Saturday, December 27, 2008

What Are You Listening to Lately (Part 7)?

OK, I know I promised I'd get things back on track quickly and clearly I've failed in that, but at least it's because I've been too busy to make it happen in a timely fashion. See below for proof:

I've thrown in a couple extra reviews to make up for it. Sorry. See you in the new year, where I will most assuredly be very regular with my reviews.

Squeeze - East Side Story
Probably their finest hour, giving them the most room stylistically to test Difford and Tilbrook's songwriting skills in pop-soul, pop-rockabilly, or pop-country modes (oh yeah, and plain ol' pop music mode, too). Partly this is thanks to producer Elvis Costello, who's playing the overseer role here and probably encouraged D&T to work outside of their comfort zones. They're rewarded with a bunch of sparkling touches that light up the record in a way they never quite managed before or after - weird keyboards on "Heaven," Paul Carrack's famed white-soul vocal on "Tempted," backwards effects on "There's No Tomorrow," the entire menacing and relentless drive of "F-Hole," all of which serve to make this one really stand out. Add in the sequencing that Costello may or may not have pushed for, the fine melodic sense that D&T always had and their way with the small personal details that make their songs felt and you've pretty much pieced together the finest collection of Squeeze music that you could hope for. It's not just good songs, it's the album as a sum greater than its constituent pieces.

(Note: since writing this, I found out that the album is out of print on CD. We almost always have the vinyl in stock used though, and I recommend that experience over the CD, anyway.)

Al Green - Lay It Down
A good one. Individual tracks don't jump quite as much as even on I Can't Stop, but it's a palpable rebound from the perfectly-titled Everything's OK. Production by ?uestlove's (of The Roots) and his choices of players/guests is pretty choice too, - though someone so steeped in the mode of laid-back 70's groove that Al pioneered damn well better be able to replicate it well. So if it's not as perfect as the best Al Green/Willie Mitchell collaborations it'd be good to remember that they weren't infallible themselves and that even without Mitchell alongside him, Green's done some brilliant stuff on his own. So think of it less as ?uestlove's move to lead Green than Green's move to find a simpatico partner after his rekindled relationship with Mitchell stalled again and realize that he's put together a fine record backed by a cache of musicians who owe their careers to the style of R&B that he and Mitchell made a reality. And that with a few more songs that stood out as well as the title cut, this album could really be something that makes me hot to go find it when it's on the shelf instead of just enjoying it when it happens to find its way on around me. I hope this signifies the beginning of a good working relationship and, more importantly, a great songwriting team.

John Coltrane - Transition
Right out of the gate the title track lets you know it means business – things start intense and build from there over the track’s 15 ½ minutes into the screechy end of the tenor’s range, which I love but I understand turns some people off to this music. As with everything of this era of Trane’s classic quartet, these guys are totally in synch with each other – they’ve got a perfect understanding of where they – collectively – are moving with each piece. So if they come right out with “Transition” and knock you into a daze, “Welcome” will be a nice relief. They’re still taking things seriously, but they’re also taking them a little more slowly, giving some breathing room. Next up is the 21+ minute “Suite,” which moves through five segments that to me just sound like five solo sections, but then I’m not in charge of naming these things. I think it’s a fine slice of late quartet-dom, but not as programmatically strong as the suites he’d begin organizing later on this year of their development, even if the interplay is top-notch. But things get brighter in the close-out with “Vigil,” a superb duet between Trane and the mighty Elvin Jones that for close to 10 minutes simply burns – here is where the roles McCoy Tyner and Jimmy Garrison play in the band start to become undermined; probably not a conscious move on Trane’s part, simply a piece of the transition he speaks of as he moves from one thing to the next in his development.

(Please note that this review treats the CD as though it were how the album was originally released and/or intended, though I am well aware that it consists of tracks added to and/or omitted from the original posthumous issue. But the recording sessions are close enough to each other that they can be considered very closely related and the sequencing of the CD is extremely well-done, creating perhaps more substance than was meant with the music, though obviously it does not fully obscure its somewhat fragmentary nature.)

