Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…: If I start talking about this Highly Recommended, Best of 2012 So Far album, I will never shut up. So I’m going to leave it to Barry Walters, who says:
There’s a lot of Apple here. Throughout The Idler Wheel, she’s front and center so simply that the starkness feels almost avant-garde. As she admits on that first cut, she’s fighting with her brain and there is no referee — just Apple, her drummer/co-producer Charley Drayton, and generous doses of silence between notes. Nothing comes between her and us. The extra space gives the 34-year-old songwriter the room to be baldly ferocious, particularly when she’s vulnerable. “Gimme, gimme, gimme what you got in your mind in the middle of the night,” she implores in “Daredevil” with a lust so unguarded it borders on wacky. But it’s nevertheless inviting, because she’s musically, as well as emotionally, naked.
Neneh Cherry & the Thing, The Cherry Thing: Pop trainspotters known Neneh Cherry from her mid ’80s hit “Buffalo Stance,” but record nerds like yours truly know she’s got a rich post-punk backstory. This collaboration with jazz group The Thing finds her indulging her avant-garde side. It’s Recommended. Michaelangelo Matos says:
The selection is appropriately wide-ranging. Cherry’s own “Cashback” kicks things off hesitantly at first, but soon the Thing leans hard into the groove and it lifts off; similarly, the Gustaffson-penned “Sudden Moment” begins softly, then speeds up to a skid. The cover versions are great press-bait, appropriate for the players involved, and genuinely intriguing. “Accordion,” from 2004â€²s Madvillain, is blown up from Madlib and MF Doom’s original two minutes to a full six, with Cherry scatting the lyrics more than rapping or singing them; she gives the line “got more rhymes than a church got ‘ooh lords’” a delicious, appropriate growl.
Peaking Lights, Lucifer: Another Highly Recommended album, this one from synthy husband-and-wife duo Peaking Lights. This one is a little lighter and brighter. It’s also Highly Recommended. Alex Naidus says:
The duo have said Lucifer is largely about “play and playfulness” and it’s hard to disagree. “Beautiful Son,” a lilting ballad about, you guessed it, the couple’s new son, is a gently warped groove of electronic pulses buoyed by a spare piano melody and Dunis’s simple and tender vocal. On “LO HI,” baby Mikko can be heard cooing over a shuffling reggae interlude. Talk about playful. Elsewhere, Lucifer teems with sportive sounds — the bubbly romp of a bass line on the frolicking “Live Love” and the addictive, gurgling groove of “Dream Beat” stretch out nearly seven minutes each and set the rollicking tone.
Smashing Pumpkins, Oceania: It’s another deep dive with Billy Corgan. Bill Murphy says:
While purists love to clamor for the band’s original lineup, the truth is the Pumpkins have always been Corgan’s baby to coddle or toss out with the bathwater as he pleases. That said, the current unit (guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne) is tightly synced, bringing a vintage hard-rock swagger to the lysergic scope of “Panopticon” and the thick, overdriven groove of “The Chimera,” which itself recalls the dense guitar infinity of songs like “Cherub Rock” from 1993â€²s Siamese Dream.
Glenn Hansard, Rhythm & Repose: Former Frames frontman and newly-appointed Tony Winner delivers a set of delicate breakup songs. Sam Adams says:
R&R is a heartbreak album through and through, but it leans more towards self-reflection than self-laceration, like a more melancholy, less pissed-off Blood on the Tracks. (It’s not surprising that the late Levon Helm was asked to guest on a track.) Those sifting for shards of autobiography will seize on lines like “We talked about talk of a gold ring/ You brought me one step closer to the heart of things” and “We married on an August night/ No priest, no church, just the big moon shining bright,” from “You Will Become” and “Maybe Not Tonight.”
Chantal Claret, The One, The Only: Solo album from onetime lead singer of Morningwood trades that bands overdriven rock & roll for some glittery electropop.
No Joy, Negaverse: I feel like this band’s swirly, shoegazey full-length got lost in the shuffle. Here’s a reminder of why they’re great — enormous guitars and rich, creamy layers of vocals.
DJ Bazooka Joe, The Slang Parade: Super strong new album from Bazooka Joe with tons of guest spots. This is towering, orchestral hip-hop with doomy production and take-no-prisoners verses. Recommended
Zulu Winter, Language: Lovely, gauzey new indie rock record on Arts & Crafts. Ryan Reed says:
On their debut album Language, British quintet Zulu Winter kick up an artful ruckus worth getting lost in. Their best, most original tracks pair razor-sharp grooves with soulful melodies and climax in ecstatic layers of rhythm. “Silver Tongue” is a towering synth-sparkle anthem built on giddy, pseudo-disco beats and vocalist Will Daunt’s hair-raising croon, which moves gracefully from his lower register to an atmospheric falsetto that could make Chris Martin weep. The dark, bewitching “You Deserve Better” pushes the rhythms even further, with an icy bass-synth groove and a push-pull chorus of overlapping vocal harmonies.
Lorn, Ask the Dust: I ended up getting pretty into the last Lorn record. This one sounds just as promising — spooky, minimal electronic music with grinding percussion and eerie, blinking synthesizers.
Isahn, Eremita: New solo record from Emperor vocalist tends toward the symphonic, with sweeping guitars, twinkling synths and low, growling vocals.
Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner
Well, not a huge drop this week, but some very strong recordings to keep your ears busy. Two general groups this week: modern jazz albums that channel jazz from the sixties and music that is barely classifiable, jazz or otherwise. Let’s begin…
Matt Ulery, By A Little Light: Chicago bassist & composer Ulery has put out a series of albums that defy classification. Beyond jazz, they are just as likely to have a foundation in various classical periods, folk musics, and even rock idioms. On this double disc, it’s a masterpiece of grand vision and soaring compositions. Built around two separate piano trios, Ulery adds violinist Zach Brock, vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, and members of the Eighth Blackbird ensemble for a spectacular set of music. Pick of the Week.
JD Allen, The Matador and the Bull: Excellent trio date for saxophonist Allen. Even in quieter moments, Allen’s sound emits plenty of heat. Joined by drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Gregg August, Allen provides for some exciting modern jazz moments that also will make Coltrane fans happy to pick this album up. Highly Recommended.
Ravi Coltrane, Spirit Fiction: Saxophonist Coltrane returns with a fascinating album, leading his quartet of Luis Perdomo (piano), EJ Strickland (drums), and Drew Gress (bass), including some guest appearances by luminaries such as Joe Lovano and Ralph Alessi. There’s a restlessness to the music, as if Coltrane knows his music should be in a particular spot and now he’s gonna go out looking for it. It leads to some incongruities between tunes, but there’s nothing wrong with sacrificing album cohesion in the name of sonic exploration. Plenty of strong moments; the simple yet sublime “Change, My Girl” a great example. Recommended.
Neneh Cherry & The Thing, The Cherry Thing: It’s not worth getting into the debate over whether this is jazz or not, because, ultimately, this is just wonderful music. Melodic, ferocious, alluring, and so sweet to listen to. This is what it would’ve sounded like had Mark Sandman lived to collaborate with Colin Stetson. Grooves as often as it growls. Cherry’s voice is a live wire of electricity. Mats Gustafsson on saxophones, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, and they can do no wrong here. Highly Recommended.
Jerry Johansson, House of Hope: Simple, yet pretty quartet session of guitar, vibes, bass, and drums. From Sweden, and their style of jazz sounds like it: some serenity, some folk, modern jazz stanzas are free to float off if it suits the musicians. Surprised music like this doesn’t have more cross-over appeal to non-jazz fans. I’ve always been a huge fan of guitar-vibes pairings, and this album does nothing to change my opinion. Nice stuff. Find of the Week.
Florian Pellissier Quintet, Le Diable et Son: Easy-going quintet date. Modern jazz sensibilities, but obvious that they’re enamored with the jazz of the sixties, especially the Herbie Hancock Blue Notes. Should appeal to new and old schoolers alike. Recommended.
Antonangelo Giudice – Stefano Coppari Quartet, Escape: Nice straight-ahead jazz session of modern Euro-jazz. Guitar, sax, drums, bass, with some guests on trombone and piano. Nothing groundbreaking, but worth mentioning. They get a nice tone on the ballads, a nice tempo for the up pieces.
Joelle Leandre & Serge Teyssot-Gay, Trans: This is the kind of album that further illustrates why avant-garde should sit as its own genre. Filed under jazz, which I don’t agree with, but I have no better ideas where to stick it. Well, organization issue aside, I’m definitely rec’ing it. A duo of bassist and guitarist. Plenty of serenity, even when the notes begin careening all over the place. Focus on improvisation, which meets with success. An enjoyable listen.
Ur Knall, Quasimodo das Barchen Holt Papa aus der Kneipe Ab: Recorded live, this… this… well, not really sure what to make of this, actually. Quintet that includes guitar, sax, keyboards & effects, drums & bass, didgeridoo, Jew’s harp, harp, and random vocals. Experimental to be sure; sounds like they throw all their ingredients on the table, see what they’ve got, then start cooking. Not a moment on this album that I couldn’t describe as “really odd,” but I guess that’s one of its strengths and the reason I’m rec’ing it here. The kind of album that leaves me shaking my head in disbelief, even as I begin playing it over from the beginning.