A real quick run through this week’s major titles — fill in what I missed in the comments!
Beach House, Bloom: Big, bright, dazzling and transfixing, Beach House once again deliver the goods on this radiant guitar-pop record. Guess what? Highly Recommended. Rachael Maddux has more:
Alex Scally’s guitar ribbons and diddles over synths that twinkle and grind, and Victoria LeGrand’s voice is woozy and dark and supple. Increasingly, the words she sings hardly seem to matter, but listen close and there are snippets of sleepless nights, strange paradises, and the ability of the world to swallow you whole. It functions incredibly well as an intimate headphones album: Even piped through dinky earbuds, it makes one hell of a private soundtrack, rendering the most gloriously mundane moments of life unreasonably, fiercely cool.
Best Coast, The Only Place: Bethany Cosentino grows up and, with a little help from Jon Brion, makes a record full of bright, loose, jangling guitar pop. Our version features Two Bonus Tracks and an interview conducted by yours truly at our listening party last month. Marc Hogan has more:
Quintessential L.A. musician-about-town Jon Brion imbues Best Coast’s former fuzz with Fleetwood Mac’s crystalline sheen, though the celebrated film composer’s touch is lighter here than on his productions for Fiona Apple and Kanye West. The album is very nearly bookended by Southern California odes, from the boppy, babes/waves title track, which convincingly buys its own La La Land postcard, to penultimate charmer “Let’s Go Home,” which alludes to not one but two Beach Boys oldies. Even a seeming outlier like crunching waltz-time working-musician lament “Last Year,” with its barroom la-de-da outro, makes sense when you remember Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” was an L.A. song, too.
Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music: This is one of my favorite records of the year to date, and is Highly Recommended. Teaming with El-P, Mike delivers a record of tough, teeth-bared rap that takes no prisoners. Mike Powell is much more eloquent than I am:
Mike is a classicist, a real-talk rapper doing what in his view, song and dance men wouldn’t dare: “This is church, front pew, amen, pulpit, what my people need and the opposite of bullshit,” he boasts on the title track. Given how gifted he is, his own lack of commercial success serves as proof that the state of rap as popular music might be as fouled-up as he claims. Mike’s clever this way: What might’ve been interpreted as failure has been recycled as badge of integrity. It’s an angle he’s been pushing at least since last year’s Pl3dge: “I’m in positions that these other rappers envy/ They major-broke and I get-rich indie.”
Willie Nelson, Heroes: The red-headed stranger returns! On Heroes, Willie teams with friends old (Merle Haggard) and new (Snoop Dogg) for a batch of originals and strange covers, like that Coldplay cover that’s in that really weird Chipotle ad. Here’s Andy Beta with more:
Somber isn’t Willie’s way and Heroes shows he still has plenty of crackling guitar playing and cackling lyrical play left in him. “I ain’t leaving, so don’t sit around and cry,” he says on this spry boot-scooter, as he and Snoop pass the chorus back and forth between them like a joi — uhâ€¦microphone. Two songs on, Willie notes “I think the weed is getting stronger” on “No Place to Fly.”
Pantera, Vulgar Display of Power (Reissue): A metal classic gets gussied-up (but not too much) and sounds just as fierce as ever. Jon Wiederhorn has the scoop on this Recommended album:
At the heart of Vulgar Display of Power is a fierce, hungry and united band determined to make its mark with a sound that combined the lunging riffs, machine-gun rhythms and untethered hostility of thrash with aspects of hardcore and southern rock. Much of the firepower came from late-guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott, who was equally adept at rooting songs with slow, melodic crunch (“Walk”) unearthly six-string squeals (“By Demons Be Driven)” rapid-fire intensity (“Fucking Hostile”) or heart-rending calm-before-the-storm arpeggios (This Love” “Hollow.”) And whichever direction the songs went, Abbott embellished them with virtuosic solos that were equal parts flash, speed and melody and always matched the mood.
Violens, True: Sparkling pop music with vague synthpop overtones but also feints a bit toward folks like Aztec Camera and The Wake. Recommended
Josephine Foster & the Victor Herrero Band, Perlas: I’ve been a fan of Josephine Foster for a while now, and on Perlas, she stretches out, adding dashes of spry Latin music to her trembling old-timey folk. It’s a good fit, and is Recommended.
Reggie Watts, Live in Central Park: Wry oddball indie comedian shines in this set in front of a hometown crowd.
Hot Water Music, Exister: Florida punks strike back with another batch of raging, roaring rock & roll. If you were ever a fan, you know what to expect here — barnstorming music topped by ragged-throated vocals.
