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Monday, February 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24560 [24527] rated (+33), 493 [501] unrated (-8).

Wichita got hit by two snowstorms last week. Cumulative damage is about an inch on the grass, less on the concrete. I figure that if I don't pay it any attention it'll vanish by tomorrow afternoon. Cold today, though. The weather did keep me inside, and I bagged the usual bounty of records. Three of this week's four A- records came from very late-breaking, currently unpublished EOY lists: Lucas Fagen came up with a half-dozen albums I had yet to hear of -- mostly K-Pop and Middle Eastern pop or classical, with Nancy Ajram the one that clicked hardest. Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Wormburner appeared on Robert Christgau's Dean's List (or should appear when it's published at BN Review, most likely this week). Those bring my 2014 A-list to 155 records (plus 24 compilations). I think that qualifies as the longest EOY list this year -- John Mulvey stopped at 154 albums, Jason Gubbels at 150, Under the Radar at 140) -- oops, metal-friendly (but not exclusively so) Louder Than War went all the way to 200 albums, but figure that as a staff (not an individual) list. The secret to a long list is listening to a lot of records (in my case, 1206 last year) and having broad taste and a relatively open mind. I couldn't have come remotely close to that much coverage had it not been for streaming services like Rhapsody, freely streamable albums such as one finds on Bandcamp, and more or less legit downloadables (although frankly I've taken very little advantage of the latter). Still, there were hundreds of albums I searched for but couldn't find, and who knows how many worthwhile items I never knew about. As long as recorded music is treated as private monopoly instead of as a public resource we're cheating ourselves out of a higher standard of living and cultural understanding.

Robert Christgau's memoir, Going Into the City: A Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man (Dey Street Books) will be released tomorrow (Tuesday, February 24). I read an early draft of the book, so know that it starts with his childhood, goes through adolescence, college, his discovery that "a rock and roll critic is something to be" (my phrase with a hat tip to the Byrds -- I used it in my contribution to his Festschrift), his tenure editing the music section at The Village Voice, up to 1985 when he became a father. I've known him since 1975, when he invited me to write for Voice music section (and befriended me), so I know some of this firsthand, some more secondhand, and learned much more. I'll write more once I've seen the published book, but can recommend it heartily to anyone even remotely interested in thinking about popular culture in the pivotal decade of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, those of you in New York should consider two book launch events this week:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 24, 7-8pm with Jody Rosen at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn [link]
  • Wednesday, Feb. 25, 7-8pm with Rob Sheffield at Strand Books in Manhattan [link]

Also, several excerpts from the book have been posted:

Not much on his website yet about the book, but I'm working on that.

Clark Terry died last week, age 94. My favorite tweet:

Christian McBride @mcbridesworld
Every musician in the world who ever met Clark Terry is a better musician & person because of it. He now belongs to the ages. RIP, sir.

According to Tom Lord, Terry recorded 902 sessions from February 1947 to July 2008 (114 as leader and 788 as sideman; PDF here).

Some Clark Terry records I recommend (mostly side credits although hardly ever marginal; he raised everyone's game, but the records he led were only rarely exceptional):

  • Count Basie: America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years (1935-50 [2003], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Terry played with Basie 1948-51, so only caught the end of this.
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Ellington Uptown (1947-52 [2004], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 [1997], Verve)
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Such Sweet Thunder (1955-56 [1999], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport 1956 (Complete) (1956 [1999], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956 [2008], Riverside)
  • Clark Terry Quintet: Serenade to a Bus Seat (1957 [1992], Riverside/OJC)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1956-57 [1999], Verve, 3CD)
  • Clark Terry Quartet with Thelonious Monk: In Orbit (1958 [1987], Riverside OJC)
  • Duke Ellington: Blues in Orbit (1958-59 [2004], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington: Jazz Party (1959 [1991], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington: Anatomy of a Murder (1959 [1991], Rykodisc)
  • Jimmy Heath's Big Band: Really Big! (1960 [2007], Riverside)
  • Budd Johnson: Budd Johnson and the Four Brass Giants (1960 [1999], Riverside OJC): with Nat Adderley, Harry Edison, and Ray Nance
  • Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra: Gillespiana/Carnegie Hall Concert (1960-61 [1993], Verve)
  • Tubby Hayes/Clark Terry: New York Sessions (1961 [1990], Columbia)
  • Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 [2014], Essential Jazz Classics)
  • Oscar Peterson: Trio + One: Clark Terry (1964 [1984], Emarcy)
  • Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (1964-65 [2000], Red Baron)
  • Earl Hines: Once Upon a Time (1966 [2003], Impulse)
  • Jimmy Rushing: Every Day I Have the Blues (1967 [1999], Impulse)
  • Duke Ellington: . . . And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967 [1987], RCA)
  • Swing Fever: Grand Masters of Jazz (1998-2001 [2013], Open Art): with Buddy DeFranco, Terry Gibbs, Jackie Ryan
  • Clark Terry/Max Roach: Friendship (2002 [2003], Eighty-Eights/Columbia)
  • Jon Faddis: Teranga (2005 [2006], Koch)
  • Louie Bellson/Clark Terry: Louie & Clark Expedition 2 (2007 [2008], Percussion Power)

Probably a lot more where those came from. Some other musicians who show up with albums in Terry's discography (I'm just looking at leaders; Lord has counted 2504 musicians Terry played with): Cannonball Adderley, Henry "Red" Allen, Gene Ammons, Louis Armstrong (Terry picked up the horn when Armstrong couldn't play on "What a Wonderful World"), Charlie Barnet, Art Blakey, Bob Brookmeyer, Ray Brown, Ruth Brown, Ray Bryant, Kenny Burrell, Benny Carter, Ray Charles, Al Cohn, Chris Connor, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Arne Domnerus, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Roy Eldridge, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Bud Freeman, Stan Getz, Paul Gonsalves, Benny Goodman, Wendell Gray, Johnny Griffin, Bengt Hallberg, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, John Hicks, Johnny Hodges, Billie Holiday, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Quincy Jones, Lee Konitz, Yusef Lateef, Abbey Lincoln, Herbie Mann, Marian McPartland, Jay McShann, Charles Mingus, Blue Mitchell, Modern Jazz Quartet, Wes Montgomery, James Moody, Gerry Mulligan (Concert Jazz Band), Oliver Nelson, Babatunde Olatunji, Flip Phillips, Bud Powell, Dianne Reeves, Sonny Rollins, Pee Wee Russell, Lalo Schifrin, Shirley Scott, Tony Scott, Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith, Martial Solal, Sonny Stitt, Buddy Tate, Billy Taylor, Cecil Taylor, Cal Tjader, Big Joe Turner, Stanley Turrentine, McCoy Tyner, UMO Jazz Orchestra, Sarah Vaughan, Ben Webster, Randy Weston, Ernie Wilkins, Joe Williams, Gerald Wilson, Teddy Wilson. (Incomplete, of course.)

It's too late for me to even bother trying to knock out tweet-views of this week's newly rated albums. We'll start next week with a clean slate -- and there will be reviews of all these albums in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes column, most likely in early March.

New records rated this week:

  • Nancy Ajram: Nancy 8 (2014, In2musica): [r]: A-
  • Béatrice Alunni/Marc Peillon: Dance With Me (2014 [2015], ITI): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Andy Brown: Soloist (2014 [2015], Delmark): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Harley Card: Hedgerow (2012 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Ernesto Cervini: Turboprop (2014 [2015], Anzic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dena DeRose: Travelin' Light: Live in Antwerp, Belgium (2010 [2012], MaxJazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (2013 [2014], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Justin Townes Earle: Absent Fathers (2015, Vagrant): [r]: B+(*)
  • Silke Eberhard/Dave Burrell: Darlingtonia (2010 [2012], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Silke Eberhard/Ulrich Gumpert: Peanuts & Vanities (2011 [2012], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gramatik: The Age of Reason (2014, Lowtemp): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hesse Trio: The Stillness of Motion (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle (2013 [2015], Hot Stove): [cd]: B
  • Ibeyi: Ibeyi (2015, XL): [r]: B
  • Kitten: Kitten (2014, Elektra): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (2010-12 [2014], self-released): [r]: A-
  • Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (2014 [2015], World Blue): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chris McNulty: Eternal (2013 [2015], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(*)
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cdr]: A-
  • Ahmet Özhan: Gülmira (2014, Esen Musik): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lisa Parrott: Round Tripper (2014 [2015], Serious Niceness): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Renaud Penant Trio: Want to Be Happy (2014 [2015], ITI Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Petrucelli Quintet: The Way (2014 [2015], self-released, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lucas Pino: No Net Nonet (2013 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Potsa Lotsa Plus: Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (2014 [2015], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Live Beauty (2012 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Johannes Fink/Jan Leipnitz/Gebhard Gschlößl: Gulf of Berlin (2012 [2014], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Wormburner: Pleasant Living in Planned Communities (2014, Dive): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Moppa Elliott: Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing (2004 [2005], Hot Cup): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (Wig)
  • Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (Wig)
  • Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (Onyx Music): March 17
  • I Never Meta Guitar Three (Clean Feed)
  • The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (GreenGig Music): March 3
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed)
  • Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (Cipsela)
  • Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (Redefinition Music): March 17
  • Carlos "Zingaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (Cipsela)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup

I've been very lazy when it comes to politics the last few weeks. Much of what's wrong is so wrong on so many levels it boggles the mind. You can try to organize it, boxing various articles up into bins like "Republicans acting dumb," "Democrats acting dumb," "The bipartisan Washington foreign policy mandarins fumbling one stupid war after another," and so on -- the common thread is a chronic inability to think clearly about anything. There was a piece in the Eagle today about a "post-mortem" report some Democratic Party bigwigs cobbled together (can't find the Eagle link, but here's a similar one at CNN). The "report" includes lines like this:

It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party's ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.

What these party bigwigs fail to recognize is for the party to win it has to go beyond touting common values and articulate a set of viable self-interests that will motivate popular support. A classic example of this was the 1860 Republican platform, which instead of decrying slavery or declaring the sanctity of the union crassly declared: "vote yourself a farm -- vote yourself a tariff." Even today, Republican appeals are scarcely less crass: vote yourself a tax cut, vote for guns everywhere, vote to outlaw abortion. If the Democrats wanted to compete, they should consider a slogan like "vote yourself a government that works for you" -- and if they wanted to scare the bejesus out of the Republicans, they could add: "vote yourself a union."

Instead, there was a story this week about the head of the Democratic Party in Kansas testifying in favor of a Republican state bill that would double the limits for political contributions. That may make his particular job a bit easier, but it would move the party away from the people it needs votes from, and it would reinforce the notion that elections are up for sale.

The report lays out brutal losses since Obama swept into office in 2008: Democrats have shed 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 11 governor's offices.

Obama deserves a substantial amount of blame for those offices -- not so much for his policies, mediocre and unfocused as they've been, as for his messaging, and for undermining the party for his personal benefit. By messaging, I mean his failure to clearly break from the Bush administration's manifest disasters as well as to keep the public focused on the partisan responsibility for those disasters, But he also wrecked the Democratic Party organization that won elections in 2006-08. Just because he personally could raise money to beat McCain and Romney doesn't mean that he was right to ignore the problem of money in politics. He has, after all, done nothing to counter the Kochs' threat to raise $900 million to buy 2016. If anything, he's made their corruption all the more inevitable.

So while it's possible to make fun of the Republicans in Kansas, as Crowson does here:

Still, it's not that funny. Most of the Kansas legislature's bills have been predictable, but this one breaks new ground in terms of being wrong on so many levels: Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful, alcohol-free. Among other things, the bill treats foster care as a business, offering incentive pay for behaviors which the drafter believes to be morally superior, and hidden within it is "state education aid to either home school or send their foster kids to private school" -- yet another ploy to undermine public schools and the idea that everyone has an equal right to a quality education. As for church going, my recollection is that some of the worst scandals in the history of foster care involve churches.

Nor is Kansas the only state where absolute Republican power has corrupted absolutely. See Kansas not only state trying to prevent LGBT protections. Brownback recently revoked a Kansas executive order extending various protections to LGBT workers. Arkansas wants to go one step further and prevent any local governments from offering anti-discriminatory protections to its workers.

A few more scattered links this week:

  • Justin Gillis/John Schwartz: Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher: You always hear from right-wingers about how the scientific research on anthropogenic climate change ("global warming") is conflicted. One major source of that conflict is Wei-Hock Soon, "who claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent global warming."

    But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon's work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

    He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

    The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

  • Ali Khedery: Iran's Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq: I think Khedery puts more emphasis on Iran's relationship to the Shiite militias than is warranted. The US was actively organizing those same militias to fight Saddam Hussein before and during the 2003 invasion, and they've alternately been turned loose or reined in at various times during the American occupation: I doubt they are wholly tools either of the US or Iran so much as autonomous agents only loosely aligned with Iraqi shiite political parties, but what should be clear by now is that they cannot be trusted to implement a disciplined military campaign -- such as the much-touted plan to retake Mosul.

    Countless memories haunt me after a decade of service in Iraq. Gripping the hands of an assassin-felled member of the provisional government as the life slipped out of her body in 2003; watching al Qaeda's beheadings of American hostages in 2004; seeing photos of young Sunni prisoners raped and tortured by Iran-backed Shiite militias serving within the Iraqi police in 2005; and sitting helplessly at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as news came in of al Qaeda's 2006 bombing of al-Askari Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Shiite Islam, ushering in the civil war. [ . . . ]

    The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern what could be one of the world's most prosperous nations. Washington's response to the Islamic State's (IS) advance, however, has been disgraceful: The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are "allies" that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State itself. [ . . . ]

    There is no reason to believe that the militias will disarm and disband after IS's defeat. Indeed, with the central government weaker than ever, trillions of dollars of Iraqi oil wealth up for grabs, and the U.S. military no longer deployed in large numbers to constrain them, the militias have more incentive than ever to stay in business. And let's not forget that it is in Iran's strategic interest to use these militias to consolidate its gains over Iraq and the Levant, and to advance its ambitions for regional hegemony, which Iranian commanders are now publicly flaunting.

    Iran's "ambitions for regional hegemony" is one of those things that could (and should) be covered in bilateral talks between the US and Iran -- indications are that Iran would see more value in normalizing relations with the US than in vying for "hegemony" over wastelands like Iraq and Syria.

  • Paul Krugman: Rip Van Skillsgap:

    What strikes me about this paper -- and in general what one still hears from many people inside the Beltway -- is the continuing urge to make this mainly a story about the skills gap, of not enough workers having higher education or maybe the right kind of education. [ . . . ]

    But if my math is right, the 90s ended 15 years ago -- and since then wages of the highly educated have stagnated. Why on earth are we still hearing the same rhetoric about education as the solution to inequality and unemployment?

    The answer, I'm sorry to say, is surely that it sounds serious. But, you know, it isn't.

    I'm not even sure how serious it is: it's just that the right doesn't have many options for addressing increasing inequality that don't impact the gains of the rich. Prescribing more education is a way of punting, knowing that it might help a few individuals -- at least compared to peer individuals, as opposed to the effect it had several decades ago -- and for everyone else it will take time to fail. But as a general rule, it is already clear that more education isn't an answer: given stagnant wages, the rising cost of education (and it has risen a lot) mean the return on investment in more education has been negative, and growing more so. And if there really is a "skills gap" that loss has depressed the economy.

    Of course, if the "skills gap" was seriously regarded as a real problem, the people conscious of it would be proposing real programs to solve it: they would be hard at work increasing wages for workers with the needed skills, and they would be urging the government to shoulder more of the costs of education to get those needed workers trained. You don't exactly see that happening. In fact, you see right-wingers working to undercut education all the way from pre-school to college, and to make what education is still available more class-stratified -- something the rich can still provide for their own children through private channels while everyone else rots or struggles.

  • Chris Stephen: Libya's Arab spring: the revolution that ate its children: It's worth considering Iraq and Libya as two models of what can go wrong in establishing post-intervention states. In Iraq the US dug in and tried to micromanage every aspect of nation building following the 2003 invasion -- an approach that failed not just because the Bush administration was clueless and had its own peculiar interests but because the US military became a symbol and target of occupation. On the other hand, NATO's intervention in Libya left no troops on the ground as competing militias turned on each other resulting in chaos. The latest development in Libya has been the emergence of ISIS -- I suspect more as an idea than an outgrowth of the rump Islamic State in war-torn Syria and neighboring Iraq -- which in turn has provoked further military intervention by Egypt. (ISIS has proven a potent brand both of rebellion and for deadly foreign intervention.) I have no real idea how to fix this -- even less so than Syria where much of the problem is tied to foreign interests. The gist of the article is that many of the people who initially supported the revolt against Gaddafi have come to regret their stands. On the other hand, I doubt that many of the better-dead-than-red types in the NSC or CIA have had second thoughts. After all, they never risked their own lives on the outcome, and they enjoy the luxury of putting their ideals above the lives of real people.

  • Talking Points Memo's sense of politics remains skin deep at most, but today's headlines are even shallower than usual -- gotcha news like Giuliani: Obama Influenced by Communism At Young Age, Giuliani Says He Received Death Threats After Comments On Obama, Scott Walker Says He Doesn't Know If Obama Is Christian, and Issa: 'We Should Thank' Giuliani For Comment On Obama's Patriotism. (No More Mister Nice Blog has an amusing story about how while Obama's grandfather served during WWII, Giuliani's father did not -- because he was a convicted felon.) Only slightly deeper is Is Obama Failing the YAARRRR! Test?, which compares Obama's anti-ISIS war rhetoric unfavorably to Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • James Carden: Here's Why Arming Ukraine Would Be a Disaster: Well, some of the reasons, anyway. It's not clear to me to what extent Russia is actually arming or otherwise supporting separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, but it certainly is true that if Obama chose to add more fuel to the fire, Putin could more than reciprocate in kind. (Carden quotes Putin as saying, "if I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks." Russia didn't go that far in Georgia when the latter tried to quash separatist provinces in 2008, but could easily have.) Also see Barry R. Posen: Just Say No: America Should Avoid These Wars -- Ukraine leads the list, but the list doesn't stop there.

  • Dylan Scott: Meet the Man at the Center of the Unprecedented US-Israeli Rift: A report on Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the US since 2013, and evidently the person who worked out the deal for Netanyahu to speak before the US Congress "just days before elections in Israel" -- evidently to do what he can to torpedo any deal Obama works out to limit (or eliminate) Iran's alleged "nuclear program." Dermer was well placed, having been born in the US and having worked for Newt Gingrich before emigrating to Israel.

  • Imraan Sidiqi: Hate in the aftermath of Chapel Hill: On February 10 three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC were murdered. Sidiqi notes other recent examples of violence directed at American Muslims. That isn't the only possible context -- Michael A. Cohen argues that the killer was a gun nut and that the crime fits the pattern of a long list of gun-enabled crime. No doubt that has something to do with "how" but as so much gun crime is "senseless" it doesn't explain "why" -- for that we have to look at the continuing series of wars where the US has sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to abroad to kill (and be killed by) Muslims. The US has never engaged in a war abroad where Americans didn't also project the hatred of war onto those fellow Americans most similar to foreign enemies. So it isn't surprising that it is happening again now, or that it is worst among the racist, militarist bigots of the far right. Nor that it is one of the things that makes war so poisonous, here as well as there.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Daily Log

Jan Barnes wrote to me: "I think America is in such a mess and what ISI is doing is just the worst I've ever heard of in my life, such evil people, can't even image thinking about things they are doing." I wrote her back:

Two points to keep in mind whenever you hear something bad about ISIS (or any other "terrorist" group in the Middle East): (1) is that there are various propaganda organizations (including one that's part of the US State Department -- CSCC, stands for Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications) that are constantly working to sway public opinion against those groups, in large part because they want to promote US military intervention in the region; and (2) ISIS would probably not exist (and would certainly not be a threat) except for repeated US efforts to destabilize Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Syria (under the Assad family). Also keep in mind that the so-called ISIS movements in Libya and Yemen and anywhere else outside of Syria-Iraq are wholly separate groups, not a greater conspiracy.

I'm not saying this to excuse ISIS. Like the Taliban, they were created in war, and have become habituated to it -- have managed to work the atrocities that occur on all sides in war into their moral framework, which is buttressed by a very primitive, intolerant reading of their religion. It's worth recalling that minority religious groups like the Yazidis and Alawis have coexisted with the majority Sunni Islam for over 1300 years. But Egypt and north Africa were conquered by European colonial powers (Morocco-Algeria-Tunisia by France, Libya by Italy, Egypt by England) in the late 19th century; after the first World War France grabbed Syria and Lebanon, England took Palestine, Iraq, the Persian Gulf "states" and Yemen, while the Saudis seized control of the central Arabian peninsula (with first British then American support). In 1948 Israel was created and went to war to expand its borders, driving over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands. British oil companies grabbed large claims on Arab and Iranian oil, and after 1945 US oil companies became dominant. After 1970, the British withdrew, handing their bases over to the US, and Britain's client monarchs became US wards. The US alliance with Israel drove Egypt, Syria, and Iraq to seek arms from the Soviet Union, and the US expanded the "cold war" in the Middle East by getting the Saudis to spend billions of dollars proselytizing their very reactionary brand of Islam (Wahabism, an offshoot of Salafism, which was founded in the 13th century in reaction to catastrophic war losses Arabs suffered when attacked by Mongols and Turks). The "jihadist" ideology behind Al Qaeda and ISIS is nothing more than Saudi state religion stripped of the economic need to be nice to US/UK oil companies and bankers, and rededicated to fighting against foreign influence and control. This ideology is very bad stuff, but it's important to realize that it's really just a reaction against the influence and control of the US, its allies, and cronies -- something which became far more malevolent when US troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. (There was, for instance, no "Al Qaeda in Iraq" before Bush invaded, and there was no "ISIS" in Syria before the US started to arm "moderate rebels" in Syria -- those guns almost all winding up in the hands of religious fanatics.)

The lesson in all of this is that no matter how offended one is by ISIS, the worst possible way to reduce its influence is for American troops to go in and try to kill all its followers. There needs to be a diplomatic agreement where the Syrian government reforms but in an orderly way, without creating the sort of vacuum that has been so destructive in Libya. There needs to be a diplomatic agreement in Iraq which gives Sunni and Kurdish areas more autonomy and security. There needs to be a diplomatic agreement that reduces the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between Iran and Israel, and there needs to be something which finally ends Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and with its neighbors (including Syria). And none of this can happen as long as the US insists on pitting faction against faction, picking and arming sides, and backing its (often momentary) favorites with air power.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Daily Log

Shortly after I complained (last week's Weekend Roundup) about the fits of ideological madness working their way through the Kansas Legislature than this article comes along: Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful, alcohol-free.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24527 [24491] rated (+36), 501 [500] unrated (+1).

I shot most of my wad on Friday's Rhapsody Streamnotes, but since then I was pleasantly surprised by three straight jazz vocal albums: Denia Ridley's became an old friend over three plays; the late Maureen Budway caught my attention with a warm "White Cliffs of Dover," annoyed me with a song about fireworks and freedom, then redeemed real American music with a marvelous Gershwin medley; and young Katie Thiroux came up with a novel approach to singing standards while playing bass, helped by superb spots for guitar and sax. Never heard of any of these women before (although pianist David Budway does sound familiar -- let's see, I had his 2011 A New Kiss as a mid-B+, and he played behind Chris McNulty on a forgettable 2005 album). Was also pleasantly surprised by H2 Big Band's vocals, although a check of the credits reveals the name of René Marie, who's often on that level. Those are four albums I wouldn't have bothered searching out to stream, but I listened to them because publicists took the trouble to mail hard copies to me. More often, big bands and singers are the bane of my existence, so this just goes to show you never can tell.

Still, two of those four albums will most likely be packed away to the basement, never to be played again. I have five of those cheap six-row 120-CD cases on top of a desk blocking a window, which were filled with Jazz CG albums several years ago. I've been going through them, packing everything B+(**) and below into baskets to carry to the basement -- effectively that opens up about half of those shelves, soon to be filled with higher-rated CDs currently in piles on the floor. The half that remained are all exceptionally good, often great albums, virtually none of which have been played since I reviewed them. I've always liked the idea of maintaining a library, but despair of ever finding time to use it. Same problem exists, to a greater or lesser extent (I'm not sure), with print. I probably have enough surplus to endow a small library. Wonder how one goes about doing that.

By the way, while I only added a half dozen or so lists to the EOY Aggregate last week, but they managed to make two changes in the top ten: Caribou had run in 5th place ever since the near-beginning but slipped to 6th behind Flying Lotus a week ago; since then it shot back to 5th, even opening up more space (6 points) than Flying Lotus enjoys over 7th place Aphex Twin (3 points). The other big change is that Angel Olsen moved into 10th place, 3 points ahead of Beck (now tied for 11th with Spoon). Also worth noting that Taylor Swift has continued to climb, now in 15th place, as has D'Angelo, now in 20th. Can't say there will be no changes in the future -- actually waiting on one promised email, and I'll add Christgau's list if he ever parts with it (or I'll just pick it up in dribs and drabs, like Tune-Yards and TV on the Radio from last week's Expert Witness).

By the way, Christgau's memoir, Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, will be released on February 24 (preorder links from Amazon and Barnes & Noble; and here's an excerpt just posted at Rolling Stone). I haven't heard anything about promoting it on the website yet, but I imagine I'll have to get busy on that. Carola Dibbell's novel The Only Ones comes out on March 10, and we've already done a lot more work on promoting it.

New records rated this week:

  • Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet [RAAQ]: Intents and Purposes (2014 [2015], Enja): guitar-vibes-bass-drums quartet, has a nice intricacy but short on juice [r]: B+(*)
  • Tony Allen: Film of Life (2014, Jazz Village): Afrobeat drummer works the electronics to add shimmer and chime; too bad the vocal slumps [r]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Barker/Paul Dunmall/Tim Dahl: Luddite (2012 [2014], New Atlantis): avant sax trio, drummer earns top billing, saxophonist sometimes at his peak [r]: B+(**)
  • Big Lazy: Don't Cross Myrtle (2014, Tasankee): guitar-bass-drums trio, prefer tight and tidy rockish tunes, especially surf guitar, to improv [r]: B+(***)
  • Blu: Good to Be Home (2014, Nature Sounds, 2CD): long mixtape, beats merely functional but raps get stronger as he goes on (and on) [r]: B+(***)
  • Wade Bowen: Wade Bowen (2014, Amp): Texas variant of the standard hard touring Nashville country hound, ambivalent about success and still arrogant [r]: B+(*)
  • Maureen Budway: Sweet Candor (2014 [2015], MCG Jazz): late jazz singer's belated debut album showcases a fine voice; Gershwin medley tops Americana [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cornershop: Hold On It's Easy (2015, Ample Play): 20th anniversary memento, recasts first album with lots of Elastic Big Band brass [r]: B
  • The Cunninlynguists: Strange Journey, Volume Three (2014, Bad Taste): underground rap mixtape, exceptional flow when they hit their stride [r]: B+(***)
  • Disappears: Irreal (2015, Kranky): postpunk band, started with short sharp songs but have now moved over to repeated Wire-like figures [r]: B+(***)
  • Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (2015, Columbia): makes his long-feared crooner move, minus the voice and arrangements, even the songs, he needs [r]: C
  • Emika: Klavirni (2015, Emika): electronica artist shows off her classical piano chops on meditative miniatures, cheating once in a while [r]: B+(*)
  • George Ezra: Wanted on Voyage (2014, Columbia): heard that a "big voice" is something good to have, tried it and became overbearing [r]: B-
  • Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: Awakening of a Capital (2014 [2015], RareNoise): Scottish trio, fuzzy electric bass riffs smeared with snarling sax, a formula [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Chantale Gagné: The Left Side of the Moon (2014 [2015], self-relased): pianist from Quebec, picked up her perfect band: S Wilson/P Washington/L Nash [cd]: B+(***)
  • Rhiannon Giddens: Tomorrow Is My Turn (2014, Nonesuch): roots songster employs T-Bone Burnett for coming out, casts wide net, catches some [r]: B+(**)
  • Ja, Panik: Libertatia (2014, Staatsakt): I figure they're Germany's answer to TV on the Radio, maybe crossed a bit with Flaming Lips [r]: B+(*)
  • Oliver Lake/William Parker: To Roy (2014 [2015], Intakt): dedicated to late trumpeter Roy Campbell, alto sax-bass duet, somber but stirring [cd]: A-
  • Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (2015, Atlantic): I thought the woefully misunderstood "Lasers" was marvelous, but have no clue about this [r]: B+(*)
  • J.D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (2015, New Rounder): Okie singer-songwriter, dresses his country impulses up as rockabilly [r]: B+(**)
  • Gurf Morlix: Eatin' at Me (2015, Rootball): folksy singer-songwriter, songs pretty easy going -- this time, anyhow [r]: B+(**)
  • Mr Twin Sister: Mr Twin Sister (2014, Twin Group/Infinite Best): electropop group, added "Mr" to name, presumably to suggest they've grown up -- less bubbly, more angst [r]: B-
  • Pitbull: Globalization (2014, Polo Grounds/RCA): highly commercial party rap, no critical visibility, sales tanked too, crass but I get a charge off it [r]: B+(**)
  • Denia Ridley & the Marc Devine Trio: Afterglow (2014 [2015], ITI Music): standards singer, front-loaded with Gershwin/Porter, ends on a blues note [cd]: B+(***)
  • Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (2015, Sub Pop): strategic comeback, 90+ metacritic scores; strikes me as their blandest, not most irritating [r]: B+(*)
  • Jim Snidero: Main Street (2014 [2015], Savant): mainstream alto sax guy, but with a glorious tone and a rhythm section that mixes things up [cd]: A-
  • Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (2015, RCA): grappling with success, or putting on a front, running the gamut from "Dumb" to "Stupid Girl" [r]: B+(***)
  • Jamie T: Carry On the Grudge (2014, Virgin): transposes pop hooks with Clash power, not that I detect corresponding principles [r]: B+(**)
  • Aki Takase/Ayumi Paul: Hotel Zauberberg (2014 [2015], Intakt): builds a magic mountain of piano-violin minimalism, then sneaks in Bach/Mozart [r]: B+(***)
  • Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (2014 [2015], BassKat): bassist-singer, superb standards, guitar and sax help out but bass ties it together [cd]: A-
  • Paul Thorn: Too Blessed to Be Stressed (2014, Perpetual Obscurity): country singer-songwriter bemoans mediocrity, resigns himself to stray dogs and Jesus [r]: B+(**)
  • Joanna Wallfisch with Dan Tepfer: The Origin of Adjustable Things (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): Brit singer-songwriter backed by piano only for intimate feel [cd]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Cornershop: Hold On It Hurts (1993, Merge): missed that first album, pop barely emerging from a punk cocoon, weird then, almost prophetic now [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Cornershop: Woman's Gotta Have It (1995, Warner Brothers): rechedked this, nearly as gnarly as the first and just a bit more of a missing link [r]: [was: B+] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Crown Castle (Manhattan Daylight)
  • Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (Blujazz)
  • Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (Innova)
  • Otzir Godot: In- (Epatto)
  • Ross Hammond: Flight (Prescott): advance, April 14
  • Tony Malaby/Mark Helias/Tom Rainey: The Signal Maker (Intakt): advance, March
  • Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (World Blue)
  • Chris McNulty: Eternal (Palmetto): March 24
  • John Raymond: Foreign Territory (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance, April 28
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt): advance, March
  • Bjørn Solli: Aglow: The Lyngør Project Vol. 1 (Lyngør): May 4
  • Songsmith Collective (Blujazz)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (February 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24491 [24455] rated (+36), 500 [503] unrated (-3).

Four of five A- records this week were 2004 releases -- three identified from the still unfinished year-end list aggregation, the fourth the last 2014 CD I had ungraded (got it after year-end from one of the musicians in Italy; worth noting that there is a lot of new jazz each year released in Italy and I normally get virtually none of it). Eleven of this week's new records are 2015 releases, but so far I've only found one new record (Charles McPherson's The Journey) and one vault job (Red Garland Trio's Swingin' on the Korner) satisfy the A- threshold. That works out to 5.5% (2/36), a mere 37% of my 2014 A-list ratio (176/1189). Too early to suggest the new year sucks, but partly small sample size and partly working mostly from my mail queue instead of seeking out well regarded albums. For instance I haven't heard any of the top 25 records rated so far by Album of the Year. (Well, I did start to stream Sleater-Kinney's top-rated No Cities to Love, but it crapped out before I heard enough to bother with. Still, not much on that list strikes me as promising -- maybe Lupe Fiasco, Belle & Sebastian, Disappears, but the critic scores are 77-73-72, so part of the problem may be a slow start.)

I'm going through last year's checklist file and seeking out a few missing year-end lists -- recent adds include Earmilk, The Finest Kiss, I Listen So You Don't Have To, Music That Isn't Bad, My Kind of Country, The Needle Drop, and a bunch of Jazz Journalists Association lists (25). Only change toward the top of the list is that Caribou finally surrendered 5th place to Flying Lotus. Taylor Swift is now tied for 14th (with Mac DeMarco), Sturgill Simpson is up to 19th, and D'Angelo to 22nd -- those three records have been gaining all along.

Jazz albums got a boost on the main list but I don't see any clear trends inside the genre, and they're still pretty far back: Wadada Leo Smith (100th), Steve Lehman (119th), Ambrose Akinmusire (137th), Mark Turner (148th -- tied with Lily Allen), Marc Ribot and Sonny Rollins (160th), and Bad Plus (168th). (Smith is only up from 106th, Lehman from 133rd, Akinmusire from 168th, Turner from 164th.) The total jazz list now includes 976 albums. The overall new albums list counts 4947 albums with one or more list mention. The actual data file has 5616 entries, plus 703 for reissues/compilations/etc.

Good chance I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes by the end of the week. Draft file currently has 95 reviews.

Recommended music link:

  • "What are 3 or 4 of your favorite jazz record albums of the 1970s?": Found this by chance. I approve of everyone who didn't mention Weather Report (e.g., Gary Giddins). I wasn't asked, but my first pass at such a list: Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970), Jimmy Rushing: The You and Me That Used to Be (1971); Dave Holland: Conference of the Birds (1972); Charles Mingus: Changes One; Roswell Rudd: Flexible Flyer (1974), Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head (1975); Arthur Blythe: Lenox Avenue Breakdown (1978); Air: Lore (1979); Art Pepper: Straight Life. Down to three: probably Rushing, Rudd, and Coleman (although Rushing was more a figure of the '50s or '30s).

New records rated this week:

  • Cyrille Aimée: Collective Consciousness (2014, Mack Avenue): standards singer from France but in English, backed with Django-ish guitar, a bit cutesy [r]: B+(*)
  • Nat Birchall Quintet: Live in Larissa (2013 [2014], Sound Soul and Spirit): saxophonist channels Coltrane down to the echoes-of-big-band ambient background [r]: A-
  • Clark: Clark (2014, Warp): Brit techno-phile goes eponymous for his seventh album -- short of ideas? still feels busy, cluttered, desperate [r]: B
  • Jamie Cullum: Interlude (2014 [2015], Blue Note): Brit jazz singer reins in his idiosyncrasies, almost becomes likeable, but Gregory Porter cameos [r]: B
  • Echoes of Swing [Colin T. Dawson/Chris Hopkins/Bernd Lhotzky/Oliver Mewes]: Blue Pepper (2013, ACT): trumpet-altosax-piano-drums quartet, occasional vocals dry, rooted in swing but not stuck there [r]: B+(*)
  • Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Three Rivers (2014 [2015], Richman): electric bassist from Pittsburgh, feints funk-fusion but slows down for singers [cd]: B
  • Mary Halvorson: Reverse Blue (2013 [2014], Relative Pitch): jazz guitarist has dope radical moves, but Chris Speed tends to blunt her edge [r]: B+(***)
  • Alexander Hawkins: Song Singular (2012 [2014], Babel): Brit jazz pianist going places, equally adept at avant and organ grinds, files a solo brief [r]: B+(*)
  • The Hot Sardines: The Hot Sardines (2014, Decca): French singer known as Miz Liz loves Fats Waller, plays washboard, hooked a Brooklyn band for such pleasures [r]: A-
  • Diana Krall: Wallflower (2014 [2015], Verve): my favorite jazz chanteuse picks the worst songs of the '70s, buries them in strings and wanker duets [r]: B-
  • Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord: Jeremiah (2014 [2015], Hot Cup): guitarist chasing two hot saxes (Jon Irabagon, Bryan Murray), catches the guest flute [cd]: B+(***)
  • Machinedrum: Vapor City Archives (2014, Ninja Tune): left-field electronica, this a sequel to or leftovers from "Vapor City" -- actually better [r]: B+(***)
  • Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Mosaica (2014, MEII Enterprises): reiminagining popular Hebraic melodies, with special guest cantor but lost the clave [r]: B+(**)
  • John Mills: Invisible Designs (2014 [2015], Fable): saxophonist with singer Carmen Bradford, lit-based texts, between art-rock and jazz-operetta [cd]: B-
  • Kassem Mosse: Workshop 19 (2014, Workshop): German electronica, house but beat doesn't overwhelm, just sets up sly and clever asides [r]: A-
  • Mario Pavone: Street Songs (2013 [2014], Playscape): bassist, leads sextet with accordion for Euro-folk feel, piano for jazz, cornet to fire things up [r]: B+(**)
  • Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee (2014 [2015], Constellation): alto saxophonist's history lesson overwhelmed by voices/noise [r]: B-
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Trio: Little River (2014 [2015], Sazas): guitarist from Slovenia, with Paul McCandless on reeds, plus drums, free or ambient [cd]: B+(**)
  • Irène Schweizer/Jürg Wickihalder: Spring (2014, Intakt): avant duo, piano vs soprano sax, doesn't mesh well, nor does the piano explode [r]: B+(*)
  • Marc Seales: American Songs Volume 3: Place & Time (2012 [2015], Origin): piano-guitar quartet, four originals, four covers, two from Curtis Mayfield [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ed Sheeran: X (2014, Atlantic): bestselling album in UK last year, reminds me of Paul Simon and not in the worst ways, but doesn't hit often enough [r]: B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: Root of Things (2014, Relative Pitch): avant piano trio with Michael Bisio and Whit Dickey, something they do often [r]: B+(***)
  • Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It (2014, SDEG): what? release a batch of throwaways on his own label? long live the Coasters! [r]: B+(*)
  • Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (2014, Constellation): with titles like that who needs tunes? [r]: B
  • Meghan Trainor: Title (2015, Epic): all about the hits, four or five catchy enough, not that she couldn't use (or doesn't need) more [r]: B+(***)
  • Gebhard Ullmann Basement Research: Hat and Shoes (2013 [2015], Between the Lines): bass clarinet, baritone sax, trombone, love those deep bottom tones [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mark Wade Trio: Event Horizon (2014 [2015], self-released): bassist-led piano trio, Tim Harrison on the keys, but nice to get the bass up in the mix [cd]: B+(**)
  • XY Quartet: XY (2013 [2014], Nusica): percussion (drums + vibes) keeps group on edge, and Nicola Fazzini's alto sax dances magnificently up there [cd]: A-

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

  • Bud Powell: Birdland 1953 (1953 [2014], ESP-Disk, 3CD): third or fourth time these live tapes have been expanded to bait the hardcore fans, up to 3CD now [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Ed Sheeran: + (2011, Atlantic): mild-mannered Brit singer-songwriter, soft-edged, easy on ears, nothing I mind or remember [r]: B
  • Swamp Dogg: ??? Greatest Hits ??? (1976, Stone Dogg): not having had any hits, Jerry Williams was free to write new ones, some of which should be [r]: B+(***)
  • Swamp Dogg: The Best of Swamp Dogg: 13 Prime Weiners, Everything on It (1970-76 [1982], War Bride): aka "The Best of Swamp Dogg," leans hard on his two best albums, so yeah! [r]: A-
  • Swamp Dogg: I'm Not Selling Out/I'm Buying In (1981, Takoma): songs go easy with little sticking out, except maybe the apocalypse in California [r]: B+(*)
  • Swamp Dogg: I Called for a Rope and They Threw Me a Rock (1989, SDEG): looks up heartbreak in his thesaurus and finds myocardial infarction [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ernesto Cervini: Turboprop (Anzic)
  • Scott Hesse Trio: The Stillness of Motion (Origin): February 17
  • The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle (Hot Stove): March 3
  • The H2 Big Band: It Could Happen (Origin): February 17
  • Lucas Pino: No Net Nonet (Origin): February 17
  • Jim Snidero: Main Street (Savant)
  • John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Live Beauty (Origin): February 17

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Weekend Roundup

If I was much younger and had ambitions in journalism, I'd go up to Topeka and hang out with Republican legislators, trying to draw them out on the logic behind a plethora of bills being bandied about. In some ways, it seems inconceivable that in an age of ubiquitous information technology we could ever forgo and forget knowledge and understanding on the level of the Dark Ages of medieval Europe, yet that's what is on display strive to build their utopian society upon near-absolute power at the state level. The big headlines, of course, still belong to the governor and his disastrously failed experiment in Lafferism -- see David Atkins: More Kansas Fallout: Brownback Doubles Down on His Failed Policies, or just take a look at Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon in the Eagle today:

Brownback, you may recall, created a huge deficit hole by pushing a major state income tax reduction (including complete exemption from income taxes for "small businessmen" like Charles Koch), at a time when the state was losing a lawsuit for unconstitutionally underfunding public schools. (Ironically, when the state legislature increased state funding before the 2014 elections, Brownback's ads touted that as proof of his support for education.) This year, Brownback's fix for the fiscal hole has been to propose increasing taxes on cigarettes, slashing school funding, and a variety of schemes to raid a long list of dedicated funds (like highway maintenance and pensions -- even some federal money related to Obamacare). In other words, the idea is to cover up a big hole with lots of little holes, each hoping to kick the problem a bit further into the future: cheat workers out of their pensions and they may not realize the effect for many years, until they retire; stop maintaining roads and it may be years before they're eaten up with potholes; cheap out on educating children and it may be decades before it fully dawns on employers how few people are prepared for work. And so on, as these decisions add up, as political interests forget that they could ever be solved, the future grows ever dimmer: dark ages ahead.

Brownback's folly is the straightforward result of a right-wing propaganda coup that you can trace back to the 1970s, when a few disgruntled businessmen decided to wage a war of attrition against the very idea of government. What they objected to was the idea that a democratic government might work for the benefit of the vast majority of the people, as opposed to merely protecting the property and prerogatives of the rich. (Right-wingers never had a problem with authoritarian states they controlled; the state only became a problem when it might be used to reduce the influence and control of the rich.) Of course, they had good reason to fear that, because it had in fact been working that way for forty years, from the New Deal through the Great Society.

The key point here is how successful they've been at characterizing government as a vicious cycle of "tax and spend" -- with the corrolary that tax money would have been spent more wisely by those who originally earned it than by the government bureaucrats who merely took it. A good example of this mindset appeared in a letter to the Eagle today (Delores Jennison: Let rich invest):

"Robbing the rich to feed the idle" does not work very well. It does not produce any food. Better let the rich invest with those who do produce things we want, so we can all share.

Most propaganda is dressed up more plausibly than this. By "robbing" she probably means taxing, since most real robbers don't feed anyone but themselves, and by "the idle" she most likely means "the disadvantaged" -- most of whom work harder at underpaid jobs than many rentiers (I'm much more familiar with the phrase "the idle rich" than any alternative). To figure out what "works" you need some criteria. For "feeding" you might think something like "reduce the number of people who are malnourished," in which case you can collect and test data. Food stamps is one government program that comes to mind, and by that standard it works very well. Even the sort of rationing that the US practiced during WWII "worked" by most conceivable criteria.

Jennison's last sentence is even more problematical. Even if the rich invest wisely, absent taxation how is it that "we can all share" in their returns? The notion that we somehow all benefit by basking in the light reflected by the rich hard to imagine, let alone quantify. Even if some might draw inspiration and enjoy enough good fortune to become rich themselves, the numbers must surely be very limited. And how does one become rich? Very few such people do so by investing in the production of food or anything else broadly usable. It's not inconceivable that some entrepreneur might found a business and produce something that makes our lives better, but it's certainly not the rule.

What's so odd about this mindset isn't that disgruntled businessmen -- the Kochs being prime examples both in the 1970s (my first encounter with them was typesetting Murray Rothbard books in the mid-1970s) and now -- would underwrite this sort of propaganda. After all, they've used it to make and sheltered billions of dollars, and capitalism is nothing if not a cult of self-interest. But it's pure hubris to insist that their greed is a blessing for everyone else -- a propaganda line that is the greatest con of the era.

In the past, Republicans were more cynical about their shit. For instance, it's well established that increased government spending stimulates the economy -- and that the American economy depends on such stimulation. Republicans are dependable deficit scolds whenever a Democrat is president, but Reagan and the Bushes were happy to run huge deficits -- they just preferred to build them from tax cuts and war spending. However, it was only a matter of time before the rank and file started believing the GOP party line, and thanks largely to Thomas Frank, Kansas learned that lesson harder than most. Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? made a big point about how the single-issue fringe groups Republicans depended on for votes rarely got any satisfaction: Republicans may campaign against abortion and for guns but in office all they seemed to do was to further line the pockets of the already rich.

Of course, Brownback's income tax cuts (and, by the way, sales tax increases) and budget hole is mostly a sop to the rich, but the Kansas legislature has been dilligent about passing new anti-abortion and pro-gun legislation every year. There's a bill pending this year to allowed "concealed carry" without a permit or any training -- among other things that makes it much more difficult to apprehend gun-toting felons. That's just one example of this year's legislative fever. One proposal is to move non-partisan municipal elections and make them partisan -- the sponsor is worried that school teacher unions might take advantage of low turnout to dominate school boards, and there's always the risk that a closet Democrat might slip through a nonpartisan election. Another bill seeks to give police special rights to avoid prosecution for misdeeds. Another will let teachers be prosecuted for providing any "harmful information" to students (evidently, accurate information about sex counts). I've lost the links to these things, and the Eagle website isn't much help. Like I said, this would make a good journalism project. On the other hand, there's this -- Texas Republican wants fetuses to have lawyers and "a voice in court" -- so Kansas isn't the only place to observe this insanity.

Also, some scattered links this week (briefly, because I'm running so late):

  • Nick Hanauer: Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy:

    As economic power has shifted from workers to owners over the past 40 years, corporate profit's take of the U.S. economy has doubled -- from an average of 6 percent of GDP during America's post-war economic heyday to more than 12 percent today. Yet despite this extra $1 trillion a year in corporate profits, job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs. A $3.6 trillion budget shortfall has left many roads, bridges, dams, and other public infrastructure in disrepair. Federal spending on economically crucial research and development has plummeted 40 percent, from 1.25 percent of GDP in 1977 to only 0.75 percent today. Adjusted for inflation, public university tuition -- once mostly covered by the states -- has more than doubled over the past 30 years, burying recent graduates under $1.2 trillion in student debt. Many public schools and our police and fire departments are dangerously underfunded.

    Where did all this money go?

    The answer is as simple as it is surprising: Much of it went to stock buybacks -- more than $6.9 trillion of them since 2004, according to data compiled by Mustafa Erdem Sakinc of The Academic-Industry Research Network. Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. [ . . . ]

    In the past, this money flowed through the broader economy in the form of higher wages or increased investments in plants and equipment. But today, these buybacks drain trillions of dollars of windfall profits out of the real economy and into a paper-asset bubble, inflating share prices while producing nothing of tangible value.

    Hanauer cites a paper, James Montier: The World's Dumbest Idea, critiquing the dogma of "shareholder value maximuzation" -- the main rationalization (when greed won't quite cut it) behind stock buybacks. Sample quote:

    From a theoretical perspective, SVM may well have its roots in the work of Arrow-Debreu (in the late 1950s/early 1960s). These authors demonstrated that in the presence of ubiquitous perfect competition and fully complete markets (neither of which assumption bears any resemblance to the real world, of course) a Pareto optimal outcome will result from situations where producers and all other economic actors pursue their own interests. Adam Smith's invisible hand in mathematically obtuse fashion.

    However, more often the SVM movement is traced to an editorial by Milton Friedman in 1970. Given Friedman's loathing of all things Keynesian, there is a certain delicious irony that the corporate world is so perfectly illustrating Keynes' warning of being a slave of a defunct economist! In the article Friedman argues that "There is one and only one social responsibility of business -- to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits . . ."

    Friedman argues that corporates are not "persons," but the law would disagree: firms may not be people but they are "persons" in as much as they have a separate legal status (a point made forcefully by Lynn Stout in her book, The Shareholder Value Myth). He also assumes that shareholders want to maximize profits, and considers any act of corporate social responsibility an act of taxation without representation -- these assumptions may or may not be true, but Friedman simply asserts them, and comes dangerously close to making his argument tautological.

  • Paul Krugman: The Fraud Years: As with my Kansas intro, sometimes it's hard to stop writing, to merely suggest the whole horror of the subject:

    As the Bush II administration fades in the rear view mirror, there's a tendency -- indeed, an avid desire on the part of many people in the media -- to blur the reality of what happened, to make it seem as if were just an ordinary time when a Republican happened to be president.

    But it wasn't. We were lied into war; torture became routine; raw dishonesty about everything from national security to the distributional effects of tax cuts became the norm.

    And then there were the people. I had almost forgotten, but Bush nominated Bernie Kerik to run Homeland Security. Let me repeat that: he nominated Bernie Kerik to head Homeland Security.

    One can, and probably should, go on (and on and on) -- the list of bad things the Bush II presidency did to us is very long and very dirty (much like Brownback in Kansas but more slippery, in part because Bush's deficit hole was easily papered over with debt while the conservative debt scolds held their tongue -- or in Cheney's case, muttered "deficits don't matter"). Being less familiar with Kerik (not that I don't get the point), I might have ended off with Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" -- a program to increase logging on public lands, not that they could very well market that.

    By the way, also see Krugman's Greece: The Tie That Doesn't Bind, both for its sanity and the suggestion that Syriza's leaders won't be as easily bought off as, say, "center-leftists" like Tony Blair.

  • David Lightman: 2016 election campaign will debate U.S. troops to stop Islamic State: When the Eagle repeated this McClatchy piece, the title changed to "2016 election likely to focus on terrorism, use of troops" -- rather misleading because nobody on either side (evidently not even Rand Paul) seems likely to question "the war on [Islamic] terrorism" -- i.e., the implicit assumption that the US is entitled to fly drones over the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa and kill anyone we suspect of disrespecting us. As for "ground troops" that discussion will be hedged, as indeed it is in the test quotes here, with hawks merely wanting to suggest they're tougher than Obama, and no one standing up for sanity. The death of a Jordanian pilot seems to have unleashed another pro-war propaganda flurry, with the Eagle running the latest missives by Charles Krauthammer and Trudy Rubin, but nothing counter.

  • Israel links:

    • Kate: Druze IDF soldier attacked by Israeli Jews for speaking Arabic: and dozens of other stories.
    • Richard Silverstein: Israeli Journalist, Ben Caspit: "Kill IDF Refusers": I'm not sure how far back Israel's policy of "targeted assassination" goes -- the 1947 murder of UN Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was an outlier in that the victim wasn't Palestinian and that Israel had yet to declare independence, but suggests that the notion that the way to beat your enemies is to kill them off one-by-one was baked in from the very beginning. At any rate, in recent years state-sponsored murder has been so routine that it's hardly surprising that some Israelis would want to do the same to other Israelis. But there was a day when Israelis celebrated their own integrity and diversity of opinion. That's passed.
    • Adam Horowitz: Finkelstein on Joan Peters' legacy (and Dershowitz's legal troubles): the author of From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict over Palestine died in January. Interview with Norman Finkelstein, whose book Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict did much to expose Peters' fraudulent claims.
    • Philip Weiss: Gideon Levy's argument for Netanyahu: Quotes from Levy's Haaretz column, A Labor win will only entrench the occupation. I've never been a fan of the argument that you shouldn't differentiate between lesser evils, and I've long been soft on the soft left -- I was pleased to see François Hollande elected in France though I can't think of anything good he's done since, and I even sort of miss Tony Blair, but Israel's last Labor PM (Ehud Barak) certainly left a bitter taste. What gives Levy credence is that for much of the last 40 years Labor has been more efficient and effective at cementing "the facts on the ground" than Likud (although the latter is more responsible for the poisonous culture of racism and violence). I didn't read Levy's article as a brief for Netanyahu so much as an argument that the uglier the face of Zionism is the sooner the world will turn against it. (I've seen Richard Silverstein make the same argument, but would have to search for the link.) Still, it wasn't the ugliest Afrikaner who broke with Apartheid, nor the ugliest Stalinist who broke up the Soviet Union. The agents of change there were insider-reformers, and that rules out Netanyahu. There's no reason to trust Tzipi Livni, but when it happens it will be someone like her. (On the other hand, Labor leader Isaac Herzog launched his campaign by accusing Netanyahu of being soft on Hamas.)
    • Richard Silverstein: IDF Chief Warns of International Intervention if Israel Doesn't Solve Palestine Conflict: "Unlike any other Israeli politician, general or spy chief before him, Gantz offered a warning that if Israel didn't make progress on negotiating a peace deal with the Palestinians, it should not expect the world to remain uninvolved [ . . . ] Whether or not Israel wanted, the world sees Israel-Palestine as bound up in other dangerous regional conflicts. These are so critical to the interests of foreign powers that there's no chance Israel will be allowed to pursue its own interests unhindered." I doubt he means "intervene" in the sense Lindsey Graham is fond of, but it does imply pressure -- possibly a lot of pressure. Article also includes quotes from Mossad chief Tamir Pardo undercutting Netanyahu's Iran position. Gantz and Pardo are among the unelected people who really run Israel, and it's auspicious that they're getting nervous.
    • Jason Ditz: Netanyahu Vows to Sabotage Iran Nuclear Deal: A deal would not only eliminate Iran as a potential nuclear threat, it would preclude a preemptory Israeli war against Iran, would align Iran with US interests in Iraq, and could possibly lead to some progress in settling the civil war in Syria (if Obama wanted to go that far), so sure, you can see why Netanyahu is so up in arms.
    • Richard Silverstein: Ukrainian Oligarch Fugitives Wanted by Interpol, Pay Bribes for Israeli Citizenship: Someone named Yuri Borisov, "suspected of looting $40-million in U.S. foreign aid meant for Ukraine." Scroll through Silverstein's blog and you'll find several scandals like this, ranging from Haaretz Removes Report that Netanyahu Pressured Japanese Regulators to Approve Adelson Casino Bid to Bayit Yehudi MK, Settlement Leader Questioned in Bribery-Kickback Scandal.

Also, a few links for further study:

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Daily Log

Some final mop-up EOY lists I had missed: Avant Music News, The Bluegrass Situation, Ear to the Ground (4 critics * 10), Earmilk (50), The Finest Kiss (40), Free Williamsburg (25), Hip Hop Is Read (25), I Listen So You Don't Have To (40), Jazz Journalists Association (many linsts), Joy of Speed (21), Music.Mic (21), Music That Isn't Bad (50), My Kind of Country (2*10), The Needle Drop (50), New York Music Daily (50), QRO (30), Raging Against the Dying Light (40), Rap Genius (20), Shrem (20), Side One Track One (25), Swan Fungus (100), The Wild Honey Pie (25).

Started a possible "letter to the editor," based on David Lightman's McClatchy article, 2016 election campaign will debate U.S. troops to stop Islamic State (Eagle headline different, see below).

Your front-page headline "2016 election likely to focus on terrorism, use of troops" raises the false hope that there might actually be debate on US military intervention in and beyond the Middle East, the article shows that no likely candidate is even open to rethinking the policies and mindset installed by Bush and his "Vulcans" in 2001.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24455 [24422] rated (+33), 503 [497] unrated (+6).

The year-in-progress file for 2014 is now frozen, as of January 31. As of the same date, I've stopped adding things to the Best Jazz and Best Non-Jazz files. I'll continue to the 2014 file until December 31, 2015, with the late additions in green. (I've added four such records so far.)

I've also stopped updating the Music Tracking 2014 file -- I actually stopped several weeks ago. It's job was to remind me of what's out there, and in that regard it's been supplanted by the 2014 EOY Aggregate. I'm not quite done with this file. Most of what I've done in the last week has been to add to the "comments" field. I've added all of Robert Christgau's grades (to date). I've added many ratings from Album of the Year (top 500) and Metacritic. I've found very few new lists to add in, but I did add a selection of P&J ballots, and I violated my neutrality principle there: I added in every ballot that included a vote for Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint. That nearly doubled Minaj's votes (18 to 37) and bumped her from 221 to 113. Her voters were almost all names I had never heard of (more than half female), and I was curious what else they might like (not that Azealia Banks, now in 25th, came as a big surprise). Also helped move D'Angelo up to 22nd. Also Run the Jewels 2 finally opened up some breathing room over War on Drugs at the top of the list.

One thing I still expect to do is to add my own A-list into the count. I'll add Christgau's Dean's List if/when it appears. If you have a list I don't have already (check here) let me know. But for all practical purposes the list is about done. I don't know whether it's been useful for anyone else, but I've found a lot of surprising new records through it.

I figured my new jazz mail would continue to decline in the new year, but it picked up this week, including two new records from Intakt in Switzerland. (They haven't serviced me in 4-5 years, but their records are on Rhapsody, so I wrote up nine of them last year, including A- for Tom Rainey: Obbligato and Michael Griener: Squakk: Willisau & Berlin, plus four high HM for Harry Sokal, Aki Takase [twice], and Trio 3.) Also got an advance of the new Free Nelson Mandoomjazz -- first CD to come my way from that publicist since last year's record, which I was virtually the only one to have noticed.

One fairly pointless exercise I did was to pick up all the scores for every 2014 release they rated and add them into the comment section of the EOY Aggregate File. That came to 1241 titles, including 189 that had not yet appeared on a single EOY list (remarkably, more than half of the latter were already in my own M-file list, although chances are a good many originally came from The data would have been much more useful had the scores been accompanied by sample size. For instance, the top-rated records are:

  1. Machine Head: Bloodstone & Diamonds (Nuclear Blast) 96/5
  2. D'Angelo: Black Messiah (RCA) 95/30
  3. Every Time I Die: From Parts Unknown (Epitaph) 92/6
  4. Behemoth: The Satanist (Metal Blade) 92/10
  5. The Hotelier: Home, Like Noplace Is There (Tiny Engines) 91/8
  6. I Am the Avalanche: Wolverines (I Surrender) 90/4
  7. St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Universal) 89/40
  8. Run the Jewels: RTJ2 (Mass Appeal) 89/35
  9. Trophy Scars: Holy Vacants (Monotreme) 89/4
  10. Swans: To Be Kind (Young God) 88/35

As you can see, four of the top ten records were reviewed 30+ times, and those four finished 1-4-2-19 in Pazz & Jop (26-4-2-8 in my EOY aggregate; D'Angelo was hurt in the latter by late released date, Swans in the former because it's something of a cult item even though it managed to get widely reviewed). Of the other six, the highest in P&J was Hotelier in 116th place; Behemoth's P&J rank was 134th, but did a little better in the EOY aggregate (128th; Hotelier was 177th). Only one of the other four managed as much as a single P&J vote (Every Time I Die). Machine Head was tied for 253rd in the EOY Aggregate, and Every Time I Die for 341st. I Am the Avalanche didn't place on a single EOY list.

Three of the top four above are metal albums. As I've noted before, metal is a sizable enough niche that some mainstream rock publications will hire a metal specialist, but not so big that mainstream critics feel any need to ever listen to the stuff (unlike pop, which alt/indie critics often hate, or hip-hop, which they sometimes like). A small sample size is a recipe for outliers, and that's what's methodology delivers. (In practice, the sample sizes for jazz, country, and blues are too small to even register much at The other three marginally reviewed albums are somewhere on the hard (or punk) end of rock. I Am the Avalanche's four reviewers were Rock Sound, Alternative Press, Absolute Punk, and Kerrang! Three of those four also reviewed Every Time I Die (out of 6 total); two also reviewed Machine Head (out of 5 total).

I also looked at Album of the Year's Best Albums of 2014 list (well, just the first 500 albums so far). AOTY doesn't survey as many music review sources as Metacritic, but their list makes it easier to find out how many of their sources reviewed each album. (Their minimum is also higher at 5, vs. 4 for Metacritic.) For instance, the number of reviews for St. Vincent drops from 40 to 25; Run the Jewels 2 from 35 to 23, and Black Messiah from 30 to 20. I started to build up a chart that sorted records by how many AOTY reviews they got, and was surprised to find that the most reviewed album of 2014 was Warpaint's eponymous effort (with 27 reviews and an average score of 74, same as MC). Beyond it, the most reviews were 26 (FKA Twigs), 25 (Beck, St. Vincent), 24 (Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus, Stephen Malkmus, New Pornographers, Spoon, Swans, War on Drugs), and 23 (How to Dress Well, Liars, Perfume Genius, Run the Jewels). The top records beyond those 16 in my Aggregate are: 6. Caribou (21), 9. Sun Kil Moon (19), 10. Angel Olsen (13), Sharon Van Etten (21), 14. Mac DeMarco (18), 15. Taylor Swift (17), Todd Terje (19), 18. Future Islands (21), 19. Sturgill Simpson (7), and 20. Lana Del Rey (20).

Warpaint wound up 51st on my list (90th in Pazz & Jop). The highest rated (my list) albums with Mc:74 or less (with AOTY review count in parens): 20. Lana Del Rey (20), 39. Alt-J (21), 40. Temples (16), 51. Warpaint (27), 57. Black Keys (17), 59. Jungle (16), 62. Jessie Ware (20), 66. Metronomy (18), 95. Banks (15; by the way, the only album on this list to finish beyond AOTY's top 500, with a 67 critic score). Aside from Warpaint, I'd say that each of those albums has a niche advantage (pop, prog, and psych for the top three), but the general rule is that the more reviews the higher a record places.

New records rated this week:

  • Jovan Alexandre: Collective Consciousness (2014 [2015], Xippi): tenor saxophonist backed by guitar-piano quintet, fast, boppish, as ever [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lotte Anker/Fred Frith: Edge of the Light (2010 [2015], Intakt): avant tenor sax/guitar duo, both prickly, difficult, uncertain (I suspect) [r]: B+(*)
  • Dave Bass: NYC Sessions (2012 [2015], Whaling City Sound): pianist, fits in nicely with his guests, including two singers, Phil Woods, a Latin rhythm section [cd]: B+(*)
  • Steven Bernstein/Paolo Fresu/Gianluca Petrella/Marcus Rojas: Brass Bang! (2014 [2015], Bonsaï Music): brass quartet, two trumpets but they double and differ [r]: B+(*)
  • Boozoo Bajou: 4 (2014, Apollo): German electronica duo, downtempo by rep but sound more ambient, though perhaps too sumptuous for that [r]: A-
  • Buzzcocks: The Way (2014, 1-2-3-4 Go): nice that they're still having fun; sad that their fan base is limited to self-described classic rock fans [r]: B
  • Joey Calderazzo: Going Home (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): pianist, the trio if anything livelier than the quartet, but Branford Marsalis doesn't hurt [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cherub: Year of the Caprese (2014, Columbia): electropop duo tries to overcome handicaps, like being based in Nashville [r]: B+(*)
  • Andrew Drury: The Drum (2014 [2015], Soup & Sound): "acoustic solo" sounds more like amplifier feedback, the drum itself only rarely breaking the nuissance [cd]: B-
  • Andrew Drury: Content Provider (2014 [2015], Soup & Sound): drummer, with two noisome saxes and Brandon Seabrook's avant-industrial strum und klang [cd]: B
  • Dom Flemons: Prospect Hill (2014, Fat Possum): ex-Carolina Chocolate Drops, old-timey songster with banjo, synthesized authoritatively [r]: B+(**)
  • Hypercolor: Hypercolor (2014 [2015], Tzadik): Eyal Maoz's jazz-rock trio, favors distorted rock guitar-bass tunings mixed with exotic rhythms [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Iceage: Plowing Into the Field of Love (2014, Matador): Danish rockers age fast, growing confused, weary, prone to tantrums [r]: B
  • Wilko Johnson/Roger Daltrey: Going Back Home (2014, Chess): facing death, WJ dusts off his better old songs, hires famous has-been to sing [r]: B+(***)
  • Nick Jonas: Nick Jonas (2014, Island/Safehouse): ex-teen-pop star comes out, offering himself as some sort of sex icon with rubbery soul, but nothing stands out [r]: B
  • Ted Kooshian: Clowns Will Be Arriving (2014 [2015], Summit): pianist, raids TV themes for standards, writes paeans to comics; Jeff Lederer stars [cd]: B+(***)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (2014 [2015], ACT): a pilgrimage to the all-but-inevitable alto sax Mecca; speed no problem, but feels forced [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Pharoahe Monch: P.T.S.D.: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (2014, W.A.R. Media): ex-underground rapper, goes heavy with tales of shock, awe, horror [r]: B+(**)
  • Moody Good: Moody Good (2014, Owsla): Brit electronica producer goes solo, prefers rappers to chanteuses, blips that sound like video games, nowhere beats [r]: B
  • Steve Reich: Radio Rewrite (2014, Nonesuch): Jonny Greenwood plays Reich, works out better than Reich rearranging Radiohead for avant-orchestra [r]: B+(***)
  • Derek Senn: The Technological Breakthrough (2014, self-released): singer-songwriter with guitar, a modest demeanor and a feel for the folk [r]: B+(**)
  • Sylvie Simmons: Sylvie (2014, Light in the Attic): rock writer of some note changes sides, plays ukulele, frail voice but songs have some appeal [r]: B+(*)
  • Harry Sokal Groove: Where Sparks Start to Fly (2013, Cracked Anegg): Austrian sax-organ-drums trio, uses the groove to lift off, soar, and honk [r]: B+(***)
  • Harry Sokal/Heiri Känzig/Martin Valihora: Depart Refire (2013 [2014], Intakt): avant sax trio, less speed than his organ trio, more bass solos [r]: B+(***)
  • Chuck E. Weiss: Red Beans & Weiss (2014, Anti): tries his hand at roots rock, but I suspect he was a comic/prankster all along [r]: B+(*)

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

  • The Falcons: The Definitive Falcons Collection: The Complete Recordings (1955-63 [2014], History of Soul, 4CD): many iterations of Detroit's (no, the world's) "first soul group" [cd]: A-
  • The Jazz Couriers [Tubby Hayes/Ronnie Scott]: England's Greatest Combo . . . The Message From Britain (1958-59 [2014], Fresh Sound): Tubby Hayes + Ronnie Scott -- bebop comes to the UK [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Natty Dominique: Natty Dominique's Creole Jazz Band (1953 [1994], American Music): another New Orleans trumpet player, played regularly with Johnny Dodds, takes charge here [r]: B+(**)
  • The George Lewis Band: With Elmer Talbert 1949/1950 (1949-50 [2007], American Music): the clarinetist took over Bunk Johnson's group, adding Talbert on trumpet [r]: B+(**)
  • Herb Morand: 1949 (1949 [1994], American Music): New Orleans trumpet player's only name group, although he was widely recorded with Harlem Hamfats [r]: B+(***)
  • Wooden Joe Nicholas: Wooden Joe Nicholas (1945-49 [1992], American Music): last recordings from a New Orleans trumpet player who predates King Oliver, let alone Louis Armstrong [r]: B+(**)
  • Kid Ory: '44-'46 (1944-46 [1994], American Music): New Orleans' premier trombone player leads various groups, ending with two Leadbelly singalongs [r]: B+(***)
  • Swamp Dogg: Cuffed, Collared & Tagged (1972 [2013], Fat Possum): Jerry Williams' third album, covers feel weird, originals underdeveloped [r]: B+(*)
  • Swamp Dogg: Gag a Maggot (1973 [2008], SDEG): earns his "Midnight Hour" cover with his proud tale as a "Wife Sitter"; takes on the mighty dollar [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Béatrice Alunni/Marc Peillon: Dance With Me (ITI)
  • Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974, Delmark/Sackville)
  • Andy Brown: Soloist (Delmark)
  • Maureen Budway: Sweet Candor (MCG Jazz)
  • Mike Campbell: Close Enough for Love (ITI)
  • Harley Card: Hedgerow (self-released)
  • Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: Awakening of a Capital (RareNoise): advance, March 2
  • Chantale Gagné: The Left Side of the Moon (self-relased): March 3
  • Oliver Lake/William Parker: To Roy (Intakt)
  • Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord: Jeremiah (Hot Cup): February 10
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance, February 28
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Trio: Little River (Sazas)
  • Spin Marvel: Infolding (RareNoise): advance, March 2
  • Aki Takase/Ayumi Paul: Hotel Zauberberg (Intakt)
  • XY Quartet: XY (Nusica)

Album of the Year does something similar but provides the review count.

  1. 27x74: Warpaint: Warpaint
  2. 26x86: FKA Twigs: LP1
  3. 25x85: St. Vincent: St. Vincent
  4. 25x78: Beck: Morning Phase
  5. 24x88: Aphex Twin: Syro; Swans: To Be Kind
  6. 24x87: The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
  7. 24x84: Flying Lotus: You're Dead
  8. 24x79: Spoon: They Want My Soul
  9. 24x78: The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers
  10. 24x73: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Wig Out at Jagbags
  11. 23x87: Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2
  12. 23x85: Perfume Genius: Too Bright
  13. 23x76: Liars: Mess
  14. 23x74: How to Dress Well: What Is This Heart?
  15. 23x67: Dum Dum Girls: Too True
  16. 22x80: Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else
  17. 22x75: Damon Albarn: Everyday Robots
  18. 22x73: Jack White: Lazaretto
  19. 21x86: Sharon Van Etten: Are We There
  20. 21x83: Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty
  21. 21x82: Tune-Yards: Nicki Nack
  22. 21x81: Neneh Cherry: Blank Project; Future Islands: Singles
  23. 21x80: Caribou: Our Love
  24. 21x75: Interpol: El Pintor
  25. 21x70: Weezer: Everything Will Be Alright in the End
  26. 21x68: Alt-J: This Is All Yours; Rustie: Green Language
  27. 21x66: Pharrell Williams: Girl
  28. 21x61: Coldplay: Ghost Stories
  29. 20x93: D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah
  30. 20x82: Scott Walker + Sun O))): Soused
  31. 20x81: Owen Pallett: In Conflict
  32. 20x80: The Antlers: Familiars; EMA: The Future's Void; Ty Segall: Manipulator
  33. 20x77: Death From Above 1979: The Physical World; First Aid Kit: Stay Gold; TV on the Radio: Seeds
  34. 20x76: Fucked Up: Glass Boys; Ariel Pink: Pom Pom
  35. 20x75: Real Estate: Atlas
  36. 20x74: Jenny Lewis: The Voyager
  37. 20x73: The Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast; Mogwai: Rave Tapes; Jessie Ware: Tough Love
  38. 20x72: SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land
  39. 20x71: Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence
  40. 20x70: Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks: Enter the Slasher House
  41. 20x63: Karen O: Crush Songs
  42. 20x62: Morrissey: World Peace Is None of Your Business
  43. 20x59: Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes
  44. 20x53: Pixies: Indie Cindy
  45. 19x86: Wild Beasts: Present Tense
  46. 19x84: Sun Kil Moon: Benji
  47. 19x82: Todd Terje: It's Album Time
  48. 19x80: Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love
  49. 19x79: Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
  50. 19x76: Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron
  51. 19x74: Lykke Li: I Never Learn
  52. 19x73: Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams
  53. 19x71: Conor Oberst: Upside Down Mountain; Thurston Moore: The Best Day
  54. 18x82: Mac DeMarco: Salad Days
  55. 18x80: The Horrors: Luminous
  56. 18x77: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want
  57. 18x74: Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita; La Roux: Trouble in Paradise; The Men: Tomorrow's Hits
  58. 18x73: Katy B: Little Red; Kelis: Food
  59. 18x71: Thom Yorke: Tomorrow's Modern Boxes
  60. 18x70: Metronomy: Love Letters
  61. 18x65: Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways
  62. 18x64: Foxygen: . . . And Star Power
  63. 17x78: White Lung: Deep Fantasy
  64. 17x76: Taylor Swift: 1989
  65. 17x75: Actress: Ghettoville; Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear
  66. 17x71: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Days of Abandon
  67. 17x69: The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams
  68. 17x68: The Black Keys: Turn Blue; Chromeo: White Women
  69. 17x59: Eno/Hyde: Someday World
  70. 17x56: The Gaslight Anthem: Get Hurt
  71. 16x81: Iceage: Plowing Into the Field of Love
  72. 16x79: Alvvays: Alvvays; Marissa Nadler: July
  73. 16x77: Tweedy: Sukierae
  74. 16x76: Damien Jurado: Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son; Wye Oak: Shriek
  75. 16x73: Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything; Jungle: Jungle; James Vincent McMorrow: Post Tropical; Merchandise: After the End
  76. 16x72: Hamilton Leithauser: Black Hours; Temples: Sun Structures
  77. 16x71: Phantogram: Voices; White Fence: For The Recently Found Innocent
  78. 16x70: Nicki Minaj: The Pinkprint
  79. 16x69: The Smashing Pumpkins: Monuments to an Elegy; Zola Jesus: Taiga
  80. 16x66: Tokyo Police Club: Forcefield
  81. 16x53: Iggy Azalea: The New Classic
  82. 15x82: Grouper: Ruins
  83. 15x80: Against Me: Transgender Dysphoria; Pharmakon: Bestial Burden; A Sunny Day in Glasgow: Sea When Absent
  84. 15x79: Fear of Men: Loom
  85. 15x76: Bob Mould: Beauty & Ruin; Woods: With Light and With Love
  86. 15x75: Eagulls: Eagulls
  87. 15x74: Bombay Bicycle Club: So Long, See You Tomorrow; Mastodon: Once More 'Round the Sun
  88. 15x71: Hospitality: Trouble; J Mascis: Tied to a Star; SOHN: Tremors
  89. 15x67: Banks: Goddess; Black Lips: Underneath the Rainbow
  90. 15x66: Xiu Xiu: Angel Guts
  91. 15x64: Christopher Owens: A New Testament
  92. 15x63: Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour
  93. 15x57: Foster the People: Supermodel; U2: Songs of Innocence
  94. 15x53: Lily Allen: Sheezus

I wrote this letter to a new publicist. Same thing applies to everyone else.

My "policy": you'll get a mention under "unpacking" the week after I get the CD; a tweet (@tomhull747) when I've processed it; the tweet again in the next Monday's "Music Week"; something slightly longer and more literate in the monthly (or sometimes more often) "Rhapsody Streamnotes" (noting if the review is based on a CD); a listing in my annual grading file and year-end list consideration. I do that for virtually everything I get physical copies of (there were a few exceptions years ago when I was getting more stuff I have little interest in -- soundtracks, gospel, pop jazz, alt bands I've never heard of, promos packaged so badly I couldn't tell what I was listening to; even so we're never talking more than about 2%). I'm unlikely to do much more -- I've written freelance in the past but it's hardly worth the trouble. You can tell what I like (and some of what I don't) by looking at the yearly lists; e.g.:


I assume that publicists can follow the twitter feed and the blog, so I don't send out any notices on those. Most incoming mass email is disposed of pretty quickly.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Not the Dean's List

I've been waiting to add Robert Christgau's annual "Dean's List" to my EOY Aggregate file, assuming it would (as has been the case in recent years) be published by BN Review sometime after the Village Voice posted its Pazz & Jop poll results. (P&J has figured large in Christgau's annual summary articles, even after he stopped running the poll.) But it hasn't appeared yet (and I don't really know why, other than that the pace of his not-quite-monthly BN Review essays slowed last year, down from ten to five pieces in 2014). I do know why it hasn't been easy to construct a 2014 list of graded albums from Christgau's website: I have not done the work to stuff the new EW reviews into the database. One reason for that is that Medium insisted on a 90-day delay period so I couldn't post any reviews until they have aged three months. One way to handle that would be to write some additional code to check the age of CG reviews -- something I haven't had much time to do. Another is to only update reviews that have aged sufficiently, but there haven't been many of those until recently.

