New This Week: Yellow Dogs, Alabama Shakes, Hank Roberts & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.11.12 in Spotlights

A whole host of new releases this week across the stylistic spectrum. Let’s not waste any more time with pleasant introductions — let’s just get right to it.

The Yellow Dogs, Upper Class Complexity: We are so, so, so excited to welcome The Yellow Dogs into the eMusic Selects family. Their EP, which we have exclusively until May 8, is a firecracker — snide, whiplash post-punk with equal parts bile and rhythm. It is, of course, Highly Recommended, and you can get a feel for what it sounds like by downloading the Free Track, “Molly.” Our own Jayson Greene has more:

With their just-so vintage keyboard sounds, the echo-laden recording atmosphere, and the herky-jerk mid-song breakdowns, these songs seem to spring from years’ worth of close study of post-punk deep catalog…Yellow Dogs’ music harks back to a moment when every band had a busily riding hi-hat, rhythmic stabs of guitar, and a head full of frayed nerves: the brittle post-punk moment of circa-2003. Yellow Dogs songs are fiendish, caffeinated little puzzles of warily circling guitar and keyboards, each element feeling close and cramped, like riders stuck in a stalled elevator.

Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls: After Yellow Dogs, the other album we’re excited about this week is the long-time-comin’ debut from the justifiably buzzed-about Alabama Shakes. And, surprise surprise, this album is a scorcher, blending the ragged glory of classic rock with pure R&B passion and grit. It is Highly Recommended. We had John Morthland write a Six Degrees of the record, which you can read here and you can download their lead single, “Hold On,” plus tracks from several other ATO artists absolutely free with this sampler. As for the excellent record, eMusic’s Lindsay Zoladz says:

The first thing that will bowl you over is that voice. “Bless my heart, bless my soul/ I didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old,” howls singer/guitarist Brittany Howard in the opening moments of stellar single “Hold On,” showing off her gritty, soulful pipes and making those Joplin comparisons feel earned. But they’re not the whole story, either: Boys & Girls finds the Alabama Shakes pulling from the greats of rock and blues (catch the Bo Diddley reference in the opening lyric?) into a distinctive, and occasionally downright personal, sound. (“Come on Brittany!” she hollers to herself. “You gotta come on up!”)

Florence & the Machine, MTV Unplugged: I actually didn’t even know they were still doing MTV Unplugged! Regardless, Florence is the kind of artist it’s perfect for. Her voice is spectacular, and the acoustic version of “Shake it Out” raises gooseflesh. Recommended

Amadou & Mariam, Folila: The latest from the excellent Malian husband-and-wife duo. Like the last Tinariwen record, this one finds them pairing with a host of US indie all-stars, including Santigold, Kyp from TV on the Radio and Jake from the Scissor Sisters. Fortunately, this does not appear to have blunted their style, which is just as crisp and lively as ever.

Bonnie Raitt, Slipstream: After a breathtaking performance at the Grammys, Bonnie Raitt returns in fine form. Dan Ouellette has more:

After a seven-year hiatus from recording, it’s a welcome return for Raitt, who on Slipstream, sounds deeply refreshed, newly inspired and confidently relaxed. She also sounds reflective — based in no small part from a period of grieving after the deaths of both her parents, her brother and a best friend. All of this results in Raitt’s strongest outing since her 1989 commercial breakthrough, the multi-platinum, Grammy Album of the Year winner Nick of Time.

Emily Wells, Mama: I am really, really into this record. I’m going to be honest — the initial stuff I was hearing about her worried me (“Classical violin player who uses loops and also has a hip-hop influence!”) but this is nowhere near the kind of genre train wreck early reviews made it sound like. Instead, this is lovely, mysterious and kind of unsettling (in the best possible way), glitchy and spooky. Recommended

Seun Kuti & Africa 80, From Africa with Fury: Rise Remixes: Seun Kuti proudly carries on the legacy of his father in more than just name: his music — much of which is made with members of Fela’s old band — is as raw and propulsive as his dad’s. This remix record injects even more life into Seun’s already vibrant compositions. Michaelangelo Matos has more:

This remix EP of Afrobeat scion Seun Kuti’s second album is…one of the sharpest packages in recent memory…Optimo’s JD Twitch makes “African Soldier” over into an epic glide that’s almost Scandinavian in feel. Jacques Renault turns “Slave Masters” into a mid-tempo strut with an early-’80s feel — the snatches of smeared sax notes he decorates the slow, percussion-led build-up with have that Downtown NYC attitude, while swelling middle recalls Hugh Masakela’s Johannesburg-gone-Gotham “Don’t Go Lose It Baby” (1984) — while another New Yorker, FaltyDL, chops and reassembles the rhythmic chassis of “You Can Run” with ingenuity and zero cuteness.

Sea of Bees, Orangefarben: Gorgeous, heartbreaking new record from Sea of Bees. I’m a huge, huge fan of this band — Julie Ann Bee has a tender, trembling voice, and her songs have a mystic, ethereal quality that put them on a direct course for the darkest corners of the heart. Highly Recommended

Eternal Summers, The Dawn of Eternal Summers: Eternal Summers return with a fizzy new EP! Lindsay Zoladz has more:

There’s a large-hearted sweetness and a willful simplicity to Eternal Summers’ pogoing tunes that harkens back to the K Records roster in the ’90s — specifically, indie-pop acts like Tiger Trap and Henry’s Dress. But while there’s something almost childlike about the Roanoke, Virginia, duo’s The Dawn of Eternal Summers (“Speak a secret language I can’t hear,” Nicole Yun sings on the opening track, as trusting as if she were singing to her first love), there’s an undercurrent of melancholy to their songs that keeps them from inducing a toothache.

John Doe & Exene Cervenka Singing & Playing: Former (current, maybe, actually?) X core (and former couple) reunite for this really lovely batch of covers & otherwise, given the acoustic(ish) treatment.

Kat Edmonson, Way Down Low: This is a really disarming, pretty record, putting Edmonson’s fluttery voice against acoustic guitars and xylophones and musical settings that range from pop to jazz to mild samba. eMusic’s Dan Ouellette does a better job explaining it than I just did:

Beyond the marquee tune, Edmonson, who sings with a shy fragility and relaxed poise, covers lots of territory stylistically on her co-written pieces, including the sweet, lilting opener “Lucky,” the sunny samba “What Else Can I Do,” the cutesy and witty waltz “I’m Not in Love” and the flirty, straight-ahead jazz tune “Champagne,” with a Monkish beginning. Impressive covers include a somber take on Brian Wilson’s “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” (with a stellar trombone and French horn arrangement by saxophonist John Ellis) and Sonny Terry’s “I Don’t Know.”

Dirty Fences, Dirty Fences: I like this! Great, no-frills, no-gloss punk rock with a mild hardcore bent. Think a more mannered OFF!, maybe, with singing instead of shouting? Super throwbacky, super melodic, super fun and Recommended

Sleepy Sun, Spine Hits: Trudgy, stoney, doomy ’70s rock with crawling tempos, psyched-out harmonies, and occasional dalliances with straight up FM rock noodling. People love these dudes, so if you’re one of those people: the album is now here!

Black Breath, Sentenced to Life: Sophomore outing from brutal metallers, produced by Kurt Ballou from Converge, is another batch of high-octane vaguely-thrashy heavy metal with spiralling riffs and tempos that go from machine gun to steady chug-a-chug. I’m liking what I’m hearing. Recommended

Eight and a Half, Eight and a Half: Arts & Crafts gets into the minimal synth game, delivering a record of spooky coldwave that sounds like cruising on autopilot through a futuristic cityscape at midnight, with a robot in the passenger seat.

Stik Figa, As Himself: Another incredibly solid entry from the unbeatable Mello Music label. I’ve been listening to this almost daily since I got the promo a few weeks ago. Nate Patrin gives you the scoop on this Recommended record:

For hip-hop fans who value authenticity, Stik Figa is as real as it gets…the fittingly titled As Himself is a short but comprehensive introduction to an engaging, hard-working everyman MC. With an easygoing voice that glides through finely detailed, scenario-setting lyrics, he finds insightful personal angles on daily-grind things…while still coming correct on big-picture material like the Aaron Neville-invoking Great Recession study “Medicine.”

Zambri, House of Bassa: Pretty excellent, creepy synth-based music that puts the pouty, hypnotic vocals of the sisters who comprise the group’s core out front. The perfect gloomy dance-along soundtrack to your next goth party. Which you know you’re totally having next week, so don’t even try to front.

Dinosaur Feathers, Whistle Tips: Some pretty sunny, harmony-loaded indie rock with almost a bit of a ’50s/doo-wop vibe — imagine that aesthetic applied to kinda noodly indie and you’re getting close. I am not sure that was a very helpful description.

Prinzhorn Dance School, I Want You: New EP built around a single from the last Prinzhorn full-length.You get that song plus two others — which are squarely within the band’s stark, spindly post-punk style.

The Pastels, Sittin’ Pretty: Excellent 1989 album from noisy Scottish tweepoppers, featuring the classic “Nothing to Be Done.” Expect stormy guitars and dour, downcast vocals. This one is Highly Recommended

Moka Only & Ayatollah, Bridges: Collaboration between Canadian MC Moka Only & the New York producer Ayatollah sounds roughly as you might expect — vaguely throwbacky production (soul snippets, boom-bap beats) with Moka’s sunny, spirited flow.

Municipal Waste, The Fatal Feast: God bless these crazy kids. A full decade in, and they show no signs of slowing down or changing course. eMusic’s Jon Wiederhorn gives you the breakdown:

The musicianship is tighter, making Municipal Waste sound more like S.O.D. than early D.R.I., and the songs are less repetitive. Three even sport guitar solos; The best, “Authority Complex,” peaks with an Iron Maiden-style twin-guitar harmony. Before you cry “sellout!” keep in mind that the leads and more developed midsections only enhance the band’s ferocity.

Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner
For the most part, this week, it’s albums that run parallel to straight-ahead jazz, remaining close to that sound, yet different in essential ways unique to each musician. Or said another way, sometimes a little bit of Different goes a long way. Let’s begin…

Hank Roberts, Everything Is Alive: Hank Roberts has contributed his cello to several wonderful jazz albums, notably to some of Bill Frisell’s finest recordings. On this Winter & Winter recording, Frisell is the visiting musician. Along with Kenny Wollesen on drums and Jerome Harris on bass, it’s a tight mix of Americana, folk, and jazz that is just as alluring as it is catchy. Just beautiful. And the Winter & Winter label has impeccable taste in music, to boot. Highly Recommended.

Joe Locke / Geoffrey Keezer Group, Signing: No matter how strong musicians may be on their own, there is something so special to hear specific combinations that are simply meant to play together and whose collaborative sound is so much fuller than the individual sum of their parts. Following on the huge success (and, IMO, 2011 Album of the Year) of their Storms/Nocturnes trio album VIA (w/Tim Garland), Locke (vibes) and Keezer (piano) join together again for yet another magical set of music. Rounding out their quartet with Mike Pope on bass and Tereon Gully on drums, it’s a wonderful set of modern jazz that swings with a happy step, but always stays just a little bit moody to keep things interesting at all times. Lovely that they do a version of “Her Sanctuary,” a composition that couldn’t be any prettier or mysterious. Pick of the Week.

Darius Jones, Book of Maebul (Another Kind of Sunrise): Alto saxophonist Jones consistently brings a Roots of Blues aspect to his jazz, which typically manifests as a spiritual shout to the heavens above. This recording consistently inches to the edge of an avant-garde sound, which serves more to give a nice satisfying edge to the soulful side of his jazz. If Jones isn’t a common name in the jazz landscape, each successive release makes him increasingly difficult to overlook. If you don’t have a Jones album in your music library, it’s time to rectify that and download now. Recommended.

Alexander Hawkins Ensemble, All There, Ever Out: Pianist Alexander Hawkins is emerging as a strong voice in the jazz avant-garde world. Most intriguingly, as Hawkins’ sound has developed, it has become more accessible as it also grows more confident. A lovely example of this is third track “Owl (Friendly),” a melodic piece of dissonance that follows two freer pieces, and which seems perfectly in place in the flow of the album. Challenging, yes, but an album that seems willing and able to meet the listener halfway. Piano, cello, marimba, guitar, percussion/drums, and double bass. Recommended.

Kenny Garrett, Seeds From the Underground: Alto saxophonist Garrett has been putting out great jazz for the better part of the last two decades, and like anyone with a solid discography, it’s always great to hear them continue to develop their voice, and in this case, their compositional talents. Garrett has put together a confident set of hard bop tunes; plenty of bounce, plenty of life and fire, and all kinds of jazz goodness. Rounds out a quartet with piano, bass, and drums, with guesting on percussion and vocals. This album is a reason to celebrate. Highly Recommended.

Wayne Escoffery, The Only Son of One: Interesting release by Escoffery. Doubling up on tenor and soprano sax, and backed by a nifty ensemble that includes Orrin Evans and Adam Holzman sharing duties on piano, keys, and Rhodes, and Hans Clawischnig assuming some of the bass duties. Lots of emotion in these tunes, and more likely to engage the heart than the head. Released on the Sunnyside Records label, and on their site, they mention Escoffery’s rough childhood as the inspiration for this album. If this is true, then it goes a long way to explaining the weighty feel to this album. Good stuff.

Marcus Lewis, Facing East: Nice debut EP for the trombonist Lewis. Among other collaborations, a former member of Janelle Monae’s ArchOrchestra. It’s a large ensemble affair, and with some recognizable names of the new gen jazz set. Nothing groundbreaking, just a solid set of tunes from an artist with a confident voice. Straight-ahead, dynamic, and cheerful.

Igor Matkovic, Sonic Motion: Nifty quartet recording with trumpet, piano/keys, bass, drums, and healthy doses of electronics. Matkovic seems to be firmly entrenched in the Cuong Vu – Nils Petter Molvaer school of fuzzy distortion and warped sound. Some tracks are more straight-ahead modern, whereas others dive into the deep end of atmospherics. A strength of Cuong Vu’s is his ability to bring both of those facets to each tune; hopefully Matkovic will move in that direction. This album is a promising sign of things to come.

Eri Yamamoto, The Next Page: Nice piano trio date. Yamamoto has a delicate, yet evocative touch on the keys, so while it may be more candle than bonfire, you can still feel some heat from a distance. Trio plays like one, nice brush work by the drummer, nice lyricism by the bassist in the higher registers. Easy-to-like album.

The Odd Trio, Birth of the Minotaur: Trio of sax, guitar, and drums. Probably have a lot of Zorn albums on their shelves, based on the way they slip between genres without missing a beat. Some jazz, some rock, some surf, some Twin Peaks soundtrack, some fusion of all of the above and more. Really quite a fun album. Find of the Week.