Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Aidan Moffat "How to Get to Heaven from Scotland" (2009)

It's surprising to me when I hear the sudden intrusion of electronic beats on this album.  I'm thinking "this would NEVER happen on a comparable American album".  There seems to be a more thorough integration of dance influences on what we would normally call rock music in the UK.  Will that change post-UK folk resurgence?

On the whole this record simply fails to grab me. 

Laura Marling "Alas I Cannot Swim" (2008)

You never really know the winner until the race is over, but Laura Marling shows all the signs of being the most significant musician to emerge from the UK's latest folk scare.  Her music seems to have the same relationship with her peers as Joni Mitchell's did in the early 70s.  While others are concentrating on acoustic versions of pop songs, Marling is stepping back and working from a more sophisticated place.  Of course this means that her work is a bit more challenging and not nearly so rewarding on initial listens.

Jessica Lea Mayfield "With Blasphemy So Heartfelt" (2008)

This is one of my favorite debuts from recent years.  Basically a duo album, JLM sings while the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach overdubs all instruments, JLM's artistic voice belies her young age.  While there's clearly an indie rock sensibility to the record, JLM's childhood in her family's bluegrass band subtly informs the music with a variety of traditional elements.

Koushik "Out My Window" (2008)

Out My Window is a gentle blend of 60s sunshine pop, hazy millennial stoner pop infused by a hip hop sensibility.  The hip hop isn't the street wise gansta stuff, but the heady underground vibe favored by several West Coast musicians in the late 90s & early part of the 21st century.  It's probably not surprising that Koushik hasn't made a bigger splash in music circles, although it predates much of the Pitchfork championed indie sounds that come a few years later.  Somewhat ironically, Koushik is actually much better than those later acts.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Daedelus "Exquisite Corpse" (2005)

There is a lot going on with this album.  Musically, you have orchestral passages, skittering beats, and other elements you'd expect to find in turn of the millennium electronica.  But he's also enlisted the help of a variety of A list underground rappers -- Doom, Mike Ladd.

It's not surprising that Daedelus' music hasn't ever really caught on in a big way.  But given the success of other LA acts you'd expect that he'd see more interest just from being part of the same locale.  This is challenging, but worth the effort.

The Felice Brothers "Tonight at the Arizona" (2007)

While these guys are often considered some sort of country band, in my mind they're clearly on the rock side of the divide.  That's not to say that there are traditional elements or influences in their music.  Yes, they are there.  But the playing and singing itself come from a sloppy indie rock place.  Imagine if the Band had started out playing 90s indie rock instead of rockabilly. 

Anyway, Tonight at the Arizona may be my favorite of their albums.  Mostly that's due to song selection.  While I haven't bothered to compare track lists, it feels like most of my favorite songs are here.

Mayra Andrade "Navega" (2007)

This is an absolutely beautiful album from this Cape Verdean singer.  Think a more energized Cesaria Evora.  There's a wonderful cosmopolitan summery feeling throughout.  It's like listening to Brazilian music in the shade on a hot summer day.  Apparently this was quite successful in Europe, but mostly overlooked in the States.

The Pixies "Wave of Mutilation" (2004)

Wow.  What do you want from a best of compilation?  Wave of Mutilation does exactly what you want.  The best songs, from the core albums.  Plus a few extras, like "Winterlong" from the Neil Young tribute.  Excellent stuff.  This is the 80s that TV doesn't want you to know about.

The Espers "Weed Tree" (2005)

If this isn't my favorite "freakfolk" record, then it's on the short list.  The Weed Tree manages to capture the cool aspects of the movement (highlighting a great & under-appreciated earlier movement) without falling prey to any of the excesses or shortcomings (amateurism, being weird for the sake of weirdness) of freakfolk.

Sure, these songs are covers.  But alongside covers of the early 70s canonical material, you have Blue Oyster Cult and Durutti Column. 

This is a real gem that was sadly unheard by too many listeners.

Neutral Milk Hotel "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" (1998)

Where to even start talking about this one?  For an album running under 40 minutes, it's amazingly ambitious.  While there are various elements that are so lofi as to seem amateurish, there is clearly an intentionality to the work itself.  What exactly that intention is is not so clear. 

There's a cult like devotion to this album by people of a certain age.  I can hear influences of it in records recorded years later.

And yet, it doesn't work for me.  There's a lot here, but quite simply isn't engaging enough for me to want to spend the time upacking all that is here.  It's not really suited for anything but close listening, and yet I am not engaged when I do listen closely.

Amp Fiddler & Sly & Robbie "Inspiration Information" (2008)

This is another in the "meet your idols" series.  Sly & Robbie are the legends, while Amp Fiddler is the contemporary musician who has been influenced by their work.  And what of the album itself?  It's okay... a mix of soul, funk, reggae. Ultimately it's brought down by the quality of the songwriting.  While a cool concept, it really doesn't do much unique musically, & the songs just aren't as good as lots of other similar sounding records (Sly Stone, Shuggie Otis, etc).

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Patty Loveless "Sleepless Nights" (2008)

Here is a fantastic album that few people have heard.  Why not?  Patty Loveless is (IMHO) one the finest of our contemporary country vocalists.  The songs are all basically stone cold classics. Why didn't this become a big crossover record?

Sure, it's obviously too country for much of the country market in the last decade.  It's not going to get played on the radio.  That's a given.  But why doesn't Loveless have more of a following from the Americana/NPR crowd?  That's the real question.  Is it as simple as marketing or some business slight of hand?

The Knitters "Poor Little Critter on the Road" (1985)

This was an absolutely groundbreaking album for me.  Like so many kids, I had rebelled against the country influences that seemed to surround my childhood.  I loved X.  And then they made this country record.  Yeah, it's not that country.  But to my ears in 1985 or whenever I heard it, this was country as hell.  I mean, there are MERLE HAGGARD songs here.  What did it mean that cool people like X liked that stuff?

In retrospect, it's clearly one of those generational albums that introduce people to country music.  I don't think my own story is particularly special in that regard.  And it's also interesting at how it foreshadows so much of John Doe's solo career.

Oasis "Definitely Maybe" (1994)

This is probably on a lot of short lists as one of the best records of the 1990s.  After the darkness of the late 70s & 80s, it must have felt like a huge breathe of fresh air to hear this bold debut.  It's heavily indebted to the British bands of the 60s, of course.  But the rhythms and sonics sound fresh and contemporary.