I've finally started working on adding the new EW reviews, and decided the first step would be to collate a list of all the reviews/grades thus far. That's what the lists below do: they are sorted by release year, then grade, then alphabetically by artist, with various artists within each grade listed last, sorted within grade and year by title. Christgau is rather inconsistent about noting release date years, so in many cases I've had to look those up. (He's also inconsistent about non-label albums, especially mixtapes, but I've given up trying to rationalize those.) The first thing I did with the list was to add his grades to the EOY Aggregate, including an unranked point for everything A- or above. (His grades, like mine, are in the comment field.)


  • Wussy: Attica! (Shake It) A+
  • Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park) A
  • Beyoncé: Beyoncé (Platinum Edition) (Columbia) A
  • Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (Warner Bros.) A
  • Drive-By Truckers: English Oceans (ATO) A
  • Kool A.D.: Word O.K. (Bandcamp mixtape) A
  • Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville) A
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (Ace) A
  • Old 97's: Most Messed Up (ATO) A
  • Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (Saddle Creek) A
  • Withered Hand: New Gods (Slumberland) A
  • Young Thug & Bloody Jay: Black Portland (free mixtape) A
  • Bring It On Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke (Ace) A
  • Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Bros.) A-
  • Atmosphere: Southsiders (Rhymesayers Entertainment) A-
  • Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (Def Jam) A-
  • The Baseball Project: 3rd (Yep Roc) A-
  • Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions (Capitol) A-
  • Boozoo Bajou: 4 (Apollo) A-
  • Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown) A-
  • Bushwick Gospel Singers: Songs of Worship Vol. 2 (self-released) A-
  • Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop) A-
  • Chromeo: White Women (Big Beat) A-
  • Chumped: Teenage Retirement (Anchorless) A-
  • The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (Suicide Squeeze) A-
  • Company Freak: Le Disco Social (OpusLabel/Superlatude) A-
  • D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA) A-
  • The Flaming Lips: With a Little Help From My Fwends (Warner Bros.) A-
  • Aretha Franklin: Sings the Great Diva Classics (RCA) A-
  • Golem: Tanz (Corason Digital) A-
  • Hassan Hakmoun: Unity (Healing) A-
  • Hamell on Trial: The Happiest Man in the World (New West) A-
  • Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (Stones Throw) A-
  • Jon Langford and Skull Orchard: Here Be Monsters (In De Goot) A-
  • Jenny Lewis: The Voyager (Warner Bros.) A-
  • Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (East/West) A-
  • Nicki Minaj: The Pinkprint (Young Money) A-
  • Roy Nathanson's Sotto Voce: Complicated Day (Enja/Yellowbird) A-
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?) A-
  • Steve Reich: Radio Rewrite (Nonesuch) A-
  • The Roots: . . . And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (Def Jam) A-
  • Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth (Lightning Rod) A-
  • Wu-Tang Clan: A Better Tomorrow (Warner Bros.) A-
  • Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One (ATO) A-
  • Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither (Signature Sounds) A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (World Music Network) A-
  • Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek (Streamline/Columbia/Interscope) B+
  • Chris Butler: Easy Life (Future Fossil) B+
  • Johnny Cash: Out Among the Stars (Columbia) B+
  • Leonard Cohen: Popular Programs (Columbia) B+
  • Mike Doughty: Stellar Motel (Snack Bar/Megaforce) B+
  • Khun Narin Electric Phin Band: Khun Narin Electric Phin Band (Innovative Leisure) B+
  • Spoon: They Want My Soul (Loma Vista/Republic) B+
  • Tinariwen: Emmaar (Anti-) B+
  • Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (Highway 20) B+
  • Get On Up: The James Brown Story (Polydor) B+
  • Buck 65: Neverlove (WEA Canada) ***
  • Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark) ***
  • The Delines: Colfax (El Cortez) ***
  • Half Japanese: Overjoyed (Joyful Noise) ***
  • Oumar Konate: Addoh (Clermont) ***
  • LeCrae: Anomaly (Reach) ***
  • Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (Legacy) ***
  • Jonathan Richman: No Me Quiejo De Mi Estrella (Vapor/Munster) ***
  • Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (Masterworks) ***
  • Tricky: Adrian Thaws (False Idols) ***
  • Typefighter: The End of Everything (Huge Witch) ***
  • Pharrell Williams: Girl (Columbia) ***
  • The Rough Guide to Arabic Cafe (World Music Network) ***
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali (World Music Network) ***
  • Rosanne Cash: The River and the Thread (Blue Note) **
  • Cherub: Year of the Caprese (Columbia) **
  • Keyshia Cole: Point of No Return (Interscope) **
  • Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (Fatbeats) **
  • Flying Lotus: You're Dead (Warp) **
  • Future: Honest (Epic) **
  • Hard Working Americans: Hard Working Americans (Melvin) **
  • Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz (Melvin) **
  • John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (New West) **
  • The Hold Steady: Teeth Dreams (Razor & Tie) **
  • Kool & Kass Are . . . Peaceful Solutions: Coke Boys 5 (Bandcamp mixtape) **
  • Nikki Lane: All or Nothin' (New West) **
  • Modern Baseball: You're Gonna Miss It All (Run for Cover) **
  • Moody Good: Moody Good (Owlsa) **
  • Grant Peeples and the Peeples Republik: Punishing the Myth (Gatorbone) **
  • Skrillex: Recess (Atlantic) **
  • Stick Against Stone: Live: The Oregon Bootleg Tapes (Media Groove) **
  • Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (Sugar Hill) **
  • 1970's Algerian Folk and Pop (Sublime Frequencies) **
  • All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman (Rounder) **
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Palestine (World Music Network) **
  • Freddie Gibbs and Madlib: Pinata (Madlib Invazion) *
  • Ghostface Killah: 38 Seasons (Tommy Boy) *
  • Gucci Mane Featuring Young Thug: Purple Album: People Usually Ridicule the Powerful Lead by Example (1017 mixtape) *
  • Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (Arista Nashville) *
  • Prince: Art Official Age (Warner Bros.) *
  • Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal) *
  • Derek Senn: The Technological Breakthrough ( *
  • Sam Shalabi: Music for Arabs (Majmua Music) *
  • T.I.: Paperwork (Grand Hustle) *
  • Young Thug, Birdman, Rich Homie Quan: Birdman Presents Rich Gang: The Tour (free mixtape) *

That gives us 46 A-list albums already reviewed. In recent years, Dean's Lists settled into two levels: 2008-10 and 2013 ranged from 65 to 72, while 2011-12 wound up at 92-93. The drop-off from 2012 to 2013 came after MSN cancelled Expert Witness around September, so Christgau had less motivation to find the extra 20 albums that it would have taken to continue 2011-12 levels. Even so, the 2013 list includes 29 records that weren't reviewed in EW. (Eight of those 29 have subsequently been reviewed in the new Medium-based EW -- one of those, Arcade Fire, with a reduced grade.)

Anyhow, it seems reasonable that when/if Christgau publishes a 2014 Dean's List, it will include another 20-25 thus far unreviewed 2014 albums, though probably not the 45-46 albums it would take to reach 2011-12 levels.


  • Burial: Rival Dealer (Hyperdub) A
  • Shaver: Shaver's Jewels: The Best of Shaver (New West) A
  • Brandy Clark: 12 Stories (Slate Creek) A-
  • The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley (Partisan) A-
  • Kool A.D.: 63 (Bandcamp mixtape) A-
  • Kool & Kass: Peaceful Solutions (Bandcamp mixtape) A-
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Take Me to the Land of Hell (Chimera Music) A-
  • Parkay Quarts: Tally All the Things That You Broke (What's Your Rupture?) A-
  • Lee Ranaldo and the Dust: Last Night on Earth (Matador) A-
  • The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album (Howe) A-
  • Kool A.D.: Not O.K. (Bandcamp mixtape) B+
  • Robert Randolph and the Family Band: Lickety Split (Blue Note) B+
  • Young Thug: 1017 Thug (free mixtape) B+
  • Homeboy Sandman: All That I Hold Dear (Stones Throw) ***
  • Jason Isbell: Southeastern (Southeastern) ***
  • Jaipur Kawa Brass Band: Dance of the Cobra (Riverboat) ***
  • Migos: Young Rich Niggas (free mixtape) ***
  • Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven (Warp) ***
  • Wire: Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag) ***
  • Thomas Anderson: On Becoming Human (Out There) **
  • Arcade Fire: Reflektor (Merge) **
  • Big Sean: Hall of Fame (Def Jam) **
  • Ry Cooder and Corridos Famosos: Live at the Great American Music Hall (Nonesuch/Perro Verde) **
  • Oblivians: Desperation (In the Red) **
  • Orchestre National de Mauritanie: Orchestre National de Mauritanie (Sahel Sounds) **
  • Mavis Staples: One True Vine (Anti) **
  • Sunwolf: Angel Eyes (El Rey) **
  • Otis Taylor: My World Is Gone (Telarc) **
  • Valerie June: Pushin' Against a Stone (Concord) **
  • #Willpower (Interscope) **
  • Defibulators: Debt'll Get 'Em (Pig Cow) *
  • Mike Doughty: Circles Super Bon Bon (Snack Bar/Megaforce) *
  • Kool A.D.: 19 (Bandcamp mixtape) *
  • John Murry: The Graceless Age (Evangeline) *
  • Swearin': Surfing Strange (Wichita) *
  • Earl Sweatshirt: Doris (Columbia) *
  • Wayo: Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan (Riverboat) *


  • Young Thug: I Came From Nothing 3 (free mixtape) B+
  • Sunmonx: Power Salad (Interchill) **
  • Rework: Philip Glass Remixed (Orange Mountain) **


  • Jason Derulo: Future History (Warner Bros.) ***
  • Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (Analog Africa) ***
  • Young Thug: I Came From Nothing (free mixtape) **
  • Sunny Sweeney: Concrete (Republic Nashville) *


  • Jinx Lennon: National Cancer Strategy (Septic Tiger) ***


  • Jinx Lennon: Trauma Themes Idiot Times (Septic Tiger) A-


  • Jinx Lennon: Know Your Station Gouger Nation!!! (Septic Tiger) A


  • Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (El Cortez) A-


  • Jinx Lennon: Live at the Spirit Store (Septic Tiger) **

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]
  • Kira Isabella: Caffeine and Big Dreams (Sony Music Canada) [2]
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Last Dance (ECM) [10]
  • Manic Street Preachers: Futurology (Columbia) [26]
  • Mogwai: Rave Tapes (Sub Pop) [38]
  • 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.

   Mar 2001