Rhapsody Streamnotes: August 17, 2012

I've been sitting on this, waiting for Downloader's Diary to come in, but the latter is coming so slow we agreed I might as well post this. Didn't have much more than Apple and Ocean until this last week. Been sticking to stuff that at least seems like it has some potential -- OK, not the Dirty Projectors -- but it's been a slow month.

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 July 18. Past reviews and more information are available here (2811 records).

Aesop Rock: Skelethon (2012, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Rapper, Ian Bavitz, broke in around 2000 with a lot of words crammed together over terse beats, too much to hang on every word but he still grabs you every now and then. First under his own name since 2007, but I liked his 2011 Hail Mary Mallon project (Are You Gonna Eat That?). B+(**)

The Alchemist: Russian Roulette (2012, Decon): Prolific hip-hop producer strings thirty short bits together -- none longer than 2:37 -- hits and messes, some with a Russian accent, but not enough to establish a pattern. B

Ray Anderson Pocket Brass Band: Sweet Chicago Suite (2010 [2012], Intuition): Trombone player, loves that dirty lower register and can drive it into the lead. He assembled this three-horn quartet -- Lew Soloff on trumpet, Matt Perrine on sousaphone, Bobby Previte on drums -- for a well-regarded 1999 album, and returns with a 6-part suite, a rag, and a march. Has some rough spots that further play may smooth out, but also some extraordinary highs, like the delirious "High School" suite movement. B+(***)

Ray Anderson: Love Notes (2009 [2011], Raybone): Self-released, can't find any credits -- standards? certainly "Where or When" -- or mention of the cohorts, mostly guitar and organ, but this is a ballad album, his trombone set to croon even if it's a bit rough for the job. B+(*)

Antibalas: Antibalas (2012, Daptone): Brooklyn group, formed in 1998 by baritone saxophonist Martin Perna as Conjunto Antibalas, later recording as Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra as their inspirations shifted from Eddie Palmieri to Fela Kuti. They do a credible job of nailing down the latter's Afrobeat while muscling up the horn section and slipping in a little clavé. A-

Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012, Clean Slate/Epic): Could have written this up on one play as a high B+ with several striking moments and one superb song, the self-empowering "Anything We Want." Instead, thanks to various respected recommendations and a sale price, I picked up a copy, and played it enough to work through my reservations. Make that more than a few striking moments. Note the importance of "not letting the bastards get us down." And the assurance about never ending a review on a minor note. A- [cd]

Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (2010, Clermont Music): Dry, Saharan music from Mali, a female blues shouter working over a tumbleweed rhythm that never stops, slows down, or shows much in the way of nuance. In other words, powerful. B+(***)

Theo Bleckmann: Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush (2011 [2012], Winter & Winter): German jazz singer, favorite vocal tic is to wax angelic but he doesn't indulge the temptation to mimic Bush's soprano. Band stays within standard rock lines -- guitar, keybs, electric bass, not that John Hollenbeck is a rock drummer. Enchanting. Wonder what he'd make of P.J. Harvey? B+(**)

Cadence Weapon: Hope in Dirt City (2012, Upper Class): Second generation rapper from Alberta, Roland Pemberton, is interesting in understated underground mode, also when he tightens up to sing something like "Contrasting." Those and the plaintively off-key title track set up a gloomy vibe that has trouble accommodating the fluffy sax-laden "Crash Course for the Ravens." Notable guest feat.: Buck 65. B+(***)

Brandi Carlile: Bear Creek (2012, Columbia): Country-ish singer-songwriter from rural Washington, could keep it real but loses touch when the band rocks out, and tends to throw her voice over the fence, an irritating tic. B

Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth (2012, Hip-O): Reggae's struggling man gets another lease on life, thanks largely to Tim Armstrong (Rancid, Transplants) who produced last year's EP and now this full album. Basic tactic: big beats and ebullience, which can be a bit much on songs like "Blessed Love." One that works is "Guns of Brixton." B+(**)

The Cookers: Believer (2012, Motéma): All-star septet: two trumpets (Eddie Henderson and David Weiss), two saxes (Billy Harper and Craig Handy), piano (George Cables), bass (Cecil McBee), and drums (Billy Hart). Third album together, tends to be a blowing session, and I especially enjoy Harper when he airs it out. B+(**)

Debo Band: Debo Band (2012, Next Ambiance): Boston-based Ethiopian-inspired large (nine-piece) band, directed by Danny Mekonnen (b. in Sudan, after his parents fled from Ethiopia), with lead singer Bruck Tesfaye. The group has a thick, heavy sound, with scant variation and even less finnesse, but eventually it does find its groove, and there are even some rhythmic quirks if you're patient enough to figure them out. B+(*)

Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (2012, Domino): What passes for progressivism these days, basic tunelessness with archly orchestated harmonics, odd time, male and female singers, oblique lyrics. The juxtapositions aren't inevitably awful, but why subject yourself to such grating? I don't know whether to admire their (many) critical admirers for their fortitude, or to pity their masochism. C+

Open Mike Eagle: Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes (2011, Hellfyre Club): Rapper from Chicago, b. Michael Eagle, never quite sure how his moniker is meant to play. Title track reflects on how the founding rappers are getting on, some (at least) growing old and frail, worrying about falling like their contemporaries. Another bit complains about how little his overeducation earns him, but really it's part of his shtick. And if he isn't nerdy enough for you, he brings MC Paul Barman on for a guest shot. B+(***)

Open Mike Eagle: 4NML HSPTL (2012, Fake Four): Front cover credit: music by Awkward. Means nothing to me, but the beats hold up fine, as does his explication of "The Financial Crisis That Wouldn't Go Away." Smart guy, but jumps around a lot, never quite pulling this together. B+(**)

Lee Fields: Faithful Man (2012, Truth & Soul): Veteran soul singer, cut his first single in 1969 but didn't find a steady label until the 1990s working the chitlin circuit. Can bust a fair James Brown impression on a ballad (like the title tune) but not always, and he doesn't go upbeat often enough to justify the funk rep. Very retro, which is to say it harkens back to some of the greatest music ever minted. B+(***)

Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: The Air Is Different (2012, 482 Music): Drummer from Boston, I figure him to be a good deal younger than the gentleman on the cover; second group album, plays two horns off against one another -- Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Brian Settles on tenor sax -- while Mary Halvorson works her mischief on guitar: as unpredictable as avant-garde gets, yet surprisingly well behaved. A-

Future of the Left: The Plot Against Common Sense (2012, Xtra Mile): Welsh group, punkish, can recall the Pogues when they lapse into something Celtic, but to me they're more like a retread of a 1980s band called Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, another effort to drive a political stake into the corpse of rock and roll. Cf. "Sorry Dad, I Was Late to the Riots." Guess they don't make 'em like the Clash any more. Or the Gang of Four. Or Red Lorry Yellow Lorry. B+(*)

Girl Unit: Club Rez EP (2012, Night Slugs, EP): Philip Gamble, had a hot single in 2010 called "Wut," returns with six cuts, 29:26, of upbeat, sometimes haunting electronica. B+(*)

The Henry Clay People: Twenty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives (2012, TBD): California band, led by two brothers, struck me as smarter than average Americana last time (Somewhere on the Golden Coast), leads off as punk this time -- smarter than average, sure, but the bar's lower, and it stays there when they try to split the difference. B+(**)

Herzog: Cartoon Violence (2012, Exit Stencil): Cleveland band, rocks hard with enough songcraft for hooks, if not everywhere, at least often enough. Good antiwar song, but as a draft dodger from way back I can't help but hear it and think you're a dumbass for signing up under any circumstances (even wanting money for college). B+(*)

Ibrahim Electric: Meets Ray Anderson Again (2007 [2008], Stunt): Danish organ trio, an exceptionally good one with guitarist Niclas Knudsen hitting tasty licks, Stefan Pasborg the go-to drummer in Denmark, and Jeppe Tuxen driving the B-3 hot and heavy. Trombone player Ray Anderson adds pure grit for the most gutbucket soul jazz ever, and the combo shoots his "Funkorific" into orbit. Their first "meeting" blew me away. This one, cut live, is louder, and sloppier. B+(***)

KonKoma: KonKoma (2012, Soundway): London-based Afro-funk group, key members (including vocalist Emmanuel Rentzos) from Ghana, with several resumés dating back to London's venerable Afro-funk group, Osibisa. Horns, guitar, bass, keybs, percussion all feel a little rote. B

Lapalux: When You're Gone (2012, Brainfeeder, EP): Stuart Howard, seems to be associated with Flying Lotus, piles up heavy slabs of clashing, crumbling electronics, seven pieces ranging from 3:07 to 4:49, but they play longer. B+(*)

Dan Le Sac: Space Between the Words (Sunday Best): English DJ, recorded a pair of pretty good albums with David Meads (aka Scroobius Pip), before they split and Pip scored first with a pretty good album of his own (last year's Distraction Pieces). Le Sac's debut lacks the unifying voice, which lets the beats wander all over the joint, not that a few aren't worth a listen. B

Linkoban: Super Into On It (2012, Superbillion, EP): Danish rapper, Anglo accent, reportedly has Chinese-Vietnamese roots; four-song EP (not counting the 1:15 "Intro"), totals 16:35; pushes "One Trick Pony" off the cliff, but otherwise the beat and bounce are hard to resist. Just wish there was more of it (not to mention to it). B+(***)

