A whole ton of new releases this week, so let’s not waste time with preambles. Let’s get right to it:
Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE: Arguably the week’s most anticipated new release. Frank Ocean caused a huge stir by confessing that his first true romance was with a man, but as brave and moving a confession as that was for someone affiliated with the Odd Future crew, don’t let it be the only thing you know about Frank Ocean. His music is just as warm and rich and deeply felt, and this album is Highly Recommended. Barry Walters says:
R&B auteur Frank Ocean’s masterful and disarming major-label debut channel ORANGE is meticulously structured like a long-planned confession, and as Ocean announced shortly before its release, it presents a major one: The first love Ocean alludes to in lead track “Thinkin Bout You”; the unreciprocated love that haunts him in “Bad Religion” and who ultimately runs away in “Forrest Gump” at the end, is a man. Celebrating an autobiographical same-sex attraction, however anguished, and pinpointing its subject with masculine nouns, is nothing less than revolutionary for a mainstream African-American male performer. It would overshadow a lesser work, but it is but one revelation among many here. Ocean presides over his album like a visionary filmmaker, one who favors bright colors and stylized mise-en-scÃ¨ne to offset dark and raw emotional states.
Baroness, Yellow & Green : YES. Genius art-metallers unveil a brain-spinning double-album full of the same kinds of braided guitars, tricky time signatures and iconoclastic approach to hard rock for which they’ve become known. This is Highly Recommended. Annie Zaleski says:
As it turns out, the double album Yellow & Green is pretty much just how frontman John Baizley described it: The burly metal fury of previous Baroness efforts has settled into something far more daring and diverse. Look no further than Yellow‘s “Twinkler” and “Cocainium.” The former’s primary sounds are throaty flute, stately acoustic guitar and stacked vocals — think Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” at a Renaissance Faire, or a lusher version of Blue Record‘s “Steel That Sleeps The Eye.” In contrast, the latter’s tar-bubble riffs and oil-slick keyboards rumble like Iron Butterfly, before the song explodes into a fuzzed-out The Sword/Metallica hybrid.
JEFF the Brotherhood, Hypnotic Nights: Longtime eMusic faves JEFF the Brotherhood unveil their major label debut — which turns out to be just as loose and scrappy as their previous work. This one is Recommended. Bill Murphy says:
Hypnotic Nights is clearly a road-trip-with-the-top-down kind of album, kicking off with the guitar-crushing “Country Life” and leading into the head-nodding punk groove of “Sixpack.” Influences run the gamut from the Ramones (“Hypnotic Winter”) to the Stooges (“Staring at the Wall”) to Nirvana (“Leave Me Out,” which broods with Cobain-like lethargy), but brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall are more than mere punk-rock chameleons. Somehow, after seven albums and more than 10 years of making music (they started in high school), they’ve held onto their fumbling innocence, and that makes for some seemingly accidental songcraft that borders on inspired genius.
Jimmy Cliff, Rebirth: THIS ALBUM! Whoah! Jimmy Cliff teams with Tim Armstrong from Rancid and produces an album full of songs that rival his Harder They Come highs. Never in a million years would I have expected this album would be this good. Highly Recommended. Says Keith Harris:
On Rebirth, Cliff now eyes a more judicious audience: middle-aged rockers weaned on punk and alternative. Shepherded by his producer, Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, the 64-year-old rides the lithe throwback grooves of reggae revivalists the Aggrolites and Hepcat with a young man’s grace, particularly on two smartly chosen covers — the Clash’s “The Guns of Brixton,” which transplanted Cliff’s character from The Harder They Come into a London slum, and Rancid’s “Ruby Soho.” (“Rebel, Rebel” is good too, but it’s not the Bowie tune.)
Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped and more: Straight-up CLASSIC punk rock records are back in circulation after a moment in obscurity, and are just as vital as ever. The Bikni Kill discography sounds like it could have come out last week — or, more accurately, next week, as there still isn’t any band that sounds like them. These are Highly Recommended.
Old Crow Medicine Show, Carry Me Back: New one from old-timey crew. Amanda Petrusich says:
Carry Me Back, the band’s latest LP, follows a substantial personnel change (Willie Watson, once a lead vocalist and guitar player, was officially replaced by founding member Critter Fuqua, who’d been notably M.I.A. for the last several years), but the band’s heart is still intact: Carry Me Back is full of hometown longing (the album’s title track), harmonica-honking odes to once-in-a-lifetime love (“Ain’t It Enough”), and hard-time, pass-the-jug stompers (“Mississippi Saturday Night”). It confirms somewhat definitively that Americana is, in fact, more a feeling than a sound — and that feeling is something like joy.
Dennis Bovell, Mek It Run: If you know anything about Pressure Sounds, you know that this is going to be great. And — surprise! — it is. Terrific, deep-dubby stuff from the star reggae producer is bass-heavy and takes its sweet time getting from one end of a song to the next — as all good dub should.
Com Truise, In Decay: I loved Com Truise’s last album, the relentlessly flatwave Galactic Melt. This one sounds just as promising. Says Annie Zaleski:
In Decay isn’t quite as dynamic as Com Truise’s other releases. Both “Stop” and “Video Arkade” meander for about a minute too long, and the lack of variation in pacing is detrimental to the album. Still, In Decay has some outstanding moments. The proto-industrial fluttering keyboards and electronic drums of “Open” give way to tranquil ambient electro, while “84 Dreamin” buries the sound of chirping birds under diffracted oscillations and Miami Vice-style synth bravado.
The Alchemist, Russian Roulette: I am kind of excited to listen to this! The Alchemist makes an Oh No style record using samples from old Russian funk albums. Nate Patrin says:
In the case of Russian Roulette, The Alchemist spins some inspired psychedelic headknock out of Soviet-era Russian jazz and fusion, all tied together in a fast-paced continuous mix where cinematic dialogue clips mesh with 16-bar hit-and-run verses and no tracks even approach the three-minute mark. Everyone involved makes a quick and memorable impact under those constraints: The beats hit that sweet spot between proggy, fuzzed-out obscurantism and nod-your-head immediacy, while highlight-reel appearances from mainstays Action Bronson, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Danny Brown and ScHoolboy Q make it a must-have Rappers Killing It In 2012 showcase.
Lost Sounds, Lost Lost Demos, Sounds, Alternate Takes & Unused Songs: Rough and tumble rarities from Jay Reatard’s first band. As the title implies, these are pretty scrappy and unpolished, so know that going in. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply satisfying, in Jay’s skewered-pop way.
Martin Creed, Love to You: One for the experimentalists in the house! Martin Creed’s music is cockeyed and one-of-a-kind, but that’s one of the things that makes it so great.
Blu & Exile, Maybe One Day: I’m wondering if the title here is an in-joke. Promising LA rapper Blu signed with a major label a few years ago and, like literally every other promising young rapper who signs with a major, hasn’t been heard from since. I don’t know, you guys. Maybe just keep releasing your own stuff? Here’s an EP to tide us all over until the next proper Blu full-length is finally released.
John Maus, A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material: John Maus is one of the most singular and idiosyncratic songwriters of our day. This collects some of his rarer material and is Recommended. eMusic’s Marc Hogan says:
Although the material unearthed here spans from 1999-2010, the remixed and remastered results are remarkable in part for their cohesiveness. Whether Maus is booming that he loves “those fucking eyes” on 2007′s stalker-ish “Bennington” or Jan Hammer-riffing his way through a Drive-like urban night on 2008′s “No Title (Molly),” the initial highlights here are true to Maus’s homemade goth-pop form. A couple of oddities, such as 2003′s guitar-stabbed “Lost,” are for true completists only. But as with his previous album’s “Believer,” Maus saves the best for last, closing on a gorgeously emotive, Flashdance-gone-Balearic ballad — titled “I Don’t Eat Human Beings.” Of course.
Timmy’s Organism, Raw Sewage Roq: We’ve got your surrealist punk right here! Timmy’s Organism deliver warped, weirdo garage rock like it’s going out of style. This one is beamed straight from Neptune to your brain.
The Howling Wind, Of Babalon: Latest from stormy, doomy black metal band that used to be a side project of Ryan of Unearthly Trance before Unearthly Trance called it quits earlier this year. While that’s a shame, I like The Howling Wind just as much, and their new record attacks in fine, feral style. Recommended
Alberta Cross, Songs of Patience: The latest from Brooklyn via L.A. via East London’s Alberta Cross. Chris Roberts says:
As a Swedish-English duo who met in East London and have now relocated to Brooklyn via an unsuccessful spell in L.A., it’s no wonder that Alberta Cross sound a little like a lot of things. The Southern-rock twang of their 2009 debut Broken Side Of Time has been side-lined here, and there’s a craning toward big, booming stadium epics of the kind once routinely delivered by Oasis (with whom they toured) or Kings Of Leon. Yet they’re also adept at the more soulful strain of non-boring boogie mastered by Tom Petty, so the album avoids plodding and achieves plaintive liftoff.
Nas, Life is Good : FINALLY. The Nas comeback we have all been waiting for. I have repped for Nas even in his darkest hours, but the first few listens of this Highly Recommended new album indicate my days as bashful apologist may be coming to an end. eMusic’s Nate Patrin says:
After a series of increasingly uneven late-career albums, Nas has found another route back to form, embracing the idea that maybe his position is already secure and he doesn’t have anything left to prove. But don’t mistake this attitude for complacency: Life is Good, his 11th studio album, is steeped in reflection, a mixture of gratitude and regret, retrospect and foresight.
The Very Best, MTMTMK: Latest from international pop act The Very Best. Says eMusic’s Richard Gehr:
Like Warm Heart of Africa, its predecessor, MTMTMK is all over the African map. Along with Mwamwaya belting compellingly in Malawi’s Chichewa tongue, the duo’s top-of-the-Afropops guests — including Nigerian singer Seye Adelekan (“Kondaine”), Senegalese rapper Xuman (“Mghetto”) and South Africa DJ Mo Laudi — represent a new wave of African talent still awaiting Western introduction. The water percussion in “Nkango” might suggest an old-fashioned ramble through “world music,” but tracks like the explosive “Adani” (“Enemies”), in which Angolan kuduro appears to meet the Chemical Brothers, breaks new ground on at least a couple of continents.
Icky Blossoms, Icky Blossoms: The surprisingly dark Dave Sitek-produced debut from a member of Tilly and the Wall, a grad student and a filmmaker. Barry Walters says:
Icky Blossoms’ credentials don’t exactly scream darkness: Fackler directed Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn in the 2008 old folks romance Lovely, Still, while Pressnall appeared with Tilly on Sesame Street. But here they let their inner bad boy bummer rule: Synthetic grooves pulsate and flash as fractured guitars spew squid-ink clouds of tension and mystery. Bohling specializes in a petulant deadpan copped from the bad girls of post-punk and film noir; rapping in unison with Pressnall on the hyperbolically sleazy “Sex to the Devil,” she’s one stray footfall away from stumbling into utter ludicrousness, but maintains her swagger throughout.
Angus Stone, Broken Brights: The second solo release from Angus and Julia Stone’s Angus Stone. More from Dan MacIntosh:
With Broken Brights, his second solo album, he extends his stylistic ambitions to someplace beyond mere folk music. Along with the title track’s hushed acoustics, there are also moments of noisy rocking bliss. “Only a Woman” doesn’t just read like a Bob Dylan song title; Stone sings the moody dirge with a distinct nasal whine, making it a close cousin to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and the guitar solo is straight out of a Neil Young & Crazy Horse live set.
Miaoux Miaoux, Light of the North: Says eMusic’s Joe Muggs:
This is an album that celebrates the possibilities of pop, however uncool they are. So while “Autopilot” may have a hint of dubstep to it, “Hey Sound” has the dynamics of commercial trance. “Better For Now” even manages to sound like one of Take That’s recent songs. And this is where another similarity to Scandinavian music comes in. Like those Swedish and Norwegian musicians, far away from New York, London or any other gravitational center of hip, Corrie draws on influences not for any cool cachet, but because they add to the sweet, big-hearted personality of the record.
The Be Good Tanyas, A Collection (2000-2012): A best-of comp of a dozen years of the Be Good Tanyas. Dan MacIntosh says:
However sparse their output, their roots run deep, enabling them to tackle Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susanna” with the same ease of their banjo-driven cover of Neil Young’s obscure “For the Turnstiles.” A Collection gathers these and other well-loved fan favorites as well as two new cuts “Little Black Bear,” the first, is constructed with precious three-part harmonies, attached gently — like lace on a Sunday’s best church dress — to finger-picked acoustic guitar. Frazey Ford sings “Gospel Song,” the other new song, with bluesy fervor, her vocal grit tempered by Samantha Parton and Trish Klein’s sweetness.
Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner
This week’s new arrivals favor the larger ensembles, though the album of the week is pure piano trio. Not a lot of familiar names in this week’s Jazz Picks, which means a whole lot of new avenues for branching out into new music. Let’s begin…
Jeremy Siskind, Finger-Songwriter: Trio of Siskind (piano), Nancy Harms (vocals), and Lucas Pino (sax & clarinet). A set of moody tunes that focus on the theme of loss and the return of hope. Heavy with emotion, sometimes lightened by the delicacy of the instruments and the bounce of the lyrics. One of the best albums I’ve heard all year, and this coming from someone who’s not the biggest fan of jazz with vocals. Just beautiful music. Pick of the Week.
Partyka Brass, The Day After Christmas: Known by some of you as the group that recorded a holiday album with Carla Bley, this septet returns with another holiday themed album. Day After, however, doesn’t result in traditional holiday tunes (aside from album closer “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”). It’s a set of sometimes haunting, sometimes sublime tunes that accentuate the delicacy of the instruments, rather than their inherent boisterousness. Highly Recommended.
Mark Solborg, 4+4+1: Interesting bit of avant-garde, with guitarist Solborg leading his quartet, and adding a four piece horn section and giving room for featured soloist Chris Speed’s tenor sax and clarinet. Samples make it sound like typical avant-garde fare, but there’s some melodic interludes and world-jazz(ish) rhythms throughout the album that lets the album breathe, and definitely makes it worth recommending here.
Afrodisax, Ostinati & Other Music For Imaginary Movies: Wonderful octet who employ piano, tenor, alto, bari, and sopranino saxes, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums (and perhaps a guest on vibes). Straight-ahead music with one foot in the jazz of the past and one of the present. Music layered in with thick brushstrokes, melodies capable of taking flight, and a nice mix of tempos. Group play and solos equally solid. Song “Ostinato II” is enchanting. Recommended.
Marios Takoushis & Gabriel Karapatakis, Seven Miles East: Sextet of piano, clarinet, bass, sax, Cretan lyra, and drums. A beautiful recording that would put many of the world jazz albums released on ECM to shame. Lyrical, poignant, and textured music. A little bite here and there to keep things dangerous, but mostly tunes more likely to make the listener swoon. Oh so pretty. Find of the Week.
Johan Rudebjer, Helags: Swedish quartet of sax, piano, bass, and drums. Thick melodies that trail off into pop territory at times, but that’s sort of par for the course for some of the jazz coming out of the area. It’s a facet of modern jazz that’s easy to like, and creates some tunes that are highly infectious.
Leif Arntzen Band, Continuous Break: Quintet of trumpet, guitar, keys, bass, and drums. Modern jazz quintet who channels the jam band from within. Music comes off as mostly disjointed, and while this leads to some passages that fall flat, it also results in some surprisingly beautiful moments. The kind of album that’s not always successful, but a perpetually fun to see what the next moment will bring.
Sascha Otto, Stundenglas: Solo woodwind performance, mostly sax and flute. A contemplative recording, one that’ll appeal to experimental jazz fans and ambient drone fans alike. Sax use is pretty solid throughout. When Otto plays the flute straight, it’s pretty successful, but when he takes a breathy avant-garde approach to it, not so much. But overall, a nice recording.
The Monochrome Tone, St.andart: Cool ensemble that plays with a theatrical flair. Instruments include accordion, guitar, sax, drums, bass, and some sampling. Whimsical in sound, playful with the melodies. Experimental, without sounding anything like typical avant-garde.
Igor Gehenot Trio, Road Story: Piano trio album that’s a bit introspective at times, other times has a pleasant bounce to it. Nothing groundbreaking, but plenty of catchy tunes. Both feet in the modern piano trio traditions.
Also, want to mention that the Aristopunks label dropped several albums this week, some which I didn’t mention in this article, but deserve some attention.