Rhapsody Streamnotes: November 30, 2012

Held this back to let the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Shoot run first: that way the Jason Aldean review below would be new, instead of recycled (like here). Also thinking I might pluck more turkeys from this month's roster -- Gary Clark, Jr., One Direction, and Tame Impala were some of the possibilities (I got to Jon Irabagon too late). Still, no more turkeys than there are below, I must not have been looking very hard. (Django Django, Grizzly Bear, Mumford, and Purity Ring were claimed by others; Bat for Lashes, Julia Holter, Bob Mould, and Neil Young were nominated, but I did some due diligence and rejected the latter.)

I imagine that with year-end lists coming up, I won't have trouble getting next month's column out earlier in the month. Most pressing for me is the jazz poll (ballots due Dec. 6), so I started by grabbing seven jazz releases -- a good deal more than usual. But then this month's total of 52 is more than usual -- more than any month since June.

One 2010 record below, by Actress: missed it then, but found it looking for a new one (missing now). Four good records previously nabbed by Expert Witness Robert Christgau (also four more that came up short for me, or six if you include his B+ picks). Neil Young, making a comeback from Americana, which regardless of its formal audacity is one record I never want to hear again. And an album I've only seen one review of (in Roughstock at 3.5 stars, which for them translates to about a 30 percentile), but Chris Knight has never made an average album, and this one's a lock for my year-end top ten.

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 October 16. Past reviews and more information are available here (2937 records).

Actress: Splazsh (2010, Honest Jon's): UK left-field house producer Darren Cunningham's second album -- found this looking for this year's R.I.P., missing as this one was two years ago. Minimalist electronics, dance beats with little blips and filips over mild-mannered synth rumble; simple enough as a formula, but rarely this interesting. A-

Jason Aldean: Night Train (2012, Broken Bow): They call this Contemporary Country, a label even blander than the music, but his male competitors usually give you more voice, not to mention swagger. Aldean, on the other hand, occupies the middle range, not far from nowhere. He doesn't write either, so occasionally he manages to buy a decent song -- the humbly stubborn "The Only Way I Know" or the plaintive "I Don't Do Lonely Well" -- but he doesn't have enough sense to stay clear of the trite, or save himself from the indulence of stripper-and-cocaine slumming melodrama like "Black Tears," nor keep him from trying to wind up even the ballads with a gratuitous rave up. C+

Bat for Lashes: The Haunted Man (2012, Capitol): Third album for Natasha Khan, this one trimmed of past excesses for a straightforward, modest run of electropop, uneventful; listenable, for sure. B

Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory (2012, Mom + Pop Music, EP): Eight songs, only gets to 35:04 with an ambling and not all that coherent 9:14 finale, so it seems fair to label this an EP, especially after his 60:14 album back in March. Smart guy, sings well, plays fiddle which gives him a comfy, almost countryish, air, freshened with three covers. B+(*)

Black Moth Super Rainbow: Cobra Juicy (2012, Frenchkiss/Rad Cult): Pittsburgh group, long on synths -- someone who calls himself, and has otherwise recorded as, The Seven Fields of Aphelion -- the vocals achieving a cartoonish aspect this time, inept but still appealing. B+(*)

Michael Blake: In the Grand Scheme of Things (2012, Songlines): Tenor saxophonist, one time Lounge Lizard, born in Montreal, finally settled back in Vancouver working with locals JP Carter (trumpet), Chris Gestrin (keybs), and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). The two horns can be edgy, but not when they slow down, nor when the wit he long got by on fails him. B

John Cale: Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood (2012, Domino): Discography shows at least one album every other year since 1970, remarkably consistent for someone whose records vary so much. Here he returns to his most accessible song mode, muddied a bit like his Vintage Violence debut as opposed to his peak Guts roar, but he never meant to be too easy. B+(**)

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Wreck & Ruin (2012, Sugar Hill): Chambers would have had the best country voice in Dixie except she hails from Australia. She first appeared in 2000 and has a steady stream of records, picking up duet partner/co-writer Nicholson for 2008's Rattlin' Bones, and improving on that here. Rhapsody has a "deluxe edition" that tacks on five extra songs, an annoying ploy that has quickly spread to boutique labels. B+(***)

Gary Clark Jr.: Blak and Blu (2012, Warner Brothers): Young blues singer, a niche he probably picked out more because he liked the flash of latterday guitar slingers than because he hated picking cotton. His voice is untraveled and untrampled, but he does have some fire in the guitar. Still, I don't quite understand why critics like to compare him to Hendrix, as opposed to, say, Slash (or fill in your own metal mediocrity -- Slash gives Clark too much credit). B-

Crystal Castles: (III) (2012, Casablanca): Synth-based band, too dark and dreary to count as pop but their sonic experiments maintain an accessible pulse and the textures are real enough. Record has something to do with oppression, which they're probably against. B+(**)

Daphni: Jiaolong (2012, Merge): Daniel Snaith, from Canada, looks to be on his third serial alias after Manitoba (2000-03) and Caribou (2006-10). Dance beats without much synth dressing, simple and retro, a good idea. B+(***)

Matthew Dear: Beams (2012, Ghostly International): Electropop producer from Texas, finds a fairly minimal groove here and sticks to it, with traces of Talking Heads and dub. B+(*)

Diamond Rugs: Diamond Rugs (2012, Partisan): Side project from John McCauley (of Deer Tick) turned into some kind of semi-supergroup with the addition of two more guys with resumes that impress their fans more than they do me -- much like last year's Middle Brother spinoff/group, except the twang and grind are a bit more diluted. B+(**)

Django Django: Django Django (2012, Because): Brit art students, traditionally the mother lode for rock bands, find a pop hook here and there, but mostly settle for effect on tunes that often appear skeletal: low risk, less gain. B

Paul Dunmall/Tony Bianco: Thank You to John Coltrane (2011 [2012], Slam): Prolific British saxophonist -- Discogs credits him with nine albums in 2012 -- plays Coltrane classics in a duo with drummer Bianco, but roughly compressed and bent, like the guys spent more time studying Charles Gayle's Touchin' on Trane than the originals. B+(***)

Ergo: If Not Inertia (2012, Cuneiform): Third group record, but really this is trombonist Brett Sroka's baby, with Shawn Baltazor (drums) returning from their second, newcomer Sam Harris (piano, Rhodes), and guest guitarist Mary Halvorson and Sebastian Krueger. Sroka's sampling creates a compelling rhythmic underflow for his rumbling horn, but not much else emerges from the mix. B+(*) [dl]

Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos (2012, Reprise): Steely Dan's ex-singer's records get classified as "jazz rock" but they mean jazzy, especially with the vibraphone tinkle even more than the tasty sax breaks. Aside from a funk number that is way too rote, the music here has an appealing, off-handed bounciness. But two plays didn't reveal any memorable lyrics, unlike his one great solo album, now more than 30 years old. B+(**)

Rosie Flores: Working Girl's Guitar (2012, Bloodshot): Country singer, inclined toward rockabilly, had a real fine eponymous album in 1987 and has never quite found songs that good since then, but she works hard at it, strangely here trying to match the title track with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." B+(*)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012, Constellation): Canadian postrock group, named for a film about Japanese bikers, founded 1994, disbanded 2003, regrouped 2010. Two 20-minute pieces, two 6.5-minute ones, the timing aimed at vinyl. Instrumental rock, closer to 1970s space prog than the dull contemporary experimentalism. B+(**)

Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: Long Distance (2012, Transdreamer): British singer, sometimes songwriter, named for Truman Capote's heroine, especially after she dropped her surname, Smith. Has a cartoonish drawl and a band that wavers between blues and rockabilly. Songs are reportedly recycled from previous albums, not that I've heard them before. B+(*)

Grass Roots: Grass Roots (2012, AUM Fidelity): Improv quartet, with saxophonists Darius Jones (alto) and Alex Harding (baritone), Sean Conly on bass and Chad Taylor on drums; the bari comes off more like a loud bass, comping rather than jousting, while Jones works his high energy screech. B+(**)

Gordon Grdina's Haram: Her Eyes Illuminate (2012, Songlines): Guitarist from Vancouver, has a half dozen albums, wide-ranging, always interesting, most recently the Mats Gustafsson-fired avant-garde of Barrel Fire. Has often played oud, dabbling in Middle Eastern improv, but here he dives into Arabic music big time, picking up venerable Egyptian and Iraqi works, including many by trad, packing his tentet -- JP Carter (trumpet), Chris Kelly (tenor sax), François Houle (clarinet), Jesse Zubot (violin), Tommy Babin (electric bass), Kenton Loewen (drums) -- with traditional instruments (ney, riqq, darbouka), and Emad Armoush singing. B+(***)

Grizzly Bear: Shields (2012, Warp): Not sure what indie signifies with a band like this -- bestselling, has a prog sound geared to fill statiums. First couple songs started to convince me they could do it, then they slowed down and got precious, and I lost interest. B-

Nona Hendryx: Mutatis Mutandis (2012, Righteous Babe): Labelle singer, went solo in 1982 although her most notable work was for Bill Laswell's avant-disco group Material. First album since 1992, her writer's block relieved by the label's willingness to let her politics vent -- "Tea Party," "Rush Limbaugh," "Mad as Hell" -- and to let her favorite funk groove be (still fails her on her even stranger "Strange Fruit"). B+(*)

Joe Hertenstein/Achim Tang/Jon Irabagon: Future Drone (2012, Jazzwerkstatt): Sax trio with the drummer billed up top, all the better for an album dedicated to Paul Motian. Nice and respectful to start, with the drummer out front until he loosens up, but what's the point (not to mention the fun) of hiring Irabagon then keeping him on a leash? "Rotten Strawberry" is where he finally breaks loose -- not that his inside game is lacking. B+(**)

Julia Holter: Ekstasis (2012, RVNG): Singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, conjures up dark and dingy keyb music, her first album based on Greek tragedy, this one carrying on in a similar vein. B

Homeboy Sandman: First of a Living Breed (2012, Stones Throw): Angel Del Villar II, from Queens, gave up law school for his rap career, probably the right decision, but with a couple albums and a few more EPs nothing is breaking big enough to swell his head or ruin his life; level-headed common sense and common sensical beats, maybe his breakthrough after all. A-

Jon Irabagon's Outright!: Unhinged (2012, Irabbagast): Mischievous tenor saxophonist, won a Monk award a few years back that had as its prize a record deal with Concord, and played the tradition against itself so cleverly the label couldn't stand it and dumped him. This is supposed to be his quintet thing, but it's not the same as on his 2007 Outright!, and he shuffles so many guests in and out it doesn't really live up to its all-star billing either. If I had a copy I'd try to sort it out, but he slips in and slides out of so many contexts the center eludes me. Or maybe the center is the 30-person orchestra he rounds up to guest on the middle cut, evidently forcing them to fake their arrangements on the fly. B-

Jamey Johnson: Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran (2012, Mercury Nashville): Cochran (1935-2010) cut a handful of albums, but was more noted for writing country hits like "I Fall to Pieces" (Patsy Cline) and "Make the World Go Away" (Ray Price). Johnson has the neotrad tools but his own songs are prone to annoy. The songs are solid here, not that Cochran's songbook is especially deep. Johnson's guest list is long, the extra help helpful but rarely inspired. B+(***)

Toby Keith: Hope on the Rocks (2012, Show Dog Nashville): Drinking songs of no great consequence: don't get you high, or low down, but don't give you a hangover either, or even leave you with a bad taste. B

Chris Knight: Little Victories (2012, Drifter's Church): Kentucky singer-songwriter, cut his eponymous album in 1998 and five since then plus two volumes of Trailer Tapes demos -- even then he was too deep and weathered for juvenilia. He doesn't have much range, but his every song rings true, his voice cuts right through you, and the simple guitar strum is all he needs. Signature line: "I've done a lot of thinking about right and wrong/I'm digging myself out of this hole." A

Bumpy Knuckles/Statik Selektah: Ambition (2012, Gracie): Rapper James Campbell, introduced to the world as Freddie Foxxx back in 1989, moves on to another alias, backed with Patrick Baril's hardest beats. Enunciation is emphatic, thuggish even, a tale of hard knocks and fierce rejoinders, gangsta if you insist, but that's not really his idea. B+(**)

Lukid: Lonely at the Top (2012, Werk Discs/Ninja Tune): Luke Blair, fourth album since 2007, produces electronica with a slow burn and a bit of skank, short enough it's disappeared twice now before my brain could lock in. B+(*)

The Lumineers: The Lumineers (2012, Dualtone): Denver folk-rock trio, low key, no bombast, not much bullshit (that I could detect). Name got dropped on that new Nashville TV dramedy thing, not for any reason I could tell (although I reckon there's always payola). B+(*)

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Heist (2012, self-released): Seattle rapper and his producer, has lots to say, and is most effective when the production is trimmed back to the beats. B+(***)

Mala: Mala in Cuba (2012, Brownswood): London dubstep producer, Mark Lawrence, one half of Digital Mystikz, working alone to simplify things; tweaking some rhythm tracks recorded in Cuba, although on the face of things they could have come from anywhere, especially his own studio. B+(*)

Bob Mould: Silver Age (2012, Merge): Hüsker Dü founder, always kept the same guitar sound but without that zing that saved it from monotony; nothing new here, just that huge trademark sound in the squarest box ever. B

The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (2012, Merge): John Darnielle's band/project, sixteen albums since 1992, has found a sweet spot where the new songs gracefully pile up into stretches that are hard to distinguish from album to album. But this one seems to cut a bit deeper, or at least rocks a bit harder. A-

Mumford & Sons: Babel (2012, Glassnote): English folk-rock band amplified several gold, their revivalism having less to do with country roots than religious movements, where their mixed bag of platitudes and metaphors invariably tie themselves up in knots. B-

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang: En Yay Sah (2012, Luaka Bop): Hails from Sierra Leone, got out in 2002 and found some chums in Brooklyn who can execute his beats, or at least split the difference in a way that is grooveful and persuasive. A-

Ne-Yo: R.E.D. (2012, Motown): Young soul man, on his fifth album -- AMG rates them as declining in order, but this one strikes me as touching all the right bases, with a Stevie Wonder singing voice and a few low-key raps -- Wiz Khalifa is featured on one -- that hit the spot. B+(***)

One Direction: Take Me Home (2012, Syco/Columbia): Brit pop boy group, lead off with two singles-worthy songs carrying on from their fun but unimposing debut, then they try a nice little ballad -- not bad but not the point either, but then the pop skein falters. The extra bombast of "Last First Kiss" (vs. "Kiss You") may have something to do with the four extra writing credits, but it trips up their trademark multi-part coordination, and they never get it back -- which leaves their inanities exposed, and by the time "Summer Love" (another 7-credit collision) expires even their harmonies are lost. C+

Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra: Theatre Is Evil (2012, 8 Ft.): A performance artist, I guess, with a couple previous albums, a preference for the theatrical no matter how evil it is. Starts out about as murky as art song gets, her ambition to be a "bottom feeder" telling, but by the time that song appears she's found an oasis of clarity -- "Lost" is the one song that isn't. B

Purity Ring: Shrines (2012, 4AD): Canadian electropop duo, Megan James and Corin Roddick, manages a nicely disjointed sound -- voice out of sync with synth, or maybe just offset -- at first, although they seem to run out of inspiration on the home stretch, settling into dream space. B+(*)

