Rhapsody Streamnotes: April 26, 2013

Had promised to post this today, so be it. But I was tempted to slip in something else in its stead. First thing I saw in the paper this morning was a piece on Obama (and Clinton and Carter and the old man, whose face is on a T-shirt I have captioned something like "I wish I had pulled out") saying nice things about the worst president in US history on the occasion of the opening of a library built by the taxpayers in his name. There are lots of reasons to be unhappy with Obama these days, but none galls me more than his utter failure to expound on the incalculable damage that the presidency of George W. Bush did to this country. By not doing so, he let the nation forget, and thereby learn nothing. Indeed, within two years the Republican Party not only recovered as a political force, it did so under much more extremist leadership. And also by not speaking up he tacitly accepted the legacy Bush left as a new norm: hence it became his recession, his deficits, his bloody wars.

Then when I got on the net, I discovered that George Jones died. That would have been worth a post, too -- for now, let me just refer you to my Rolling Stone CD Guide piece on him. My mother was a huge fan of his, so his music became a bonding point -- going as far back as when there weren't many such points. The day Jones wrecked his SUV, I flew home to Wichita, got in real late, and let myself into her house. She had been sleeping but got up to greet me, and all she could talk about was Jones. She was crying, slobbering; I could hardly understand a word, and for the first time wondered whether she was losing her mind. Turned out, she had forgot to put her teeth in. Always wished we could have taken her to see Jones, but by the time we did get a chance to see him, she had passed, and he was barely able to sing -- very disappointing show.

Nothing much to say about the following streamnotes. I've been checking out what I could, not much taken by recent recommendations by Christgau and Tatum (although the African stuff has mostly kept out of reach), doubtful that they will approve of my minor finds. So feeling alone out here. And cranky. Damn cranky.

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 March 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3274 records).

Actress: R.I.P. (2012, Honest Jon's): Darren Cunningham has a new EP I can't find, but last year's album has belatedly appeared. Most songs are built from simple patterns with minor oddities, adding up in interesting ways. B+(***)

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine: White People and the Damage Done (2013, Alternative Tentacles): Eric Boucher, ex-Dead Kennedys, has nine "spoken word" albums (1987-2006), formed this band in 2009 to record The Audacity of Hype. Guitar heavy, not pop-punk but maybe power-punk, lyrics political though I'm not sure how useful. B+(*)

James Blake: Overgrown (2013, Polydor): Considered electronica for his dewy electroglop, but nothing conveys bathos like the juvenile human voice -- as AMG put it, "the faintest hints of Chet Baker's springtime loneliness buried in Blake's mumbling blue-eyed R&B vocals." Of course, he's less cracked than Baker, and more authentically bereft. What a sad world he portends. B

Bombino: Nomad (2013, Nonesuch): Tuareg guitar hero, goes with an American producer this time, who decides to crank up the guitar (and bass and drums) -- not a bad idea, but a bit limiting. B+(***)

Charli XCX: True Romance (2013, Iamsound): British electro-diva Charlotte Aitchison, age 20, first album (not counting a promo, EPs, and a couple mixtapes). Voice is so-so and her raps barely flow, but the multi-producer synth pop buoys her, at least until the tedious "How Can I." B+(**)

Chicha Libre: Cuatro Tigres (2013, Barbès, EP): Brooklyn group built around the "psychedelic cumbias from Peru" that the label first anthologized on The Roots of Chicha (2007). After two albums, a four track, 14:48, EP, starting with a cover of the Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" -- a signifier that they are of our world, as is their take on the Simpsons theme music, but "Rica Chicha" suggests a more interesting one. B+(*)

Eric Church: Caught in the Act: Live (2011 [2013], EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter with three pretty good and pretty popular records under his belt, consolidates them into one 75-minute set here -- the sound cranked up to fill his arena and to keep the crowd psyched. Recorded with a lot of fan cheer, annoying at first, eventually settling into something akin to groove wear. B+(*)

Chvrches: Recover (2013, Glassnote, EP): Glassgow electropop group with singer Lauren Mayberry and two keyb players, tiptoes into the pop arena with an EP, 5 cuts, 21:23, but actually the two longest cuts are remixes of the title cut -- stretches out the undoubted pleasure, but impresses me less. B+(*)

DJ Koze: Amygdala (2013, Pampa): Stefan Kozalla, from Hamburg, Germany, has a handful of albums since 2000, titles like Music Is Okay, All People Is My Friends, and Wo Die Rammelwolle Fliegt. His beats are slight but deeper into the album become hypnotic. The vocals, some in German, are awkward, but ultimately superfluous. A-

Maxmillion Dunbar: House of Woo (2013, RVNG Intl.): "Left-field house" from Andrew Field-Pickering, has a previous album and the usual pile of short forms and DJ mixes, dishes up sparkling synth sounds that hold your interest even when he wanders from the beat. A-

Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses): The Low Highway (2013, New West): Not sure that hanging around the set of Treme did him much good -- his Cajun comes up a bit shy -- but "That All You Got?" may wind up the most memorable of Katrina songs, and two co-credits with Lucia Micarelli -- Eleanor Whitmore plays the fiddle -- wrap up a tidy package in the midst of an otherwise down-and-out album. He also treads ominously with a loner threatening to burn WalMart down, and other characters are no less sullen, but that's where he finds his purpose. A-

Jonny Fritz: Dad Country (2013, ATO): Formerly known as Jonny Corndawg, whose 2011 album Down on the Bikini Line tried to be funnier, all grown up and sober now, with a dozen songs I don't recall clearly enough, except that I'm pretty sure they don't suck. B+(**)

Ghostface Killah/Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die (2013, Relativity/Soul Temple): Cover of this mock soundtrack reads "Adrian Younge Presents . . . Starring Ghostface Killah," but I figure go with the big type first. It's another hoary gangster chronicle, replete with 1970s spaghetti western musical effects, so hackneyed it's almost funny, something that could grow on you if you never took it seriously. B+(***)

Greyboy Allstars: Inland Emperor (2013, Knowledge Room): Started out in the mid-1990s during the brief acid jazz boom with DJ Greyboy the organizing force, and while I wouldn't call them stars, at least I've heard of saxophonist Karl Denson and organist Robert Walter. The instrumental funk is not without interest (e.g., "Trashtruck"), but the vocals are. B

The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (2013, Mute, 2CD): Swedish electropop duo, Olof Dreijer and sister-singer Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Fever Ray). Some confusion: there's a 77:18 single disc version and a 96:19 double, but Rhapsody's comes in at 86:16. Several terrific cuts here, at least when they stay upbeat and oblique, with the slow ones slipping back into the ordinary. Could be that all versions are just a hair too long. A-

The Knife: Silent Shout (2006, Rabid/Mute): The Swedish siblings' second, and probably best-regarded, record: the beats seem a bit better crafted and less exciting, the songs a bit more consistently crafted -- seems to be their level. B+(***)

Lapalux: Nostalchic (2013, Brainfeeder): Stuart Howard, English but attached to Flying Lotus, which shares a lot of the choppy pastiche, but is better at it. B+(*)

Lil Wayne: I Am Not a Human Being II (2013, Cash Money): "I would sing about my dick/but that'd be a long story." Instead, perhaps inspired by his dick, he focuses on pussy. B+(**)

Major Lazer: Free the Universe (2013, Secretly Canadian): Reggae/dancehall/ragga project by Diplo (Wes Pentz) and Switch (Dave Taylor), a bit removed from Jamaica but so is everything since roots reggae got lost in the 1980s. Third album, their most natural and most expansive, and not just because they get help on "Bubble Butt." B+(***)

The Men: New Moon (2013, Sacred Bones): Brooklyn post-whatever band, have started to mix up the punkish formula with countryish ballads and hooks wherever they can find them, but haven't found much, and are better off when they revert. B

Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: No Morphine No Lillies (2013, Foxhaven/Royal Potato Family): Drummer, third album, her second called Boom Tic Boom a smashing piano trio with Myra Melford and Todd Sickafoose plus "guest" violinist Jenny Scheinman. Some "second system complex" here as Scheinman becomes a regular, giving the group two stars to try to keep in sync, and a new batch of guests, including a Rachel Friedman vocal, Erik Friedlander cello, and a pair of trumpets. Too much to sort out quickly, but the pianist is brilliant as ever, and the closer with the trumpets is deliriously over the top. A-

Willie Nelson and Family: Let's Face the Music and Dance (2013, Legacy): He turns 80 this year, taking it easy by doing what he's done pretty much ever since Nashville, and he's put as little effort into this as he's ever done: just a bunch of semi-standards done Family style -- less likely to tax his voice, which is still remarkably prime at a time when peers like Haggard and Jones are shot to shit. Easy suits him. B+(**)

OneRepublic: Native (2013, Interscope): Arena rock band from Colorado Springs, not something we really need, but their avalanche of synths is tuneful more often than not, and I don't detect any of the ickiness you get with bands like Journey. Sample shallow sentiment: "And if we only die once I wanna die with you." B

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: English Electric (2013, Relativity): New wave synth group from 1980, when their first two albums were fresh and danceable despite the fact that all they could do were variations on their formula -- "Enola Gay" remains the archetype. Having nothing better to do, they regrouped after a 12 year hiatus in 2008. This is pleasant filler until "Helen of Troy" earns a spot on their best-of, then this turns into more interesting filler. B+(**)

Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (2013, Arista Nashville): What do you do about a guy who'd really like to be smarter, kinder, and more decent than his cohort, but who frets that it may cost him sales and huzzahs down at the local redneck honky tonk? Especially since it probably already has, although more for the way he keeps picking at his self-inflicted scabs than his lack of backbone. Has anyone ever written a lazier, wobblier-kneed anthem than "Southern Comfort Zone"? ("Accidental Racist"? Despite its platitudes, lazy as they are, not an anthem.) Oh, and by the way, the real lesson of Sherman's march through Georgia isn't that Dixie got wronged. It's what the man said: "War is hell." B

Palma Violets: 180 (2013, Rough Trade): British group debut, punk-related, black-and-white cover suggesting their basic approach, but a little fancier, especially with the organ -- more Jam than Ramones. B+(**)

Paramore: Paramore (2013, Fueled by Ramen): Fifth album from a band formed in Tennessee, fronted by singer-songwriter Hayley Williams, the eponymous album a way of doubling down after two other band founders split. Big voice, big beat, grand gestures, a bit of pop sheen, all of which leaves me cold -- unlike the 0:52 "I'm Not Angry Anymore," which suggests a different path. B

Pennybirdrabbit: Safer (2013, Big Beat, EP): Second EP, four songs, 14:13. The hype, aside from citing her appearance on a Skrillex joint, dwells on how cute she is, but her electronica is pretty tasteful, the vocals forthright, and the songs smarter than you had any reason to expect. B+(**) [sc]

Phosphorescent: Muchacho (2013, Dead Oceans): Group alias for Matthew Houck, singer-songwriter based in Athens, GA. Did a Willie Nelson tribute two albums back, but could also do one for Bon Iver, not that he should -- his own songs are better. B+(**)

Salva: Odd Furniture (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Paul Salva, from LA. Five cuts, 20:04, hard beats and emphatic repetition remind some of Skrillex, not much of a recommendation in my book. B [bc]

Shlohmo: Laid Out (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Henry Laufer, from Los Angeles, has a couple albums and a handful of EPs, this one running 5 cuts, 26:52. Even the one with the annoying vocal-like samples has a structure that makes use of them; better still when the sounds have their own appeal. B+(**) [bc]

Skrillex: Leaving (2013, Owsla, EP): Showboat techno, at least that's what I concluded after not being able to stomach his commercial breakthrough, Bangarang, although I rather liked his earlier, still extravagant, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. He files everything in his catalog as EP, but this one really is -- 3 songs, 12:41 (Bangarang ran 29:56, and three remixes pushed Scary Monsters even longer). First two bang his gong, although less irritating than before; title track is measured and pleasant. B+(*) [dl]

William Tyler: Impossible Truth (2013, Merge): Solo guitarist, in the mode of John Fahey with all the rich harmonic reverb but less of a sense that he's an authentic primitive. Rumbles a bit early on, then sweetens up: "The World Set Free" is more than a good idea. B+(**)

Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, name not an alias, which helps explain why he is blander -- less witty and less menacing -- than you would expect. He's also lost whatever lo-fi gestalt he started with, winding up here with a rather nice guitar groove album regardless of how the songs break. B+(*)

Charles Walker & the Dynamites: Love Is Only Everything (2013, Gemco): Veteran blues shouter fronting a Motown-tinged r&b group: hard to see what could go wrong there, but now you can construct a catalog of annoying tics, none redeemed by a hopelessly catchy hook. B-

Will.i.am: #Willpower (2013, Interscope): Black Eyed Peas majordomo, has produce some of the catchiest arena funk of the last decade but even when he steps up front he remains a background persona -- perhaps he doesn't have much else. This has been predictably panned, and indeed the rhymes are lazy and the "let's get dumb" party philosophy shallow but "Ghetto Ghetto" isn't shallow -- just a little tongue-in-cheek with the kiddie chorus. B+(*)

Wire: Change Becomes Us (2013, Pink Flag): More than any other 1970s group, the one that engineered the transition from punk to new wave, something they've immortalized in their guitar tunings and bass crunch -- cf. "Eels Sang," a throwback for more than its brevity, a rule "& Much Besides" fruitfully sets aside; other tracks less so. B+(**)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (2013, Interscope): Despite all the vampire hoopla of the last decade, the real blood-sucking killer is the lowly mosquito, and their title song plays it up for all the horror you should feel. Half of the songs are equally remarkable -- "Sacrilege" sure is, "These Paths" burbles ominously, "Area 52" destroys the earth, and the ballad helps with the healing. A-


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

  • Actress: Silver Cloud (2013, Ninja Tune, EP)
  • Chris Darrow: Artist Proof (1972 [2013], Drag City)
  • Daughter: If You Leave (2013, 4AD)
  • The Heliocentrics: 13 Degrees of Reality (2013, Now-Again)
  • Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (2013, Out Here)
  • Rainbow Arabia: F.M. Sushi (2013, Time No Place)
  • Slava: Raw Solutions (2013, Software)
  • Marnie Stern: The Chronicles of Marnia (2013, Kill Rock Stars)
  • Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa (2013, Out Here)
  • The Underachievers: Indigoism (2013, Brainfeeder)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Bettie Serveert: Palomine (1992, Matador): Debut album for a still-extant Dutch guitar band fronted by Carol Van Dijk; they later developed their knack for pop hooks as well as guitar depth, but the straightforward presence of the singer wins out here. B+(**)

Samuel Blaser Quartet: Boundless (2010 [2011], Hatology): Swiss trombonist, reprised this group -- Marc Ducret (guitar), Banz Oester (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- on the new As the Sea, interesting enough to want to work my way back; one suite in four parts, much less up front, especially from the guitarist. B+(*) [bc]

Dur-Dur Band: Volume 5 (1987 [2013], Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Somalia, a few years before the civil war, the Bush mission, "black hawk down," Al-Qaida, the Ethiopian invasion, piracy and drone warfare turned the country into such a shithole; recorded at Radio Mogadishu, presumably after other volumes which seem to have disappeared without a trace; not groundbreaking or earthshaking, but catchy, danceable, pleasing, peaceable, and picks up its game a bit when a female singer takes over. B+(***)

Moreno and L'Orch First Moja-One: Sister Pili + 2 (1977-83 [2012], Sterns Africa): Four cuts from Batamba Wendo Morris, born in the Congo and emigrated to Kenya as did the guitar-driven soukous of his 1983 album, here padded out with some 1977 tracks from Tabu Ngongo not notably different in any way important -- more irrepressible groove from the guitar paradise of East Africa. A-

New Order: Lost Sirens (2003-04 [2013], Rhino): Outtakes from the sessions that produced Waiting for the Sirens' Call -- the last New Order album, or at least the last one with bassist Peter Cook; nothing extra memorable, but it all sounds right, and maybe half hits the groove/grind that made them legends. B+(**)

Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Époque (1971-77 [2009], Syllart, 2CD): Discographical experts worry about how much of this intersects previous comps On Verra Ça and N'Wolof, so caveat emptor; this promises a deeper history of Senegal's second greatest band, completist enough to start with a handful of crappy live tracks, but they're forgotten by the time they hit their stride. A-

Orchestra Baobab: La Belle Epoque Volume 2 (1973-76 [2012], Syllart, 2CD): Much more, and without recourse to the booklet or an authoritative discography, much more obscure, the early sides deeper voiced, the later sides thicker with guitar, both louder than the previous volume; a bit less essential, I'd say, but it still feels like a major band. [NB: Rhapsody also lists a Volume 3, with the same cover art, and a song list matching the second disc of Volume 2.] A-

Leon Thomas: The Creator 1969-1973: The Best of the Flying Dutchman Masters (1969-73 [2013], BGP): In a simpler time, he would have been a classic blues shouter. In the late 1960s he was networking with Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Oliver Nelson. He got his fluke hit with Sanders, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," and a record contract that ran five years and six albums, all long out of print. Early on he tried to continue the cosmic-black-power-funk vibe from Sanders and Shepp, to which he added a yodel that sounds weirder now than it did then, and when he ran out of new ideas he reverted to shouted blues and soft soul moves. I've sampled these records lightly, and always imagined that someone could pull a great compilation out of them. But this isn't it. I don't know whether that's because they avoided both the political cuts -- no "Dam Nam (Ain't Goin' to Vietnam)" -- and the long ones -- no "Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)" and a shorter "Umbo Weti" -- or they just failed to look beyond his headline albums to the side credits where he made his mark. B+(*)

The World Needs Changing: Street Funk & Jazz Grooves 1967-1976 (1967-76 [2013], BGP): Never politically explicit enough to qualify as a "black power" compilation, even on the Gil Scott-Heron cut, while the jazz grooves tend toward perfunctory -- Groove Holmes, Lonnie Liston Smith, leaving the musical highlight Little Eva Harris medleying "Get Ready" and "Uptight." 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
  • [sc] available at soundcloud.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal