As we edge our way toward the summer, the new releases keep coming. This week has something for nearly every taste. If you’re a jazz lover, you probably already know and love Dave Sumner’s Jazz Picks as much as we do. If you’re looking for indie or rock or hip-hop or metal or etc etc etc, you’ll find that here, too. Enough of the preamble. Let’s get to it.
Allo Darlin’, Europe: Our Pick of the Week — maybe even of the year. London indie poppers grow up in a flash and turn out a record about growing up and grappling with what all of that entails. I have a pet theory about this record: that all of its songs are about the dissolution of frontwoman Elizabeth Morris’s relationship with a boy who’s in love with his own sadness, which happens at exactly the same time she realized that her relationship to music was changing, too, and that the space it would occupy in her life would have to be different if she was going to move forward. Or something like that. See, this is why I leave assessments of records like this to the professionals. Speaking of which, our own Laura Leebove said this about the record in her outstanding review, which you should do yourself a favor and read in full:
The record also tells the story of music’s power in a relationship — how certain songs suddenly Mean Something when you think you might be in love. In “Some People Say,” a slow number with strings and bending lap steel guitar, Morris references “a song that to me has a hidden meaning,” and in “The Letter,” she looks back on a failed relationship, singing, “But we can’t help the things we choose/ And I pictured you singing the Silver Jews.” This arc shows how much the band has matured in the last couple years, and you can hear it in their sound as well. There’s still a sunny surf-pop vibe in tracks like “Northern Lights,” “The Letter” and “Still Young,” and playful, triumphant guitars in “Capricornia” and “Wonderland.” But on Europe, Allo Darlin’ sound bigger and fuller, and they’ve found a perfect balance where everyone’s heard but no one overpowers. Morris’s voice also has more muscle, and they’ve left a tiny bit of the twee-ness behind without losing an ounce of charm.
Spiritualized, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light: By now, you certainly know the backstory to this Highly Recommended record: Jason Pierce was hospitalized and near-death after a frighteningly severe case of pneumonia. This Highly Recommended record marks his welcome return. Ian Cohen says:
Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a record that feels like a sigh of relief, his least labored since Ladies and also the best since then. As you might be able to tell from the fact that two of its fantastic songs are titled “Hey Jane” and “Mary,” and a song that begins “My mother said/ When she was so concerned/ Don’t play with fire and you’ll never get burned,” this is quintessential Pierce, redemption rendered in seven-minute epics with bombastic string arrangements, gospel choirs, and the most transparent Velvet Underground references possible right alongside instantly memorable melodies.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Lookout Mama: eMusic Selects alums return! Each new album is a confident step forward for Alynda & company, and this one is no different. A record largely about homecomings, Lookout nudges the group into heretofore unexplored territory, like bluegrass and even a little rockabilly. Their version of the traditional “Little Black Star” is a must-hear. Recommended
Doug Paisley, Golden Embers: Another batch of lovely spare folk songs, Paisley’s rich, oaky voice contrasting nicely with the gentle acoustics. Feist shows up for a few songs, too. This one is Recommended. Here’s what Mike Wolf has to say about it:
“Two Like Us,” one of three tunes Feist sings on, features a spare backing of fiddle, mandolin and electric piano, sounding as natural as weather, while Paisley paints a portrait of love in economical strokes: “Take two like us/ Left out to rust/ Your skirt is torn/ My heel’s well-worn.” On the sumptuous closer “Learn to Lose,” Paisley and Feist harmonize bittersweetly, “Longing’s a vice that you can use/ Take my advice and study the blues/ Don’t wait too long/ To learn to lose,” and your heart may well ask how you can live without Doug Paisley’s wise songs.
Ebo Taylor, Appia Kwa Bridge: Ghanian music legend returns with a record that is astonishingly great. Full of joy and life and vibrancy — steadily percolating tempos, bright bursts of brass and Taylor’s irresistible, soulful voice. This one is Highly Recommended. eMusic’s Chris Nickson has more:
The whole album’s a highlife celebration, the grooves always elastic enough to encourage plenty of blowing from Taylor’s excellent German band, but still tight enough to keep the feet moving and the sweat flowing. Taylor revisits his past on “Kruman Dey,” a reworked cut from his ’70s heyday that explodes from the speakers like one of the glories of Stax. But his trawl of the roots goes even deeper with “Yaa Amponsah,” one of highlife’s foundation stones, first recorded almost 90 years ago. With just Taylor’s voice and softly picked electric guitar, it’s a stark, spare contrast to most of the disc, melodic and sweet, the rhythm lulling and swaying, a reminder of the music’s history.
Maps & Atlases, Beware & Be Grateful: Inventive production sets this indie rock outing apart from its peers — lots of spiraling, out-of-nowhere guitars, some lockstep krautrock rhythms and some strange flourishes that enliven otherwise straightforward songwriting.
Dry the River, Shallow Bed: The buzz on this band has been building slowly over the last year or so — we’ll have a Who Are… feature on them going up within the next few weeks — so those who like to be ahead of the curve would do well to dive in now. Dry the River get lumped in with the indie folk scene a lot, but this isn’t really that — it’s bigger and grander, more puffed-chest and arena-beating, with huge, emotional choruses.
Sidi Toure, Koima: Pretty excellent desert-bluesy style stuff from this Malian songwriter. Guitars are knit together like cat’s cradles, and Toure’s rich, warm voice brings his songs crackling to life. Recommended
Future, Pluto: Future is another come-out-of-seemingly-nowhere rapper in a year that has actually been incredibly strong for hip-hop. Which means he has to do more to set himself apart (to say nothing of the fact that he’s chosen a name alarmingly close to the biggest breakout rap group in quite some time). So what do we have here? Slick, commercial-sounding hip-hop drenched in auto-tune. I need to spend more time with this before I can really judge, but what I’m hearing right now isn’t doing much for me.
New Build, Yesterday Was Lived and Lost: Hot Chip side project is funky and elastic — soulful vocals and music designed to fill a nightclub in 1987. In a good way.
Loudon Wainwright, Older Than My Old Man Now: The Royal Tenenbaum of the Wainwright clan is back with a new record full of his typical deft, wry lyricism but also a fair measure of heart. Sam Adams breaks it down:
Given that Wainwright’s on his third marriage and he’s publicly, and musically, feuded with his singing offspring Rufus and Martha, the album is suffused with melancholy and regret, but it’s also tinged with hope, and the morbid assurance that, no matter how bad things get, they’ll all be over soon. Even Wainwright’s late first wife, Kate McGarrigle, turns up in spirit, via a version of “Over the Hill,” the only song the two wrote together. Wainwright invites a slew of friends and family to his premature wake, including “musical father figure” Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who shares lead vocals on “Double Lifetime,” and his onetime Ally McBeal love interest Dame Edna Everage (nÃ©e Barry Humphries), who adds a burlesque touch to the post-Cialis reminiscence “I Remember Sex.”
Moonface, Heartbreaking Bravery: The man of a gazillion bands Spencer Krug returns as Moonface, on an album that seems to indulge some of his darker, gothier impulses. He’s teamed with the Helsinki band Sinaii, which gives this a little more oomph. Jillian Mapes has more:
As in the past, Krug delivers exactly what he promises with the album’s breakup-inspired title: Blood, fire and violence are recurring lyrical themes and keywords, yet in the same songs, Krug also presents pithy anecdotes about ex-girlfriends who turned goth and ladies who channel Stevie Nicks. Yet balancing Krug’s longtime experimental whims is Siinai, whose prog-leaning song structures provide both comforting crescendos (“Quickfire, I Tried”) and nervous, dancey ticks (“I’m Not The Phoenix Yet”) on one of the stranger breakup albums in recent years.
Various Artists, The Complete Ric & Ron Recordings: I’m only posting the link to the first volume of these but, jumpin’ jehosaphat, you need to do yourself a favor and download all of these. Foundational New Orleans R&B from two of the genre’s leading labels. Guess what? Highly Recommended
Pete Seeger, The Complete Bowdoin College Concert, 1960: Pete Seeger never quite managed to attain the same aura of cool as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, which is absolutely insane. His songs are just as key to the development of American music — songs of power and protest and, yes, patriotism, all of them infused with Seeger’s clear-eyed take on current events. Seeger showed up a few months back marching in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and it’s no surprise why. The seeds for that movement were planted right here, 50 years ago. This one, a recently unearthed college performance by Seeger in his prime, is Highly Recommended
Bob Marley, Marley: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Word on the street is that the documentary Marley, heading our way April 20 and not to be confused with Marley & Me is excellent and I, for one, am glad. For too long, Marley has been the inexplicable mascot for frathouse stoners, which has obscured his incredible contribution to popular music as a gifted songwriter and stronger singer. This is a two-disc collection of his best that is a must-have for anyone who never gave Marley a chance before, or who got completely fucking sick of hearing Legend blasting out of nine million dorm rooms. The early version of “Stir It Up” is alone enough to earn this a Recommended.
George Sarah, Sleep the Sleep of Peace: This one is tough to pin down. Noted electronic composer Sarah runs the spectrum, from moody orch-folk numbers to sonatas flecked with electronic blips and rhythms. It doesn’t all work, but there’s plenty here worth at least a listen.
Dave Alvin, Eleven Eleven: Expanded edition of the album Alvin released last year. This is the kind of gritty, country-inspired rock & roll you’ve come to expect from Alvin. No frills, no flash, just grit, swagger and the unmistakable scent of whiskey.
Dar Williams, In the Time of the Gods: Enduring singer/songwriter returns with another batch of warm, rich songs. Mikael Wood says:
Count on Dar Williams to work the word “estuary” into a song. The veteran folkie does it in “Crystal Creek,” a typically handsome acoustic ditty that also addresses “my noble animals” and compares a tree to “a home of memories.” Williams’s first studio album since a slate-cleaning 2010 retrospective, In the Time of Gods pairs thoughtful ecological meditations like “Crystal Creek” and “Summer Child” with tunes inspired by Greek mythology (“Storm King”) and man’s age-old tendency toward conflict (“I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything”).
Occultation, Three and Seven: Carefully-crafted goth metal — lots of reverb on this! The tempos are slow and the vocals are doomy and sung — it’s the kind of thing you might imagine playing in the basement of some strange castle in some forgotten corner of the Transylvanian woods.
Hiss Golden Messenger, Poor Moon: Gently-rocking Americana-inspired songs from MC Taylor who moonlights (or maybe daylights?) as a college lecturer on folklore. That should give you a good idea of what to expect here. Reminds me of the softer moments of Bruce Cockburn or Graham Parker, so if that’s your thing, this will be, too.
Little Richard, Here’s Little Richard: Absolutely essential. These songs are the cornerstones of rock and roll, and they’ve been cleaned up and remastered for this new package. You know most of these, but you probably don’t own them. And that’s a travesty. Correct it today. Highly Recommended
Bee Gees, 1st: The first few Bee Gees albums show up today, and the time for rediscovery is night. This band got an inexplicable bad rap from rock fans because of their string of disco records — which I think history has proven are actually fantastic — but those still clinging to antiquated notions of authenticity will probably be more inclined to like these also-great, Brit-Invasion-Style pop masterpieces, loaded with harmonies and elaborate orchestration. Kind of like if the Left Banke had a few more ideas in them. Recommended.
Horse Feathers, Cynic’s New Year: This band writes some beautiful songs. Soft vocals wander through lush, pastoral music — some strings, some piano, gentle as a leaf blowing in the fall breeze. David Greenwald says:
Had Iron & Wine taken the fork in the road toward violins and cellos rather than steer left into percussion and psychedelia, Sam Beam’s band might’ve made an album like Cynic’s New Year. Like Beam, Horse Feathers singer Justin Ringle has an iceberg of a voice, all breathy richness flowing above hidden power. The Portland quintet’s latest picks up where 2010â€²s Thistled Spring left off, finding Ringle singing and strumming among string arrangements that touch on Appalachian energy and concert hall elegance.
Grinderman, Grinderman 2 RMX: Grinderman, sadly, is no more, but this seems like a fine way to console yourself. Jason Diamond posted a link to listen to this last week; the remixes seem to ramp up the aggression in what are already pretty damned aggressive songs.
Amps for Christ & Woods, Split LP: This is certainly a strange thing to have happened, but I’m not complaining. Semi-legendary experimentalists Amps for Christ return after a five-year absence and team with weed-folkers Woods for a Split LP that combines the best of both of their impulses — plenty of strange drones offset with pretty melodies. There’s even a sitar track.
Coke Weed, Nice Dreams: And, hey, while we’re in an experimental mood — this is some terrific VU-inspired stuff, with the occasional nod toward drug-country. I wanna say this is like if Royal Trux tried to make a Lee Hazelwood record, but that just sounds crazy. Whatever the case, this one is Recommended
The High Strung, Posible O Imposible?: Mostly bright power-pop just in time for spring, with cockeyed surrealist lyrics (“There’s a job opening for a clerk at the church of Satan”).
Aeges, The Bridge: New one from our good friends at the Mylene Sheath label is fine, furious art metal — think a less-technical Tool and you’re on the right track. Lots of grinding riffs and anguished vocals that go from a whisper to a scream, and usually resolve into high-gliding melodies on the choruses.
New Jazz This Week, by Dave Sumner
An interesting mix this week. Several albums that have a specific view or concept, others that stray to the fringes of jazz, one album that’s a welcome return of a long-respected musician, and one album that may be the best thing I’ve heard all year. Let’s begin…
Mike Nock, Hear and Know: Pleased to start off the Picks with the new release of seriously talented pianist Mike Nock. For this session, he brings in a quartet that includes drums & bass, and trumpet and tenor sax for a set of modern jazz full of emotion and drama, yet also a light-hearted joy that keeps things from getting too heavy. This is the kind of album that’s gonna appeal to old and new school jazz fans alike. Nock often takes an unconventional approach to song structure, and always to the benefit of melodic expression. Worth exploring other Nock albums. His piano trio album (w/ Eddie Gomez and Jon Christensen) on the ECM label Ondas is sublime. Nock has been on the scene for a long time and has been a part of some wonderful albums; do yourself a favor and explore explore explore anything with his name in the credits. Highly Recommended.
Amit Friedman Sextet, Sunrise: Debut album for tenor/soprano saxophonist Friedman. Jazz with a Middle Eastern emphasis. Seriously uplifting music. Guitarist Amos Hoffman doubles on oud, and Friedman includes a string quartet to back his sextet. Most of the tracks soar like crazy, but there’s some swing going on here, too. Fans of Omer Avital and Abdullah Ibrahim should definitely be paying attention to this. Sunrise may be the strongest album I’ve heard this year. A majestic album, and my Pick of the Week.
Todd Bishop Group, Little Played Little Bird: The Music of Ornette Coleman: Concept album that performs renditions of lesser-known Ornette Coleman tunes (except “Lonely Woman,” which Bishop admits to including because he loves playing it, “concept be damned.”). Bishop on drums and leading a quintet that includes a family of saxes, bass clarinet, piano & Wurlitzer, and bass. A strong recording that brings plenty of swing, fire, and blues to the Coleman compositions. Not a requirement to actually enjoy Ornette Coleman’s music to like this album; Bishop brings his own voice and vision to this excellent album. Highly Recommended.
Airkraft, Pyongyang Express: A saxophone trio’s musical reminiscence of a tour, by train, that took them across Europe and ended in North Korea. Strong on the harmonies, true to the melody, more pretty than dissonant, more straight-forward than free. Very accessible, quite alluring, and bonus points for field recordings of trains during an interlude. Find of the Week.
Alessandro Stellano, At Home: Lively quartet date. Led by bass (mostly electric), with piano, drums, and guitar. Seems to be going for the world jazz sound, but pretty much stays in straight-ahead territory. Nothing earth-shattering here, but some casual listens have provided me with plenty of enjoyment. Worth looking into.
Szilard Mezei Vocal Ensemble, Fujj Szel, Zenta, Visshangozz Szel: Live performance of violinist Mezei’s ten piece ensemble with the addition of two vocalists. Nice avant-garde mix of jazz, classical, and folk. Strong doses of free jazz, heavy improvisation. Not your everyday orchestration. Warm, yet skewed. Fans of Sun Ra should probably linger here.
Dan Cavanagh Trio, The Heart of the Geyser: Nice piano trio date. Cavanagh normally does the big band thing, so it’s nice to hear him express his sound in a smaller unit. Joe McCarthy on drums and Linda Oh on bass. All three make some powerful statements on their respective instruments without sacrificing anything in the teamwork department. Very pretty music with some dynamic rhythm action to keep things alive and kicking. Linda Oh, who has an excellent album of her own coming out in May, really shines here, so if you’re one who isn’t typically inspired by the bass spot in the line-up, it’d be a good idea to hit the download button on this one. Recommended.
County Road X, County Road X: This is an older album that, I’m pretty sure, is available for the first time on eMusic. An ensemble led by pianist/keyboardist Erik Deutsch while he was out in Boulder, Colorado, it had a sound that adopted a jazz-Americana approach to composition and melody that Bill Frisell has pretty much made his own (Frisell, also, was from Colorado). Serene drifting melodies, lots of pretty harmonies, and enough complexities to keep the brain active while listening. Along with Deutch’s piano, there’s lap steel, drums/percussion, glockenspiel, crotales, accordion, cello, and bass. Beautiful stuff. Recommended.
In the Reissue Department, a bunch of Columbia/Legacy titles dropped, mostly by Wayne Shorter,Woody Shaw, and Weather Report. Personally, if I had to choose between the three, I’d go with the Shaw recordings. He has such a warm sound on trumpet that fits any time of day, any type of mood.
And in Archival News, the 1201 Label has dug out another gem from the Black Lion vaults… Dudu Pukwana, Black Horse: Saxophonist Pukwana collaborated with Chris McGregor and Johnny Dyani in seminal groups The Blue Notes and Brotherhood of Breath, later striking out on his own. 1201 isn’t able to attribute personnel to this collection of songs they’ve compiled on this album, and are only able to give an approximation of early-1970s as a date, but it’s a wonderful bit of South African jazz, with moments of joyful swing interspersed with fiery solos.
And let’s wrap up with the weekly Not Really Jazz album…
Joel Guelzo, The Little Red Boat: Soundtrack music. Ambient instrumentals w/field recordings that will appeal to fans of Library Tapes, Chris Schlarb, Message To Bears, and much of the Kranky label catalog. Instruments include piano, acoustic guitar, violin, glockenspiel, and drums.