invented UTF-8. So in some sense I always understood that Unicode and its UTF-8 encoding would become the standard for character encoding, I found ISO-8859-1 sufficient for my own work, adopted it early, and have steadfastly stuck with it.

That's caused me increasing aggravation the last few years. I use emacs to edit my files, and it's long worked very nicely with ISO-8859-1, but it switched allegiance to UTF-8 a few years back, and that's caused me all sorts of problems. In fact, when I discovered this problem, the first thing I suspected was that emacs had saved the files using UTF-8. I've also seen MySQL move from ISO-8859-1 to UTF-8, but a simple configuration switch has allowed me to keep using ISO-8859-1 data for Robert Christgau's website. I spent hours looking for a similar configuration hack to keep PHP 5.4 from breaking not just the new code but lots of old code. While I found several candidates, I couldn't get any of them to work. Ultimately I fixed the problem by writing a wrapper for PHP's htmlentities() function, which when run under 5.4 would pass extra arguments to specify ISO-8859-1 encoding. That's not the limit of the changes, but it's the one function that I was using that was blowing up.

I've since gone back and applied this fix to the totals and ballots from 2011-13. I still need to look at 2009-10, but they are undoubtedly broken too. Updates are always a tough decision: they interrupt your regular work and often break things. As I said above, I have one Ubuntu machine that is up-to-date (the one that Rhapsody broke on), and another that is way out of date (the one with PHP 5.3). I've been meaning to upgrade the latter for some time -- mostly because Firefox has bugs handling Javascript, and those result in my browser crashing a couple times a week. (Hopefully a newer version will work better.) On the other hand, upgrading is going to be arduous. (It involves hopping through several Ubuntu releases, and any one of those hops could leave me broken, so I first need to back up all of my data -- and in this case there's a lot of that.) They I'll have to deal with software changes like PHP 5.4 (actually, more like PHP 5.6). Then I'll have the problem that I'll be ahead of the target servers for my websites. (That may be the point when I finally have to migrate to a new server.)

What was that line from The Godfather they liked to quote on The Sopranos? Something about trying to break out of the family business and go legit, then getting dragged back in. Looks like I'm still periodically condemned to hack.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24186 [24146] rated (+40), 509 [521] unrated (-12).

Pretty well sandbagged at the moment. I got a very late start on my bit posting the ballots for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (at NPR again this year -- at least the top of the charts and Davis' year-end summary essay). I've been bedeviled by computer problems, and they've wiped out my ability to play Rhapsody in my office. I've spent a lot of time trying to debug that, and won't bore you with details now, but I believe Rhapsody is culpable both for a glaring strategic error -- why adopt proprietary Adobe software when HTML 5 eliminates most of its previous utility, and Firefox's developers would rather implement the HTML spec than try to figure out how to contain Flash's bugs? -- as well as a detection bug (i.e., they think Flash isn't available when it is). Anyhow, screws me over big time -- although I did manage to get through Leonard Cohen's Live in Dublin on my Chromebook.

Much of what's listed below appeared in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes, so shouldn't be new. I had missed a lot of tweets at that time, and haven't fully caught up. Last couple days, without Rhapsody, I decided to slog through my Xmas music queue -- much of which dates from 2009. I'm not going to bother to tweet on them -- they aren't timely, and they aren't much good. I'll probably run them as a separate post later this week, then archive them with the next RS column. Looking at the database there are a few items I haven't found yet, but really who cares how bad Anita Baker's Christmas Fantasy is, let alone Putumayo Presents Christmas Around the World? My main motivation has been to get them out of the queue and packed away safely out of sight. Oddly enough, I did find one good record in the batch, but its only holidays concession is to start out with "Chanukah, O Chanukah." On the other hand, I can say that the albums aren't as dreadful as I had feared.

