Monday, June 8, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25069 [25024] rated (+45), 432 [422] unrated (+10).

When I counted the number of newly rated records below, I found more than my count this week. I went back and rechecked the database, and found four albums listed as unrated that I should have filled in grades for. Then the count exceeded the list, so I went to the Streamnotes draft file and checked what I had written up against the Music Week lists, and found more discrepancies. I added them to the list below, and now the list is longer than the rated count increase again. Most likely that's the Pixies, who probably should have been reported last week. (At least seems to me like it's been a while.) Of course, if I had a system where I didn't have to update my records 4-5 times when I file a grade, I'd make fewer mistakes. But they'd also be harder to fix, so I guess there's that.

The large quantity of old music is due to my attempt to fill in the holes in Spin's Top 300 Albums: 1985-2014 list. I'm a little more than a third of the way through the list. I'm not just doing albums on the list: if I find something else that has a substantial rep and/or looks interesting, I'll slip it in too. Still working on Built to Spill. Next up is Kate Bush (list isn't alphabetical). I'm not spending a lot of time with them, although the A- records get at least two spins, as do some near misses. I'm also not reviewing anything I've graded before, even though some of them look like I may have underrated a bit. It's impossible to keep a list as long as mine in lockstep.

New records include two jazz A-listers from old favorites, albeit of very different stripes. But I have been dragging my feet on the jazz queue, which has been growing at a surprising rate. The main source of new records this week was Spin's 50 Best Albums of 2015 . . . So Far (my comp list is buried in the June 1 notebook). That led me to: American Wrestlers, Cannibal Ox, Dan Deacon, Eye, I Love Makonnen, Knocks, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, Monster Rally & Jay Stone, Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld, and Young Thug -- two more A-list records there, with Cannibal Ox real close and nothing real bad. I expected Jason Derulo on that list too -- it was plugged as "Spin album of the week" on the same page, and has gotten rapturous reviews from critics I usually agree with, and I loved Talk Dirty as much as they did. I played it twice and it irritated me more than my low B+ grade reveals. The other two new A-list records were obvious things to listen to (Murs, Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard). For a while last week I was logging so many A- records I wondered if I was going soft.

As you may have noticed, Medium's music venture Cuepoint hasn't added any new content since June 2, notably missing last Friday's expected appearance of Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't have any inside info on what's happening, but there's evidently some sort of shakeup going on. The basic idea behind Medium is to sucker people into contributing free content, but Christgau at least has been paid from the start. It wasn't unreasonable at first to seed the free content with some commissioned pieces, but sooner or later some bean counter is going to insist on cutting expenses, and freelancers are easy to stiff. So one possibility is that Medium is tightening the screws. Another is that the "vertical" websites like Cuepoint built on Medium's platform haven't clicked. I think one problem with Cuepoint is that they've never had anyone else doing the sort of thing Christgau does -- either as a columnist with a regular schedule or as a reviewer. Everything else is feature writing, and I only recognize two writers on their current homepage, so they're not exactly trying to build a prestige roster. One result is that I've never found anything other than Christgau worth reading there.

You may recall that something similar happened at the previous home of Christgau's consumer guide, MSN Music. They had a slightly better music site, probably because living off the fat of Microsoft's monopoly they had more money to throw at it. They had a few columnists, although none generated as much as 5% of Christgau's comment traffic. They hired Christgau to write some live reports, and occasionally you could find something else worth reading there, but it was never organized very well. There are other music websites that seem to be successful, but they do so by cultivating a niche audience and covering that niche at considerable depth -- I'm thinking of Pitchfork, PopMatters, All About Jazz, not that I know how much money they really make. But both MSN Music and Cuepoint seemed to have the idea that they could build a mass audience by covering music at the most superficial level. That they failed should not be a big surprise.

Christgau wrote for MSN Music and for Cuepoint for the most pedestrian of reasons: because they paid him to do something he wanted to do anyway. If Cuepoint folds this could be the end of Christgau's Consumer Guide. Or he could find another web angel willing to lose money on him (though it's hard to imagine an infinite chain of them). He could even publish a few CG reviews in a non-paying outlet -- he had written a number of them during his last hiatus just because writing had become an integral part of the way he understands records, and was thinking about giving them to Odyshape (which more or less suspended operations last September). I'd be happy to publish them on his website, where at least they'd add value and interest.

Or he could just hang it up -- something I think about, even after I reconciled myself to writing for free. Could be time to start thinking about a post-Christgau website.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Current draft has 50 new records, 3 new compilations, and 75 old records, so that should be plenty. I'm also working on a series of book blurb posts. I came back from New Jersey last fall with many pages of notes I took in various bookstores, but technical problems have kept me from working on them. The last Book Roundup was on July 3, 2014, so nearly a year. There should be several hundred books worth mentioning in that time.

New records rated this week:

  • All Included: Satan in Plain Clothes (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • American Wrestlers (2014 [2015], Fat Possum): [r]: B
  • Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (2015, iHipHop): [r]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Io (2013 [2015], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Unknowable (2014 [2015], Not Two): [cd]: A-
  • Dan Deacon: Gliss Rifter (2015, Domino): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jason Derulo: Everything Is 4 (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Deux Maisons: For Sale (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chris Dingman: The Subliminal & the Sublime (2013 [2015], Inner Arts Initiative): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Eye: The Future Will Be Repeated (2015, Ba Da Bing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton: Scott Hamilton Plays Jule Styne (2015, Blue Duchess): [cd]: A-
  • I Love Makonnen: Drink More Water 5 (2015, OVO Sound): [dl]: B+(**)
  • The Knocks: So Classic (2015, Big Beat, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (2015, Glitterbeat): [r]: A-
  • Major Lazer: Peace Is the Mission (2015, Mad Decent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Monster Rally & Jay Stone: Foreign Pedestrians (2014 [2015], Gold Robot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Murs: Have a Nice Day (2015, Strange Music): [r]: A-
  • Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard: Django and Jimmie (2015, Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Pixies: Indie Cindy (2014, Pixiesmusic): [r]: B
  • Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (2015, Constellation): [r]: A-
  • Davide Tammaro: Ghosts (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Swing Zing! (2015, FV): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Young Thug: Barter 6 (2015, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • The Red Line Comp: A DCHC Compilation ([2015], self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Mary J. Blige: What's the 411? (1992, Uptown/MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary J. Blige: No More Drama (2001, MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Built to Spill: Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1992, C/Z): [r]: B+(***)
  • Built to Spill: There's Nothing Wrong With Love (1994, Up): [r]: A-
  • Built to Spill: Keep It Like a Secret (1999, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-
  • Built to Spill: Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001, Warner Brothers): B
  • Built to Spill: You in Reverse (2006, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Depeche Mode: Construction Time Again (1983, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward (1984, Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Depeche Mode: Catching Up With Depeche Mode (1980-85 [1985], Sire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Depeche Mode: Black Celebration (1986, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Violator (1990, Sire/Reprise): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993, Sire/Reprise): [r]: B-
  • Dinosaur Jr.: You're Living All Over Me (1987, SST): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pixies: Come On Pilgrim (1987, 4AD, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988, 4AD/Elektra): [r]: B+(*)
  • Primal Scream: XTRMNTR (2000, Astralwerks): [r]: A-
  • Radiohead: Pablo Honey (1993, Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Radiohead: The Bends (1995, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Radiohead: Hail to the Thief (2003, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tears for Fears: The Hurting (1983, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair (1985, Mercury): [r]: B
  • Tears for Fears: The Seeds of Love (1989, Mercury): [r]: B-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stephen Anderson/360° Jazz Initiative: Distracted Society (Summit)
  • Brett Carson: Quattuor Elephantis (Edgetone)
  • Casa: Futuro (Clean Feed)
  • Linda Dachtyl: A Late One (Summit)
  • Benjamin Duboc/Jean-Luc Petit: Double-Basse: This Is Not Art (Clean Feed)
  • Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (Libra): July 14
  • Vance Gilbert: Nearness of You (Disismye Music)
  • Chris Golinski/Tim McNally/Boaz Roberts: Rodeo (Edgetone)
  • Dre Hocevar Trio: Coding of Evidentiality (Clean Feed)
  • Keith Kelly Ask Not: A Grand Apparatus, Discarded (Edgetone)
  • Lona Kozik/Chris Golinski: Spelaeology (Edgetone)
  • Lama + Joachim Badenhorst: The Elephant's Journey (Clean Feed)
  • Marsa Fouty: Concerts (Fou)
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Get Up! (MCG Jazz): June 23
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (Clean Feed)
  • Caili O'Doherty: Padme (Odo): July 7
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: The Otherworld Cycle (Edgetone)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Intercambio (Patois): July 7

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