I’d like to offer the most cutting-edge and astute music criticism possible here—in fact, I’d always like to do that—but sadly without the appropriate cellphone in my hand, I’m not able to review Jay-Z’s latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail.
Word is the album will be available to Samsung Galaxy owners via an app this coming July 4th, though the rest of us—the ones who don’t own Samsung phones, apparently—will have to wait a few days for the privilege of hearing it!
Still, why keep everyone in suspense? Word is the album will contain a lot of words, some apparently meaningful, much percussion, and an acknowledgement that the album—which due to an abrupt rules change by music trade organization the Recording Industry Association of America will now be declared platinum upon release—is the most famous album ever that nobody ever will have to buy!
Or, for that matter, listen to!
Between you and me? This is the best deal yet!
Big Deal: June Gloom (Mute) In light of Jay-Z’s absurd commercial antics, what say we focus on an album that is merely…absurdly good? That would be the second set from Mute Records duo Big Deal, an American/Brit pair comprised of Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe, which has been available for the past month or so, and I would’ve written about a few weeks ago had I not missed writing a post that week due to personal inadequacies! A charmingly atmospheric boy/girl set that strongly follows up 2011’s Lights Out, the new album strangely evokes the laidback atmospherics of, say, the early ‘80s Paisley Underground’s Rain Parade, adds a touch of Jesus & Mary Chain deliberate loudness, and—especially with the vocals of young Brit Miss Costelloe—adds an informal intimacy that vaguely recalls the heyday of early ‘80s trio the Marine Girls. The combination of restrained power and vocal intimacy, not to mention the male/female vocal counterpoints that don’t sonically recall Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood but offer up the same sexy pairing, is, surprisingly, both powerful and intimate at the same time. Though there won’t be many who claim this to be their favorite album of this year, there will be some—and that alone is good enough for me. Masterful, and quietly perfect. Do seek this out.
Joe: DoubleBack: Evolution Of R&B (Massenburg Media) A wonder of avant-garde marketing, “Joe”—for that is his professional name—is typically an accomplished R&B singer, offering warmth, soulfulness, and—and this is no small thing—a birth certificate that offers up the name “Joseph.” And there are many of them. This time out, “Joe” is Joe Haywood, an Akron-based singer who spent his late teens in area Holiday Inn showbars and gradually—in the tradition of the second “Joe,” the much-admired Joe Peters of Little Rock, Arkansas—grew to be a convincing, emotional soul-belter worth more than a few casual listens. The new “Joe” is quite good, evoking talented singers of an earlier age, and his new album is in its way immensely satisfying. Still, as always, we can expect his career to come to an unexpected halt shortly when he—perhaps naively—attempts to fly overseas bearing a passport that lists only one name, however familiar it might be. As the album cover makes only too clear, had the man chosen the professional name of, say, Sawtelle Jenkins, much would be different. Still, one heck of an album!
Deap Vally: Sistrionix (Island UK import) I am admittedly cheating by mentioning this album so early on—I suspect Interscope will release it here eventually—but still, I am pleased, thrilled, and happy to today mention this charming debut album by this pair of San Fernando Valley gals which joyously evokes the metallic power of Led Zeppelin, the female hormone-inspired shriek of Heart, and the raw punkishness that some might ascribe to the early sound of the White Stripes but which in other ways could easily be the dopey offshoot of Outsideinside, the second Blue Cheer album which was by design so loud it had to be recorded on New York’s Pier 57 because no recording studio could contain them! With its cover art not too far removed from Heart’s Dreamboat Annie, Sistrionix is a marvelous merger of female shrieking, well-paced blues-based riffing, and the sort of lush, flowing hair one might see in a L’Oreal commercial! I have seen the future of rock, and I am camped outside its house with binoculars!
John Scofield: Überjam Deux (Emarcy/Decca) Though there may have been a point in the early ‘70s when the jazz-rock fusion efforts of people like Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon soon brought the records of artists like Weather Report and even Miles Davis into ordinary households, that period eventually faded—and while rock, R&B and hip-hop all prospered, the jazz-inspired stuff settled down to a respectable plateau, saleswise, never quite able to make a similar pop-culture-inspired leap. But guitarist Scofield, who himself has played with trumpet legend Davis, has done a better job that most in hitting a larger marketplace—and this, his new set which traverses that odd region between sweet jazz, accessible crossover and straight-ahead jam band, is very good indeed. With a superb group and the conspicuous presence of past associate and keyboardist John Medeski–of Medeski, Martin & Wood, who’ve got their own, quite reputable, built-in audience—Scofield has crafted an upbeat, highly rhythmic set that’s subtle when it needs to be but, even more importantly, wickedly aggressive much more often. It’s good, it’s new, and it’s not quite capable of being easily slotted in one genre, which makes it about as contemporary as things get. Recommended.
