Monday, October 10, 2022

Music Week

October archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38847 [38804] rated (+43), 38 [43] unrated (-5: 10 new, 28 old).

This will be real short, because I got other things I need to do this afternoon, and the less I leave hanging over my head the better. I went crazy writing another Speaking of Which yesterday, and I think it's better -- at least in the sense of giving you things to think about -- than anything I can do in my present mental state.

I spent the entire week feeling especially down about my music writing, so I'm surprised that I wound up with as many records as I did. I got to most of them while working on "Speaking," so can't claim I was paying close attention. Chances are a couple of the high B+ records deserve better. I'll leave it to others to sort that out -- Christian Iszchak is already on the case.

Unpacking is incomplete, so the drop in unrated is temporary. I'll catch up later.

Got some cooking and carpentry to do today. Weather should be pretty nice.

New records reviewed this week:

Al-Qasar: Who Are We? (2022, Glitterbeat): Moroccan vocalist Jaouad El Garouge fronts this Paris-based, mostly French group playing mostly Arabic instruments, with Thomas Attar Bellier the composers and electric saz/guitar player, and guest spots including Lee Ranaldo and Jello Biafra. B+(***) [sp]

Zoh Amba: Bhakti (2022, Mahakala Music): Young tenor saxophonist from Tennessee, started this year with albums on Tzadik and 577 that I haven't heard but have heard much about. She got a feature in the New York Times recently, so she's the very definition of a rising star. Three long and noisy pieces here (60:08), easy to hear what the excitement is about, with a superb rhythm section: Micah Thomas (piano), Tyshawn Sorey (drums), and Matt Hollenberg (guitar). B+(***) [sp]

Oren Ambarchi: Shebang (2022, Drag City): Australian guitarist, started as a drummer, close to 60 albums since 1998. Basically a jangle rhythm piece (nominally four parts, 35:00), with guests adding minor coloring and Joe Talia on drums. B+(***) [sp]

The Bad Plus: The Bad Plus (2021 [2022], Edition): Established as a piano-bass-drums trio in 2000, after bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson had released several very strong albums, while drummer Dave King had developed a style that satisfied both jazz and rock fans without wholly belonging to one or the other. They were remarkably successful as jazz groups go, most famous for their occasional covers of rock songs (initially Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), filling an ecological niche that E.S.T. proved popular in Europe, but which no other American group came close to. When Iverson left in 2017, Anderson and King tapped Orrin Evans to fill the piano chair, but Evans left in 2021 to return to his own substantial, multi-faceted career. Here they take a different tack, reintroducing themselves as a pianoless quartet, with Chris Speed (tenor sax) and Ben Monder (guitar) -- well-established names in their own right, though a little too buttoned down -- playing eight songs, with Anderson and King writing four each. B+(**) [sp]

Benjamin Tod: Songs I Swore I'd Never Sing (2022, Anti-Corp): Country singer-songwriter, last name Flippo, third solo album, also has a group called Lost Dog Street Band. Original songs, but passed by for other projects, presented here as guitar-and-voice demos. B+(*) [sp]

Björk: Fossora (2022, One Little Independent): Iceland's superstar, albums since 1993, first track got me thinking about how charming her quirky rhythms can be. Much of the rest reminded me how cloying her operatic/art song side can be. Well, not quite, as it almost works this time, and that hasn't always been the case. B [sp]

Owen Broder: Hodges: Front and Center, Vol. 1 (2021 [2022], Outside In Music): Saxophonist, one previous album plus appearances with Anat Cohen and in Cowboys and Frenchmen, mostly plays alto here, plus a bit of baritone on a piece Gerry Mulligan wrote for an album with Johnny Hodges. I wasn't much impressed by his exploration of Appalachian roots music, but this I find thoroughly delightful. I don't even feel the desire to refer back to the classics. A- [cdr] [10-14]

Dan Cavanagh and James Miley With John Hollenbeck: Another Life (2019-21 [2022], S/N Alliance): Two pianists, three compositions each (plus two standards and an improvisation), both also play synthesizers, plus drums. Remarkably sparkling, especially on the Jerome Kern/Radiohead opener. B+(**) [cdr] [10-21] *

Tyler Childers: Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? (2022, Hickman Holler/RCA, 3CD): Country singer-songwriter, from Kentucky, has an impressive string of albums, often touching on religious themes. This one offers eight more songs on religion, some gospel and some more tentative (does God allow hunting on "His grounds"?), rendered three times each on discs labeled "Hallelujah," "Jubilee," and "Joyful Noise." The first two aren't much different, with "Jubilee" perhaps a bit brighter and clearer. The third doesn't strike me as joyful at all: darker and denser, stiff keyboard rhythm and little refrain, disturbing but I doubt I'd give it a second thought if it came to me as electronica. Not that religion doesn't disturb me when I think about it, but like Kant I usually assume it's a benign tonic for the masses (unlike Kant I don't think we really need one). B+(*) [sp]

Death Cab for Cutie: Asphalt Meadows (2022, Atlantic): Indie rock band from Washington state, debut 1997, 14th album, easy enough, but easily forgotten. B [sp]

James Devane: Beauty Is Useless (2022, Umeboshi): Electronica producer, second solo album (first was 2008), has four more in the duo En. Beats with a little extra fuzz -- wouldn't want anyone thinking this is too pretty. B+(*) [bc]

Dodie: Hot Mess (2022, Doddleoddle, EP): English singer-songwriter Dorothy Clark, mostly EPs since 2016 plus one album in 2021. Four tracks, 12:36. B [sp]

Dr. John: Things Happen That Way (2017 [2022], Rounder): New Orleans pianist Mac Rebennack, had a few days as a pop star in the late 1960s, after which he returned to roots and they saw him through to his death in 2019. This is revealed as his final studio album, amid controversy over post-production. A batch of mostly-country covers, unclear how much piano he plays, but on this material his voice is his calling card. Reminds me a bit of Louis Armstrong's last records, when he couldn't play trumpet, and his voice had withered, but he could still get by on charisma. B+(*) [sp]

John Fullbright: The Liar (2022, Blue Dirt/Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter, born in/near Woody Guthrie's home town in Oklahoma, debuted at the Folk Festival there, moved on to the Turnpike Troubadours. Fourth solo album. Mixed bag of songs. When he turns to God he can get real creepy ("Stars"), but when he focuses on human foibles he can be insightful and amusing ("Social Skills"). B+(**) [sp]

Freddie Gibbs: $oul $old $eparately (2022, Warner/ESGN): Rapper Fredrick Tipton, albums since 2013. Do British rappers incorporate pound signs into their titles, or is that a peculiarly American fetish? The album itself is nowhere near that shallow. B+(***) [sp]

Gunna: DS4EVER (2022, YSL/300 Entertainment): Rapper Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, from Georgia, associated with Young Thug (e.g., Slime Language 2), third album. B+(**) [sp]

Hellbound Glory: The Immortal Hellbound Glory: Nobody Knows You (2022, Black Country): Country rock band, principally Leroy Virgil, founded the band in Reno, Nevada, their first album called Scumbag Country (2008). Title refers to a 1920s song that never seems to go out of style. B+(*) [sp]

Dylan Hicks & Small Screens: Airport Sparrows (2022, Soft Launch): Singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, occasional albums since 1996, has written a couple novels. B+(**) [sp]

Ka: Languish Arts (2022, Iron Works, EP): New York rapper Kaseem Ryan, day job as a firefighter captain, named his label for first album title (2008). Came up with two short download-only albums this year, each 10 tracks, this one 28:23. Low-key, easy roll, underground. B+(***) [yt]

Ka: Woeful Studies (2022, Iron Works, EP): Ten more tracks, 26:27. B+(**) [yt]

Pablo Lanouguere Quintet: Altar (2022, Piano Piano): Bassist, from Buenos Aires, based in New York, at least one previous album, leads a string-dominated quintet with violin (Meg Okura), guitar (Federico Diaz), piano (Emilio Teubal), and drums, with bandoneon on two tracks and vocals on two more. And yes, I hear tango. B+(**) [cd] [10-14]

Ari Lennox: Age/Sex/Location (2022, Dreamville/Interscope): R&B singer Courtney Salter, from DC, second album. B+(**) [sp]

Maddie & Tae: Through the Madness (2022, Mercury Nashville, EP): Country vocal duo, last names Font (née Marlow) and Kerr (née Dye), two albums, several EPs, this one retroactively dubbed Vol. 1, but not on the packaging. Eight songs, 27:04. B+(*) [sp]

Maddie & Tae: Through the Madness Vol. 2 (2022, Mercury Nashville, EP): No guests this time, but it picks up a bit on the closer ("Spring Cleaning"). Eight more songs, 25:23. B+(*) [sp]

Midlake: For the Sake of Bethel Woods (2022, ATO): Folk-rock band, four albums 2004-13, this is their fifth. B [sp]

Rhett Miller: The Misfit (2022, ATO): Singer-songwriter for Old 97's, with a long-running string of solo albums on the side: this is the eighth since 2002, all but an eponymous 2009 effort with definite article titles (The Believer, The Dreamer, The Messenger, etc.). Allows him to pursue his more personal idiosyncrasies. B+(***) [sp]

Momma: Household Name (2022, Lucky Number): Indie band from Los Angeles, Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten, third album after an EP. Nice enough. B+(*) [sp]

Off!: Free LSD (2022, Fat Possum): Hardcore band, I liked their 2010 compilation The First Four EPs quite a lot, returns after an 8-year gap with two (of 4) original members (vocalist Keith Morris and guitarist Dimitri Coats) and their longest album ever (20 songs, 38:23). B+(**) [sp]

J.S. Ondara: Spanish Villager No: 3 (2022, Verve Forecast): Folk singer-songwriter, actual name Moses Mauti Junior, born and raised in Kenya before moving to Minneapolis. B+(*) [sp]

Beth Orton: Weather Alive (2022, Partisan): English singer-songwriter, debut album 1993, six-year gap before this one ties her longest previous gap. B+(**) [sp]

The Paranoyds: Talk Talk Talk (2022, Third Man): Like Momma, another Los Angeles indie band with a couple albums. Their fuzz sounds much better to start, but it wears off. B+(*) [sp]

Jussi Reijonen: Three Seconds [Kolme Toista] (2021 [2022], Challenge): Finnish guitarist, also plays oud, has lived in the Middle East, Tanzania, and the US. Second album, international cast. B+(**) [cd] [10-14]

Iara Rennó: Oríkì (2022, Dobra Discos): Brazilian, started in DonaZica (2003-05), fifth album since 2008, sings and produces, but starts with an instrumental. B+(**) [sp]

Jeremy Rose & the Earshift Orchestra: Disruption! The Voice of the Drums (2022, Earshift Music): Tenor saxophonist, also bass clarinet, from Australia, started in a "world-roots jazz group" called the Vampires (four albums 2012-19). This features drummers Simon Barker and Chloe Kim, who share writing credits. B+(**) [cd] [10-14]

Collin Sherman: Organism Made Luminous (2022, Ex-Tol/Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, bills this as "experimental electro-acoustic jazz, ambient, drone, noise." Not sure where he gets the latter categories, though the heavy synths, guitar, and drum programming -- all credited to himself -- suggest a fusion base, without quite feeling bound to it. Discogs lists only one previous album, but his Bandcamp page offers more (and describes this as his 14th release). B+(***) [cd]

Collin Sherman: Suitable Benchmarks of Reform (2022, Ex-Tol): His 13th release, should file it above the more recent album, but got to it second, and should probably work my way further back. Again, he plays everything, including clarinets and oboe as well as the rhythm section (the drums programmed), but that's just background to riff his alto sax against. The loss in group spontaneity pales under his prowess. B+(***) [bc]

Shygirl: Nymph (2022, Because Music): Blane Muise, from England, more singer than rapper, first album after a couple EPs. B+(*) [sp]

Thick: Happy Now (2022, Epitaph): New York punk girl band, second album after a bunch of EPs. B+(**) [sp]

Valerie June: Under Cover (2022, Fantasy, EP): Last name Hockett, five albums since 2006, this 8-song, 28:28 effort cast as an EP, doesn't register as soul or country, so gets slotted as Americana. Covers, scattered from Nick Drake to Nick Cave, only "Imagine" overly familiar. B [sp]

Hannah White: About Time (2022, Paper Blue): English singer-songwriter, evidently there's a "UK Americana" niche she fits in, second album. Slow, touching, doesn't flinch from tragedy or hardships. B+(***) [sp]

Billy Woods: Church (2022, Backwoodz Studioz): Rapper, born in DC, parents were academics, spent the 1980s in Zimbabwe, returned in 1989 and started making music in the late 1990s. Messiah Musik produced. Dense, both in beats and words, and most likely ideas. Some day I should put more time and effort. B+(***) [sp]

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Cool It Down (2022, Secretly Canadian): Indie rock group, Karen Orzolek singer, released four albums 2003-13, returns with their fifth. B+(**) [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

William Parker: Universal Tonality (2002 [2022], Centering/AUM Fidelity, 2CD): From 1994-2006, Parker recorded a number of albums with his big band, the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. This isn't credited as such, but the 17 musicians here overlap considerably, but this seems more star-laden (two violinists: Billy Bang and Jason Kao Hwang), with vocalist Loreena Conquest featured, reminding us: "Hope is relentless/ it never dies." A [cd]

Old music:

Old 97's: Hitchhike to Rhome (1994, Big Iron): Country-rock band from Dallas, Rhett Miller was (or still is, as of 2020) the main singer-songwriter, for a strong, lively set, with a Merle Haggard cover. B+(**) [sp]

Old 97's: Wreck Your Life (1995, Bloodshot): Here they move to what at the time was becoming the best alt-country label anywhere. B+(***) [sp]

Old 97's: Hit by a Train: The Best of Old 97's (1994-2001 [2006], Rhino): I wasn't aware of this until Robert Christgau asked me to post his liner notes. Rhino had become a Warner subsidiary, so had access to the group's Elektra albums, a finite set seeing as how the band had moved on to New West, so this leans on Fight Songs and Satellite Rides (their best albums), but starts off with four early songs. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • François Moutin/Jowee Omicil/Louis Moutin: M.O.M. (Laborie Jazz) [10-25]
  • Collin Sherman: Organism Made Luminous (Blujazz) [10-07]

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