Karriem Riggins: Alone Together (2012, Stones Throw): Drummer, AMG considers him jazz -- side credits include Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, but also Common, J Dilla, Erykah Badu, and Madlib -- and this is on the hip-hop side, or rather on the beat side of hip-hop. B+(*)

Sofrito: International Soundclash (1976-2011 [2012], Strut): London DJs go tropical, playing the new world off against the old, as African rhythms get Latinized, and vice versa. B+(***)

Robert Soko: Balkan Beats Soundlab (2012, Piranha): DJ from Bosnia, based in Berlin, mixes gypsy and dance beats from sources well known -- Slavic Soul Party, Boban i Marko Markovic, Shukar Colective -- and obscure B+(***) [cd]

Ned Sublette: Kiss You Down South (2010 [2012], Postmambo): Lubbock singer-songwriter, has a half-dozen albums that get him classified as country or avant-garde or nothing at all, but he should be best known for his books -- the definitive Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo, and some day for his promised sequel, which he keeps putting off to write books about New Orleans. Don't have the song credits, but I gather some are new and some are very old -- all done solo, just guitar and voice, and not an especially interesting voice, so the songs must matter. A-

Tame Impala: Lonerism (2012, Modular): Band from Perth, the lone city on the west end of Australia, considered a bit psychedelic because they like to slur the guitars or keybs as with Sgt. Pepper, a habit which is more ingratiating when they rock out than when they switch time sections like they learned in classics class. B

Two Fingers: Stunt Rhythms (2012, Big Dada, 2CD): Amon Tobin project, with Joe Chapman (Doubleclick), the real stunts are in the sample sounds which are coarsely amusing. The second disc bonus tracks add some feverish raps -- haven't begun to penetrate them, but the extra percussion helps. B+(**)

Why?: Mumps, Etc. (2012, Anticon/City Slang): Styled as a alt-rock group on an underground hip-hop label, they still sing a few with a folky twang, but have mostly gone over to rap, the rambling rhymes waxing wise over skeletal beats. B+(**)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill (2012, Reprise, 2CD): Studio album, its nine songs stretched out to 87:41, the opener "Driftin' Back" ambling on for 27:37, the guitar sound practically a trademark but never rushed and rarely frantic. Felt like a long, warm bath to me, but Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it even better: "it's noise rock as comfort food." A-


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

  • Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: Sunday Run Me Over (2012, Transdreamer)
  • Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Play Some Fucking Stooges (2012, Quasi Pop/Dumpster Diving Lab)
  • Jon Irabagon with Mike Pride and Mick Barr: I Don't Hear Nothin' but the Blues Volume 2: Appalachian Haze (2012, Irabbagast)
  • William Parker Orchestra: Essence of Ellington (2012, AUM Fidelity)
  • Strong Arm Steady/Statik Selektah: Stereotype (2012, Stones Throw)
  • Taylor Swift: Red (2012, Big Machine)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Dicks: Kill From the Heart/Hate the Police (1980-83 [2012], Alternative Tentacles): Austin hardcore group from the decade when all the Richards I knew wanted to be called Rich, moved to San Francisco when singer Gary Floyd came out, rails against the Klan and other domestic Nazis when not aping them, tacking their 1980 debut single onto their 1983 album; true to form, most songs dip under two minutes, the 11:28 "Dicks Can't Swim: Cock Jam/Razor Blade Dance" truly exceptional. B+(***)

Spike Robinson: Very Live in Boulder, Colorado (1974 [2012], Hep): Early archival tape from the late tenor saxophonist (1930-2001), a mainstream player with a light "Four Brothers" tone, flitting through standards including "Scrapple From the Apple"; only familiar name in the quartet is guitarist Dale Bruning, b. 1934, who's had a similar career of looking back while inching forward, and is often notably eloquent here. 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)
  • [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