St. Etienne – Words and Music by St. Etienne*
Loudon Wainwright II – Older than My old man now *
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Everybody’s Talkin’ *
Goat – World Music
Kylie Minogue would kill for I’ve Got Your Music and DJ on St. Etienne’s latest with both its infectious beats and Sarah Cracknell’s feathery vocals somehow adding a nostalgic and emotional depth. Loudon Wainwright reminisces about mortality and generations past with a twinkle in his eye as he Remembers Sex (with Dame Edna Everage) and along with youngster Ramblin’ Jack Elliot Loudon demands a second go-around on Double Lifetime. After last year’s too respectful debut, Tedeschi and Trucks finally listened to me and cut loose like Delaney and Bonnie on Tour. Goat is a Swedish hippy-collective psychedelic jam band with trippy world music references from Afrobeat to desert blues that’s definitely not for purist.
Rock Ain’t Dead (but there’s nothing new here)
Royal Headache – What’s Your Rupture* Japandroids – Celebration Rock*, The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past, Men – Open Your Hearts, Nude Beach – II, Red Kross – Researching the Blues, Yellowcard – Southern Air
This is all fun airhead garage stuff. Critics claim Royal Headaches’ lead vocalist Shogun combine a soul revival into 26 minutes of garage punk. I don’t hear it. Instead, I hear the Jam and great urgent songs marred by low fi production which I’ll never understand.
a) Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears*, Chris Knight – Little Victories
3 Pears is all over the place. It is definitely more rock and pop than Bakersfield along with two songs produced by Beck. Chris Knight walks the same earthy blue collar back roads once rambled by John Prine.
b) Frank Ocean – Channel Orange, Miguel – Kaleidoscope Dreams
For the first few seconds, Miguel is the reincarnation of Marvin Gaye on “Let’s Get it On”, but then it doesn’t go anywhere. These albums have no complete songs with melodies choruses and bridges. They are ADD snippets of moods and grooves that provide wonderful atmosphere and limited social commentary. They will quickly fade and be forgotten. Frank Ocean is the same but he talks more.
c) Swans – The Seer, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
I think I like this stuff. It makes me feel very complex and deep. Swans are experimental art rock with titles like The Apostate that can take a half hour to build from slow trance-like rhythms to cacophonous explosions of industrial noise. Godspeed is (slightly) more accessible post rock. I like the bagpipes.
Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky*, Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania, Bob Mould – Silver Age
Dinosaur Jr. continues its comeback with slightly quieter but better songs that haven’t quite forsaken the crunching power chords of two decades ago. Oceania has less angst-ridden “mellon collie” than its predecessors. It also has a broader sweep from acid rock feedback to minor key techno ballads. Bob Mould proudly recreates his Husker Du roots with a barrage of sound that’s a little too reminiscent of Warehouse: Songs and Stories.
Jazz (all good)
Wadada Leo Smith – Ten Freedom Summers*, Don Pullen – Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note Road, John McLaughlin – Now Hear This, Kurt Rosenwinkel – Star of Jupiter, Christian Scott – Christian aTunde Adjuah, Stonephace Stabbins– Transcendental, John Surman – Saltash Bells, Jack DeJohnette – Sound Travels, Juma Sultan’s Aborinal Music Society – Whispers from the Archive, Spectrum Road – Spectrum Road, Return to Forever – The Mothership Returns. Return to Forever started strong but exited the late 70s with aimless noodling and pretentious motifs. Yet, thirty years later on the same songs, these old jazz pros make it work with the help of Jean Luc Ponty.
Recycled Old Stuff
deardarkhead – Oceanside 1991-1993*, Donnie and Joe Emerson – Dreamin’ Wild*
English Beat – Complete Beat, Cowboy Copas – Signed Sealed and Delivered, Can – The Lost Tapes, Allman Brothers – A & R Studios :New York 26th August 1971, V.A. – Buttons: From Champaign to Chicago, Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day
Two decades ago, the New Jersey band deardarkhead tried to cash in on the U.K. shoegaze sound. More than three decades ago, Donnie and Joe Emerson’s father lost most of the family farm by self-releasing his sons’ album of wistful blue-eyed pop ballads. Spectacular failures, but charming time capsules that ripen with age. The exact opposite occurs on Led Zeppelin’s overpraised reunion.
It’s Like They Never Left (yeah, right)
Van Morrison – Born to Sing : No Plan B , Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth , Dr. John – Locked Down, Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball, Bob Dylan – Tempest, Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill, Neil Young – Americana
I like a comeback as much as the next guy, but these are mostly average albums. Van Morrison, Jimmy Cliff and Dr. John are all B+ partially because they play to their strengths and don’t set their sights too high. Springsteen is slightly overwrought on Wrecking Ball (as in The Rising) as he tries to right our moral compass through irony and preachy metaphors. Even if it’s good for me, doesn’t mean I’m going to listen to it. My canvas and world view are smaller. Instead, give me Thunder Road, blue collar angst, a guitar solo that is all over the place and then show me how to change the world. Dylan is trying to channel Woody Guthrie by being the Americana folk laureate. These songs are pleasant folkie strummings where the music provides a bland and repetitive background, and after a 13 plus minute telling of the Titantic, I couldn’t wait for that sucker to go down. Neil Young’s re-casting of classic American folks songs in ragged Crazy Horse stompings to unearth the real meaning and despair in the lyrics is close to genius. But on Americana as on Psychedelic Pill, the music doesn’t stick the ribs and primitive bashing doesn’t always hark back to the good ole days, especially after 27 minutes on Driftin Back.
Bambara Mystic Soul – The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979, Chris Berry – OK!, Zani Diabate – Tienlaw Tien, Staff Benda Bilili – Bouger Le Monde, V.A. – The Rough Guide to Highlife
Mixed Bag, but Not Bad
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra –Theatre is Evil,
Tame Impala – Lonerism, Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America, Patti Smith – Banga
I’m Just a Big Progressive Nerd
Big Big Train – English Electric, Part 1, Flower Kings – Banks of Eden, Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Ambient, Techno, Classical, Whatever…
Alcest – Les Voyages de L’ame, Lisa Smirnova – Handel Die Acht Grossen Suiten, Bang on a Can Allstars – Beautiful Dark and Scary, Carl Neilsen – The Masterworks Vo. 2., V.A. – Chamber and Instrumental Works, Inon Barnatan – Darkness Visible, Actress – RIP, Brian Eno – Lux, LHF – Keepers of the Light
Suck Passion Pit – Gossamer
It’s fine to release a sophomore album that sounds exactly like your breezy electronic summer pop debut. But why get concept on us with complex tales of morally bankrupt Wall Street types. It’s ambitious and too exhausting.
Get That Song Out of My Head!!!
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe (Damn, she’s cute)
(* Top ten picks. Listed in descending order of quality)