Zomby: With Love (4AD) Look, can I be honest? I’ll play just about anything there is, and this album looked pretty good! And it is! Plus, the guy has a cool name! But in doing the typical research that has assured this blog to be the single most comprehensive source of writing about all things good in music, I’ve come to a roadblock in trying to describe what he’s all about! Like, according to Pitchfork—which, like most of us, I consult on a daily basis!—Zomby “likes to play progressive, but he’s a synthesist at heart.” Huh? And “Zomby continues to show no interest in fleshing out his ideas”—yeah, OK! “The tension between Zomby’s adoration for his heroes and his aberrant creativity fuels With Love, less a homage to the past than an intensification of it.” Umm, yeah, sure thing! Now that I don’t know what the hell anyone is talking about, can I mention that this thing is pretty good, it sounds even better when you drive around listening to it in your car, and that music criticism is now clearly at an all-time high! Now where the heck are my pants?
Autopsy: Headless Ritual (Peaceville) In these days when Kanye West apparently feels album covers should be deliberately minimal as an art statement, I’m gratified that albums like Headless Ritual, by death metal’s upbeat pioneers Autopsy, make clear their intention from the get-go! Together since the mid-‘80s—but then they disbanded, only now they’re back!—San Francisco’s Autopsy are cheerily defined in their own bio as providing “chaotic riffing, insane solos and doom-filled interludes,” and—strictly speaking—that’s a fair assessment! They’re actually quite good, as far as death-metallers go, and as respectable within their admittedly narrow genre of choice as, say, late-period Tom Paxton was in the realms of folk music! That said, any band that can justifiably be said to have influenced “a whole generation of extreme metal bands, from Entombed and Dismember to Darkthrone” is, like, maybe a tad more interesting than the Goo Goo Dolls! I like the tall one!
Various Artists: The Lone Ranger: Wanted – Music Inspired By The Film (Hollywood) I was at Costco this weekend and saw an interesting DVD set offering the complete collection of 221 episodes of The Lone Ranger TV show—which interested me slightly, sad to say, until I realized that the show was incredibly boring and I spent my life as a pre-teen watching it over and over again because nothing else was on! So why the heck they’d want to make a new movie version of this thing is beyond me! Still, albums like this—offering music “inspired” by the film, meaning who knows or even cares if it’s in the actual movie?—are anybody’s guess! Given the presence of Iggy Pop singing “Sweet Betsy From Pike”—like John Cale before him, Jim Osterberg knows Burl Ives was godhead—and John Grant closing with “Saddle The Wind,” not to mention reputable humans like Dave Alvin, Lucinda Williams & Iron & Wine, this set is not bad at all! Neither is Kirkland Signature 20 year Single Malt, but why bring that up?
Quatermass: Quatermass (Esoteric UK import) Worth mentioning the new reissue of this fab 1970 set by Brit prog rock trio Quatermass, originally released in 1970 by the wonderful Harvest Records and here again thanks to the Esoteric label, who’ve got a great track record lately in reintroducing good stuff. A keyboard/bass/drums combo theoretically similar to the Nice and Soft Machine, the band is a tad more hard-rocking and blues-based, though at least two of the tracks—“Post War Saturday Echo” and “Laughin Tackle”—are fairly bursting with musical sophistication. Bearing one of the era’s most memorable album covers, the disc is a minor classic well worth hearing in 2013. Perhaps you should make a point of it.
Joe Farrell Quartet: Joe Farrell Quartet (Wounded Bird) A very welcome reissue of saxophonist Farrell’s very best album for the CTI label, issued way back in 1970, this set features a stellar band—including Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and guest John McLaughlin—and was comparatively underarranged as CTI discs went. Opening track “Follow Your Heart,” a McLaughlin composition heard on his own earlier Extrapolation and echoed without credit on Soft Machine’s classic Seven, sets the extremely high standard that the rest of Farrell’s album easily lives up to: It one of the decade’s best jazz albums, it is much undersung, and it is thankfully available for purchase once more.
Oliva: Raise The Curtain (AFM) Though their era has come and gone, the cast of TV’s Green Acres still, in their way, have been a divine inspiration for all that is great about American pop culture. Here, a suite of songs detailing the innermost struggles of Lisa Douglas, the irrepressible Mr. Haney and lovable “Uncle Joe” Carson take center stage as protagonist Oliver Wendell Douglas attempts to write the Great American Novel, predictably about Hooterville, while Eb, ever the idiot, attempts to put on a zipperless pair of overalls. As might be expected, this rocks like a mutha. And why wouldn’t it?