New This Week: Godspeed, Ben Gibbard and More
A whole bunch of new records worth investigating today. Let’s get started:
Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Alleujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!: The revered post-rock collective returns from a many-year slumber to resurrect their mighty sound. To hear Stephen Deusner tell it, time away has allowed them to rediscover and bear down on their strengths:
Allelujah!, like their best material, conveys an unnameable dread that lies well outside the purview of lyrics (they don’t have any) and standard song structures (which they explode). The expected elements remain – heraldic guitars, jarring sound collages, disquieting drones, roiling crescendos – yet they combine in new and unexpected ways. In fact, it shows the band rediscovering and reclaiming its primary mission, which is to make music that is heavy in both sound and concept.
Ben Gibbard, Former Lives: The Death Cab front man opens up his song vaults, cobbling together his first “proper” solo album ever from a wealth of songs dating back years. Annie Zaleski writes:
Recorded partly with Earlimart’s Aaron Espinoza, Former Lives is a collection of songs Gibbard stockpiled over eight years, a time period that encapsulated “three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking,” as he writes in the album’s bio. The album is wildly varied as a result; the music touches on everything from silly a cappella (the fanciful, nursery-rhyme-like “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby”) and mariachi-flavored folk-rock (“Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke),” which features the Trio Ellas) to a ’70s AM Gold homage (“Duncan, Where Have You Gone?”)
Martha Wainwright, Come Home To Mama: The celebrated singer-songwriter’s first album since losing her mother, folk-singer icon Kate McGarrigle, and having a kid. She’s got a lot on her mind, and Rachael Maddux tells us more:
. Come Home to Mama is Wainwright’s first record since she gave birth to her first child and lost her mother, the folk singer Kate McGarrigle, within the span of a few months in 2009 and 2010, and the ironies of those concurrent milestones figure heavily into her lyrics here, alternately searching and celebratory, casting wide nets of existential despair and fixating on domestic minutia.
Tamaryn, Tender New Signs: An uncommonly lush and beautiful shoegaze pop album. Laura Studarus writes:
Tamaryn’s Tender New Signs is a middle-of-the-night meditation on love and its constant companion, heartbreak. Titular frontwoman Tamaryn curates her band’s after-hours malaise with a breathy murmur, guitarist Rex John Shelverton supporting her efforts through a fuzzed-out wall of guitars. Playing like the nebulous thought patterns that occur between the time the head hits the pillow and the brain finally calls it a day, their desolate shoegaze is a place where fantasies and nightmares lay side-by-side.
Regal Degal, Veritable Who’s Who: Guitar-driven indie from this Brooklyn group recalles the post-Joy Division, pre-New Order sound of Factory Records, when groups like The Wake were making doomy, morose, atmospheric music for sad Manchester lads. That is, of course, meant as the highest possible compliment.
Subtitled A Collection of Acoustic Songs, her latest album suits Wolfe’s strengths, allowing nuance, rather than more shadows. Lyrically, Wolfe remains bleak (see the a cappella “I Died With You”) – which makes her liner notes’ nod to Townes Van Zandt all the more telling – but now the songs come first. Stripped back to acoustic guitar, church organ, a tom drum and upheavals of strings, Wolfe moves towards the austerity of folk in a way that feels natural.
Jamey Johnson, Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran: The gruff country singer’s country singer assays a tribute to Hank Cochran, the legend who wrote Patsy Cline’s “I Fall To Pieces.” Dan McIntosh writes:
Jamey Johnson’s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran directly follows the country singer/songwriter’s expansive 2010 two-disc set, The Guitar Song with a tribute to one of the masters of the heartsick love ballad. Cochran is most famous for penning Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” and Johnson’s reverent tribute album is evidence that Cochran’s pained honky-tonk ruminations continue to resonate with broken hearts everywhere. Stylistically, these duet interpretations opt for respect over reinvention. The arrangements resemble the kind of old ’60s country record you might find at a yard sale, full of weepy pedal steel, honky-tonk piano and understated drums.
Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos: Steely Dan frontman and perennial dirty old man at the cocktail bar dreams up a vivid new cast of unsavories and idiosyncrats for his latest solo record. Ken Micallef has the lowdown:
Recorded at tiny home studios throughout New York City, Donald Fagen’s Sunken Condos is his most intimate and quirkily entertaining album since 1982â€²s The Nightfly. At times recalling Steely Dan’s classic Gaucho and The Royal Scam albums, Sunken Condos glows with comfy R&B grooves, lovely, ear-wrapping melodies and Fagen’s sharply droll lyrics. Sunken Condos is so colorful and quirky, with its eccentric characters and catchy songs, it could make for a fantastic series of one-act plays.
Mac Demarco, Mac Demarco 2: Mac Demarco’s first record, Rock and Roll Nightclub, posited him as a druggy, smeared-lipstick gender-bender crooner of lo-fi rock ditties. His follow up, just titled 2, sees him stretching out and relaxing. Evan Minsker writes:
DeMarco embarks on a yacht-rock voyage, offering pop songs that are easy, carefree and romantic. Strumming a vaguely tropical-sounding twangy guitar and crooning gently, he focuses on the simple things – his favorite brand of cigarette, for example – and treats them simply. (From “My Kind of Woman”: “Oh baby, oh man/ You’re making me crazy, you’re really drivin’ me mad.”) But shot through with his infectious melodies and sense of goodwill, DeMarco delivers an album of satisfyingly consistent mellow gold.
Sky Ferreira, Ghost EP: We posted Sky’s song “Everything is Embarrassing” here a few weeks ago. This is the EP from which its taken. Ferreira exists between two worlds — some of the songs here are pulsing with electronics, others are full of weepy lap steel and put a greater focus on Ferreira’s breathy vocals.
Dead Prez, Information Age: The firebrand stalwart duo return, brandishing catchier hooks than you’d expect and the same blunt-edged force as ever. Jonah Bromwich writes:
Though their radical politics are still present, they’ve shifted slightly: stic.man and M1 appear to have taken up Buddhism. As a result, they’ve stopped trying to spark anarchy and seem content to espouse knowing eschatology. When you’re waiting on the apocalypse, after all, all you can really do is dance and pray. The dancing starts early, with the startlingly pretty “A New Beginning,” which fuses a late-’80s dance-hop beat with relatively calm verses from the duo. Addressing his constituents, M1 gently prods, “You thought the finish line was 1999, didn’t ya?” before the song launches into the best chorus we’ve heard from dead prez in years.
The Luyas, Animator: Montreal-based indie-rock collective (that is NOT Godspeed) release Broadcast-flavored, lush indie rock in the vein of late-period Radiohead or fellow Canadians The Dears. Matthew Fritch writes:
Animator is a wide-ranging, huge-sounding album with a tiny, insistent voice at its center. That would be lead singer Jessie Stein, whose voice is similar to that Broadcast’s late chanteuse, Trish Keenan, but elevated to a more pinched and pixie-ish register. The Luyas, a Montreal-based band with connections to a host of aughts-wave Canadian indie artists (Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett, Bell Orchestre) don’t seem to suffer in the slightest from the relative smallness of Stein’s vocals; in fact, they work with her short, sharp expressions to create drama.
The Legs, AAAA The New Memphis Legs: Nasty, sweaty, leering Memphis rock on the ever-great Goner records. Austin L. Ray says:
These “blood and beer-encrusted recordings from the epochal year 2000,” as the band has dubbed them, come via Eric Friedl of the Oblivians. Rounding out the incendiary, now-apparently-defunct trio is “Texas guitar noisemaker” James Arthur, and drummer Forrest Hewes, of Neckbones fame. A truly unholy racket, AAAA New Memphis Legs begins with Friedl yelling about how he’s drunk, imploring the listener to “do the legs,” and demanding little-girl lovin’ through a nasty wall of feedback as the music more or less falls all over itself.
Majeure, Solar Maximum: Sci-Fi electronic music from this Zombi member has a fantastic, throwbacky feel — lots of blinking synths and late-night future-city atmospherics. Like the soundtrack to an ’80s computer movie that never happened. RECOMMENDED
Yakuza, Beyul: Frenzied, unpredictable pedal-to-metal hardcore from long-running band. Jon Wiederhorn has this to say:
Yakuza’s sixth album, Beyul, is a hectic, hallucinogenic drag race through freeway traffic, filled with sudden lurches, rapid acceleration, dangerous spin outs, brake screeches and frustrated noisy idling. It’s a dizzying exercise in queasy chaos, consistent for about a minute at a time before peeling off in another direction. Like 2010â€²s Of Seismic Consequence, Beyul eschews Yakuza’s early death-metal vocals and rhythms, veering in ever-more unpredictable directions.
Pinback, Information Retrieved: The duo’s fifth album and first for post-rock specialists Temporary Reisdence finds Rob Crow and Zack Smith offering the same doses of heart-rending scream-spiked melodic indie that have made them a fervently beloved cult band. Michael Tedder writes:
Rob Crow and Zack Smith, as Pinback, are dedicated followers of a certain Pacific Northwestern strain of urgent, philosophical indie rock, one that started with Sunny Day Real Estate and coalesced around Modest Mouse and Heatmiser. But the duo doesn’t hail from Olympia or Portland or even Seattle: Crow and Smith are California boys through and through, recreating their favorite sounds on their own terms using their own tools, which means that the climactic choruses and spirit quests of their heroes get artfully mussed up through the filter of Sunshine State shaggy-dog guides Pavement.
Matmos, The Ganzfeld EP: Matmos, crazy as ever, have apparently been ‘conducting experiments’ using a heightened version of the Ganzfeld Technique. You can find more info on the goings-on here. Pretty fascinating! The resulting EP is as woozy and inventive as we’ve come to expect.
A Fine Frenzy, PINES: The third record by one of the more ambitious young bands around comes accompanied by both a short film and a book. The album itself is full of lovely, fluttering ballads that fans of people like Tori Amos and Regina Spektor and even indier artists like Mirah should enjoy.
Ken Stringfellow, Danzig in the Moonlight: Excellent title for this collection of gentle, rustling pop music. Stringfellow’s tender voice is front and center, and the songs, as you might guess from the title, favor a kind if quiet late-night pop feel; piano, tasteful electronic flourishes. Fans of R.E.M.’s Up (on which Stringfellow played) will enjoy.
Daniel Hope/Max Richter, Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons: The electronic musician and contemporary does a revelatory “remix” job on the Four Seasons, recomposing the works to play with your sense memory of them and to open hidden melodic corners in a national monument. Here’s Steve Holtje with more:
Richter’s solo work combines ambient electronica with melodic minimalism, and in his recasting of The Four Seasons, everything is up for reconsideration except the classical instrumentation. Sometimes the melody is retained while elements of the accompaniment are reconstituted into a droning or minimalist style: Sometimes the rhythm is chopped up into uneven time signatures. It would have been very easy for Richter’s Four Seasons end up a cheap gimmick. Instead it aligns the Baroque and the modern in thoroughly enjoyable and memorable ways.
Mika, The Origin of Love: The title track, regrettably, is not a Hedwig & the Angry Inch cover. Mika edges away from the Queen-y, bombastic pop that defined his first full-length to something that kind of reminds me of a brighter version of Stars. Maybe it’s just because his voice kind of sounds like Torquil’s here? Lots of super-hooky electropop to brighten your spirits.
K’Naan, Country, God or the Girl: Latest from celebrated Senegalese rapper finds him leaning more heavily on melody, incorporating gentle sung choruses to counterbalance his bright, skipping verses.
Finnish RSO/Leila Josefowicz, Out of Nowhere: Esa-Pekka Salonen is the former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the man credited with the orchestra’s rise from its position as an excellent orchestra navigating the Big Five East Coast ensembles (Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago) into the single-most vital orchestra in America. He is also a revered composer, and his latest violin concerto, here assayed by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, fuses his coruscating intellect with his love of dizzying flights of melody. Leila Josefowicz tackles it with Everest-climber gusto.
Jazz Picks, by Dave Sumner
Strong drop this week, and it was difficult to encapsulate all of the solid albums available in Freshly Ripped. Albums went to either extreme: straight-ahead or out on the fringes, with the latter probably consisting of the stronger efforts. Worth mentioning that the Criss Cross label dropped several albums; I mention one of them in this column. Cello gets a word in on several of this week’s Jazz Picks, and if you read this column regularly, I’m pretty much a sucker for the inclusion of that instrument in a jazz album. Let’s begin…
Ferenc Nemeth, Triumph: Featuring a core of drummer Nemeth, the guitar of Lionel Loueke, Joshua Redman on sax, and Kenny Werner on keys, it’s a hell of a strong line-up. However, the impressive part of this album is the way Nemeth stretches out on compositions, making this anything but a straight-ahead album, while also not sacrificing some of the elemental ingredients of jazz in the pursuit of experimentalism. An album with expansive themes. It loses its cohesion at times, but that’s nitpicking a recording that is impressive both as a creative endeavor and a pure listening experience. Pick of the Week.
Matthew Halsall, Fletcher Moss Park: Trumpeter Matthew Halsall has been putting out one solid album after the other. While not straying far from his modal/Miles Davis sound, his compositions on the current album bloom outward a bit wider. Rachael Gladwin’s harp brings a fullness to the album not entirely present on previous releases, and the addition of a couple tracks with strings adds some nifty flavor. Nat Birchall, Adam Fairhall, and Gavin Barras return on sax, piano, and bass respectively, and worth mentioning that all three have released album regarded highly recommended Jazz Picks over the last year. This is an album that will be great to own, but also one to use for further music discovery. Highly Recommended.
Chambr, Freewheel: A guitar trio augmented with a string section. Mixes jazz, chamber, classical, and folk with a startlingly beautiful result. Not unlike recent Jazz Pick Threads Orchestra, it’s an unconventional blending of instruments and genres that results in a seemingly simple, easy-to-enjoy set of tunes. Addicted on first listen, no end in sight. co-Find of the Week.
Seval, 2: Okay, this is something different. A quintet of vocals, cello, trumpet, bass, and guitar. Songs that have a pop-music sensibility to them even as they stretch out to more experimental territory. Beautiful, and moody as hell. co-Find of the Week.
Jeb Bishop & Jorrit Dijkstra, 1000 Words: Duo of trombonist Bishop and alto saxophonist Dijkstra. Free improvisation, but as this album proves, this need not automatically lead to dissonance and chaotic patterns. Often gentle and sublime, thought not afraid to dish out some unmitigated ferocity, this is two pros having a quality conversation with their instruments.
Clarence Penn, Dali In Cobble Hill: Terrific modern jazz set by drummer Penn, and including Ben Street on bass, Chris Potter on sax (and bass clarinet), and Adam Rogers on guitar. The up-tempo tracks really emit a buoyant charm, and contain all kinds of Autumn vivacity. Recommended.
Jeff Davis, Leaf House: Frenetic trio date with Davis on drums, Eivind Opsvik on bass, and Russ Lossing on piano. Not a member of this trio is ever going to be accused of taking the easy way out on a recording. Not afraid to challenge the listener, but also not willing to concede the element of fun. Not a typical piano trio album… a quality that is refreshing to discover from time to time.
Peter Protschka, Kindred Spirits: Strong trumpet-led quartet session. Nice mix of post- and hard-bop, so it should appeal to both old schoolers and modern jazz fans alike. The compositions are certainly enjoyable, though it’s the quality musicianship and interplay that makes this a winning album.
Gian Tornatore, The Heights: Solid modern jazz from this sextet. Led by saxophonist Tornatore, it has that quixotic mix of moody introspection and latent ferocity that is so enjoyable (and symbolic) of a large segment of the modern jazz landscape. Some terrific moments on the album, especially tunes like “Meadowlands” and “Soaring.”
Animation, Transparent Heart: This is Bob Belden’s outfit, a quintet of sax/flute, trumpet, piano, drums, bass, and plenty of effects. Belden, who has done some extraordinary work with the music of Miles Davis, as well as leaving his stamp all around the jazz world, brings some of the modern fusion that often proves to be inescapably infectious, via both serenity and groove. Good stuff.
Jacob Anderskov, Granular Alchemy: Pianist Anderskov rounds out a quartet with a crazy-good line-up of Chris Speed on sax & clarinet, Gerald Cleaver on drums, and Michael Formanek on bass. Cerebral music with a smoldering intensity.
Tom Gibbs, Fear of Flying: Pleasant modern jazz session. Quartet date with Gibbs on piano, Euan Burton on bass, Will Vinson on soprano and alto saxes, and James Maddren at the drum set. A few tunes have a wonderful lightness to them, and most others have a decent post-bop swing.
Danny Green, A Thousand Ways Home: Nice straight-ahead session for pianist green, who rounds out his quartet with bass, drums, and sax, plus has a variety of guitarists sit in on the session. Nothing groundbreaking, but likable in its way.