Rhapsody Streamnotes: March 10, 2010

These seem to be running about once a month, which lets me pick up the Recycled Goods entries for the archive file. Fewer this month than the last couple, as I didn't go on any binges. (Well, I went on one, looking up lots of old Ravi Shankar albums, but that's withheld for now, to be worked into a future Recycled Goods.)

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 February 5. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Freedy Johnston: Rain on the City (2010, None): Singer-songwriter from Kinsley, KS -- actually a farm south of town. I asked my aunt, who taught grade school for many ears in Kinsley, if she knew him. Small town, after all, the sort of place where everyone knows everyone. She said she never taught him, but was aware of the family. Kinsley is now one of the hardest-hit towns in western Kansas, but while I was growing up I spent more time there than anywhere outside of Wichita. Not sure that means anything here. B+(**)

Four Tet: There Is Love in You (2010, Domino): After various ventures with jazz drummer Steve Reid, Kieran Hebden returns to pure laptronica -- nice, simple, warm, clean, right up my alley, even if it doesn't seem all that exceptional. B+(***)

The Magnetic Fields: Realism (2010, Nonesuch): I've never been a big fan of Stephin Merritt's pseudo-group, or at least I was never as smitten with 69 Love Songs as everyone else evidently is, and that leaves me a bit uncertain here. But "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" grabbed me right away, both with wit and a hook even if both were a little arch. "We Are Having a Hootenanny" suggests fake cheer, which is probably right. Elsewhere I hear Beach Boys echoes, dried out, of course. I could wind up souring on it all, but second play solidified the first. A-

Tea Cozies: Hot Probs (2009, Tea Cozies): Girl group, or maybe not -- Brady Harvey and especially Jeff Anderson strike me as suspicious names, but Jessi Reed sings and plays guitar. The sort of old-fashioned rock formalism that kicks in every time -- MySpace page lists Talking Heads, T Rex, Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, and Wire as influences, with the Kinks first -- and carries some possibly interesting songs with it. B+(***)

I See Hawks in L.A.: Hallowed Ground (2008, Big Books): Fourth album by a California country band, influenced or inspired by Gram Parsons -- a standard they don't reach, but they have the basic sound, plus some song-sense, which is more than Hillman, Souther, et al. can claim. I originally went looking for their new career-spanning compilation, Shoulda Been Gold, which is probably the place to start, but this is pretty solid, and includes "When the Grid Goes Down" -- harder-edged than usual, and didn't make the comp cut. B+(**)

Spoon: Transference (2010, Merge): Austin group, indie-rock running on guitar edge, been around since the mid-1990s with one real good album and a lot of respectably consistent ones. This is another of the latter, once you get past the wobbly starter and just let them hack it out. B+(***)

Los Campesinos: Romance Is Boring (2010, Arts & Crafts): Welsh group. Third album, not counting an EP (or more). Not something I'm readily inclined to like: the multiple voices track operatically (or maybe more like Gilbert and Sullivan; at any case with a lot of gusto, not to mention sturm und drang), the music itself built from grand gestures (plus glockenspiel). On the other hand, the words are often sharper than the music, and they suggest such broad interests that their title song makes its case. Could go up (or down), but even if I had a copy I doubt that I'd play it much. B+(***)

Strong Arm Steady: In Search of Stoney Jackson (2009 [2010], Stones Throw): L.A. hip-hop collective, working with Madlib, with a lot of featured guests on tap -- none all that distinct or impressive, although the beats and flow are up to snuff, and there's plenty of shit worth following. B+(**)

Yeasayer: Odd Blood (2010, Secretly Canadian): Fairly arty Brooklyn indie-rock group, second album, shows a penchant for complex rhythms that may include Middle Eastern and African, jumpy synth sounds, and quite a bit of vocal excess. Much of that sounds promising, but I found myself distressed by the closer ("Grizelda") and that's not the only point where it gets a bit much. B

The Watson Twins: Talking to You, Talking to Me (2010, Vanguard): Second album, not counting their credited backup role on Jenny Lewis's debut. From Louisville via Los Angeles. Nice voice(s). Write all their own songs, which would be more impressive if any were memorable, but a bigger problem is that they really don't have anything that counts as a sound -- the closest I came was one song that echoed Carole King. On the other hand, not much downside. Not much of anything. B-

Charlotte Gainsbourg: IRM (2010, Elektra): Singer, non-songwriter, perhaps better known as an actress, or as the daughter of French chansonnier Serge Gainsbourg. Fourth album. Has a cool -- I'd even say frosty -- feel to it. Two songs in French; one with a lyric by Apollinaire. One song co-credited to Gainsbourg, but that's most likely Serge. The rest is credited to Beck, who plays spookily with the disguise. B+(**)

Manu Chao: Radio Bemba: Baionarena Live (2008 [2010], Nacional/Because, 2CD): Chao's basic live strategy is to crank up the volume and push the pedal to the metal. He did this before on Radio Bemba Sound System, where the effect cut into the charm and wit of his early songs. Same here, but the party is such a consistent up that it hardly matters. Fast you just have to pay more attention, or let yourself go -- either way works. Looks like some packages include an extra DVD with the 2.5 hour concert. Costs an extra $5, and as much as I hate DVDs I have to admit I'm tempted. Not sure of the title, which most sources reduce to Baionarena. A-

Lindstrøm & Christabelle: Real Life Is No Cool (2010, Smalltown Supersound): That sould be Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, who had a well-regarded album last year under his solo last name that I didn't get around to checking out, and an earlier collab simply called Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas. Norwegian beat mixer. Christabelle also goes as Isabelle Sandoo. She sings, of course, but also shares writing credits (except for one track credited to Vangelis). Varied dance pop, with some horns and a little tease. B+(***)

Lindstrøm: Where You Go I Go Too (2008, Smalltown Supersound): Starts ambient, then finds a pulse which the title track works for 28:58, with occasional synth swooshes flying in and out. B+(**)

Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love (2010, Nonesuch): I usually get Nonesuch's world music, but somehow missed out on this. I gather that this is a soundtrack to the title film by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhely, possibly a documentary about N'Dour, and the songs on it are old but in new versions, possibly live. That may make it redundant, but it's impossible for someone who can't fathom his language(s) to get overfamiliar with his songs, or even to make fine distinctions. At a gross level these are (mostly) great songs in (mostly) great performances. It's hard to overpraise him as a singer, and the sonic envelope and rhythmic flow is hard to resist. Will consider this further if/when I get a copy. A-

Gucci Mane: The State vs. Radric Davis (2009, Warner Bros.): Dirty South rapper, b. 1980, given name Radric Davis, as in the title. AMG credits him with 25 albums since 2005 but only bothered to rate three, most recently this one. Can't follow this lyrically, not even to give a rough sense how much is dirty and how much is gangsta, but it doesn't feel like much of either. Rather, it runs on big, happy beats, and keeps the nonsense in check. Probably lots of guests, too. Certainly, lots of pros. B+(**)

OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (2010, Capitol): Chicago group, third album, rhythm guitar dominant -- I've seen comparisons to Cars and Pixies, and there's something to that. B+(***)

Beach House: Teen Dream (2010, Sub Pop): Rhapsody calls this "slo-core" which underrates the dreamy, creamy lightness of it. A couple of songs up front promise to make it all work, with looping melodies and a frizz of metallic guitar strum the only thing approaching an edge. Gets a bit twee later on, which may just take time to reconcile. B+(**)

The Whitefield Brothers: Earthology (2010, Now-Again): Not counting the occasional rapper, like Mr. Lif, this is basic exotica, with mallet instruments and flutes riding technoized Afro beats. A-

Dyan Valdés/Eddie Argos: Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1: Everybody Was in the French Resistance . . . Now! (2010, Cooking Vinyl): Most sources give "Everybody . . . Now!" as the artist name, but Valdés and Argos get their names in the front cover, and "Everybody . . . Now!" is just a line from a song ("Creeque Allies"), unlikely to remain usable on future albums, so my version makes more sense. Maybe Art Brut's Argos should get top billing, but he's in gentleman mode, almost an old-fashioned song and dance man. Found melodies, found concepts, clever enough that it's all a tribute to pop literacy. A-

Dessa: A Badly Broken Code (2010, Doomtree): Female rapper, actually teaches the stuff at some music college. I was most impressed the first play when I actually focused better on the words; less so two more plays while I was trying to write something else, which may mean that her beats are less than exceptional. Still, one reason they slipped past me is that they do what they need to do. A- [later: A]

Annie: Don't Stop (2009, Smalltown Supersound): Disco singer, I guess you could say, from Norway, full name Anne Lilia Berge-Strand. Has a lot of up-beat fizz and bounce, nothing deep, certainly not the radio-ready song about listening to the radio. B+(**)

Little Boots: Hands (2009 [2010], Elektra): English pop singer, aka Victoria Hesketh, got some year-end votes for last year's UK release. Mostly electropop, but richer than usual melodically, and some of the songs stick. Ends with a piece just backed by piano, and that works too. B+(***)

Cornershop: Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast (2009 [2010], Ample Play): This album appeared in UK last year, but didn't show up on Rhapsody until February, and it's not clear how available it actually is -- most retailers I've checked don't have it. Fourth album; first since 2002, a long stretch although it's almost exactly a chip off the old block. Ready for their best-of: "The Roll Off Characteristics"; maybe "The Turned On Truth" too. And amuse your friends with their one cover: "The Mighty Quinn." A-

Madlib: Madlib Medicine Show No. 1: Before the Verdict (2010, Now Again): Reportedly the first of a 12-CD monthly series. You can tell he's pacing himself, padding the usual beats with bits from comedy sketches, and occasional depth: "Ask not what you can do for your country, but what in the fuck has it done for you?" And "To be a drug dealer is the American dream." B+(*)

Hot Chip: One Life Stand (2010, EMI): A couple years ago had a growing reputation as a sharp electro-pop band, but they seem to have softened up quite a bit, wandering into soft prog territory. Haven't lost their songcraft. B+(*)


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

  • I See Hawks in L.A.: Shoulda Been Gold 2001-2009 (American Beat)
  • The Red Krayola/Art & Language: Five American Portraits (Drag City)
  • Peter Stampfel: Dook of the Beatniks (Piety Street Files & Archaic)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Goran Bregovic: Alkohol (2008 [2009], Wrasse): A live album which serves as a better intro (or maybe I just mean a more consistently enjoyable album) than his best-of, mostly because it's louder and rowdier, traits to look for in Serbian music -- in this case guitar-driven. A-

Goran Bregovic: Welcome to Goran Bregovic (Best Of) ([2009], Wrasse): Don't know when these widely scattered tracks were recorded: could be as early as his 1974 group Bijelo Dugme or as late as the title cut to his recent live party album Alkohol, or any time in between. A Serb from Bosnia, based in Belgrade, best known for soundtracks which may or may not exploit Gypsy music. Some cuts are pure soundtrack, some are trad wedding music, some deep Balkan, some borrowed from elsewhere, including a "Ya Ya" segment wrapped up as "Ya Ya Ringe Ringe Raja." B+(*)

Betty Davis (1973 [2008], Light in the Attic): Born Betty Mabry, 1945, Durham, NC. Picked up her surname by marrying Miles Davis, which lasted about a year but featured her pic on the cover of Filles de Kilimanjaro. Skinny legs, big afro, not much of a voice but plenty of attitude and grit. Cut four funk albums 1973-76. None very successful, but these days obscure soul records have a certain vogue, enough so that she's become a cult star. Her first album is in thrall to the rhythm -- no surprise given Larry Graham and Greg Errico on bass with Merl Saunders on keyboards. She hangs tough too, with songs like "Game Is My Middle Name" and "Anti Love Song." B+(***)

Betty Davis: They Say I'm Different (1974 [2008], Light in the Attic): Cover pic shows her with a huge collar framing her afro like a lizard puffed up in a bold display, but her lower half is long and leggy -- but scrunched up, insect-like; the album has the usual sophomore faults -- less distinctive songs, less starpower in the band -- but the bonus cuts reiterate four songs that become more iconic the second time around, maybe because they're stretched a bit. B+(**)

Betty Davis: Is It Love or Desire (1976 [2009], Light in the Attic): Fourth album, or would have been had it been released; easy to see why it wasn't, with the funk splayed wide and not all that tight on the one, and Davis's voice more croak than coo; holding it back for 33 years elevates it from inept to idiosyncratic, not that you have to indulge her. B+(*)

Nneka: Concrete Jungle (2005-08 [2010], Decon): German mother, Nigerian father, splits her time between Lagos and Hamburg, gets a US debut by recycling cuts from two German albums; less Afro-Pop than Neo-Soul, although individual cuts fold in funk or reggae or hip-hop and start to get interesting as they pick up speed. B+(*)

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Terry Riley: Autodreamographical Tales (2010, Tzadik): Two multipart series, the title piece spoken word over ambient sounds, "The Hook Lecture" built around piano pieces (with some spoken word) that are somewhat more than minimalist. The spoken word isn't without interest, although it can be slow going. The piano is richly textured. I suppose there's a classical analogue, but don't know enough to pin it down, partly because I've never heard classical piano I liked quite this much. B+(*)

John Zorn: Femina (2008 [2009], Tzadik): A tribute to the ladies. The CD is organized as Parts 1-4, but the website notes that Zorn composed (doesn't play) this using his "file card technique," and the granularity includes references to: Hildegard von Bingen, Meredith Monk, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo, Madame Blavatsky, Isadora Duncan, Hélène Cixous, Gertrude Stein, Abe Sada, Sylvia Plath, Louise Bourgeois, Margaret Mead, Loie Fuller, Dorothy Parker, Yoko Ono, moon goddess En Hedu'Anna, and others. Players are: Jennifer Choi (violin), Okkyung Lee (cello), Carl Emanuel (harp), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Ikue Mori (electronics), and Shayna Dunkelman (percussion), with Laurie Anderson offering some words at the beginning. While the action can shift dramatically, it mostly meanders unimpressively. B-