Rhapsody Streamnotes: January 4, 2011

Paying more attention than would have been prudent to this year's year end lists, I've been hitting Rhapsody hard to check out lots of things other people are extolling. Usually I run this report monthly, but when I counted 79 albums, I figured that should be good for two posts, at least. I picked out 46 records to get things going. Focus is more on what's showing up in the polls than on what's worth seeking out, although there are a few noteworthy obscurities as well. More in a week or two.

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on December 4. Past reviews and more information are available here.

King Sunny Ade: Bábá Mo Túndé (2009-10 [2010], Indigedisc, 2CD): Not as transcendent as his early material up to and including his big time fling with Island, but more impressive than anything since, probably because the new band's been studying the old band. But also because when you stretch seven songs -- actually six plus a remix -- out over 112:19 you let him do what he does best, which is to pick up a groove and run it on and on and on. A-

Baths: Cerulean (2010, Anticon): Principally Will Wiesenfeld, first album under this name (but I'm not sure elsewhere). Electronic beats have a dead thump, and he likes the sensation of bathing in gurgling blips. Mostly with vocals, some child-choirish. Inevitably there are touches here that gag me -- AMG likens the vocals to Grizzly Bear -- but there are also stretches that are wonderful. Good chance prolonged exposure would sort this out, but I'm not quite ready to bet on it. B+(***)

James Blake: Klavierwerke (2010, R&S, EP): No long albums, but one of three EPs this year that have been pulling some year-end list votes -- the others are CMYK and The Bells Sketch. Electronics, fragmented, something of a beat but staggered. Interesting but rather marginal at this point. B+(*)

B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray (2010, Grand Hustle/Atlantic): Bobby Ray Simmons, one more in a long line of rappers who adopted an alias then referenced their own names in their album title. Had a hit with the Bruno Mars feature "Nothin' on You" -- one of a long list of featurings, including Lupe Fiasco, T.I., Janelle Monae, Eminem, and Hayley Williams. Some hard-edged rap, some soft-soap pop, some works, some is crap, none suggests that Bobby Ray can do much more than network. B-

Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record (2010, Arts & Crafts): Canadian rock group, "collective" by most accounts, although they've also spawned off a couple of solo albums as Broken Social Scene Presents. Can't pin much down here -- presumably the "shuck and jive" stuff is political, but it's also pretty generic even if it's one of the few spots where they raise their voices. Often tends to go soft, but they seem to be able to convert that to texture. B+(*)

Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles (II) (2010, Last Gang/Universal Motown): Toronto group, Ethan Kath evidently produces most of the electronic beats and tones, Alice Glass (formerly of a band called Fetus Fatale) adds vocals. Second album, both sporting only the group name -- probably not in homage to Peter Gabriel, who kept up the concept for four albums -- but the above seems to be the convention most sources have settled on. Mixed bag, but their shtick works more often than not, and in one case ("Doe Deer") turned flat out amazing. B+(***)

Delorean: Subiza (2010, True Panther Sounds): Spanish group, nominally dance pop although they don't have a lot of pop and strike me as slightly chamber-ish. That's mostly the vocals, which go back to European choral music as opposed to, say, Motown. B+(*)

Diddy: Last Train to Paris (2010, Bad Boy): First 3-4 cuts are solid, promising, even though there's no sense of the artist beyond his ability to hire talent. What happens after that is, well, maybe his nose for talent isn't such great shakes after all. You could split this into two EPs, one solid but perfunctory, the other pretty awful. B-

Rose Elinor Dougall: Without Why (2008-10 [2010], Scarlett Music): English singer-songwriter, b. 1986, started in the Pipettes. Nothing much stuck with me, other than the rush that propels most of the songs. B+(*)

The Drums (2010, Moshi Moshi): Rock band with a lot of pop touches, nearly everything well baited and hooked, especially the vocals. Pretty irresistible for a few cuts, but runs out of novelty as the side wears on. Nothing especially notable about the drums. B+(**)

Dum Dum Girls: I Will Be (2010, Sub Pop, EP): Lo-fi, punkish girl group; not a lot of background or hints available, like last names for Dee Dee, Jules, and Bambi. Eleven songs, only two over 3 minutes, totals 28:44 -- I'm using 30 minutes as an arbitrary cut off for EPs, although some promoted EPs are longer. B

