Pazz & Jop Notes
Mentioned yesterday I might do a big album drop, so here it is. Much bigger than I’d expected, though I also held on to more albums for another spin or two than I expected. As far as pop/rock/hip hop goes, there are plenty of high-profile releases here, although I admit that we’re here in November and I still have some glaring omissions (Kanye West’s Yeezus being one of them). I’m not particularly pleased with any of this writing; it’s been sitting around for some time, and there are only a few entries I edited, and the edits were marginal at most. I doubt any of these ‘reviews’ would help anyone, but you never know. Personally, I would think of it as a marker of sorts to give you an idea of what I’ve been listening to and what I think is good if only worth a fleeting listen.
There are three (or four?) sections here. The first is a series of brief notes on A Minus records, all jazz, only one of which (Kaze) was released this year, though all three will end up in this year’s best-of list since they’re new to me. The next section is for Honorable Mention jazz albums, with a few near the top that could easily jump into A Minus status once I get around to hearing them again. I’m putting them here as a footnote for you and for myself just in case I never do revisit them—or, more likely, listen again but never bother to jot anything down. Last section is Honorable Mentions and Lemons for pop/rock/hip hop. Only one jazz dud, Derrick Hodge (and maybe Thundercat), so instead of separating them I lumped them in with everything else.
Two more notes: If I find the time I might do an Artist Overview for Peter Evans, since I’ve effectively written about all his stuff with the exception of the other MOPDtK records. But that seems doubtful, since I would prefer those posts to be a bit more comprehensive and well-written. Also, I think my year-end list will be significantly different from anyone else’s, partly because I have a bevy of pre-2013 albums I’ll be including and partly because I’ve been really stingy about handing out A Minuses. I recently looked at my year-end from last year, and though fifty-one albums are listed, in retrospect I think the first thirty-one are those I would still recommend as an A Minus. There are a few that come later that I still have enough faith in, but the rest should honestly be relegated to high Honorable Mentions. Not that you cared either way.
In the Garde-n of Avant
Really dig Peter Evans. Dude’s brilliant, plain and simple. I should look more into Satako Fuji’s catalog, as Kaze is a collective I’m down with.
PETER EVANS QUINTET – Ghosts (Peter Evans Quartet ’11): MOPDtK trumpeter evokes the album’s namesake well, especially on “Chorales,” where trumpets intertwine and whine, fading off to allow a gateway to open up to another realm. A MINUS
PETER EVANS QUARTET – Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed ’10): Loses Brandon Seabrook on guitar and adds Ricardo Gallo on piano. Plenty of improv, but largely not too far removed considering it’s post-bop. A MINUS
KAZE – Tornado (Libra): Second album by pianist Satako Fuji’s quartet featuring trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. Five tracks, all avant, sometimes posing as cheesy 50’s B-movie score, sometimes collectively getting a propulsive energy rolling. Doesn’t start with a long, repulsive fart the way 2011’s Rafale did, so at least there’s that. A MINUS
Jazz Honorable Mentions
BARBARA MORRISON – A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant): Set of standards by LA legend, leaps from blues to jazz to R&B to soul, closes with an Al Green cover. ***
PETER EVANS QUARTET – The Peter Evans Quartet (Firehouse 12 ’07): Oberlin grad’s debut of sorts. Kevin Shea (drums), Brandon Seabrook (guitar/electronics), and Tom Blancarte (bass), where everything begins like a traditional avant ditty (“Frank Sinatra”) and spins off into Stanley Kubrick space soundtracks (“Bodies and Souls”). ***
DAVID WEISS – Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter (Motéma Music): Cover album, recorded live. A fine tribute to Shorter, whom I alternately find masterful and bland. ***
ORNETTE COLEMAN – Friends and Neighbors: Ornette Live at Prince Street (BGP/Flying Dutchman): Roughshod live performance recorded in 1970, a ~40 min exercise overlooked for more favorable Blue Note live albums. Killer title tracks, one with vocals and the other without, the sound of a bass engine rumbling, Coleman’s free jazz tenor sax coming into its own on “Long Time No See.” ***
NATE WOOLEY – (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship (Clean Feed): Oregon-born trumpeter b. 1974, with a sextet here, slightly avant. ***
VIJAY IYER & MIKE LADD – Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Projects (Pi Recordings): Pianist Iyer’s post-MacArthur Genius Grant project, short flourishes overdubbed with verbal performances of Gulf-region veterans’ dreams. **
AHMAD JAMAL – Saturday Morning (Jazz Village): Best played at that time. Low-key jazz pieces from master pianist. **
OLIVER LAKE – Wheels (Passin Thru): A lot of trad comps with avant detours featuring fiery performances from legendary saxophonist. **
SCOTT NEUMANN NEU3 TRIO – Blessed (Origin): Recommended by both Hull and Gubbels, but after two listens I find it too tame, too bizarre. **
COLIN STETSON – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light (Constellation): Jazz artist, actually is his third volume in this series, first two of which I haven’t heard. Funnily enough, had no one mentioned his jazz credentials I would have pegged this as avant electronica or post-rock or something. Employs Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) on several tracks to sing, but mostly he wails in the background against a flurry of distorted noise rising like tidal waves but never crashing. **
STEVE COLEMAN – Functional Arrhythmias (Pi Recordings): Cute title. Also avant-garde but with a funk lean. Song titles correspond to various body parts and functions. **
BILL FRISELL – Big Sur (Okeh): Instrumental Americana/country/jazz, I suppose. A few good tracks when the bass lays it on heavy and abstruse. **
BADBADNOTGOOD – BBNG (free download ’11): Really young Canadian jazz trio heavily inspired by video games and hip-hop. When I saw they were big fans of Odd Future and later collaborated with their hero Tyler, the Creator, I feared the worst. But the end product is surprisingly listenable; some hip-hop rhythms and a lot of keybs, a cover of various Zelda themes, by-the-numbers post-bop. Better yet, they’ve a lot of product, all of it available for free from their Bandcamp site. **
TONY BENNETT & DAVE BRUBECK – The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (Columbia/Legacy): Decent performance by Brubeck’s group, but Bennett’s crooning is so hammy he brings the swing down to nothing. *
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND – That’s It! (Legacy): New Orleans jazz collective, formed in 1963, releases first album of all original numbers. Some ragtime, some Dixie kick, an easy enough album that shouldn’t have taken fifty years to come about. *
BRUNO HEINEN SEXTET – Tierkreis (Babel): Songs for each horoscope constellation. When they carry a big bassline (“Scorpio”) they work well; when they dabble in triangle tinkling, they don’t. *
OLIVER LAKE – All Decks (Intakt): First solo release of 2013. Live avant set recorded in ’11. *
Pop/Rock/Hip Hop Honorable Mentions
BELLE & SEBASTIAN – The Third Eye Centre (Matador): B-sides and remixes starting from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress to 2010’s Write About Love. Far fewer murmured vocals, with Stuart Gordon actually singing. The remixes, even when they stray not afar from the source material, are listenable, and most of the material never surfacing on albums is lively and upbeat—which is probably why they never made it. They’re too hokey, too cheesy to be pretentious; pretentiousness is never this enjoyable. These are young love songs leftover from hippie circles with no sense of the world beyond their noses, Murdoch conjuring bad Beatles imitation (“Stop, Look and Listen”) when his best is rendering McCartney, sometimes Harrison, but never Lennon. Best part is the remixes: The Avalanches’ African doodlings on kickoff track “I’m a Cuckoo,” the Bee Gees strut Miaoux Miaoux inserts into “Your Cover’s Blown,” the K-Pop electro layering “I Didn’t See It Coming” receives from Richard X. ***
HAIM – Days Are Gone (Columbia): Female pop trio heavy on the disco. There’s a good thirty-minute workout swimming in here somewhere, but with the excess it’s hard to love it despite tracks like “If I Could Change Your Mind.” ***
NINE INCH NAILS – Hesitation Marks (Columbia): Probably not as similar to How to Destroy Angels as I’d like to think, but Trent Reznor’s ever-further descent into the realm of FPS scores is getting old. How many different ways are there to say the world’s over? Lots, actually, but Reznor knows just one: buzzsynthindustrorock. **
The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Brazil (World Music Network): Hearing this after World Music Network’s Latin Psychedelia and Psychedelic Africa demonstrates the label’s definition of “psychedelia” fundamentally dissimilar to the established Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators aesthetic: Laranja Freak’s oh-so-groovy opener contrasts sharply with Lula Cortes’s instrumental folk, and it’s this back-and-forth conflict that signifies the comp’s approach. Only Tom Ze’s manic “Uai-Uai – Revolta Queto-Xamba 1832” approaches the bizarre edge of LSD-inflected rock. **
MAVIS STAPLES – One True Vine (Anti/Epitaph): Soul singer teams up a second time with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, makes all the right moves to win critical accolades, or in other words plays it safe. One killer groove: “Can You Get to That.” I can, and wish I could get to more of it. **
Reasons to Believe: The Songs of Tim Hardin (Full Time Hobby): American folk singer-songwriter (1941-1981), most famous for the title track, covered by many an artist, here receives tribute from youngish talents. Eclectic mix; I only recognize Mark Lanegan, Alela Diane, and Okkervil River (plus Smoke Fairies, though that’s by chance). Doesn’t sound all that folky—just slow, mostly. (“Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep” The Phoenix Foundation; “Reason to Believe” The Sand Band) *
EARL SWEATSHIRT – Doris (Columbia): Had looked forward to this release given the greatness of “Chum,” but amid too many guest spots and a dark and dense production I’m not sure it’s anything special. Retrospectively, high hopes heed haughtiness; Earl makes clear he’s no longer the 15-year-old rapping about rape, yet abstaining from such disgusting material denotes growth only in a minimal sense—e.g., when rape’s your shtick and you’re unfunny, it’s a lot harder to get worse. EARL was a half-assed mixtape, Odd Future one of the more terrible jokes of the century, and this an inner odyssey supposedly driven by the words I’m simply unwilling to give more time. He’s sure as hell not Kendrick Lamar. Hopefully he’s not Tyler, the Creator, either. *
DR. DOG – B-Rooms (Anti/Epitaph): Passable B-sides ‘n outtakes for the super-dedicated. (“Chum”) *
JAY-Z – Magna Carta Holy Grail (Island/Def Jam): Seems the emperor has become more a symbol than an artiste. Timbaland’s beats are all that keep this alive, as Hova’s delivery for once truly sounds like he went off the top in the studio. Meaning he sounds more amateurish than ever before. *
PLACEBO – Loud Like Love (Universal): Former emo king (queen?) Brian Molko indulges his pop side a bit more, a better cure for his melancholy than all those meds. *
KINGS OF LEON – Mechanical Bull (RCA): “Southern Strokes”—as if that’s a compliment—that made it big in ’08 with “Lose Somebody.” Perhaps because their popularity has waned they’re not trying so hard, and subsequently I find many of these run-of-the-mill rockers fairly tolerable, stupid as they are. *
JIMI HENDRIX – People, Hell & Angels (Legacy): Never before released studio outtakes by the seminal axman. A couple of chunky grooves, though they feel awfully long even when they’re not, a bad omen. *
BOARDS OF CANADA – Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp): Scottish duo, Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin, whose big breakthrough was 98’s Music Has the Right to Children. An hour of lyricless hyptronica. *
VALERIE JUNE – Pushin’ Against a Stone (Concord): Bluegrass/blues singer-songwriter from Memphis. High-pitched twangy voice, doesn’t really put much feeling into what she sings, and the material isn’t strong enough to carry it. Some interesting blues shuffles. She’d be better off sticking to those dark ditties. *
ARCTIC MONKEYS – AM (Domino): Brit indie quartet’s fifth. Humbug was their ‘dark’ album or whatever, just a keyword for downtempo sludge. This is Alex Turner’s attempt to channel his inner Tony Iommi, for reasons I’d rather never investigate. Almost blues rock, which means it’s a bad imitation of an often mediocre imitation.
THE DODOS – Carrier (Ployvinyl): Soft-cock pop pap.
EDWARD SHARPE & THE MAGNETIC ZEROS – Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros (Vagrant): Alex Ebert’s Cali hippie-dippie collective continue their Delaney Bramlett model of mediocrity wherein we learn that life is hard and summer grand.
THE FLAMING LIPS – The Terror (Warner Bros.): I can barely understand Wayne Coyne’s appeal, whether it’s his falsetto, his ‘poetry,’ or his space operas passing for music. A near hour-long acid trip—an epithet overused to describe strange music, but this isn’t any sort of listenable without it. I’d challenge anyone to sit through this without once getting up or overly distracted. It’s like Yes meets Vanilla Fudge. Only worse.
GOLDFRAPP – Tales of Us (Mute): Something last year’s killer comp never got me wondering was just how many other slow songs they had. In case they didn’t have enough, they spit out too many more.
DERRICK HODGE – Live Today (Blue Note): Robert Glasper bassist makes his own album of Robert Glasper jip-jop.
MGMT – MGMT (Columbia): After 2011’s torturous psychedelic wash Congratulations, the electro duo does little to return to what stoked stoned college kids back in ‘08. Instead they appear more and more like a couple of dudes who accidentally made a good album and suddenly thought themselves artists.
THUNDERCAT – Apocalypse (Brainfeeder): Nu-jazz or something.
ULTRAISTA – Ultraista Remixes (Temporary Residence): Ten remixes and six bonus tracks, only Four Tet and David Lynch, and every one of ‘em a dud. I swear, this kind of thing is only going to work with bare bones tracks like Yorke’s Eraser. TKOL didn’t work, so what made them think this synth fest would?