One other note: I mentioned some average times for adding new records to my year-end lists after having to cast some ballot. Following the deadline for the Jazz Critics Poll, it took me less than a day to find another A-list record, and little more than a week to find one that would have cracked my top ten. Both figures are less than half of previous medians. Of course, if you want the real Dudu Pukwana, the record to seek out is In the Townships (1973). The new Duduvudu is a little messier, a little more in-your-face, but I don't mind that at all.

Need to get back to work.

New records rated this week:

  • Big K.R.I.T.: Cadillactica (2014, Def Jam): rapper from Mississippi, has underground mores, big time songcraft, exquisite flow, ideas, cares [r]: A-
  • Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Niño/Brujo (2013 [2014], NoBusiness): drums, tenor sax, cello, Carletti writing, Malaby selling [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin (2013 [2014], Columbia, 3CD): if you loved "Live in London" as much as I did, you'll dig this too, but have to pay more [r]: A-
  • J Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014, RCA): beats quasi-underground, stories real enough, too much N but his free association sparkles [r]: B+(***)
  • Frankie Cosmos: Zentropy (2014, Midheaven, EP): celebrity kid Greta Kline tries for some spit and polish after 40 "albums" in five years [bc]: B+(*)
  • De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (2014, Clean Feed): piano trio + trumpet, a nice pairing on easy side of free jazz [cd]: B+(**)
  • Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (2009 [2014], Edgetone): remembering the late great South African saxophonist, pumping up township jive [cd]: A
  • Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers (2014, Vagrant): countryish singer/songwriter, comes up with half a concept, the other half for a sequel [r]: B+(**)
  • Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons (2014, Tommy Boy): always a story teller, a problem for me because I need to see the printed word, so I go on beats [r]: B+(***)
  • Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (2009 [2014], NoBusiness, EP): solo bass, EP-length for 10-inch vinyl, not every day a bass solo ends too soon [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Half Japanese: Overjoyed (2014, Joyful Noise): been making irritable albums with a few greatest-hits-worthy gems embedded, and do it again [r]: B+(***)
  • Maggie Herron: Good Thing (2014, self-released): standards singer from Hawaii, plays piano, fares best with classics and with two songs in French [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hiss Golden Messenger: Lateness of Dancers (2014, Merge): singer-songwriter from NC does a fair Dylan impression, except I didn't note lyrics [r]: B+(*)
  • How to Dress Well: What Is This Heart? (2014, Domino): mostly sings falsetto, often over synth strings, an effect some consider soulful [r]: B
  • Sam Hunt: Montevalo (2014, MCA Nashville): Nashville rookie sounds like he's trying to sneak into the party behind Luke Bryan, but not shameless enough [r]: B
  • Paul Jones: Short History (2014, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • K Michelle: Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? (2014, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Loscil: Sea Island (2014, Kranky): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Blue (2014, Hot Cup): note-for-note "Kind of Blue" copy, adds nothing, subtracts nothing, is nothing? [dl]: B
  • Rod Picott: Hang Your Hopes on a Crooked Nail (2014, Welding Rod): welder turned singer/songwriter, breaks up, lives on wheels, not really mobile [r]: B+(***)
  • Diane Roblin: Reconnect (2014, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Joanne Tatham: Out of My Dreams (2014, Cafe Pacific): [cd]: B
  • The Vamps: Meet the Vamps (2014, Island): Brit boy group, built on time-tested commercial riffs, from Paul Simon to Bruno Mars and back [r]: B+(**)
  • Colin Webster/Andrew Lisle/Alex Ward: Red Kite (2014, Raw Tonk): sax-drums-guitar trio, keys off the guitar which can drive the others to fury [bc]: B+(**)
  • Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Norwegian quintet, bassist-led with three saxes, propulsive grooves set up sax wails and rumbles [cd]: A-

Christmas clearance sale:

  • Eddie Allen: Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (2009, DBCD): [cd]B-
  • Chris Bauer: In a Yuletide Groove: Harmonica Jazz for the Holidays (2011, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Alexis Cole: The Greatest Gift: Songs of the Season (2009, Motéma): [cd]: C+
  • Nathan Eklund: Craft Christmas (2011 [2012], OA2): [cd]: B-
  • Tobias Gebb Presents Trio West: Plays Holiday Songs, Vol. 2 (2009, Yummy House): [cd]: B
  • Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986 [2014], Sackville/Delmark): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Hot Club of San Francisco: Hot Club Cool Yule (2009, Azica): [cd]: B-
  • Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time Is Here (2012, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Elisabeth Lohninger Band: Christmas in July (2011, JazzSick): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Celebrations (2010, MEII Enterprises): [cd]: A-
  • Ellis Marsalis: A New Orleans Christmas Carol (2011, ELM): [cd]: B-
  • Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (2012, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Donna Singer with the Doug Richards Trio: Kiss Me Beneath the Mistletoe (2012, Emerald Baby): [cd]: B
  • The United States Air Force Band: Cool Yule (2009, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Ezra Weiss: Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical (2009, Northwest Childrens Theater and School): [cd]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Julian Bahula: Spirit of Malombo: Malombo Jazz, Jabula and Jazz Africa 1966-1984 (1966-84 [2014], Strut, 2CD): 2CD career reconstruction makes case for and sense of South African bandleader [r]: B+(**)
  • Francis Bebey: Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984 (1982-84 [2014], Born Bad): from Cameroon highlife pioneer, more electronics pushing envelope even further out [r]: B+(**)
  • Disco: A Fine Selection of Independent Disco, Modern Soul and Boogie 1978-82 (1978-82 [2014], Soul Jazz, 2CD): a 2CD crate dive, digging up obscure 12-inchers only a DJ could love [r]: B+(*)
  • Gipsy Rhumba: The Original Rhythm of Gipsy Rhumba in Spain 1965-1974 (Soul Jazz): Spanish flamenco artists discover the Afro-Cuban dance groove, and make it sound like flamenco [r]: B+(**)
  • Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day [Willie's Stash, Vol. 1] ([2014], Legacy): scattershot sampler re-peddles memories, slights his pianist [r]: B
  • Verckys et l'Orchestre Vévé: Congolese Funk, Abrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (1969-78 [2014], Analog Africa): actually a second tier soukous band, in top form [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (2014, East/West): [r]: [was: B] B+(**)
  • Rod Picott: Welding Burns (2011, Welding Rod): [cd]: [was: B+(***)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fiorenzo Bodrato: Travelling Without Moving (CMC)
  • Duduvudu: The Gospel According to Dudu Pukwana (Edgetone)
  • Sax Gordon: In the Wee Small Hours (Delmark)
  • Michael Snow & Thollem McDonas: Two Piano Concert at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Edgetone)
  • Subtle Lip Can: Reflective Drime (Drip Audio): December 16
  • George Van Eps: Once in Awhile (1946-49, Delmark)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Daily Log

So much hassle to post a personal note these days I might as well just keep it in the notebook. (No idea who else reads this, but at least it's available.)

Cooked dinner tonight for Marry Harren, Russ and Zhanna. Close enough to Hannukah for lattkes, served with store-bought sour cream and homemade apple sauce. I salted a piece of red trout (looked much better than the salmon in the store). Also made Ottolenghi's chopped liver. (I looked at Ottolenghi's lattke recipe but decided to go with something more basic: six baking potatoes, two onions, three eggs (plus three egg whites I had left over from elsewhere), salt, pepper. Also made a cucumber salad with vinegar, sour cream, a bit of sugar. Also served some herring bits in wine sauce. For dessert, made rice kugel. One of the variants was to add raisins soaked in rum. Don't seem to have any rum, but I did manage to soak some golden raisins in amaretto. One of those dinners where I miss most of the conversation because I'm still cooking. Had half-again as many lattkes left over as were eaten. Hard to see how anything could have been improved on. Frying -- started with three pans then cut down to two -- was as straightforward and clean as ever.

The dinner was a nice diversion from the rest of the day. I was up late last night trying to debug the Rhapsody problem. Rhapsody has a new website design, based on using Flash as the streaming transport. Adobe has stopped supporting Flash on Linux, deadending at release 11, but has moved on to release 16 on Windows and Apple. When Rhapsody doesn't see the Flash it wants it directs you to Adobe's website to "get Flash" -- for Linux that offers you release 11. Following Adobe's instructions didn't initially work -- I had to enable some new source respositories for non-free software. Firefox, meanwhile, had decided that Flash 11 has security flaws so it automatically disables it. Meanwhile, Ubuntu has come up with a version 13 of Flash that fixes those security holes, but isn't accepted by Rhapsody.

Some time ago, I build a computer and had Windows Vista installed on it, and I used it mostly for watching DVDs and listening to music. It crapped out over a year ago, following one of Microsoft's automatic updates, and has been dormant since. I thought about replacing it with a newer machine, but in the meantime tried to see how far I could go with a spare Linux machine. That meant loading a bunch of proprietary audio/video drivers, but until this week's Rhapsody update things had worked out nicely. That in turn pretty much eliminated any desire I had to ever own another Microsoft machine. But Rhapsody has been a big part of my music writing, and now I'm stuck. Moreover, it's probably a stupid coding error on Rhapsody's part, rather than their choice to use Flash (although I certainly disapprove of that) or Adobe's planned obsolescence or Ubuntu's (or Firefox's) inability to manage the plugin.

I did verify today that my Chromebook can still stream music from Rhapsody through the new web interface. I've seen claims that Chrome has Flash built-in so if you get the one, you automatically get the other covered. Last night I tried installing Chrome (also Chromium, a free source repackaging of Chrome) on my Ubuntu music machine, but had no luck with Rhapsody. Digging deeper into the issue I see lots of squabbles. The old Netscape plugin interface is called NPAPI, and it makes it easy for plugins to crash the browser. Adobe, which as far as I can tell has historically been the chief caues of all those crashes, doesn't like NPAPI. They want to use PPAPI, which provides a sandbox mechanism to prevent crashes, so they decided to throw their weight around and discontinue NPAPI plugins (e.g., Firefox). Firefox, on the other hand, regards PPAPI as a waste of time. They have what they regard as a better solution to Flash crashes, which is to implement all the things you used to have to use Flash for as built-in features of HTML 5. Adobe doesn't like that because if their customers started writing proper HTML 5 code they wouldn't need Flash. So why does Rhapsody need Flash? Seems super-dumb.

Meanwhile, I'm having other problems with my flagship computer. Currently, the window manager is wedged, so it's impossible to restore a window that has been minimized. I've seen it get in that state once before. Rebooting will fix it, but I have tons of work open that I'd have to reconstruct. Alternatively, I have work in minimized windows that I can't get to. I figure I'll bite the bullet later tonight. Shouldn't be any risk, but the Ubuntu software on this machine is already way out of date, and the upgrade path will be treacherous -- so that looms as the larger problem.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2014)

Pick up text here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24146 [24105] rated (+41), 521 [518] unrated (+3).

Thinking about year-end lists, which has meant a mad rush to sample as much reputable but unheard music as possible. That in turn has led to the huge number of new A- records pictured to the right. Unfortunately, virtually none of them come off of the upper reaches of published lists -- the sole exception is Kate Tempest's Everybody Down, briefly in the top-20 of my metacritic aggregate file but totally unknown outside of the UK and currently tied for 44th. My other list-based find is Call Super's Suzi Ecto, a techno album that topped the list at Juno Plus but has yet to appear on a second list. Even the two records that I had previously panned but this week regraded just above the A-/B+ line, Withered Hand's New Gods and Young Thug/Bloody Jay's Black Portland, have fewer points in my aggregate (2 and 1 respectively) -- this after looming large in Odyshape's Mid-Year Report (Withered Hand won; Black Portland, which Christgau has dubbed "the rap album of the year," came in 8th on points, tied with Miranda Lambert's Platinum).

I'll also point out that my own favorite album this year, Lily Allen's Sheezus (which finished 4th in Odyshape) is also stuck with a single aggregate point (The Telegraph ranked it 47). As I proceed, I fold all the new records into my jazz and non-jazz year-end lists -- the former currently lists 62 A/A- albums, the latter 61. There are 95 lists in the current aggregate file, but very few even touch on much less specialize in jazz -- although it's worth noting that my jazz favorite, Steve Lehman's Mise en Abime, is currently leading the jazz subset by a nice margin (7-to-4 for BadBadNotGood). In previous years, I used to be able to find many jazz critics' lists at JJA, but they don't seem to be doing that today. (Also slowing me down is that Large Hearted Boy has stopped posting his invaluable list index.) Nor have I seen the results from Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (which I've collated in past years and presumably will again this year). Looks like I'll have to start scouring the blogs. (I did just add Tim Niland's ballot, and have just found one from Lyn Horton.)

One thing that should be clear is that the top totals are no guarantee of quality. I've heard the top 19 records, so I'll list them here with my grade in brackets (and points in braces):

  1. {88} The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian) [***]
  2. {76} FKA Twigs: LP1 (Young Turks) [B]
  3. {73} St Vincent: St Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic) [***]
  4. {63} Caribou: Our Love (Merge) [**]
  5. {57} Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol) [B-]
  6. {55} Future Islands: Singles (4AD) [*]
  7. {53} Sun Kil Moon: Benji (Caldo Verde) [***]
  8. {52} Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
  9. {51} Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  10. {50} Aphex Twin: Syro (Warp) [A-]
  11. {50} El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal) [**]
  12. {49} Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots (Parlophone) [*]
  13. {48} Flying Lotus: You're Dead (Warp) [**]
  14. {47} Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (Captured Tracks) [B]
  15. {47} Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2CD) [B]
  16. {42} Jack White: Lazaretto (Third Man) [B-]
  17. {39} Todd Terje: It's Album Time (Olsen) [A-]
  18. {38} Perfume Genius: Too Bright (Matador) [B]
  19. {37} Real Estate: Atlas (Domino) [**]

That works out to 2 A-, 4 ***, 3 **, 3 *, 4 B, 3 B-; which is to say that quality on the list is little better than random. Of course you probably disagree with some (or many) of my judgments here. (Michael Tatum, who correlates with me better than most, had Jack White at A- and Todd Terje at C+.) But odds are that if you have heard 300+ albums this year -- my non-jazz count is currently 322; my jazz count is 563 -- and weren't so sectarian you'd dismiss most of these records a priori you'd come up with a similar range. And the pattern would most likely repeat on down the list, albeit with diminishing returns as the records become ever more obscure (and things like jazz, country, world, and metal creep in).

The list of records I've heard breaks at 20-21 with Ty Segall and Taylor Swift -- neither on Rhapsody, and then there's another gap at 24-25 for Royal Blood and Goat (records I haven't bothered to look up). From there on down to about 150 I've heard about half, and my share thins out past there. Conversely, about one third (20) of my 61 A/A- non-jazz albums have no points so far. Eleven more have 1 point, so that covers the median. (I haven't figured my own list in yet, nor that of many similar-minded critics.) My list sorted by aggregate score:

