Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The National "Boxer" (2007)

While The Boxer's followup got the greater hype, IMHO this is the pinnacle of their sound.  Indeed it is one of the best albums of the decade.  And why does no one ever refer to The National as Dad Rock?

Paul Weller "Illumination" (2002)

The next time someone asks for a definition of Dad Rock, just play this album.  It's not that there are glaring flaws with it.  Rather, it simply takes no risks and as a result tends to be a bit boring.

Great Lake Swimmers "Lost Channels" (2009)

Sometimes a record can do everything right and still not really get the job done.  That's sort of the problem here.  Lost Channels does everything that you could ask of it, but it's just not that memorable.  There's a fault in the songwriting somewhere....

Steve Wynn "Crossing Dragon Bridge" (2008)

This one is solidly in the ranks of records I just don't get.  Allmusic says that it's Wynn's "masterpiece".  A friend raved about it so much that I just had to check it out.  Keep in mind that my favorite Wynn songs were with the Dream Syndicate.  And this stuff just doesn't have that bite.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Devendra Banhart "Nino Rojo" (2004)

This is unexpectedly wonderful.  Coming from a place of childlike playfulness, Banhart gives us acoustic gems that are fun and hilarious. Here his affectations feel like play rather than cheap guile.

My Morning Jacket "It Still Moves" (2003)

This is probably their best album.  They begin to show some of the pop melodies that would later come to dominate while still clinging to their classic rock roots.  Sure there's still some reliance on production chicanery (reverb, anyone?) but that at least does cover their musical limitations.

Sometymes Why "Your Heart is a Glorious Machine" (2009)

Simply put, this is an allstar band of women from progressive bluegrass bands playing music that sounds more like indie rock than folk music.  While excellent technically, I seem to be unable to really connect.

Lucero "Tennessee" (2002)

Don't get me wrong:  I really like what Lucero has been doing the last several years.  Unfortunately, this record comes from before that time.  There's some serious problems here with lack of melody and rather plodding midtempo rhythm.

Bruce Springsteen "The Wild, the innocent and the E Street Shuffle" (1973)

Wow.  Just wow.  If you've only heard the hits, you will be totally unprepared for this one.  I always forget just how good this is.  wow.

Various "Jamaica to Toronto Soul Funk & Reggae 1967 - 1974" (2006)

There's something that I absolutely love when various sounds and areas collide.  This is a collection of Caribbean musicians playing soul. Absolutely brilliant stuff!

Jackie Mittoo "Last Train to Skaville" (2004)

Ever wonder why ska was so beloved?  This will let you in on the secret.  It's packed full of funky jams from Jamaica in the 60s.  Brilliant brilliant stuff.

Madvillain "Madvillainy" (2004)

If you're wondering where the line is between commercial viability and experimentation, it's here.  This is the collaboration between two outre musicians blending their warped sensibilities into one woozy vision of supervillains blunts and crimes.  It is as much a commentary on the gangsta ethos of hip hop as anything else, a fact which seems to have been forgotten by the larger community.  It's a shame, as this record shows a way out of the lowest common denominator trap that has become so prevalent.

Ghostface Killah "Fishscale" (2006)

By the first decade of the new millennium, there had been enough history to speak of backwards looking hip hop.  That's what we have with Fishscale.  It's classicist, in that it sounds like it could have come from virtually any period of hip hop's history.  If you're looking for hiphop that is clearly indebted to the 70s pulp literature of Goines or Iceberg Slim, look no further.

Iron & Wine "The Sea & the Rhythm" (2003)

Comprised of outtakes from the sessions that produced "The Creek Drank the Cradle", some of this material is amongst the strongest he's ever produced.  It's short, but absolutely essential if you're a fan.

The Coup "Pick a Bigger Weapon" (2006)

If I challenged you to put together a Bay Area hip hop group, what would they sound like?  PFunk beats?  Very political lyrics?  Hey, you just described the Coup!

And on Pick a Bigger Weapon, they do what they do.  Much like Public Enemy in earlier decades, you either dig that or you don't.

Elliott Smith "Either/Or" (1997)

Is this the best of his albums?  I don't know... I think that would depend on what I'm listening to at the time.  It does have some of my favorite songs.

It's more of a transitional record, still with the lofi approach to the earlier records, yet getting increasingly ambitious.

Love "Forever Changes" (1967)

Forever Changes is an interesting example of canon creation.  When I was growing up, listening to classic rock, Love were not in the mix.  I mean at all.  Yet in the last 20 years or so, critical acclaim for this album has snowballed, & it is firmly in the canon!  There's even a 33 and a third book about it!
I think that it represents the more flowery side of the Nuggets bands.  In many ways this record sounds like all the Nuggets songs combined into one album.
Unfortunately, personally I find it hard to connect with on any sort of emotional level.  It remains of interest on a purely intellectual level.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Spiritualized "Ladies and Gentlemen... We are Floating in Space" (1997)

This is an absolute stone cold classic.  It's probably the best of the various mid to late 90s psych albums.  And yet somehow it seems to be rarely referenced.

Los Campesinos! "Hold On Now Youngster" (2008)

This is a record that already sounds incredibly dated.  And part of that is that it could have come from no other decade.  There's that frantic sense of kids just trying to have fun... but trying too hard.  That seemed to come about after 9/11.  The post punk urgency reduced to pure signifiers.  They were a bit of thing when this was released, but seem to have already faded into the footnotes of the time.

Small Faces "Singles As & Bs" (1994)

Basically this is just what it says on the tin.  How you like it will depend on how much you like British Invasion pop. 

Songs: Ohia "Axxess & Ace" (1999)

It's impossible for me to listen to this album and not think about the Magnolia Electric Company records that come later.  At its best it sounds like embryonic versions of that material. 

Samamidon "But This Chicken Proved False Hearted" (2007)

Interestingly enough, at this point the one word name indicates that this is a band, not a solo artist.  Even so, everything is more or less what he does.  Once again, the problem is that there's just not enough variety.  It's interesting for a song, but doesn't really sustain a whole record.

Bruce Springsteen "Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ" (1973)

Springsteen has to rank just below Dylan in terms of words spent on him.  The first thing that strikes me about this album is just how wordy it is.  It's amazingly dense in terms of lyrics.  Secondly, it makes me think of exactly how diverse and experimental radio actually was in the mid 1970s.  Now it's too easy to think of it as all butt rock.  But there were all kinds of records getting airplay.

Guy Davis "Sweetheart Like You" (2009)

Guy Davis is a fantastic modern blues performer.  For some reason he's just not mentioned when people discuss contemporary players.  On Sweetheart Like You, he expands his palatte somewhat including the titular Dylan song, which gives a more contemporary songwriter vibe to the album.

The King Khan & BBQ Show "The King Khan & BBQ Show" (2005)

This album cover tells a lot about the album.  It's weird and energetic.  It's also rather aggressively lo fi.  There's a line somewhere, I'm not sure where it exactly is, but there's a line between being too slick and too rough.  For my ears, this is a record that could have used a few extra production dollars.  It's a bit too rough.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Horse Feathers "House With No Home" (2008)

Horse Feathers are one of the bands that emerged post Iron & Wine.  There's that same sense of quiet mumbled indie folk.  However the use of a small string section sets Horse Feathers apart from the competition.  Lovely, but you might forget that you had been listening to it.

Split Lip Rayfield "In The Mud" (1999)

As with their other releases, Split Lip Rayfield value energy over technique.  Bottom line:  it may not be great, but it sure is fast!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gorillaz "Demon Days" (2005)

The Gorillaz are a great example of post millenial pop music.  What exactly do you call this?  It is as indebted to hip hop as it is to any traditional form of rock.  Yet it is really neither.  Fascinating stuff, really.

Demon Days is darker than the debut album, and IMHO suffers for it.  However, it certainly does speak to that dystopian vibe that was so common after 9/11.

King Khan "The Supreme Genius of King Khan & the Shrines" (2008)

An absolutely crazy comp of retro 60s style garage gems!  Another woefully under-heard artist.  King Khan may be the best of the garage revivalists, yet who ever hears about him?  Groovy, man, groovy.

Mike Ladd "Welcome to the Afterfuture" (2000)

How does someone like Mike Ladd fit into our narrative about hip hop?  He's from the Bronx.  But his music seems to be as influenced by high art as low.  This album is more concerned with dystopian visions of the future than with normal thematic elements of hip hop.  It's a bit uneven, but when it works it is absolutely phenomenal.  There's an alternate universe where this sort of intelligent daring music won the commercial battles and people like Jay Z are the oddities.

Harvey Milk "Life...the Best Game in Town" (2008)

Every couple of years I hear about some highly hyped metal album & decide to give it a go.  Then I just hate it.  This is one of those albums.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sun Ra "Visits Planet Earth/Interstellar Low Ways" (1992)

While this reissue is from 92, these albums were originally recorded in the 50s.  This is great for that friend who thinks that Sun Ra is just too craaaazy to listen to.  This is all just tight straight ahead jazz.

Breakestra "Hit The Floor" (2005)

This is yet another totally fine albums.  Nothing wrong with it.  But it's just a bit too mediocre.

Nomo "Ghost Rock" (2008)

What happens when art music meets dance music?  Here's one example. 

It's interesting stuff, though somehow not as good as any of the parts. 

Sun Ra "Lanquidity" (1978)

True to form, Lanquidity doesn't sound like other records from 1978.  There's a deep underlying groove, with horns layered on top.  It sounds like it could have been recorded just last week.

The John Renbourn Group "A Maid in Bedlam" (1977)

As Renbourn attempts to out retro everyone else (he went far back long before the Mighty Boosh), this can be heard as a album of Pentangle influences.  It's beautiful stuff, but clearly not for everyone.

Dungen "Four" (2008)

Dungen's records sound like you've heard them before.  That is, you've heard the parts before.  Imagine you took popular music & incidental music from the late 60s & early 70s & sliced & diced it.  Then add lyrics in a singularly impenetrable tongue.  That's what it sounds like to me.  It's fascinating stuff, but to my ears rooted too much in the novelty of what it is.

Various "Choubi! Choubi!" (2005)

The difference between this type of collection and most of the Asian collections is simple.  This is not a collection of people trying to cover American music.  This is the music that was the pop music of the country itself.  It's wild and weird in a totally different way.  Your reaction will vary according to how you personally respond to the rules of this music.

Bela Fleck "Throw Down Your Heart" (2009)

Let's not forget that the banjo is at heart an African instrument.  On this third volume of his Tales From the Acoustic Planet series, Fleck travels to Africa & records with a variety of musicians.  Unlike the Damon Albarn projects, this is much more traditional in feel.  Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Madlib "Shades of Blue" (2003)

So Madlib was given a dream gig for many producers:  access to the Blue Note vault, and authorization to sample and mix as much as he wanted.  The result is probably the best jazz/hip hop hybrid album ever released.

Portishead "Third" (2008)

I find it interesting that this is considered to be electronica, while a band like Radiohead is considered rock.  It's more or less the same thing.  If anything, Portishead is more melodic.  It's chilly, but with a sophisticated patina that makes it quite a bit more palatable than the more paranoid vibe of so much of Radiohead's work.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Deerhunter "Weird Era Cont" (2008)

And Deerhunter do their thing.  The problem is that it feels at times like there's no quality control.  If Cox were a bit more selective, would the (much smaller amount of) released music be significantly better?  I can't help but think so.  Every turd ain't a piece of gold people!

Aceyalone "All Balls Don't Bounce" (1995)

This record reminds me of classic hiphop in so many ways.  There's the obvious musical ways.  But there's also the fact that this album is carried by a couple of great tracks, with the rest being totally forgettable.  The good stuff really is that good, however.

Department of Eagles "In Ear Park" (2008)

It's not that there's really anything wrong with this record.  It's just so mediocre.  What we have is 60s influenced psych rock.  It doesn't really take any big chances, and quite frankly I don't know why I would want to listen to this rather than a host of 60s bands.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Diplo & Santogold "Top Ranking" (2008)

I never would have thought, way back when, that bootie bass would ever become popular.  Here we have a mixtape of the stuff.  It's not for me.

Shawn Lee & Clutchy Hopkins "Clutch of the Tiger" (2008)

This is the soundtrack to a modern blaxploitation movie that was never made.  Funky, slinky instrumentals that change but somehow are all of a piece.  It's intriguing stuff, but somehow never fully essential.

Jean Grae "Jeanius" (2008)

There's a parallel universe where Jean Grae is a big star.  She's seen as the leading female MC and is brought in to add intelligence to R&B tracks.  Unfortunately in the universe we're living in, she's mostly overlooked and ignored.  I don't know all the details, but she sounds like a likely victim of the dodgy nature of the music industry.  A record in the tank, that's not released for several years....  Grae is a throwback in that her emphasis is on technique and intelligence.  While the album itself fails to live up to its potential, she's certainly a talent to watch.

Various "Cambodian Cassette Archives" (2004)

There was a weird little scene around the "Cambodian Rocks" album.  That one was a compilation of 60s & early 70s garage punk from Cambodia.  It basically sounded like you were listening to Nuggets through your apartment wall.  Anyway, that compilation was a hipster hit.  And so we have other comps in roughly the same vein.  The problem with this one is that the music isn't from the same sweet spot.  There are a lot of synthesizers in use, and you don't have that wonderfully familiar feeling.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

John Fahey "The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album" (1968)

This year I remembered how much I love this album of holiday music.  With Fahey, simple is never quite what it seems and that approach is perfect for these traditional tunes.

Destroyer "Destroyer's Rubies" (2006)

This may very well be one of my favorite indie records of the millenium.  It's dense complex music and words with multiple call backs to the music of the 70s. 

Menahan Street Band "Make The Road By Walking" (2008)

So these guys are the Daptones house band.  You've heard them on records by Sharon Jones & the Budos Band.  The Menahan Street Band is their 70s soul incarnation.  Without a vocalist, it comes off more as incidental music for a blaxploitation movie that was never made.  Whatever you think of this album, these guys are definitely ones to watch.