Thursday, March 29, 2012

John Talabot: fIN (2012)


(Permanent Vacation)

RECOMMENDED

This Barcelona DJ has let slip one of the most heavily hyped looping electro-discs of the last year or two; it's certainly an immersive example of the kind of nocturnal music that AraabMUZIK and Nicolas Jaar, among others, have catapulted into popularity. Of course there's a vast stylistic gulf between those two musicians, and so it goes that Talabot clearly carves out his own curious niche, in this case a touch of Africa and a willingness to let the nonmusical fall in lockstep with his creations, like the frog croaking on the ebbing flowing opener "Depak Ine," a splendid introduction to the pleasures offered by this striking record.

Two problems make it hard to embrace Talabot's album as fully as some have. First, it's vastly front-loaded; the first half's "El Oeste," with its empty repetitions washing over the listener, suggests the manner and speed with which the wheels will come off on the second. "Missing You" and "Last Land" are dilutions of a weak '80s sound evocative of worldbeat, "So Will Be Now" is a Moby-like loop that goes on too long, while "Estiu" is bro-chillout if there is such a thing. The other problem is that the entire LP is nearly shadowed by the overwhelming "Destiny," a genuinely seductive night anthem that some would say makes you feel infinite and certainly does a fine job of giving off the traditional dance music urge to bust out. It recalls the best of Four Tet and especially Pantha Du Prince's "Stick to My Side," thanks to the stunning vocal by Pional. It's utter romance.

That song's sense of communal joy gives some clue as to the reasons for the outlandish praise that's greeted fIN; and when the record isn't too busy to let you surrender, it kind of towers. "Oro Y Sangre," despite its baffling repeated use of female screams as punctuation, is an especially persuasive house construction with an overpowering bottom end and a great Modey EDM keyboard hook. "Journey" showcases the strong influence of both 12" maxi-singles from the 1980s and the late-2000s work of Animal Collective in the soaring vocal by Ekhi, fully overcoming the first impression that it's the soundtrack to a kids' scientific education video.

At its weakest extremes, fIN still has some degree of charm, especially for big fans of kitsch. "When the Past Was Present" is an impossibly cheesy "urban" piece that sounds like a Haddaway or Londonbeat b-side, but if you're nostalgic or into bigtime Hi-NRG, that might appeal to you. Besides, the back half of the LP works well enough for the point in the party when everyone's a bit too outside themselves to care much about the music anymore. One imagines a lot of drunken dancing taking place to "H.O.R.S.E." over the next few months, and good on Talabot for fostering that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Albert King: Best Of (1968-73)


(Stax)

It's been established already that modern electric blues of the great Kings' (B.B. and Albert) persuasion is a deaf spot for me -- can't explain it, respect and acknowledge it, but it doesn't connect here. As with the unrelated but almost synonymous B.B. King, there are several early sides of Albert's that I really love, and going a bit further into the '60s and '70s you'll find outstanding pieces like "Born Under a Bad Sign" and "C.O.D.," plus a pair of brilliant, underrated performances in "Cadillac Assembly Line" and "Cockroach." What's surprising is how much more Albert King at his best works for me than B.B. King at his best, but that's another digression for another time and doesn't really bear detailed analysis. The point is Albert's work is witty, vibrant, and it swings like hell occasionally -- but it still has that strange thud that leaves me distant from it.

This compilation, though, gives little indication of where King's deepest gifts lie; it's really an hour or so of blues-tinged and swelteringly slick soul music, polished and urbane in a far greater sense even than most material Stax generally put out, certainly far more so than anything we tend to associate with blues, even on the deeper end of the Delta electric spectrum. Despite King's fine guitar and consistently grand vocal performances, there's something hollow and anonymous about the material from this tiny, ultimately sort of insignificant phase in his career -- by no standards, mine or anyone's, is this a real collection of the "best of" Albert King. No scholar would dispute that, and no casual fan would either; I don't even go that far but I can still sense how poor a job this does of extracting the meat from this period in an illustrious career and playing to its artist's strengths. There are too many covers, for one thing -- and as an interpreter, King doesn't really excel or venture out into real feeling the way you hear it on his own material.

Still, I say this with a modicum of hesitation because the reason Best Of is still sitting in my collection is that there was one night several years ago -- a considerable span of time after my brother gave it to me and I gave it a few cursory spins -- when it clicked and I wallowed in it and had the time of my life. The lights were down, I'd just come home from a bar (this is when I drank occasionally, trying to turn my life into a low-tier film noir) and was in a surly mood, and Albert King sang to me that night. On the assumption that such a moment may happen again, this is nice to have. I mean, there are times, right? We all have those times. On that basis I wonder if there's more to this than I'm hearing right now, if it's even possible to hear it outside the right context. You know the territory. If you're there, maybe you should pick this up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Magnetic Fields: Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012)


(Merge)

RECOMMENDED

Read my Metro Times review.

You can't go around just saying stuff because it's witty.

[SEE ALSO:]
Distortion (2008)

The Rolling Stones: England's Newest Hit Makers (1964)


(London)

Yeah, no question, the Rolling Stones are crucial -- one of the all-time top bands, yeah? -- but their first few albums really aren't essential. Part of the reason for this is illustrated nicely by the U.S. version of their debut, which is all self-conscious "raw" R&B that the group really isn't all that great at presenting, then suddenly they wrap themselves around their own composition, a mournful and dramatic ballad, and it's a revelation. The Stones' story is truly of a band pretending, and a band somewhat (but not always) in denial of their own skill set. That's not to say that they aren't perfectly serviceable at presenting the balls-out rock & roll of their black American heroes, just that they really digest and reformulate it for a different audience, the same way Pat Boone did; the more familiar you are with the original performances, the less likely you are to find much about the Stones' reconstructions that isn't just dull. Face it: the Beatles were more exciting, the Kinks were more genuinely raw. The Stones' mastery would come later.

But what of the constant Beatles vs. Stones arguments? What is the meaning of this meaningless conflict? Everything about it is half-baked except the important distinction between the two bands -- whereas the Beatles, from the Hamburg days on, were devoted wholly to precision as a concept, methodology, and livelihood, the Rolling Stones are about rock music that falls together, that seems to spontaneously be, giving the constant illusion (from the very first notes of "Not Fade Away" on this package) of being somehow off the cuff, therefore seeming real in a way the other British Invasion bands didn't necessarily. It's a neat trick, and it's already happening here. The band's interplay seems intriguingly deep-rooted, they're dedicated and tight and enthusiastic, but Mick Jagger isn't ready yet. He can't keep up. The way Buddy Holly chirped and hollered suggestively on the masterful original "Not Fade Away," Jagger just kind of barks and sneers the words out, as though he's singing them just to sing them and not because he wants something, namely you.

They were a big deal from the start; not only did they help usher in the rejuvenated worldwide ideal of London, they sold for the first time ever an image of rock & roll as a vehicle of attitude -- that was what it was, more than sex or kicks or anything else. They probably didn't give a shit, themselves; all evidence suggests that they, Brian Jones most of all, just wanted to bang out some songs and enjoy the ride, at least early on. Magic did happen in here, though; by the end of 1964, they'd be holding their own sharing a stage with James Brown. No doubt you can hear the roots of that talent and what was to come afterward here.

All the same, it remains a curious hybrid of remarkable innovation and stale posturing; call it prep school punk rock. The Stones' conception of R&B is so excessively polite, especially compared to the Beatles' outlandish guttings of pop songs in the same period, it's a wonder they don't get mentioned in a breath with the Tremeloes. The band does their best with what they're given on the hand-me-down "Little by Little" and try to give a tune-up to the staid "Route 66," but they can't really win; when the taste in cover material improves, their versions come across as all but pointless. They add nothing whatever to Chuck Berry's "Carol" or Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness," but perhaps they play well to folks who never really listened to the real songs.

Andrew Loog Oldham manipulated and coiffed the Stones to suit a marketplace's need, anyway, the same way Brian Epstein cleaned up the Beatles -- leading to a permanent misconception about the two bands. The Stones were the good kids, the bright and well cared-for young men whose lives were destined to be charmed with or without this boon. The Beatles were complicated fuckups, running with gangsters and hookers in Hamburg, getting into serious leather-jacketed trouble, falling in with avant garde scenes and brutal murderous teddy boys. Musically this doesn't amount to much, but it makes it laughable when people regard the early Beatles as cute stuffed animals. Compare John Lennon's impassioned and sensual mauling of the sweet-natured mild Motown "Please Mr. Postman" or, fuck, even Dave Davies' feverishly impulsive "Milk Cow Blues" to Mick Jagger's ridiculous "I'm a King Bee" and almost innocently rote "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and the issue here is obvious: as much as has been written to the contrary, the Stones were not a great R&B outfit and never would be.

But then there's "Tell Me," the sort of thing people never really talk about when discussing the early Stones. It's difficult to believe it dates from such an early point -- it bears all the hallmarks of a 1966-67 45 with even a hint of baroque psychedelia, encompassing even the four-minute runtime. None of the clean-cut theater of the rest of the album matters here; Jagger sounds felt and pained and completely in the moment, the band sounds somber and vaguely apocalyptic, and suddenly we seem to advance to a higher plane of some kind. Like magic, for these few moments they become not a cut-rate covers band but the Rolling Stones, and that's why we're here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (2012)


(Mom + Pop)

RECOMMENDED

Read my Metro Times review.

Seriously conflicted about this one, and I'm putting it away for a while because it doesn't seem to warrant so much internal debate. It's decent.

[SEE ALSO:]
Noble Beast (2009)
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire: Thrills (1998)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Al Green: Let's Stay Together (1972)


(Hi)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

First there's the single and title track, improbably enough (seriously, how can this be?) Green's only #1 hit; even after it's become one of the most recognizable musical pop culture staples of the last four decades, it still sounds like this zigzagging bouncing and slightly out-of-time thing that amounts in its roundabout fashion to dance music! -- achingly slow dance music drenched in sexuality, body music, but still some colorful work of art that's finally coolly and solely devoted to movement. Everything funnels into that, above all (but by no means ending with) Green's voice, this affected confidence that makes no great show of its versatility because it doesn't have to stretch to present it. It just is what it naturally is, croaking and cooing, mumbling ("whypeopleabreaaakup") and suddenly at just the right time, woo! The pop and soul (take your pick, or both) masterpiece is such because it ends just before it has the chance to be too much, just tantalizingly short enough to leave you hanging and longing. We've not even mentioned the horns. Who has enough words for those horns?

They're sleazy, to say the least; they define sleaze, of the sort that laughs in the face of its unbridled, crazed penetrative cry; they're the final result of the din that began with the intrusively surreal, nasty sax breaks on Little Richard's early records, the ones that seemed to burst with an underbelly of nightlife many of the prospective listeners could only imagine. In Green's world, that underbelly is nothing to hide from; it lives in our own bedrooms and fantasies. Who knows how much he would admit that "Old Time Lovin'," arguably the peak of the horns and sleaze both, is total late-night? He doesn't really talk about anything untoward here, but he sings it because it's in his throat, barely held back in the way he runs across the words, words he visits one by one and all together in a full-bodied way no other singer could. They mean nothing on paper -- "I don't want you to turn your back on your friends but I really need that old time lovin'... I know there might be times when I neglect you baby" -- but as he presents them, it's all a torrent of bawdy imagery and the haze of heated passions. Who knows if Green was stripping while he recorded "I've Never Found a Girl"; he is in the mind of just about everyone that's heard it, male or female, gay or straight.

What are the mechanics? How does it work? It's more than Green's killer voice and (it has to be said, now or never) unstoppably smart, economical songwriting. Let's Stay Together is the archetypal soul album of the '70s largely because of the spareness of Willie Mitchell's production and arrangements. By now he and Green are finishing one another's musical sentences; it's a heavenly collaboration. Green's simultaneous swagger and selflessness, the nakedness of his full-on expression, is given the best kind of instrumental complement anyone could've mustered; Mitchell's horns on "So You're Leaving," his strings on "Judy," the syncopation and quiet relentlessness of "La La for You," and the stilted stop-start funk of "It Ain't No Fun to Me" -- these are the best and most dazzlingly subjective fusions of voice and music this side of Arthur Lee on Forever Changes, Marvin Gaye on What's Going On -- and more consistently impressive in cohesion of mood than either.

After the varied, boundary-smashing Al Green Gets Next to You, the duo launches an unerringly focused offensive on balladry here. It's one complete body of perfectly expressed restlessness and brilliantly-paced orgasmic joy, a masterpiece of mood. Incredibly enough, it doesn't even peak with "Let's Stay Together" itself, nor even with the inexhaustible "I've Never Found a Girl (Who Loves Me Like You Do)," the stark and filthy "It Ain't No Fun to Me." No, this record flexes its muscle most unforgettably on, of all things, a Bee Gees cover. This was before the Bee Gees mastered the aching soul-disco of their Saturday Night Fever period, back when they were a middle-of-the-road blue-eyed soul non-starter; the original version of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" is typical of them for this period. Though possessive of a stunningly sensual melody, it's basically dross. Green turns it around into seven minutes of hypnotic magic, falling down into a groove of such intensity he seems to be gradually losing his mind. You think that woo on the title track is something, just wait till you get to the part when he goes off the deep end of "I just wanna I just wanna I just wanna live again, yeahh." It's absolutely invigorating. It's undeniable. It's a master plugging away at his thesis -- ageless and gorgeously preserved after all these years.

[SEE ALSO:]
Definitive Greatest Hits (1967-2007)
Al Green Gets Next to You (1971)

The Apples in Stereo: New Magnetic Wonder (2007)


(Yep Roc)

RECOMMENDED

Robert Schneider talks himself up a lot; has anyone so passionately devoted to pure pop ever made such a huge Thing out of it? This record, packaged with the kind of obsessive fanfare typically afforded some forty-years-down-the-line deluxe edition of a Classic Rawk benchmark, was accompanied by a lot of talk about Schneider's creation of his own new kind of composition style -- the "Non-Pythagorean" concept pieces that have peppered the two subsequent Apples records. The linking material on this behemoth 24-track release consists of thirty-second jumbles of half-formed pop ideas in the vein of the Beach Boys' Smile. Mostly though, this is much ado about nothing. The Apples' new direction drifts away from the Beatlesque studio tomfoolery of their '90s work and, mercifully, farther away yet from the horrendous lost-youth scrap-rock of Velocity of Sound -- and toward some Frankenstein creation halfway between ELO and They Might Be Giants.

But mostly ELO; lots of shoehorned vocoder (which would be better integrated on the follow-up, Travellers in Space and Time) and a general air of kitsch-pop silliness that is for nearly the entire duration slightly annoying at the same time that it's infectious, sort of a '70s pop trademark in general (see Wings, likely another frame of reference). The included throwbacks to the Apples' past, like the songs Hilarie Sydney submits (the tepid "Sunndal Song" in particular) and the bloated at 2:29 "Sun Is Out," seem curiously misguided, as if at this point Schneider's entire life hinges on his being steeped in the quaint futurism of another generation. he can't quite figure out a way to make this potpourri work yet, attempting self-consciously to reach for the barbed avant garde invention of other major Elephant 6 projects but failing to integrate that weirdness with his audacious commercial-radio sensibilities, failing as well to craft his own pop version of such weirdness like Of Montreal. There's something to this mishmash, though, and something that Travellers would happily bring into focus.

At the right points, New Magnetic Wonder soars -- the wondrous (if slightly overlong) "Energy" and its amusing companion "Same Old Drag," as well as the charming sprawl of "Open Eyes" and the two "Beautiful Machine" tracks all define just how and why the Apples have always had a sly, unexpected depth that gave them a personable quality Of Montreal and even Olivia Tremor Control couldn't quite hope to share, even if at varying levels both bands have enjoyed a kind of success Schneider's mainline group can't hope for. You always get the feeling that they're "for the people" more than any other E6 band, most of all the passionately insular Neutral Milk Hotel and the brassy, blissful Beulah, but that the "people" in question are a rather select group -- the ones like Schneider who still spend time with headphones on, marveling constantly at the power and utility of the chosen AM hits of yore. New Magnetic Wonder finds him falling further than ever into that abyss; it's little wonder that Sidney announced her departure from the band in the wake of the record's creation. In this kind of exuberance, there's no room for the past -- maybe this album contains the last elements of it Schneider needed to shed in order to dive full-force into his most twisted, thrilling ideas. The later album would seem to indicate such, but this makes for a lovely stepping stone all the same.

Angélique Kidjo: Logozo (1991)


(Island)

!! CAUTION !!

The only thing you can really take from this international breakthrough in Worldbeat (that's the genre you'll be familiar with from hearing it on the boombox at Pet Supermarket) by Beninoise superstar Kidjo is that it is, in fact, possible to be aggressively middlebrow and toned-down to safety no matter where you're from or what sort of music you play. This is not West African music with a Western bent; it's vapid dance pop recorded in the U.S. by a Paris-based singer who happens to hail from Ouidah and sing in Yorùbá and Fon (as well as French and English). The music, though occasionally infectious in its kitsch (the deservedly celebrated "Batonga"), is bogged down with processed corn. If you like this and claim not to like Gloria Estefan, no offense, but it's time to reevaluate.

Wait a minute, though -- Kidjo's a brilliant person, an important humanitarian, a voice for women's rights, etc. You can't help, especially if you've got a taste for West African pop music, to want to advocate for her, but it would dishonest of me to suggest that there's much appeal here to anyone who likes something in their music, even music that deliberately shirks questions of region, to reflect some level of non-homogenized personality. Now that Kidjo's unabashedly a French-American studio star, maybe we can all take a deep breath and celebrate the fact that the era of Worldbeat as a Trend is mostly behind us.

Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions (2012)


(Top Dawg)

!! CAUTION !!

Beware of anyone who brags this much about being part of the "underground." Schoolboy Q's gifted, no doubt, and there are moments here like the ominously moody opener "Sacrilegeous" and the thrillingly smooth Lex Luger creation "Grooveline Pt. 1," on which he reins himself in and produces better-than-competent material that doesn't fall too far down either the weed rap or "consciousness" rabbit holes. When it does, though, it's tiresome -- "Raymond 1969" is a catalog of obnoxious schlock, and after the third or fourth time he announces he's "craaaaaaaaaaazy" on "There He Go," well, enough already. Our hero's certainly in good company, sporting excellent guest spots from A$AP Rocky, Curren$y, and especially Kendrick Lamar (his verse is the highlight of the record, on "Blessed"). It just feels like the record goes in too many directions and can't gain much traction with any of them, but Schoolboy himself will probably come back strong if he can cut the juvenilia and the hokey "dark" murder shit. Not to sound like an old man or anything; gonna go have my coffee and get back to the office now.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)


(Columbia)

!!! A+ RECORDING !!!

In which the man who would someday eclipse his peers in the world of decadent Boomer-era singer-songwriters so completely as to scarcely even be considered part of their movement aligns himself with the m.o. of the Stubborn Eclectic -- issuing an incomprehensibly beautiful debut that seems to sprout from him effortlessly, spinning tales like a folklorist, strumming and singing away timelessly in some strange synthesis of Medieval Europe and mid-'60s Greenwich Village, then steadfastedly refusing ever to do anything remotely like it, anything so simple and crowd-pleasing and gentle, ever again. It sets the stage for everything Cohen, the reluctant pop singer, would ever do afterward, but free of all of his later eccentricities: no wheezing, self-sabotaging production tactics; no (or not many) gleefully sadomasochistic lyrics; and a voice that isn't ragged or grunting, is even rather pleasant. For so many of us, of course, Cohen's oddness, the barbed and difficult in the bulk of his output, is what made us fall in love -- but Songs of Leonard Cohen is still much more than a curio, and remains an absolutely staggering outlier in his catalog. Perhaps the primary reason that he would choose never to duplicate it, even though he presumably could anytime, is that he'd made his point and felt no need to belabor it.

Some credit for this phenomenal LP must go to John Simon, Columbia Records' house producer most famous for his work on the first two albums by the Band; his deft, light touch gives Cohen a slightly heightened pedestal without the fussy instrumentation that would seduce many of us and infuriate many others in years to come. Simon's stroke of genius is the way he arranges Cohen's voice and guitar as an unadorned, tightly controlled centerpiece with occasional injections of elaborate instrumentation and, more often, gorgeously incongruous, pure backing vocals. Whatever complements Simon provides, his immediate understanding is of the capability of Cohen to cast a spell upon his audience, so that nothing gets in the way of the faith-and-suffering anthem "Suzanne," no distractions from the way the playful imagery of water as birth and death make it sound so unearthly and defeated at once, the gravestone of a short-lived bond.

More than on any subsequent Cohen record, the classics come at rapid pace, especially on the first half: "Suzanne" is swiftly succeeded by "Master Song," a clear antecedent to the equal but not superior "Famous Blue Raincoat," the now-shocking youth in Cohen's voice a thin disguise for the lover left behind, the prisoner visited after the master recedes, and "your love is some dust in an old man's cough / who is tapping his foot to a tune." Cohen's heroes are frail, powerless, but seldom bitter; the gambler or addict in "Stranger Song" hides behind nothing, nor do the humiliated lovers of "Master Song" or "Winter Lady," in the latter case a willful cuckold, the joyous and simple guitar riff underlying the love in his sacrificing, the cartoonishly high pitch in "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" a calm, knowing tease more than a protest. When anger is permitted, it's as self-deprecating as spiteful; Edie Sedgwick is the apparent target of "One of Us Cannot Be Wrong," but Cohen doesn't come out of it sounding any less ridiculous than she does, the witty roll call of third parties and blue-lipped Warhols a shake of the head and a roll of the eyes. And least of all does the lover on the life-stoppingly moving "So Long, Marianne" leave room for anger at his subject -- it's always simply time to laugh and cry about it all again, the memories of magnficently vivid love and loss trapped in amber: "you held on to me like I was a crucifix," "we met when we were almost young," and "for now, I need your hidden love." You can sense the tolling of the passing years in this baroque piece that Cohen and Simon somehow render as alive and touched as a hymn.

Even at his most accessible (which this undoubtedly is), of course, Cohen's stock in trade is still pain and misery. For all the virtuostic guitar on "Teachers" and uproarious melodic verve of "Stories of the Street," these two cuts buried at the end of the record are drenched in urban malaise and the desperation, starvation, culiminating dread of years -- they almost start to bog down the back half, but the more the themes of the rest of the record deepen the more appreciable they become. Luckily, relief and escape come in the form of "Sisters of Mercy." Talk to some folks and they'll tell you it's about a couple of prostitutes, or some grad students Cohen slept with, or a pair of backpackers, but the chauvinistic interpretations don't seem to carry much weight when the song is so nakedly a document of the singer's -- by extension, his audience's -- escape from depression. Not simply a writerly dark night of the soul, but actual clinical bottom-hitting suicidal hopelessness; the song's equally affecting if you take the sisters as a literal love or not, for what finally matters is here: the focal point of the album, the moment you know that Cohen is the poet lauerate of the weakest corners of our hearts -- "If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn / they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem."

[SEE ALSO:]
Dear Heather (2004)
Old Ideas (2012)

The Antlers: Hospice (2009)


(s/r)

A psychologically abusive relationship framed as the impossibly loaded metaphor of a nurse's love for a dying patient is the backdrop for this atmospherically textured fusion of the stark confessional with the Hollywood tearjerker. With its conceptual heaviness and artificially heightened momentousness, meticulously precise lyric sheet written as prose poetry and all, Hospice is not a record you come to for a good time. Like an apolitical variation on a U2 record, it approaches its decently realized melodies and performances with something like a ferociously formal pretext of self-importance. It's not an album, it's a Story, a Harrowing Emotional Journey. You either buy into the brave outlandishness of its well-reasoned, gramatically correct, exhaustive lyrics or you don't. With some caveats -- "Bear" is a brilliant and devastating abortion song revealing how toothless nearly every other song written about this subject from a male perspective really is; "Epilogue" is a stirring ode to the way terror and abuse linger after they're escaped, its every word clearly felt and heartbreaking -- I don't. But maybe I'm just not responding to Hospice on the level it deserves; it seems to require a lot of work to really get inside it, and maybe I'm just not willing to cooperate with an album on that basis. Speaking as someone who loves some of Peter Silberman's other work, you probably shouldn't listen to me on this one.

[SEE ALSO:]
Burst Apart (2011)
(together) EP (2011)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cabaret Voltaire: The Original Sound of Sheffield (1978-82)


(Mute)

I found this quite a disappointment. Nothing but enthusiasm from me for musique concrete in general and dadaist dance music specifically, but these deadpan beats, metallic slaps, and smugly mumbled and/or robotic vocals strike me mostly as dull. Undoubtedly Cabaret Voltaire, an extremely influential cult post-punk band, invite comparisons to Wire's later work, yet I feel that Wire always (with scattered exceptions) had the advantage of a very short attention span, and at least a slightly greater sense of pop-driven fun. The trio wasn't dumb -- they picked one of the best band names ever, for sure -- and they had a healthy sense of humor; you can hear a lot of wry sarcasm on this compilation. But this is too much like an hour of mechanized dread with a touch of that near-intolerable alt-rock detachment epidemic. You get the feeling the material was a lot more entertaining to record than it is to listen to.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory (2012)


(Carpark)

!! CAUTION !!

The annual game we play in which in protest to the general malaise we get from the Bon Ivers and Feists of the world, we pretend that we're really interested when prolific blog-hype cool kids lean on a New Heavy sound and bring in Albini to rough themselves up. Thanks for your help, Albini; this sounds like Brand New and/or Staind, I can't decide which. Nostalgia rush for modern rock radio might make you flock in; also, not that you asked, but their stuff before this wasn't much better. The last song's called "Cut You," lots of LiveJournal whining, skateboard drama; the "epic" one "Wasted Days" features a harrowing build from emo to screamo. I'm getting too old for this. God fucking tell me this year's going to get better than this tinny annoying shit.

Albert Ayler: Free Form Jazz (1963-69)


(bootleg)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Not a legitimate compilation, this seven-song sampler of the brief career enjoyed by this underrated avant garde tenor saxophonist is as lovely and accessible as free jazz probably gets; at its most sublime moments, which are many, it amounts to some of the most joyous music recorded in the '60s. Sounding occasionally like a wheezing New Orleans big band run amok, Ayler's combo issues some of the only avant jazz that could likely function as wedding music; it captures such a feeling of romanticism, of overwhelming beauty and charm, that it's hard not to feel an instant kinship with it and a relation to a love-drunk spring afternoon.

Opening with a monologue from Ayler and a bit of forward-thinking funk that borders healthily on fusion, this torrent probably barely scrapes the surface of his recorded output but does a brilliant job of leaving you ready to seek out more, though the mournful glory of "Angels," the sumptuous extended celebration "Omega Is the Alpha," and the lyrical, beautiful "Going Home" would be clear peaks in any discography. Take this one out for a long spin; live in its walking-on-air surrealism. This is the sort of discovery you wait around for.