New This Week: Santigold, George Harrison, Rufus Wainwright
Lots of new stuff this week, including the long-awaited sophomore LP from Santigold, an awesome George Harrison collection, new Rufus Wainwright and more. Let’s dig in:
George Harrison, Early Takes Volume 1: A collection of George Harrison demos and hits that complement Martin Scorcese’s documentary on him, Living in the World. Wayne Robins says had he not been a Beatle, Harrison still could have been one of his era’s greatest folksingers:
More than any of the Beatles, George Harrison’s mission was to live out his belief that his time with the band was “just a little part that got played…there is much more to me than Beatle George.” You can hear just how distinctive the not-Beatle George Harrison was on Early Takes Volume 1. These 10 tracks, clocking in at barely over 30 minutes, are billed as the audio companion to the DVD release of Martin Scorsese’s HBO documentary about Harrison, Living in the World. Some tracks are in the film; some aren’t. But all of them accentuate the positive, lyrically and musically, bringing to the front Harrison’s gifts as a guitarist and singer, talents that were sometimes camouflaged by the state of the art production demands of mainstream ’70s rock. In fact, many of these versions are preferable to the highly polished studio releases. RECOMMENDED.
Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe: When Santi White’s first album came out four years ago, a lot of people wrongfully compared it to M.I.A., but this new oneâ€¦kinda does sound like M.I.A., at least at first listen. Looking forward to spending more time with this one, though. Christine Werthman says:
In the four years since she released her self-titled debut, Santigold’s genre-blending approach has gone global, with artists like Rihanna to Nicki Minaj throwing hip-hop, dub, rock and reggae into a melting pot and calling it pop. So it’s little surprise that on her second record, Santigold still sounds like Santigold. Like they were on her debut, the songs here are centered around buoyant rhythms, blending bright synths with White’s bobbing, dancehall delivery. The biggest change on Master of My Make-Believe is in the lyrics. The Santigold of 2008 was a streetwise finger-pointer taking aim at the world’s poseurs. In 2012, White has her fist raised, writing anthems about social unrest. Recommended.
Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts: Norah Jones wrote a breakup album that doesn’t sound so sad. It’s produced by Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse, whose work is quite recognizable even just a couple songs in. Ashley Melzer says:
Guided by producer Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse), Jones and her band occupy a middle ground between indie and jazz — like Feist, without the falsetto or the singsong intimacy. The music is well-suited to Jones’s lyrics, which are as cutting as they are confessional. The record succeeds because it explores desperate (and maybe violent) emotions while keeping Jones’s signature unflappability intact. These songs are the complaints of a jilted ex, as delivered by a commanding leading lady.
Marilyn Manson, Born Villain: Jon Wiederhorn goes long on the new Marilyn Manson record, which he says might be the third-best album of the shock-rocker’s career:
The real power of Born Villain is in the song structures, which use space as a tool for tension. Whether it’s the album opener “Hey, Cruel World,” which starts with electronic helicopter sounds and builds through spare echoing guitars before blasting into a chug-o-tronic metal chorus and peaking with a double-time thrash and scream climax; or “The Gardener,” a partially spoken word number with a monochromatic bass line and drumbeat that shifts into a blaring chorus, Manson continually interrupts the sonic assault with subtle 4/4 bass drum beats and gurgling samples before shattering the uneasy quiet again with the next caustic riff or rousing refrain. Born Villain never surpasses the immediacy, freshness and volatility of Antichrist Superstar or Mechanical Animals, but it comes damn close.
Light Asylum, Light Asylum: Long-awaited full-length from the fierce electro-goth duo Light Asylum. Ian Cohen has more:
Sharon Funchess’s voice is a bionic force. Even without the band’s doomsaying, electro-goth production, there’s enough fire in her bellow to raze small cities. Imagine Grace Jones as a monster truck rally announcer, and you start to understand how Funchess could make even a run through her grocery list sound like the impending apocalypse. On the full-length debut from her band Light Asylum, Funchess’s fire, and the coldwave synths that surround it, achieve a thrilling symbiosis, while the loaded religious imagery of her lyrics make singles “IPC” and “A Certain Person” as confrontational and provocative as they are catchy. Light Asylum’s debut isn’t perfect, but there’s not much else like it out there right now — which is probably much more important.
Lower Dens, Nootropics: Hazy electropop that’s been getting a lot of buzz. From Laura Studarus:
Lower Dens’ sophomore album, Nootropics, is named after a class of memory-enhancing drugs. It’s a bit of a misnomer. The Baltimore-based quartet craft songs that unfold and disperse like lazily-blown smoke rings. It’s more like a dream state than a recollection. Frontwoman Jana Hunter — who often sounds like a dead ringer for Beach House’s Victoria Legrand — doesn’t directly lead the listener through the band’s hazy compositions, she guides them from afar; her raspy siren’s alto calls out through a heady blend of synth and percussion. Having already proven themselves well schooled in the art of atmosphere on debut album Twin-Hand Movement, Lower Dens tweaks the formula to add a sinister sweetness.
B.o.B., Strange Clouds: B.o.B.’s crossover-friendly sophomore album of straightforward rap tracks and club cuts. Nick Murray says:
At first glance, B.o.B.’s Strange Clouds appears to be sibling to Nicki Minaj’s recently released Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded: Both crossover-friendly sophomore albums court pop audiences by mixing straightforward rap tracks with club cuts from producers like Dr. Luke and RedOne. Minaj even makes an appearance here, dropping by to flip the “Airplanes” hook from desperate plea to menacing threat. Still, the stronger comparison might be to Wale’s sophomore set Ambition, but where the latter rapper is making an occasionally uneasy move from backpacker-approved mixtape darling to Maybach Music Group street rapper, B.o.B. is continuing his equally turbulent transition to pop superstar. Of course, if Strange Clouds has a unifying theme, it might be the inadequacy of such labels. “I ain’t too big on duality, but/ If you think you know me/ then you ain’t seen the half of me,” he raps on Morgan Freeman-narrated opener “Bombs Away.”
Ane Brun, It All Starts With One: On first listen, Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun’s latest is dramatic and spooky, with a few moments that immediately bring to mind Bat for Lashes, Lykke Li and Tori Amos. Michaelangelo Matos has more:
While It All Starts with One is of a piece with her earlier albums, it also stands in contrast — it’s fuller, more immediate, more musical, even. It can vague out — the title comes from a song, “One,” that feels like a perfunctory (if heartfelt) nod to various Occupations worldwide, albeit filtered through cabaret. (Nellie McKay could perform it.) But clearly touring with Peter Gabriel had some effect: Brun’s arrangements are more expansive, from the modern-classical strings of “What’s Happening with You and Him” to the tintinnabulating timpani of “These Days.”
Rufus Wainwright, Out of the GameÂ: eMusic’s own Barry Walters conducted a fascinating, candid Q&A with Rufus, who always provides extravagantly spectacular quotes. About the record itself, Walters says:
His seventh album, Out of the Game, is his most direct and accessible connection to the singer-songwriter tradition of his parents’ generation. Despite subtle modern touches by star producer Mark Ronson and supporting contributions by members of Wilco, Miike Snow, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Dap-Kings, it’s leaner and groovier than such quintessentially extravagant Wainwright discs as Want One and Want Two. At times, it even recalls prime-era Elton, Nilsson and Lennon.
Father John Misty, Fear Fun: J. Tillman, formerly of the Fleet Foxes, cuts loose and lets himself get a little punchy with his latest project, Father John Misty. Lovely and grave at times, in a way that recalls his solo records, but with a tinge of bloodshot-eye crazy that makes itself heard most clearly in some of the darker lyrics and blearier, more psychedelic sounds. RECOMMENDED.
The Spinto Band, Shy Pursuit: The Spinto Band mix up their power-pop signifiers with all kinds of odd flavors — cabaret, salsa, calypso — producing a shimmying, sly and sweetly off-kilter little pop record.
Ramona Falls, Prophet: Pretty little synth-pop bauble, right here, from former Menomena multi-instrumentalist Brent Knopf (who’s featured in our Guide to Multitasking Musicians). As fragile as a soap bubble, a collection of softly pulsing electronic tones and ringing, dewy guitars.
Patrick Watson, Adventures In Your Own Backyard: This is quietly beautiful, folk-inflected art-pop: Pianos and low-key burbling strings swirl like rustling leaves beneath Watson’s creamy falsetto. Lovely and sad.
K-Holes, Dismania: Bratty little no-wave squall of a record from Hardly Art. Full of jabbing-wire guitar lines, honking horns, and fanged, caustic lead-singer yelping. An art-student riot, and a pretty live-sounding one.
Wild Hunt, Before The Plane of Angles: Brooding, ever-mutating metal from the Oakland, California, outfit. Draws equally from the grim plod of doom metal, the chilly, biting atmosphere of black metal, and the twisting song structures and song-length-distending opuses of prog-metal. Arty, heavy, bludgeoning and beautiful. RECOMMENDED.
Blockhead, Interludes After Midnight: The talented New York producer, who has done watershed work with Def Jux rappers like Cage and Aesop Rock, returns with his first instrumental full-length since 2009′s The Music Scene. The title is drawn from some ancient after-hours New York City public access show from the ’80s and early ’90s, and the sound is similarly grainy, blown-out and nostalgic. Excellent, headphone-swirling jams as always, though.
Geoff Barrow, ‘Drokk’ Music Inspired By Mega-City One: Geoff Barrow of Portishead seems to be indulging all kinds of fanboy impulses as of late. First he put out his hip-hop record (Quakers), and now he’s teaming with soundtrack composer Ben Salisbury to turn out this homage to the comic 2000 AD.
Peter Hamill, Consequences: The latest from English prog-rock veteran Peter Hamill, a founding member of the seminal Van Der Graaf Generator and a force in the art-rock scene for decades since. He recorded and performed every note of the record, which glows with the silver-fox derangement of late-period Robert Wyatt.
Don Preston, Filters, Oscillators & Envelopes 1967-75:Don Preston was Frank Zappa’s keyboardist, and this album collects his pioneering electronic music, made when “computer music” was still a very new idea.Preston was there at the very origins of the idea in the popular consciousness — he worked with Robert Moog to develop the mini-Moog, and coaxed some then-unheard-of sounds from the machines themselves. Hear some of those sounds, collected here.
Pennywise, All Or Nothing: Strident skate-punk Warped Tour lifers keep raging on after their lead singer dropped out to devote time to his family. Functional Bad Religion-style raging, as always.
Various Artists, 2012: An Innova Odyssey: A free sampler from one of the best labels around in contemporary classical. Try some of this: chances are something here will blow your mind.
SINGLES + EPS
Kwes, Meantime EP: Lovely, dazed collection of tender digital valentines from a promising new voice in the Warp roster. Kwes is a producer who has worked with Speech Debelle and Micachu, and his songs ripple with watercolors. RECOMMENDED. eMusic’s Dorian Lynskey has more:
Just four tracks and 17 minutes long, Kwes’s second EP has enough ideas for a whole album. Every moment is so packed with unpredictable detail that trying to define his sound is like trying to wrangle a cloud. So far the 24-year-old former philosophy student is best known as a producer — working with the xx and British MCs DELS and Speech Debelle, joining Damon Albarn’s crew on last summer’s visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo — but here he mutates into the most unusual singer-songwriter since James Blake.
Bjork, Biophilia Remix Series II (feat. Death Grips): I mean. Death Grips remix Bjork. You can only guess that this music sounds like it was made by an emotionally disturbed alien race, and you would be completely correct. It’s actually a beautiful match-up.
Skrillex & Damian “JR Gong” Marley, “Make It Bun Dem”: The dubstep king mixes it up with Damian Marley, producing something an industrial-tinged, wheedling take on reggaeton.
Nas, “Daughters”: Disarmingly personal, intimate and reflective Nas single. Nas is one of the greatest ever, but he’s never been the kind of guy who seemed to be sitting at the bar with you; he dispensed wisdom from on high. This song, about his failings as a father, feels notable for how relatable and, well, normal he sounds. Produced by No I.D. Thoughtful always suits Nasir.
Exit Music, “The NightÂ”: I like this guys. Swirling, foggy, darkly cinematic goth-pop, like Beach House in face paint.
The Kaiser Chefs, “Listen to Your Head”: New single from NME darlings.
Ladyhawke, “Sunday Drive”: First taste of her upcoming full-length, a driving beat and a sticky keyboard melody putting this square in the same “Love Is A Battlefield” territory. Sounds good.
Lush Life, “Hale Bopp Was The Bedouins (feat. Heems)”: Shabazz Palaces remixes this track from the Philly rapper/producer Lushlife. Now Heems of Das Racist joins the action.
Atari Teenage Riot, “Collapse of History”: This here sure sounds like Atari Teenage Riot.
The Cribs, “Come On, Be A No-One”: The A-side here will give you some pretty heavy ’90s alt-rock, MTV Buzz bin vibes; the chorus is huge, and would have been almost assuredly made them millions of dollars, had they only had the foresight to write it in 1996. Now, they get the 2012 equivalent of millions of dollars: someone giving them dap and a “good job” on a blog.
DAVE SUMNER’S JAZZ PICKS
Good grief, what a drop this week. There’s really no commonality among all or even a majority of this week’s Jazz Picks. A couple of veterans have new, and sublime, straight-ahead recordings. A couple of the Picks show simplicity, offering only a tiny peek into the complexities that lay behind the compositions. Other Picks are great for daydreaming or tapping the foot along to. Yet another excellent big band release from the U.K. jazz set. And a couple debut albums from young jazzers that show some promise for the future. Let’s begin.
Jerome Sabbagh, Plugged In: Tenor saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh gets around. Capable of thriving in all jazz environments, he’s worked with a disparate group of artists, from Ben Monder to Guillermo Klein (to name one such range), along with recording a host of albums under his own name. On this current release, Sabbagh leads a quartet rounded out by Fender Rhodes/keyboards, electric bass and drums. The inclusion of electric keys and electric bass might give the impression that this album is heavy on groove. In fact, it’s a practical dissertation on how an artist can create hazy melodies while still resting the entire foundation of the composition upon its back. Beautiful. Drummer Rudy Royston makes yet another appearance in Jazz Picks, for those of you scoring at home. Highly Recommended.
Daniel Freedman, Bamako By Bus: This album ain’t gonna be an easy one to encapsulate. Drummer Freedman made his mark back in the day via Smalls Jazz Club and ensembles with Omer Avital and Jason Lindner. These days, you can hear him playing with the Third World Love ensemble (one of last week’s Jazz Picks). On Bamako By Bus, he enlists a crazy-talented group of collaborators, including Avital, Avishai Cohen, Lionel Loueke, Mark Turner, and Meshell Ndegeocello. This album feels like standing on a major city street and watching a parade of music ensembles go by, each from various regional origins, but together, a celebration of the diversity of music. Cuban, Latin, Folk, Rock, African can all be found in this Jazz album. Its scope is large, and from a degree of difficulty standpoint, it’s a hell of an endeavor, one which Freedman pulls off. Highly Recommended.
Aruan Ortiz Quartet, Orbiting: Since making the move from Cuba to NYC, this classically trained violinist-pianist has been grabbing ears with his compositional skills, as well as his sound. Making a statement over the last few months with Afro-Cuban music (for instance, past Jazz Pick Mark Weinstein’s El Cumbanchero), Ortiz comes back this time with a modern jazz piece. Quartet of piano, guitar, bass, and drums. It’s an album of constant motion, simultaneous soloing, and swarming rhythms. Highly Recommended.
Florian Hoefner Group, Songs Without Words: This is one of those modern jazz recordings that, at first blush, seems like a straight-ahead affair. But then the melodies get dreamy and the rhythms sparkle and crack on the surface of the composition, and it just doesn’t do to call it straight ahead anymore. Pianist Hoefner rounds out a quartet with tenor/soprano sax, bass and drums, for a series of light-hearted tunes with enough moody substance to allow the emotional texture to shift at will. It makes for some deceptively simple music. When the soprano sax gets involved, things get so damn pretty.
Busnoys, By Tapering Torchlight: There was a time when a vibes-led trio could sound ornery and mean, and those bright, shiny vibraphone notes were just as prone to violence as a lullaby. Bobby Hutcherson and Walt Dickerson took vibes in that direction in the late ’60s, and it’s pretty cool to hear an album that clearly doesn’t think that a vibes trio necessarily has to sound pretty. Vibes, bass guitar, and drums, with some light electronics and a guest trumpet. Nice blend of throwback sound and modern music. Relevant and nostalgic, and also, Recommended.
Eddie Gomez, Per Sempre: Bassist and jazz legend Eddie Gomez leads a quintet with flute, sax, piano and drums. It’s straight-ahead stuff, the play is exquisite, the compositions tasteful, and the fidelity excellent. Absolutely sublime. A master at his craft proving it note by note.
Steve Kuhn, Wisteria: Amazing that a guy whose career spans as far back as Kuhn’s, and who has played and recorded with names like Coltrane, Getz, and Dorhman (to name just a few), can settle into a groove like he has. Despite being on some seminal recordings of jazz past, for the late decade (and a little more), Kuhn has recorded some transcendent piano jazz for the ECM label. He takes the best of the austere introspective ECM “sound” and mixes in his command of straight-ahead and avant-garde jazz, and the result are consistently some of the most beautiful jazz piano albums released. On this recording, it leans way more on the straight-ahead that past recordings, but whatever. Oh, by the way, Joey Baron and Steve Swallow join him on this recording.
Irene Schweizer, To Whom It May Concern: This is for you Intakt label fans. Pianist Schweizer plays a solo recital in the Great Hall of the Tonhalle. Sometimes fiery, sometimes dreamy, never boring.
Jack Davies Big Band, The Jack Davies Big Band: Fascinating big band album. 18-piece orchestra that clearly resides in the modern jazz idiom, but just as clearly embraces Duke Ellington’s playfulness and ferocity in big band composition. Ensemble consists of some very strong members of the UK jazz scene. Davies seems to prefer burning the envelope than pushing it around. Some thrilling moments on this album, but also some tunes that your parents definitely could not dance to. Recommended.
Jack Davies’ Flea Circus, Flea Circus: And now, another look at the compositional skills of Jack Davies. On this release, he leads an acoustic chamber quartet that consists of his trumpet, an accordion, bass clarinet, and bass. Dark tunes cut through with pretty moonlight. Fans of Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet should definitely be paying attention here. Pick of the Week.
Jure Pukl, Abstract Society: This is one where modern jazz composition overlaps what may have once been viewed as avant-garde. Soprano & tenor sax man Pukl leads a stellar quartet featuring Vijay Iyer on piano, Joe Sanders on bass, and Damon Reid on drums. Yes, there’s some clash and dissonance on this recording, but there’s elements of swing, and more noticeable, roots traced back to the blues. The occasional interludes of serenity are a refreshing wash. Nothing boring about this album, it engages on many levels.
Olivier Boge, Imaginary Traveler: Real nice quintet date. Boge on sax leads the squad, but lets his bandmates get into the spotlight plenty, and to great effect. Electric guitar winds and twists around the others, but isn’t shy about leading either, but when it switches to acoustic guitar, it adds a shimmery aspect to the compositions, especially when sax and piano step out front. A pleasant sway to most of the tunes. A very nice surprise to happen upon this release. Find of the Week.
Ehud Ettun, Heading North: Tranquil piano trio album. Bassist Ettun has found a way to capture the earthy tranquility of an Avishai Cohen Anzic label release with the moody atmospherics and tension of a Colin Vallon ECM release. The musicianship, obviously, isn’t up to the level of those two artists, but this is a young musician who is showing some real promise on his debut album. At times, a bit overproduced too far on the contemporary side, but the high moments on this album make it worth the download.
Taeko Kunishima, Late Autumn: Avant-garde pianist who doesn’t mind mixing traditional folk and electronic effects into her compositions. Moments of beauty and moments of fury. Should appeal to fans of Cuong Vu’s style of jazz. An exciting release by an exciting artist.
Lola Danza, The Island: Not your everyday type of jazz vocalist, Lola Danza has gone into some avant-folk territory on past releases, and habitually eschews typical jazz vocal instrumentation. On this recording, she is often backed by two bass players, with guest visits by tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker and trumpet man Phil Grenadier. A haunting voice that burns pretty on the edges. If you’re someone who regrets not being more into jazz vocals and looking for something different, this will be worth spending some time with.
Bellbird, Transmitter: Nifty little sextet that includes instruments like bass clarinet, banjo, piano and various saxes and rhythm section instruments. Almost more pop, really, than jazz. Quirky tunes that are also catchy. Jazz for the Neutral Milk Hotel fan.
Frank Heinkel & Claus Wengenmayr, Levitation: Duo recording of Didgeridoo, piano, and a little throat singing thrown in for good measure. Surprisingly tuneful, though honestly, even if it were a complete trainwreck, there was no way I wasn’t gonna mention this album. Several catchy tracks that rise about the first-blush novelty of it.