Rhapsody Streamnotes: July 18, 2012

In this month's Downloader's Diary, Michael Tatum argued that there's too much good music this month to waste time on also rans or wannabes. That hasn't been my experience. Below you'll find the shortest monthly Streamnotes of the year, also the latest, and most significantly one with only one A-list album (and that a leftover from 2011). (I added the extra graphic because it was already on file, and a near miss.)

I have 31 records this month. My average for the first six months of the year has been 57, with only March dipping below 50. Had I listened to 20 more I might have found something, but it's been a bad month for finding things I looked for on Rhapsody, and few of the tips I usually follow have panned out. But I did bother to check out such unlikely prospects as Kindness, Usher, Mount Eerie, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Walkmen -- it continues to baffle me how anyone can like them.

Tatum's prime picks (Fiona Apple, Frank Ocean) are in the queue, my processing slowed down by actually having the luxury of real copies. (I did play Apple on Rhapsody, and on that one turn it would have been a mid-to-high B+, a record with one exceptional song, otherwise well-crafted but not something I much like. Ocean is still in the shrinkwrap.) Thought I might try to squeeze more into this month, but as late as I am, best to flush it out and start next month fresh.

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 June 12. Past reviews and more information are available here (2760 records).

Action Bronson: Dr. Lecter (2011, Fine Fabric Delegates): Ben Johnson, from Queens, of "Albanian and Jewish descent," chef on the side, must eat well too; namechecks Barry Horowitz, Larry Csonka, Ronnie Coleman, Buddy Guy, and Chuck Person, not to mention "Jerk Chicken" and "Forbidden Fruit"; beats by Tommy Mas are enough to get by on. A- [dl]

Action Bronson: Blue Chips (2012, Fool's Gold): One of the golden rules of rap -- yes, cash pun intended -- is that the bigger you get, the more guests you wind up hosting, until the whole neighborhood goes to hell. Some of that here, bumping up the drugs and hoes quotient to no good effect. More outlandish samples too, although Nick Nolte takes a bit too long to deliver his line. B+(***) [dl]

Alt-J: An Awesome Wave (2012, Infectious): Anglo alt-rock group from Cambridge, or maybe Leeds, UK anyhow, named after the Mac keyboard shortcut for a triangle, an instrument they employ along with a kitchen sinkful of effects. Highly elaborate, careful, arty, nothing I particularly go for but they make it work more often than not -- e.g., more often than Coldplay. B+(*)

Stephen David Austin: A Bakersfield Dozen (2011, self-released): Debut album, cover pic looks like he may have some gray in his beard, but that could just be photoshopped, for he's as up-to-date as "MySpace," as timeless as "Heroes and Heroin," Bakersfield enough to eulogize "The Day Buck Owens Died," and to underline the concept he covers a Beatles song ("Baby's in Black"). I'd be more impressed, or at least amused, if I hadn't heard "The Fat Kid" -- not that his heart's not in the right place, but I wonder about his head. B+(*)

Baloji: Kinshasa Succursale (2010 [2012], Crammed): Congolese rapper, grew up in Belgium and made a mark while based in Paris, then returned to Kinshasa to hook up with Konono No. 1, his raps all the more effective when he's got the whole junkyard beat going, or some soukous, or something real spare. B+(**)

Azealia Banks: 1991 (2012, Interscope, EP): Four cuts, 16:06, including a couple minutes of comic skit sans punchline. Grade is kind of an extrapolation since Rhapsody isn't giving me a straight runthrough -- the dead track is "212," which I've sought out the video on, and would at least get you over the skit. B+(**)

B.o.B: Strange Clouds (2012, Atlantic): Guest list: Morgan Freeman, Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Trey Songz, a couple more that don't ring my bell. One song even features Bobby Ray Simmons. Half are pretty listenable. Some aren't. B-

Chicha Libre: Canibalismo (2012, Barbčs): As near as I can figure out, a Brooklyn group put together as a sort of live tribute band after the label/club came out with its collection of vintage Peruvian "psychedelic cumbias," The Roots of Chicha. This has some of the same appeal, but one risk of catching up is overshooting. B+(*)

Rocco Deluca: Drugs 'N Hymns (2012, 429): Intent on being a bluesman, comes off a bit understated, at least when he's not flat out whiney. B

William Michael Dillon: Black Robes and Lawyers (2011, self-released): Convicted of murder in 1981, freed 27 years later when DNA testing proved him innocent; has several songs about that, a couple strikingly matter of fact, and has a few more songs about, uh, life. He's white, but on injustice he reaches for black music idioms -- backup singers, organ, even some reggae on his simplest freedom paean -- even though it doesn't come naturally. B+(**)

Far East Movement: Dirty Bass (2012, Interscope): LA group, mostly (or all) Asian-Americans -- rappers Kev Nish, Prohgres, and Jae Chong, backed by DJ Varmin -- but they recall Black-Eyed Peas and NERD with their big beats and synthy bass fuzz, and they draw lots of guests (including Justin Bieber), evening out the gender mix. Deluxe ed. adds remixes. B+(***)

The Hives: Lex Hives (2012, Disques Hives): Swedish group, established themselves as garage punk avatars in 2002 with Veni Vidi Vicious, and seem likely to repeat that formula ad infinitum. The crunch remains classic, the songs too loud for me to care about, but others may consider that a back-handed compliment. B+(*)

Hot Chip: In Our Heads (2012, Domino): Brit electropop group, been around since 2000; the dance beats still do the job, but the vocals make me wonder who these people are, not that I'm sure I care. A band that I once found intriguing, but lost the thread on. B+(*)

Kindness: World, You Need a Change of Mind (2012, Female Energy/Polydor): Adam Bainbridge debut, starts out with a spacey beat that soon turns incoherent on a couple of covers -- a clever choice might have been Paul Westerberg's "Swingin' Party," but by the time I placed it it had turned out dead ass dull. And there's nothing clever about writing originals that don't even measure up to that. C+

Lorn: Ask the Dusk (2012, Ninja Tune): Marcos Ortega, from Milwaukee (I think), crafts electronica with a lot of industrial overhang: crashing beats, hornlike synths merging into drones, voices adding to the effect (or not). B+(**)

Lushlife: Plateau Vision (2012, Western Vinyl): Philadelphia MC, has a couple priors but I'm not finding much bio. Can't make much sense of this either, but he keeps threatening to get interesting; then, uh, what? Feats include Shad, Heems, Cities Aviv, and there's something about Einstein and the founding of Israel. B+(*)

Pat Metheny: Unity Band (2012, Nonesuch): A serious jazz musician -- has recorded on separate occasions with Ornette Coleman and Derek Bailey, made a very public spectacle of despising Kenny G -- with popular and populist instincts, probably the most commercially successful SJM in America, comes up with an impeccably serious quartet -- Chris Potter on sax, Ben Williams on bass, and Antonio Sanchez on drums -- and turns them into an arena-worthy showboating outfit. Potter is game -- he's rarely blown this hot -- and Sanchez has never played this loud. The guitarist starts with a nice intro, then segues into the horribly synthy "Roofdogs." B-

Metric: Synthetica (2012, Mom + Pop): Canadian synth-pop band, singer is Emily Haines who was born in New Delhi and at various points has been based in Montreal, London, New York, and Los Angeles -- father was Paul Haines, who wrote the libretto to Carla Bley's Escalator Over the Hill. Fifth album since 2003. I liked 2009's Fantasies a lot. This has the same general soundscape, but I can't find much to grab onto. B+(*)

Rhett Miller: The Interpreter: Live at Largo (2011, Maximum Sunshine): Live, as advertised, solo too, just the singer and his guitar, and all covers -- Dylan, Beatles, Kinks, Bowie (twice), Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith, Francis Black (twice again), a few others -- a ramble through a personal past neither here nor there. B

Rhett Miller: The Dreamer (2012, Maximum Sunshine): Original songs, the best ones sorted to the top of the album, leaving you wondering how such a promising album managed to outstay its welcome. B+(**)

Mount Eerie: Clear Moon (2012, PW Elverum & Sun): Phil Elverum, based in Anacortes, on the Puget Sound north of Seattle, started out as the Microphones, then recorded an album called Mount Eerie, then switched monikers. Conjures up a complex moodscape with choral vocals and electronics, at one point getting dense enough he might be onto something, but soon pulled back into the murk. B

The Mynabirds: Generals (2012, Saddle Creek): Laura Burhenn plus band, second album, from Nebraska but more reminiscent of the strain of English singer-songwriters that descend from Kate Bush. Has promising moments, but doesn't quite cohere -- or maybe I'm missing something? B

Peaking Lights: Lucifer (2012, Mexican Summer): Husband-wife lo-fi synth duo, their second album started low but wound up on a lot of year-end lists. This has been called "more professionally recorded" [AMG] but they still aim lo with dub-like redundancy and just enough humor. B+(*)

A Place to Bury Strangers: Worship (2012, Dead Oceans): Third album, echoes of Jesus and Mary Chain, but louder, with more space overdrive, a very impressive sound carrying deadpan vocals I can't begin to make out (or didn't bother). I was equally impressed with their second album, and must have been in a better mood: rated it higher, then never returned to it. B+(***)

A Place to Bury Strangers: Onwards to the Wall (2012, Dead Oceans, EP): Five song, 16:41, came out four months before the album above. Some day these will be bonus tracks to a reissue of the album; now they're just advance outtakes, as strong as the album if you're besotten by the sound, as useless if you aren't, and more or less as cost-effective if you're somewhere in between. B+(**)

Royal Headache (2011 [2012], What's Your Rupture?): Punk band debut from Sydney, Australia; only runs 26:45, but gives you 12 songs, with bridges even, so what more do you want? Sharper edges? More rudimentary power? Less royalty? B

Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania (2011 [2012], Martha's Music/EMI): Never bothered with Billy Corgan's group's three highly regarded 1991-95 albums, recently reissued to much acclaim, in part because I often heard that this was one of the worst-ever live groups, also because I thought the whole Seattle grunge scene was vastly overrated. So I don't know whether this is entering into a prog phase or just adding to something that's always been there. Thick, with a singer who doesn't grate quite as much as Michael Stipe, but it's all quite tolerably uninteresting in the end. B

Otis Taylor: Otis Taylor's Contraband (2012, Telarc): Bluesman, leads with his voice rather than his guitar, and pulls the voice back into the songs, where he earns his craft. B+(***)

Usher: Looking 4 Myself (2012, RCA): Deluxe ed. ends with the upbeat "Hot Thing" -- the only one worth having of four extra tracks on an album already too long, plus it spoils the concept of ending in "Euphoria" (not that I noticed being there). He's a jack of all trades -- can go fast, slow, hip-hop, soul, listenable in all, exceptional in none. B+(*)

The Walkmen: Heaven (2012, Fat Possum): Garage rock group from New York, not that I remember many garages there -- more like a studio apartment group with surly neighbors always threatening to call the cops on them if they don't keep it down, and they've learned that lesson, managing to keep it way down. Closes with this inspirational lyric: "Oh, no, no, no, no. no." C

Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe (2012, XL): Produced by Richard Russell, last heard framing Gil Scott-Heron's last hurrah, with help from Damon Albarn, who's scoured the ends of the earth in search of rough voices to back with his catchy, chintzy keyb. Womack has been around since the mid-1960s, a second- (or third-) tier soulman occasionally blessed with a hit, but his voice is shot and his swagger has gone, which oddly works here. B+(**)


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

  • Cory Branan: Mutt (2012, Bloodshot)
  • Darius Jones Quartet: Book of Mae'bul (Another Kind of Surprise) (2012, AUM Fidelity)
  • Brad Mehldau Trio: Ode (2012, Nonesuch)
  • Todd Snider: Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker (2012, Aimless)
  • Waco Brothers & Paul Burch: Great Chicago Fire (2012, Bloodshot)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Francis Bebey: African Electronic Music 1975-1982 (1975-82 [2012], Born Bad): A minor legend from Cameroon and Paris, started in the early 1960s, died in 2001; this pulls together synth-backed ditties from what must have been his prime, mostly in French, a couple in English. A-

Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol. IV: The Soul of Truth (1975-83 [2012], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Three gospel albums from the fat middle of his career -- as opposed to his 1959 Hymns and his 2003 My Mother's Hymn Book, a lifetime concern that I credit less to his piety than to his need to "keep movin'": one shelved in 1975, a double from 1979, and another set from 1983 with outtakes to boot; in awe of the power of salvation, earnest in his failings, and too modest to condemn others, with flashes of his trademark rhythm, a little boogie even. A-

Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker! (1969, A&M): One of the great English blues voices applied to contemporary rock songs, pumped up by Leon Russell's church-trained organ, this was the album that set up the tour documented on Mad Dogs and Englishmen; having gotten to the latter first, I find this a bit superfluous, but at the time this must have impressed mightily. B+(***)

Joe Cocker: With a Little Help From My Friends (1969, A&M): His first album, a few months ahead of the eponymous one, a few songs with his name on the credits -- not his strong suit; title arrangement is brilliant but wearing; of two Dylan songs, "Just Like a Woman" is unexceptional, but "I Shall Be Release" sweeps away the original. B

Cotton Mather: Kontiki [Deluxe Edition] (1997 [2012], Star Apple Kingdom): Austin band, cut three albums 1994-2001 of which this one has the rep, including the Oasis seal of approval; sounded more Byrds than Beatles to me at first, but filtered through Big Star and distorted further, at times annoyingly so. B+(*)

Aretha Franklin: The Very Best of Aretha Franklin: The '70s (1970-76 [1994], Rhino): Part of a generally superb series of 16-cut, design common comps, split into two slices for Franklin because, well, why not? The '60s slams harder, of course, and doesn't have anything as iffy as "Bride Over Troubled Water" (not that she doesn't turn in the best one ever), but the relative obscurity just shows what a pro she was becoming. A-

Carole King: The Legendary Demos (1962-71 [2012, Hear Music): A legendary songwriter before she stepped up to the mic and recorded the best selling album of the 1970s, of course she has a shelf full of song demos, and of course they should be legendary -- too bad they aren't: oversung, ham-fisted pounding piano, many with superfluous background vocals, half bound for Tapestry, the others for better singers and arrangers. B-

Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram (1971 [2012], Hear Music): One wonders what young people today might make out of a first listen of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" -- an ubiquitous single at the time, but actually just a pastiche of ye old music hall with spurious sound effects -- let alone the deservedly obscure rockers that are mostly reiterations of titles like "Monkberry Moon Delight" and "Too Many People" and "Love Is Long" (oh, that's "Long Haired Lady"). At the time he probably thought he was pushing the envelope, although more likely he was just licking it, hoping for drugs. At any rate, he hadn't yet turned into the hack he became. What Linda contributed is anyone's guess. B-

Wes Montgomery: Echoes of Indiana Avenue (1957-58 [2012], Resonance): Early tapes, four cuts from an unknown studio session and the rest gigging around Indianapolis, his fingerpicking less fluid than it would soon become, the pianists more into boogie, but there are hints of charisma and genius, especially on a final blues improv which you don't have to read any future interest into. B+(***)

Plug: Back on Time (1996 [2012], Ninja Tune): Short-lived alias for Luke Vibert, who's done more business as Wagon Christ, more still under his own name. In 1995 Vibert issued three drum 'n' bass EPs as Plug, followed by the album Drum 'N' Bass for Papa in 1996 -- all later compiled into a 2-CD set I haven't heard. These tapes date from that period. I've never sorted out what makes drum 'n' bass different from any other electronica flavor, but I like these beat fine, and find the scattered vocals -- samples mostly -- add useful bits of character to the mix. A-

Porter Ricks: Biokinetics (1996 [2012], Type): Layering Thomas Köner's ambiences electroniques over Andy Mellwig's heartbeat-like throb, eight tracks adding up to 70:19 of minimalism, acute enough you could dance to it, but you'll probably just enjoy the aura of life. B+(***)

Woody Shaw: Blackstone Legacy (1970 [1999], Contemporary): Possibly Shaw's first album as a leader -- Cassandrite was mostly recorded earlier, but came out later -- a blistering sextet initially spread out over two LPs, six songs on four sides; saxophonists Bennie Maupin and Gary Bartz claim their space and play rough, which turns the trumpeter on. B+(**) [Later: B+(***)]

Woody Shaw: Little Red's Fantasy (1976 [2010], Savoy Jazz): Three originals, plus compositions from bassist Stafford James and pianist Ronnie Matthews, in a quintet with Frank Strozier on alto sax and Eddie Moore on drums; a little weak to start, and the postbop tendency to rumble along never quite gains traction. B+(*)

Woody Shaw: Night Music (1982 [1983], Elektra Musician): Hoping for a little quiet storm, but the only time this slows below a gallop is on the closing "All the Things You Are," which gives the trumpet some room but loses the band; trombonist Steve Turre doesn't offer much as second horn, nor does "special guest" Bobby Hutcherson (on vibes). B-

Small Faces: Small Faces (1966, Decca): Latecomers to the Brit Invasion, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane tried to make up for it by scratching their blues licks raw and bloody, but didn't come up with anything that sounded like a hit, or a blues, or Cream or Led Zeppelin, even though they were certainly trying. B+(*)

Small Faces: From the Beginning (1965-66 [1967], Decca): Second album, cobbled together quickly from earlier sessions, hence the title, but the first two cuts veer from their blues thrash into fashionable psychedelia (e.g., "My Mind's Eye"), and the second side is stuffed with soul covers ("Come Back and Take This Hurt Off Me," "Baby Don't You Do It"), still better than their originals. B

Small Faces: There Are but Four Small Faces (1967 [1968], Immediate): Moving on to Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label, their third LP was again eponymous in the UK, but renamed and reordered in the US to feature "Itchycoo Park," the closest they came to a hit single; the songwriting is tighter, less genre-specific, and I hear more Ronnie Lane, but they struggle, and occasionally suffer (e.g., "Tin Soldier"). B

Small Faces: Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (1968, Immediate): Post-Pepper, everyone's a conceptualist, carried through here with connective dialogue, songs that sink all the way through psychedelia into folkie singalongs, and special packaging you thankfully don't have to deal with in the digital era; in four short albums, they've gone from the Yardbirds (without chops) to the Bonzo Dog Band (without jokes). B

The Soul Stirrers: Shine on Me (1950 [1992], Specialty): The venerable gospel group dates from 1926 in Texas, but more important landmark dates are 1936 when Alan Lomax made the group's first field recording, and 1937 when R.H. Harris joined as lead singer. They were reportedly popular in the 1940s, but I'm having trouble finding recordings before they cut these 24 sides for Specialty in 1950. Then Harris quit, and was replaced by the much younger, and much smoother, Sam Cooke. Harris' voice, while high enough to come clear, would never be taken for angelic -- his rough edges convey the struggle ordinary men have to face in everyday life, supported by his cohort's rhythm but little else. A-

The Soul Stirrers: Jesus Gave Me Water (1951-55 [1993], Specialty): When R.H. Harris departed, baritone R.B. Robinson recruited a 19-year-old replacement: Sam Cooke; early on he fills in, then shares leads with Paul Foster, and later Julius Cheeks -- all three names make the front cover; you'll have no trouble recognizing Cooke in his solos, but you mostly notice the rough tumble of the backing voices. B+(**)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal