Monday, January 31. 2011
Sonic Libreration Front: Meets Sunny Murray (2002-08 , High Two): Philadelphia group, led by percussionist Kevin Diehl, who specializes in Lukumi bata drums (Afro-Cuban, more specifically Yoruba) but has one paw rooted in the avant-garde, in no small part due to his relationship with avant-drummer Sunny Murray. Fourth album since 2000 -- the other three I recommend highly, especially 2004's Ashé a Go-Go. This one sweeps up two sessions with Murray on board, one from 2002, the other 2008. Murray's drums are worth focus, but the band sometimes loses its focus in long ambling patches, only to burst to life when Terry Lawson cuts loose on tenor sax. B+(***)
Jacques Coursil: Trail of Tears (2010 , Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1938 in Paris, parents from Martinique, cut a couple of well-regarded avant albums in 1969 and pretty much vanished until 2005. Title comes from the 1830s expulsion of the Cherokee from the Carolinas and Tennessee to the future Oklahoma. Packaging includes a couple of maps tracing the route. I first learned about this in 8th grade -- the only person I recall learning much from was my 8th grade American history teacher -- but I never quite visualized the routes before: one by river seems convoluted but obvious, descending the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi, then upriver on the Arkansas to Fort Smith and into Oklahoma; the other a land route further north, across Kentucky and Missouri where I would have expected a more direct southerly route. The music is muted, somber, brief, with relatively minor contributions from Mark Whitecage, Perry Robinson, Bobby Few, Sunny Murray, and others who normally don't blend into the vintage woodwork. B+(**)
Jazz Folk: Jazz in the Stone Age (2008 , 1 Hr Music): Piano trio, with Peter Scherr on bass, Simon Barker on drums, and Matt McMahon on piano, listed in that order. Hype sheet treats this as Scherr's record, with minimal bio on him -- lives in Hong Kong -- and nothing on the others. The eight songs are all covers, with "stone age" mostly meaning rock: three from Beck, two Velvet Undergrounds ("Pale Blue Eyes" and "All Tomorrow's Parties"), one each from Taj Mahal, Joni Mitchell, and the Grateful Dead. Of course, I was most moved by "Pale Blue Eyes," and baffled by the Beck pieces. B+(*)
John L. Holmes y Los Amigos: The Holmes Stretch (2010, self-released): Guitarist, b. 1950 in Walla Walla, WA. Can't find much on him, can't read the microscopic type in the booklet, don't recognize anyone he's playing with. Could be that he's still based in Walla Walla. Did see a review that tried to sandwich him between George Benson and John McLaughlin; he's more interesting than that. B+(**)
Salo: Sundial Lotus (2009 , Innova): Bassist Ben Gallina wrote all of this (except for an extract from Hindemith), and it's very much a composer's album -- the three reeds, guitar, piano, bass and drums deployed precisely, working out an impressive series of postbop progressions. B+(**)
Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Soul of the Movement (2010 , Porto Franco): Bassist, b. 1966, seventh album since 1997, delving into black history last time for Harriet Tubman, and again here. Heavy with gospel, from "There Is a Balm in Gilead" to "Go Tell It on the Mountain" to "Take My Hand Precious Lord" with the iconic "We Shall Overcome" in the middle; four new Shelby pieces on key moments in the civil rights struggle, and a few more things that seemed like they'd fit -- can't go wrong with "Fables of Faubus," can you? Big band: five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds plus Howard Wiley toward the end, lots of vocals. Very nice packaging, things everyone should know and appreciate. I find it overwhelming, and itch to move on, before I start to get annoyed. B+(*)
Matt Jorgensen: Tattooed by Passion: Music Inspird by the Paintings of Dale Chisman (2009 , Origin): Drummer, b. 1972, based in Seattle, sixth album since 2001. Not familiar with Chisman, although his abstracts in the package and booklet are interesting and attractive. Music is conventional postbop quintet, with Corey Christiansen's guitar in lieu of piano, and Thomas Marriott and Mark Taylor the horns, trumpet and sax. Three cuts add some strings, and one Richard Cole's clarinet. B+(*)
Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza: Paraphrase (2010 , Yeah-Yeah): Alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively, split writing credits 4-4, have a couple previous albums together. Quartet with Geoff Kraly on electric bass and Jacob Garchik on trombone -- Garchik seems to be the key player, slowing things down and adding depth. B+(**)
Colin Dean: Shiwasu (2010, Roots and Grooves): Bassist, b. and raised in Long Island, studied at New School, first album, composed all the pieces. Quartet with Sean Nowell on tenor and soprano sax, Rachel Z on piano, and Colin Stranahan on drums. Nowell and Nicolazzo make typically strong impressions, the pieces are thoughtfully constructed and flow effortlessly. B+(**)
Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs (2010 , Blue Note): Second album by Lovano's two-drummer quintet, with Otis Brown III and Francesco Mela the drummers, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and James Weidman on piano. Charlie Parker compositions, except for "Lover Man" and the Lovano original "Birdyard" -- wonder if anyone thought of that before. (AMG sez no.) None of the sonic crudeness that always turned me away from Parker's records, nor any of the daring crunchiness that made Bird such a legend. Don't know why Lovano decided to play this so sweet, other than that the band isn't really up to it. B+(**)
Moon Hotel Lounge Project: Into the Ojalá (2010 , Frosty Cordial): Tom Moon project, first record I'm aware of, wrote all but one of the songs, plays credible tenor sax against a swishy background of guitar, bass, electric piano, vibes and percussion. I'm mostly familiar with Moon as a rock critic, author of 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List, which aside from a few dozen nods to the Euroclassics that I'm sure will remain unheard when I die, is a pretty useful guide. And this is a remarkably enjoyable record, its lounge concept neither camp nor corny, easy listening where everything else that conventionally goes by that label turns dull and tedious. A-
Todd Clouser: A Love Electric (2010 , Ropeadope): Guitarist, b. 1981 in Minneapolis, studied at Berklee, based in Baja, Mexico -- wanted a slower paced life in which to develop his own voice. Second album, fusion that grows out of the 1970s but isn't contained by it. No credits breakdown I can see: Bryan Nichols on Rhodes, Julio de la Cruz on piano, and Jason Craft on B3 would seem to be either-or; same for the two bassists (Gordy Johnson and Adam Linz) and the two trumpeters (Steven Bernstein and Kelly Rossum). One cover, Harry Nilsson's "One" -- smartly reinforcing the period thing. One uncredited vocal, on "Mo City Kid" -- unpro but sly. B+(**)
Suzanne Pittson: Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (2008 , Vineland): Singer, don't know how old, teaches at City College in New York, has two previous albums, one from 1992, the other from 1999; both appear to be substantial projects to pull new vocal music out of relatively untapped sources: Blues and the Abstract Truth (the Oliver Nelson classic), and Resolution: A Remembrance of John Coltrane. She, and/or husband-pianist Jeff Pittson and/or son Evan Pittson wrote new lyrics for six Hubbard pieces; they picked up other lyrics for two more, and included three covers ("You're My Everything," "Moment to Moment," and "Betcha by Golly, Wow!"). Half the tracks add Jeremy Pelt, who does a pretty good Hubbard impersonation, and Steve Wilson, who at least at first threatenes to run away with the record. The hornless cuts are less exhilarating, although Pittson is a technically impressive singer and scatter, and the project is ambitiously conceived and executed. B+(**)
Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1954-70 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The key to parsing the awkward title is the relatively narrow timespan covered, limited to Brubeck's Columbia recordings, now managed by Sony's Legacy division. That cuts off the important early recordings and interesting later ones swept up in the excellent The Essential Dave Brubeck, released in 2003 and a better place to start if you want an overview before delving into his many worthwhile individual albums. Some solos, but mostly delectable quartet with Paul Desmond, three vocal spots that should have been better (Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong), and winding up with two cuts featuring Gerry Mulligan. B+(***)
Adam Pieronczyk: Komeda -- The Innocent Sorcerer (2009 , Jazzwerkstatt): Saxophonist, b. 1970 in Poland, plays soprano and tenor, has a dozen-plus albums since 1996. Komeda, of course, is Krzysztof Komeda (1931-69), the pianist-composer who seems to be the root of all subsequent Polish jazz. Komeda may be best known for his soundtrack to Rosemary's Baby. I'm not nearly familiar enough with his dozen or so records, but regard Astigmatic as one of the high points of European jazz in the 1960s. Komeda has also been the subject of such notable tributes as Tomasz Stanko's Litania, and this is another one. With Gary Thomas on tenor sax, Nelson Veras on guitar, Anthony Cox on bass, and Lukasz Zyta on drums. A-
Kellylee Evans: Nina (2010, Plus Loin Music): Singer, second album, songs more or less associated with Nina Simone. Doesn't have Simone's voice, which leaves the most familiar of these songs a bit hollow. B-
Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz: 20th Anniversary (1992-2010 , Richport): Drummer, congalero, "Mr. Ritmo" to his friends, formed his Latin Playerz group in 1989, but I'm not finding much discography for them -- AMG only lists one record, Spiritual Awakenings (2005, Mambo Maniacs), but doesn't, for instance, list this one. Two songs date from 1992, one 1993, one 2000, one 2004, three 2006, most newer. The booklet doesn't list the Playerz, but does spotlight Judi Deleon, presumably the singer. She takes some overworked standards like "Lullaby of Birdland," "Lover Man," and "Bye Bye Blackbird," and turns them all into high points. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): Trumpet- and trombone-playing brothers from England, took advantage of their networking and lined up some splashy guest stars but didn't make it clear who played what where on the package, so I muddled my review. Turns out Chris Potter plays tenor sax on two cuts, Joe Locke vibes on one, Tim Miller guitar on one, each a different cut. They each help out, Locke most clearly. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Monday, January 24. 2011
In any case, I finally declared 2010 over and out. I froze a copy of my year-end list -- any later changes to the working file will be flagged in green. Most importantly, I still have 145 unrated records from 2010 to mop up, and there are always things I will belatedly catch up with during the next year -- my usual practice is to continue updating a year-end file until the end of the following year. (E.g., I won't be adding any new records to the 2009 file, although I notice now that I still have 17 unrated records in it -- a significant share of them Xmas records.)
The 2010 metafile and its oldies adjunct are also finished. I did manage to work in the Pazz & Jop data (and caught 6 or 7 cases where variant ballots caused short counts) and a few more lists I found late, so my final totals are slightly out of line compared to what I used in recent posts. The main thing that the metafile did was to help me identify new records of general interest; Rhapsody in turn let me listen to a great many of them. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the highly rated records turned out to be crap, but I found more than a few interesting things lurking deep on the list.
Will try to cut down the jazz backlog this coming week.
Jaruzelski's Dream: Jazz Gawronski (2008 , Clean Feed): Italian sax trio, with Piero Bittolo Bon on alto (and smartphone), Stefano Senni on bass, and Francesco Cusa on drums. Don't know where they came from, what they've done in the past, or why they're obsessed with all things Polish. I can begin to unravel such jokes as "Soulidarnosc" and "Mori Mari Curi" (the discoverer of radioactive elements like "Polonium" that killed her) but not "Swiatoslaw" or "Zibibboniek" or "Maria Goretti Contro Tutti." Presumably the group name honors (if that's the word) the last Communist dictator of Poland, Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski. Gawronski, however, appears to be an Italian politician, prominent in Berlusconi's Forza Italia, first name Jas, easy enough to play off. Gruff, garulous free sax, with enough beat to keep it steady. For a while I thought "Sei Forte Papa" was "New York, New York." I wouldn't put anything past them. B+(***)
Billy Fox's Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces (2009 , Clean Feed): Percussionist, credited only with maracas here, has two previous albums, The Kaidan Suite and Uncle Wiggly Suite, and a couple of side credits -- e.g., worked with Bobby Sanabria. So how does a maracas player sustain interest? He recruits players I've barely (or never) heard of, spread out among two saxes, trumpet, keybs, a one-track violin guest, and gives them each a few minutes to stand up and out. Also does a superb job of working out horn charts for transition. B+(***)
Zed Trio: Lost Transitions (2009 , Ayler): French trio, don't know much about them, but here goes: Heddy Boubaker (b. 1963, Marseille, father Tunisian), plays alto and bass sax, mostly free jazz but has also played in gnawa bands, name listed on a couple other albums; David Lataillade, electric guitar; and Frédéric Vaudaux, drums; no further discography. Choppy free improv, tends to get noisy, which I like to a point but they do push it. B+(***)
The Dymaxion Quartet: Sympathetic Vibrations (2010, self-released): Drummer Gabriel Gloege, student of Bob Brookmeyer and fan of Buckminster Fuller, wrote all nine pieces here, arranged as three sets of three labelled Hong Kong, Paris, and Manhattan. Dymaxion is Fuller's term, fused together from dynamic, maximum, and tension and used for all sorts of wild and wooly ideas. This one is a pianoless quartet: Michael Shobe's trumpet and Mark Small's tenor sax are the free horns, with Dan Fabricatore on bass. Seems more composed-through than maximally dynamic, a neat effect but maybe too neat. B+(**) [advance]
Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live (2006-08 , Challenge): B. 1922 in Brussels, Belgium, played some guitar early on but distinguished himself on harmonica to the point that he has dominated Billboard's miscellaneous instrument category for ages now. His records start in 1955 and continue with few gaps -- only four in the last decade but mostly toward the end. Quartet with piano (Karel Boehlee), bass (Hein Van de Geyn), and drums (Hans van Oosterhout, so he carries almost every moment selected here from various unspecified concerts. Mostly venerable standards, ending with two originals he did much to turn into standards. His tone is as striking as ever, but that's about it. B+(*)
Chaise Lounge: Symphony Lounge (2010, Big Round): Charlie Barnett group: he plays guitar, sings a little, writes most of the songs. Lead singer is Marilyn Older, and the group includes Gary Gregg (sax, clarinet, flute), John Jensen (trombone), bass and drums, but gets stretched out this time with Capital City Symphony adding strings and who knows what else. Two covers -- "Do Nothing 'Till You Hear From Me" and "Luck Be a Lady" -- define the milieu as retro while Barnett's own songs fit in as period obscurities -- titles include "Dude, She's Waiting," "In Walked Mo," "Blue, the Distracted Reader," "Lonely Is as Lonely Does." B+(***)
Maxfield Gast Trio: Side by Side (2010, Militia Hill): Saxophonist, credits list soprano, alto and tenor here. First album he tried doing a hip-hop beat thing with EWI and it didn't work out so well. This time he's running a straight sax trio with Brian Howell on bass and Mike Pietrusko on drums, and turns in a very solid performance. B+(**)
The Pickpocket Ensemble: Memory (2010, self-released): San Francisco group, fourth album since 2003, plays "café music" -- "the inversion of folk," as leader Rick Corrigan (accordion, piano) puts it. Band includes violin (Marguerite Ostro), guitar/banjo (Yates Brown), bass (Kurt Ribak), and percussion (Michaelle Goerlitz), with Myra Joy on cello but evidently not in group. Hype sheet talks about them picking up elements from all over the globe, but nothing very clear emerges from the cosmopolitan mishmash. B
Jeremy Siskind: Simple Songs: For When the World Seems Strange (2010, Bju'ecords): Pianist, b. 1986 in California, based in New York; second album. Mostly piano trio, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Some songs add Jo Lawry singing. Piano often impressive, don't mind the vocals, but overall I'm not getting much traction, finding myself with little to say. B+(*)
Blue Cranes: Observatories (2009 , Blue Cranes): Portland, OR group; second album since 2007. Two saxophones (Reid Wallsmith on alto, Sly Pig on tenor), keyboards (Rebecca Sanborn), bass and drums. The horns are mostly yoked together, slowed down and muscled up with a harmonic fuzz I don't much care for -- reminds me of rock opera more than anything else. Three cuts add strings, four guitar, the closer adds a "family percussion section" that concludes with a shout-out. B-
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Friday, January 21. 2011
The Pazz & Jop Critics Poll results are out in the Village Voice this week. Start here and work your way around. If you're more than passingly curious about the numbers (and/or the critics) also look at Glenn McDonald's Needlebase website here. The poll aggregates top-ten albums and singles charts from 708 critics. The thing started in 1974 with two dozen critics, gradually expanded to 207 critics in 1983, was still at 212 in 1989, shot up to 300 in 1991, trailed back to 236 in 1996, exploded to 496 in 1998, 586 in 2000, 622 in 2001, 695 in 2002, to a peak of 795 in 2005. In 2006, Robert Christgau was sacked at the Voice, a short-lived rival poll was organized, and the participation dropped to 494. (Most of the history has been captured here, although there are still some gaps and the post-Christgau poll data isn't up to date.)
I'm mostly concerned with the album totals, because I mostly focus on albums -- and, well, find the singles arena to be much more erratic and inconsistent. Singles get fewer voters, there are more singles to vote for, so the result should be more scattered -- not that I've done the work to check this -- and if it's not, does that actually prove anything of interest? But I also have another reason for focusing on albums: I want to see how they stack up against my metafile -- a count I've been running of how many times albums show up in various top-N lists. I got a little carried away this year and toted up about 1200 such lists -- a lot of work, the main effect being that I have gained a pretty broad idea about what lots of people think about this year's albums.
One use for the metafile was to make predictions about how the P&J voters would wind up voting. I didn't specifically design it to do so: had I done so I would have needed to typify and qualify the listmakers to get something more representative of P&J voters (e.g., I could have safely ignored lists from Europe and South Korea, which I didn't do); also I would have needed to work in some form of weighting -- I counted number 100 on a list the same as number 1. I didn't do this for several reasons: simple counts cut down on my workload, and more lists helped rope in more records (I wound up with 4900), especially obscure genres of personal interest. Ultimately it matters very little to me who beat out whom, but I did want to get a sense of what I had missed but looked interesting, and I had at least some curiosity about what other people were thinking. My method worked reasonably well for those intents.
As for predicting P&J, I had been pretty convinced that I had identified the top 10-12 records, possibly more, but orders that had seemed pretty stable as I accumulated my data jumped around quite a bit: for instance, the National's High Violet, rock solid in my data at number 3, dropped to 8th place; Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid, my number 8 by a tiny margin, jumped to 4th; and while I knew the slim margin that Arcade Fire's The Suburbs was able to maintain over Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy wouldn't carry over, I was surprised by West's margins: +121 mentions (266 to 145) and over twice the points. Nonetheless, in one discussion group that followed, Cam Patterson noted:
My number 11, Sleigh Bells' Treats, had jumped up to 9th; my number 6, dropped down to 11th. But while the order was severely perturbed, my top 11 were the poll's same top 11. What happened below that was more unruly. My number 12 (Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz) dropped to 37th, with number 13 (Gorillaz' Plastic Beach) down in 30th. The poll, instead, sloted 12th and 13th Titus Andronicus' The Monitor (my number 20) and Robyn's Body Talk (my number 23) before bouncing back into alignment -- Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me and Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti's Before Today took two of the next three slots on both polls.
The rest of this post goes on and on, so let's push it into the "extended body" and out of the way.
Continue reading "Pazz & Jop Notes"
Monday, January 17. 2011
Tribecastan: 5 Star Cave (2009 , Evergreene Music): New York group -- that much shouldn't be hard to figure out -- with pretensions to exotica rooted in the real world today, very much including Afghanistan but not limited by it, as opposed to Esquivel-ish fantasies of Polynesian fleshpots. Principals are John Kurth and Jeff Greene, each with a dozen or more obscure instruments, most with strings, some flute-like or percussive. Group is rounded out with Todd Isler on more percussion and Mike Duclos because music always sounds better with a bassist on hand, and sprinkled with a dozen "special guests" -- the sort of people easy to find in New York (some names I recognize: Steve Turre, Charlie Burnham, Al Kooper, Badal Roy). Samantha Parton sings one song, a cool breeze with words by A.P. Carter. Everything is very mild and painless; I guess not like the real Afghanistan. B+(**)
Afrocubism (2010, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Cuba was the only new world post where slaveholders didn't try hard to strip the roots of their chattels, so the island developed as a microcosm of the mother continent, with well-defined religious and musical tribes mapping straight to Senegal, Nigeria, and Congo, permitting hybridized African music to flow back into Africa itself. But Africa is a big and diverse continent, and Mali was isolated, much of its land parched, its music simpler and more ethereal, which oddly enough has lately turned Mali's musicians -- especially kora master Toumani Diabaté into the continent's most prolific musical diplomats. This is their record, aided by a few Cubans like Eliades Ochoa, primed with Benny Moré and Nico Saquito songs, with a sweet but slight "Guantanamera" to ice the cake. B+(***)
Suresh Singaratnam: Lost in New York (2009 , Suresong): Trumpet player, born in Zambia, moved to UK then Toronto then New York, studying at Manhattan School of Music. Has some classical music on his resume. First jazz album, fairly dense and fancy postbop with Jake Saslow on tenor sax, Jesse Lewis on guitar, piano, bass, drums, plus a guest vocal I could do without. Lewis has the key support role; trumpet is bright and bold. B+(**)
Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): AMG lists two albums, but they're by different pairs of Mason Brothers: the other one has James Mason and Christian Mason playing guitar, presumably something country-rock. This one has Brad Mason on trumpet and flugelhorn, Elliot Mason on trombone and bass trumpet, playing mainstream postbop. From England, b. 1973 (Brad) and 1977 (Elliot), both studied at Berklee; Brad has more session work going back to 2004; Elliot holds down a chair in JLCO. Wynton Marsalis wrote the liner notes. The band shows how well connected they are: Chris Potter (sax), Joe Locke (vibes), David Kikoski (piano), Tim Miller (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Don't have (or can't read) track breakdowns, but you'd think that if Potter, to say the least, had played through I'd have noticed him. Did hear a lot of trombone, tight, snug between the lines. B+(*)
Clayton Brothers: The New Song and Dance (2010, ArtistShare): Bassist John Clayton and reedist Jeff Clayton (alto sax and alto flute this time) are the brothers. They got their start in the Basie Orchestra, then formed the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with drummer Jeff Hamilton -- the group Diana Krall tapped when she wanted a big band like Sinatra used to use. The quintet includes a third Clayton, John's son Gerald on piano, plus Obed Calvaire on drums and Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn. Despite the small group size, they know how to make a splash. It's usually Stafford up front, of course, but the band swings at unit force, and the sax is much more than a foil for the trumpet. B+(**)
Harold O'Neal: Wirling Mantis (2008 , Smalls): Pianist, b. 1981 in Tanzania, raised in Kansas City -- father and uncle were leaders in Black Panther Party in KC; uncle remains "in exile" in Tanzania. Studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music. First album, quartet, with Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Joe Sanders on bass, Rodney Green on drums. Postbop, Shaw roughs it up a bit, piano whirls around making a nice impression. B+(***)
Dan Block: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington: From His World to Mine (2009 , Miles High): Block plays tenor and alto sax, various clarinets, and basset horn. First album under his own name; I'm having trouble tracking down his side credits, which may include some classical performances as well as a fair number of more or less trad jazz groups -- I get more hits grepping my notebook for him than AMG lists (Linda Ronstadt's big band, David Berger's Sultans of Swing, George Gee, John Sheridan's Dream Band, Michael Camacho, Chris Flory, Jerry Costanzo/Andy Farber [on baritone], Marty Grosz's Hot Winds, Catherine Russell). Ellington and Strayhorn tunes, none of the really obvious ones you've heard hundreds of times (although I've certainly played "Mt. Harrissa" that much, enough to recognize it even without the original's pyrotechnic brass), given the small group swing treatment, sometimes with Pat O'Leary's cello and no drums; about half in a septet with Mike Kanan on piano, James Chirillo on guitar, and Mark Sherman on vibes. Lovely stuff -- Block favors his clarinet but I'm partial to his tenor sax. B+(***)
Richard Cole: Inner Mission (2007 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1957, based in Seattle, name inevitably recalls alto saxophonist Richie Cole (nine years older, presumably unrelated, recorded extensively 1976-88 and not much since). Fourth album since 1994, all on Origin. Front cover says "featuring Randy Brecker" -- the trumpet player on 5 of 9 cuts, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet on two others. Bill Anschell plays piano on 6 cuts; John Hansen on two others, and bassist and drummers come and go. Cole takes Henry Mancini's "Slow Hot Wind" on soprano. I don't get much out of the postbop arrangements here, but the sax is often impressive. B
Dave Liebman Big Band: As Always (2005-07 , MAMA): Liebman plays soprano sax and wooden flute, in front of a big band led by saxophonist Gunnar Mossblad: five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano (Jim Ridl), guitar (Liebman's long-time collaborator Vic Juris), bass (Tony Marino), and drums (Marko Marcinko). Liebman's tunes, arranged by various others. Dense, complex, not much stands out. B
Antonio Sanchez: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2008 , CAM Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, from Mexico, b. 1971, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory; second album under his own name, but has scads of side credits. All-star two sax quartet, Miguel Zenon on alto and David Sanchez on tenor, with Scott Colley on bass. Often turns into a thrilling sax chase, not that far removed from Gordon and Gray, or Stitt and Ammons. B+(**)
Patrick Cornelius: Fierce (2009 , Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, AMG credits him with two records but his website claims four going back to 2001. Trio plus two extra horns -- Nick Vayenas on valve trombone and Mark Small on tenor sax -- what he calls his Chordless Jazz Ensemble. Solid postbop effort, bold even, fierce too. B+(**)
Pete Levin: Jump! (2008-10 , Pete Levin Music): B. 1942, started out playing French horn in Gil Evans' orchestras, then around 1980 switched to keyboards, eventually settling on the organ. Straight, upbeat soul jazz session, with Dave Stryker adding quite a bit on guitar, plus Lenny White on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion. Closer was a 2008 "Honeysuckle Rose" with the late Joe Beck on guitar, rescued from the archives and spruced up a bit. B+(*)
Tom Rizzo: Imaginary Numbers (2009 , Origin): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, plays in the Tonight Show Band, before that with Maynard Ferguson. First album, looks like it was originally released in 2009 then picked up by Origin. Runs a bigger group than necessary -- five horn credits including Bob Sheppard on soprano and tenor sax and four brass including French horn and tuba -- but the guitar is the most memorable. B+(*)
Leslie Pintchik: We're Here to Listen (2010, Pintch Hard): Pianist, based in New York, third album since 2003 although she dates her trio and collaboration with bassist-guitarist Scott Hardy back to 1992. This adds Mark Dodge on drums and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Thoughtful, deliberate. I also have a DVD of here around here somewhere, but you know how it is with DVDs. B+(*)
Raúl Jaurena & His Tango Orchestra: Fuerza Milongnera (2008 , Soundbrush): Bandoneon player, from Uruguay, based in New York but recorded this in Montevideo. Group features four bandoneons, two violins, viola, cello, piano, guitar, bass, and Marga Mitchell sings a couple of tunes. Pablo Aslan produced but doesn't play. Deep, rich, sounds very old-fashioned, downright classical. B+(**)
Amy Briggs: Tangos for Piano (2005 , Ravello): Pianist, exclusively classical as far as I can tell, although this is only her first album under her own name. Solo piano. The 22 tangos include one by Piazzolla, but are mostly by composers not normally associated with tango -- some I more/less recognize are Stravinsky, Nancarrow, Rzewski, Harrison, but most are too obscure for me. Drama and panache, of course, and in some ways it's refreshing not to carry along the standard instrumental baggage. B+(*)
Dave Frank: Portrait of New York (2009 , Jazzheads): Pianist, based in New York, fourth record since 1997, most or possibly all of them solo. Does the one thing that most helps carry a solo piano recording: keeps his own rhythm churning. B+(*)
Dan Adler/Joey DeFrancesco/Byron Landham: Back to the Bridge (2010, Edman Music): Organ trio, obviously. The guy you don't know gets top billing, slightly larger type (but fewer letters), is pictured on a bridge with a guitar -- what more do you need to know? Web bio includes everything I want to know except year born -- probably mid-late 1960s, in Israel. Trained as a semiconductor engineer/computer scientist, has an impressive resume there including notable open source software work. Moved to New York in 1986. Picked up guitar in 4th grade. Studied with Gil Dor, and cites a lot of other musical influences -- Roni Ben-Hur stands out, but also DeFrancesco's usual sidekick Paul Bollenback. First album. Nothing ambitious or pretentious, just does a nice job of laying in the groove. B+(**)
Colin Stranahan: Life Condition (2009 , Tapestry): Drummer, from Colorado, third album since 2004, basically a sax trio with Ben Van Gelder on alto and Chris Smith on bass, with Jake Saslow joining on tenor sax on 2 of 8 cuts. Snakey freebop, the beat lagging behind not so much to steer the sax as to steer our ears. B+(**)
Boris Kozlov: Double Standard (2007 , self-released): Bassist, b. 1967 in Moscow, moved to New York in the 1990s, joined the Mingus Big Band in 1998, has had a lot of side-credits since 2000 or so. First album, solo bass, two and a half originals -- the fraction mixed in with a Mingus piece. A little narrow and subdued to focus on, which tends to be the nature of the beast. B
The Kora Band: Cascades (2010, Origin): Seattle group, seems to mostly be the project of pianist Andrew Oliver, but Kane Mathis is the indispensible kora player. More than half of the 13 tunes are African, mostly trad. from Gamaia, Mali, and Guinea but also from Les Tetes Brulees and Ntesa Dalienst; four originals, three from Oliver, one from Mathis. Group includes Chad McCullough on trumpet/flugelhorn, Brady Millard-Kish on bass, and Mark DiFlorio on drums. More synthesis than ersatz, the brass a nice touch. B+(*)
Mario Romano Quartet: Valentina (2010, Alma): Pianist, from or at least based in Toronto, Canada. First album, but he's been around since the early 1970s. Quartet with Pat LaBarbera on tenor sax, Roberto Occhipinti on bass, and Mark Kelso on drums, with someone identified only as Kristy singing one song (Romano's "Those Damn I Love Yous" -- only song he wrote here, although Occhipinti wrote one for him, "Via Romano"). LaBarbera is drummer Joe LaBarbera's older brother; b. 1944, joined Buddy Rich in 1968, has a scattered career after that, with a half-dozen records on his own. He's an impressive mainstream player, a fine counterpart to the pianist. Mostly covers from 1950s and 1960s, many I associate with Miles Davis ("Nardis," "On Green Dolphin Street," "Someday My Prince Will Come"); one Beatles song ("Norwegian Wood"), which hardly spois the day. [PS: Kristy is Kristy Cardinali; turns out I have her debut album, My Romance, in my queue.] B+(**)
Mina Cho: Originality (2010, Blink Music): Pianist, b. 1981 in Seoul, South Korea, started playing gospel in church, moved on to Berklee, and now has her first album. Piano itself is rich and flowing, with Andrew Halchak's soprano sax or Shu Odamura's guitar adding to the lushness. Bonus track is the only non-original, with a David Thorne Scott vocal in the usual hipster style. B+(*)
Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz [Special Edition] (2008-09 , Dox, 2CD): Title broken up onto three lines on front cover, but one word on spine, and one word as a song title. I probably put this off thinking Xmas music, a big mistake that should have been flagged by the subtitle: More Mengelberg. The Dutch pianist doesn't play, but did write all but two compositions, and emerges for a short interview fragment at the end of the first disc -- in Dutch, natch. Herman is a Dutch alto saxophonist, b. 1968, has a healthy list of albums since 1999, including Plays Misha Mengelberg in 2000 and Plays Jaki Byard in 2003. Looks like Hypochristmastreefuzz originally came out as a single in 2009, then was reissued in 2010 with a second disc, "Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival." I recognize Mengelberg (b. 1935) as one of the giants of the European avant-garde, but I've actually listened to very little by him (or his longstanding ICP [Instant Composers Pool] Orchestra), so the big surprise for me here is how this all jumps. Mostly sax-bass-drums, a little guitar, one track with mellotron, one with a Ruben Hein vocal, another with a bit of choir. Manages to be edgy and catchy at the same time. Several songs reappear on the live disc, looser and rougher, as you'd expect. A-
Toca Loca: Shed (2010 , Henceforth): Two pianos -- Simon Docking, from Australia, and Gregory Oh, from Toronto, although he's also studied in Michigan and worked in San Diego (Toronto seems to be where the action is, but the record label has a San Diego address) -- plus percussionist Aiyun Huang, born in Taiwan but also based in Toronto (teaches at McGill) and also passed through San Diego (UCSD). Oh seems to be top dog, as he's also credited as conductor. Album doesn't have a jazz feel, and I've shuttled it over to my vaguely defined "avant-garde" file (mostly following AMG, which pretty much ensures vague defs). Four 11-22 minute cuts, composed by others -- Frederic Rzewski is the only one I recognize but further research would probably put them all into the post-classical avant-garde. One cut has some guests on clarinet, cello, french horn and flute; another has extra percussion, but mostly I'm hearing piano abstractions varied with the extra percussion. Mostly interesting stuff, but nothing to sweep you away. [PS: Digging a bit deeper, Toca Loca has one previous album, P*P. Oh also scored a "doll opera" called "XXX Live Nude Girls!" which the poster warns: "contains crude language. adult sexual content. doll nudity. not suitable for children." See the website for samples of the doll porn.] B+(*)
Jeremy Pelt: The Talented Mr. Pelt (2010 , High Note): Trumpet player. I first bumped noticed him as a Downbeat poll rising star, and when I finally heard him I thought he was worthy, brilliant even. Now this is his eighth album since 2002, and I've yet to see much from his undoubted talent. This is livelier than most, as it should be with tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen sharing the front line, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, but he's yet to break loose over a full album. B+(*)
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messengers: Chucho's Steps (2009 , Four Quarters): Cuban pianist, b. 1941, son of famed pianist Bebo Valdés, now in his 90s and at least recently active; led Irakere from 1972, and has released a steady stream of records under his own name since 1986 including several on Blue Note. He is still a spectacular pianist, the kind that reminds one of Art Tatum although Tatum never tackled such tricky rhythms. With trumpet and tenor sax that don't often add much, lots of percussion, a chorus for one song. Swept the Voice poll's Latin Jazz category -- an obvious choice although it strikes me as a bit out of sorts. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (2010, Palmetto): Read the end of the title as a pun on Trio, which is what Wilson assembled here: Paul Sikivie on bass; Jeff Lederer on various saxes, clarinets, piccolo, and toy piano; the leader on drums. Songs are mostly trad, but Wilson (like myself) is just the right age to include Dr. Seuss and "The Chipmunk Song" among the classics, and for good measure he works in a solemn "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Not so solemn are the classics, with "Angels We Have Heard on High" warming to a free sax freakout, and "Hallelujah Chorus" full of squawk and tympani. Can't recall hearing this at the mall this year; for one thing, it would have lifted my spirits. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Ted Nash: Portrait in Seven Shades (2010, Jazz at Lincoln Center): Saxophonist, b. 1959, played mostly alto early on but (I think) mostly tenor now. Uncle was a well known saxophonist, also named Ted Nash; father played trombone. Broke in with Quincy Jones at age 17, played in big bandsa (Louie Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Don Ellis, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Lewis, most recently the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, while knocking out ten or so albums under his own name, some quite good. It's real hard to judge this one by streaming it: the sound isn't coming through loud or clear enough to catch the details, so I'm tend to give Nash credit for things I can't quite follow, but perhaps not as much as he deserves. Pretty impressive sax player when he bothers to get out front. Also, I'm a little confused about those shades, since the seven pieces are named for actual painters: Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Pollock. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Danilo Pérez: Providencia (2010, Mack Avenue): Pianist, b. 1966 in Panama; father was a bandleader; studied and now teaches at Berklee. Not someone I've followed closely, but has a solid reputation, with ten or so albums since 1992, including one dedicated to Monk. Mixed bag: impressive enough solo or trio, especially memorable when Rudresh Mahanthappa joins in on alto sax, but some cuts add classical orch instruments (flute, oboe, French horn, bassoon) and/or Sara Serpa vocalizing. The one with flute and Serpa would be unlistenable except for Pérez fighting back with his most bracing piano. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Irene Kral: Second Chance (1975 , Jazzed Media): Singer, b. 1932 in Chicago, younger sister of Roy Kral (pianist-vocalist, mostly of Jackie & Roy fame); bounced through several big bands, getting her name first on a 1958 album with Herb Pomeroy (The Band and I). Most of her recordings cluster around 1974-77, just before she died in 1978 of breast cancer. This is the second 1975 live session the label has come up with (after 2004's Just for Now). Accompanied by pianist Alan Broadbent, superb in this context. Some standards, some pop songs of more recent vintage, mostly ballads which she nails, but ends on a very upbeat "Nobody Else but Me" and nails it too. Never heard her before -- just a name I recognized but couldn't place. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Dave Douglas & Keystone: Spark of Being: Expand (2010, Greenleaf Music): The new record, or three, or you can buy them all in a box, or download, etc., in some sort of subscription -- the business plan behind this product is more complicated than the music. Expand is the second disc if, e.g., you buy the box, and it's the only one on Rhapsody. The first is Spark of Being: Soundtrack, the edited soundtrack to a Bill Morrison "multimedia collaboration." Expand is made up of seven long-ish pieces before they got hacked up for the soundtrack. The third is Spark of Being: Burst, which are ten more pieces written for the film but not used. Group includes Douglas on trumpet and laptop, Marcus Strickland on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on Fedner Rhodes, Brad Jones on Ampeg baby bass, Gene Lake on drums, and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. The keyb and electronics are as tightly integrated and integral as ever, maybe more so. The horns are far less bracing, but that goes with soundtrack mode. I'm reluctant to rate this higher without being able to see the rest of the puzzle. But Douglas is in a prolonged creative stretch, albeit sometimes a puzzling one. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
John Zorn: Interzone (2010, Tzadik): Lost track of whether Zorn succeeded in his quest to release one record for each month of 2010, but this is Miss November. It's also the one that sounds most like a standard-issue John Zorn record: screechy sax, open spaces, lots of scattershot percussion. John Medeski's "keyboards" sound like they include a piano; Marc Ribot plays guitar-like instruments; Trevor Dunn basses; Cyro Baptista, Ikue Mori, and Kenny Wollesen are responsible for the bumps and blips. Theme has something to do with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, which in Zorn's hands means comic book punk jazz with surreal or absurdist interludes -- the sort of thing he used to do c. Spillane and Spy vs. Spy before he got all Jewish on us and/or discovered he discovered he could throw a bunch of index cards at other musicians and get them to record 3-4 times as many records under his name as he could do himself. So this feels a bit like a con, but Ribot is terrific, there are some utterly sublime oases amidst the chaos and cartoon violence, and, well, unless Medeski somehow snuck a Cecil Taylor sample into his synth I for one have never heard him play piano like this. Very tentative grade: A- [Rhapsody]
John Zorn: What Thou Wilt (2009 , Tzadik): Composition only, no Zorn playing. Main group consists of piano, three celli, and viola, but there's also the Tanglewood Orchestra on the 13:37 opener, "Contes de Fées," with more violins than I can count, another phalanx of celli, and the occasional oboe, bassoon, or flute. Demands a high tolerance for abstract string sounds, especially on the first piece. The remaining two pieces bounce the piano off the strings, which is more entertaining to say the least. B [Rhapsody]
Erik Friedlander: Fifty: Miniatures for Improvising Quintet (2008 , Skipstone): Reading the cover I get 50 Miniatures for Improvising Quintet, but Friedlander's own sources spell out Fifty, so I compromised above. Each miniature is a 14-note figure having something to do with a Hebrew letter, but they've been glommed together for seven pieces ranging from 3:53 to 6:26. Quintet is Friedlander on cello, Jennifer Choi on violin, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums. String sounds dominate, but they have a cutting edge, and while the miniatures can break abstractly they can also flow together powerfully. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Lorraine Feather: Ages (2008-09 , Jazzed Media): Daughter of jazz encylopedist Leonard Feather, b. 1948, full name Billie Jane Lee Lorraine Feather, the first for a godmother named Holiday -- not the first comparison a fledgling jazz singer wants to bring to mind. Cut an album in 1979, not regarded as much, then restarted her career in 1997, this her eighth album. She wrote the lyrics, picking up music from her band and guests -- guitarist Eddie Arkin; pianists Shelly Berg, Russell Ferrante and Dick Hyman; banjoist Béla Fleck. Several striking songs, like "The Girl With the Lazy Eye," "Two Desperate Women in Their Late 30s," and "I Forgot to Have Children." B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Geri Allen & Timeline: Live (2009 , Motéma Music): Pianist, b. 1957, several dozen albums and scads more credits since 1984 -- a major jazz pianist by any reckoning. Two Jazz CG appearances: an A- for her superb trio The Life of a Song, and a dud for the sprawling Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Haven't gotten anything from her since, including two well-regarded albums this year. Flying Toward the Sun got nearly all of the poll attention, finishing ninth at Village Voice, but it takes something really exceptional in a solo piano record to hold my interest. This has more rhythmic push -- a trio with Kenny Davis on bass and Kassa Overall on drums, plus something extra in tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. The piano remains impressive when it breaks out, the rhythm helps sustain things, and the taps are hard to figure. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Stacey Kent: Raconte-Moi . . . (2010, Blue Note): Singer, b. 1966 in South Orange, NJ; lives in England, and (this time at least) sings in French. Thirteenth album since 1997. Light touch, an elegant stylist. Starts with a particularly charming translation of Jobim. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
Jay Phelps: Jay Walkin' (2010, Specific Jazz): Canadian trumpet player, been in UK since he was 17; first album at 28, which I guess would make him b. 1982. Kind of a hard bop throwback, with piano-bass-drums and Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. A couple of hipster vocals by Michael Mwenso, and occasional guests, all reinforcing the band feel. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
Russell Malone: Triple Play (2010, MaxJazz): Guitarist, tenth album since 1992. Strikes me as about midway between Wes Montgomery's fluidity and Bill Frisell's poise on standard American fare, which is a pretty neat trick when no one gets in the way, or when he lets things get too complicated. No problems on either count with this guitar-bass-drums trio. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Vitoria Suite (2009 , Decca, 2CD): Cover also adds: Featuring Paco de Lucia. That would be the famous flamenco guitarist, a sop to the home crowd as Marsalis takes LCJO on the road to Spain, and tries his hand at writing his own "Sketches of Spain." It sprawls over two discs, slipping into occasional dull stretches but mostly feeding clever arrangement details to what's become a very imposing big band -- the all-star trumpet section is if anything topped by the reed section (Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Walter Blanding Jr., Victor Goines, Joe Temperley). B+(***) [Rhapsody]
Tommy Smith/Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Torah (2010, Spartacus): Five pieces, each named for a book of the Torah or Bible, performed by a conventional big band (four trumpet, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums) led and dominated by Smith's exceptional tenor sax. One stretch where he plays solo is mesmerizing, rising to magnificent when the band joins in. But mostly the band camouflages the leader, making this one of his less distinctive albums. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra: Exploration (2007, Spartacus): A Scottish big band, organized by Smith after he returned to his homeland in 2002. Don't know how young the players are -- no one I recognize other than the guests, notably vibraphonist Joe Locke, who gets a "featuring" credit on the cover. Smith conducts and arranges but doesn't play. The best known cuts are the best by far: a rollicking "A Night in Tunisia" and a spiffy "Cottontail," with Locke in particularly good form on the former. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
I basically went down the Village Voice Jazz Poll Results and looked up most of the things I hadn't been serviced. Some are above; more I haven't gotten to (yet); more still I couldn't find, including the following (* indicates a record I've noted as missing before):
If I had time, I could have made this list much longer. A lot of important labels don't seem to ever be available. Some, like Leo, show up very rarely. Intakt has some old records but no new ones; Not Two is a bit better but slipping behind. Tzadik is usually there but not always easy to find. I haven't sorted it all out.
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last three weeks:
Saturday, January 15. 2011
I spend more time than usual around the end of the year checking out things on Rhapsody, expanding my reach from what I'm most likely interested in to lots of things that other people like, on the off chance there may be some merit in it. I kicked out 46 of my notes on January 4 and held back 33, figuring that left plenty for another set mid-month. Added a few since then, so now it looks like 64. Also note the ones I tried to find but couldn't. You'd think I'd be getting to the bottom of the year-end list, but it's really a pretty long one. Not even sure I'm getting diminishing returns -- two 3-stars since I closed this column -- although what's left on the indie boys lists is looking pretty unappetizing.
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 January 4. Past reviews and more information are available here.
7L & Esoteric: 1212 (2010, Fly Casual): Boston underground rap duo, AMG sez they got together in 1992 but the seven records start out in 2001 -- A New Dope is a good one, but that's as far as I've gotten. One song namechecks retired basketball players. One describes the harrows of flying. Damn near everyone has something clever, quotable even, and the beats are serviceable-plus. A-
Gary Allan: Get Off on the Pain (2010, MCA Nashville): Country singer, from California, dropped his last name (Herzberg) when he headed to Nashville, eighth album since 1996. Cowrote half of the songs, 6-10 if you want to program them in. Title song could be classic, and the second hits a poignant note ("I Think I've Had Enough") amidst some serious studio bombast, but the third song can't hold up to the treatment. Minus the bombast, as with "We Fly by Night," he's not bad: he's got the pipes and can convey basic emotions, isn't too bright, and trusts the machine to make him rich. (Inspirational lyric: "who am I to question God anyway?") B-
Anika: Anika (2010, Stones Throw): Singer, also works as a journalist, based in Bristol and/or Germany, last name seems to be Invada although I can't swear she was born that way. Wrote two of eight songs, backed with bleak synth music by Geoff Barrow (of Portishead), redeemed with hard beats. The 7:31 "Masters of War" struck me as pretty dub, until they repeated it at the end with a real dub version -- unfortunately just 3:24; moreover, they cut the rap on occupation. B+(**)
Atmosphere: To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EPs (2010, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Some confusing sleight of hand here. Cover just reads To All My Friends large on top, and The Atmosphere EPs smaller at bottom, but there is an alternate cover with Blood Makes the Blade Holy a second line just below the first, and most sources tack that onto the title. First time I read this I figured these were repackaged old EPs, but the music seems to be new, the conceit being two new EPs consolidated into one 40:43 disc. This was humming along uneventfully when "The Best Day" took over -- one of those remarkable everyman stories that made Slug's early records so remarkable, and it sets up a series with "Americare" and "Hope" that winds up pervading the album. Works in some more rockish moves, harder beats, nothing definitive. B+(**)
Band of Horses: Infinite Arms (2010, Fat Possum): Average American rock band, founded in Seattle, now based in South Carolina, perhaps because it cut against the New York-Los Angeles axis. Third album since 2006. Leisurely paced, clear, melodic; I wouldn't say it's catchy or memorable, but hard to dislike, pretty in a rather harmless way. B+(*)
Beach Fossils: Beach Fossils (2010, Captured Tracks): Not sure if there's any band to this beyond Dustin Payseur. Lo-fi, guitar strum with reverb or echo, same for the vocals, the point being to make them more remote and dehuman, i.e. alienated. Jesus and Mary Chain might be a point of reference, but Payseur is much more primitive, unpolished, unambitious. I find it captivating, but can't assign any importance to it. B+(**)
Natasha Bedingfield: Strip Me (2010, Epic/Phonogenic): English pop singer, third album (although the second was released under two titles). I don't get much out of her: a couple of catchy tunes, which isn't enough for dance pop, lots of lungpower but little that would qualify as personality. B-
Dierks Bentley: Up on the Ridge (2010, Capitol): Ranks about fourth in EOY lists among country albums, trailing Jamey Johnson, Taylor Swift, and Johnny Cash, each with its own crossover appeal, with Elizabeth Cook sneaking up from far left field, which makes Bentley the conventional Nashville star critics know about and can cotton to. He sings fine, keeps his music neotrad, taps guests like Miranda Lambert, and doesn't mess up too bad -- well, except for the U2 cover (can't imagine what he was thinking there). Pretty blah at first, but closes strong, with a good Kristofferson song, "Bottle to the Bottom," and a somber miner lament, "Down in the Mine." B
Black Mountain: Wilderness Heart (2010, Jagjaguwar): Vancouver band, founded by Stephen McBean after he gave up on a prior band called Jerk With a Bomb. Third album since 2005. Not countryish; more of a classic rock sound, evidence of a lot more muscle than they commonly flex, with some keyb or organ and extra vocal contrast from Amber Webber. AMG compared them to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but they're not that classic. B+(*)
Bonobo: Black Sands (2010, Ninja Tune): British DJ Simon Green, b. 1976, been cranking out electronica since 1999, considered downbeat, maybe ambient and/or trip-hop -- strikes me as less spacey and less gloomy than the latter, more presence than ambient, but he does have a calm dignity to his efforts. A couple of vocals aren't his strong points, but hold up well enough. Very listenable, pleasant, reassuring. B+(**)
Laura Bell Bundy: Achin' and Shakin' (2010, Mercury Nashville): B. 1981, grew up in Lexington, KY; started acting around ten, and has a list of films and Broadway roles although I can't say I've made much sense of it. Turned into a country singer around 2007, with this her second album: a trooper, goes through the moves from sweet to sassy; not clear that any of them are more than a role. B-
Calle 13: Entren Los Que Quieran (2010, Sony Music Latin): Puerto Rican duo, fourth album since 2006, second I've heard. First was marred by a dreadful intro, a feat they almost duplicate in the first 3:18 here. After that the beats kick in, they rap en español -- I'm OK at reading subway signs but can't follow this -- and the music occasionally throws out a weird flare that reminds me of Manu Chao, and every now and then I find myself chuckling or often just smiling, at God knows what. A-
Care Bears on Fire: Get Over It! (2009 , S-Curve): Three Brooklyn teenage girls, been together since 2005, or fifth grade, which makes them 15-16 now. Christgau discovered their new 5-cut EP, Girls Like It Loud, which I didn't much expect to find, and didn't. Instead, I got this 14-cut LP, a respectable 33:48, evidently released in 2009 and re-released (with no evident changes) in 2010. He dismissed this as "mildly enjoyable . . . bratty-dreaming-slutty." For now, I'm quite delighted with bratty, and like how they get a basic punk sound without quite replicating anyone else. They do run into trouble ten songs in with their whine about "Violet" -- they slow down, throws them off stride, and they wind up 0:35 longer than anything else on the album. "Met You on MySpace" isn't much of a recovery, either. So I'll hold back a bit. Maybe, like Ellington, they shouldn't be too successful too soon. [PS: EP did finally show up; q.v.] B+(***)
Care Bears on Fire: Girls Like It Loud (2010, S-Curve, EP): Three teenage girls from Brooklyn, cut an album in 2009 that I thought was pretty good but Christgau dismissed it in favor of this more mature 5-cut EP. True enough that they're learning new tricks, especially ways to slip in a bit of backing vocal that starts to move them past their punk forbears. Still, it's too short to get me going -- doesn't help that Rhapsody only delivers 4 of 5 songs -- and they're still not that great. B+(***)
Celph Titled & Buckwild: Nineteen Ninety Now (2010, No Sleep): Buckwild is presumably producer Anthony Best, who has a long credit sheet going back to 1993. Celph Titled is a rapper from Tampa with a couple of previous albums, the first co-credited to Apathy. Underground grind, runs long (72:07), "Miss Those Days" looks back nostalgically to the golden age of the 1990s, otherwise a lot of violence lurks on the sidelines, nothing blowing up too bad. B+(**)
Chromeo: Business Casual (2010, Big Beat): Electrofunk duo from Montreal, P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel) and Dave 1 (David Macklovitch). Big beats, snappy tunes, I sort of expect the vocals a little more affected (especially coming from presumed non-native English speakers, but it's actually the one song in French that's off), and of course the lyrics a little more clever -- guess the Pet Shop Boys are on my mind. A-
Deadbeat: Radio Rothko (2010, The Agriculture): Scott Monteith, based in Montreal, electronica producer, AMG calls his style ambient dub; seventh album since 2002. This works within a fairly tight band, the beat and/or volume building up on occasion, shifting down on others. Attractive, potentially very useful. B+(***)
El DeBarge: Second Chance (2010, Geffen): The principal solo to emerge from the DeBarge family franchise, with four albums 1986-94, and 16 years later a fifth. His falsetto has slipped back into a more normal range, still soft and silky, with luxurious strings and slinky beats, the main concession to the times the occasional interposition of a rap. Very nice, for the most part, but "The Other Side" is a sententious dud cut. Also segues into a series of three Christmas songs, which I won't dock for given that they're segregated on a second disc. B+(**)
Deftones: Diamond Eyes (2009 , Reprise): Sacramento, CA metal band; sixth album since 1995, fairly evenly spaced out every 3-4 years. One of the few metal albums to break out of the ghetto in year-end lists, but then it's on a major label and charted at 6 so isn't really a cult item. Nothing real hard or fast, mostly sludgy, the pure ballads the clearest. B-
Disappears: Lux (2010, Kranky, EP): Tightly disciplined punk sound, guitar out in front of the voice like a personal wail doesn't matter much. Ten songs, 29:03, call it an EP but it couldn't run much longer and still stay so coherent. B+(***)
DJ Roc: The Crack Capone (2010, Planet Mu): From Chicago. Favorite trick is to run a short figure, often just a drone or blare, 4-5 times in a row. Not sure if that counts as dubstep -- back in the factory it was called "step and repeat" but there you actually wanted to produce the same shit over and over. Here it gets to be kind of annoying. Not sure but I think "DJ Roc Symphony" in the dead middle of the album is 2:24 silence. Followed by a soul sample, "Lost Without U," which is the one thing I quite liked. B-
Dr. Dog: Shame, Shame (2010, Anti-): Philadelphia group, sixth album since 2001, band can slip a pop hook in when they get lucky, and singer has a nicely lubricated voice. A couple songs make an impression. Could use more. B+(*)
Electric Wire Hustle: Electric Wire Hustle (2009 , BBE): New Zealand r&b group, sort of a new wave Hot Chocolate, with Anglo-accented soul vocals and a tense, thin wire beat. Could use a great song or two, just to make you care, since that's in short supply. B+(*)
Far East Movement: Free Wired (2010, Interscope): LA group, four Asian-Americans, electro-hop they call it, been around a few years but this is first major label release. Same basic mix of rap-song-chant as Black Eyed Peas, but none of the songs quite pull that off. B+(***)
Future Islands: In Evening Air (2010, Thrill Jockey): Formed in North Carolina, moved to Baltimore, second album. Basically a synth band, sounds much like something from the new wave disco 1980s, or at least the first cut does -- the other eight cuts aren't available on Rhapsody. So this is nothing more than a SWAG. [B+(*)]
Gayngs: Relayted (2010, Jagjaguwar): Minneapolis group, founded by Ryan Olson, picked up a wide range of musicians from the area, including rappers P.O.S. and Dessa and two guys from Bon Iver. Song concept is to run everything at 69 BPM -- the inspiration there seems to be 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" -- so it all runs soft and slow, which turns out to be agreeable enough. B+(*)
Girl Talk: All Day (2010, Illegal Art): Part of the fun with Greg Gillis's mash-ups is what you recognize, especially when it's taken to someplace it's never been before, and part of the fun is stuff you not only don't recognize but can't quite imagine ever having existed before. Don't have the breakdown here but I imagine I'll find one on Wikipedia before long (as happened with Feed the Animals) and for now don't much care. Nothing but joy here, a relief as all around me -- from the wretched cold weather to my broken computer to the news of the world -- is anything but. But I will note that this sticks pretty close to his norm, which is hip-hop. One thing that drove that home is the sample from Big Boi's "Shutterbug" which ran on relatively long and needed no dressing to fit in seamlessly. My only complaint there being that that at least was way too easy. A- [download]
Glasser: Ring (2010, True Panther Sounds): More dream pop, architected by Cameron Mesirow on her first album, works relatively well because she stays in her comfort zone. B+(*)
Grass Widow: Past Time (2010, Kill Rock Stars, EP): San Francisco group, three women on guitar-bass-drums, two or more sing. Runs through 10 songs in 26:34, which counts in most quarters as an EP, but that seems to be all they do -- and they're likely to view the 9-song 22-minute eponymous disc on Make a Mess as the EP. B+(*)
Harlem: "Hippies" (2010, Matador): Duo from Tucson, based in Austin, no idea why they picked the group name and/or the album name. And I usually drop quotes from the title, but they seem to have earned them. Started out playing punk, figuring they could get away with sloppy. To me they sound more like the Brit Invasion, specifically the Dave Clark Five stripped down to just guitar and drums. B+(**)
Ray Wylie Hubbard: A. Elightenment B. Endarkment (Hint: There Is No C) (2010, Bordello): Off-the-patch country singer-songwriter, came up in the 1970s with a band called the Cowboy Twinkies, re-emerging in the 1990s on a series of folk labels. Some sharply observed songs here, especially one about the weather ("Tornado Ripe") and one about everyday annoyances ("Wasp's Nest"). I'd be even more impressed with "Drunken Poet's Dream" if co-author Hayes Carll hadn't taken it first -- the younger man in both years and voice makes it seem less lecherous, or maybe Hubbard just makes it seem more. B+(***)
Ikonika: Contact, Love, Want, Have (2010, Hyperdub): Sara Abdel-Hamid, from England, programmer-DJ, first full album after a bunch of singles/EPs (AMG counts 8 since 2008). Considered dubstep, not as subtle as Deadbeat nor as sprizzy as Rusko, a nice groove to work out in. B+(**)
Kings Go Forth: The Outsiders Are Back (2010, Luaka Bop): Retro soul group from Milwaukee, more '60s than '70s to site the decades critics want to pigeonhole them in. Given that there's a small but endless market for period obscurities, it was only a matter of time before someone started producing new fakes. Actually, Sharon Jones got there first, but that's a slightly different shtick: they sound really obscure. B
Kno: Death Is Silent (2010, Venti Uno): Black and white drawing of a white girl on the cover, doesn't look like a rap record at all. Kno is Ryan Wisler, from Atlanta, first solo album although it bears the imprimatur of his group, the CunninLynguists. Songs are death-obsessed. In one he finds himself shot in a hospital, dials his girlfriend to tell her, and hears the phone ring behind himself as she comes to finish the job. Underground, flows so nice you can miss the morbidity. B+(***)
Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs: God Willin' & the Creek Don't Rise (2010, RCA): Singer-songwriter, fourth album, voice a little up, light and airy; music straight enough we can claim it for mid-Americana. Does lay the cliches on rather thick, especially up near the title. B+(**)
The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz and Percussion Ensemble: Miles Away (2010, Stones Throw): Miles Davis fusion Madlib style. Had trouble finding this with the forest of aliases, and the music is even more obscure: nothing I associate with Miles Davis, but then the lack of a trumpet should give that away. Can't swear there's any guitar, either. Still, this is a rather charming slab of good-natured lounge music, the sort of thing that eventually got tabbed as ambient. B+(**)
Lissie: Catching a Tiger (2010, Fat Possum): Elisabeth Maurus, b. 1982 in Rock Island, Illinois; first album after a well-regarded EP. I don't make much of her as a country singer, although she does get close to "Oh Mississippi." B
The Love Language: Libraries (2010, Merge): Lo-fi group, muddling along in its echo chamber. B
Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (2010, Gnomonsong): Baltimore group, led by a singer-songwriter from Texas named Jana Hunter, who has a couple of albums under her own name, and another group called Matt & Mossy. I've seen her classified as "acid folk" and this described as "skews toward Krautrock," but the slightly silvery guitar and languid vocals come straight out of Loaded-period Velvet Underground. Not quite the same: a little prettier, with more mystique. A-
Madlib: Madlib Medicine Show #5: The History of the Loop Digga (2010, Madlib Invazion): Midway through his 10-CD dump this year, just stringing together old rhythm tapes from the 1990s. Kinda jumbled, especially early on before it settles into more rap. Decent enough, but of really underwhelming world-historical import. B
Madlib: Madlib Medicine Show #7: High Jazz (2010, Madlib Invazion): A pastiche, of course; don't have a list of samples, but mostly they remind me of the shit that nearly killed jazz in the 1970s, when big labels like Blue Note wanted to invent smooth jazz but couldn't quite get the hang of it, mostly wallowing in thick gobs of fusion and funk. Aside from the title track, typicl titles are "Space & Time," "Reality or Dream," "Tarzan's Theme," and "Funky Butt, Pt. 1." Sort of amusing in retrospect. B+(*)
Gucci Mane: The Appeal: Georgia's Most Wanted (2010, Warner Brothers): Radric Davis, b. 1980 in Birmingham, AL; grew up in Atlanta; used his given name last time for The State vs. Radric Davis -- or maybe not exactly last time if you try to factor in his numerous mixtapes: AMG gamely credits him with 31 "main albums" since 2005 then consigns this to "compilations" arguing that this is just recycled goods from the mixtapes. Not what I'd call a gangsta album, although he does have a bad habit of tripping over the law -- something I'd prefer he stop flaunting. But then he's not really a "Weirdo" either -- just a guy who can flow a very listenable slab of contemporary commercial rap. B+(*)
Master Musicians of Bukkake: Totem Two (2009 , Important): Seattle group, has four or so records since 2004, including Totem One from 2009 and a newer one, Elogia de la Sombra. Mostly thick sheets of dronelike sounds (initially on guitar but later on organ and stranger instruments) punctuated by exotic percussion (initially with a Far East flavor, but that too wanders). Details and theory might help, as the clever/obscene group name signifies some wit that isn't otherwise adequately clear. B
Onra: Long Distance (2010, All City): Hip-hop producer, from Paris, most cuts have guest vocals but the beats and baubles come first -- the tunes holding up most of the way, at least until a dose of dub takes over. B+(*)
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: History of Modern (2010, Blue Noise): New wave synth pop group from the early 1980s -- "Enola Gay" was one of the signature tunes of the decade. Faded after Junk Culture in 1984 but limped on through 1996. This is their first studio album since then. Sounds great when they hit their stride -- my guess is that you could painlessly pad their career comp with a couple tracks here -- but sometimes you wonder why keep panning the same stream hoping for more of the same old nuggets. (But the they hit "Enola Gay" again with "Sister Mary Says.") B+(**)
Oval: O (2010, Thrill Jockey, 2CD): German group, cut six albums 1993-2001, and now a seventh although the group seems to now be down to founder Markus Popp. Also down to mostly guitar, or something like guitar -- can't find any credits -- fleshed out with echoes of electronics and occasional percussion. First disc has 50 short bits, second 20. They're intriguing at first, hard to differentiate over the long haul (and the haul is long). B+(**)
Parralox: Metropolis (2010, Conzoom): Australian synth-pop duo, vocalist Roxy and synth guy John Von Ahlen. Only popped up on one year-end list, and AMG has none of a discography that evidently amounts to four albums (since 2008; AMG has 1 of 5 singles listed in Discogs). Striking artwork on most of them. This mostly stays within the orb of 1980s new wave/disco which is one of my comfort zones -- a smattering of inspired pieces, nothing transcendent like New Order or Pet Shop Boys, drags a bit when the guy sings. They'll have a superb best-of sooner or later. B+(***)
Eli "Paperboy" Reed: Come and Get It (2010, Capitol): Pale-faced soul singer, moved from Mississippi to Chicago, but actually got his start in Brookline, MA, where papa was a music critic. Aims for Wilson Pickett. Misses, of course, but not by a lot. B+(**)
Mark Ronson & the Business Intl: Record Collection (2010, RCA): British DJ, third album, guest vocalists including Boy George and Q-Tip (but mostly Andrew Wyatt and Amanda Warner). Not that I don't enjoy the beats and pop hooks, but this does seem a little, uh, superfluous. B
Rusko: O.M.G.! (2010, Mad Decent): Christopher Mercer, b. 1985, British dubstep producer, first album. Pretty upbeat, with some wild whizzes to start, a bit of rap, occasional slides into dub. B+(**)
Guilty Simpson: OJ Simpson (2010, Stones Throw): Detroit rapper, formerly Byron Simpson; hooked up with J. Dilla, now moved on to Madlib, who keeps the beats eccentric and lays the skits on thick. Didn't spend much time trying to figure out the OJ story, which is at best tangential here. B+(**)
Standard Fare: The Noyelle Beat (2010, Bar/None): UK (Sheffield) group, first album, male and female singers who have something to say, not least to each other. Sound strikes me as a tad arch, but more often than not they make it not matter. B+(***)
Marty Stuart: Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions (2010, Sugar Hill): A minor country star, with 16 albums and 34 singles since 1978, none coming close to #1. Like to rock early on, but has gotten more and more trad as he's gotten older. A lot of pedal steel here, fiddle too, but I wouldn't take it for bluegrass. Co-wrote one song with Johnny Cash just before he died, and another with Connie Smith. Choice cut is "Hard Working Man"; also striking is his narration on "Porter Wagoner's Grave." B+(***)
Teebs: Ardour (2010, Brainfeeder): Mtendere Mandowa, from New York, descent from Malawi and Barbados, moved to Los Angeles, or something like that -- details are sketchy. Synth sounds, tends toward lush although that's more instrument than style; keeps a nice stock of beats and rarely lets up. B+(**)
Teengirl Fantasy: 7AM (2010, Merok): Two Oberlin students, Nick Weiss and Logan Takahashi. Electronics, mostly soft ethereal fuzz but with beats. I was quite taken with it until they mixed in some vocals, which were too specific, also a bit too harsh. B+(**)
Terror Danjah: Undeniable (2010, Hyperdub): UK-based grime programmer, has several records since 2008, active since 2001, not much bio I can find. Some rap, mostly instrumental, the beats blunted but hit their mark. B+(**)
Toro y Moi: Causers of This (2010, Carpark): Chaz Bundick, first album, electronics with near-falsetto vocals, could have cut this on his laptop, a jumble of pop dance moves and broken fragments, often washed out under fades. B+(*)
Twin Shadow: Forget (2010, Terrible): Front name for singer-songwriter George Lewis Jr. First album, produced by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear. One of a plethora of soft-edged dream-pop albums that in many ways characterize the state of alt-indie rock this year, and far from the worst: tuneful, flows nicely, catchy in spots but not so garish as to be hooky. B+(*)
Two Door Cinema Club: Tourist History (2010, Glassnote): Group from Northern Ireland, first album; I keep reading things that look like a guitar-guitar-bass trio, but I hear a drummer, and someone is playing synth at least part of the time. Chirpy, bouncy songs; rather fun. B+(**)
Usher: Raymond V Raymond (2010, LaFace): Sixth studio album since 1994, when he was still in his low teens, his eponymous debut the only one not to chart in top five. Has no critical cachet, and evidently lives large without it. Pretty solid album: not much stood out, nothing sucked either. B+(*)
Usher: Versus (2010, LaFace, EP): Nine songs, 37:51, vs. 14 songs and 58:59 the this year's full-sized model. Strikes me that the concision is a plus: first song is pretty good, next two are better (hit singles, natch), with "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" choice over "Hot Tottie." Could benefit from further cuts: the closer, and for that matter the Justin Bieber remix. B+(*)
Lars Vaular: Helt Om Natten, Helt Om Dagen (2010, Bonnier/Cosmos): Norwegian rapper, from Bergen, b. 1984, third album, Google translates title as "Quite the night, until the day." Popped up at 9 on Dagsavisen's EOY list (between Motorpsycho and National), then I noticed that it's also on Chris Monsen's list, so plugged it into Rhapsody and was surprised to find it. Hard to be sure, but the music kicks around in interesting loops, mostly underground but he can bust a bold move (website promises "gangstarap, freedomrock, gatepop"). One guest rap in English doesn't disappoint nor does it disclose much. A-
Wildbirds & Peacedrums: Rivers (2010, The Control Group): Swedish duo, Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin, considered experimental rock; showed up on a couple of jazz-oriented lists, but they play such influences close to the vest. Doesn't seem like much at first, but gradually takes shape, lures you in, never revealing much. B+(*)
Wolf Parade: Expo 86 (2010, Sub Pop): Montreal group, more upbeat than the dream-pop groups that have become the alt-indie norm of late, with a little keyb chiming in between the guitar(s), but not enough to be mistaken for punk. Third album since 2005. Some of this is fun, but some isn't, and not just the occasional change-up although that's part of the problem. Can't imagine it'd be worthwhile to sort out the diffs. B
Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:
Posted this week were Robert Christgau's annual Dean's List and second straight year-end survey, Live Albums -- there was a three-year stretch of no end-of-year essays between Christgau's termination from the Village Voice and his returning to the subject at Barnes and Noble Review. I thought about adding a comment to the essay, which kindly cites my research, but demurred from setting up yet another hackable account. And I was tempted to write him a note querying where he was at on some things that didn't make his list (but made mine). But that's often a rather uncomfortable subject. (I'm actually surprised to see him engaging as much as he does in the comments to his new Expert Witness column -- so often worth following that I've added the individual post links to his home page news notices.) So in the end I decided to try to get my ducks lined up first, then see what there is to wonder about.
I've made this point many times before, but should reiterate it here and now: Christgau's grades and rankings are the end result of a carefully considered process. He recognizes that his views aren't permanent, but insists on having done enough due dilligence that a grade will be stable the indefinite future -- his line here is that his end-of-year list records are ones "I expect to savor in 2015 or 2020 if I'm still alive and have the time." That's a standard I'd like to think I aspire to, but I'll slap a grade on anything, even if all I have to go on is a quick listen and a hunch. Grades for me are more like bookmarks, brief reminders of whatever progress I made with an album -- most often the point where I lost interest. It is true that by the time I write up a Jazz Consumer Guide I've listened to the records therein the 3-5 times (rarely but sometimes more) as Christgau regularly claims. But I often write Jazz Prospecting on a listen or two, and the lamest such notes are ones where all I have to say at the end of a pass is to jot down a grade. Then I slot it into my year-end-list-in-progress with no regard for A:B comparisons -- I usually just scan the grade bracket for something memorable and maybe analogous then tuck the record in above or below as momentarily seems appropriate. (Sometimes I go back in and do some resorting, especially in the A-ranks, but almost always on the basis of no-doubt-faulty memory.) And my Rhapsody notes are even quicker and dirtier -- I don't have the package to focus on, I don't have any stake in the music (I do feel some obligation to help promote jazz and jazz artists, although that will come as a surprise to some artists and publicists), and Rhapsody itself often craps out on me.
Still, I think it's useful to keep track of what I know, even if it isn't much. And my grading system doesn't work that badly -- I underrate some records I didn't give enough time to, and overrate some others (usually because something hits a personal sweet spot, or because I'm slow on lyrics so miss some really bad ones), but most of the time I return to a tentatively graded record I find pretty much what I thought I found in the first place. But I don't want to defend myself here. What I want to do is to look at my list through the prism of Christgau's list to see what he knows that I don't. This breaks down into two categories: records on his list I haven't heard, and records I have heard but didn't deem as worthy as he did. Almost all of the latter are records I've only briefly heard on Rhapsody. I'll also point out records on my list not on his, and attempt to divide those between ones he is known to like less and ones he hasn't expressed any known opinion on.
Christgau's list includes 82 albums. My list, cited above, runs 119 long, but Christgau includes some records I file differently -- some in 2009 or earlier, some compilations (mostly African). Adding them in (where I have them graded high enough) brings my list to 126, so I have 44 more albums than Christgau does. That doesn't necessarily make me an easier grader. The difference is more than accounted for by the jazz records on my list: 55, not counting James Blood Ulmer's blues record since Ulmer is someone Christgau normally covers (but thus far not this time; Christgau's only jazz record is Gabriel Johnson's Fra_ctured, so we'll keep it in play also). Cutting out the jazz leaves me with 71 albums, 11 less. So that's all for jazz.
We can also skip over 33 albums that intersect both lists. They cover a wide stylistic swath: I concurred with most of his world (especially African) picks (where I tend to be a bit less picky), hip-hop too, two (of three) country records, and at least six of his much more numerous white rock bands (where I tend to be more picky, or less easily impressed). That cuts his list down to 49. Of those, I haven't heard nine:
I've only recently started to figure out how to get hold of and listen to mixtapes. The others, with the possible exception of Rough Guide, aren't on Rhapsody (or weren't last time I looked). And I haven't been doing any Rough Guides on Rhapsody: their documentation is so lousy I never know what I'm listening to, which makes trying to review them real annoying. (As does their publicist, but that's another story.)
That leaves 40 records, all but two downloaded mixtapes heard and rated based on Rhapsody (although I've since bought three). Let's break them down into two groups. The first are records that I've rated B+(***). I agree that these are quite good, but for one reason or another held back. There are 23 such records (and I'll throw in some comments):
I'd say maybe half a dozen of those could rise above the line if I had time and budget to pursue, but with 120 A-list records already it's hard to find time and money. More problematical are the rest. First albums 12 I rated B+(**):
That leaves five records on Christgau's list that I rated B+(*) -- no extreme disagreements, but these just struck me as extraneous:
If I had to guess 3 from column 1, 2 from column 2, and 1 from column 3 as best best to do better with time, I'd say: DeGaillande, Eskmo, Sleigh Bells; Cash, Die Antwoord; Lady Gaga. And I wouldn't rule out Das Racist, Barman, Love Is All, or even Eminem, since the numbers I arbitrarily picked don't match the real odds -- those other ranks were down-rated for reasons.
Having gone through this exercise, I feel less worried that I messed up and missed things I should have recognized. The other side of the coin is what I picked that Christgau didn't. Discounting the jazz which he doesn't bother trying to cover any more, that leaves me with 38 records. We can split these into two groups. The first are records that Christgau has dismissed in print (mostly early-year records cited by him as HMs), so these are things that relative to him I have overrated (12 of them):
Only one great record there (Brown); a few things I may have cut some slack for because I got promos (Refugees, Burkina, Magnetic Fields); some typically strong work by groups Christgau evidently expected more from (Hold Steady, Gogol Bordello, Apples in Stereo, Langford); some Rhapsody guesswork that may or may not hold up -- I wonder now whether everything from Nash down is that good, but haven't had time to recheck. Christgau had Apples, Brown, Gogol Bordello, Hold Steady, Magnetic Fields, Nash, and Soft Pack as high HMs, and he reviewed Langford as a B+, so not much disagreement there. Christgau had Lynne as a dud; don't know what that was about, but I do recall being heavily swayed by one exceptional song.
Then there are the records Christgau has never expressed an opinion (at least in print) on 26 more:
Ulmer was the only one I didn't originally hear on Rhapsody, although I picked up 8 later (Mars, Belle, Books, El Guincho, J&J, Shakira, The-Dream, Phair). Once the MSN CG folded, Christgau stopped writing up HMs and Duds, and a lot of these came out then, so there's no way to tell what he thinks of albums he doesn't think much of (any way you want to read that). In particular, we don't know what he hasn't heard versus what he doesn't like (or more emphatically, like enough). On the other hand, even if he hasn't been reading me and Tatum (whom I credit with sniffing out 10 of these), he must have heard most: I count 17 artists he's previously found A-list records by (including Jenny if not Johnny). And as 10 '09 releases in this list attest, it's unlikely he's done.
Everything from King Sunny down here is pretty marginal in my mind, and Phair probably belongs down with the B+ records, especially in you factor the bonus disc in. Ade isn't classic but I welcome it. Wainwright isn't either, but it's got some things I strongly approve of -- he's been reading up on economics, and not Paul Krugman who's featured in one song. I'm a little scared of Zs and doubt that hardly anyone else will like it, but Christgau recommended a couple of Lightning Bolt albums that promised the same sort of thing -- I hated those records, but swear this one delivers. TI and Ghostface dropped so late hardly anyone considered them for lists, so maybe he's just being economical there.
On the year-end essay, Christgau linked to a blog post instead of the actual data. Hard to see the links with their style sheet, nor does it help that all the rest of them are trying to sell something at their store. Much of the blog post attempted to explain methodological details behind the file, but the top-43 list presented there is a narrow and distorted slice of the data. The file that's up now is a couple weeks advanced, and my local copy has further updates (including Christgau's Dean's List, and a sudden surge of country albums, lifting Jamey Johnson from 90 to 76). I'll probably add the Pazz & Jop results for reference when they come out next week, but I'm basically done. Largeheartedboy seems to have shut down his list collection back on Dec. 29, and it's been harder (but not impossible) to find lists since then.
As for content, I was surprised that Christgau's list (of my list) of probable poll leaders omitted Beach House, whose Teen Dream is currently just barely ahead of LCD Soundsystem's This Is Happening in 4th place (570 to 568). Christgau pegged the record as a 1-star HM early in the year, summing it up: "Teeny-weeny dreamy-themey pokey-wokey tune-a-rooney." I can see where he might not have anything more to add to that -- I went back and replayed the record and left it in the exact same slot. But it's actually the leading edge (and a relatively decent one at that) of the year's big alt-rock fad: dream-pop. Behind it you will find a plethora of slow, stodgy, easy rocking records dedicated to dulling the senses: the Walkmen, Local Natives, Twin Shadow, Wild Nothing, the Morning Benders, Glasser, probably Tame Impala (which I haven't heard); Caribou and the Tallest Man on Earth come from different formalisms but wind up to the same effect.
Still, none of that makes me nervous like Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear did last year. I can sort of see the appeal of dream-pop whereas last year's tidal wave of art-prog just confused me -- made me feel old and out of touch. In comparison, this has been a much more sensible and promising year: terrific hip-hop records at the top of the food chain, some very solid alt-rock in the middle, a good teen-pop album for every bad one, and underground shit swelling up everywhere -- only big weak spot I see is country, which didn't amount to much in Nashville, Austin, or across Americana. Go figure.
UPDATE: Looks like I can move Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids from one column to another. In one of his MSN comments, Christgau wrote:
I can read that a couple of ways. One is that he's at least two plays ahead of me on Apollo Kids. After one (or maybe it was two) plays I was satisfied that it sounded great. But then he brings up Ironman, which I gave up on at B+ and lists songs I never noticed, probably because that's not the way I think about albums. Besides, if that's the criteria, what's he doing pushing the new Rachid Taha over Diwan and Made in Medina?
On the other hand, I can remember buying new albums by Al Green and Van Morrison knowing they were inferior just because the thrill of hearing their voices doing something different seemed to make it worthwhile -- even realizing I'd never again pick them over better albums I already owned. Of course, records were cheaper than, and we had more time -- mostly because we had less other shit to keep track of. For a while I rationalized reviewing records by noting that when I retired I'd have a library I could thrive on for the rest of my life. Now I realize I'm not going to live long enough to enjoy more than a small fraction of them. So maybe I should dig up my copy of Ironman -- must be around here somewhere. But in the context of 2010 hip-hop, which has been a pretty good year, I was happy to find Apollo Kids sounding pretty great.
Tuesday, January 11. 2011
by Michael Tatum
After a few setbacks, I present the first Downloader's Diary of 2011 -- I solemnly promise never to be late again. For the majority of the next two months, I'll be trolling through Tom Hull's "Rhapsody Streamnotes" and Robert Christgau's new "Expert Witness" blogs for prospective goodies, with any luck discovering a few interesting items on my own. Speaking of the Dean, I've been asked a few times if I'll continue writing this column given that Christgau has (thankfully) launched the newest format of the Consumer Guide -- ostensibly the reason I returned to the rockcrit arena in the first place -- and the answer is a resounding "it's too late to stop now." In fact, for the first time since 2004, I voted in the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop poll -- for those interested, I'll post my top 10 records and singles on the Downloader's Diary page on Facebook. Reviewing a little over a hundred and fifty records in six months, either in relatively long capsules, quickie blurbs, or merely designating them as "trash" -- would it sound a little crazy if I told you I felt I hadn't listened to enough music last year? Perhaps that's because I've never considered myself much of an expert witness, more an expert wit -- which means I plan on spending 2011 being as entertaining as humanly possible, and hopefully finding some great music on the way.
Calle 13: Entren Los Que Quieran (Sony Latin) From K'naan's Troubadour to Out Here's recent Yes We Can compilation, international hip hop records have reinforced the oft-held preconception that good records of the genre speak to us Americans in the language that most of us speak first: English. Except when the "we/us" shifts from America to, say, Puerto Rico, do the rules change? How do Spanish-speaking stepbrothers René "Residente" Pérez and Eduardo "Visitante" Cabra perceive such American totems as Eminem and Outkast, whose lyrics they most likely only know from trots? I'm betting the exact same way we perceive this remarkable record: bangin'. Beginning with a wicked introduction parodying Spanish television and only occasionally falling back on the speeded-up reggaeton that made them famous, arranger Visitante dips into the genre pool without shame: Bollywood, spaghetti westerns, Hawaiian ukuleles, and good old alt-rock, the latter on a rousing stomper that gets the party started like "Gasoline Dreams" on Stankonia. Residente ratchets up the excitement in his raps via escalating vocal inflections that generate heat whether you habla en español or not, while the vocal hooks, with the help of their sister Ileana "PG-13" Pérez, convey everything from sarcasm to tenderness, from mordant irony to wistful nostalgia. And if that fails to grab you, they've got fist-pumping hooks that need no translation: "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Or: "Bleachh, bleachh, bleachh!" They've fully converted this monolingual former Lit major without the benefit of a lyric sheet. And when I take it to my Spanish-speaking cousins' house to help me fill in the blanks, I bet I'll love it even more. A
Care Bears on Fire: Girls Like it Loud (S-Curve) "What's that you're reviewing?" my wife calls down from her office. "The Gossip Girl soundtrack?" I suppose it could be argued that the no-doubt autobiographical "ATM," written from the point of view of an upper-middle class girl sick of her BFF sticking her with the check, is about as un-punk as you can get -- what's next, a rave-up about cashing in your trust fund? But I like that these girls keep it honest: they write from what they know, discovering themselves as they're discovering these riffs, these tunes, this attitude, this music. What bothers me, despite the liveliness and catchiness of the songs, is the slightly calculated tone of it all -- like they're mastering a form they've studied from the inside-out, a subject they can recite by rote like their Hebrew or their multiplication tables. That's why I'm fairly certain that they're responsible for digging up the obscure Marbles cover -- you might say it supports their thesis. It's also why I'm sure that the charming but too-easy Tears for Fears cover was suggested by producer Adam Schlesinger, who should have resisted the temptation to tidy up the sound. Maybe next time they can do a one-off EP for Kill Rock Stars. Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney are better role models for growing riot grrls than the Donnas, anyway. A
Chromeo: Business Casual (Atlantic) This cheeky Canadian duo hasn't found much of a hip cache with critics of my age, probably because their sacred mission is to remind them, in the most baldly hilarious manner possible, of how bad the top 40 music of our youth was, no matter how much Rob Sheffield heroically protests otherwise. The jokes start with their chosen handles -- Patrick Gemayel goes by "P Thugg," while David Macklovitch styles himself "Dave 1" -- and extend to their gleefully cheesy cover art, which depicts a secretary (portrayed from the waist down, perfect posterior to the camera), obsessively making multiple copies of the duo's publicity shots, who for their part look primped to star in a hair gel advert. Their zippy electrofunk, which pretends that nothing of import has occurred in R&B since Klymaxx and "Super Freak," gives me the giggles, while their anemic vocals need all the special effects they can get their hands on -- when Solange Knowles pops in for a perky cameo on the irresistible "When the Night Falls," it can't help but grab your attention. Their pick up lines include "I'm not contagious," "Don't turn the lights on/Cause tonight I want to see you in the dark," and my favorite, "I know it's been a little while/But your number is the only one I've found." She's not so sure ("I don't know what you want from me -- I'm not your bloody social worker"), but they remain undeterred. And when playing the chansonnier fails to usher her behind closed doors -- "J'ai Claqué La Porte," very cute -- they complain: "If we can't be grownups/Then we won't grow up." Tell it like it is Dave 1, tell it like it is. A
El DeBarge: Second Chance (Geffen) The chance referred to in the title isn't a commercial one -- the DeBarge family's prodigal son has had a few of those, the last major one being in 1994, Reprise's sadly forgotten Heart, Mind and Soul -- but rather a spiritual one: this follows a two year stint in federal prison capping years of cocaine abuse that the artist swears are behind him. "I really wanted to know that I could still do it again and when I heard my voice I was just like, 'Wow,'" he told the Washington Examiner, and while you're free to raise your eyebrow, the impressive first half of this record at least has me in awe. Compare this underrated talent to other falsetto soul men: by an analogous age, Eddie Kendricks had blown his voice on his own coke habit, while Smokey Robinson's career faltered after his 1979 Where's There's Smoke, right about the time Michael Jackson, Prince, and especially hip hop changed the rules forever. By contrast, forty-nine year old Eldra still sounds as almost as boyish as he did when he recorded the gorgeous In a Special Way -- check out how he soars above that treble clef on the celestial "Heaven." Meanwhile, he adjusts to musical fashion a lot more naturally than his Motown exemplars and even peers, something he coyly acknowledges on the 50 Cent feature -- in which he vows to reach the object of his affections by Blue Tooth, Palm Pilot, whatever it takes -- that also functions as an extended metaphor on his musical modus operandi ("switch up the format," indeed). Wish I could say the R&B audience, which tends to champion those who actually are young rather than those who merely sound young, will reward him for all this effortless beauty. But somehow, I think for Eldra the accomplishment in itself is its own reward: "I'm not giving up/I'm here to stay," he vows in the lovely title track, and punctuating the sentiment with a breathtaking high note, I believe him. B+
Girl Talk: All Day (Illegal Art) There's no denying that mash-up DJ Gregg Gillis isn't an expert as what he does -- honed and perfected over a period of two years by testing rough mixes at various club dates, this is even more seamless, if slightly more mellow, than 2008's classic Feed the Animals. As befits an artist committed to making Attention Deficit Disorder sing, your concentration won't wander for a minute during this solid, highly danceable, hour-plus suite of impossible juxtapositions. But while last time he mined pop music's vast history for its greatest licks to dress up the crass likes of UGK and the YoungBloodz, here he merely appropriates well-known bits from famous songs -- some classic, some so-so, and some I wouldn't dream of listening to even if the point was to prove to my friends how ironic I was. I applaud Gillis' musical open-mindness, which is probably a great deal sincerer than mine, but some of these jumbles just don't mesh -- Missy Elliot rapping over the Ramones okay, but Joey Ramone yelping "Blitzkrieg Bop" over the Doors' clumsy "Waiting for the Sun?" L'il Wayne's stoned vocal for "A Milli" over the tinkling piano of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out?" And call me reactionary, prudish, whatever -- while Journey's corny "Faithfully" actually brought Feed the Animals (with a little help from OutKast's Andre 3000) to an emotionally satisfying close, no matter how, er, pure Gillis' intentions, there has to be a better way of bridging the generational gap than peppering John Lennon's "Imagine" with Gucci Mane's "I'm the Shit." A
Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops and Hooligans (Elektra/Asylum) Although the former Gene Hernandez has clearly fashioned one of the pop debuts of the year, I'm not entirely convinced by his penchant for readymades, which in the hands of others appropriate familiar melodic and arrangement ideas in service of lyrics usually more surprising than the familiar friendship, marriage, and laziness tropes Mars falls back on. On the other hand, the punk-Motown fusion of "Runaway Lover," which gets its dirty business done in 2:28, is new to my ears, and the first two cuts rank among the best singles in the year. "Just the Way You Are" is U2's "With or Without You" done as teen pop -- you can tell because never once does Mars entertain the idea that time will change the object of his affections whether he likes it or not. Perhaps that's why I prefer the desperation of "Grenade," best described as a re-write of Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" by a guy who can actually hit those high notes without the benefit of Auto-Tune. I hope this all conveys one of the record's greatest strengths, Mars' slipperiness: his difficulty to pigeonhole. Maybe that's why my favorite track is the explosive closer: a collaboration with Cee-Lo Green and B.o.B. that gains power from its complete thematic ambiguity. Just what lies in store for the listener "on the other side?" The dark side of fame? A night of drugs and debauchery at the Chateau Marmont? The love that dareth not speak its name? "It's better if you don't understand," Mars assures us forebodingly, a sure sign this smart songwriter is only going to get more compelling once he makes that leap himself. A
Nicki Minaj: Beam Me Up Scotty (mixtape) I don't completely buy this ex-Red Lobster waitress's half self-effacing, half pretentious assertion that her quick rise to fame isn't attributable to her talent, connections, or good looks, but rather to because right now she "wants it the most," but I certainly do laud her self-starting attitude. In hindsight, the impetus behind this download-only mixtape was pure marketing: to build excitement in the hip hop community, to establish Minaj's presence. Released in early 2009, long before she was signed to Universal even though it must have been clear to everyone around her it was in the cards, this relatively high-profile project is one of the reasons Pink Friday (reviewed below) went platinum only a mere month after its late November release -- certainly, guest star and acknowledged "sensei" L'il Wayne applied lessons learned from the tireless avalanche of mixtapes he flooded the net with in the months leading up to Tha Carter III. The conceptualization that makes Minaj such a breakthrough for female rappers wouldn't come until her next mixtape, early 2010's transitional but key Barbie World (also reviewed below) -- when Rick Ross claims he considered Minaj merely "a great entertainer" before he heard her drop her verse on Kanye West's "Monster," this is primarily what he's referring to. But except for the vile, anti-snitch "Five-O," this is very entertaining indeed, peaking with a knockout trifecta in the center all the more amazing because although each brings in a heavy hitter or two, Minaj remains the center of attention: she gets Gucci Mane to cop to his own shopping problem, shows Lil Wayne how to rock that Auto-Tune on the fierce DJ Khaled steal "Go Hard," and precedes Drake's enlightened sex jam with a monologue that will inspire fits of premature ejaculation in bedrooms all across America. Now if only there was some way I could digitally erase all of those annoying Trap-a-holics IDs that pop up at random. And if I wanted to "bring that beat back" I wouldn't do it mid-song -- I'd just wait until said song was over. Though that part where Drake brags he'll make Nicki's pussy whistle the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show -- is there any way I can make that my ringtone? A
Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday (Universal Motown) "Style is substance," Vladmir Nabokov insisted to detractors who derided his technically innovative but resolutely message-free novels, and if anything that's the one thing that's bothered me about female rappers, whether major, minor, or inconsequential. Traditionally, they've either functioned as correctives to their often sexist male counterparts (Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo), strived to show that they could talk just as dirty as said counterparts (Foxy Brown, jealous L'il Kim), or operated as foils to their bepenised bandmates (Ladybug, Lauryn Hill). Onika Miraj is a great deal more ambitious, aiming for the type of persona mongering favored by Eminem, except her ego, id, and superego aren't nearly as compartmentalized. Nor is she as interested in hammering home ironies to put a point across -- she's the grownup equivalent of a little girl playing with dolls and talking to imaginary friends while her parents are arguing in the room next door. That's why I love the sung hooks that she doesn't have to lean on hired help for -- it's where she reveals the "real" woman underneath mischievous Nicki Minaj and rowdy Roman Zolanski, which explains why clichés like "You see right through me," "I can't seem to silence all these voices in my head," and "Will you take me to be how I am" resonate a lot more strongly than they would elsewhere. It's also what lifts the anguished identity crisis song "Fly" up to the clouds, why the coy "Your Love" works better here than on Barbie World. Her message goes beyond giving a shout-out to "all the girls who never thought they could win." -- I say as with so many rappers of the first rank, the medium is the message, that her style is all the substance she needs. In theory anyway, Nabokov would have been proud. A
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella) Rob Sheffield avers: "Nobody is making music this daring and weird." Christopher Monsen astutely counters: "Nobody this popular is making popular sounding music this daring and weird." To which I would amend: "Not only does no one in the mainstream or indie hip hop world boast a vision this ambitious or grandiose, Kanye West is probably the only man with the money, connections, legal team, studio time, and outright hubris to make it come to fruition." Who else would hire a cavalcade of famous backing singers, from Drake to Elton to Fergie to Alicia Keys, and arrange them not en masse, à la "We Are the World," but separate them so each can be heard in his or her individual glory? Who else would corral samples from artists as disparate as King Crimson, Aphex Twin, Manfred Mann, Manu Dibango, and Bon Iver on the same record and make the end result sound symphonic, cinematic? Sure he's upstaged by the superior rapping talents of Jay-Z, Raekwon, and the scene-stealing Nicki Minaj -- but only because he can see the larger design at work, that each of this record's discrete elements, from the star cameos to the background extras, functions as one more Polaroid in a monolithic photo-mosaic, which when viewed as a totality reveals nothing less than a brutal self-portrait of a self-proclaimed douchebag who has no qualms opening up the vault of his troubled mind to the world, if only because he knows that vault holds treasure as much as it does turmoil. But my heart doesn't break for his alienated stardom, his inability to love, or even the imaginary daughter he claims he's already lost to his self-destructive ways in the thundering "All of the Lights." My heart breaks because he's a douchebag capable of creating a work of art this unapologetically beautiful. A
Die Antwoord: $O$ (Cherrytree/Interscope) These South Africans aren't rappers or ravers, they're more like performance artists -- but even so I admire their quirky hits more than I do their interminable playlets ("Enter the Ninja," "Evil Boy," "Wat Kyk Ja?") ***
Rihanna: Loud (Def Jam) Hard for me to take the pro forma S&M opener too seriously from a survivor of domestic violence -- besides, all it means is that like so many lesser R&B thrushes, the only thing she's a "slave" to is her producers ("Love to Hear You Lie, pt. 2," "Cheers (Drink to That)," "What's My Name") ***
Nicki Minaj: Barbie World (mixtape) Dollhouse as workshop, tinkering with a lite R&B I'm glad she thought twice about ("Fuck U Silly," "Out My Face") ***
Superchunk: Majesty Shredding (Merge) Their nostalgia for their lost heyday sounds more enticing than the supposed heyday itself did ("Digging for Something," "Crossed Wires") **
Badly Drawn Boy: It's What I'm Thinking (Part One: Photographing Snowflakes) (The End) Next in the series: Cataloging Grains of Sand and Waiting for Flowers to Bloom ("I Saw You Walk Away," "In Safe Hands") **
R. Kelly: Love Letters (Jive) Dressed on the cover like Jamie Foxx in Ray and sounding mostly like the Stevie Wonder of In Square Circle, he's "retro" only in the sense that he hammers the bejeezus out of his refrains ("Taxi Cab," "Love Is") **
The Black Eyed Peas: The Beginning (Interscope) At the end of the all-night party, even the finest of champagnes tends to go flat ("Light up the Night," "Love You Long Time") **
Glasser: Ring (True Panther) Just what we needed: an indie rock Enya ("Apply") *
Bilal: Airtight's Revenge (Plug Research) Despite once being a member of the Philadelpha neo-soul commmune led by the Roots, which led to him contributing to a strong track on Common's Like Water for Chocolate, Bilal Oliver's solo career never took off -- his Interscope debut flopped critically and commercially, its followup was shelved, and his major label contract went poof. Such a backstory entices naïve rock critics who think that corporations don't understand Great Art, and often corportions don't -- but that doesn't mean that this perpetual also-ran has gone and made his own Voodoo or There's a Riot Goin' On, either. Oliver's tuneless, clunky synth-funk is heavy on texture, low on excitement, devoid of tune, and totally empty in the head. The vacuous ghetto melodrama "Flying" boasts a Perils of Pauline-style plot so laughable it wouldn't pass as a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime channel: after her coke-dealing father gets shot by the Feds, the heroine stows away on a train, becomes a "foster child" of the streets, finds work as a stripper, "breaks her back" on the pole, and ends up strung out on painkillers. All that's missing is a subplot in which she's loses her major-label contract because her music sucks, essentially the subtext of several other songs here, including the unlistenable "Levels." "Play this song for nothing," he grumpily intones over and over. I say start writing actual songs and someone might consider giving you money for them. C+
John Legend & the Roots: Wake Up! (Columbia) The problem with this record isn't the greatest R&B group in the world -- the problem is John Stephens, a Legend only if his publicist says so. My brother has actually converted me to a few of Legend's better-known hits, but even at best those hits are pop trifles -- well-intended though he is, the man just doesn't have the muscle or the grit to convey the anger that the best of these obscure, Vietnam-era protest numbers deserve. Compare how "Hard Times" comes alive when Black Thought rips into the bridge to Legend crooning in the coda about washing down Oreos and Spam with swigs of Thunderbird, as if any of those supposed inner-city staples ever crossed his mouth (no jokes about Oreos, please). Compare how Legend plaintively recalls Bill Withers' monologue at the very beginning of "I Can't Write Left Handed" to Withers' caustic delivery of that monologue on the classic original recording. Compare Kirk Douglass's blazing guitar solo on that same song to the only non-cover here, the simpy Legend ballad "Shine." Maybe Ahmir Thompson can recycle the tough backing tracks of "Hard Times" and "Prepared for What" for the next Roots record. B-
!!!: Strange Weather, Isn't It? (Warp)
Carl Barât: Carl Barât (Arcady)
Elvis Costello: National Ransom (Lost Highway)
Curren$y: Pilot Talk 2 (Roc-a-Fella)
Natalie Merchant: Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch)
Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (RCA)
Usher: Raymond v. Raymond [Deluxe Edition] (LaFace)
Suzanne Vega: Close-Up: Vol. 2, People and Places (Amanuensis Productions)
Archive and indexes here.
Monday, January 10. 2011
After begging off for two straight weeks, I swear I had enough material for a Jazz Prospecting post today: 10-12 new records as I started picking things from my queue that scored mentions in year-end lists, plus another 12-15 similarly touted items I didn't get but found on Rhapsody. But the dog ate my homework, and right now I have nothing I can post.
Actually, what happened was that late last night I updated the software on the laptop where I keep the working copy of my website. After all the software packages were downloaded and installed, the update software asked to reboot the machine. I'd never had any problem doing this before, so didn't think about backing up last week's work. I just went ahead and did it, but the machine didn't reboot. It's running Ubuntu 10.10 (up from 10.4), and Grub 2 (the loader package) couldn't find "init" (presumably /sbin/init, the first program that all Unix-like systems run, as evidenced by the fact that it always owns process number 1. This dropped me into the BusyBox shell (ash) with the suggestion that I try explicitly specifying bootparms. But the disk drive was inaccessible and programs like fdisk and fsck weren't available. Looking at dmesg suggests that at least one disk block couldn't be read, but it was hard to sort out the context.
Most of the previous paragraph will be gibberish to most people, and to tell the truth, I'm a bit out of my depth too (although I do understand what I just wrote, and I have written bootstrap loaders in a past life, but nothing anyway near this sophisticated). Last night I figured out the above. I also copied down my public website and got it running on another Linux machine, so I can start working forward from the last time I updated the website -- last Monday or Tuesday (except that I purposely skipped the 2010 metafiles, so the loss there is greater). I also downloaded a live Ubuntu 10.10, burned it, and was able (after a harrowingly long time) to boot the laptop with it. That should provide me the missing tools like fdisk and fsck, let me mount the hard drive, and let me set up a network connection. The fix may be as simple as copying a new /sbin/init, or it may go deeper into the loader configuration -- I've had to fix problems with pre-Grub loaders, but I've never been forced to understand Grub -- or the hard drive may be more or less corrupt. I'll need to do two things here: the first is to copy off as much data as I can recover; the second is to fix the system so it boots properly. I'm guardedly optimistic that I can do both, but it's going to be a long, painstaking slog.
If I get lucky and recover the data today, I'll post Jazz Prospecting tonight. If not, I'll probably wait until next week. Either way, we should be able to post the delayed January 2011 "A Downloader's Diary" tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 5. 2011
Possibly my shortest Recycled Goods ever, but that's a risk of insisting that these things go out on a time schedule rather than waiting until we have a full load. Also odd that one of the "pick hits" isn't something I actually recommend you buy. As the rich get richer, the industry is increasingly tailoring product that only the rich can afford: aside from the $125 package for Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, you can drop $110 for Davis' earlier Kind of Blue, $140 for Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town, and $180 for the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. Even more expensive is the $365 list for Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection. That at least could be viewed as a bargain -- just over $5 per disc for 70 covering 52 albums -- but that would depend on how many you don't already have. (Looks like I'm missing 6-8 of them, most importantly the 1961 Blackhawks.)
I'm running into a lot of sticker shock on reissues these days. That always happens with Mosaic's big sets, most recently:
The problem here is frequently not just the cost but that I already have a good deal of the material, often select so you have to worry about marginal returns. This happens even more so with the latest wave in pop completism:
In each of these cases I can recommend real good, perfectly satisfactory shorter (and more affordable) compilations. It's always tempting to dig deeper, but often not worthwhile. I've never been able to reach these high ticket items in this column, and it seems like they keep slipping further away.
Afrocubism (2010, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Cuba was the only new world post where slaveholders didn't try hard to strip the roots of their chattels, so the island developed as a microcosm of the mother continent, with well-defined religious and musical tribes mapping straight to Senegal, Nigeria, and Congo, permitting hybridized African music to flow back into Africa itself. But Africa is a big and diverse continent, and Mali was isolated, much of its land parched, its music simpler and more ethereal, which oddly enough has lately turned Mali's musicians -- especially kora master Toumani Diabaté into the continent's most prolific musical diplomats. This is their record, aided by a few Cubans like Eliades Ochoa, primed with Benny Moré and Nico Saquito songs, with a sweet but slight "Guantanamera" to ice the cake. B+(***)
Bollywood Remembers: Laxmikrant Pyarelai: Best of the EMI Years (1963-91 , Times Square, 2CD): Also known as Laxmi-Pyare or just LP, Laxmikrant Shantaram Kudalkar and Pyarelai Ramprasad Sharma were a team, composing music for some 500 Bollywood movies from 1963 up to the former's death in 1998. Various artists, although Lata Mangeshkar and Mohd. Rafi (actually, Mohammed) most of them, making this a fair history of the period. Sound is rough early on, picks up over time. Doubly useful for the liner notes. B+(***)
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition (1969-70 , Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD+2LP): One thing I noticed after I moved to St. Louis for college in the early 1970s was that all of my new friends had exactly one jazz album: Bitches Brew. It was generally regarded as chill down music, something you'd play late at night after running out of Traffic and Yes and Pink Floyd, and at low volumes it worked reasonably well for that, although we sort of missed the point. Looking back many years later I as the most seductively packaged of an arc of Electric Miles albums prefigured by Filles de Kilimanjaro in 1968 and landing somewhere around Agharta and Pangaea in 1975, the true highlights being A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970) and such remarkable live albums as Dark Magus (1974). I dutifully picked up the original 2-CD package when I got into CDs, and added the 4-CD The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions which swept up all the outtakes and false starts, not much of a plus. Then when I got the advance for this extravagantly ridiculous package -- $124.98 for 3 CDs, 1 DVD, a 48-page Greg Tate-penned booklet, and audiofile vinyl of the original release -- I put it aside, wondering if the actual packaging would show up. It didn't, so I can only imagine the booklet -- my copy of Tate's words doesn't go far to filling it up -- and wonder why anyone would pay for the redundant vinyl. But the music has never sounded better, not least is the live third disc from Tanglewood in 1970. I also listened to, and occasionally glanced at, the DVD: another live concert, this one from Tivoli in Copenhagen in 1969, with Wayne Shorter and a young rhythm section that would eventually be recognized as Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette -- studious and unsurprising at the time. Also available is a more affordable Bitches Brew [Legacy Edition], with the original 2-CD album padded out with six extra cuts, plus the Copenhagen DVD for a third disc -- would have been a much better deal with the Tanglewood set instead of the DVD. Grade is for the music. The packaging is too cost-ineffective for me to contemplate. A- [advance]
John Prine: In Person & On Stage (2010, Oh Boy): Don't have the performance dates here, but the shuffling in and out of guests suggests this was culled from multiple shows over some stretch of time -- e.g., two cuts with Iris DeMent, including the backstory on the "new" song he wrote, which turns out to be the title track to his 1999 album. Nothing much predates that: he's in post-cancer voice throughout, often much rougher than I've seen him. A stopgap in a career lull, something he's done at least twice before. He hasn't written great songs since he stood up to Bush in 2005, and I hope he never gets that annoyed again. But maybe he should look up DeMent, who is overdue herself. B+(**)
Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro: ¡Sin Rumba No Hay Son! (2010, World Village): The venerable Cuban ensemble founded by Piñeiro in 1927 keeps on trucking, sounding more venerable than ever, its son so classic they can't help but point out the rumba roots. The closest American analogy might be Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but the latter is a self-conscious antique, whereas Septeto Nacional is a classic in no need of further evolution, much like the lovingly maintained 1950s autos that in the US would be showpieces but in Cuba are still everyday transportation. The real classics, by the way, are Piñeiro's original Septeto Nacional recordings of 1928-30 (and slightly less his Sexteto Nacional of 1927-28), as essential as anything King Oliver ever waxed. The new stuff sounds riper, lusher, more overwrought, as classics do when they become objects of patriotism. B+(**)
Fucked Up: Couple Tracks (2002-09 , Matador, 2CD): Twenty-five, actually, rolling up the Canadian punk/hardcore band's mostly short singles, spread over two discs even though the 73:03 would fit on one; good idea, introducing some variation into an act that only knows a handful of basically sound tricks. B+(**) [R]
Klezwoods: Oy Yeah! (2010, Accurate): Boston klezmer ensemble, nine instruments including tuba and accordion, plays traditional fare including pieces from Yemen and the Balkans, plus one semi-original by Alec Spiegelman patterned on "Giant Steps"; tends toward sweet and nostalgic. B+(**) [R]
Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa (2006-09 , Honest Jon's): Various artists, all tracks produced by Nozinja, aka Dog, aka Richard Mthetwa, so nothing, for instance, by Peta Teanet, the self-appointed King of Shangaan Disco; not a generic compilation but a coherent sampling of fast beats, thumb piano, breezy call-and-response. A-
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.
Tuesday, 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 , 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 , 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 , 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 , 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+(**)
Anaïs 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
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-
Monday, January 3. 2011
Still spending most of my time scrounging through year-end lists, checking out things I missed for one reason (high scores) or another (just looks interesting). That's actually included most of the jazz poll high finishers I wasn't serviced, but that alone isn't enough to publish. I've scarcely touched the queue, which itself hasn't grown any until today -- don't think I got any records in the mail all last week, or most of the previous one. Next week, most likely, although right now I'm trying to figure out Recycled Goods -- very short, I'm afraid. I do have a lot of Rhapsody Streamnotes, so my current plan is to split it, publish half or so tomorrow, and the other half mid-month, after A Downloader's Diary comes out -- which, by the way, will be running late this month, on or about the 10th is what I hear.
I've about run out of gas on the metacritic file, but will post a freshly sorted update today. Not much change in the rankings: Arcade Fire had pulled ahead of Kanye West by 58, then slipped to 49, then bounced back to 55. Beach House caught up to LCD Soundsystem, then slipped behind again. Black Keys had caught up to Janelle Monae then also slipped. A preponderance of European lists boosted Caribou up from 18 to 16 -- no idea what that's about. I added about two-thirds of the Village Voice jazz critic ballots in, dropping out the intersection with the JazzTimes critics ballots since they're almost identical (actually, more reissues on the JazzTimes side). This bumped Jason Moran from 75 to 51 (69 votes to 103), Rudresh Mahanthappa's Apex to 99, Charles Lloyd's Mirror to 124, Keith Jarrett's Jasmine to 142, Vijay Iyer's Solo to 149 -- all fairly meaningless numbers. The jazz subset is here, which is fairly similar (albeit somewhat longer) than the Voice's results. For me at least the interesting part of this list is the black print: the records I never got and never managed to hear -- only 4 of the top 67, but it thins out a lot after that.