OK! Are you guys ready to get bummed out? Because it’s the week before Valentine’s Day and, man, do we have some sad records for you. I mean, sad even for indie rock, which has sad basically branded into its DNA. So if you’re ready to be heartbroken, let’s get going.
Sharon Van Etten, Tramp: Basically, the only record you need today. A great leap forward from her previous, folky outings, Tramp finds Van Etten falling closer in sound to the eerie, magikal records made by people Throwing Muses and Cat Power, pre-The Greatest. Her voice howls through a latticework of guitar like the winter wind through bare tree branches. Christina Lee talked to Sharon about this HIGHLY RECOMMENDED record, and you can read their converstion here. In the meantime, here’s what Lindsay Zoladz had to say about Tramp:
Tramp may be an unflinching chronicle of a relationship gone sour (check out the exceptionally poignant “Give Out”: “It’s not because I always give up/It might be I always give out”), but it’s at its most powerful when it’s about more than just getting burned; Van Etten also sings about gathering the courage to build something new on charred ground. “Time is what I would need,” she tells a new lover on “Leonard,” while the lively mandolin strums spring up like sprouts after a long winter.
The Twilight Sad, No One Can Ever Know: You can’t get much sadder than a band that has ‘sad’ in their name, and these Scots prove they know what it means to get lonesome. For this one, which is RECOMMENDED they’ve teamed with famed UK producer Andrew Weatherall (beloved forever and all time for giving us Primal Scream’s “Loaded”). This is not the Saddoes’ dance record though (thank god). Instead, Weatherall smudges their rolling guitars and blots the blank spaces with organ to make this feel more mournful and turbulent. Which is saying something! You know who else is saying something? Marc Hogan:
Working with famed U.K. producer-remixer Andy Weatherall, who’s credited as having “anti-produced” the album, lead moaner James Graham and the lads delve deeper into the recesses of their own unfathomable personal darkness, and emerge with a compelling new sound salvaged from the scrap metal of a previous recession’s industrial blight. Mechanical beats and icy synths spar with stormy guitar and Graham’s ever-richer Scottish burr in a jagged, lonesome space that updates the band’s forebears in foreboding.
of Montreal, Paralytic Stalks: If Barry Walters‘ interview is to be believed, Kevin Barnes is pretty bummed these days, too. (His first answer begins, “I’m fucked up and have a lot of emotional issues.”) The latest from of Montreal is apparently their attempt to incorporate free jazz into their sound, which actually bums me out. Barry remains optimistic. He says:
of Montreal’s 11th album makes few attempts to play nice; there are no diva cameos, fewer hooks, and the fractured rhythms from drummers Matt Chamberlain and Clayton Rychlik rarely stay steady for more than a minute. Instead, Paralytic Stalks’ abrupt stylistic switch-ups, dissonant harmonies and alternately garish/strident string and horn arrangements evoke the wildness of free jazz and the adventurousness of avant-garde classical composers.
Van Halen, A Different Kind of Truth: After all that bumming out, you’re going to need something to cheer you up and, sorry if this is sacrilege, but the new record from the sorta-reunited Van Halen might be the thing. Look: i don’t think any of us really expected this to be good, so the fact that it’s not only passable but actually has a handful of bona fide arena jams on it is a nice surprise. If you ever had any affection for VH, you’re probably going to be happy with what you’re hearing. I was always a bit of an agnostic, but color me impressed with this. We had Lenny Kaye assess the group’s legacy a few weeks back — you can read that here. If the new record, Chuck Eddy says:
Given the utter mediocrity of all participants’ output over the previous quarter-century, there was no reason to expect that A Different Kind Of Truth – the first Van Halen album with David Lee Roth singing since 1984 (albeit with young Wolfgang Van Halen now playing bass) – would be remotely enjoyable. That it holds its own in the context of the band’s late ’70s/early ’80s heritage, and might even be a better long-player than, oh, Diver Down in terms of muscle, idiosyncratic song construction, and pure-assed entertainment value, is downright shocking.
Air, Le Voyage Dans La Lune: So, weirdly, none of us — not the editorial staff, nor the writer to whom this was assigned, could get a promo of the Air record before street. The review will be coming a little later in the week. In the meantime, I’ll just make up what I think this sounds like: The new Air record finds the Frenchmen dabbling with everything from Krautrock to funeral doom to minimalist “clown techno” to varying results. Stay tuned past the final track for a surprising Bob Seger cover.
Various Artists, We Are the Works in Progress: Get on this ASAP. Curated by Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, Works in Progress is a benefit album for the victims of the Japanese earthquake, and it showcases Makino’s decidedly avant-garde sensibilities with contributions from people like Terry Riley (!), Broadcast, Deerhunter and more. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The Choir, Chase the Kangaroo: 1988 psych-pop record from LA group the Choir dresses up pretty pop melodies in ethereal haze. Vocalist Derri Daugherty was Ben Gibbard before there was Ben Gibbard, and the songs on here are shoulda-been college rock classics. Not as good as hallucinogenic psych opus Circle Slide, but still some solid jams.
Bahamas, Barchords: Bahamas is the project of one Afie Jurvanen. The music here lands on the smokier side of singer/songwriter — more shush than strum, guitar chords tiptoe past Jurvanen’s whispery vocals, making for the kind of record you play while someone is sleeping in the next room. Plus, look at that cover. If that doesn’t fit into today’s overarching bummer theme, I don’t know what does.
Robert Deeble, Heart Like Feathers: Robert Deeble also writes quiet folk music, but he owes a bit more to The National and Leonard Cohen. This is Deeble’s first release in years, but it finds him back in fine form — his voice is low and creaky and the songs feel brittle as driftwood. Deeble is the kind of lyricist who can cut to the quick with just a few expertly-placed phrases. And — SURPRISE — this album is super sad. It’s also RECOMMENDED. Dan MacIntosh breaks it down for you:
Given the sparse percussion, empathetic and harmonic female backing vocals and mournful, gypsy-like violin fills, the pained and yearning Deeble comes off like a worthy descendent and disciple of Leonard Cohen. He’s also unafraid to stretch his compositions beyond the familiar alternating verse-chorus structure; Eastern-influenced semi-jam “The Colors of Dying,” showcases guitarist Ric Hordinski (formerly of Over The Rhine), who contributes the track’s distinctive Byrds-y, psychedelic tones.
Chuck Prophet, Temple Beautiful: New record from a guy I keep meaning to get into but never quite do. Sounds a lot like the kind of durable indie rock records that were being put out by B-Teamers like Creeper Lagoon in the early ’00s. Remember Creeper Lagoon? I liked that first record a lot. Anyway. Here’s Wayne Robins with a few words on Chuck:
Like Springsteen and Paul Simon, Prophet is drawn to early rock motifs. “White Night, Big City” has a compelling doo-wop call-and-response section that may remind you of Shangri-Las “Give Him A Great Big Kiss,” despite the fact that the song tells the dark tale of the riots that reverberated after homophobic city councilman Dan White was acquitted for assassinating the iconic gay politician Harvey Milk.
Elvis Depressedly, Cutters Only, The Ontological Anarchy of Elvis Depressedly: And clearly right here is where we bottom out with the sadness. How can it get much darker than a record called “Cutters Only”? Elvis Depressedly frontman Mat Cothran used to be in a band called Coma Cinema. A couple of the tracks here have the same kind of wobbly-vocal thing going on as Blank Dogs. Super chintzy lo-fi instrumentation — some keys, some guitars and tons of scuzz.
Royal Baths, Better Luck Next Life: Some real spooky stuff here — sounds kind of like if the Birthday Party decided to play more polite and were fronted by a sleazy nightclub tux pomade cigarette holder type guy instead of by a screaming he-beast from hell. Or if Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan suddenly lost his shit and turned into a total womanizer. What say ye, Ashley Melzer?:
There’s the bend of slack-keyed guitar, a rumbling bass line, a steady beat on the toms and then it’s “hate at first sight” and “a shrug and a kiss,” in a psychedelic swoon called “Darling Divine.” The track is a proper opener for Royal Baths’ sophomore effort, an album of both black humor and brooding grooves. Jeremy Cox and Jigmaer Baer, the core of the band, have gone from Bay Area garage-kids to Brooklyn-based sulkers. The band’s sound, a bluesy, Velvet Underground-esque snarl, is anchored by leering vocal melodies.
Death By Chocolate, Bric A Brac: This is the first Death By Chocolate record in a really long time! I don’t really know what else to say here! Jolly, sunny, ye-ye style kitsch pop that was really popular once upon a time. Maybe if you’re a very popular 3rd grader and you’re looking to throw a Mad Men-themed party using day-glo Fisher-Price flatware and milktini glasses, this is the kind of thing you’d play.
Sean Born, Behind the Scale: Excellent hip-hop label Mello Music gets in on the Cuban Links game with this first-person drug narrative. eMusic’s Nate Patrin says:
The debut from Maryland’s Sean Born mixes frustration of being caught in the trap with a matter-of-fact pride over finding the mental and spiritual resources to survive it. There’s no glitz in the powder-caked fingers and zombified customers that populate his day-to-day lyrics. And as he singles out listeners who don’t remember the golden age (“Queen Anne/’90s”) and fleetingly laments the death of the ’90s through the POV of a man who spent those years in prison (“Go Hard”), the sandpaper-coarse, Stax-stitching beats – mostly provided by producer Kev Brown – reinforce the stylistic debts he owes to that era.
Dr. Dog, The Void: Oh, hey, a new Dr. Dog record. Dr. Dog are like the hippie of Montreal. Unless of Montreal are the hippie of Montreal. This is making my brain hurt. I’m going to let Dan Hyman do the rest:
For their sixth and most impressive turn to-date, the Brotherly Love oddballs – now recording on their own and with two new bandmembers, drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos – blast back to their bread-and-butter: raw riffs, sing-song harmonies and sonic experimentation filtered through ’60s-pop-tinted shades.
Radar Eyes, Radar Eyes: HoZac Records is basically a guaranteed seal of quality, and this full-length from Radar Eyes doesn’t damage their winning streak. Like a Jesus & Mary Chain that can’t be bothered to get out of bed or a garage band that only operates at half speed, this blends huge hooks with buckets of scuzz. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Austin L. Ray says:
On Radar Eyes’ self-titled debut LP, the Chicago foursome offers a pop-centric affair, all layered, fuzzy guitars and hook-laden vocals. The driving, forward momentum of “Accident” and the shit-kicking guitars of “Summer Chills” front like these Windy City residents wanna fight, but it’s their pretty melodic sensibilities that encourage repeated listens.
Jenny Owen Youngs, An Unwavering Band of Light: This is way poppier than what I was expecting. Maybe if you’re the kind of person who likes Feist but wishes she would occasionally give in and write a few more uptempo radio gems, this is probably the record for you. I think “Pirates” would sound great in some ’80s movie montage of people working out.
Paul McCartney, Kisses on the Bottom: I can’t. I just can’t.
–> Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner
Well, this last week didn’t offer much in the way of volume for new jazz releases, but there’s still some gems to be found in what’s there. Let’s begin…
Bridges Trio, Mans: A trio of guitar, bass, and drums that, for this album, becomes a quartet with the addition of an extra guitar player. Thrilling stuff. They totally have the Bill Frisell ECM sound going, though some of the looping and effects recall Frisell’s period with Nonesuch albums like Ghost Town and The Willies. Now, granted, I’m a huge Frisell fan, so any musician who adopts that sound, I’m gonna be enamored with, but that said, this is beautiful music, and my Find of the Week.
Josh Arcoleo, Beginnings: Strong debut album from tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo. Rounding out his quartet with piano, drums and bass, he presents a confident set of tunes. Compositions deliciously balance fire of sax with bright elegance of piano, while drums and bass fill all the spaces in between, resulting in rich album with plenty of depth. Arcoleo has lots of punch on tenor, but thankfully doesn’t turn this into a blowing session. Ivo Neame, on piano, really shines, creates an environment for Arcoleo to thrive in. Hard to believe this a debut album. Pick of the Week
Artvark Saxonphone Quartet, Sly Meets Callas: A nifty pairing of the avant-garde saxophone quartet and classical soprano Claron McFadden for an intriguing mix of compositions ranging from traditional jazz, skewed blues, and chamber music. A very nice reminder that just because something gets categorized as avant-garde, doesn’t mean it can’t be catchy as hell. Recommended.
Dieter Ilg, Rainer Bohm, Patrice Heral, Otello Live at Schloss Elmau: Bassist Ilg, Pianist Bohm, and drummer Patrice Heral interpret the works of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. More jazz than classical, with the livelier moments leaning more toward the former and the quieter interludes toward the latter. On the ACT label, which has a habit of releasing albums that are deceptively straight-ahead, like looking at Jazz through opaque glass. Two feet in the European jazz sound. Has the word ‘live’ in the title, but that sure fooled me- fantastic sound.
Okay, so apparently someone decided it was gonna be Solo Piano week on emusic and didn’t tell me. Let’s talk about three:
Julian Joseph, Live at the Vortex in London: A solo piano outing from shamefully under-recognized pianist Julian Joseph. Extremely talented, and possesses a flair for bringing elements of other genres to him in Jazz without having to leave jazz territory to get them. On Live at the Vortex, Joseph keeps things on familiar ground with a solo live performance that sees him stretching out with his classical background. If you’re into solo piano, this makes a nice selection. For something more traditional from Joseph, check out his excellent The Language of Truth, which I still listen to regularly 15 years after first picking it up.
Keith Jarrett, Rio: Keith Jarrett’s 2011 live solo piano three day concert just hit the site. Personally, I’ve always preferred Jarrett’s brilliance with his American Quartet back in the 70s, and find most of Jarrett’s solo ECM stuff unpleasantly distant. But this one, I dunno, seems more soulful, and really connects with me. Even his odd guttural vocalizations during tunes seems to fit right in just fine. The fact that tunes keep mostly to the five minute mark probably also works in their favor. Nice stuff. Compositions like Rio Part XV are pure bliss.
Kevin Hays, Variations: Pianist Kevin Hays would make an excellent tour guide on his instrument. He’s spent his career discovering all the hidden spots in between the notes that typically attract the tourists. Leaving his typical trio format for this recording, his exploratory nature shines through. A delicate sound throughout, and compositions that wander classical territory more than jazz, it’s an impressive addition to his already impressive discography.
And let’s wrap up with my weekly “Cool Album Misfiled Under Jazz” pick….
Radio String Quartet Vienna, Radiodream: Classical music through-and-through. Released on the ACT label, which doesn’t stick to just jazz. Some moments that come close to representing an eagle soaring over snowcapped mountains and some moments that probably were how Sigourney Weaver felt as she ran from aliens in deep space. Beautiful.
–> Singles & EPs
Wymond Miles, Earth Has Doors: Sacred Bones is one of the best labels going right now, so I listen to everything they put out on general principle. And so, the solo debut from Wymond Miles, guitarist for the Fresh & Onlys. This is some hazy, psychy stuff, not too far off from the Choir record I shouted out above. Dave Raposa says:
This one-man effort (some drums, strings and backing vocals aside) is decidedly more overcast and purposeful. Even if you didn’t know that these tracks dealt with “the existential crisis of our current epoch,” even a cursory listen to tracks like the neo-folk flavored “Temples of Magick” or the viola-and-feedback driven instrumental “As The Orchard Is With Rain” intimate that Miles has something weighty on his mind.
That Ghost Rosaling: MORE PSYCH FOLK. Good God, you guys. Thank god reverb isn’t a natural resource, or we’d be fucked. Ryan Schmale, the guiding force behind That Ghost, is all of 18 years-old, and this EP imagines Devandra Banhart in the middle of a particularly unsettling nightmare. Strange and spooky.
Deer Tick, Tim: Couple songs from everyone’s favorite whiskey cowboys.
A Place to Bury Strangers, Onward to the Wall: MORE REVERB! Wow. New EP from JAMC-loving NYC group brings a whole lot of boom and bash. Phil Freeman sums this up a lot more eloquently than I just did:
This five-song, 17-minute EP’s blown-out sound definitely recalls Psychocandy, mixing simple garage-rock riffs, primitive, almost mechanical drumming and deadpan vocals, but APTBS adds a huge bass sound the J&MC rarely bothered with. The opener, “I Lost You,” adds a lovelorn lyric to the mix, while the EP’s title track brings in vocalist Alanna Nualla for a moody, post-punk dialogue that makes a better soundtrack to the drawing on the cover of Sonic Youth’s Goo than that album did.
The Band in Heaven EP: MORE HOZAC. God, I love this label. This is a bit more boisterous than Radar Eyes — imagine Black Rebel Motorcycle Club if it were fronted by mathletes and you’re on the right track. Pinwheeling psych-haze, organs and dead-eyed vocals make this another grand tower of bong from the Hozzers.
Bare Mutants, Without You: Two-song single from — you guessed it — a HoZac band kind of sounds like Crystal Stilts played at the wrong speed. Morose baritone, wheezing organs and driving, droning guitars.
Christian Cosmos, Unmaking: A pair of staticky drone pieces from noise label Hospital, the second side being slightly more apocalyptic than the first. Steady, insistent rhythms surrounded by exhaust-fume static.
Davila 666, Por Que Vives: Three-song EP from Puerto Rican band Davila 666 swings from marauding garage to deliberately-shitty tape-deck folk songs. More noise than song, which is alright by me.
Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra, “Polly”: Tiny little cover of the Nirvana song consists of almost nothing beyond Palmer’s voice and what sounds like a few wind chimes. Spooky!
Gracie, Treehouse: Philly artist imagines what might happen if an art school student who was really into Merzbow tried to make an R&B record.
Santigold, “Big Mouth”: When Santigold put out her great first record, everyone kept comparing her to MIA and I was like, “That’s pretty racist, considering the record sounds nothing like MIA.” And now, here’s her new single, and it pretty much sounds like MIA. Drag.