Friday, January 31, 2020

Music Week

January archive (done).

Music: Current count 32712 [32640] rated (+72), 230 [228] unrated (+2).

Whereas last week I closed my count on Sunday as usual but didn't post Music Week until Thursday, this week I'm even later, and this time I used to the extra days to squeeze more records in. For the record, the count was +34 Sunday evening, when I would normally cut over. The reason for the extra days this week is that I usually save away a frozen copy of my yearly list on or near the end of January, and I thought it would make more sense to align that date with the end of January Streamnotes. Last year I decided to publish my reviews in my Music Week posts, out each Monday, and align the monthly Streamnotes archives with Music Week posts, cutting off each month on its final Monday. However, this year the final Monday left five days in the month, which is normally 20-25 records -- enough of a discrepancy to make me want to include them before freeze date.

On the other hand, I didn't get as much done in my extra days [of January] as I hoped. In fact, the only way I'll get anything up dated Jan. 31 is through the miracle of backdating. (I'm writing this on Feb. 1, and doubt I'll get done tonight, either. [I finally did the freeze Feb. 5, posting well after midnight, so Feb. 6.]) One thing that got in the way was my decision to rustle up a rather ambitious Friday dinner. I thought of this initially as my mother's birthday, but rather than fixing any of her specialties, I decided to slightly rework the last birthday dinner I fixed for her. Only later did I realize this was the 20th anniversary of that dinner. After she died in June, we drove to Dodge City, where I made the same dinner for my father's cousin, Zula Mae Reed. She was one of the first people to introduce me to Chinese food. Ever since I figured out how to make my own, I had wanted to cook Chinese or her.

After making the occasional stir-fry mess in New York, I moved to New Jersey, threw my wok away, bought some good aluminum core, stainless steel pans, and started studying Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, and got pretty good at it. I later branched out to practically everything else. But lately I've steered away from Chinese for large dinners -- most dishes require a final stir-fry, which is chaotic and leaves a huge mess (I call this the "fire drill," a term which probably has racist origins but seems perfectly descriptive in this case, even if everything is perfectly executed). When I make Chinese these days, it's often for just the two of us. I did just that a week ago, and felt that I was losing my touch, so that made me all the more resolved to prove I could still do it.

My menu last night:

  • Fried chicken Szechuan style: cubed chicken breast, deep-fried, stir-fried with spicy aromatics and a soy-based sauce.
  • Stir-fried scallops with orange peel: velveted scallops, water chesnuts, orange peel, in a soy-based sauce, garnished with deep-fried spinach strands.
  • Dry-fried beef: thin strips, marinated and deep-fried, then stir-fried with carrots and green bell pepper strips and a dark soy sauce.
  • Dry-seared green beans: deep-fried, with stir-fried with pork, dried shrimp, Szechuan and Tientsin vegetables, soy, and scallions.
  • Dry-fried Chinese eggplant nuggets: stir-fried with aromatics, and a chile-brown sugar-balsamic vinegar sauce.
  • Shrimp, leek & pine nut fried rice: rice, with velveted shrimp, sauteed leeks, fried egg, and pine nuts.

Huge amount of prep work here, including initial cooking in the deep fryer (green beans, spinach, beef, chicken), in water (shrimp, scallops), or in the sauté pan (leeks, eggs), soaking, cutting/chopping, arranging aromatics on plates for each dish, mixing sauces for each dish (in two cases with a separate cornstarch slurry to thicken), and garnishes. Once everything was prepped, I did the final stir-fry two dishes at a time, in rapid succession. Some minor problems along the way, and one or two dishes didn't turn out quite perfect, but the dishes are so flavorful no one else seemed disappointed.

For dessert, I thought I'd try the "fusion east-west" recipes in Tropp's China Moon Cookbook: I did the chocolate-walnut tart and ginger ice cream. The tart was overdone (could be that I used too large a pan, making the crust and filling too thin), which made it hard to get out of the nominally non-stick pan, and probably made it a bit chewier than it was supposed to be. Neither turned out to be a problem with the ice cream on top. Bumped the recipe by 50%, which turned out to be the upper limit of the machine and a bit more than I could put into my chosen container, but it was all gone before the guests left.