Efterklang: Magic Chairs (2010, 4AD): Danish group, has been prolific since 2004. Name means remembrance or reverberation. Mostly electro, although the strings and brass are so subtle they may be real. Nicely organized, seen this called chamber pop. The tunes hold together, the arrangements are neither too much nor too little. B+(**)

Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (2010, Warp): One of the top-rated records of the year. Earns its rep with loopy beats and vast swirling patterns of sound, and doesn't piss much of it away on vocals (although there are a few, Thom Yorke one appearance, Laura Darlington another). Hard to tell from two plays (with two hiccups) how much staying power it has. B+(**)

Foals: Total Life Forever (2010, Sub Pop): UK group, a climber on year-end lists, considered math-pop or dance-punk or something like that. Works off a solid big beat, with a lot of keyb in the mix with a little echo in the voice, which seems sensible enough. B+(**)

Free Energy: Stuck on Nothing (2010, Astralwerks/Caroline): Philadelphia group with roots in Minnesota, too nice to be punk but that's where they draw their songcraft. Maybe glam rock too, but they're not that glamorous either. B+(**)

Frightened Rabbit: The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010, Fat Cat): Scottish group, third studio album since 2006. Dense, richly textured rock, nothing quirky about it. B+(*)

The Gaslight Anthem: American Slang (2010, Side One Dummy): Mainstream rockers, from New Jersey, which doesn't inevitably mean that their vision of Americana is filtered through Springsteen, but they're not the sort to take (or make) exception. B+(*)

Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids (2010, Def Jam): Released Dec. 21, just in time for late shoppers but obviously they don't give a fuck about year-end polls, which I guess is one way of telling critics where to shove it. Beats hard, whole thing is one big blast. Not sure I'm really up to the gangsta tales, a world I frankly would rather do without. Still, this packs quite a punch. A-

LCD Soundsystem: London Sessions (2010, Virgin): One of those groups I always seem to be facing a steep learning curve on, partly because I don't actually have any of their albums. The eponymous 2-CD debut seemed pretty OK, and the poll topping Sound of Silver couldn't be dismissed but I forgot about it after poll-season. This year's contender turned me off despite the recognition that there's much more to it. It now seems destined for a top-five poll finish, so I thought I should play it again, but found this studio-recorded live band set of recycled songs instead. Of course, the songs mean nothing special to me, and they seem all over the map -- "All I Want" is lame, but "Drunk Girls" is pretty raucous, "Pow Pow" straight out of Talking Heads, "I Can Change" is pretty good. Still, not a breakthrough -- for me, anyhow. B+(*)

The Left: Gas Mask (2010, Mello Music Group): From Detroit, producer Apollo Brown, emcee Journalist 103, and DJ Soko. Beats have underground budget, but they frame melodies so respectable the album could stand on its own as an instrumental. The politics are smart and tough, committed. Think the Coup, but from a harder place, with none of the skits or fantasy. A-

Local Natives: Gorilla Manor (2009 [2010], Frenchkiss): Los Angeles band, "sort of a West Coast Grizzly Bear"; released this debut album November 2009 in UK, quickly picked up for US release in February. Harmony vocals, mild guitars, mushy keybs, slightly better drums. The one song that caught my ear turned out to be a Talking Heads cover. Lost all interest after figuring that out, not that they're unpleasant or dumb. B-

LoneLady: Nerve Up (2009 [2010], Warp): Julie Campbell, first album after a couple short things. Mostly guitar and voice, with drums and some keyboard effects. It's a fairly narrow sonic range, but the guitar is always picking out something interesting, and she has a few things to say. One change of pace toward the end didn't help much; didn't spoil it either. A-

Marina & the Diamonds: The Family Jewels (2010, Chop Shop/Atlantic): Born Marina Diamandis, in Wales, with some Greek lineage; writes her material, sometimes with help. Sounds like a less artsy Kate Bush working in more dance beats; at one point ("Hollywood": "I'm obsessed with the mess that's America") I flashed on Lene Lovich, who turned an awkward accent into a rhythmic tool. B+(**)

Anaďs Mitchell: Hadestown (2010, Righteous Babe): Singer-songwriter, Ani DiFranco protégé, gets super ambitious for her second album and tries a "folk opera": recasting the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as a Great Depression political morality tale, or something like that. I found the constant shifting of singers impossible to follow and even more annoying for that -- the cast includes DiFranco, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Greg Brown, Knox Miller (Low Anthem), and the Haden Triplets, as well as some notable jazz musicians who are never challenged. There are some bits I liked, and a voice (not Ani's) I'd like to hear more of, but under the circumstances I simply didn't get it. B-

The Morning Benders: Big Echo (2010, Rough Trade): Second album, group started in Berkeley but now based in Brooklyn. AMG describes them as "equally indebted to the Shins and Brian Wilson" -- true enough if by debt you mean petty larceny. "Mason Jar" is full of Beach Boys echos, starting with the drum sound, but not every cut is; some could use some, uh, inspiration. B-

Owen Pallett: Heartland (2010, Domino): Singer-songwriter, from Toronto. Evidently his main instrument is violin, which comes through in the arrangements -- I thought string synths at first, but evidently he cheaped out and hired the Czech Philharmonic. Actually, I rather like the string framework, which is kept short and tart with only occasional nods to classical, and nicely frames the high-pitched voice. B+(*)

Phosphorescent: Here's to Taking It Easy (2010, Dead Oceans): Matthew Houck alias, fifth album since 2003. Last one was a Willie Nelson tribute, To Willie, that barely connected. This one's slow, easy-going ballads live up to its title, and then some. And if you think the title refers to the Eagles, just play the record. B+(***)

The Radio Dept.: Clinging to a Scheme (2010, Labrador): Swedish shoegaze band, been around since 2003. I don't hear comps I've seen to Pet Shop Boys, My Bloody Valentine or Cocteau Twins -- for one thing they are a lot mellower, and while they use keyboards most songs are dominated by guitar twang. Throwaway quote: "I think we should destroy the bogus capitalist process that is destroying youth culture." B+(***)

Sade: Soldier of Love (2010, Epic): Nigerian-born, got a lot of press in 1984 when she first appeared; not enough good to lure me in, then she sort of faded, with an album in 1992, another in 2000, a live version of the latter in 2002, and now this one. Not so fast, not so deep, still the title cut makes its modest tension work, and there's something to most of it. B

Salem: King Night (2010, IAmSound): Wikipedia lists five bands named Salem, none matching here. AMG lists eleven, with "Electronic 00s" doing the trick. First album, although AMG refers to (but doesn't list) a 2008 EP, Yes I Smoke Crack. Keyboard washes, drums machines and scattered noise with chorale vocals. First cut reminds me of a Christmas hymn. Gets less melodramatic as it runs on, the bass vocal turning into a goof. Some interesting kicks, but not sure they know what they want to be. B

School of Seven Bells: Disconnect From Desire (2010, Vagrant): Two female vocalists, sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, and a drum machine or a bit more -- evidently Benjamin Curtis plays guitar as well as knobs and dials. Second album. The voices have a choral effect, played almost to the laugh level on "Windstorm" (the opener), otherwise depersonalizing. The big beats help a lot. B+(**)

Scissor Sisters: Night Work (2010, Downtown): Heard but don't remember their first album, a big splash back in 2004. This is number three. Sex songs, dance beats, a couple of things threaten to wear thin but this sort of instant pleasure is what pop music has always been about. A-

Secret Cities: Pink Graffiti (2010, Western Vinyl): Probably unfair to dub them the Beach Boys of Fargo then make some joke about the sun and surf on the Red River -- the point being that their ain't much sun and surf, just boys pining away stuck in their rooms because, well, at least in Fargo you have the excuse that it's fucking freezing outside. Quaint and charming, not what the Beach Boys were famed for but what Brian Wilson fell back on when nothing else worked -- or maybe I'm thinking of Van Dyke Parks? B+(*)

Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (2010, J): Soul diva, plenty of voice, can carry the right song -- "Luv Back" is pretty good -- but reaches for the gospel ululation the music slows down a bit. Has her name on most of the songs, but never the only one. B [later B+(**)]

Superchunk: Majesty Shredding (2010, Merge): Eight albums 1990-2001, plus this one nine years later. Never paid them any attention, and it's not clear that anyone I trusted did either, so this is my first encounter. Foursquare beat, fairly hooky pop-tinged indie rock, don't seem to have any affectations. I would like them fine if I found some reason to care. My guess is that they didn't sound this self-assured or carefree back in their heyday. B+(*)