Andre Williams & the Sadies, Night & Day: Legendary blues singer in an unlikely collabo with Canadian alt-country band actually yields pretty excellent results. The songs are slow-burn and mostly just let Williams use his gravel-bucket voice to narrate a bunch of oddball way-out-west-type stories. Weirdly, this is reminding me of Leonard Cohen’s The Future. Don’t hold me accountable for that opinion.
Lungfish, ACR 1999: First: ALL HAIL LUNGFISH. Gonzo trash-rockers get confrontational on this batch of songs from 1999 that have never seen the light of day until now.
The Cribs, In the Belly of the Brazen Bull: The latest from these brash Britpoppers (sans Johnny Marr on this one) is equal parts thorny and melodic. Here’s Andrew Perry with more:
“Glitters Like Gold,” written and sung by Gary, showcases the polished, radio-friendly alt-rock at which the Cribs now excel. Listening to the graceful, intricate electric-picking in that soaring chorus, you might even be forgiven for thinking Marr’s still on board. There’s a sense in which this canny trio, who have also collaborated with Edwyn Collins, Alex Kapranos and Lee Renaldo over the years, have progressed by learning their alt-chops from proper masters. “Come On, Be a No-One,” by contrast, brilliantly highlights Ryan’s punkier leanings, with its endearing DIY-loser ethos and yowling, Pavement-meets-Oasis chorus. “Anna” and “Uptight” tilt more towards the melodic scruffiness of Teenage Fanclub and Dinosaur Jr.
Rosenkopf, Rosenkopf: More great minimal music on Wierd Records, this one adds a few spooky guitars to their usual time-tested array of flatwave synths. Recommended
MV & EE, Space Homestead: Lo-fi folk duo blends spacey guitars with oaky acoustics for music that is both rustic and strange.
Black Tambourine, OneTwoThreeFour: Pioneering noise/twee/pop band returns with this batch of Ramones covers that is noisy and brash and fun. Just in time for summer!
Various Artists, Occupy This Album: Tom Morello is starting to seem like the Tom Joad of rock music. Wherever there’s a guy beating up a guy, here’s there. Wherever there’s a cause to be fought for, he’s leading the charge. He’s been very visible in the Occupy movement, so it’s no surprise he turns up on this 5-Disc (!) compilation to benefit the Occupy movement, alongside a serious musical who’s-who (To even begin to list the participants would be a serious undertaking. Just have a look for yourself).
Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner
Nice drop this week. Scandinavia seems to take the gold this week, either due to the origin of the artists and/or the categorization of the sound. Several titles dropped from the ACT label, which is nice. Lap steel guitar makes a nice appearance, and bass clarinet makes several. But most of the week’s Picks would go best with a rainy day and nowhere to go. Let’s begin…
Lars Danielsson, Libretto: Beautiful album from bassist Danielsson, who keeps improving with each subsequent effort. A sound very much in the Norwegian jazz approach of focusing on melody over rhythms, drifting atmospherics over earthy kick. Rounds out a quintet with ECM New Sound vet Arve Henriken, former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom, Armenian folk pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and guitarist John Parricelli. Atmospherics kept to a minimum, which lets the ensemble stay focused on the melody. Strong from first note to last. Pick of the Week.
Einar Scheving, Land Mins Fodur: Icelandic drummer Scheving has created a sublime album of quiet tunes and subtle mystery. The addition of lap steel guitar is phenomenal. Sextet of drums, piano, tenor sax, bass, lap steel, and Hammond organ (used with a light touch). A couple vocal tracks which create a lighthearted ambiance to juxtapose against the moody serenity of the other tunes. Fair to draw some similarities to the sound of Mathias Eick’s The Door. Beautiful stuff. co-Find of the Week.
Espen Eriksen Trio, What Took You So Long: Sophomore release from the moody piano trio. Two feet solid in the Scandinavian jazz sound, where melodies are like clouds… they look solid enough to touch, can never be grasped, and make for the best rainy day jazz.
Sophie Alour, La Geographie des Reves: Nifty post-bop release by the French tenor saxophonist, who adds clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute to her arsenal for this album. Rounds out a quintet with vibes, trumpet (and some flugelhorn), bass, and drums. Plenty of compositional asymmetry, as if the tunes attempt to swing while briskly walking down a flight of stairs. This is the kind of music that should appeal to fans of Marty Ehrlich or, perhaps, those albums on the Clean Feed label that are rooted in old time blues.
Bobby Broom, Upper West Side Story: Solid jazz guitarist Broom has a new release, featuring original compositions. A vet of the scene who has played with a who’s-who list including Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine, and Art Blakey, and has led his own groups, including the Deep Blue Organ Trio and the Bobby Broom Trio. Plenty of blues and swing on this recording, which has a nice flow to it throughout. One of those albums great for a rainy day and too much cabin fever to just sit around and daydream. Highly Recommended.
Jesse van Ruller Chambertones Trio, The Ninth Planet: Well, okay, this is what I’m talking about. An intriguing trio of bass clarinet, guitar, and bass that, as the name on the door says, plays chamber jazz tunes. Back porch peaceful, but sometimes a flash of sharp incisors to keep people on their toes. But overall, the compositions have a sweeter disposition than, say, the Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet, a chamber jazz group that more typically inspires the heebie jeebies. Highly Recommended.
Human Spirit, Dialogue: Recorded live at the Earshot Jazz Festival, it’s the first album recorded as the Human Spirit ensemble, but the artists comprising this quartet are veterans of the jazz scene, especially the Seattle area. It’s Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Mark Taylor (alto sax), and Matt Jorgensen (drums), with guests Orrin Evans (piano) and Essiet Essiet on bass. Straight-ahead jazz, in a modern sense, which in this case means, the rhythm section swings and sways like one would expect of a jazz group, but woodwinds and horns don’t necessarily toe the company line. Engaging and fun, both.
Mads Tolling Quartet, Celebrating Jean Luc Ponty: Live at Yoshi’s: Member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, violinist Tolling also has a working quartet. This is their second release, the previous one a decent studio recording. Recorded live at Yoshi’s, the quartet sounds a bit more organic without a studio to play around in, and the result is an enchanting album, over 76 minute in length. In a jazz setting, violin can sound wild and untamed, which can be unpleasantly screechy without a little restraint. This is no obstacle for Tolling, who knows a little violin can go along way. Rounding out the quartet with guitar, bass, and drums, Tolling is definitely the group leader, but doesn’t run way out front of the pack, letting the violin blend in with the quartet for some stunning moments of fire and serenity. Recommended.
Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things, Clean on the Corner: Drummer Mike Reed has spent some fruitful time exploring the unsung musicians of the Chicago scene, recording albums that honored their music. That would appear to still be the case on the new release. Featuring Tim Haldeman on tenor sax, Greg Ward on alto, Jason Roebke on bass, and guests Craig Taborn and Josh Berman on piano and cornet respectively. It’s a sound that is rooted in the blues and jazz of the past but expressed with a modern jazz voice, which creates the exciting tempest of nostalgia and freshness in each composition. It also means that it should appeal to old and new schoolers alike. Recommended.
Ah.Hum, Meditation On No Integration: A very cool album of renditions of Mingus compositions. Some allusion to it being performed live, but very little else to be found about these guys anywhere. Perhaps originating in Italy, perhaps not. Some great trombone work, the bass arco is dreamy as hell. A little electronics and effects here and there, but only a little. Updated version of “Haitian Fight Song” to “Libyan…”… also just might be the most haunting tune anyone will hear all year. co-Find of the Week.
Nico Gori, Da Vinci: A duet recording of Gori on clarinet and the amazing Fred Hersch on piano. Quiet sublime tunes that skitter and hop around like squirrels through the park on a Summertime afternoon. For the last couple years, Gori has been performing with Stefano Bollani, Tom Harrell, and Caetano Veloso. Released on the Bee Jazz label, which seems to be making my Jazz Picks just about every week this year.
Verneri Pohjola Quartet, Ancient History: Quartet let by trumpeter Pohjola, rounded out with piano, bass, and drums. Heavy on the atmospherics. Breathy and floating, and sure to appeal to Nils Petter Molvaer fans. Most of the tunes are the sit-back-and-dream variety, and those really work well. A couple compositions try to develop an upbeat groove, unfortunately, but it doesn’t spoil the album or anything. Nice release.
Joel Remmel Trio, Lumekristall: A quiet piano trio, young artists, Norwegian jazz sound, plenty of introspection. A slight nod to the tension of Esbjorn Svensson or Jacob Karlzon. Bass runs with some arco action a few times with a satisfying result. Album closes with the solitary vocal track, a trend which I’m kind of fond of, and works fine here, too. Worth keeping an eye on these musicians.
And to wrap up, a handful of Original Jazz Classics dropped today. This is a continuation of the 24-bit remastered series, some which include bonus tracks. My favorite of the group is Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso. The other recent albums include Bill Evans Moon Beams and the classic Massey Hall quintet concert, featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus.
And, finally, let’s do the weekly probably-shouldn’t-be-filed-under-Jazz rec…
Tony Conrad, Talking Issue: A great example of avant-garde music that in and of itself defies any real attempt at genre categorization. A live duo violin recording between Tony Conrad Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (and featuring some percussion by Morrison Edley). It’s got plenty of dissonance and clash and rough conversation. It’s also pretty damn cool.