Robert Christgau published his Dean's List 2019 on January 26, with 76 records, 14 released in 2018 or earlier (back to 2015, including my 2018 favorite, The Ex: 27 Passports). A half-dozen titles hadn't been reviewed yet in his Consumer Guide -- the biggest surprise Kalie Shorr's Open Book. I gave it a low B+ in December, resisting the glitzy Nashville production, but gave it another shot, and the songs started poking through. It's one of several re-grades below -- mostly records I admired first time but liked a little more on review. I replayed a few more I didn't budge, including Purple Mountains, The Paranoid Style, Danny Brown, and Slowthai -- all solid B+(***), as I originally thought. I played everything else I had missed (except couldn't find the Seeds soundtrack), but haven't gone down the list to biggest disconnects (like 100 Gecs).

I don't mean to nitpick, but thought it might be helpful to list my non-jazz A-list picks that Christgau hasn't yet reviewed or listed (skipping records, like Hayes Carll: What It Is and Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell, that Christgau gave B+ or stars to):

  1. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterioum (IOT)
  2. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session (Third Man)
  3. Control Top: Covert Contracts (Get Better)
  4. MexStep: Resistir (Third Root -18
  5. Mavis Staples: We Get By (Anti-)
  6. Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood
  7. Weldon Henson: Texas Made Honky Tonk (Hillbilly Renegade)
  8. People Under the Stars: Sincerely, the P (Piecelock 70)
  9. Chris Knight: Almost Daylight (Drifters Church)
  10. Kelsey Waldon: White Noise/White Lines (Oh Boy)
  11. L'Orange & Jeremiah Jae: Complicate Your Life With Violence (Mello Music Group)
  12. Allison Moorer: Blood (Autotelic)
  13. Willie Nelson: Ride Me Back Home (Legacy)
  14. Nilüfer Yanya: Miss Universe (ATO)
  15. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (Keel Cool/RCA)
  16. Queen Key: Eat My Pussy (Again) (Machine Entertainment Group)
  17. The Chemical Brothers: No Geography (Virgin EMI)
  18. Caterina Barbieri: Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego)
  19. Czarface: The Odd Czar Against Us (Silver Age)
  20. Murs: The Iliad is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over (Jamla/Empire)
  21. Hieroglyphic Being: Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism (On the Corner)
  22. YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy (Atlantic)
  23. Sault: 5 (Forever Living Originals)
  24. Sault: 7 (Forever Living Originals)
  25. The Campfire Flies: Sparks Like Little Stars (OverPop Music)
  26. Boy Harsher: Careful (Nude Club)
  27. Apollo Brown: Sincerely, Detroit (Mello Music Group)
  28. Pet Shop Boys: Inner Sanctum (X2)
  29. Lee Scratch Perry: Heavy Rain (On-U Sound)
  30. Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving (The Leaf Label)
  31. Snotty Nose Rez Kids: Trapline (Fontana North)
  32. Caroline Spence: Mint Condition (Rounder)
  33. Ani DiFranco: No Walls: Mixtape (Righteous Babe)
  34. Peter Perrett: Humanworld (Domino)
  35. Oompa: Cleo (OompOutLoud)
  36. Add-2: Jim Crow: The Musical (Add-2 Productions)
  37. Omar Souleyman: Shlon (Mad Decent/Because)
  38. Special Request: Offworld (Houndstooth)
  39. Leonard Cohen: Thanks for the Dance (Columbia/Legacy)
  40. Beans on Toast: The Inevitable Train Wreck (Beans on Toast Music)

I'm surprised this list ran so long (40 of 77 records, so 52%). One thing Christgau laments on his list is a hip-hop shortfall, but I count 13 here (including Blakrok, MexStep and Dave, but not Yanya, Korwar or Sault). Also 6 country, some political folkies, some electronica, and various world outposts. By the way, recent adds and promotions made the non-jazz A-list longer than the jazz one (77-to-75).

The extra listening time brought my number of reviewed 2019 releases to 1224. This compares to 1075 at freeze time last year, 1145 in 2017, 1075 in 2016, 1110 in 2015, 1173 in 2014, 1149 in 2013, 1068 in 2012, 1334 in 2011, and 1236 in 2010. (Going further back: 2009: 1050, 2008: 907, 2007: 1135, 2006: 1089, 2005: 871, 2004: 941, 2003: 525. No data for earlier years, as 2003 was when I started writing -- and getting promos -- again.) About 75% of this year's records were streamed or downloaded, which is probably a record high, but likely to be topped each coming year. I've been expecting the review total to decline each year since my 2011 peak. The only significance I attribute to the bump this year is that I haven't felt up to doing much else. I expect it to drop next year, perhaps significantly -- either if I get into writing long-contemplated but slow-starting non-music projects, or if my health declines.

Meanwhile, the main thing that slowed this post down wasn't a desire to cram in more records. It was the time it took to reach a break point in my EOY Aggregate. I wound up counting 689 lists, of which 174 were considered major (generally, 20+ ranked records, scored 1-5 points), vs. minor lists (top-tens, scored 1-3 points, or unranked lists), with some discretion exercised. Aside from the lists, this includes grade points from Robert Christgau, Michael Tatum, and myself (1-5 points), which admittedly gives the totals a slight bias. I also included a lot of Jazz Critics Poll individual ballots, which contributed significantly to the two jazz albums that cracked the top 40 (plus ten more in the top 100). On the other hand, with no Pazz & Jop poll this year, I wasn't able to cherry-pick individual ballots there. Two more systematic biases should be noted: I skipped nearly all metal lists this year, and I skipped most of the international press lists that Acclaimed Music Forums does such a good job of compiling. Both omissions were mostly the result of priorities as I was trying to catch up while recuperating from surgery, and I never got back to them. I may find some reason to fiddle further, but at this point the smart thing would be to leave well enough alone.

Here's the top 40, with points up front and my grades in brackets.

  1. [447] Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell (Polydor/Interscope) [A-]
  2. [380] Billy Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? (Darkroom/Interscope) [A-]
  3. [334] Tyler, the Creator: Igor (Columbia) [**]
  4. [319] FKA Twigs: Magdalene (Young Turks) [B]
  5. [278] Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Ghosteen (Ghosteen/Bad Seeds) [B]
  6. [275] Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (Sub Pop) [B-]
  7. [274] Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains (Drag City) [***]
  8. [269] Lizzo: Cuz I Love You (Nice Life/Atlantic) [A-]
  9. [265] Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  10. [259] Angel Olsen: All Mirrors (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  11. [235] Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (Columbia) [**]
  12. [226] Big Thief: U.F.O.F. (4AD) [A-]
  13. [224] Little Simz: Grey Area (Age 101) [A-]
  14. [206] Solange: When I Get Home (Saint/Columbia) [*]
  15. [181] Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel (Partisan) [***]
  16. [178] Brittany Howard: Jaime (ATO) [B]
  17. [173] Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana (Keep Cool/RCA) [A-]
  18. [166] Big Thief: Two Hands (4AD) [**]
  19. [166] Ariana Grande: Thank U Next (Republic) [**]
  20. [160] Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy! (Jagjaguwar) [A-]
  21. [148] Black Midi: Schlagenheim (Rough Trade) [**]
  22. [141] Dave: Psychodrama (Neighbourhood) [A-]
  23. [141] Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka (Polydor) [*]
  24. [130] Jenny Lewis: On the Line (Warner Bros.) [*]
  25. [130] Slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain (Method) [***]
  26. [129] Danny Brown: Uknowhatimsayin¿ (Warp) [***]
  27. [125] Bon Iver: i,i (Jagjaguwar) [B]
  28. [117] Aldous Harding: Designer (4AD) [B]
  29. [116] Taylor Swift: Lover (Republic) [A-]
  30. [112] Julia Jacklin: Crushing (Polyvinyl) [B]
  31. [111] The Highwomen: The Highwomen (Elektra) [B]
  32. [111] The National: I Am Easy to Find (4AD) [**]
  33. [110] Bruce Springsteen: Western Stars (Columbia) [B-]
  34. [109] Kris Davis: Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic) [***]
  35. [107] Denzel Curry: Zuu (Loma Vista) [**]
  36. [105] Thom Yorke: Anima (XL) [B-]
  37. [103] Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans) [*]
  38. [103] Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation) [***]
  39. [101] Carly Rae Jepsen: Dedicated (604/School Boy/Interscope) [***]
  40. [100] Rapsody: Eve (Roc Nation) [***]

Every aggregate list (either of lists or of individuals) has its peculiar selection and weighting biases. I'm having trouble finding more, but the big ones are Album of the Year and Metacritic. I can't do any analysis at this time, but my impression is that for a long time, the lists were dominated by alt/indie rock with occasional celebrity-crossover hip-hop breakthroughs (e.g., Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar). Last few years alt/indie has waned, and pure pop albums have done better, as well as some artier things I often have trouble fathoming (Nick Cave and Weyes Blood are prime examples this year). One result is that there are more albums on the list I like these days, certainly compared to 6-10 years ago (when I started compiling these EOY lists). Still, not a lot of critically popular hip-hop this year (only Tyler, the Creator in the top 10 this year, although it was a huge year for British hip-hop, with Little Simz, Dave, Slowthai, and others just down the list).

New records reviewed this week:

Snoh Aalegra: Ugh, Those Feels Again (2019, Artrium): Soul singer, born in Sweden, parents Iranian, original name Shahrzad Fooladi, based in Los Angeles, first album Feels, so title is a play on that. B+(**)

Add-2: Jim Crow: The Musical (2019, Add-2 Productions): Chicago rapper Andre DiJuan Daniels, mixtapes since 2005 including four volumes of Tale of Two's City, and the album Prey for the Poor. Title suggests two dimensions of distance -- history viewed on stage, past from present, others from self -- but Jim Crow persists as a mental trap, not least because it's periodically reinforced by events. A-

Altin Gün: Gece (2019, ATO): "Anatolian rock" band, founded in Amsterdam by bassist Jasper Verhulst, with Merve Dasdemir (vocals) and Erdic Yildiz Ecevit (vocals, saz, keys) for Turkish roots. Ranges between groove and spots for "a very soulful language." As usual, any psychedelia is in the mind of the beholder. B+(**)

Daymé Arocena: Sonocardiogram (2019, Brownswood): Cuban singer, based in London, fourth album, has a bit of a diva complex, though I could see getting into that. B

BaianaSystem: O Futuro Não Demora (2019, Máquina De Louco): Brazilian group, from Salvador in Bahia. Forró roots with electronic beats, postmodern imports, even a bit of Manu Chao. B+(***)

BCUC: The Healing (2019, Buda Musique): South African group, from Soweto, acronym stands for Bantu Continua Ubuntu Consciousness, the polyglot name a hint of international eclecticism. But still sounds more like Afrobeat, with two of three pieces running long (19:18, 16:23), and not just the one Femi Kuti guests on. Saul Williams appears on the 3:54 closer. B+(**)

BCUC: Emakhosini (2018, Buda Musique): Earlier record, same basic idea, no guests. B+(*)

Benny Benack III: A Lot of Livin' to Do (2019 [2020], LA Reserve): Trumpet player, sings, second album, wrote four songs but mostly depends on standards, big name in the band is bassist Christian McBride, has two guest spots for female singers. B+(**) [01-24]

Daniel Bernardes & Drumming GP: Liturgy of the Birds: In Memoriam Olivier Messiaen (2018 [2019], Clean Feed): Pianist, from Portugal, leads a trio augmented by a percussion quartet. All original compositions, their pedigree as "explorations of Olivier Messiaen's compositional techniques" something I'll have to take at face value. B+(**)

Big K.R.I.T.: K.R.I.T. Iz Here (2019, Multi Alumni): Mississippi rapper Justin Lewis Scott, fourth album, long list of mixtapes. Came out late and hardly anyone noticed. B+(**)

Jim Black Trio: Reckon (2019 [2020], Intakt): Drummer, fourth album since 2011 with this particular trio: Elias Stemseder (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Helps to focus on the drummer here, frantically tying together the many remarkable tangents. A-

Black Alien: Abaixo De Zero: Hello Hell (2019, Extrapunk Extrafunk): Brazilian singer/rapper, Gustavo de Almeida Ribeiro, started in a duo with Speed 1993-2001. Nine cuts, 26:49. B+(*)

Zach Brock/Matt Ulery/Jon Deitemyer: Wonderment (2018 [2019], Woolgathering): Violin-bass-drums trio. B+(**)

Brockhampton: Ginger (2019, Question Everything/RCA): Hip-hop "boy band" collective, formed in Texas but moved to California, best-known member releases solo albums as Kevin Abstract. B+(**)

Apollo Brown: Sincerely, Detroit (2019, Mello Music Group): Erik Vincent Stephens, grew up in Grand Rapids, moved to Detroit in 2003, hip-hop producer, a dozen albums sharing credit with various rappers, six more under his own name. Here it feels like he's working with the whole city, at least what's left of it. Not optimism -- "we knew from the start that things fall apart" -- but hard-earned survival. A-

Charly Bliss: Supermoon (2019, Barsuk, EP): Listed by Napster as Charly Bliss 2019 EP, but this title appears on Bandcamp and elsewhere. Five songs, 15:52, smart pop. B+(**)

Gary Clark Jr.: This Land (2019, Warner Brothers): The most hyped bluesman of his generation, certainly at the moment he first arrived. Never impressed me, but maybe I was wrong to slot him in blues -- a music he can play credibly (cf. "Dirty Dish Blues" here) but is just one facet of his fairly eclectic rock repertoire. He's just as likely to signal Funkadelic or the Miracles, but never what you'd call inspired, even when he pumps up the volume. B

Luke Combs: What You See Is What You Get (2019, River House/Columbia Nashville): Country singer from North Carolina, second album, big voice, heavy guitar, likes beer and dogs, less sure about love, considers himself one of the "Blue Collar Boys." B+(**)

Jamael Dean: Black Space Tapes (2019, Stones Throw): Young pianist (20), born in Bakersfield, father a "soul jazz" drummer, grew up in Los Angeles, currently enrolled at New School in New York, first album. Six cuts, revolving cast, seems rather scattered, with bits of hip-hop fusion and acid jazz, but none quite predictable. B+(*)

Dreamville: Revenge of the Dreamers III (2019, Dreamville): Various artists, but sources credit this to the label, and I've seen it filed under star J. Cole. I initially guessed this had something to do with the so-called Dreamers, but I can't find any evidence of a political theme. Rather, this celebrates a found community, brought together by creativity and commerce. B+(*)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution: Won't Put No Flag Out (2019, Budapest Music Center): German tenor saxophonist, first album as leader 2007, second album with this trio -- Théo Ceccaldi (viola, violin) and Jim Hart (vibes, percussion). "Over the Rainbow" is an odd cover choice, marking a shift to chamber jazz. B+(**)

Dori Freeman: Every Single Star (2019, Blue Hens Music): Folksinger-songwriter from Virginia, fourth album, reminds me of Iris DeMent -- sure, a kinder, gentler version. B+(***)

Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Remember Me, My Dear (2014 [2019], ECM New Series): British male vocal quartet, named after an Elizabethan miniaturist painter, focused on medievel and renaissance music from 1980, later entering into several collaborations, notably with Swedish saxophonist Garbarek on 1994's Officium. Evidently disbanded in 2014 after this farewell concert in Bellinzona, Switzerland. I loved the sax so much on the debut that I wound up liking the voices, but the lower the ratio, the less patient I become. B+(*)

Halsey: Manic (2020, Capitol): Pop singer-songwriter Ashley Frangipane, third album. Two plays, has some edge, some hooks, not sure whether she's interesting or mostly a flake. B+(***)

Tim Heidecker: Another Year in Hell: Collected Songs From 2018 (2018 [2019], Jagjaguwar, EP): Comedian, writer, director, actor, musician -- I can't say as he was on my radar until he released a collection of songs about Donald Trump in 2017 (Too Dumb for Suicide). Sample lyric: "I'm down in the basement making signs out of love . . . and I hope I find a like minded girl tonight at the trump rally." Six cuts, 18:38. B

Hieroglyphic Being: Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism (2019, On the Corner): Jamal Moss, from Chicago but associated more with Detroit techno, has close to fifty albums since 2008, most on his own Mathematics label, but I only seem to notice him when some other label picks him up (e.g., Soul Jazz). Vinyl-sized at 5 songs, 34:25, opens with old-fashioned synths, adds a couple of saxophones to the 12:12 closer ("Timbuktu 2"), a very choice cut. A-

Jenny Hval: The Practice of God (2019, Sacred Bones): Norwegian singer-songwriter, studied in Australia before returning to Norway. Went all goth on her last album (Blood Bitch), but turns here to avant-electronics producer Lasse Marhaug, and the beats help a lot. B+(***)

Bobby J From Rockaway: Summer Classics (2019, Make Noise): White rapper from Queens, first record, old-style beats and boasts, even has a song called "Blue Eyed Soul," but gets production help from Kwamé, Statik Selektah, and others, and a guest shot from Kilah Priest, and has some fun. B+(**)

JackBoys and Travis Scott: JackBoys (2019, Cactus Jack/Epic, EP): Houston collective centered on Scott's Cactus Jack label, seven-cut "compilation" (21:23), with Scott featured on 3-4 tracks, Don Tolliver taking lead on one, Sheck Wes and Young Thug also appearing. Trap rap minus hard edges, as far as I can figure. B+(*)

Jealous of the Birds: Wisdom Teeth (2019, Atlantic, EP): Naomi Hamilton, Irish singer-songwriter, released an album in 2015, two EPs since, this the second, 5 substantial songs, 18:40. B+(**)

Cody Jinks: After the Fire (2019, Late August): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, self-released six albums before signing to Rounder for two that finally cracked the country charts. Classic sound, old-time virtues, an eye for detail, a bit of jazz at the end. B+(***)

Cody Jinks: The Wanting (2019, Late August): Released just a week after After the Fire, a gimmick that promised two consecutive number ones, but Wikipedia shows both albums topped at 2, as did his previous best, Lifers. Pretty much the same album, but a couple of songs strike me as a tad overweight -- maybe he's just leaning in too hard. B+(**)

Oumar Konaté: I Love You Inna (2018 [2019], Clermont Music): From Mali, fifth album, good-enough singer but really impressive on electric guitar, backed by electric bass and drums in a configuration that would have turned Jimi Hendrix's head. A-

Arto Lindsay/Joe McPhee/Ken Vandermark/Phil Sudderberg: Largest Afternoon (2019 [2020], Corbett vs. Dempsey): OK, some guys got together in Chicago, and rolled the tape. The saxophonists do this sort of thing all the time, so this is fairly typical for them. Lindsay sticks to guitar here, and everything seems to be improv, so don't expect his usual crypto-Brazilian no wave, but he turns in a respectable performance, cutting against the grain. B+(**) [bc]

Fred Lonberg-Holm/Joe McPhee: No Time Left for Sadness (2019 [2020], Corbett vs. Dempsey): Cello and tenor sax duets, the former also on electronics. Three pieces, increasing length, driven mostly by the cello although this winds up being a strong performance for McPhee. B+(**) [bc]

John McLaughlin/Shankar Mahadevan/Zakir Hussain: Is That So? (2020, Abstract Logix): The guitarist's love affair with Indian music dates back at least to his 1976 Shakti, which percussionist Hussain played on. Not sure when vocalist Mahadevan entered the picture, but he was touring with McLaughlin in 2013 when "the idea for this album appeared in my mind." He dominates this album: I'm duly impressed by his remarkable voice, but have limited use for his style of opera. B+(**)/p>

Microwave: Death Is a Warm Blanket (2019, Pure Noise): Post-hardcore band from Atlanta, third album. Reminds me a bit of Husker Du, not a band I've bothered playing in decades. Also liked them a bit more when they opened up, a reaction Husker Du fans may not share. B+(*)

Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Smells Funny (2019, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian jazz-rock trio, leader's full name Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen (guitar), with Ellen Brekken (bass) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad (drums). Raw power, impressive guitar chops. B+(**)

Allison Moorer: Blood (2019, Autotelic): Country singer-songwriter from Alabama, sister of Shelby Lynne, has had two famous songwriter-husbands. Tenth album, title tied to a memoir: the headline event in her life was in 1986 when her father shot and killed her mother, then killed himself. Not sure any songs can do full justice to the event, but these cut deep and move you. A-

Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock (2019, Merge): Main guy in Hüsker Dü, an important 1980s band I've lost my interest in, went solo in 1989 and has cranked out a dozen albums since, to no special distinction. Still, this attaches more hooks to his signature din, and occasionally takes a break to find his voice, maybe even a melody (e.g., title cut). B+(**)

The Murder Capital: When I Have Fears (2019, Human Season): Irish post-punk group, first album. Laura suggested "Pogues meet New Order," but doesn't really deliver either distinction. The double guitars sprawl where punk chops, and the vocals sound more like Nick Cave. B+(*)

Murs: The Iliad Is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over (2019, Jamla/Empire): Rapper Nick Carter, albums since 2003 and still underground, produced by 9th Wonder and the Soul Council. Barely noticed when it came out, this is one of his best. A-

Aaron Novik: The Fallow Curve of the Planospheres (2019, Avant LaGuardia): Clarinet player, bills himself as coposer first, and that's clearly the focus here. Album is conceived of as a compilation of five "suites of music," each an EP (although I've found no evidence of them having been previously released), each with a different band and locale. B+(*)

Otoboke Beaver: Itekoma Hits (2019, Damnably): Japanese punk rock group, four women, singer-songwriter Accorinrin, records since 2011, not sure how much of this 14-song, 26:26 LP is new -- 5 songs from a 2016 EP, one new recording of an older song. Ultimately too chaotic, harsh, noisy for my taste, but for a moment I was pretty impressed. B+(**)

Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown (2020, International Anthem): Chicago guitarist, has appeared in avant-jazz groups (Chicago Underground Trio), also in experimental post-rock outfits (Tortoise, Isotope 217), his own work widely scattered, as is this. Title cut is pretty seductive, with trumpet and alto sax over slinky rhythm. B+(**) [bc]

The Pernice Brothers: Spread the Feeling (2019, Ashmont): Alt/indie band, Joe Pernice is the singer-songwriter, brother Bob also plays guitar, eighth album since 1998. B+(*) [bc]

Post Malone: Hollywood's Bleeding (2019, Republic): Rapper-singer Austin Richard Post, from Syracuse, third album, seems to be quite popular. Aims for a big, arena sound. I find it a bit claustrophobic, even though the pummeling offers occasional pleasures. B

Emily Scott Robinson: Traveling Mercies (2019, Tone Tree Music): Folksinger-songwriter from North Carolina, lives in an RV she's put more than a quarter million miles on, took a short break from her touring to record this debut album. Character songs, probably fiction -- I doubt she's really a "white hot country mess," but that's her best shot for a hit. B+(***)

Kurt Rosenwinkel Bandit 65: Searching the Continuum (2019, Heartcore): Guitarist, from Philadelphia, based in Switzerland, debut 1996, bills his band -- a trio with Tim Motzer (guitar) and Gintas Janusonis (drums), both also electronics -- as a "post-jazz sonic trio." I omitted "mesmerizing," an intent they only occasionally achieve. B+(***)

Serengeti: Music From the Graphic Novel Kenny Vs the Dark Web (2019, Burnco, EP): Chicago rapper David Cohn, has a lot of mixtapes, many featuring a character named Kenny Dennis, who reappears here (more or less -- this feels more like scattered outtakes than anything thematic, even though the graphic novel supposedly is). 7 tracks, 18:17. B+(**)

Shed: Oderbruch (2019, Ostgut Ton): German DJ/producer, fifth album since 2008, really like his upbeat pieces, don't dislike the more atmospheric ones. B+(***)

Ed Sheeran: No. 6 Collaborations Project (2019, Atlantic): English singer-songwriter, fourth album, pretty big star over there, one I've generally found amiably listenable. Harder to judge this one given that each cut has one or more guests, most rappers and/or r&b singers. B+(**)

Skyzoo & Pete Rock: Retropolitan (2019, Mello Music Group): Rapper Gregory Skyler Taylor (8 albums and 14 mixtapes since 2004), first with producer Peter Phillips. B+(**)

Sly Horizon: The Anatomy of Light (2018 [2019], Iluso): Trio: Rick Parker (trombone), Alvaro Domene (guitar), and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums), everyone also credited with electronics, which generates most of the dark ambience. B+(*) [bc]

Son Volt: Union (2019, Transmit Sound): Alt-country band, Jay Farrar's second after Uncle Tupelo, ninth album since 1995. Has picked up some politics, even setting a Joe Hill speech to music. B+(*)

The Steel Woods: Old News (2019, Woods Music): Southern rock traditionalists, based in Nashville, Wes Bayliss and Jason "Rowdy" Cope the principals, second album, comes on strong, leaves me cold. Docked a notch for making Merle Haggard sound like a bitter old jerk. B-

Harry Styles: Fine Line (2019, Columbia): English, former boy group star from One Direction, second solo album. Seems pointless even when he comes up with something catchy -- actually, the catchier, the more annoying it gets. C+

Sunn O))): Life Metal (2019, Southern Lord): Drone metal band, eighth album since 2000. Emphasis on drone, with more fuzz than metal. I don't seriously dislike it, but seems slight, and I don't get the appeal. B-

Leo Svirsky: River Without Banks (2019, Unseen Worlds): American composer, based in the Netherlands, fifth album since 2011. Mostly piano, rolls on and on. B+(**)

Veronica Swift: Confessions (2019, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, started young with an album at age 9 (Veronica's House of Jazz) with Richie Cole, Hod O'Brien (her father), and Stephanie Nakasian (her mother) -- O'Brien, who died in 2016, played piano an all-time favorite album, Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer (with Sheila Jordan). Standards, backed by Benny Green Trio on three cuts, Emmet Cohen's on the rest. Dazzling vocal chops. B+(**)

Rebecca Trescher: Where We Go (2019, Enja/Yellowbird): German clarinet player, third album, leads a tentet, replete with harp, vibes, lots of flutes, and scat voice -- none of which manage to spoil the impressive arranging. B+(**)

Dwight Trible: Mothership (2019, Gearbox): Jazz singer, based in Los Angeles, half-dozen albums since 2001, starts with a piece by LA jazz legend Horace Tapscott, covers some more usual suspects, wrote three. B+(*)

Amber Weekes: Pure Imagination (2019 [2020], Amber Inn Productions): Standards singer, second album, very fond of Oscar Brown Jr., starts delightful (especially "It's All Right With Me"), less so on the ballads, least of all a duet with Mon David. B+(*) [cd]

Kanye West: Jesus Is King (2019, GOOD Music/Def Jam): Could be he was punking Trump, who clearly got off on proximity to such celebrity and feigned obeissance, but hard to see how he figured to pull off the same trick with G-d, unless his anarchism harbors a closeted atheist. Nothing here convinces me that he believes in G-d, much less that I should. He takes the hollow trimmings of Christianity and turns them into a chaotic mess, without even offering a wink that he might be aiming for satire, which leaves us with some form of mental illness. Still has production chops and can rap, and there's one bit of good news: it's only 27:04 long. B-

Wilco: Ode to Joy (2019, dBpm): Jeff Tweedy's band, in a particularly middling mood, doesn't seem like much, but can't complain about the comfort factor. B+(*)

Will of the People [Haftor Medbøe]: Will of the People (2019, Copperfly): Norwegian guitarist, based in Edinburgh, several albums since 2005, first for this trio with Pete Furniss (bass clarinet and electronics) and Tom Bancroft (drums). B+(**)

Wire: Mind Hive (2020, Pink Flag): Forty years after they raised the art-bar for punk, they've broadened their music without fundamentally changing it. This one almost seems like a return to basics. B+(***)

Brandee Younger: Soul Awakening (2019, self-released): Harp player, from Long Island, pulled this early tape off the shelf: producer Dezron Douglas (bass) and the drummer (usually EJ Strickland) craft a matrix that envelops the harp while letting it sparkle. Plus guests: Niia sings one track, the rest have horns, the standout among many fine performances Ravi Coltrane. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Julie Coker: A Life in the Limelight: Lagos Disco & Itsekiri Highlife 1976-1981 (1976-81 [2019], Kalita): Gained initial fame as Miss Western Nigeria 1957, moved into TV and radio, produced two albums fileted here (7 songs, 30:55). Nothing major here. B+(*)

Professor Longhair: Live on the Queen Mary (1975 [2019], Harvest): New Orleans piano legend Roy Byrd, started recording in 1949 but had few albums before his death in 1980, after which his reputation was secured in numerous live tapes and a stellar 2-CD Rhino retrospective. This one appeared early, in 1978, probably because it was "presented by Paul and Linda McCartney." Seems a bit redundant at this stage, but if I heard it first, I might well have been blown away. B+(***)

Jim Sullivan: U.F.O. (1969 [2019], Light in the Attic): Singer-songwriter, guitarist, recorded two albums before mysteriously disappearing in 1975. Not easily classifiable, but not interesting or weird enough to matter. B

Jim Sullivan: Jim Sullivan (1972 [2019], Light in the Attic): Second album, a second introduction, dropping the fake strings and letting the music flow, with a country accent and a few horns. B+(*)

This Is Toolroom 2019 (Edits) (2019, Toolroom): English electronica label, founded by Mark Knight in 2004, purveyors of something called tech house, which in my book could pass for techno or house. This was number two on the Ye Wei Blog EOY list: presumably the full-length (20 tracks, 129:10) version as opposed to the (Edits), which is the only version I could find online (same 20 reduced by half to 69:36). Various artists, Knight's the only name I recognize, with beats so similar they could come from the same shop. Still, grows on you. B+(***)

Grade (or other) changes:

75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real (2019, Thin Wrist): Guitar-drums duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, the former studied Mauritanian music with Jheich Ould Chighaly, perhaps why their most obvious connection seems to be with Saharan blues-rock, but they work with all sorts of guitar patterns. No vocals, none needed. [was B+(***)] A-

Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (2019, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter born in Wales, moved as a child to Perth, Australia, offers what Christgau calls "a catalogue of assholes" -- males, "boys will be boys," etc. -- although I'm also struck by the allergies and bearers of infectious diseases. [was B+(***)] A-

Craig Finn: I Need a New War (2019, Partisan): Fourth solo album, after fronting groups Lifter-Puller and the Hold Steady (a continuing venture with its own album this year). Has a distinctive voice, writes serious songs about interesting people. Initially taken aback by the title here refers to U.S. Grant, who would think such a thing, and still prefer the band effort, but this one is growing on me. [was: B+(***)] A-

Kalie Shorr: Open Book (2019, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Maine, based in Nashville. Songs have some country in them and are often brash and pointed. Production bigger than she needs, but she rocks harder than any Nashville ingenue since Miranda Lambert. [was: B+(*)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mark Segger Sextet: Lift Off (18th Note) [02-07]

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