Lotus Plaza: Spooky Action at a Distance (2012, Kranky): Deerhunter guitarist-vocalist Lockett Pundt's side project, second album, offers a consistent shoegaze groove with more shimmer and less fuzz, most captivating on a song like "Remember Our Days" that has nowhere special to go to. B+(**)

Jessica Lurie Ensemble: Megaphone Heart (2012, Zipa! Music): Saxophonist, has worked with this quintet for a couple albums -- Eric Deutsch (keybs), Brandon Seabrook (banjo), Todd Sickafoose (bass), Allison Miller (drums), plus this time guest Marika Hughes (cello) -- for a postbop that is both slick and edgy. She also sings, and I find the vocals a bit of a drag, especially when the alternative is her sax. B+(*)

Branford Marsalis/Joey Calderazzo: Songs of Mirth and Melancholy (2011, Marsalis Music): Just sax-piano duets, no bass or drums to hurry things along (or smooth them out). Mixed originals, plus covers from Wayne Shorter and some dude named Brahms. They seem to have a connection early on, but get less focused as the set winds on, with one conspicuous weak spot the soprano feature "Hope." B

John Mayer: Born and Raised (2012, Columbia): Singer-songwriter, has worked steadily since 2000; nice songcraft, a bit of twang, needs better lyrics for his style, which can get tedious without them. B

Paul McCartney: Kisses on the Bottom (2012, Hear Music): The great American (or in some cases English) songbook, something any aging rock star can fall back on -- although it helps to have a voice as distinctive as Rod Stewart's, which Mac don't have. Still, he can be touching on the right song -- "The Glory of Love," for one. Or he can get swallowed up in strings. B+(*)

MediaFired: The Pathway Through Whatever (2012, Beer on the Rug, EP): Assembled from samples -- the Kate Bush yodel is easiest to place -- looped tight with drums driving home the repetition, and modulation inducing a whiff of eccentricity. Seven tracks, 29:12, doesn't seem skimpy, just limited. B+(*) [bc]

M-Phazes: Phazed Out (2012, Coalmine): Australian DJ, Mark Landon, second (or third) joint, lots of dense turntablism for a hard-knocking trashy sound, and lots of no-name feats, best when the DJ relaxes the din and lets them flow. Choice cut: "Brooklyn Bridge" (feat. Bekay & Master Ace). B+(*)

Munchi: Moombahtonista (2012, Mad Decent, EP): Dutch DJ, b. in Rotterdam, of Dominican descent, has a pile of EPs since 2009 -- Wikipedia lists 15, mostly freebies. Five tracks, 23:01, leans dub, or maybe reggaeton, hard beats, chants, synth diversions. B+(*)

Nas: Life Is Good (2012, Def Jam): I've seen this pegged as a divorce album like Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, but it's hard to tell right off -- too much production, for better and for worse, with too many words and too many voices bearing down on you. Not my job to figure this out. Clearly he's a major talent, if only he can make us care. B+(**)

Koo Nimo: Highlife Roots Revival (2012, Riverboat): From Ghana, started in the 1950s playing the sweet guitar strain known as palm wine music. Now pushing 80, with an opportunity to sum things up, he assembles a group that cuts against the grain, adding more rich complexity rather than getting down to basics -- less sweet, more pungent; sharper percussion, too. A-

Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (2012, Def Jam): He couldn't cash in on last year's best-regarded download freebie when his label couldn't clear the samples -- reminds us how much we need Lawrence Lessig, or more precisely how many more of him we need. This avoids obvious samples, and as such cheap thrills. A-

Linda Oh: Initial Here (2012, Greenleaf Music): Bassist, b. in Malaysia, raised in Australia, based in New York; second album, mostly quartet with Dayna Stephens (tenor sax), Fabian Almazan (keybs), and Rudy Royston (drums), with Jen Shyu singing one track. Strong leads (especially Stephens), bold ideas, lots of bass detail. B+(***)

Owiny Sigoma Band: Tafsiri Sound (2011, Brownwood, EP): From Kenya, or England, 4 cuts, 19:05, not enough to judge what the band actually sounds like, not least because these are remixes -- two by Quantic -- that strip them down to the barest nyatiti-zinged beats. I'd call it ambient, but much too entrancing for background. B+(***)

Power Animal: Exorcism (2012, Crash Symbols): West Virginia label, don't know about the group, but the title cut is possibly the best thing I've heard this year, a steady-paced throb with washes of glimmering noise. Nothing else quite hits that level, as the songs are quirkier and the noise more intrusive. And to reach LP length they remix 5 of 6 songs. B+(**) [bc]