  1. {50} Aphex Twin: Syro (Warp)
  2. {39} Todd Terje: It's Album Time (Olsen)
  3. {35} Spoon: They Want My Soul (Anti-)
  4. {22} Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark)
  5. {19} Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (Columbia)
  6. {19} Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada)
  7. {18} Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?)
  8. {14} Ought: More Than Any Other Day (Constellation)
  9. {11} Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville)
  10. {8} Pharrell Williams: Girl (Columbia)
  11. {6} The Delines: Colfax (El Cortez)
  12. {6} Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (Sugar Hill/Welk)
  13. {5} Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: High Life (Warp)
  14. {5} Thurston Moore: The Best Day (Matador)
  15. {4} Allo Darlin': We Came From the Same Place (Slumberland)
  16. {4} Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (Legacy)
  17. {4} Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (Slate Creek)
  18. {3} Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (Island)
  19. {3} Call Super: Suzi Ecto (Houndstooth)
  20. {3} The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie/Washington Square)
  21. {3} Old 97's: Most Messed Up (ATO)
  22. {3} Wussy: Attica! (Shake It)
  23. {2} The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (Suicide Squeeze)
  24. {2} Rodney Crowell: Tarpaper Sky (New West)
  25. {2} Fumaça Preta: Fumaça Preta (Soundway)
  26. {2} Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (In the Black)
  27. {2} Grieves: Winter & the Wolves (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  28. {2} Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (Strut)
  29. {2} The New Mendicants: Into the Lime (Ashmont)
  30. {2} Withered Hand: New Gods (Slumberland)
  31. {1} Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Brothers/Regal)
  32. {1} Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)
  33. {1} Big Ups: Eighteen Hours of Static (Tough Love/Dead Labour)
  34. {1} Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop)
  35. {1} Chumped: Teenage Retirement (Anchorless)
  36. {1} Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (Warner Brothers)
  37. {1} John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (New West)
  38. {1} Ricardo Lemvo/Makina Loca: La Rumba Soyo (Cumbancha)
  39. {1} Shakira: Shakira (RCA)
  40. {1} Statik Selektah: What Goes Around (Duck Down Music)
  41. {1} Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (self-released)

Missing completely are records by: Big KRIT, Company Freak, Deena, Dub Thompson, Golem, The Green Seed, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Homeboy Sandman, Kool AD, Jon Langford, Amy LaVere, Mursday, Parkay Quarts (Content Nausea) Jenny Scheinman, Doug Seegers, Serengeti, The Strypes, Supreme Cuts, Jonah Tolchin, and Leo Welch. Notably, 6 of those 20 are rap records. I've noted previously the relative paucity of (especially US) rap records in a year that is really not lacking for good ones, so won't dwell on that here -- you can, after all, look it up.

The number of EOY lists are likely to nearly double next week, but I don't see a lot of trends in the data. The top five have been very stable (once St. Vincent overcame a shaky start). I don't put a lot of weight on differences in rank -- most lists are graded 3 for 1st place, 2 for 2-20, and 1 for everything else -- so nothing much changes with lists that include all of the top five (which is to say most of them). I'm personally much more interested in what shows up on the margins (again, see that Call Super album): that's why I count everything and don't weigh it much.

You can compare this with the top-ten-only aggregates at places like Metacritic if you want to focus on rank. The big gainers there are Run the Jewels (11-to-4), Taylor Swift (21-to-8), and La Roux (42-to-18), and those will definitely do better at P&J than in my aggregate. (The largest loser is probably Sun Kil Moon, dropping 7-to-12.)

I should be running December's first Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is pretty huge. Two things I wanted to do won't happen this time: one is to clear my queue of Xmas music (didn't happen because I can't stand the stuff); the other is to look at the "deluxe editions" that dominate major label reissues, using Rhapsody to program out the core albums so I just listen to the ephemera. I was originally thinking I'd like to sort through the Led Zeppelin reissues, but there are many more like that. Maybe next time, closer to Xmas. Or maybe next year.

One final announcement is that I'd like to invite you to take a look at Carola Dibbell's new website. It's more focused on her forthcoming novel, The Only Ones, than on her superb music writing, but there are links back to her "corner" of Robert Christgau's website. Right now it's sort of a three-headed hybrid, but in the not-too-distant future I hope to integrate it better stylistically. Let me also note that my wife has read the novel and thinks it's really terrific. Plenty of places you can order a copy. (I haven't read it, but I haven't read any novel since Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake -- had to since he practically wrote it for me.)

New records rated this week:

  • Lotte Anker/Jakob Riis: Squid Police (2014, Konvoy): a duo, but the latter's minimalist electronic tableaux don't leave the sax much to do [r]: B+(*)
  • Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009 [2014], NoBusiness): violin-bass duet, seems like a narrow idea but little short of magnificent here [cd]: A-
  • Beyoncé (2013, Columbia): finally on Rhapsody a year late, the anticipation diminished, leaving fairly prosaic love songs, better than her norm [r]: B+(**)
  • Bishop Nehru/MF Doom: NehruvianDOOM (2014, Lex): young rapper starts to find his way, aided by a producer who likes to invent his own worlds [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (2013 [2014], NoBusiness): another inspired duet, a legendary piano master's sound filled out with rich trombone [cd]: A-
  • Busdriver: Perfect Hair (2014, Big Dada): once-idiosyncratic hip-hop takes several bizarre turns, flinging guests off cliffs as various jokes miss [r]: C
  • Call Super: Suzi Ecto (2014, Houndstooth): techno from Berlin, a hint of industrial with a gentle woosh, barely substantial, endlessly playable [r]: A-
  • The Cookers: Time and Time Again (2014, Motéma): all-star septet likes it hot: better Billy Harper dishing out grits than the trumpet harmony [r]: B+(**)
  • The Core Trio With Matthew Shipp (2014, self-released): Houston-based free sax trio adds the perfect pianist to wind them up and round out the sound [r]: A-
  • Toumani Diabaté/Sidiki Diabaté: Toumani & Sidiki (2014, World Circuit): Mali father-son kora masters play it safe, stress how pretty they can play [r]: B+(**)
  • Emperor X: The Orlando Sentinel (2014, self-released): smart singer/songwriter with electronics minor goes to Europe, writes strange Sarkozy songs [r]: B+(***)
  • Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Black Is Back: 40th Anniversary Project (2014, Katalyst): Kahil El'Zabar's 40th anniversary bash w/his best horns, Ernest Dawkins/Corey Wilkes [r]: B+(***)
  • Orrin Evans: Liberation Blues (2014, Smoke Sessions): pretty good hard bop group on the upside, then come the ballads, then the singer [r]: B+(**)
  • Fire! Orchestra: Enter (2014, Rune Grammofon): whole new dimension in de trop, Marian Wallentin's texts, 29 credits, and can they ever bring the noise [r]: B+(**)
  • Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (2014, RCA): which don't mean any of that Verdi/Wagner shit -- more like "I Will Survive" [r]: B+(***)
  • Friends & Neighbors: Hymn for a Hungry Nation (2012-13 [2014], Clean Feed): Swedish postbop group named for Ornette; piano lush, horns shiny, bit edgy [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gazelle Twin: Unflesh (2014, Last Gang): Elizabeth Bernholz fills her electronica with industrial klang and mordant vocals, chilly, creepy even [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Greene: Beautiful Life (2014, Mack Avenue): grieving Sandy Hook father plays soothing sax, indulges a children's choir and too many guests [r]: B+(*)
  • Hail Mary Mallon: Bestiary (2014, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic try to infect the upper crust with underground beats and snappy rhymes [r]: B+(***)
  • Russ Johnson: Still Out to Lunch! (2014, Yellowbird): trumpeter, Roy Nathanson, and Myra Melford salute Eric Dolphy's 50-year-old masterpiece [r]: B+(**)
  • Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (2014, self-released): follow up to "Not OK," reportedly the outtakes to this one, more proof of how a slacker never misses a trick [bc]: A-
  • Let's Wrestle: Let's Wrestle (2014, Fortuna Pop): British group, has an ear for pop hooks for tends toward twee, comes up shy a title and a couple deeper songs [r]: B+(*)
  • Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (2014, Clean Feed): interesting idea to replace bass with cello and tuba, but only works when the sax flies [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nick Mulvey: First Mind (2014, Fiction/Harvest): English singer-songwriter, ethnomusicologist with jazz background feed into subtler details [r]: B+(*)
  • Perfume Genius: Too Bright (2014, Turnstile): third album, trends toward mopey, melodramatic ballads with an air of lushness for comfort [r]: B
  • Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (2013-14 [2014], NoBusiness): piano trio led by Chris Abrahams, an impressive figure I missed -- Australian, favors group names [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Slackk: Palm Tree Fire (2014, Local Action): British electronica, grime or garage or house or something like that, neither here nor there [r]: B
  • Tommy Smith/Brian Kellock: Whispering of the Stars (2014, Spartacus): tenor sax-piano duets, mostly ballads ranging from lovely to gorgeous [r]: B+(***)
  • Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (2014, Big Dada): London-born "performance poet" channels class and war through Wu-Tang Clan and Samuel Beckett [r]: A
  • Tinashe: Aquarius (2014, RCA): neo-soul singer from Kentucky via LA, gets a boost when a rapper drops in, or when they just pick up the beat [r]: B+(**)
  • Ton Trio II: On and On (2013 [2014], Singlespeed Music): basic alto sax-bass-drums trio, led by Aram Shelton, who always gets a terrific sound [r]: B+(***)
  • Us Free [Bill McHenry/Henry Grimes/Andrew Cyrille]: Fish Stories (2006 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): sax trio with vets who keep it interesting, far from easy [r]: B+(***)
  • The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: OverTime: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (2014, Planet Arts): the former Jones-Lewis group at big band strength with Jim McNeely plays Bob Brookmeyer [r]: B+(*)
  • Velkro: Don't Wait for the Revolution (2012 [2014], Clean Feed): sax-guitar/bass-drums trio, builds tone on its groove, no postbop, post-Velvets maybe [cd]: A
  • David Virelles: Mbokó (2013 [2014], ECM): Cuban pianist composes sacred music for biankomeko abakua -- key is "sacred," which means slow it down [dl]: B+(**)
  • Wildest Dreams (2014, Smalltown Supersound): throwback to '60s psychedelic rock, with the instrumental passages much more impressive than the vocals [r]: B+(**)
  • Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (2014, Warner Brothers): a family reunion after seven years, their best times behind them, but mature to worry on [r]: B+(***)
  • Neil Young: Storytone (2014, Reprise): have orchestra, will croon, but deluxe ed. disc of solo demos improves on the standard product [r]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975 [2014], NoBusiness, 2CD): avant trumpet in the NY lofts, with Daniel Carter and Oliver Lake blasting away [cd]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Live at the Loft (2005 [2009], ILK Music): Danish saxophonist graples with an impressive young rhythm duo [r]: B+(***)
  • Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver: Floating Islands (2008 [2009], ILK Music): . . . and all three move on to bigger and bolder things [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Withered Hand: New Gods (2014, Slumberland): [r]: [was B+(**)] A-
  • Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (2014, self-released): [r]: [was B-] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Billy Bang/William Parker: Medicine Buddha (2009, NoBusiness)
  • Peter Brötzmann/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Soul Food Available (Clean Feed)
  • Dave Burrell/Steve Swell: Turning Point (NoBusiness)
  • Juan Pablo Carletti/Tony Malaby/Christopher Hoffman: Niño/Brujo (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Ted Daniel's Energy Module: Interconnection (1975, NoBusiness, 2CD)
  • De Beren Gieren & Susana Santos Silva: The Detour Fish: Live in Ljubljana (Clean Feed)
  • Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Tony Malaby's Tubacello: Scorpion Eater (Clean Feed)
  • Roil [Chris Abrahams/Mike Majkowski/James Waples]: Raft of the Meadows (NoBusiness): cdr
  • Zanussi 5: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)

   Mar 2001