Big album dump. Plenty more on the back burner that nearly made this cut but were put off for further listening. The first three are actually still in the running for an A Minus, but I’ve listened to them a bunch and think they don’t quite make it. The serious contender is Chicago Afrobeat Project, a band I discovered through the wise editorial choices of Rhapsody. I keep telling myself I’ll write a jazz review or a From the Vaults special, but every time I sit down to do it I wind up writing about new stuff. Oh well.
I’ll be on vacation at the end of next week, and I doubt I’ll get a whole lot of work done, at least in regards to music reviews. So I’ll try to post at least once next week before shipping off. We’ll see.
CHICAGO AFROBEAT PROJECT – Nyash UP! (CAbP Music): Sort-of Fela Kuti devotees start by sampling Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong,” settle into a nice groove and sample more: Talking Heads’ “Slippery People,” Fugazi, Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” even manage to turn a System of a Down song into something I don’t just tolerate, but enjoy. No easy feat. Not so much mash-ups as afrobeat remixes, hence the titillating title. Goes well for a while, but a long streak of repetitive instrumentals weigh it down. Good enough, though, that I’ll revisit and probably reconsider. (“Slippery People,” “Inner City Blues Make Ya Wanna Holler”) ***
STEPHEN MALKMUS & FRIENDS – Can’s Ege Bamyasi (Matador): Record Store Day-only release, a complete live cover of Can’s 1973 album, purportedly one of Malkmus’s all-time favorites, meant to mark a fortieth anniversary. Rhythms aren’t as fluent as the original, though krautrock has never been my cup of tea and the mediocre recording makes it a bit flat. Better this than the never-ending Tago Mago. ***
GHOSTFACE KILLAH – 12 Reasons to Die (Soul Temple): A short one produced by Adrian Younge as though it’s some sort of film, a comic book/mobster flicked packed into forty audial minutes set in what I assume is 1960s New York City about a fictional gang war between Ghostface/Wu-Tang’s Gambino and DeLuca crime families, the latter for which he was a hustler marked for death when they became uncomfortable with a black man attaining any semblance of prestige. The fantastically inflated storyline holds little character development, concerned more with plot movement and emphasizing the overplayed Scarface ethos before switching to horror. Album’s name comes from (spoilers!) Starks’ murderers—the DeLucas—melting his body and pressing them into twelve vinyl records from which he gains strength every time one is played, eventually leading to his resurrection as the Ghostface Killah, a murderous, slasher-film anti-hero. It’s Younge’s music that kills this; matches the mood, sure, but hasn’t got the heft to warrant a place among GK’s finest. (“Blood on the Cobblestones,” “Beware of the Stare”) ***
BILAL – A Love Surreal (eOne): R&B/funk singer, third album. Title refers not only to his stereotypical subject matter but (obviously) one of Trane’s finest. Prince without Jesus, his lovemaking songs can’t stay interesting for as long as they run. (“Climbing,” “Winning Hand”) ***
MIKAL CRONIN – MCII (Merge): Pop singer-songwriter from Cali with guest Ty Segall, who could learn everything from his unabashed San Fran surfer vibe—the importance of melody, speaking clearly into the mic, virtues of the chorus. West coast acoustic flower power con beach music and a dab of pop punk. Reminds me of Rilo Kiley without the words. (“Don’t Let Me Go”) ***
WIRE – Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag): A litte more REM-ish than I recall, this once out-and-out Brit punk group has mellowed considerably, turned a mite more robotic. Still, not bad for guys who’ve been at it for decades. ***
Gypsyphonic Disko, Vol. 2 (free Gypsyphonic.com download ’10): Surprising because both the hip-hop and gypsy samples are far more recognizable than its predecessor, which is somehow less fun and engaging. Could be because the attempted melding feels more like clash than harmony, or not cut as tightly as the first. ***
PALMA VIOLETS – 180 (Rough Trade): British guitar band, a mix of Vaccines laziness and Walkmen drunkenness. Nice-guy punks: “I wanna be your best friend / I don’t want you to be my girl.” (“Johnny Bagga’ Donuts,” “Tom the Drum”) **
SHE & HIM – Volume 3 (Merge): Zooey Deschanel’s vocals have the cadence for girly 1950s doo-wop-inspired pop—scattered flat notes, sure, but I prefer her almost always to reedy-windpipe Ward—and extra points for not stripping down production values to further emulate their idols. But sometimes something simpler might be better: do we need so many backup vocals? Or the wall of sound? Or that underlying horn section? Still, for all indie’s boneheaded attributes, I still find this pair’s digest easier to swallow than most. Eclectic covers, usually successful, though none hold a candle to originals. (“Sunday Girl”) **
THEE OH SEES – Floating Coffin (Castle Face): Masters of the most hideous album artwork in the world, they turn the amps to eleven and run with razor riffs that grow tiresome at the four minute mark, making you wonder just how good those riffs are. (“I Come From the Mountain”)*
JAMES BLAKE – Overgrown (Universal): Better than his debut voxbox snoozefest. Still no fan of his ‘blue-eyed soul’ shtick, but his rhythms are better; when he intimates SBTRKT feat. Sampha and brings RZA on board, he scores a few points. *
THE MEN – New Moon (Sacred Bones): The first of theirs I’ve wanted to hear again. More songs, only one wandering opus. Starts off calm, gets progressively louder, hits their usual bludgeoning potential by the end. (“Freaky,” “Bird Song”) *
!!! – Thr!!!er (Warp): Dance group from Sacramento, fifth album. I’ve been aware of them for years but never bothered to listen. Long, disco-tastic rhythms they often haven’t a clue what to do with, just drone on like a jam band version of Hot Chip. *
Sub Pop 1000! (Sub Pop): 25th anniversary hipster label sampler, largely metal, which surprised me. Okay here and there, devoid of artists they’re currently known for. Not worth the pretty vinyl their posting. *
THE STOOGES – Ready to Die (Fat Possum): Iggy Pop’s white trash shtick might work better on me if he didn’t pretend to be so stupid. “Gun” has a rollicking riff and a very funny chorus but is dressed in an idiotic salute to bottom-feeders. It’s the perfect place for slight social commentary. Perhaps Iggy finally found the paradox or rock—rebelling against what the Man prescribes even when it’s good for you.
BLU – York (Nature Sounds): Very choppy, but not entertaining like Riggins or Dilla, just an unfocused comp by a guy who misses the point of tone.
DAUGHTER – If You Leave (Glassnote): Elena Tonra-fronted band, ballad-heavy alterna/indie rock repeating the same pattern over and over: dreamy wash of superserious guitar pop that dithers about until the drums gallop away, leaving the melody far behind.
CHARLES BRADLEY – Victim of Love (Daptone): Victim of nostalgia is more like it. Even less memorable than the would-be-veteran’s debut, refusing to use hook or melody to make anything stick, something his could-have-been contemporaries Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye were sticklers for.
THE BLACK ANGELS – Indigo Meadow (Blue Horizon Ventures): With the departure of their drone operator, Alex Maas reverts to quicker quips without any punch or groove. A complete waste of Stephanie Bailey, a talented drummer who’ll jump ship if she’s as smart as she is good at banging away.
BARN OWL – V (Thrill Jockey): Soundscape electronica, ‘experimental’ or some such because there’s video along with it, will duly avoid I through IV.
THE AIRBORNE TOXIC EVENT – Such Hot Blood (Island): Named after the second section of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Mikel Jollett’s LA-based quintet’s entire catalog can be summed up thus: Increasingly melodramatic indie-con-arena rock about beautiful losers and suicide-leaning isolates. Certainly someone needs to reach these troubled groups, but you’d want it to be someone inspiring. Ian Cohen ends his decimation of the band’s debut with “Congratulations, Pitchfork reader—the Airborne Toxic Event thinks you’re a demographic,” as if they weren’t.