Alfredo Rodriguez: Sounds of Space (2012, Mack Avenue): Cuban pianist, b. 1985 in Havana, probably not related to legendary Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez (1936-2005), who moved to New York in 1960 and on to Paris in 1985. Makes quite some racket especially on his solo feature, jumping acrobatically, the radical shifts de rigeur for Afro-Cuban jazz piano. I'm more impressed than pleased. B+(*)

Catherine Russell: Strictly Romancin' (2012, World Village): Jazz singer, father was the legendary bandleader Luis Russell, which means she's much older than you'd expect for somone who cut her first record in 2006 (she was 50). Standards, although this leans back into an older jazz style, not that far removed from her father's. B+(***)

Todd Snider: Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker (2012, Aimless): Walker is a countryish folk singer, b. 1942 in New York but moved to Austin, cut his first record in 1967, faded from sight sometime in the last decade. Through no real effort of my own, I've managed to miss all of his 35 albums, but Snider -- as best I recall the story from one of his live albums -- bumped into Walker in Luckenbach, TX at an impressionable moment and probably has all of them. He plays 14 Walker songs -- well, two by other guys and one co-written by Jimmy Buffett -- straight here, making the case that he's an occasionally amusing songsmith, and that Snider's own songs are several orders of magnitude greater. Nice enough, but sure could have used a Snider story or two -- even a repeat of that old one. Hope he doesn't do Townes Van Zandt next. B+(*)

Supreme Cuts: Whispers in the Dark (2012, Dovecote): Chicago duo spruces up their ambience with vocal rolls and dub echo, which is the sort of extras that ambient needs. B+(**)

Ebo Taylor: Appia Kwa Bridge (2012, Strut): Highlife guitarist-bandleader from Ghana, brought his Black Star Highlife Band to London in 1962 but continued to toil in obscurity, until he became a label revival project, with a 2-CD collection of his Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980, and now his second new album. The upbeat riff songs seem pretty rote, but the simpler, more personal pieces (like the closer "Barrima") are more touching. B+(*)

Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs: Trouble (2012, Casablanca): Electropop, someone named Orlando Higginbottom, has a light touch with his beats, synths etched in bass fuzz. Vocals, presumably his, don't do much for me, but the dance moves do. B+(**)

Twin Shadow: Confess (2012, 4AD): George Lewis Jr., b. in Dominican Republic, raised in Florida, second album. Reminds me of run-of-the-mill Brit-pop, even if he was aiming for some more interesting derivation, like Prince. B-

"Blue" Gene Tyranny: Detours (2012, Unseen Worlds): Pianist, originally Robert Sheff, plays four pieces here (48:59 total), mostly solo with some electronics, nothing I can pigeonhole -- doesn't even seem right to call it quiet or introspective; too subtle for that. B+(***)

Moritz von Oswald Trio: Horizontal Structures (2011, Honest Jon's): Techno producer, prolific under various names since the late 1980s, adding Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti (aka Vladislav Delay) to make up his trio. Mostly minimalist structures, the beats neatly tucked in for an effortless flow, although the last piece edges into chintzy metal tones. B+(***)

Cassandra Wilson: Another Country (2012, E1): Jazz singer: her deep, dusky voice puts her straight in a line from Sarah Vaughan to Betty Carter to Abbey Lincoln to her and no one else, but she plays it light and airy this time, the songs slight originals playing off co-writer Fabrizio Sotti's guitar. B+(**)


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

  • Khaira Arby: Tchini Tchini (2012, Clermont Music)
  • Blues Control: Valley Tangents (2012, Drag City)
  • Chromatics: Kill for Love (2012, Italians Do It Better)
  • Cooly G: Playin' Me (2012, Hyperdub)
  • Cut Chemist: Sound of the Police (2010, A Stable Sound)
  • Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs (2012, Partisan)
  • Doseone: G Is for Deep (2012, Anticon)
  • Will Guthrie: Sticks, Stones & Breaking Bones (2012, Antboy)
  • Idjut Boys: Cellar Door (2012, Smalltown Supersound)
  • Ahmad Jamal: Blue Moon (2012, Jazz Village)
  • Billy Martin/Wil Blades: Shimmy (2012, Royal Potato Family)
  • Owiny Sigoma Band: Owiny Sigoma Band (2011, Brownwood)
  • Portico Quartet: Portico Quartet (2012, Real World)
  • Joe Pug: The Great Despiser (2012, Lightning Rod)
  • Ta Lam 11: Mingus! (2011, Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Taragana Pyjarama: Tipped Bowls (2012, Kompakt)
  • Trio M: The Guest House (2012, Enja/Yellow Bird)
  • Moritz von Oswald Trio: Fetch (2012, Honest Jon's)


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

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal