Great stuff this week, the last week of the summer. My personal favorite is the Swans record, but I have a taste for the dark and the slightly perverse. Even if you don’t, however, there’s something in this week’s new arrivals you’ll probably be interested in.
Swans, The Seer -The most punishing, epic music Michael Gira has made with his Swans alias in years. Inspiring and fearsome. Andrew Parks has more:
Clearly the sound of someone who still doesn’t give a goddamn what you think, The Seer isn’t just a sprawling listen. It’s a record that just went off its meds, a striking, supremely challenging mix of manic melodies, endless experimentation, ritualistic drones and rigorous repetition. Amazing stuff, if you can make it to the other side without blowing your speakers.
Matthew Dear, Beams – Crisp, folded-napkin cyber-pop, shades of Eno and Gary Numan, from the former DJ who is slowly morphing into a shit-hot frontman. Andrew Parks, again, on the 1s and 2s:
At this point — 13 years, five albums, and several side projects into a preconception-skirting career as a producer/DJ/performer — it shouldn’t be surprising to find Matthew Dear fully embracing his inner Eno, Bowie and Byrne. Beams is yet another step in Dear’s welcome evolution as a songwriter. Not a party-rocker. Not a floor-filler. A songwriter. And since he started off as more of a club crawler, Dear isn’t quite a pop star just yet. He’s getting there, though, as proven by the unparalleled perfection of this album’s lead-off single, “Her Fantasy.” A career standout, it’s willfully wild and downright weird, from its Kenneth Anger-cribbing music video to its woozy rave whistle and incessant sampled chorus of “Pump it!/ Pump the bass!”
TEEN, In Limbo - Hazy, lazy, unhurried pop, like Fleetwood Mac if they’d spent a few too many hours baking under the desert sun. Truly hypnotic and lovely, with the harmonies to boot. Marc Hogan had this to say:
Mixed and produced by Spacemen 3â€²s Sonic Boom, and engineered by Here We Go Magic’s Jen Turner, full-length debut In Limbo is a brainy, immersive and often-intriguing blend of pulsing krautrock drone and bouncy Phil Spector harmonies. The 11-track set has its share of reverby retro-pop gems, whether confidently thrumming “Better,” lovesick space-prom waltz “Charlie” or insistent, surf-flecked “Electric.”
Holy Other, Held - Sumptuous, stunning apocalypse music from the always-reliable Tri Angle imprint. Philip Sherburne writes:
Holy Other’s debut album opens with a bang. Literally: It’s a long, drawn-out rumble that might be a thunderclap, or perhaps simply the sound of a needle dragging its way across a felt slip-mat, agonized and enervated. It’s a fitting kickoff for Held, which feels like the soundtrack to the end of the world. But the Manchester musician’s vision of the apocalypse is clearly the whimpering kind: Slow, sad, and sensually soporific, his music revels in mournful vocal samples, plaintive synthesizers and slow-motion beats.
Dan Deacon, America - The manic, all-systems-go, hyper-pop auteur returns with another album that bears a sober title but beneath it capers with the same cartoony spirit. Mike Powell writes:
Don’t let the big, mature title distract you: America is still a Dan Deacon album, and Dan Deacon’s music is, more or less, the same sublimely hyperactive stuff it’s always been. The main difference between this album and his previous ones is that some of the synthesizers have been replaced by oboes, which tend to sound slightly less like laser beams. The album’s centerpiece is a four-part, 20-minute suite called “USA.” Is it a coincidence that symphonies traditionally have four movements? Probably not. Deacon’s showing off his ambition here.
The Flatlanders, The Odessa Tapes - Rare demo recordings from the legendary trio of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Butch Hancock, a bluegrass powerhouse that united for only one official album. Bill Murphy writes:
More a Legend Than a Band, the title of the Flatlanders’ 1972 debut, speaks volumes about the band’s complicated history. For one thing, the three troubadours from Lubbock, Texas – Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock – almost immediately went their separate ways after making the album for Sun Records in Nashville. Each of them eventually found success as a solo artist, which piqued interest in the work they’d done together so many years before, and prompted a reunion that’s been going strong since the late ’90s. That legend gets burnished yet again with The Odessa Tapes – the long-thought-lost studio demos that bought the Flatlanders their original ticket to Nashville. Tracked one night in late 1971 in Odessa, Texas, these 14 songs are remarkable not only for how pristine they sound after 40 years, but for how thoroughly they capture the bluesy, dusty-road essence of the band.
Poor Moon, S/T - Delicate, dewy acoustic fingerpicking and mountain-stream clear high harmonies. Lovely, simple: a cross between Laurel Canyon pop and high Appalachia. RIYL: Fleet Foxes, Phosphorescent.
Dave Sumner’s Jazz Picks
Not a big drop this week, but there were some excellent albums that fall under the category of Something Different. And much to my delight, there’s a pick for fans of many many Jazz sub-genres. I try to avoid it, but I split the Pick of the Week honors between two albums. I’ve been listening to both albums continuously, and my adoration hasn’t waned for either recording, so backed into a corner and no a fan of flipping coins, I went with both albums. Let’s begin…
Scott McLemore, Remote Location: Drummer McLemore leads a quintet (featuring pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs) through a series of tunes that have terribly catchy melodies, while also plenty of intricacies to round things out. It gives the sense of an indie-pop tune hidden inside a jazz composition. Album has some of that Icelandic Jazz moodiness, but overall, emits more warmth than anything. Song “Citizen Sitting Zen” might be fatally addictive. Co-Pick of the Week.
Lionel Loueke, Heritage: Guitarist & vocalist Loueke has molded his own jazz sound, meshed from his West African roots and a forward-thinking modern jazz sensibility. The addition of pianist (and producer) Robert Glasper was an inspired decision, and the pairing works like a charm. Glasper shares many of Loueke’s characteristics… an earthy groove that seems born out of the air. Joined on the date by Derrick Hodge on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums (also, Gretchen Parlato sits in on vocals on a couple tracks). A magical album. Co-Pick of the Week.
There was another large Enja label drop on eMusic this week, and there’s several nice titles to choose from. The stand-out album, to my mind, is…
Wendell Harrison, Rush and Hustle: A veteran of the Detroit Jazz scene, and co-founder of Tribe Records, Wen-ha Records, and Rebirth Records, Harrison has been a moving force in Detroit for decades, and one of those artists who toil under the radar while fighting the good fight. This big band album is absolutely thrilling. Featuring Harrison’s “Mama’s Licking Stick Clarinet Ensemble” (which features James Carter on double B-flat contrabass clarinet), long-time Harrison collaborator Harold McKinney on piano, and Jerry Gonzalez at one of the percussion stations, the album hits a variety of themes… some groove, some soar, some swing… and all to great success. This is one of those albums that will never be rated as one of the all-time-greats, yet should be in everyone’s jazz collection. A real gem, and Highly Recommended.
Andrei Pushkarev, Bach Vibrations: Solo vibraphone performance of Bach’s “Inventions For Two Voices.” A surprisingly vibrant album, and not unlike how pianist Bill Evans would approach jazz through classical music. Nice.
Daniel Herskedal, Neck of the Woods: Duo album between tuba player Herskedal and saxophonist Marius Neset. Sounds like a set-up for a jazz joke, but there’s nothing funny about this music. Quite beautiful, with a nice mix of serenity and chatter. ECM fans should flock to this album, though I should mention it’s put out on Edition Records, a UK label that has been putting out a bunch of albums that make appearances in the Jazz Picks. Good stuff. One note: There’s a deluxe version of this album, but I can’t find any difference between the deluxe and “regular” version on eMusic. I link above to the “regular” version. Recommended.
Among many of Joel Dorn’s contributions to Jazz was resurrecting long-lost gems of albums that had dropped out of circulation. One of his labels, Hyena Records, was an avenue for jazz artists to dust off private recordings, either from at home or live events, and put them out for sale. Two more from that series dropped today. One from Les McCann and one from Alexander von Hagke, Loreley: This album might be a few months old, might be a year older than that, but I found it likable enough to get in a quick mention. A quartet led by saxophonist/clarinetist Hagke, and including guitar, bass, and drums. Intriguing album that has moments of brooding Nordic Jazz, but mostly it’s modern swing. The quieter tunes are the standouts, in my opinion, but the up-tempo give it some necessary fire.
Matt MacDougall, Familiar Faces: Nice debut album from guitarist MacDougall. Leads a quartet that includes trumpeter Paul Tynan. Mostly a straight-ahead affair, but MacDougall takes a few chances here and there with some mixed success. Overall, a promising start to MacDougall’s recording career, and hopefully we’ll hear more from him in the future. If you were hoping to find a modern jazz guitar album this week, go ahead and download this one. Released on Armored Records, a small outfit out of Canada which has released some very nice albums over the last year.
Shims Trio, And Again: High energy trio of Nathan Eklund (trumpet), Drew Gress (bass), and Don Peretz (drums, percussion). Angular lines and odd rhythms give it some differentiation, but it’s the quickstep tempos that carry the day for this album. Even during the slower tunes, there’s a sense of things developing quickly.
Andre Vida, Brud: Volumes 1-3: Huge compilation of the work of saxophonist, composer, and experimentalist Andre Vida. Not all of it Jazz, though for a recording like this, that’s sort of beside the point. Avant-garde get thrown about a bit loosely when describing music, and I’m guilty of it as much as anybody. Vida is the real deal. Whether his sound explorations on reeds, his keyboard/synth duo with Anthony Braxton, his repatriation of instruments from conventional usage a la Tzadik label, his penchant for AACM rumblings, or any of the other directions his music goes in, this is someone embodied by the word ‘unbounded.’
Tom Luther Quintet, Everything Is Blue: Nice little straight-ahead set. It’s Luther on piano, who rounds out his quintet with trumpet/flugel, tenor sax, drums, bass, and a guest who sits in on soprano sax for a few tunes. Nothing here that’s gonna knock anyone off their feet, just one of those amicable recordings that’s always nice to have rounding out a full music library.
Slaughterhouse Welcome To: Our House – This group of scowling, tough-guy rappers — Joell Ortiz, Royce da 5’9, Crooked I, and Joe Budden — have cultivated an alpha-male, real-hip-hop-only fanbase with their hyper-complex rhyme schemes and long, pyrotechnic verses. To me, they’ve always seemed like the hip-hop equivalent of one of those ‘80s guitar-hero supergroups — Damn Yankees or Chickenfoot. But their faithful are 100-percent on board.
Casual, Respect Game Or Expect Flames - If we’re going with super-complex, rapper’s-rapper verses, this is more my speed. Oakland rapper Casual used to hang with the Hieroglyphics crew, and he combines insane dexterity with a light, nimble touch.
Beanie Sigel, This Time - The gritty Philly rapper, once a member of Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella crew, issues his latest dispatch before he returns to prison, sadly, for a tax evasion charge. The music around him is somewhat diminished, but Beanie is still a powerhouse.
Nitty Scott, Boombox Diaries – Nice mellow SoulQuarian vibe to this record. Her rapping is closer to slam poetry than to hard rap. Kendrick Lamar swings by for a track.
Bondo Do Role, Tropicalbacanal – Brazilian cyber-funk outfit returns with their latest all-inclusive party. A ragtag group of guests swing through, including Das Racist, Poolside, and tropicalia eminence grise Caetano Veloso. A jubilantly mixed bag.
Tin Hat Trio, The Rain Is A Handsome Animal - Soulfully skewed modernist jazz/classical hybrid, with bent notes of klezmer and gypsy music snaking through the middle. Lovely, French-cafe-chanteuse vocals. A cool little cocktail with some surprising playing in it.
Minus The Bear, Infinity Overhead - Quirky prog-pop outfit from Seattle returns with their latest on Dangerbird, which continues their tack toward mainstream rock/pop.
Chilly Gonzalez, Solo Piano II – Lovely, placid, and tense minimalist solo piano burbles from the self-described “genius” and classical/hip-hop crossover phenom. This is a straight classical release, of course, but do yourself a favor and read our interview with the man who calls himself Chilly Gonzalez and learn more about his admirably, looned-out ambitions.
Rosie Thomas and Sufjan Stevens, Hit and Run Vol. 1 - Bright, bubbling little techno-pop trifles from Michigan singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas and Sufjan, who continues to explore his fascination with the voice-warping technology of the Autotuner.