Rhapsody Streamnotes: October 5, 2011

Once again, the good stuff has mostly been flagged by others -- I hadn't noticed BLNRB or Note of Hope before they appeared at Expert Witness, and Das Racist and Girls were much talked about (also Wild Flag, which like all its kin I dislike more than my begrudging grades suggest). But I haven't read much about the Mekons -- which strikes me as a year-end list lock -- nor my two country picks: while I worry that I overrated Lydia Loveless, the Connie Smith is real solid -- at least if your roots in country music are deep enough to include someone like Carl Smith. More EW (and DD) picks below the top line: they don't always work for me, but I take their recommendations seriously, so they'll continue to make up a large chunk of this report. Then there's the other stuff: kissed a lot of frogs this month. One thing I noticed, though, is the grades mostly bottom out at B (the grade I was originally tempted to give Mastodon). One advantage of working so fast is you quickly skip over minor annoyances and don't really dwell on how bad a record can be.

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 September 6. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Afrikan Sciences: Means and Ways (2011, Deepblak): Oakland outfit, beats up front, some with a little synth backdrop, some with more beats. B+(**)

Apparat: The Devil's Walk (2011, Mute): German techno producer Sascha Ring, has been cranking out product since 2001, moves away from dance toward a fairy tale pop motif with songs and vocals -- the latter are the rub. More pleasing toward the end when his textures come to the fore. B

Katy B: On a Mission (2011, Columbia): Young disco diva, only British so factor in that accent -- a thing of wonder especially when she breaks out to thank everyone from her mum to you the listener for helping with her mission -- and throw in some dubstep beats too. Doesn't amount to much, but not anything I can get worked up about. B+(*)

BLNRB: Welcome to the Madhouse (2011, Out Here): German technocrats go to Kenya and pick up rappers to go with beats they recycled from all over the diaspora. Like many various artist comps, this goes on long enough to find a weak link or two -- near the end where the dub wins out, not that it matters much. A-

Blood Orange: Coastal Grooves (2011, Domino): Devonte Hynes project, formerly recorded two albums as Lightspeed Champion. Has an attractive groove, synth beats and what, but can't get much of the story line -- strippers, transvestites, something like that. B+(*)

Bombay Bicycle Club: A Different Kind of Fix (2011, Island): English guitar band, group harmony vocals, third album since 2009. Pleasant enough, but can't think of anything interesting to say about them. B

A.A. Bondy: Believers (2011, Fat Possum): From Alabama, initials stand for Auguste Arthur. Third album, black and white cover, streetlights at night. Goes for his nocturnal vibe by showing down and cranking up the reverb. B

Jeff Bridges: Jeff Bridges (2011, Blue Note): Terrific actor, has racked up two music-themed movies -- The Fabulous Baker Boys and his Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart -- and now two music albums. Credited with writing 2.5 of 10 songs, so I'm not sure the singer-songwriter label applies. T-Bone Burnett produced, which should help. Only vaguely countryish at first although it drifts that way, the impression caused in no small part because I can't recall ever a country singer who brought such thin pipes to a record (not that my memory of Chet Atkins is all that vivid). Still, it gets rather decent as the songs settle in. B

Kate Campbell: Two Nights in Texas (2010 [2011], Large River Music): Singer-songwriter born on the cusp of the "new South" -- has written movingly about civil rights struggles although she would have been pretty young at the time. (B. 1961 in New Orleans, although my recollection places her in Alabama.) Has a steady stream of records since 1994 -- 2004's The Portable Kate Campbell is a good one to start with, but I haven't heard as many as I should. This one is live, which lets her recycle a few good ones. In one she notes that Jesus was "a Jew and a Palestinian too," then wonders what the centers of reaction might make of that -- namechecking Nashville, Wichita, Wall Street, Salt Lake City, and Boston. (Sounds like my life.) Come to think of it, this is another good one to start with -- although it is a little stopgap. B+(***)

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Hysterical (2011, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah): Had a terrific fresh-faced teen-rock debut in 2005, but my how fast they grow up, lose the beat, turn jaded and morose. Well, not morose, but not much fun either. Wonder what inspired the title? B

Das Racist: Relax (2011, Greedhead): Brooklyn rap trio, dropped two free downloads last year that got them a lot of attention, now come back with their official debut album. Bigger budget means louder beats -- as some point I figure they'll hook up with some metal group, make a really crappy album, then slink back into minimalism. But even thickened up they're still pretty idiosyncratic, and can run a world music feint and make it sound like Slim Gaillard. "Rainbow in the Dark" returns to White Castle, making me think they wanted to cash in on their "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" novelty, but this one goes further. A-

Brigitte DeMeyer: Rose of Jericho (2011, BDM Music): Country-ish singer-songwriter, daughter of Belgian and German immigrants, discovered country music on a dude ranch somewhere ("her family frequented"). Fifth self-released album since 2002 -- back when I occasionally got a few longshot country releases I was blown away by her second, 2003's Nothing Comes Free. This has much the same sharply observed songwriting, the ear for detail, a voice that fits comfortably within her domain, plus a few touches of growing sophistication -- a tasteful horn here, but no overdoing it. B+(***)

DJ Diamond: Flight Muzik (2011, Planet Mu): Chicago DJ, first album, rugged synth music, lots of repetition like it's stuck in a traffic jam. B+(*)

The Drums: Portamento (2011, Frenchkiss): New York group, second album. They have a reputation for working in 1950s rock elementals, but I don't hear it. Rather, at best "Days" sounds like a near perfect Go-Betweens song. On the other hand, "Money" (which I gather is the single), repeats its "I want to buy you something" jibberish ad nauseum. Catchy, but a trivializing point that returns in songs like "I Need a Doctor." B+(*)

Dum Dum Girls: Only in Dreams (2011, Sub Pop): Second album for Dee Dee Whoever's vehicle/group, dispenses with the first album's DIY aesthetic for guitar-driven power pop -- much more impressive at first, but ultimately less interesting. B

Baxter Dury: Happy Soup (2011, Regal): Sure does sound like his father -- almost as much as Sean Lennon, and his songs are closer to the mark, but they stay within normal bounds, something Ian Dury with or without the Blockheads rarely did. May just mean he grew up relatively normal -- hope that's the case, certainly can't begrudge it. B+(**)

Game: The R.E.D. Album (2011, DGC/Interscope): Best-selling LA rapper Jayceon Taylor, debut moved 2.5 million units, this his fourth debuted number one (although that doesn't guarantee he won't continue his declining sales trend). Those numbers buy a lot of bling: a dozen producers (21 cuts stretch way out to 72:34), as many guests, who knows how many samples, all to support a theme that real ganstas are good family types. B

Girls: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (2011, True Panther Sounds): San Francisco duo, although Christopher Owens gets all the writing credits, and I don't much know who the other guy is. Debut album recycled a lot of great pop riffs, as did last year's EP, and this starts out with more, then slows up and turns into a laid back ballad thing, with a whiff of Pink Floyd. Gets better when you're not thinking about where you heard it all before, too. A-

Grouplove: Never Trust a Happy Song (2011, Canvasback/Atlantic): Los Angeles group, debut album after the now obligatory EP. Big sound, upbeat, not necessarily happy but they make well hooked songs that could do it in a pinch. B+(*)

Grace Jones: Hurricane (2004-07 [2011], PIAS America): Born in Jamaica in 1952, a striking model in the mid-1970s who used her rough voice to cut a couple of pretty bad albums before hooking up with Sly & Robbie to produce three remarkable ones 1980-82. Nothing since 1993 until this came out in the UK in 2008. With Ivor Guest, Brian Eno, and others producing, she gets a bit of the magic back. The belated US release adds a second disc dub version, which Rhapsody treats as a separate release, so we'll skip here. B+(**)

Grace Jones: Hurricane Dub (2011, PIAS America): Recycles her 2008 album as dub: vocals stripped or buried, beats jacked up and extended, lots of echo effects, you know the drill. B+(*)

Robert Earl Keen Jr.: Ready for Confetti (2011, Lost Highway): A country singer-songwriter well outside the Nashville orbit with well over a dozen albums I scarcely know. One odd thing here is that his voice slides in and out of a southern drawl -- he's from Houston, b. 1956 -- and the deeper the drawl the better the songs. One keeper is "The Road Goes On and On," where he describes a guy: "now you only rant and rave . . . you lost that grip on the flag you wave, but you wave it right or wrong." Right plainly means something to Keen, as it should. And he works in two covers: one from Todd Snider, the other a "Soul of Man" that digs in deep. B+(**)

Kid Creole and the Coconuts: I Wake Up Screaming (2011, Strut, 2CD): August Darnell's group seems to have lost some coconuts since he relocated from the Bronx to Sweden. First album since Too Cool to Conga! in 2001, an odd mix of songs many of which don't really set right -- some intriguing anyhow. B+(*)

Lenny Kravitz: Black and White America (2011, Roadrunner): For me at least, Christgau torpedoed his career reviewing his much hyped 1989 debut: "For a black Jewish Christian married to Lisa Bonet who overoveroverdubbed his Hendrix-Beatles hybrid himself, not bad. But that's a lot of marketing to live down." This is his first that I've actually checked out, and I'm struck first by the not-badness of it all, reminded of lots of people but not Hendrix and not the Beatles (and not Lisa Bonet), moderately impressed by his perseverance, and pleased to note the peace sign on the cover forehead. B+(*)

Jens Lekman: An Argument With Myself (2011, Secretly Canadian, EP): Album cover reads (quotes included but period added): "The way her shadow used to walk by your side, in a different time, a different city." The given title presumably appears somewhere else. Five song EP, from a Swedish singer-songwriter with two full albums under his belt. Lacks the strings and melodramatics that turned me off his last album. Songs have real detail, even if some are set in Goteborg. If he had a few more, he'd have an album. B+(***)

Lil Wayne: Tha Carter IV (2011, Motown/Cash Money): Back from jail, in a big rush to get fresh product into the stores, which means guest feats. Most sharp enough to enjoy, but every time T-Pain's "How to Hate" comes around I wake up and check the roster -- it's so hideous that even if you stripped the hate and turned it into an instrumental, it'd still be awful. It's such dreck you can't wait for Tech N9ne to show up on the next cut. B+(*) [cd]

Lydia Loveless: Indestructible Machine (2011, Bloodshot): Twenty-one-year-old singer-songwriter from Ohio, figure her for uppity outlaw country -- sounds more than a bit like Miranda Lambert when you can hear her over her rock drummer dad. Cut a record last year that I craved -- even watched YouTube videos -- but couldn't Rhapsody -- so I'm delighted my favorite uppity outlaw label picked her up. "How Many Women" suggests she could be a credible ballad singer, and "Jesus Was a Wino" that she has something to say. A-

Nick Lowe: The Old Magic (2011, Yep Roc): Would be better off trying to recover the old wit, but if he did he might not be such a nice guy, palming off nice songs hoping the real thing never comes along. B

Mastodon: The Hunter (2011, Reprise): Metal band, one of the few that gets much respect outside of the genre's self-imposed ghetto. I don't really have a theoretical reason why I don't care for metal -- I was, in fact, a fan back when Blue Oyster Cult recorded their perfect first side to Tyranny and Mutation -- so sometimes I think I should at least sample something much hyped. Then I do, and wonder why. This isn't awful, especially when the singer shuts up, but also isn't smart or funny or engaging or exciting or interesting -- a lot of negatives for such maximalism. B-

Mates of State: Mountaintops (2011, Barsuk): Husband and wife duo from Lawrence, KS: Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, she plays keybs, he drums, both sing. Sixth studio album in a bit over a decade. Opener "Palomino" rocks the joint: if they kept that up they'd be over the top, so the slower, simpler songs are useful change ups. Still, pretty upbeat -- seems odd for me to gripe about that; more to the point is when the sound avalanches. Didn't catch a lot of lyrics, but "Mistakes" is fair and smart and touching. B+(**)

Megafaun: Megafaun (2011, Hometapes): Psych-folk group (that's what they say) based in North Carolina but mostly from Wisconsin. Fourth album since 2008. Has a lean and lonesome sound, blues twists on the guitar (as opposed to blues riffs). B+(*)

Mekons: Ancient & Modern (2011, Bloodshot): Judging from cover, title might also continue: 1911-2011. Their country music fixation seems to have returned to England, following, as is so often the case, their focus on class -- forms the "ancient" which is periodically intercut with the "modern" of their own punk rock roots. Their best since Out of Our Heads, or maybe longer. When the times get tough they always seem to come up with something stellar. A

Nikki Jean: Pennies in a Jar (2011, S-Curve): Last name Leary, b. 1983 in Minnesota, has sung on some hip-hop records before releasing this debut. Has something of ye olde Motown sound, but doesn't quite have the label's house band. While half of the songs have a bit of sparkle, the other half reminds you of the days when filler really was filler. B

Note of Hope: A Celebration of Woody Guthrie (2011, 429 Records): Following Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue, Jonatha Brooke's The Works, and a couple of Klezmatics albums, more of Woody Guthrie's leftover lyrics set to idiosyncratic music. The various artists include Lou Reed, Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Morello, Michael Franti, Studs Terkel, Ani DiFranco, Kurt Elling, and Jackson Browne, resulting in an unconventional smorgasbord; some mannered (Reed, Elling), some offhand (Terkel, DiFranco), some perverse (Franti), the opening instrumental and the long closer sung by Browne the most fully satisfying, which only seems right. A-

Owl City: All Things Bright and Beautiful (2011, Universal Republic): Synthpop group from Minnesota, mostly Adam Young. The pumped up synths are sort of fun at first, and "The Real World" is surreally catchy, but second cut in "Deer in the Headlights" suggests that no cliché is going to prove too ripe for Young, and before long he's so wild-eyed he probably believes that space travel lets you "touch the face of God." Recommended to your local FFA: "Plant Life." C+

Radioclit Presents: The Sound of Club Secousse, Vol. 1 (2010, Crammed Discs): London-based DJ/production duo showcase a range of African funk and hip-hop, dance anthems and whatever -- don't have a map, but most seem to come from the southern half of the continent. That super-upbeat township shuffle with the sweet guitar and maybe a thumb piano never fails to thrill me, but the vocalists aren't always up to the beats. B+(***)

The Rapture: In the Grace of Your Love (2011, DFA): New York "dance-punk" group, cut a "mini-album" in 1999, followed by two well-regarded albums in 2003 and 2006 that I more or less liked -- actually, the order was less then more -- but can't recall at all now. The sort of record that might grow on you if you bother to give it a chance, but for now one spin seems sufficient: mostly chunky keybs and whiney vocals, a bit melodramatic. B+(**)

Richmond Fontaine: The High Country (2011, El Cortez): Portland, OR group, founded in the mid-1990s, no members named Richmond or Fontaine, both male and female singers, regarded as Americana. They naturally make the association between high and lonesome but it doesn't do their music much good -- this drags as much as slowcore, just with less intimation that's they're slowed down by dead weight. B

Connie Smith: Long Line of Heartaches (2010 [2011], Sugar Hill): Constance Meador, picked up Smith from the first (of four) husbands, had some forgettable hits in the 1960s for Chet Atkins -- her 1976-72 The Essential Connie Smith is anything but. She should be long forgotten, but husband number four -- 17 years younger, Marty Stuart was one of the first prominent neotrads -- got her back into the studio. With all its aching, breaking hearts, swaying steel guitar, and a voice that comes through ever stronger, this couldn't sound more classic. A-

St. Vincent: Strange Mercy (2011, 4AD): Annie Clark's third album, sounds more than ever like Kate Bush -- not even the American, let alone Texan, analogue. More muscular and more visceral than I expected. I can see the attraction -- just not convinced the payoff is worth the time. B+(**)

George Strait: Here for a Good Time (2011, MCA Nashville): Neotrad country singer, has been for so long now he may have found it amusing that anyone would refer to him as neo- anything. I see this is his 39th album in 30 years. Best since I've been catching new ones on Rhapsody, mostly because it's so effortless, even on a slow ballad, even with a Jesus reference ("Three Nails and a Cross"). B+(***)

Wild Flag: Wild Flag (2011, Merge): Two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney (drummer Janet Weiss, banshee Carrie Brownstein) plus two others -- Rebecca Cole (keybs) and Mary Timony (guitar), the latter formers members of Helium and The Minders, two groups I've never noticed. I've sometimes been impressed by S-K but have never enjoyed them -- something about the vocals rubbed me raw. This is, well, less annoying. "Racehorse" is better than average. B+(**)

Hank [Williams] III: Hillbilly Joker (2011, Curb): He's dropped Williams from the masthead, possibly figuring why go down his father's path of never living up to his name, possibly wanting to strike out on his own, more likely figuring the first name is enough -- it's not like anyone ever saw "Hank" and flashed immediately on Cochran. Has a couple newer albums out on his own label, so this one on the old label has the air of a dealbreaker. Mostly heavy metal. Not bad when he cuts back on the thrash and you can hear his words and voice, but plenty bad when he rocks out -- or climaxes in an orgy of what sounds like donkey slaughter. B-

Withered Hand: Good News (2009 [2011], Absolutely Kosher): Dan Willson from Edinburgh, Scotland, sings in a high enough voice I took him for female until he started fantasizing about his dick, which forced a replay. Wears his religion on his the sleeve of his hair shirt -- I caught any number of references, starting with the cover, and I'm not even very good at that. Similar melodic sense to the Handsome Family, an impressive feat. A unique item: I could see going higher, but he scares me a bit. B+(***)

YACHT: Shangri-La (2011, DFA): Originally a solo project of Jona Bechtolt, now more of a band -- group name an acronym for Young Americans Challenging High Technology, but high theology is more like it, proposing Los Angeles as a fit alternative to heaven, indeed as all the Shangri-La they need, even while Dystopia burns to the ground. B+(**)


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

  • Disco Inferno: The 5 EPs ([2011], One Little Indian)
  • Razika: Program 91 (2011, Smalltown Supersound)
  • Shlohmo: Bad Vibes (2011, Friends of Friends)
  • Hank Willaims III: Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town (2011, Hank3)

Revised Grades

Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:

Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedella (2007, Secretly Canadian): More to his songs than I originally thought, his essential likability rising above his overly ornate music. [was: B] B+(*)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Glen Campbell: Big Bluegrass Special (1962, Capitol): His first, co-credited to the now-forgotten Green River Boys, draws heavily on the Delmore Brothers and Merle Travis, trad fare that lets them mix the exemplary guitar up front of the so-so vocals. B+(*)

Rodney Crowell: Ain't Living Long Like This (1978, Warner Brothers): Born in Houston, based in Nashville, still his first album aims more for Gram Parsons country than for newfangled neotrad, hitting the target solid with "California Earthquake" but not producing as much shaking as they claim. B+(***)

Willis Jackson/Von Freeman: Lockin' Horns (1978 [2000], 32 Jazz): Freeman has a rep for going his own way, but he's slumming here, adding a second tenor sax to Jackson's soul jazz group -- Carl Wilson on organ, guitarist Joe "Boogaloo" Jones, and drummer Yusef Ali; early going may just be Jackson, but when they do joust they kick up a storm. B+(*)

Keith Jarrett: Bop-Be (1976 [1978], Impulse): The last album of Jarrett's US Quartet, with Dewey Redman on tenor, Charlie Haden on bass, and Paul Motian on drums, going out with a little bit special from each of the stars; Jarrett had an extraordinarily prodigious stretch in the early 1970s, but thenceforth limited himself to trios and solos -- this reminds you how strong a force he could be in a group. A-

Cheryl Lynn: Cheryl Lynn (1978 [2010], Reel Music): Debut album, leads off with his big disco hit "Got to Be Real"; nothing else like that, of course, some filler and some better than filler, the latter stepping high on hotter beats. B+(**)

Stephin Merritt: Obscurities (1992-99 [2011], Merge): Some singles, some contract work, some unreleased whatevers, from the days when Merritt mostly recorded as Magnetic Fields -- presumably the disc comes with some details but I'm not privy to them; simple melodies with eccentric percussion backing his deep monotone, disjointed pieces juxtaposed, on sonic and possibly historical interest, or not. B+(**)

McKinley Mitchell: The Complete Malaco Collection (1977-81 [1992], Waldoxy): Got his start singing gospel, moved to Chicago and cut some soul ballads in the 1960s to little avail. As disco and funk took over, Malaco refashioned '60s soul as a blues form, finally giving him his one shot at an album. This collects his 1978 eponymous album with half a dozen scattered singles -- the three covers stick out from the consistently understated groove, but they work just as well. B+(***)

Sun Ra: Disco 3000: Complete Milan Concert 1978 (1978 [2009], Art Yard, 2CD): Originally credited to Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra with four cuts on an El Saturn LP, expanded here to nearly three times the runtime. Credits are sparse, but Ra's unique take on electric piano sets up a blocky rhythm that occasionally breaks loose but is regular enough to drive the horns forth -- brilliant trumpet (presumably Marshall Allen) and rousing tenor sax (John Gilmore, natch). And when Ra switches to acoustic piano, his boogie jones comes out. No recognizable disco beats here, but Ra's projecting way into the future. A-

The Residents: Duck Stab!/Buster & Glen (1978, Ralph): One of the first groups to disdain the industry and release their own shit, starting with their Beatles-parodying Meet the Residents in 1974 and continuing pretty much unabated at least through 2009. Reissues have lost the second half of their original title, but the songs carry on. The funny voices aren't so funny any more, and the intentional weirdness isn't so weird, but at least their tunes remain tuneful. I've rarely sampled them, but know enough to know that's not a given. B+(**)

Son Seals: Live and Burning (1978, Alligator): Blues journeyman, came up too late to make much of name for himself, but typified his label's normalization of the post-rock-and-roll, post-Chicago blues, a genre that will live on as long as a stinging guitar lick promises salvation from bad times. B+(**)

Paul Simon: Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin' (1974 [1987], Warner Brothers): Reissued in 2011 as part of Sony's hijacking of Simon's solo catalog -- probably figured it would be more comfortable in the company of his old duo recordings -- but when I wrote up an ACN on the series I found that this was the one I had missed. No big surprise: live profit-taking after only two solo albums by a guy who's never been a commanding live presence, with most of the songs predating his solo move. Fans could take this as legitimizing his claims -- something Art Garfunkel would have been hard pressed to do -- and confirmation of continuity. Not the last live album he'd do. Thin and lame even on his best solo songs, smarmy on run of the mill old fare, but even worse sinks into the hymnals -- at least until "Love Me Like a Rock" takes off like a revival. C-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Uri Caine Trio: Siren (2010 [2011], Winter & Winter): Piano trio, with John Hébert on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums. I'm not much good at describing piano trios -- wish I had a booklet to crib from, or at least get some orientation -- but Caine is a superb jazz pianist (except when he's playing classical music, and sometimes even that's pretty good), very fast here. B+(***)

Warren Vaché: Ballads and Other Cautionary Tales (2011, Arbors): Trad-leaning cornet player, reaches for the ballad songbook not so much because at 60 he's slowing down as he wants to enjoy the scenery. A few with just bass and drums, joining in pianist Tardo Hammer on 6 (of 12), trombonist John Allred on one of those, and tenor saxophonist Houston Person on three others. Person damn near steals the show. B+(**)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)