Rhapsody Streamnotes: December 28, 2012

These monthly installments seem to be drifting ever later in the month. This month the big problem has been trying to wrap up the year in jazz on a slightly tighter schedule than Pazz & Jop. Aside from a bit more than a dozen 2013 advances, I've hit the new jazz queue hard enough that I don't see anything very appetizing among the leftovers -- a lot of vocal jazz and Xmas albums (of which I've played zero for the third year running -- hint, hint). Then late in the month I shifted gears and landed here, with what winds up as my strongest month since May. I've been following the year-end lists, and trying to check out what seems promising -- generally doesn't include a lot of indie rock or metal (with the few examples below not inspiring me to look much further). Most successful was hip-hop (6 of 10 A-list albums) and world (2 Africans, one overlap there, and 2 jazz joints from south of the border). The last two records to break through came from Jason Gross's Ye Wei list, and experience suggests that there are probably a couple more buried there (but certainly not Guided by Voices). Two more lists worth noting belong to Jason Gubbels and Chris Monsen, although that may be because they look a lot more like mine.

January's installment should come sooner, in large part because the lists are doing their job and kicking out suggestions. Also getting a lot on the reissues/compilation front, with Recycled Goods next up on my plate, unless I do something on Pazz & Jop and the metacritic files in the meantime.

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 November 27. Past reviews and more information are available here (3012 records).

Ramzi Aburedwan: Reflections of Palestine (2012, Riverboat): Palestinian violist, grew up in a refugee camp near Ramallah, studied at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Ramallah and in France, plays both western classical and, here, Arabic music and can crank the latter up to joyously danceable speeds. B+(***)

Big Boi: Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (2012, Def Jam): Second post-OutKast "solo" -- a quaint term for something so evidently the work of a committee, or more likely several, not to mention their well-heeled corporate sponsors. Aside from the 1:09 opener, every song feats someone or other (Phantogram three times), and every song has at least three auteurs, with "Mama Told Me" topping out at ten. Some of it even works in weirdly unpredictable ways. B+(*)

Chicago Underground Duo: Age of Energy (2010 [2012], Northern Spy): Rob Mazurek (cornet) and Chad Taylor (drums), both with electronics up their sleeves, return to their core partnership after Trio and Quartet expansions. Four long pieces, at full throttle you could hardly ask for anything more, more cryptic when they slow it down. B+(***)

Kelan Philip Cohran & the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble: Kelan Philip Cohran & the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (2012, Honest Jon's): B. 1927 in Mississippi, grew up in St. Louis, played with Jay McShann and Sun Ra, was an AACM founder, started the Phil Cohran Youth Ensemble, which evolved into this brass-plus-drums group, anchored by son Tycho Cohran's sousaphone. The fast ones rival anything coming out of the Balkans, the slower ones dig up odder sounds, and the vocal is a shaggy weasel story, but they do run a bit too long. B+(***)

Chick Corea & Gary Burton: Hot House (2012, Concord): Two very talented musicians who have worked together as far back as the late 1960s string together piano-vibes duets that can be as delightful as the opener ("Can't We Be Friends") or as sodden as the next song ("Eleanor Rigby") or anything in between -- both are famous for their hand speed, not for their brains and/or good taste. Docked a notch for the closer, where they spoil the duet format by adding a string quartet, on the Corea original, "Mozart Goes Dancing" -- as I was saying. B-

The Coup: Sorry to Bother You (2012, Anti-): Six years after Pick a Bigger Weapon, what took them so long? (Hope they weren't doing time for "boosting" -- the one political misstep that turned me off, probably because it was harder to pass off as fantasy than killing your landlord or blowing up the WTC.) Not sure of the politics here either, other than that their hearts are in the right places even when their heads aren't: "Guillotine" threatens class revolution by evoking the least appealing episode of the French, rather than its more lasting (and still lacking) ideals. Still, this rocks hard and rhymes beyond pop hooks that get you -- the most inspired idea being the best Clash rip since London Calling. A- [cd]

Danny!: Payback (2012, Okayplayer): Daniel Swain, originally from Texas, seems to be based in South Carolina, has a pile of stuff since 2004. A wealth of riches here, off-kilter instrumental stretches, choruses, raps up and down, too worldly for underground, too low budget for bling, not much ghetto cred, just out there in all sorts of weirdly interesting ways. A-

Zani Diabaté & Les Héritiers: Tientalaw (2012, Sterns Africa): Malian griot, 1949-2011, has a spotty discography with only his 1988 Zani Diabate and the Super Djata Band (Mango) gaining notice in these parts, largely because it was one of the great guitar groove albums of the era. Here his voice has ripened, the landscape a bit more colorful, the groove unstoppable. A- [cd]

DJ Rashad: Teklife Volume 1: Welcome to the Chi (2012, Lit City Trax): Chicago DJ/producer, Rashad Harden, jerks his samples around, stutter-stepping short and potentially annoying vocal samples, beats too; has a tendency to call his albums "Volume 1" -- probably because they feel unfinished. B

Dobie: Nothing to Fear (2012, Big Dada, EP): Brit DJ/hip-hop producer, aka Tony Campbell, has a 1998 album, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, with a sequel in 2004, and a bunch of singles and EPs, this being one of the latter, 4 cuts, 16:10; leads strong on the beats. B+(***)

Dobie: But Fear Itself (2012, Big Dada, EP): My urge to tidy up dropped the ellipses and EP from the title. More substantial at six cuts, 23:53, and just as sharp as its predecessor. It's been suggested that one should put them together into a 41-minute album, an idea so sensible I feel like holding back an A-list grade until they do. B+(***)

Kurt Elling: 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project (2012, Concord): From the 1950s on, male jazz singers evolved as hip eccentrics displacing the older generation of blues shouters (who moved into rock and roll) and classic crooners (who remained stuck in "adult contemporary"), with Elling the most celebrated such eccentric, which is to say the most annoying jazz singer of the last score years. But lately he's become less irritating and even more uninteresting, a trait underscored by this "project," where his core idea is to take bright pop songs from fifty years ago and turn them into dead-ass crawls. C+

Adam Fairhall: The Imaginary Delta (2011 [2012], Slam): Saw this described as "avant-trad jazz" and had to check it out. British pianist leading a sextet (trumpet, trombone, clarinet, bass, drums) plus Paul J. Rogers on laptop, turntable, and diddley bow, spinning old blues samples to bounce the horns off of. B+(**)

Fanga/Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa: Fangnawa Experience (2012, Strut): Paris-based Afrobeat group hooks up with a Moroccan gnawa outfit led by Maâlem Abdallah Guinéa, the latter largely swallowed up by the former's rocksteady beats but adding a vocal twist and some sizzle. B+(**)

Bill Fay: Life Is People (2012, Dead Oceans): Piano-playing singer-songwriter from London, cut some singles in the last 1960s and two albums 1970-71. Took the hint when his label dropped him, and didn't return until 2005, followed seven years later by this new one. Quiet, earnest, simple except for a fondness for strings, which can erupt like biblical plagues but more often just reinforce his worldview. B+(**)

Firewater: International Orange! (2012, Bloodshot): Band dates back to 1996, an album with Jesus on the cover and titled Get Off the Cross, We Need the Wood for the Fire. This one picks up on Arab Spring and proposes "A Little Revolution" here, but the music could use a bit more snap, and the politics more grounding. B

John Fullbright: From the Ground Up (2012, Blue Dirt): Singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, a state he has yet to work out of his system -- one line goes "Northern Oklahoma might just as well be Kansas," without noting how much east, west, and the Arkansas river plain differ, however similar they are on both sides of the border -- but he reminds me more than a little of the young Joe Ely -- even plays some piano. B+(**)

Future: Pluto (2012, Epic): Atlanta rapper Nayvadius Cash, passed through Dungeon Family, first studio album after a skein of mixtapes, already reissued as Pluto 3D with three more songs and two remixes. Lots of feats -- R. Kelly, T.I., Drake, Snoop Dogg, Trae the Truth -- but has an integral sound. B+(**)

Lee Gamble: Diversions 1994-1996 (2012, Pan, EP): Ambient drone, supposedly the residue of vintage jungle tracks -- the best explanation I've read of the title dates. Ten tracks, runs 26:48. B+(*)

The Gaslamp Killer: Breakthrough (2012, Brainfeeder): San Diego DJ, William Benjamin Bensussen, first album after some EPs and mixes, considered instrumental hip-hop although his disquisition on the "F-word" is fairly classic, the blips intriguing, but the beats seem upside down. B+(*)

The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten (2012, Mercury): New Jersey rockers, about as straightforward as can be, songs tight, beats heavy, the singer clear enough you can follow him and note that he's not full of shit, with only "Too Much Blood" overdone to the point where you realize they'd rather be in an arena. B

Goat: World Music (2012, Rocket): Swedish band, first album, keys its concept off an opening cover of a tune from Malian Boubacar Traoré, which they drive deeper into the Sahara while making it more arena-friendly. That's followed by originals -- "Goatman," "Goathead," "Goatlord," but also "Disco Fever and "Let It Bleed" -- big and loud, unifying the world through commerce and trance, almost a joke, even. B+(***)

Gypsyphonic Disko Nola-Phonic Vol. 2 (2010 [2012], DJ Quickie Mart): Free mixtape from Ben Ellman, saxophonist for New Orleans jam band Galactic, whose recent Carnivale Electricos promises more than it delivers. This flips the equation, boosting Gypsy brass band horns with frenetic beats and NOLA shouts/taunts, cut so tight you might as well go for the single-track download. A- [dl]

Angel Haze: New York EP (2012, Republic, EP): Raykeea Wilson, b. 1991 in Detroit, has a few mixtapes and a major contract, with this 4-cut 13:59 tidbit the label's first marketing stroke. Starts with sharp-tongued cuts that position her up with Azealia Banks. Ends with a shroud of synths that go soft. I should chase down her mixtape, Reservation. B+(*)

Heems: Wild Water Kingdom (2012, Greedhead): Himanshu Suri, ex of Das Racist, got a jump on the duo's demise with his earlier Nehru Jackets (released as Himanshu), although ex-partner Victor Vazquez (dba Kool A.D.) has his own pack of (less amusing) downloadables. I've yet to master the technology of putting these things onto discs, which limits my exposure. So it's been hard catching this, and I suspect I'll forget it as fast as I did the equally impressive Nehru Jackets -- but the offhanded eccentricity is something we want more of. A- [dl]

Max Johnson: Quartet (2011 [2012], Not Two): Front cover has the bassist's name on top, three much more famous names on the second line -- Mark Whitecage, Steve Swell, Tyshawn Sorey -- and then "Quartet" in big print at the bottom, hence my parsing. The horns are potent, especially the trombone working with the bass, but sometimes -- as on the Henry Grimes tribute -- the leader doesn't leave them much to do. B+(**)

Juju & Jordash: Techno Primitivism (2012, Dekmantel): Two Israelis, Gal Aner and Jordan Czamanski, based in Amsterdam, build intriguing patterns out of simple progressions, richer contextually than minimalism. Runs long (85 minutes on 3 "slabs of vinyl" -- the most primitive thing about it), but very agreeable throughout. B+(***)

Kesha: Warrior (2012, RCA): So what's with this 25-year-old showbiz kid adopting the title Ariel Sharon earned for his autobiography? Just because she can sing "suck my dick" and "we are the crazy people" doesn't mean she can dynamite dozens of houses with people inside, much less invade Lebanon and arrange for thousands to be butchered at Sabra and Shatila. The only thing realistic about her title cut is that she follows it with "Die Young," but she doesn't think to draw conclusions, probably because she can't think through her clichés. After all, her idea of candor is to decorate her name with a dollar sign. I'd mind less if I liked her arena pop less, and I'll learn to like it less as she gets more and more inane. B

K'Naan: Country, God or the Girl (2012, A&M/Octone): Canadian rapper, originally from Somalia, a remarkable story even before he built two superb albums on it (The Dusty Foot Philosopher and Troubadour). Big changes here: he mostly sings, and the underground beats have given way to orchestrated pop, except when it's something else: a couple songs are delicious, some may be deep, some not, maybe: in one he identifies with Israel, but ends up with the walls he built coming down. A- [cd]

Habib Koité/Eric Bibb: Brothers in Bamako (2012, Stony Plain): Malian kora player, tends to be oversweet and underpowered, hooks up with America's most genteel blues rootsman, a combination that brings out the wimpiest in both. B-

Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012, Aftermath): LA rapper, opened with a well-regarded mixtape last year, got his major label shot here. First play on Rhapsody was too even-handed with too much connective tissue, but so many critics bought into the concept -- the temptations of the homeboys, the aspirations of the strives, the slice-of-life detail -- that this wound up the second-most hailed album of the year. I wound up buying a copy, and having invested gave it much more chance than I would have, and eventually came to relish the details embedded in the monotony, and the rare hooks like the Eiffel Tower-sized dick, and the motto: "I can never right my wrongs/unless I write them down for real." Still, too many skits, and too few hits. A- [cd]

Lester Bangs: Infinite Stretch (2012, self-released, EP): Well, you know, I knew Lester Bangs, and, like, these poseurs -- beat mixers ACB and pJAYd, whoever they really are -- aren't the Lester Bangs I knew, or even close enough for a decent parody: just lame beats and some swizzle, not enough to get you to stretch even a little. H/t Jim DeRogatis, who should have known better. C [bc]

Lord Huron: Lonesome Dreams (2012, Iamsound): Leader Ben Schneider has roots in Michigan but built his band in Los Angeles, their longing for the isolation of the north safely tucked away from everyday life, where they're tuneful and articulate and ah so pleasant. B+(*)

Roc Marciano: Marcberg (2010, Fat Beats): Rakeem Myer, rapper from Long Island, doesn't come off as the killer punch of his heavyweight namesake -- just dinky underground beats, talky rhymes, and street smarts. B+(***)

Roc Marciano: Reloaded (2012, Decon): Doesn't strike me as a great wordsmith, but he manages to stack enough lines together for wobbly, gravity-defying block towers, with tinkly beats and gliding synths pretty much all he needs. B+(***)

Bruno Mars: Unorthodox Jukebox (2012, Atlantic): I figured him for an intuitive pop genius on his first album, 2010's late-breaking Doo Wops & Hooligans, but he struggles here, the first two songs taking several plays to pan out, the next stretch never getting there, even though he rocks harder. Eventually, he's so hard up he resorts to two genre exercises -- reggae and a ballad reviewers think Sam Cooke-inspired -- which should be beneath him, and "Money Make Her Smile," which is fine but a more critical mind might have come up with "Gold Digger." B+(**)

Metz: Metz (2012, Sub Pop): Toronto postpunk band, the difference that where punk aimed for snappy clarity and hardcore pushed that over the edge, they settle for murk and think they're dense. They're about half-right, but there must be dozens of groups that aimed and missed like them. B

Anaïs Mitchell: Young Man in America (2012, Wilderland): Singer-songwriter, a folkie by upbringing but wide-eyed and ambitious, as when she overreached for her opera Hadestown. This at least works song-by-song, with her agreeable voice the focus, the rot of contemporary America lurking in the background. B+(*)

Hafez Modirzadeh: Post-Chromodal Out! (2012, Pi): Alto/tenor saxophonist, b. 1962 in North Carolina, studied with George Russell, which may have got him onto his chromodal kick, and got a Ph.D. in world music from Wesleyan, studying classical Persian music along the way, and playing in Anthony Brown's Asian-American Orchestra. Two sets of pieces, the first subdivided into 17 bits, the second into 11, intricate and colorful, with Amir ElSaffar's trumpet alongside the sax, and stellar piano from Vijay Iyer. B+(***)

Murder by Death: Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon (2012, Bloodshot): Indiana group, has been bouncing around for a decade, comes on hard and heavy, shady and dark. B

Paul Plimley/Barry Guy/Lucas Niggli: Hexentrio (2012, Intakt): Avant-pianist from Vancouver, recorded a lot in the 1990s, not much since. I'm not sure about the semi-funny horror vocal on "Come and Go" but the piano breaks in all sorts of interesting directions, and the bassist is masterful. B+(***)

Royal Baths: Better Luck Next Life (2012, Kanine): San Francisco duo/group, second album, the first a home tape. They love the Velvet Underground guitar sound, and the vocals aren't far removed from Reed's, but they'd also like to be a boogie band, so the sensibility is. B+(*)

Saigon: The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses (2012, Suburban Noize): Brian Carenard, evidently had a mixtape rep before he dropped his first installment last year in a title he seems likely to hold on to for some time. I missed the rep, gave the album one or two Rhapsody spins, said something nice, and let it go. This one I bought, played close to ten times, and find it clicks all the way through, even though "Rap Vs. Real" and "Blown Away" crowd out the other memories. A- [cd]

Sibiri Samaké: Dambe Foli (2011, Kanaga System Krush): From Mali, reportedly "traditional Mande/Bamana Hunters' music"; four cuts, but escapes the EP designation because two run well over 20 minutes each, something they can do because the variations are so minor, yet their monotony never grows tedious. B+(**)

Arturo Sandoval: Dear Diz (Every Day I Think of You) (2012, Concord): A flashy trumpeter, born in Cuba about the time when Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo (and George Russell) were synthesizing Afro-Cubop, so this seems like it should be his calling. However, he went the big band route, and the extra polish, not to mention strings, misses the excitement of Gillespie's big band, while cutting the leader out of his limelight -- something Diz never let happen. B+(*)

São Paulo Underground: Tres Cabeças Loucuras (2011, Cuneiform): Chicago Underground founder, cornet player and electronics dabbler, Rob Mazurek, went to Brazil in 2006, hooked up with drummer Mauricio Takara (for Chad Taylor's role), and cut an album under this group moniker. This is their third, expanded to a quartet -- only three faces made the cover, with Mazurek the most likely omission -- with keyb player Guilherme Granado and drummer Richard Ribeiro, plus guests such as local guitarist Kiko Dinucci and Chicago vibrahponist Jason Adasiewicz. I don't doubt the authenticity of the beats, but they're way beyond MPB or even the most psychedelic forró, as likely to slip one and switch another as the most extreme Afro-Cuban. The cornet winds up as a steadying force, but it's just odd enough you don't think of it that way. A- [dl]

Alexander von Schlippenbach: Schlippenbach Plays Monk (2012, Intakt): German avant-garde pianist, started in the late 1960s splitting time with his Globe Unity Orchestra, has dallied with Monk before including another solo album recorded in 1996 and released in 2004, plus his monumental and quite marvelous 3-CD Monk's Casino quintet. This splices various interludes and an epilogue into ten Monk tunes, his own bits jogging for position but rarely cracking anything open. B+(*)

Ty Segall Band: Slaughterhouse (2012, In the Red): Lo-fi, dingy metallic noise, the middle of three 2012 Segall albums, one under his own name, another with White Fence, and this for the band, a group that includes bassist Mikal Cronin. No idea what to make of the songs, but I can't go too hard on the sturm und drang, even when it stretches out to 10:23 on the aptly titled "Fuzz War." B+(*)

Solange: True (2012, Terrible, EP): Last name Knowles, as in Beyoncé's younger sister, after a couple albums returns with a 7-cut, 27:54 EP. Mid-tempo, tries to generate heat rather than breaking loose. B+(**)

Swans: The Seer (2012, Young God, 2CD): Avant-noise band that first appeared in 1983, toiled in obscurity and legend, and vanished around 1997, only to return in 2010 with a critical following. Their second album back is a double, the culmination (or regurgitation) of everything they've ever done, plus special guests (Karen O is the only one on my radar), and three songs running 19:10-32:14. One play isn't a fair test, but doesn't invite another one: the din doesn't amount to much, and even seems to sink into a rustic version of The Wall at times. B-

Yosvany Terry: Today's Opinion (2011 [2012], Criss Cross): Alto saxophonist, originally from Cuba, moved to New York in 1999 and teaches at the New School. Has been a choice side man for a while now, but here he puts it all together, with hot trumpet from Michael Rodriguez, flashy piano by Osmany Paredes, tricky Afro-Cuban rhythms, and lots of sax appeal. A-

Ablaye Ndiaye Thiossane: Thiossane (2011 [2012], Discograph/Sterns): Considerable disagreement as to how to parse artist and/or title from the cover, which reads "THIOSSANE" in big print centered over "ABLAYE NDIAYE": Christgau reads both as TAN, Guardian opts for ANT as artist and T as title, Myspace identifies the artist as AT but the URL reads TA; Amazon prefers ATN and spells the latter "N'Diaye," as does Discogs; Sterns lists it as I did, and also disputes the release date. Whoever, he is from Senegal, in his 70s, an esteemed griot backed by a hot band including Papa Noël and members of Africano and Orchestra Baobab. B+(***)

T.I.: Trouble Man: Heavy Is the Hand (2012, Atlantic/Grand Hustle): Atlanta rapper's mega project, a soundtrack -- signified by lifting a title and sample from Marvin Gaye -- without a movie, although they did bother to work up poster-like packaging. Runs 71 minutes, packed with feats and some samples as obvious as Elton John (credited) and Leonard Cohen (not), as blingy as crusing in a Lamborghini, but not immune to prison time. B+(**)

Tin Hat: The Rain Is a Handsome Animal (2012, New Amsterdam): Subtitle "17 Songs From the Poetry of E.E. Cummings" -- curiously all caps on the cover despite the rash of lower case all around it. The trio-turned-quartet fits the "chamber jazz" class -- with clarinet and violin and no drums -- and the poetic texts, sung by violinist Carla Kihlstedt, make this even artier. The words are not without interest, but the music is remarkable, especially Ben Goldberg's clarinet. B+(***)

Titus Andronicus: Local Business (2012, XL): A step back from the history lesson of The Monitor, but "Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter" and "Upon Viewing Oregon's Landscape with the Flood of Detritus" are literate titles. It's just that they're overwhelmed with the personal: the two longest cuts, by far, are "My Eating Disorder" and "Tried to Quit Smoking." B+(**)

Toy: Toy (2012, Heavenly): Brit post-shoegaze group, make up for an exceptionally weak singer with hypnotic riffs which seem miraculously balanced between the guitar and keyb -- "Dead & Gone" is a good example. B+(*)

The Trishas: High, Wide & Handsome (2012, self-released): Country group -- Jamie Wilson, Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee, Savannah Welch -- all have writing credits, although most shared with outside guys, the most recognizable being Bruce Robison and Jim Lauderdale; probably all sing too, given that they started harmonzing over a Trisha Yearwood song. B+(*)


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

  • Ahleuchatistas: Heads Full of Poison (2012, Cuneiform)
  • Michael Bisio/Matthew Shipp: Floating Ice (2012, Relative Pitch)
  • Country Funk: 1969-1975 (1969-75 [2012], Light in the Attic)
  • Jason Eady: AM Country Heaven (2012, self-released)
  • Brian Eno: Lux (2012, Warp)
  • Ensemble FisFüz & Gianluigi Trovesi: Papillons (2012, HGBS)
  • Angel Haze: Reservation (2012, True Panther)
  • The Human Hearts: Another (2012, Shrimper)
  • Ralph "Soul" Jackson: The Alabama Love Man (2012, The Rabbit Factory)
  • Calvin Keys: Shawn-Neeq (1971 [2012], Tompkins Square)
  • Listen Whitey! Sounds of Black Power 1967-74 (1967-74 [2012], Light in the Attic)
  • Makoomba: Rising Tide (2012, Igloo)
  • Getatchew Merkuria & the Ex & Friends: Y'Anbessaw Tezeta (2012, Terp)
  • Moon Duo: Circles (2012, Sacred Bones)
  • Joe Morris/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver: Altitude (2012, AUM Fidelity)
  • Royal Band de Thiés: Kadior Demb (2012, Teranga Beat)
  • Shackleton: Music for the Quiet Hour/The Drawbar Organ EPs (2012, Woe to the Septic Heart)
  • Spectrum Road (2012, Palmetto)
  • Voices From the Lake: Voices From the Lake (2012, Prologue)
  • Wreckless Eric/Amy Rigby: A Working Museum (2012, Southern Domestic)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Jewel Ackah: Me Dear (1990, Highlife World): An impossible-to-find CG pick from Ghana, a local star but hard to tell what magnitude -- has a 1981 album credit-shared with Kwame Nkrumah and at some point sang for Sweet Talks -- nor sure when this was recorded but it's LP-length, four songs that gently nudge highlife into juju territory, a step shy of the Lagos competition, but has its charms. B+(***) [dl]

Archers of Loaf: White Trash Heroes (1998 [2012], Merge): Fourth of five 1993-2000 albums, something Rhapsody calls "noise pop" probably because it's catchy as noise goes but noisy nonetheless, a basic indifference to groove or rave-up that worked better than you'd expect; one of the major rock groups of the 1990s, no doubt, but the decade I cared least about rock, so I never quite made the connection. B+(**)

Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran (1997-2010 [2012], Sham Palace): The Houran (or Hauran) is the volcanic plateau of southwest Syria, roughly from Damascus south and west through the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the Jordan River, one of Syria's most fertile agricultural regions (and for that reason much coveted by Israel's kibbutzim). Culled from two decades of cassette tapes from Damascus and points southwest, seven songs by seven artists, most likely wedding music, remarkably consistent, which is to say it's all true to its distinctive idiosyncrasies, but also that it is so upbeat there's no reason to quibble. Hopefully Syria will soon rejoin the modern world, where someone will mistake this for crass commercialism. A- [dl]

The Doors: L.A. Woman: 40th Anniversary (1971 [2012], Elektra, 2CD): Last group album before Jim Morrison's demise, a group I knew at the time only for their hits, which I placed no mythological import to, never bothering with the albums (at least beyond Strange Days). This has three hits -- "Love Her Madly," "L.A. Woman," and "Riders on the Storm" -- and they stand out like they're supposed to, while they make up the filler with blues walks, only John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" borrowed: they sound like they're half way to becoming ZZ Top. 40th Anniversary adds a disc of alternate versions, looser and sloppier, a bit fresher if you care, or not if you don't. B+(**)

Drexciya: Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller II (1994-98 [2012], Clone Classic Cuts): Detroit techno, second of four planned volumes up to co-founder James Stinson's death; first earned its deep sea claims with watery themes, but this one dries out too often into short runs of blips. B+(**)

Encre: Encre (2001, Clapping Music): A piece of French electronica by Yann Tambour that Christgau reviewed in 2005, so obscure I couldn't track it down at the time, but here it is; has an industrial feel but unhurried, a slow day at the factory, with whispered French for subtitles. A-

Encre: Flux (2004, Clapping Music): Less talk, less industrial, though not devoid of either; the measures inch along, enveloped in water sounds or synth strings or a bit of static, or even a little piano interlude, none so pat as to put you off, even if you wonder how substantial this all is. A-

Encre: Common Chord (2006, Clapping Music): Laptop musician goes live, the five-piece band playing more conventional instruments, and projecting more, scaling up music that initially seemed charming due to its small scale; comes close to pulling it all off, too. B+(***)

Clare Fischer Orchestra: Extension (1963 [2012], International Phonograph): Early on, an arranger influenced by Gil Evans, as is the case here, one of the Pacific Jazz albums that helped sustain the modernist big band genre (Gerald Wilson was the best known example; also Bob Florence); later on Fischer wandered all over the map, dabbling in bossa nova, salsa picante, pop jazz, classical music, even arranging funk albums for Prince, leaving him with a decidedly mixed reputation, but here his eclecticism at least served a formal need -- too bad his favorite horns were flutes. B

Dexter Gordon: The Chronological Dexter Gordon 1943-1947 (1943-47 [1999], Classics): The tenor sax great's first sides, opening with Nat Cole and Sweets Edison, his style nearly fully formed with just a hint of Prez, followed by a series of signature riff pieces ("Blow, Mr. Dexter," "Dexter's Deck," "Dexter's Cuttin' Out," "Dexter's Minor Mad," "Long Tall Dexter"), all topped by "Dexter Rides Again"; includes his famous joust with Wardell Gray ("The Chase"), his novel "Chromatic Aberration," and a taste of his ballad style. A-

Dexter Gordon: Night Ballads: Montreal 1977 (1977 [2012], Uptown): Quartet with George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden, selected from a four-night stand to emphasize the slow stuff, with 16-20 minute versions of "Lover Man," "You've Changed," "Old Folks," and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" -- not that everyone seems clued into the concept, and the sound is a bit harsh. B+(*)

The Lijadu Sisters: Mother Africa (1977 [2012], Knitting Factory): Twins from Ibadan, reportedly stars of some magnitude in Nigeria, came to US and cut four albums 1976-79, this the second; fairly basic Afrobeat, relies more on flow than on beat, the songs steady with some depth but not much flash. B+(**)

Lijadu Sisters: Sunshine (1978 [2012], Knitting Factory): Afrobeat is Africa's most mundane, rock-friendly beat, but this looses even that, nor can Joe Higgs get them to rocksteady, nor do the English lyrics help -- especially when I hear "Set Me Free" as "sex with me"; too long on their green cards, time to go home. B-

Louisiana Red: The Lowdown Back Porch Blues (1963 [1991], Collectables): First album, although he cut some singles a decade earlier, the title sums him up a bit too neatly, a homespun stalwart of back country blues, but he was still a young man, still had a dream, and he was still too impressed by Muddy Waters to back down. B+(***)

The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume One (1980-87 [2010], Stones Throw): From Minimal Wave Records, founded in 2005 by Veronica Vasicka, but the music is older, drawing on 1980s new wave/post-disco obscurities, dispassionate with a slight industrial air, minimally danceable. B+(**)

The Minimal Wave Tapes: Volume Two (1981-2004 [2012], Stones Throw): Aside from the outlier, all 1981-88, which is the idea, dance music as postindustrial pop, more beat less atmosphere this time, one song oversung but that turns into its charm. B+(***)

R. Stevie Moore: Lo Hi Fives . . . A Kind of Best Of ([2012], O Genesis): Son of a Nashville studio musician, b. 1952, cut his first lo-fi DIY album in 1968 and claims to have released more than 400 (or 500) more; no idea when or where these 14 cuts come from, or even if they're old, but they don't make me want to do a lot of research -- inspirational lyric: "I'm sick of singing about girls/because I can't find any." B

Yaa-Lengi Ngemi: Oh, Miziki (1986, MiyeMi): Congolese soukous, complete with ringing highnote guitar and call and response, recorded in New York, where the leader has been in exile but not exactly lying low; his discography is scant, but he's written political books, including a Genocide in the Congo with Bill Clinton in the subtitle. A- [dl]


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