A short one this month, which I'm not too happy about; the next post, ready a little over two weeks from now by current estimate, will include a lot of the major-hitter stuff you were hoping would be long since taken on by now. I'm having an unusually hard time determining what I think lately -- luckily, as of the last month or so I've heard some new things I genuinely love, and when I'm ready to articulate my thoughts you'll be hearing from me. In the meantime, all three new records here actually got downgraded during the process of putting this together, and many other things were clumped off for next time. (The big gaping hole in my confused brain is Kendrick Lamar; I still feel I'm missing something on that record, and maybe by the middle of the month I'll have it figured out.) As ever, trust that hours upon hours of work went into this disappointingly brief post; I wish there were more to show for it, but we'll start to see payoff shortly.
THEESatisfaction: EarthEE (Sub Pop)
This Seattle R&B duo has hearts in the right place -- unmistakably progressive and intelligent, but ever since the earliest promo materials were issued for their first album they've struck me as pleasantly bland in the worst way. EarthEE is a marginal improvement because it has more shape than their older stuff and is less reliant on the cliches of "alternative" hip hop consciousness. It's strongly produced -- listen to the Nile Rodgersisms of "No GMO" -- and they have a solid identity, but the songs still aren't quite there and it just drones with little consequence. "Planet for Sale" is the most engaging sound they come up with, a Stevie Wonder-like bed of sound with good vocal blend floating above, but the preachiness, however righteous, is pervasive. When I listen to this I feel like I'm being covertly educated, as in a SchoolHouse Rock video, and lord knows I have plenty of gaps, but I prefer my learning to come with a tad more subtlety.
Levon Vincent (Novel Sound)
Overpraised electronica (more like pure ambient, save various annoying and long-winded moments) from Berlin by way of NYC is OK but lifeless, despite the artist's own lofty claims for it: "If you are a member of the rat race, climbing around a dumpster with the other rats vying for power, you may of course listen, but know - this is not music for you. This is action against you." White people are so fucking hilarious. Revolution generally varies the tempo a bit more, btw.
Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire: Oh! The Grandeur (Rykodisc 1999) [r]
Andrew Bird is an immense talent who, like the Asylum Street Spankers, was enterprising enough to ride on the coattails of a late-'90s vintage music revival: big band and electricity-free bluegrass were moneymaking, mainstream product again for a blip. Like ASS, his craft and range soon eclipsed the limitations of the movement that made him bankable; unlike them, he was a greater success in the aftermath. Oh! The Grandeur is his first really charming performance on record, but as with Thrills it is steeped in now-dated concepts of gimmicky authenticity. It's mostly a hodgepodge of pre-WWII swing and vocal records, but it's undeniably impressive that its songs, all of them originals, sound for all the world like covers. "Candy Shop" is his first fully realized song; the rest is pleasant, mostly costuming. He isn't nearly the confident writer he'd later become, concentrating heavily on aping established styles and finding little transcendence beyond those borders, but he is already an extraordinary singer -- see "Wait". It's fascinating to compare this record to the sublime looseness he displays on 2012's outstanding Hands of Glory, which operates in a similarly backward-looking (though more rural) mode. It's astounding what happens to some of us when we have nobody left we need to impress.
Marc Almond: The Velvet Trail (Cherry Red)
Marc Almond was half of Soft Cell a lifetime ago and they still tour; I was somehow unaware of this but he also has a voluminous number of solo albums from a career that's chugged along now for three decades. There's some solid glam that fuses past and present nicely, like "Bad to Me," though none of the songs feel complete, not even the disappointing duet with Beth Ditto, whose potential disco queen status already seems nixed. Like a lot of serviceable pop musicians his age, Almond can't resist forcing the scattered decent material on this overlong record to mesh with his penchant for schmaltzy, self-absorbed balladry. But the guy seems to know his audience.
I don't usually do this but coming up in the next two capsule posts: Kendrick (might be a long review), Madonna, Twin Shadow, Heems, Courtney Barnett, more.