Rhapsody Streamnotes: June 29, 2013

Deadline snuck up on me this month, leaving me shorter than most months, perhaps the flipside of an above-average Jazz Prospecting month. One thing I can't blame the short count on is extra listens. Despite the caveats, I usually give the A-list records an extra spin or two -- and often that proves critical. But few of these caught that break: Mariem Hassan's second spin reinforced my first impulse, and so did second spins of Oblivians and Tricky. But I deliberately limited some records to one-take impressions. I didn't hear anything on the Kanye West that makes me want to dig deeper into it, although his reputation and widespread critical support -- not least Tatum's A+ rave -- suggest I should. (The record shows that I've consistently rated West lower than, say, Christgau does, although I'm don't think of myself as especially critical of him -- e.g., I don't have any interest in talking about his ego or his dick, and I don't mind his notorious disses of George Bush and Taylor Swift.)

Other one-spin records represent different gambles. I didn't feel like taking the time with J. Cole or Rachid Taha -- former demands a lot of time, and I found the latter at the last minute. Either could gain a notch on closer inspection -- Taha seems more likely -- but I'm not there yet. More one-plays: Deafheaven, Flaming Lips, Handboy Sandman, Jon Hopkins, Laura Marling, Trio 3 + Geri Allen, Zomby. Any of those could shake up or down a bit, but probably not much. (Trio 3 + Jason Moran got two plays, and I figure it's the better record, but the one with Allen is pretty special too.)

One record that did get more spins was Vampire Weekend: after one it was mid-B+, but I picked up a copy anyway, drove around with it, etc., and it clicked as everyone predicted. Still can't say I've hit bottom with it, nor that it's topped out.

Midway through 2013 my best-of list looks like this (rest: here):

  1. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Slippery Rock! (Hot Cup)
  2. Billy Martin's Wicked Knee: Heels Over Head (Ambulet)
  3. Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant)
  4. The Uncluded: Hokey Fright (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  5. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak (ACT)
  6. Peter Evans: Zebulon (More Is More)
  7. Rachid Taha: Zoom (Wrasse) **
  8. Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias (Pi)
  9. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
  10. Roger Knox and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: Stranger in My Land (Bloodshot) **

Given the way I work, only the top three are full-A albums. I just haven't spent enough time with the rest to sink in. Meanwhile, the full A-list at present runs 65 albums (new is split 37 jazz/24 others, 4 reissues). Total records rated to date: 432 new + 17 reissues.

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 May 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (3428 records).

Aceyalone: Leanin' on Slick (2013, Decon): West Coast rapper Eddie Hayes, been underground since 1995, peaking early when his shtick was fresh and simple. A decade later he returns as an old pro, leaning on jazz like never before: the bass lines, the horn charts, the framing arrangements of Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles (credit says Percy Mayfield, but you won't hear it that way). "Working Man Blues" could use more grit, but got Cee-Lo instead. A-

Baths: Obsidian (2013, Anticon): Will Wiesenfeld, from California, produces, electronica with a choral vocal twist. B+(**)

Terence Blanchard: Magnetic (2013, Blue Note): New Orleans trumpet player, only one year younger than that other one and at this point he's had a surprisingly comparable career -- something like 35 albums since 1983, a total inflated by a lot of (not necessarily any good) soundtrack work. Hard bop quintet plus guest spots from Ravi Coltrane, Lionel Loueke, and Ron Carter; split between four Blanchard originals and six from his band -- pianist Fabian Almazan is the overachiever there. Strong solo spots, but the flow hits some snags. B+(*)

Marshall Chapman: Blaze of Glory (2013, Tall Girl): Past sixty now, not feeling mortality so much as that she's past all that now: "I did everything I could to die young/and leave behind a beautiful memory/but there are still a lot of songs to be sung/I guess fate had other plans for me." B+(***)

J. Cole: Born Sinner (2013, Roc Nation/Columbia): Lots going on here, his big play both artistically and commercially, but it runs long and there's no way I'll sort it out without picking up a copy, giving it time, and forgiving a lot of minor annoyances. So he's stuck with a placeholder review, without even a promise to try harder. B+(***)

