When it rains it pours, and this month has been a veritable flood. There are more new, great albums than I know what to do with. I need about 15 extra hours each day to listen to them all. Chances are you will, too. HERE WE GO.
Sleigh Bells, Reign of Terror: This is probably where we have the discussion about how bands almost never sound good on Saturday Night Live. Artists we know are great — Robyn, TV on the Radio — have all eaten it on live TV. And also, how were Sleigh Bells ever gonna be mixed for live TV anyway? It’s impossible to do. You’d have to go to the homes of everyone watching and kick the shit out of the woofers on their home theaters first. So Sleigh Bells didn’t sound great on SNL, but they did sound great at the record release show at Terminal 5 the night before, and they sound great all over this, their second record. eMusic’s Matt Fritch says:
Sleigh Bells’ spirited playfulness is alive on Reign Of Terror, but it’s subject to the kind of forethought, pacing and balance that’s normal to albums constructed for continuous listening. This means that in between the call-and-response fight song “Crush” and the manic whammy-bar bends of “Leader of the Pack” (which begins with the sound of a gunshot) is the ballad “End of the Line” – maybe not so much to provide caesura as to soothe the nerves. And in case you were waiting around for Sleigh Bells to do something macabre, “You Lost Me” is a typically over-the-top – and intriguing – stab.
Frankie Rose, Interstellar: For my money, this is the best record that’s out today. Frankie bids farewell to the garagey sound of yore and instead hitchhikes a ride to outer space in this shimmery, synthy and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED new record. Our own Jayson Greene wrote the glowing Pitchfork review. eMusic’s Matt Fritch says:
An appreciation for early-’80s new wave blankets Interstellar with a certain iciness – drum machines, oscillating keyboards, brittle-sounding guitars – but it’s not frozen solid. Rose’s voice unlocks these songs like a key; rather than apply the steely, remote effects given to so many electronic-pop vocalists, producer Le Chev (whose very name makes this album seem even more tilted toward the ’80s) keeps Rose’s voice at a tender, close distance.
Pulp, It, Freaks and Separations: I had 600,000 consecutive heart attacks when Pulp’s US shows were announced, and I consider Jarvis Cocker kind of my personal life icon, motivator and reason for being. So there’s all that. These are the first three Pulp records, made when Jarv was in his early 20s and hadn’t quite figured out what he wanted to do yet. So they’re good, but mostly as works-in-progress, “I’m still figuring it out” kinds of things. Almost twee in their reticence, each one gets a little bit more confident than the one before, but even Separations, the one right before breakout His ‘n’ Hers, doesn’t really indicate the heights to which they were headed.
Galactic, Carnivale Electricos: Galactic are from New Orleans, so the fact that they waited until now to make their first full-on Mardi Gras themed album is pretty impressive. It sounds pretty vibrant! Lots of percolating drums and blasts of horns and scuzzed-up guitars — honestly, I can hear a whole lot of Afrofunk lurking just beneath the simmering surface of these songs.
Sinead O’Connor, How About I Be Me (and you be you): Hmm. So I think I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got is as close to a perfect pop record as you can come. And this is the new record by the same person who made that record. Allegedly. It sounds a bit slower and more measured and maybe like what a Kate Bush record might sound like if she decided to go a little more adult contemporary. Also, I’m pretty sure that cover art is going to give me nightmares.
The Verlaines, Untimely Meditations: THIS IS A NEW VERLAINES RECORD. Kiwipop pioneers bring us another batch of rollicking pop songs. The songs here growl a lot more than we’re used to from these guys, the guitars scrappy and the vocals raw. Flying Nun, it is so good to have you back.
Dustin Wong, Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads: I loved Ponytail, and so was super bummed when they called it a day after their excellent last record. Fortunately, guitarist Dustin Wong soldiers on! Of his latest solo effort, Brandon Soderbergh says:
Communicating infectious joy through delicate, exploratory guitar work, loop maestro Dustin Wong’s follow-up to 2010â€²s Infinite Love is like a homespun version of Manuel GÃ¶ttsching’s E2-E4. It has the same, super-determined, dude-in-a-room, one-take intensity, but this 16-part song, delightfully distracted by awesome effects pedals, layered riffing and the commanding knock of a drum machine, spazzes out (the very Do Whatever You Want All The Time-like “Feet Prints On Flower Dreads”), conjures up catchy, folksy melodies (“On/In The Way,” “Sprinkle Wet Toes”), and boldly starts over not once, but twice (“Pink Diamond,” “Pencil Drove Hill Moon”).
A Giant Dog, Fight: Another winner from the excellent Tic Tac Totally label, this band would spike the punch bowl at your 16th birthday party and bring over a bunch of toughs to steal the cake and break your toys. Marauding motorcycle punk rock that’s coming apart at the seams, gruff and greasy and good-to-go. RECOMMENDED
Colleen Green, Milo Goes to Compton: I’m fully on board with Colleen Green’s bedroom take on the Ramones, all the more so since this one comes complete with a great Descendants joke in the title. Super scuzzbucket four-track dollar-store punk gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and this nod from Evan Minsker:
Milo Goes to Compton starts by showcasing Colleen Green as a cool, quiet singer with an electric guitar. She practically whispers her sensual lyrics in a detached tone beneath muted power chords on opener “Good Good Things.” In fact, “quiet” is her go-to vocal setting throughout, which could easily get frustrating since she’s often singing over a prominent thudding drum machine. Thankfully, she ramps up the tempo, and Johnny Ramone chord progressions, on subsequent track “I Wanna Be Degraded,” and while her voice stays soft, her instrumental aggression more than counterbalances any trepidation.
Band of Skulls, Sweet Sour: Chug-a-chug rock from UK band that people seem to really like. This is some industrial strength rocking, man. Big, blocky chords, boogie-woogie hooks — it’s like if the Black Keys tried to remake the early Kings of Leon records.
The Chap, We Are Nobody: Rubbery electro group The Chap smuggle meaty hooks inside their dance music Trojan Horse. Endless pleasure ensues. eMusic’s Rob Young says:
Chap songs are built on tautly metronomic pulses, busy meshes of lo-fi synths and clipped ’80s-funk guitar licks, with fembot backing vox from Claire Hope and Berit Immig. We Are Nobody, the self-deprecatingly titled follow-up to 2011â€²s “greatest hits” compilation We Are The Best, is loaded with all of the above, as well as hints of early-’80s boffin bands such as New Musik and The Flying Lizards, if they had been keeping tabs on the latest techno microstyles.
John Wesley Coleman, The Last Donkey Show: A little bit cleaner than what we’ve come to expect from the always-great Goner, Donkey hangs out smoking ciggies around the same derelict street corner where Wreckless Eric parked his beat-up Mustang in the early ’80s.
Terry Malts, Killing Time: Straightforward: barreling Ramones-by-way-of-JAMC jams, like someone playing Rocket to Russia through a guitar amp with the echo cranked. Are you mad at that? Do you hate summer? Thought so. eMusic’s Mikael Wood says:
Terry Malts bash through their three-chord rave-ups with an efficiency that indicates a deep understanding of why we play those old Ronettes and Shangri-Las singles over and over (and over) again. Precisely two of the 14 tracks on the band’s first full-length stretch beyond the three-minute mark, and one of those is called “Waiting Room”; they know when they’re indulging themselves, these guys.
Chelsea Crowell, Crystal City: Some really lovely country music, a little bit dusky, a little bit shadowy, a little bit aching and yearning. This kinda hits my soft spot, applying shambling indie aesthetics to country’s pine and wail. I’m going to confidently give this a RECOMMENDED for fans of measured country/folk.
Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction: Blistering funeral doom record from Little Rock, Arkansas (!) sounds like being smothered in hot tar while a demonic priest sings the Nicene Creed over your collapsing skull. I cannot believe how slow-moving this record is. It would get its ass handed to it by a sloth in a 100-meter relay. This, of course, is exactly how you want funeral doom to sound and, topped with such searing, expressive vocals, this one earns a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Chieftans, Voice of Ages: The Chieftans have been a band for a long time, and they get a bunch of indie rock friends to help celebrate their legacy on this, their umpteenth record. Which friends, you may ask? Bon Iver, The Decemberists, The Civil Wars, the Pistol Annies and many many more. As for which one of those stole their Lucky Charms, however, the jury is still out.
Tindersticks, The Something Rain: New record from the band that’s the Power Glove to the National’s Wii. Dour baritone vocals, illusive lyrics and instrumentation full of wide open spaces and a nagging sense of desperation that pervades basically everything. They were on a blood buzz before you were born, buddy.
My Best Fiend, In Ghostlike Fading: Some hazy, slow, psyched out stuff from Warp with, I’m told, pretty spiritual lyrics. Songs twinkle like far off stars, and the vocals drift by passively, like a cult member with a beatific grin on his face hanging out feather flowers at an airport. This is some Zen stuff — as in: totally placid, and not in a rush to get anywhere in particular.
Cheap Girls, Giant Orange: Great melodic rock & roll produced by Tom from Against Me! This is a one-way ticket to hook city, sunny vocal lines and big, bright guitars.
Kevin Kinney & the Golden Palominos, A Good Country Mile: The cover does not lie — this is pack-a-day, whiskey-slugging bar-fight country from the Drivin N Cryin frontman, teamed here with Anton Fier of Golden Palaominos. This is some nasty, snarling, butt-ugly broke-truck country music, the kind of songs that will break your jaw and steal your wallet.
Disappears, Pre-Language: Psych-proggers are joined by Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth on this steady-chugging batch of haze-rockers. Conversational vocals offset clanging guitars, and the rockier moments imagine a Girls Vs. Boys cover band at their very first practice.
fun. Some Nights: This band! The little power-poppers that could! fun. have been around forever, but this record is finally starting to turn some heads — helped in no small part, I’d imagine, by the appearance of “We Are Young” in an Expedia ad (Sample it! You’ll see!) What you’re getting here are gallons of glistening harmonies and some steady-chugging guitar pop. It’s pretty good!
La Big Vic, Dub the World: Actually Revisited: Remix album from Brooklyn group La Big Vic turns the originals on their skulls and emerges with something completely different and riveting — buzzsaw bands of sound, nasty no-wave guitar and boot-to-the-gut drums that threaten to punt you into the next galaxy. RECOMMENDED
Knife & Fork, The Higher You Get, The Rarer the Vegetation: First things first: can this band book a tour with Spoon, please? I just want the show poster that says “Spoon, w/ Knife & Fork.” Musically this is lovely indie rock, with intertwining boy/girl vocals.
Jonquil, Point of Go: In Lebanese, Jonquil means “pointillist guitars and breathy vocals, augmented by occasional piano.”
–> Jazz Picks by Dave Sumner
Menschmaschine, Hand Werk: A Swiss jazz ensemble that wears their love of Kraftwerk on their sleeves. Two feet very much in the modern Euro-jazz sound, they’ve constructed a series of unavoidably catchy tunes. Instruments include tenor sax, piano, bass clarinet, contrabass, percussion & drums, and some flute, glockenspiel, and vocals occasionally. Lively, unpredictable, and Recommended.
MSV Brecht, Hippie Tunes: A Berlin quartet of sax/clarinet, guitar, bass, and drums. They’ve got a Euro-jazz jazz-rock fusion thing going on. What that means is that it’s introverted music that’s good for staring out windows at rainy day landscapes, but has way too much kick to actually fall asleep to it. Warm sweater sax notes and drifting melodies, guitar that sometimes hums, sometimes screams, percussion that doesn’t settle for just-good-enough, and some nice matching of clarinet and bass. Jazz fans, if you like Brian Blade’s Perceptual, you might find something to like here. Rock/Indie fans, if you like the Doves Last Broadcast, give this album a run.
John Moulder Quintet, The 11th Hour: Live at the Green Mill: Backed by saxophonist Geof Bradfield (who also double on bass clarinet), pianist Jim Trompeter, Larry Gray on bass, and long-time collaborator Paul Wertico on drums, guitarist John Moulder presents an excellent live set from Chicago’s historical jazz venue, The Green Mill. Moulder has emerged as one of the unique voices on jazz guitar, equally comfortable showing a face of quiet solitude as he is of sharpened steel. No better representation of that is on the album’s final song “Time Being” Pick of the Week.
Kyle Bruckmann, Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack: Cracked Refraction: An intriguing session with Bruckmann on oboe & English horn, and backed by bass clarinet, viola, percussion, and bass. A little bit jazz, a little bit nu-classical, a little bit avant-garde, and now there’s enough ingredients to make this an unclassifiable dish with an addictive taste. Some compositions have the frenetic pace of a horror movie chase scene, and some compositions only need two lovers and a pastoral scene in the countryside to make it complete. Back in Chicago, Bruckmann had his hands in disparate projects, including classical, post-punk, free jazz and electronic experimental, so it’s no surprise that this album pretty much shatters boundaries on sight. Highly Recommended.
Metta Quintet, Big Drum, Small World: Metta Quintet is the performing arm of non-profit organization JazzReach, dedicated to the promotion, performance, creation and teaching of jazz music. Past members have included Miguel Zenon, Omer Avital, Helen Sung. among other musician all-stars. The current line-up features mainstays Marcus Strickland (tenor sax) and Josh Ginsburg (bass), and two newcomers- David Bryant (piano) and Greg Ward (alto sax). It’s a straight-ahead affair, and short, too: Five tracks clocking at just over a half hour. But it’s solid jazz that won’t steer anybody wrong. Also worth listening to is an earlier album Subway Songs, with the NYC train system as the thematic device. Neat stuff. Recommended.
Guillaume de Chassy, Silences: It seems, lately, that jazz albums recorded by former classical pianists have been hitting New Arrivals with some noticeable frequency. A common trait among the better of those releases is that the pianist seems unwilling to fight the gravitational pull of either music. One would think that it would lead to a confused muddle of compositions, but instead, many of these albums fuse the best of both worlds and lead to some intriguing music. That’s what we got here. With de Chassy on piano, in a trio with bass and clarinet, he gives us a startlingly resonant chamber jazz recording. Elegant and haunting. Find of the Week.
Jean-Philippe Scali, Evidence: Pretty cool large ensemble album from the French saxophonist. Scali on alto, baritone, and soprano saxes, and backed by piano, Fender Rhodes, trumpet, trombone, bass, drums, and some guesting with vibes, bass clarinet, tenor sax, and an additional trombone. Nice hopping tunes with some nifty wrinkles to keep things interesting; the sublime tune “Eternal Present” is a nice example of this. Unmistakably jazz, from a musician with an inventive touch.
Malte Schiller’s Red Balloon, The Second Time Is Different: Nice big band recording from a young group of players. Lighthearted, with that necessary touch of melancholy that gives gentle texture to any solid large ensemble session. This should take care of anybody’s need for a warm big band fix to fight off the bleak winter months.
And let’s wrap up with one of those albums that probably shouldn’t be categorized under jazz, but it’s too cool not to mention:
Yom & Wang Li, Green Apocalypse: Yom on Klezmer Clarinet, Wang Li on Jew’s Harp and Calabash Flute. Experimental World music, I suppose, might be the best way to sum this album up. It’s definitely different, and there was no way I was gonna let this one slip by.
–> Singles & EPs
James Vincent McMorrow, We Don’t Eat: New EP from falsetto-favoring JVM features very tender covers of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” and “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. Pretty.
Tip Top Tellix, Tip Top Tellix: I really like this! If the internet is to be believed – and when has it ever lied to us before? – this band is from Russia and they deliver buckets of brash, filmy twee pop faster than you can say “What a Country!” The usual touchstones — Lush, sped-up Slowdive — all come into play, but there’s something bigger and more grandiose going on here. Do I want more? DA! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Zola Jesus, “In Your Nature (David Lynch Remix”): Remix of the latest single from the excellent, underrated last Zola Jesus record. Of course it’s by David Lynch, because basically her whole persona is by David Lynch. Which you know is not a dis, because we love Nika and her music more than most things. Certainly more than a few of those mid ’90s David Lynch movies. What the fuck was he thinking there? RECOMMENDED
Santigold, “Disparate Youth”: Another new Santigold single. I loved her last record. The new stuff is sounding kind of characterless to me so far. I trust I will be proven wrong when I hear the full album.