Husker Du - Flip Your Wig
Bob Mould kills on the A-side of this while Grant Hart keeps a solidly lower profile throughout. Title track takes on both writers' views of impending stardom (that sadly never really came their way), then Grant's "Every Everything" sets the stage for Bob to introduce the greatest drum fill of the 80's, surrounded by one of his all-time best tunes and lyrics in "Makes No Sense At All" (which even to this day I think would adapt remarkably well to a twangy country reading, but never mind...). Up next - Bob's quick and catchy "Hate Paper Doll." Grant follows with his fine love song "Green Eyes" and Bob kicks out one of his best power riffs in "Divide and Conquer," which also offers up the unique trick of holding out on delivering its chorus until the very end. Bob's "Games" closes the side out with something more generic, offering a glimpse of what's to come on the second side, where the tables turn and Grant gets to showcase his best stuff while Bob flounders a bit. There Bob gives us "Find Me" and "Private Plane" while Grant steps it up with "Flexible Flyer" and the heartfelt "Keep Hanging On." They both throw out a goof in "The Baby Song" and close the record on two solid if unspectacular instrumentals that leave authorship uncertain. Grant is concerned mainly with relationships throughout - and maybe Bob is too sometimes, though he makes his words ambiguous enough that even when they're clearly directed at another person his meanings are still opaque. On the first side where he's as catchy and riff-happy as any point in his career the opacity doesn't bother me; on the flip where structure, noise and forward motion take the place of melody, I balk a little. Grant, on the other hand, starts out slow and makes gains with each song on the album, ending things on a high with his vocal performance in "Keep Hanging On." The instrumentals provide enough auditory damage and guitar madness to keep fans on their earlier work happy, but I think that their tune sense was improving around this time and that they put all the pieces - noise, tune, vocals, words - together better on their next one, even if it doesn't sport a "Makes No Sense At All" to anchor it. A solid record that's about 50% great, 50% good, but they did melody better next time out and noise better last time out.

Bill Evans - Alone
No multi-tracking, no band, just Evans solo, playing four across the A-side and one extended slice of genius over the B. The CD offers up alternate versions of all five tracks plus another two solos from the same sessions - a standards medley and the lone Evans original of the set. The original album though remains the focus. The shorter songs are lovely - nothing is terrifically fast here (it is, after all, Bill Evans), but they're not languorous either, just thoughtful, introspective, lovely. But when the 14:34 of "Never Let Me Go" kicks off, you know you're in for a ride. Evans states the song's melancholy melody and begins to spin off his improvisations, alighting regularly to restate the melody only to fly off again. If anything, it's too short for me at 14 1/2 minutes. I could listen to him work it over for 20 minutes easily. I guess that's where the bonus tracks come in again, offering up 10 1/2 more minutes of the song (and of course, the other alternates). There's not a lot of solo Bill out there, so it's good that this particular record is a pretty damn fine one.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Alf's Best of 2008

I ain't gonna lie - this year was rough. In real life AND in music. Luckily, a down year for music doesn't mean there wasn't anything good. It just means you have to dig a bit deeper to find the good stuff. And I did quite a bit of digging this year. Usually, when I compile my best-of list, I can think of eight CDs right off the bat. This time, I think I thought of only two. After that, it was going back through the collection and saying "Oh, right. THIS came out this year. Yeah, this one's good." Here's hoping for a better 2009.

M83 - Saturdays=Youth
Passion Pit - Chunk of Change
Sloan - Parallel Play
Monkey - Journey to the West
Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
Heloise & the Savoir Faire - Trash Rats & Microphones
InnerPartySystem - InnerPartySystem
Roe - Letters & Lights
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
We Are Scientists - Brain Thrust Mastery

Jason's Best of 2008

It's hard to say why I chose Hank III for my number one pick for 2008... Actually it's more of a three way tie with Madlib & Raphael Saadiq, but all of these albums are super strong, and in my opinion, can be listened to repeatedly the same day. Don't think that the other albums on my list are any less good, it is just that I've devoted more time at work or at home to listen to these three.
On another note, if I had more time and didn't restrict myself to ten items, I would have added Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Femi Kuti's Day by Day, The Clash's Live at Shea Stadium, The Secret Chiefs 3 Xaphan, and Extra Kool's Creature from the Whack Lagoon. I'm also looking forward to a couple of releases scheduled for next year: P.O.S. - Never Better, MF Doom - Born Into This, and Mastodon - Crack the Skye

Hank Williams III - Damn Right Rebel Proud
Madlib - WLIB AM
Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See it
Flying Lotus - Los Angeles
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons…
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 - Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
Jean Grae & 9th Wonder - Jeanious
Portishead - Third
This Runs on Blood - This Runs on Blood
Rudimentari Peni - No More Pain

Natasha's Best of 2008

My favorite band from the west coast is the virtually unknown group called Loquat. Their latest album called Secrets of the Sea was so indie that I didn't even know about it for my top 10 list! But now that I have a copy I listen to it daily. Check out this sweet band from San Francisco!

Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Santogold - Santogold
Roots Manuva - Slime & Reason
Deerhoof - Offend Maggie
Nick Cave - Dig Lazarus Dig
TV on the Radio - Dear Science
Beck - Modern Guilt
Dungen - 4
Dub Trio - Another Sound Is Dying
Porlolo - Meadows
Brazilian Girls - New York City
Woven Hand - Ten Stones
Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One
Calexico - Carried to Dust
Bug - London Zoo
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Rose Hill Drive - Moon Is The New Earth
Aimee Mann - Smilers
Portishead - Third
Stereolab - Chemical Chords
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Kasai All Stars - Congotronics 3: In The 7th Moon the Chief Turned Into
A Swimming Fish...

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree
Hanne Hukkelberg - Little Things

Persepolis (Drama)
Sarah Silverman Program (TV Show)
Control (Drama)
There Will Be Blood (Drama)
Buddha Of Suburbia (TV Show)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (TV Show)
Who Killed the Electric Car? (Documentary)
Pelican - After the Ceiling Cracked (Rock DVD)
Radiohead - Best of Videos (Rock DVD)
Electric Apricot (Comedy)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mojiferous' (Joe Flores) Best of 2008

After a few rather depressing years of almost losing interest in hip-hop, 2008 redeemed itself completely. By the end of the year I was actually faced with some tough decisions to pare my list down to a manageable
number. Yet it was the amazing Evil Urges by My Morning Jacket that finally captured my top spot, edging out all other competitors, if only because I couldn't stop listening to it!

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

Patrick Brown's Best of 2008

The official top ten are albums I stand by in their entirety, with special mention for the top four, all spectacular and wonderful records that gave me something I was not expecting from their respective artists and got the most spins from me this whole year. Honorable mentions are close to great, certainly enjoyable. Anyone who likes the artists in question will probably enjoy them as much as I did. Those who don't know or like them may not be convinced. Reissues are all things I'll endorse in their entirety as well, noting especially that the Ornette reissue has never been available in the States in a good-sounding non-bootleg - Paul Bley still isn't served well by the recording (ironic that it was originally released under his name), but the rest of the band - especially Ornette and Don Cherry - sound good here. Oh yeah, Steinski too - another thing never officially available because of his sample-heavy construction, but this is the groundwork for a ton of hip-hop, and if you think a DJ and some records can't form meaning, check out his take on the Kennedy assassination, or his 9/11 piece.

Paul's Best of 2008

A tough year to be sure, but some relief was to be found in the music. Mudcrutch took me back to a very sweet time when Rock music was a lot easier to understand. Somehow I forgot about Portishead, and I hadn’t heard the Byrne/Eno album yet, both of which would have probably made my list. If there is one CD I would say you HAVE to have this year it would probably be the Los Cenzontles album Songs of Wood & Steel. It is at once new and old, modern and traditional, fun and serious. For fans of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, this is essential. Also, both the new Dylan Bootleg Series volume 8 and the Neil Young Sugar Mountain live made me feel really good in really bad times. Thanks guys.

Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch
Ryan Adams - Cardinology
Los Cenzontles - Songs of Wood and Steel
Hayes Carll - Trouble In Mind
Spiritualized - Songs In A&E
David Gilmour - Live In Gdansk
Black Keys - Attack and Release
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
John Zorn - The Dreamers
Lucinda Williams - Little Honey
Dungen - 4
Paper Bird - Anything Nameless and Joymaking
Jason Isbell - Live at Twist and Shout
Calexico - Carried To Dust
The Devil Makes Three - The Devil Makes Three
Mercury Rev - Snowflake Midnight
Joseph Arthur - Temporary People
Dr. Dog - Fate
Raconteurs - Consolers Of The Lonely
Otis Taylor - Recapturing The Banjo


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Are You Listening to Lately (part 6)?

Sorry I've slacked folks. Holidays, film festival, and other stuff (including laziness) conspired to keep me down. I promise I'll get back on track. I swear it.

FrancoAfrican Classics
First disc is a chronological mess, while the second runs more or less in order (with a couple jumps). But the music makes it across the board, and it’s nice for me to pick up my third Franco “Best of” collection with minimal overlap with the other two. And what’s that? Liner notes that not only tell you a little about each piece, but tell you which CD the track is on, should you choose to follow through on some favorites? The amateur ethnomusicologist/collector nerd in me is in heaven! Only drawback for me is that not every track is as killer as on competing best ofs – the great-but-out-of-print The Very Best of Franco or the equally great and still in print The Rough Guide to Franco (or the brand-new Francophonic, just released last week to right the wrong Stern's made when they took Very Best of out of print). But for two in-print, domestically available discs studded with greatness and always delivering joy at a single disc price, it seems foolish if not downright stupid of me to even mention that it’s less consistent. It’s pretty great throughout, and if my taste favors the dancy, guitar-heavy 70’s and 80’s material while this even-handedly represents the rumba-leaning 50’s and 60’s, that’s my problem. Get it if you have the slightest inkling that you’d enjoy it.

Run DMCRaising Hell
More consistent than the debut, though nothing here is as startlingly brilliant as “Rock Box” or “Sucker MC’s.” Even so, it’s brimming with a confidence and verve their sophomore effort lacks and from first beat to last they rarely step wrong. As a crossover move, “Walk This Way” was (and still is) a stroke of genius – or at least it was a stroke to get Tyler and Perry on board for the ride. The song slays – great original turned into great cover, and Tyler sounds as comfortable in this setting as the guys from Hollis (a great shot in the arm for his commercial potential of the day, too). What used to be the A-side is a great sequence – perfect opener in “Peter Piper” to the back-to-back anthems of "It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas” to the aforementioned “Walk This Way” to a slight cooldown with the short, funky hit of “Is It Live” and the totally live-in-the-studio feel of “Perfection.” The former B kicks almost as hard, dipping in quality only on “Dumb Girl” (it’s still funky tho) and letting up the intensity only for the jokey humor of “You Be Illin’,” but making up for any flaws with one of the best and most out-there pieces of music they ever essayed – “Proud to Be Black.” In a way, that song is the statement of purpose of both album and career for these guys, summing up in a few succinct phrases and wild scratches what the braggadocio of not even just their own career, but all of this era of rap had as its unspoken subtext – unspoken until now, of course. Shoulda been a single, though songs with “motherfucker” in them don’t get on the radio often. And the singles here signified plenty on their own. Backed by the deeper album cuts, it makes for a damn near flawless listening experience and what may in the long run prove to be their finest album.

StereolabMars Audiac Quintet
My second most favorite by Stereolab though I’d point out that I’m not really to be trusted since A) I pretty much stopped picking up new albums by them somewhere around the turn of the millennium and B) I think that all their albums except the divine Emperor Tomato Ketchup are of more or less equal quality (high). But some – this one, for example – are slightly more equal and find their way into my listening more regularly than others. This fact is helped along by little strokes like the terrific lyrics of “Wow and Flutter,” the Krautrock influence that puts a fine, artsy, electro-acoustic sheen on things, and the brilliance of “Des Etoiles Electroniques,” a little slice of heaven which just floats above and beyond the rest of the record. A shame it comes in so early – would’ve made a nice linchpin in the middle of the record. But it’s pretty great throughout – more rock-heavy than later albums would prove to be, yet infused with the breathy melodiousness that makes it seem lighter than air, a fact punctured by the seriousness of the lyrics: usually political, always leftist, often in French. It’s one of the best spoonfuls of sugar they’ve created to make their socialist medicine go down.