The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt (2010, Dead Oceans): Swedish Bob Dylan imitator, originally known as Kristian Matsson. Second album. Keeps it simple, which keeps it listenable, at least until the closer where he switches to piano and gets a frog in his throat. B

Tracey Thorn: Love and Its Opposite (2010, Merge): Singer-songwriter, b. 1962, cut an album in 1982, another in 2007, then this her third. Had a couple bands in her teens, and spent most of her 25-year-gap as the better half of Everything but the Girl. Strangely enough, I'm most touched by slow ballads like "Long White Dress" -- not that "Singles Bar" doesn't also appeal. Slightly less impressive are the ones that dress up to go out on the town. B+(**)

T.I.: No Mercy (2010, Grand Hustle): Back in jail, can't have much sympathy for that, but when I look at all the billboards and newspaper adverts for gun shows right now it seems odd that that's what he was nabbed for. He lined up lots of big talent here, kicking off with one from and featuring Kanye West and Kid Cudi, adds one with Eminem playing tough, then the title track with The-Dream going soft, and taps Pharrell and Drake going out; only dud is "Castle Walls" -- probably an ode to prison, in any case suffering Christina Aguillera. But my fave by far is one of the three with no featuring credit, "Big Picture" -- if anything, that most un-hip-hop of traits, an understatement. A-

Sharon Van Etten: Epic (2010, Ba Da Bing): Folkie reputation, probably because she plays guitar and sings in a very straightforward style, and most likely cut her first album on the cheap. This, her second, could count as an EP: seven songs, 32:08, but the band gives it a rock feel, sort of like Liz Phair only without any songs I remember. B

Waka Flocka Flame: Flockaveli (2010, Warner Brothers): Joaquin Malphurs, out of New York via Atlanta, first album after a bunch of mixtapes; sounds like a committee effort, crunk beats lots of voices, none clever or interesting; e.g., "live by the gun, I'ma die by the gun." B-

Warpaint: The Fool (2010, Rough Trade): LA group, four women, go for texture and atmosphere although I don't quite buy the "dream pop" label. Saw that Harvilla had this as his record of the year, but I don't quite hear it. Seems like the sound got thinner as the album unwound, although it picked up a little charm toward the end. B+(*)

Wild Nothing: Gemini (2010, Captured Tracks): Jack Tatum evidently cut this debut album as a one-man band, although it scales easy enough to a conventional alt-indie shoegaze band. Did moderately well in polls, although I've been rooting against it, mostly because I'm tired of seeing the year's worst album cover -- double-exposed juxaposed faces of a young woman, a blander version of last year's Flaming Lips album cover. Music is also rather bland, just not as annoying. The closer, in fact, hits a groove stretching out to the horizon painlessly. B

YelaWolf: Trunk Muzik 0-60 (2010, Universal): White rapper from Alabama, b. 1979 as Michael Wayne Atha, draws comparisons to Eminem for his voice, delivery, and basic attitude. That stuff's fine as it goes, but he's mostly in Eminem's dumbshit party mode -- "I Just Wanna Party" is one title -- or he's up to no good with cars. Mostly a recycled mixtape, with six new cuts added, and the obligatory guest shots lead things astray. B+(**)

Yellow Swans: Going Places (2010, Type): Portland, OR duo -- Peter Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman -- produce electro-noise, not much more to it, although they get enough sonic variation to elicit some interest, even if you can't quite call it melody. B+(*)

Zola Jesus: Stridulum (2010, Sacred Bones, EP): Working name for Nika Roza Danilova, b. 1989. Six-cuts, runs 20:15, so this is a genuine EP. Came out in March, then was reissued in August by Souterrain Transmissions with three extra songs, renamed Stridulum II. Mostly heavy, dank keyboard sounds, pierced by a rather limited but emphatic voice. B+(*)

Zs: New Slaves (2010, The Social Registry): Album of the year at Tiny Mix Tapes, practically its only list score. Brooklyn group -- saxophonist Sam Hillmer, guitarist Ben Greenberg, drummer Ian Antonio -- although most of this sounds electronic: dense, drony. There's a stretch where they break into dangerously loud dissonance -- tries my patience a bit, but I've heard similar things (with less glue) in jazz, and it passes. Don't think I'd play this a lot, but it's rather amazing. A-


Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting: