Sunday, May 24, 2015

Back in class again: January 2015 albums

Delving into the back catalog; sorry this wasn't posted sooner.

******

Goldfrapp
Seventh Tree (2008)

(Mute)

At the time this was released I was very high on Goldfrapp's two previous (and much glitzier) albums, which didn't really prepare me for this complete reversal of technique, though in retrospect it's hardly out of nowhere. "A&E" is still one of their worst, most pandering moments of baldfaced stylistic ripoff, but I sort of like some of the bleak cabaret stuff now. Eventually they would master this style with the far bleaker Tales of Us; the strongest song here is clearly "Happiness," which is better in a bootlegged Rex the Dog remix from '08.

***

Gossip
Music for Men (2009)

(Columbia)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * This extremely focused collection of thirteen unstoppable disco bangers never quits; it's, at last, the perfect application of this odd trio's perverse, trebly format and Beth Ditto's titanic voice to joyous, explosive music that fits it. The main vinyl release consists of a set of 12" singles and that's more than appropriate, so convincing is the sense of throwback to an era of glorious, beautiful decadence that now translates as a kind of unfettered freedom. "Men in Love" is the cheerful promiscuity anthem of the century, "Pop Goes the World" and "Dimestore Diamond" the democratic statements of purpose assuring that the band's new, utopian dance-music-sex-romance revolution is all-encompassing; nearly all of the rest (other favorites: "2012" and "Heavy Cross") are splendidly, engagingly filthy. Their best by far, and one of the best dance albums ever released by a rock band.

***

Game Theory
Tinker to Evers to Chance (1982-90)

(Enigma)

Scott Miller's verbose power pop is clearly distinctive and unusual but, despite the lineage and tragedy, the band and their songwriting come off as flat to me. Most nerdy indie rock can likely be traced back here, but everything feels so subservient to the cerebral words and the scramble to fit them into the songs that the emotion doesn't reach.

***

Hospitality (2012)
(Merge)

RECOMMENDED * Compared to the wonderful follow-up Trouble, this is a bit fluffy -- hookier, sweeter, thus more ordinary in the landscape of alt-rock. But the guitars and vocals still ring, and the songs are actually best at their jauntiest. Justifies the instinct to call them a singular, affecting band.

***

Average White Band
AWB (1974)

(Atlantic)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * All-time fave Scottish funk band's best moments are mostly here; you don't need a greatest-hits. A fine party record if decades of radio overplay haven't worn you out on the singles. "Pick Up the Pieces" is still capable of bringing introverts back out onto the dance floor after a break.

***

Interpol
Our Love to Admire (2007)

(Capitol)

In retrospect, this isn't bad per se -- though that doesn't mean it isn't embarrassing, like someone proving that if you amped up the self-importance on their first two records just slightly you'd get a mortifying self-parody of generational Joy Division affectation. Lots of laughs here, beginning with "how are things on the west coast?", extending to the absolutely horrendous update to David Crosby's absolutely horrendous "Triad" ("No I in Threesome" is the actual title; the best song about group sex remains Curren$y's "Bring Her Home") and an amusing piece of abortive 2000s-indie history; they signed to Capitol Records to release this then were immediately, unceremoniously dropped. It almost feels like an act of sabotage, what with these bad threesomes, bad city symphonies, bad macho romantic demands. The quintessential post-Mike Love surfer jock album. Key lyric: "I haven't slept for two days / I've bathed in nothing but sweat."

***

Chuck Berry
One Dozen Berrys (1958)

(Chess)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * Caveat: all of Berry's early Chess albums are a few classics plus a lot of filler, so if you're not already enamored of him and interested in hearing him noodle, this won't do much for you. It's inconsistent and lazy... and brilliant, raving up and goofing around and kissing off. Any album that boasts not just "Sweet Little Sixteen" (Berry's very best, a masterpiece of freedom and hero worship) and "Rock and Roll Music" but "Oh Baby Doll" and the marvelously witty "Reelin' and Rockin'" warrants forgiveness for the likes of "Guitar Boogie," or for the fact that two songs are the same performance played at different speeds (!). Best buried treasure: the hopping "It Don't Take But a Few Minutes," one of the best early Berry songs missing from The Great Twenty-Eight. An essential package for fans.

***

Kaki King
Dreaming of Revenge (2008)

(Velour)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * Kaki King's largely instrumental releases differ by degrees in their approach and execution, but that doesn't mean they aren't all terrific. This is probably her best -- a vibing, whispering plunge into a warm Eno-like abyss that features some of the most idiosyncratic, graceful guitar playing on record. And on "Pull Me Out Alive," she proves as capable of an immersive and straightforward pop song (with words) as she is with crafting atmosphere.

***

Kaki King
...Until We Felt Red (2006)

(Velour)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * Slower, dirgier, weirder, longer, more sprawling, more elaborate, somehow even more of a trance. She also sings more, which isn't a bad thing. To be honest, these days King's music fits my lifestyle in a manner I can vouch for with few other performers. Absolutely can't get enough.

***

Kendrick Lamar
Section 80 (2011)

(Top Dawg)

RECOMMENDED * Before delving into the dense, extremely busy and complicated To Pimp a Butterfly, I felt I should get to know Lamar's very first record a bit better. The same mild criticisms that apply to most of his work already bloom here -- the music does bend and break itself based on where Lamar's preoccupied, constantly moving heart and mind are headed, which makes his work an unmistakable document of artistic brilliance but also hard (for me) to get lost in. His albums require intense concentration, not just to critique but to merely listen. He is major, and this is hardly a mere rehearsal for his later efforts -- already a master storyteller with almost overwhelming complexity. And so damn young here.

***

The Avett Brothers
Four Thieves Gone (2006)

(Ramseur)

RECOMMENDED * Played this expecting a challenge of my former convictions about this briefly beloved unit's agile, emotive upholdings of country traditions. But in fact it's actually quite engaging and soulful, a reminder that they weren't always toothless Rubinites. "Matriomy" is a good taste -- tough, uncompromised, tortured. The tortured part is what I miss in most modern country music, and honestly in the last couple of Avetts albums.

***

Killer Mike
PL3DGE (2011)

(Grand Hustle)

Good politics, good flow, shakier beats than later.

******

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