Saturday, November 30, 2013

add 318 Asian Dub Foundation

Anarchist Emma Goldman said, "if I can't dance, it's not my revolution." This sentiment lies at the core of Community Music. At the intersection of dub, punk, funk, reggae, dancehall, Bollywood, and political polemic you'll find Asian Dub Foundation. And you most certainly can dance to it. Community Music is thick with speaking Truth to Power while ADFstorms the Bastille with an awe-inspiring musical ferocity and their crystalline political vision. The first half ofCommunity Music is fierce and unrelenting in its musical influences, construction, and politics. From the thunderous opening cut, "Real Great Britain," you're left in no uncertain terms where the politics of ADF lie or how passionately they hold them. Sharp observations on the current state of capitalism, politics, and race in Britain form the focal point of the CD. The blistering exposé of police incompetence on "Officer XX" refers to the botched Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry, while set to a simple guitar and drum pattern. The stirring dub-electronic account of how second-generation immigrants to Britain have emerged both influenced and in turn influencing Cool Britannia, on "New Way, New Life," makes it one of their strongest songs to date. While on the opposite side of the same coin, "Memory War" illustrates that the immigrant communities are not a new form of British citizen, and their contributions must be included in the official histories of the island. The second half slows the pace gradually, stretching the musical genres further and encouraging dancing. "Crash" is a didactic dub reggae dance groove critique of global capitalism that blazes out in a frenzy of jungle drums and punk guitar. As an ode to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a seminal figure in the emergence of "Eastern" music to Western ears and one given a much-deserved shout-out by ADF, the piece "Taa Deem" has appeared in a slightly different version on Star Rise, a remix collection of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's material by a who's who of contemporary British Asian musicians. The shuffling dance grooves and rap of "Rebel Warrior" call to mind the Stereo MC's. A further illustration of their politics, if needed, by Assata Shakur, who is invited to give a personal account of her revolutionary beliefs, to "struggle because committed to life." Community Music ends with an expansive electronic dub coda. As "England's new voice," calling for intellectual self-defense and self- awareness ADFrepresents the potential future. Community Music should be in every thinking person's collection, directly between the Clash and Public Enemy.


Friday, November 29, 2013

add 0317 feist

Somewhere in between living with Peaches, playing guitar with By Divine Right, rapping with Chilly Gonzales, and singing with Broken Social Scene and Apostle of Hustle, Canadian songstress Feist started a solo career. Following up 1999's self-released MonarchLet It Die was recorded in Paris between 2002 and 2003. The romance of the City of Lights glows throughout as a combination of folk, bossa nova, jazz-pop, and indie rock finds its place among the 11-track song list. She'll woo you with her sultry vocals throughout, a delicate and sweet voice that feels cozy. From the warm shimmy and shake of "Gatekeeper" and "Mushaboom" to the classy R&B grooves of "One Evening" and "Leisure Suite," Feist explores various musical worlds without getting lost. She reels you into different soundscapes and it's an exciting adventure. Dare yourself to imagine Patrice RushenIvy's Dominique Durand, and Astrud Gilberto in a group, and that's basically the beginning threads of Let It DieFeist never holds back sonically or musically; however, Let It Die isn't an extravagant first album. She's playful with her design and the overall composition flows nicely. Feist has varied styles and sounds just right, and that's what makes Let It Die the secret treasure that it is. Her rendition of Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart" is a cinematic outing for a dewy spring day. The Bee Gees' "Inside and Out" gets a foxy makeover for what is probably the album's finest moment. Feist's soft touch makes magic on these particular covers, and the bittersweet loveliness of Blossom Dearie's "Now at Last" ties it all together to make Let It Die a storybook romance.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

adde 0316 The National

The National don't do anything radically different on Boxer, but then again, they don't really need to: their literate, quietly anthemic take on indie rock seemed to have arrived fully formed on their 2001 self-titled debut. Boxer just hones in even more precisely and intimately on the heartfelt territory the band covers, with punchy-yet-polished production and orchestration by the ClogsPadma Newsome giving these songs an intimacy and widescreen expansiveness that rivals the Arcade Fire. The album's first four songs are among The National's finest work yet: "Fake Empire" begins as a dead-of-night ballad that echoes Leonard Cohen, then peppy brass and guitars turn it into something joyous. The brooding "Mistaken for Strangers" touches on the side of the band that could be mistaken for a more hopeful Joy Division, if lyrics like "You wouldn't want an angel watching over you?/Surprise surprise, they wouldn't want to watch" can be counted as hopeful. "Brainy," a borderline obsessive love song, shows off the remarkable, dark chocolate richness of Matt Berninger's vocals and how well they complement the band's occasionally bookish lyrics, while "Squalor Victoria" makes the most of Newsome's lavish string arrangements. The rest of Boxer is subtler, but no less accomplished, with each song supporting the other as a classic album should. "Apartment Story"'s hypnotic chug and "Slow Show"'s witty, knowing affection make them standouts, while the graceful, regretful "Ada" plays more like a short story than a song. As focused as it is ambitious, Boxer is riveting.


add 0315 Claudia Quintet

The Claudia Quintet utilize unusual rhythmic patterns, creative repetitions, and such instruments as accordion, vibes, and clarinet to create a dramatic set of music. As much a soundtrack for a nonexistent movie as it is a jazz set, the music on Semi-Formal is quite cinematic, moody, and thoroughly intriguing. Although some of the individual pieces could stand alone, this is very much a 13-song suite, with one selection leading logically if unpredictably to another. In a similar way, the individual musicians, although impressive by themselves, are most important being part of the group sound, adding to the wide variety of tonal colors. Semi-Formal, which will take time to fully appreciate, is well worthy of several listens.


add 0314 the bad plus

Whether or not pianist Ethan Iverson is literally using it, all of the Bad PlusThese Are The Vistas sounds as if it was recorded with the sustain pedal of the piano depressed. It's actually probably mostly the fault of producer Tchad Blake(Soul CoughingCibo MattoLos Lobos), who applies his incredible treatments throughout the album, shining through especially in his work on David King's chaotic drums. Nonetheless, the Bad Plus sound as if they are in a cavernous space. The band rolls out the now-requisite jazz covers of pop tunes (in this case, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit,"Blondie's "Heart of Glass," and Aphex Twin's "Flim"), but it is their attitude (the very fact that they hired Blake to begin with, for example) that carries them the distance. The band itself is quite compelling. Iverson is a complex piano player. His skills come to bear on the abstract epic "Silence Is The Question," which closes the album, as his spidery piano lines melt into chaotic statements, left hand meeting subtly with bassist Reid Anderson, right hand meeting crazily with King. What is impressive is that the trio manages to sound contemporary using only piano, bass, and drums, and without resorting to electronic gimmicks. Whether or not the band is reinventing jazz is irrelevant. These Are The Vistas is good, interesting music..


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

add 0313 Peter gabriel

Considering the slow trickle of completed albums he has released since becoming a superstar in 1986 -- just two albums of songs with vocals, paired with two albums of soundtracks and two live records -- deliberate is expected from Peter Gabriel, so the slow, hushed crawl of Scratch My Back is no shock. What may be a shock is that Gabrielchose to follow 2002’s Up with a covers album but, like all of his work, this 2010 record is highly conceptual no matter how minimal the end result may be. Designed as the first half of a two-part project where Gabriel would cover 12 different artists who would then return the favor by recording their own versions of Gabriel’s compositions -- the counterpart album naturally bearing the title I’ll Scratch Yours -- Scratch My Back divides neatly between six songs from his peers (BowiePaul SimonRandy NewmanNeil YoungLou ReedDavid Byrne) and six songs from younger artists (RadioheadArcade FireStephin MerrittBon IverElbowRegina Spektor). Gabriel doesn’t dodge familiar tunes, choosing to sing “Heroes” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” but he twists each tune to his own needs, arranging everything with nothing more than piano and strings, a change that’s almost jarring on Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” yet it stays true to the undercurrent of melancholy in the melody. Indeed, all of Scratch My Back is stark, sober, and spare, delving ever deeper inward, a triumph of intellect over emotion -- a noted contrast to almost all cover albums that celebrate the visceral, not the cerebral. Immediate it may not be but fascinating it is, and after hearingGabriel turn all 12 of these songs into something unmistakably his own, the appetite is surely whetted for its companion piece.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

add 0312 peter gabriel

Three years in gestation -- which, in Peter Gabriel time, is a mere handful of months -- And I'll Scratch Yours, the companion piece to the 2010 covers album Scratch My Back, finds most (but certainly not all) of the artists who were interpreted on Gabriel's album returning the favor by tackling the progressive singer/songwriter's back catalog. Not every artist chose to scratch Gabriel's back. Radiohead reportedly were irked by his version of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" and Neil Young followed his own path away from Gabriel, so Joseph Arthur was drafted to contribute an entirely too moody version of "Shock the Monkey" and, better, Brian Eno dug into the dark, unsettling corners of "Mother of Violence." Eno is a contemporary of Gabriel's -- he contributed to Genesis' masterwork The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway -- and, like on Scratch My Back, the veteran artists provide a better, riskier experience than the younger acts. Generally, the newer artists here -- Bon IverRegina SpektorArcade FireElbowFeistStephin Merritt is a grand exception with his nervy reading of "Not One of Us" -- favor the moody, foreboding side of Gabriel while his peers prefer to play around. Lou Reed turns the celebratory "Solsbury Hill" into a dirge befitting Magic and Loss (and changes the lyrics to read "my friends would think I was a slut" because, you know, sexual danger), David Byrne seizes upon the new wave disco menace of "I Don't Remember," Randy Newman spins "Big Time" into vaudeville, and, best of all, Paul Simon turns "Biko" into the folk protest anthem it always longed to be. And there are moments scattered among the younger acts worth hearing, too: Arcade Fire retain the ominous, dangerous air of "Games Without Frontiers," Spektorlends a gorgeous shimmer to "Blood of Eden," and Feist retains the delicacy of "Don't Give Up." This doesn't amount to a cohesive record -- although it favors the contemplative, there are too many shifts in mood here from track to track -- but it is without question a worthwhile record, as its best moments are strong, substantive reinterpretations that illustrate just how good a songwriter Peter Gabriel is.


Monday, November 25, 2013

add 0611 Claudia quintet

This second release from the Claudia Quintet (and their first on the Cuneiform label) not only offers Claudia's great blend of instrumental textures from tenor sax/clarinet, vibraphone, accordion, acoustic bass, drums, and percussion, but also provides a satisfying stroll among multiple musical genres. Drummer John Hollenbeck is the group's composer, and his clever pieces move effortlessly from funky chamber jazz to minimalism (both rhythmic and ambient), with some African elements and "new music" vocabulary thrown in for good measure. A good example ofHollenbeck's eclecticism (one of many) would be the piece "...Can You Get Through This Life With a Good Heart?," which was inspired by a quote from Joni Mitchell in a PBS documentary. It opens, in Hollenbeck's words, with "the harmonic clouds and space of Morton Feldman," which eventually give way to a pensive folk melody stated by accordion and vibes. the Claudia Quintet has been compared favorably with Tortoise, and it's an apt analogy as far as it goes, but the Quintet brings a different mix to the table, with a stronger jazz presence, more musical intellect, and a bit less of the slacker/stoner vibe embraced by the post-rock crowd. Jazz credentials aside, Claudia's supple rhythmic patterns (sometimes with a dash of whimsy) form a link with the witty, "invented ethnic" music of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, although their minimalist tendencies also draw upon Feldman or early Steve ReichMatt Moran's percussive mallet work evokes the sound of classic Reich pieces such as Music for 18 Musicians, but Moran can also swing mightily, especially when he, Hollenbeck, and bassist Drew Gress grab onto a groove. On some pieces (or portions thereof), Chris Speed's microtonal and/or multiphonic forays on clarinet and tenor also bring to mind various Jimmy Guiffre experimental trios and quartets. Likewise, accordionist Ted Reichman wanders "outside" at times, pulling atonal bursts from his instrument, and pitch-blending with Speed's clarinet. But Hollenbeck's compositions are so deft and fluid that any movements toward the fringes are integrated into a broader musical palette that beguiles and seduces rather than throwing a thorny musical challenge at the listener. As a consequence, the Claudia Quintetmanages to produce music that is mellow, easy on the ears, but also creative and intellectually stimulating.


add 0610 the frames

For the Birds opens with "In the Deep Shade," an understated instrumental that sets the mood for the rest of the album. Despite some relatively peppy numbers such as "Fighting on the Stairs," the wailing guitar sound on songs such as "Early Bird" and "Santa Maria," and the expectations some listeners may have for an album recorded withCraig Ward (dEUS) and Steve Albini (PixiesNirvanaRapeman), this is primarily a gentle, slow, and melancholic album. It features melodic, folk-influenced rock songs (somewhere in the general vicinity of Will Oldham and Nick Drake, for example) with clearly discernible instruments including mandolin, piano, violin, brushed drums, and softly strummed guitar, as well as vocals that manage to sound emotive even when they seem hushed. The band says in their liner notes that this was their first chance to record an album without having to "cater to people outside of the band"; consequently, For the Birds features less-commercial arrangements that allow the group to take a leisurely pace, use subtle dynamics and negative space, and gradually build emotional intensity over the course of a song instead of trying to hook listeners immediately. Of course, this is hardly the first band to try this type of approach, butFrames handle it gracefully.


add 609 gov´t mule

It appears as though Gov't Mule aren't afraid to touch upon a multitude of styles -- as long as they are of the vintage variety (or more specifically, styles that thrived in the 1970s). They've hinted at their admiration for dub-reggae for a while (specifically in their concerts), but it wasn't until their 2007 release Mighty High that they fully embraced the aforementioned genre. A play on words of their 2006 studio album (High & Mighty), Mighty High contains 13 dub-reggae makeovers of Gov't Mule favorites from throughout the years, and features guest appearances by such renowned reggae artists as Michael FrantiToots Hibbert, and Willi Williams. Also, it turns out that the recordings included here come from several sources, including studio recordings mixed in with live recordings from such oldGov't Mule stomping ground as the Beacon Theatre, Bonnaroo, and Mountain Jam. What you get is a hodgepodge of tunes that draw equally from classic rock and reggae, including such standouts as "Play with Fire" (with Michael Franti), "Rebel with a Cause" (with Willi Williams), and "Hard to Handle" (with Toots Hibbert). But there are a few moments where the rock outweighs the reggae, most noticeably the album-opening ass-kicker, "I'm a Ram." Mighty High serves as both an interesting musical detour and a momentary break from the high-volume guitar jams that have become Gov't Mule's trademark.