Rhapsody Streamnotes: February 5, 2010

A bunch of stuff since last time, January 6. Seem to be on a monthly schedule, which is partly driven by the way I keep track of Rhapsody-streamed Recycled Goods records. Most of the following were checked during early January when I was compiling year-end list data. Most of the records have their boosters, but overall it was patchy with only a few minor finds. Usual caveats apply: one or two plays, streamed through my computer, so judgments are quick and more/less subject to change, that is if I ever again bother. One problem doing this is the lack of documentation, which I try to make up for by searching the web, but sometimes don't find much. Another is that Rhapsody's performance is rather erratic, with the sound sometimes choppy, sometimes cut out, and "unexpected errors" too common to qualify as unexpected. Still probably worth my while.

Manchester Orchestra: Mean Everything to Nothing (2009, Favorite Gentlemen/Canvasback): Atlanta group, led by Andy Hull; second album, punkish, tuneful, all the more so when they slow it down, as if they have something to say. Likely they do. B+(**)

The Raveonettes: In and Out of Control (2009, Vice): A little prim as rock and roll goes, but they go for an authentic sound, plus a little extra fuzz on the guitars -- sometimes I think they want to slim the Rolling Stones back down to Buddy Holly size, but not lose anything in the process. As consistent and as suggestive as they've gotten. One cut lights up the amps, making you wonder why they don't do that more often. B+(***)

The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love (2009, Capitol): Portland group, on their 5th album. AMG lists them as Chamber Pop, but my entry is Alt-Prog. This is a song cycle, a veritable rock opera, with lit themes of uncertain depth and a lot more bombast than I care for. I'm tempted by the guitar crunch and the sheer guts, but every now and then I wonder what is this shit? For instance, the keyb-keyed title tune is swamped by a kiddie chorus, but then things start to break, and something rather marvelous happens next. B+(*)

The Horrors: Primary Colours (2009, XL): British rock group, second album, fundamentally sound -- AMG nabs it as a mix of shoegaze, post-punk, and goth, which is close enough. Deep-voiced, echoey lead singer probably gets the goth cred. B+(**)

Wild Beasts: Two Dancers (2009, Domino): Another British group, second album, plods a bit but keeps time, singer a little eerily falsetto but in turn. Doesn't have the consistent poll pull of the big 3-5, but I've seen it come out ahead a few times head-to-head. Don't see what they see, but seems OK to me. B+(*)

Baroness: Blue Record (2009, Relapse): Georgia band, has a couple of previous albums including a Red Album with similar (though redder) cover art. Basically a metal band although I don't hear them falling into the usual claptrap -- I could even imagine becoming a fan, although I can't say for sure on what basis. B+(*)

Dinosaur Jr.: Farm (2009, Jagjaguwar): Alt-rock band formed in the late 1980s, part of the SST stable but they came late and I never paid much attention to them. Bombed out around 1997, then regrouped in 2007. Tuneful, run up the guitar flash, stick to medium-fast and then some. I shouldn't be so hard on it, but this is the sort of thing that turned me off rock back, well, around about the time they were just getting started. B-

King Midas Sound: Waiting for You (2009, Hyperdub): Roger Robinson, from Trinidad or Tobago, barely registers with his soft-soled poetry, except on the wicked anti-capitalist "Earth a killya," which may be where he gives way to Hitomi. Kevin Martin is the beats guy. They, too, are slight. B+(**)

Khaled: LibertÚ (2009, Wrasse): Algerian ra´ star, safely ensconced in Paris since well before Algeria's "troubles" in the 1990s, where he's made various moves toward and away from electropop. This is as far away as I can recall, an acoustic grind that sounds rootsy even if it isn't, and that sets off his vocal prowess. A-

Why?: Eskimo Snow (2009, Anticon): Oakland rock group, led by Yoni Wolf, has a couple of albums now, an anomaly on what is otherwise an underground rap label. Sort of jangly, not quite pop, probably deeper than I'm following. B+(*)

2562: Unbalance (2009, Tectonic): Dutch DJ Dave Huismans. Electronics, fashioned into non-stop dance beats, with bits of good humor. B+(***)

Tanya Morgan: Broklynati (2009, Interdependent Media): Rap group, moved from Cincinnati to Brooklyn. Three guys, with an ongoing skit about alter-ego the Hardcore Gentlemen. Not quite what you'd call "old school," but moderately old, in the middle of the mainstream that put rap on the map. B+(**)

Black Moth Super Rainbow: Eating Us (2009, Graveface): Pittsburgh group, been around since 2003 with at least four albums, various EPs and singles. Long on texture, with a rather drab female voice centered, kind of like trip-hop transcribed back to alt-rock. Matos listed this, and specifically favored it over Animal Collective. Easy to say he's right, but the lack of irritation keeps them apart in my mind. A-

The Rural Alberta Advantage: Hometowns (2008 [2009], Saddle Creek): Toronto group, first album, self-released before it got picked up. Basic Middle American rock and roll, maybe a little cleaner since it's Canadian like, you know, Neil Young is Canadian. B+(**)

Vivian Girls: Everything Goes Wrong (2009, In the Red): Brooklyn group, three females improbably enough, a guitar-bass-drums trio that runs thin and lo-fi, and could stand to be nastier and/or more talented. B

Health: Get Color (2009, Lovepump United): LA band, second album, hard, sharp, metallic toned, a bit of noise but not much fuzz. Got some exposure opening for Nine Inch Nails, which is a match, although they're not as tightly bound to their concept. B+(**)

Andrew Bird: Noble Beast (2009, Fat Possum): A singer-songwriter with strengths on both counts, plus he puts his violin to good use for flavoring but doesn't lean on it too hard. Has recorded steadily since 1996. B+(*)

Dan Auerbach: Keep It Hid (2009, Nonesuch): Debut from Black Keys frontman -- a band I've never been much impressed by. Stands more forthright on his own; brings out the blues riffs and posture, and tightens up the songs. B+(*)

Julian Casablancas: Phrazes for the Young (2009, RCA): First solo album from former Strokes frontman. Tuneful, a nice jangly rhythm that has always been natural to the group. On the other hand, the keybs thicken around his voice, which turns out to be an annoying one. B-

Brendan Benson: My Old, Familiar Friend (2009, ATO): Singer-songwriter, has several albums as well as a role in Jack White's Raconteurs supergroup. Some MOR rock moves, some pop moves, some tendency to fake gravitas by overemoting. "Feel Like Taking You Home" overran these faults, but "Put Me Out of My Misery" succumbed. B-

Dan Deacon: Bromst (2009, Carpark): Synth guy, diddled around on a lot of obscure releases from 2003 to 2007, when he landed at experimental-rock label Carpark, who seems to have motivated him to get louder, jumpier, and quirkier -- i.e., more like Animal Collective, but he mostly goes overboard, which makes him much funnier. B+(**)

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Why There Are Mountains (2009, Sister's Den): Brooklyn alt-rock band, shifts speed and volume a lot, makes a fair impression both up and down, most so when they run flat out. Vocalist doesn't seem to be in command. Comparisons to Pavement are not wildly off base, although they're not on that level. B+(*)

The Big Pink: A Brief History of Love (2009, 4AD): Brit group, first album. Reminds me a bit of Joy Division, with less cool and more industrial clunk and a bit of shoegaze polish. Seemed promising early on, but midway the songs started getting stuffed and bloated. B+(*)

Death Cab for Cutie: The Open Door (2009, Atlantic, EP): Five-cut EP, one a demo for their 2008 album, the others leftovers. Band has been around since 1999, with 5-6 albums and a huge pile of EPs. Some words worth following, support melodies all right. Never really saw the utility in EPs. B+(*)

Lack of Afro: My Groove Your Move (2009, Freestyle): This showed up at the top of one (and only one) of the year-end lists, ahead of some stuff that led me to take it seriously. DJ Adam Gibbons draws on older soul/funk riffs, jacks up the beats, pulls in a rapper here, a singer there, points out an occasional riff. B+(***)

Fruit Bats: The Ruminant Band (2009, Sub Pop): Chicago group, fourth album, someone named Eric D. Johnson -- evidently there are other Eric Johnsons to disclaim -- wrote all the songs. Presumably sings them too, a lovely voice that sounds like a middle American John Lennon. Tunes move along gracefully. Richly satisfying. A-

The Field: Yesterday and Today (2009, Kompakt/Anti-): Swedish producer Axel Willner's second full-length album. First, From Here We Go Sublime, got a lot of attention in 2007 but I couldn't find it on Rhapsody. This time, he got picked up by a better-distributed label, but barely got noticed. Of the numerous sub-categories for electronica these days, pop ambient gets the parameters about right. Mostly catchy rhythm tracks with minor variations -- one vocal is a bit out of bounds. Very attractive at first blush, but second play didn't add much. B+(***)

Lightning Bolt: Earthly Delights (2007-08 [2009], Load): Noise group, from Rhode Island, been around since 1999, with a Christgau-recommended 2001 album I bought and never managed to rate, probably because I never felt like playing it a second time. Doubt I'll feel like playing this one again either. I can handle the guitar-drums noise all right -- even like some of the drumming -- and can overlook the vocal ballast for a while, but I find wildly disorganized shit like "Flooded Chamber" really worthless. Sure, they try to make amends with "Funny Farm," which I recognized as bluegrass before looking up the title, but afterwards thought it could have been funnier. B-

Nosaj Thing: Drift (2009, Alpha Pup): California DJ, known to his mother as Jason Chung. Keeps it fairly simple, with auras of churchy synth to chill it all out. B+(*)

5 Years of Hyperdub (2004-09 [2009], Hyperdub, 2CD): Label compilation, fairly narrowly focused on dubstep or ambient dub, moderately paced electronica with a fair amount of echo, vocals present sometimes but usually not a plus. Recognize a couple of artists here -- Burial, Bug, Zomby, Martyn, King Midas Sound -- but most fly well under my radar, with Kode 9 the most common unknown. Sort of thing that serves me well as background music, but never really draws me in. B+(***)

Vampire Weekend: Contra (2010, XL): The first big hype of the new year -- figure I might as well not wait until the year-end lists come out. First reputation had a reputation for incorporating bits of Afropop, but this goes much further, especially in the drums. Singer may remind a bit of Paul Simon, but more flexible and less full of himself. A- [later: A]

Polvo: In Prism (2009, Merge): Rock band from the 1990s, where they had four 1992-97 albums plus a few EPs before giving up. Regrouped now, reportedly playing the same thing, loopy guitar-heavy textures. Nice cover art. B+(***)

William Basinski: 92982 (1982 [2009], 2062): Ambient electronics, mostly tape loops that subtly nod up and down, or etching a very quiet halo around a faint piano figure. Not much, not even minimalism, but I found it entrancing. B+(**)

The Very Best: Warm Heart of Africa (2009, Green Owl): Singer Esau Mwamwaya from Malawi plus the British DJ/production duo Radioclit (Johan Karlberg and Etienne Tron). Not sure how this official debut differs from last year's mix tape, Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are the Very Best. It is sort of a mishmash, with South African borrowings and other, harder to identify, tacks. Gets the basic flavor across, and has some fun doing it. Group name is rather awkward. B+(**)

Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon: The End of Day (2009, Universal Motown): Young rapper from Cleveland, seems to have built a reputation in mixtapes and has some connection (I don't understand) to Kanye West. Works a man-on-moon (or man-in-moon?) concept through narration and soft-shuffle raps which get catchier as the record grows on you. B+(***)

Maxwell: BLACKsummers'night (2009, Columbia): Soul singer, has the basic skills but isn't especially distinctive, on his fourth record -- first in 8 years. Evidently the title case is necessary to distinguish this from two more albums from the same sessions, to be released with the upper case sliding rightwards. Maybe should be docked just for that, but I figure he's cutting himself thin enough as it is. B+(*)

Cass McCombs: Catacombs (2009, Domino): Mild mannered singer-songwriter, male, based in Baltimore, third album. Has a nice, even feel to it. B+(**)

Miike Snow (2009, Downtown): Swedish group, three guys, first album. In English, of course, depends on keybs giving an alt-rock identity a plastic coat of pop gloss. Tuneful enough to work. B+(*)

Mary J Blige: Stronger With Each Tear (2009, Geffen): Release date Dec. 1, too late to have any impact on year-end lists, not that it would have had much anyway -- her best Pazz & Jop finishes were: 21) Mary (1999); 30) What's the 411? (1992); and 40) No More Drama (2001). Another strong album, but I never fall for her very hard. For one thing, she makes it seem like too much work. B+(**)

Chrisette Michele: Epiphany (2009, Def Jam): Second album. Sounds fresher than Blige, but not as firmly in command. About right at this stage. B+(*)

Mariachi El Bronx (2008 [2009], Swami): Originally a punk band from Los Angeles, led by singer Matt Caughthran, but padded out with a mariachi horn section, as well as charango, guitarron, guests like David Hidalgo. Doesn't feel quite right, and not just because it's anglophone-friendly. B


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

  • A-Trak: Fabriclive.45 (Fabric)
  • Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse: Dark Night of the Soul ()
  • DJ Koze: Reincarnations: The Remix Chapter 2001-2009 (Get Physical)
  • The Emeralds: What Happened (No Fun)
  • The Fiery Furnaces: I'm Going Away (Thrill Jockey)
  • Lucero: 1372 Overton Park (Republic)
  • Richmond Fontaine: We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River (Decor)
  • Moritz von Oswald Trio: Vertical Ascent (Honest Jons)
  • Sunn O))): Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

William Basinski: 92982 (1982 [2009], 2062): An archive tape of gently oscillating subminimal electronics, sometimes wrapped in a faint halo around a repeated piano figure. B+(**)

Willie Nelson: The Party's Over and Other Great Willie Nelson Songs (1967, RCA): Nelson's relationship songs are so devoid of feeling it's not surprising that he ultimately ditched them for a life of crime -- he breaks up so often you wonder how he ever managed to get hitched in the first place; the strings may be meant to soften the blow, but they just turn maudlin. B

Willie Nelson: Texas in My Soul (1968, RCA): Texas-born, you'd think Nelson might have something to say about his home state, but given the chance he opts for 11 covers, mostly dull geography -- "Dallas," "San Antonio," "Streets of Laredo," "The Hill Country Theme" -- and angst over the Alamo; Ernest Tubb provides the only saving grace. B-

Willie Nelson: Good Times (1969, RCA): Loneliness as existential dread, sometimes in songs arranged as sparsely as their sentiments, once or twice in songs gushing with Chet Atkins wrappers. B

Willie Nelson: My Own Peculiar Way (1969, RCA): The title track is wrapped up in the full-blown string treatment and nearly swamped, as is much else here; five covers are hit and miss, but his own songs hold up, and he sings them with subtle flair. B+(*)

Willie Nelson: Both Sides Now (1970, RCA): Joni Mitchell title song picked up fresh, with "Crazy Arms" and "Wabash Cannonball" up front to mark this as country -- not countrypolitan; more covers than usual, but the songwriter works five of his own in, including "I Gotta Get Drunk" and "Bloody Mary Morning." B+(**)

Willie Nelson: Laying My Burdens Down (1970, RCA): Starts promisingly, with a good title original, and survives the Atkins treatment on "Senses"; on the other hand, Nelson's "Where Do You Stand?" is overblown, and a cover called "Minstrel Man" is an atrocity three final originals are hard pressed to overcome. B

Willie Nelson: Willie Nelson & Family (1971, RCA): Without credits, I don't know how this relates to Willie's later Family (i.e., his band); half covers, top drawer stuff -- not that "Fire and Rain" suits him -- but he seems determined to solve the overproduction problem by singing operatically. C+

Willie Nelson: Yesterday's Wine (1971, RCA): First half follows a concept about a "flawed man" charged by God to deliver the message to his fellows: down to don't dwell on the numerous bad times, and don't try to understand -- that's God's job; fills out with several remarkable songs, including his road anthem "Me and Paul." A-

Willie Nelson: The Words Don't Fit the Picture (1972, RCA): Title song is clunky, and everything else -- all Nelson originals, two with co-credits -- is prety scattered; the one with Waylon Jennings, "Good Hearted Woman," made its first appearance here, but made a bigger impression four years later, on Wanted! The Outlaws. B

Willie Nelson: The Willie Way (1972, RCA): A set of solid but unremarkable Nelson songs, supplemented with one from Kristofferson that's up to snuff, and "Mountain Dew" for its hayseed factor. B+(**)

Willie Nelson: Pretty Paper (1979, Columbia): A quickie Christmas album, wrapped up in the original title song -- about as secular as you can do in the season -- and a slight little instrumental called "Christmas Blues"; that's all the ideas they had, so for filler they picked ten songs everyone's done, and budgeted two minutes for each -- except for "Silent Night," which as you know tends to drag on and on. B

Willie Nelson: Tougher Than Leather (1983, Columbia): A cowboy-gunfighter-damsel concept album, like Red Headed Stranger but more oblique, which is to say he bothered to write the whole thing -- except for a "Beer Barrel Polka" interlude, that is -- if not necessarily to figure it out; widely trashed when it came out, it actually holds up pretty well, partly because Nelson's loose narrative style has been missing ever since. B+(***)

Willie Nelson: Without a Song (1983, Columbia): Another mild-mannered standards rehash, done with a minimum of fuss and bother, the only thing that breaks with the genteel strum and twang is guest Julio Iglesias on "As Time Goes By," which he dispenses with his bombast. B

Willie Nelson: City of New Orleans (1984, Columbia): Steve Goodman's title song was good for a hit but not for emulation; Nelson prefered mopey ballads with strings, and penned only one song, defensively, "Why Are You Picking on Me?" B-

Willie Nelson: A Horse Called Music (1989, Columbia): A short and slight album, with a worthy Beth Nielsen Chapman hit ("Nothing I Can Do About It Now"), three originals (two recycled, "Mr. Record Man" from back in 1962), some other hit and miss stuff -- I can buy into the title track, but not "If I Were a Painting." B

Willie Nelson: Healing Hands of Time (1994, Liberty): Another standards album -- even if six are by Nelson himself, most are as familiar as "All the Things You Are" and "I'll Be Seeing You"; massive string orchestras aren't my idea of how to do anything, but they offset a truly remarkable voice. B

Willie Nelson: Just One Love (1995 [1996], Justice): Title track is a touching duet with songwriter Kimmie Rhodes; most of the filler is classic honky tonk -- "Cold Cold Heart," "It's a Sin," "This Cold War With You," "Four Walls" -- but there's also the classic novelty "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," and Grandpa Jones takes over to drive "Eight More Miles to Louisville" straight into the ground. B+(**)

Nirvana: Live at Reading (1992 [2009], DGC): I might have liked Nirvana more if everyone else liked them less, but more likely I wouldn't have noticed them at all. I never could hear the mudmouth vocals through the guitar din. At most I'd get a barbed word, something about lithium, or something about a gun. Cut the grunge and it was clear that they had some talent: the demos collection Incesticide showed some songcraft, and MTV Unplugged in New York offered them a human scale. But when Kurt Cobain became a poster boy for the NRA, I couldn't care less. A quickie live comp, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, muddied the waters further. This new one has the virtue of being a single set, running at high volume with little to vary or personalize the sound. The only song that caught my ear was something about building a machine and watching the money roll in. B

Sun Ra: Interplanetary Melodies: Doo Wop From Saturn and Beyond, Vol. One (1950s [2009], Norton): A few doo wop singles from the 1950s, including a Christmas chant anyone could have improved on; a groove track called "Africa" that showed up on a 1966 album, a bunch of previously unissued material, including a fractured "Summertime"; a bit of spoken word -- stuff that kicks back and forth between quirky and too trivial to bother with. B

Sun Ra: The Second Stop Is Jupiter: Doo Wop From Saturn and Beyond, Vol. Two (1950s [2009], Norton): More odds than sods, as they mix a couple more known singles with a lot of tape scraps, all with vocals, though most unreleased for good reasons -- not that he ever did anything completely uninteresting. B-

Sun Ra: Nidhamu/Dark Myth Equation Visitation (1971 [2009], Art Yard): A series of impromptu concerts from a visit to Egypt, with Ra on his Moog and the band on instruments borrowed from the army; some solo keyb, some pieces with drums and backing vocals, a lot of odd constructions, nothing likely to blow you away, but plenty to think about. B+(*)

Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (1974 [2009], Art Yard): A small group live shot that wound up on Saturn in 1978 and languished in extreme obscurity, distinguished by lots of quirky rockish synth and tuneless vocals with occasional honks and screeches from the horns; by normal people this would be desperate but, of course, there's nothing normal about it. B+(**)

Manfred Schoof: European Echoes (1969 [2002], Atavistic): Two LP-side-long bashes with a 16-piece avant band, distinguished not by teamwork but by blistering solos from the young men who moved the movement: saxophonists Evan Parker and Peter Br÷tzmann, guitarist Derek Bailey, pianists Fred Van Hove and Alexander von Schlippenbach, and ultimately the undersung trumpeter-leader. B+(***)

Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom Live (2008 [2009], Anti-, 2CD): One disc of songs, ground down by a grungy band that generates deep-grounded momentum and growled out by a guy who can't exactly sing but projects so much feeling it hardly matters anyway; second disc is a 35-minute stand-up routine from a guy who marvels over the perversity of the natural as well as the manmade world; it's worth listening to once, maybe again. B+(**)

Neil Young: Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968 (1968 [2008], Reprise): Transitioning from Buffalo Springfield to his solo career -- here very much alone -- Young talks a lot about songwriting and can get technical about it; his high voice is fresh, his guitar fluffs up his songs rather than plays them. B

Neil Young: Dreamin' Man Live '92 (1992 [2009], Reprise): No band, just just singer with guitar and harmonica -- one cut each on banjo and piano -- unplugging his countryish retreat on Harvest Moon, shortly after he wrecked his amplifiers on Arc-Weld; he can, of course, carry his tunes, and they sink ever deeper, not least the bitter closer, "War of Man." B+(***)

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Bud Shank Quartet: Fascinating Rhythms (2009, Jazzed Media): Alto saxophonist, b. 1926, worked his way up through Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton bands, one of the most distinctive figures in the west coast cool jazz universe; worked steadily until he cut this (presumably) last record, a live set at age 82, a couple of months before he died. Quartet with Bill Mays (piano), Bob Magnuson (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). Mostly well-worn covers, two possibly picked for their titles (Monk's "In Walked Bud," Jobim's "Lotus Bud"). Feels a bit rough edged, with some chatter, occasional harshness in his tone, ambling by Mays. Still, this has some awesome moments. B+(*)