Mark de Clive-Lowe & the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra: Take the Space Trane (2012 [2013], Tru Thoughts): Keyboard player from New Zealand, his records since 1997 straddle jazz and electronica, his programmed beats here adding both drive and fluff, while the big band is deep in brass and sax. They namecheck Coltrane for the title, but Ellington is in their hearts, and "Caravan" is the centerpiece. B+(**)

Deafheaven: Sunbather (2013, Deathwish): Metacritic's 97 rating is defined as "universal acclaim," but the critic set that reviews "black metal" is self-selected and far from universal. Still, that's the highest score I've seen on Metacritic other than for fancy reissues of stone classics like Exile on Main Street, so I figured I should give it a spin. The singer's vocabulary seems to be limited to "die" (or is it "why?"), and at full volume the guitars resemble a meat grinder, but there is a aesthetic purity to it that is admirable if you can stand it. They also work at a second level, much moderated, and their instrumental breaks there are downright fetching. The rare vocals on this level remain undecipherable, except for something about the gospels I could have done without. B+(***)

Fat Tony: Smart Ass Black Boy (2013, Young One): Anthony Obiawunaoutu, a Nigerian-American rapper from Houston, based in Brooklyn, working beats by someone called Tom Cruz, spinning everyday tales with little bombast or braggadocio, not all that memorable but that may turn out to be their charm. B+(***)

The Flaming Lips: The Terror (2013, Warner Brothers): Prog band from Oklahoma City, formed in 1983, although I figure they came out of suburbs undistinguishable from anywhere else in the nation. Building a reputation as America's answer to Pink Floyd, which is not undeserved but has yet to find its charm (or lunacy). More songs like "Always There, in Our Hearts" would help. B+(**)

Future Bible Heroes: Partygoing (2013, Merge): Stephin Merritt front group with Chris Ewen and Claudia Gonson, dormant for more than a decade, comes up with a mixed bag of possible Magnetic Fields songs, including one ("All I Care About Is You") as veritable as anything on 69 Love Songs, and a couple more odd enough to be outtakes. B+(**)

Mariem Hassan: El Aaiún Egdat (2012, Nubenegra): Singer from what used to be called Western Sahara, a Spanish colony that Morocco gobbled up rather than letting it become independent. Sings in Arabic (and some Spanish) with a deeply piercing chant-like voice over those rock-simple Saharan chords, appreciably sweetened by occasional sax breaks -- or, on the last cut, roughed up. B+(***)

Homeboy Sandman: Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent (2013, Stones Throw, EP): Actually, 12-inch vinyl, would have been an LP back in the day but feels tossed off: skimpy little organ-based grooves, some words reluctant, others cascading in torrents. B+(*)

Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013, Domino): Electronica producer, half-dozen albums since 2001, only one I've heard was a setting for King Creosote's vocals, and less appealing for that. First half generates thick waves with long decays, too harmonically complex for minimalism even if that seems to be the idea. Ends on a lovely ambient note. B+(***) [later: A-]

Jason Isbell: Southeastern (2013, Relativity): Gave up his rock and roll band to establish himself as a singer-songwriter, and to convince you he's serious he tones his shtick down to front porch strength. It's blah until midway through when he drops "another drunk daddy with a white man's point of view," and turns that into a pretty good song. There's one more, as best I recall, or two if you count the one that actually rocks. B

Kairos 4tet: Everything We Hold (2013, Naim Jazz): Saxophonist Adam Waldman's group, with piano (Ivo Neame), bass (Jasper Hoiby), and drums (Jon Scott), plus beaucoup others on their third album. Robert Friend wrote lyrics for four songs for guest vocalists, and producer Jules Buckley added all sorts of potential mush -- strings, harp, harmonium, bass clarinet, French horn, glockenspiel. Charming on their own, fond of grooves but never stuck in one, and the extras don't gum up the works like you'd expect. A species of crossover that is never attempted in the more compartmentalized US. B+(**)

Laura Marling: Once I Was an Eagle (2013, Ribbon Music): English singer-songwriter, considered a folkie most likely because she plays guitar. Attempts to map her onto Joni Mitchell fare poorly, perhaps because Kate Bush is in the way. Some songs stay soft, but when she finds one with some muscle to it she can flesh it out, too. B+(**)

Melt Yourself Down: Melt Yourself Down (2013, The Leaf Label): Two saxophonists but I don't hear this as jazz, or for that matter as jazztronica, and "pop jazz" is an insult for a band that rocks this hard. Satin Singh's percussion exoticizes the hard drums, letting Kushal Gaya's vocals -- chants and rants and Balkan melodrama -- run amok. B+(**)

Oblivians: Desperation (2013, In the Red): Memphis answer band to the New York Dolls -- Greg Oblivian (aka Greg Cartwright) even managed to play on Shangri-Las pack leader Mary Weiss' comeback album. Fourteen songs, 31:27, harkens back to an era when rockers were proud barbarians, but too late to invent it. A-

Martha Redbone Roots Project: The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake (2012, Blackfeet Productions): Christgau advises, "listen to the words," but I've never read Blake, have no sense of him other than secondhand via Allen Ginsberg, and haven't read the latter in forty-some years. The words, however, are occasionally surprising and always eloquent, and the sturdy folk balladry holds it all up. A- [bc]

Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally: House & Garden (2013, Nell Robinson Music): Hilary Perkins adopted her grandmother's name, not that she needs deeper roots, but Nunally actually has the deeper country voice, and a bluegrass guitar to go with it. Covers like "Loose Talk" are engagingly quirky, but the originals are bland, and I don't want to hear the one about being happy to join the army again. B

Daniel Romano: Come Cry With Me (2013, Normaltown): Old-fashioned country singer, born and raised in Welland, Ontario (near Niagara Falls), sings new-fangled honky tonk weepers. B+(*)

Kelly Rowland: Talk a Good Game (2013, Universal Republic): Ex-Destiny's Child, not Beyoncé, fourth solo album; enjoys "Kisses Down Below" and "Dirty Laundry" but has trouble keeping up the raunch over fourteen songs without la-la-la-ing off into dreamland. B+(**)

Bobby Rush: Down in Louisiana (2013, Deep Rush): Blues journeyman from Louisiana via Chicago, had a couple minor singles in 1970s and a Gamble-Huff album in 1979, aside from which his two dozens albums are on labels I've never heard of before. But at 77 he keeps easing on down the road, releasing his own, posing in his rocking chair, letting age work for him. B+(**)

SZA: S (2013, self-released, EP): Solana Rowe, from St. Louis, based in NJ, seven cuts of iffy nu soul broken up with distracting samples from Rosemary's Baby and an Eartha Kitt documentary. B [dl]

Rachid Taha: Zoom (2013, Wrasse): Superstar from Algeria, a wreck of a country he's left way behind, except for the Arabic language and frantic atonality, but even those limits he breaks with startling ease. A-

Samba Touré: Albala (2013, Glitterbeat): Songhai bluesman from Mali, his 2009 album a Homage to Ali Farka Touré, doesn't seem intent on inventing anything new. The basics are timeless, and he gets enough harmony (or is it distortion?) to build up some weight behind his groove. B+(**)

Chandler Travis Three-O: This Is What Bears Look Like Under Water (2012 [2013], Iddy Biddy): Founder of 1980s rock band the Incredible Casuals, more recently seen with his jazz-oriented 9-piece Philharmonic, leans more toward folk-rock here but will run an instrumental, drop in some sax riffs, and go nostalgic over the Beatles cover. B+(**)

Tricky: False Idols (2013, !K7): Not sure that the vocals are samples, but the Patti Smith effect on "Somebody's Sins" and the Chet Baker on "Valentine" are brilliant grabs. They help front-load an album that takes more attention as it winds down, but most of the tracks smolder, a couple in the middle even sizzle. A-

Trio 3 + Jason Moran: Refraction - Breakin' Glass (2012 [2013], Intakt): I file the Trio's records -- eight since 1993 -- under Oliver Lake but Reggie Workman (who's actually listed first here, but not always) and Andrew Cyrille are superstars too, and you can key on any one of them and hear everything a musician can do. Moran has to work to earn a spot in their company, and he does. Two raps: Lake's title cut reminiscing about his mother, and Cyrille's intro to "High Priest." A-

Trio 3 + Geri Allen: Celebrating Mary Lou Williams: Live at Birdland New York (2010 [2011], Intakt): The Oliver Lake-Reggie Workman-Andrew Cyrille supertrio live from a series of concerts honoring Mary Lou Williams, plus pianist Geri Allen, who has practically cornered the market for Williams tributes. Williams was the arranger behind Andy Kirk's late 1930s big band; she went on to compose modernist larger scale works and in the 1970s recorded some adventurous piano trios, and she was the first woman to do much of that. Allen has all the facets of her subject down pat, while Lake is just being himself. This is just old-fashioned (or do I mean modernistic?) enough you can imagine Williams and Charlie Parker jamming back in old KC, but where would they find such a rhythm section? A-

Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (2013, XL): Christgau likens this to Paul Simon and Sgt. Pepper, analogies I don't begin to comprehend. I do know that every time I play it, it gets tighter, with more odd details fitting together like jewel work. Also that the singer sounds like a slightly less British Paul Heaton, even showing some of his humanity. Which, again, makes me wonder what all this vampire shit is about. Is civilization so lost the non-human has become a refuge? Or do young people just want to dress up? A- [cd]

Kanye West: Yeezus (2013, Def Jam): One play, not that I might not succumb to more, but it's going to take persuasion, and I'm not looking forward to it. First thought was Tusk, where Fleetwood Mac responded to mega-stardom with perverse rhythm, something they made work for a song but not an album. West tries to stretch, making this more difficult than need be, but he's so damn talented he almost gets away with it. Still, he leaves me irritated -- deliberately, no doubt, and not without conscience as he reminds us that racism in America hasn't stopped bearing strange fruit. B+(*)

Young Fathers: Tape One (2011 [2013], Anticon, EP): Edinburgh, Scotland crew debut, eight tracks, 20:18, self-released a while back and picked up for reissue along with their full-length Tape Two sequel (not on Rhapsody yet). Odd mix of beats and moves, accents and fills. B+(*)

Zomby: With Love (2013, 4AD, 2CD): British, no-name dubstep producer; third album, 80 minutes, runs 2CD or 3LP. For all the separate pieces, most have this simple chunk-chunk rhythm, attack and decay, so common because it's actually quite appealing. B+(**)


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

  • Matias Aguayo: The Visitor (2013, Cómeme)
  • Aimer et Perdre: To Love and Lose Songs, 1917-1934 ([2012], Tomkins Square)
  • Boards of Canada: Tomorrow's Harvest (2013, Warp)
  • Joe King Carrasco & El Molino: Tiaquepaque (Anaconda)
  • Ethnic Minority Music of Southern China ([2013], Sublime Frequencies)
  • Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45RPM ([2013], Sterns Africa)
  • Andrew Pekler: Cover Versions (2013, Senufo Editions)
  • Polysick: Daydream (2013, AudioMER)
  • Serengeti: Saal (2013, Graveface, EP)
  • Serengeti: The Kenny Dennis LP (2013, Anticon)
  • Wussy: Duo (2013, Shake It)
  • Young Fathers: Tape Two (2013, Anticon)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

The Beautiful South: BBC Sessions (1989-98 [2007], UMVD, 2CD): Live sets, four cuts from 1989 when they were getting started, four more from 1998 showcasing their sixth album, and two much longer 1994 sessions, probably timed for their fourth album and the best-of Carry On Up the Charts; the first simplifies, the latter shows they can stretch out and work the crowd, in between they remind you how many great songs they had, although they also repeat a couple too many times and skip a lot more; if this is all the archaeologists ever find, they'll grade it higher. B+(**)

The Beautiful South: Golddiggas: Headnodders & Pholk Songs (2004, Sony Music [UK]): A marvelous band from the start, or even earlier if you count the two Housemartins albums equally stamped by Paul Heaton's vocals, huge in England without any notable success in the US; covers album, mostly rock tunes from the 1970s, nothing obvious either as roots or affectation, in arrangements that sneak up on you. A-

The Beautiful South: Superbi (2006, Sony/BMG [UK]): Ninth (and last) album, never got a US release and didn't bowl them over in the UK either, but not for lack of songs -- the first half, up through "Meanwhile," are memorable from the start, the possible knock on the rest is that they may be too jaunty for a singer as deep as Paul Heaton -- not that I ever mind Alison Wheeler. A-

Bola: Volume 7 (2009 [2012], Awesome Tapes From Africa): From Ghana, a real shouter, his vocal intensity strikes me as call-without-response, unless you consider the slinky kologo that finishes every line more than denouement; the songs merge together in this effect, driven relentlessly forward on dancing drums. B+(***)

Colomach: Colomach (1974 [2013], Soundway): North Nigerian group, led by Gneni Mamadou from Togo, closer in spirit to Mali and the Sahara than to the juju and Afrobeat of the southern cities; limited edition vinyl, should protect its obscurity quotient. B+(*)

The Funkees: Dancing Time: The Best of Eastern Nigeria's Afro Rock Exponents 1973-77 (1973-77 [2012], Soundway): Afrobeat, doesn't have to be any funkier than its models, at least when we're talking James Brown and Fela Kuti, but could use a bit of charisma, something the models have in spades; compilation runs long and rarely lets up or lets you down. B+(**)

Oliver Lake: NTU: Point From Which Creation Begins (1976 [2012], Universal Sound): Early, coming out of St. Louis and thinking Africa, ten musicians with electric bass and piano, congas and toys, but plenty of brass when they need it, John Hicks on piano, and surprising guitar by someone named Richard Martin. A-

Rilo Kiley: Take Offs and Landings (2001, Barsuk): First album by a group led by two former child actors: Blake Sennett, who tended to take things idiosyncratically, and Jenny Lewis, who had a way of making those oddities seem normal; all the components of a great group here, sometimes oversimplified, but sometimes that's the charm. B+(***)

Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things (2002, Saddle Creek): Second group album, did much better on a second play that followed the first album; doubt if it's neglected masterpiece, but it offers a lot more than juvenilia too, the whispers and tinkles picking up guitar riffs and innuendo and an outright "it's so fucking beautiful"; ready for prime time: "Spectacular Views." A-

The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (2000-12 [2013], World Music Network, 2CD): Lazy picks, all but one picked off the shelf from the label's Riverboat subsidiary, which at least makes them easy to date (approximately) -- some also on the label's Unwired and Oxfam comps -- spanning a big continent from South Africa and Mozambique to Senegal and Sudan. The acoustic shtick undercuts the vast stylistic differences across the continent, helping the flow, whiel the vast stylistic range ensures that any dull spots will be followed by something more interesting. Second disc is a "bonus" by Senegalese kora player Noumoucounda Cissoko, evidently -- unlike most of the label's recent 2CD packages -- unavailable on its own. Its string flurry grabs your attention right off, and the songs start to add up, tossing the occasional curve like piano solos and Tumi Molekane's rap. B+(**)

The Rough Guide to African Disco (1976-2010 [2013], World Music Network, 2CD): Sure, it's all dance music, but sort of misses the point and the moment, ranging from Osibisa pleasantries to Manu Dibango to the Mahotella Queens, back to Nigeria-Cameroon then London again for the Sofrito remixes -- too much jumble, not that Teaspoon & the Waves' "Oh Yeh Soweto" isn't a find. More antiquated, the bonus disc is Maloko's Soul on Fire, from the 1980s with Cameroonian vocalist Victor Nguini running through American soul covers like "Stand by Me" and "In the Midnight Hour," given a slight soukous inflection by guitarist Syran Mbenza. B+(*)

Wussy: Funeral Dress II (2011, Shake It): Cincinnati alt-rock band, two singer-songwriters Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker make a fine proximate couple -- hard to overstate how much Christgau's coterie love them but the only album I managed to own -- their second, Left for Dead -- never did much for me, though I've streamed a couple albums I was more impressed by, including the original 2005 Funeral Dress. Still, I don't know it well enough to make any of the songs on this unplugged Record Store Day limited edition old friends, or even recognizable. Which I guess makes them seem like new to me. The balance and craft are certainly there. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure I'm not just swept away with other folks' enthusiasm. A-

Wussy: Buckeye (2005-11 [2012], Damnably): A 17-cut Europe-only best-of, or intro, condensing four albums -- unless they snuck in an alternate version, something I can't tell -- but that works fine for me, the non-chronological shuffle mixing it up; fans prefer the albums, but if this were readily available it might be all I need -- more hooks, rocks harder too. A


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