Eminem & Various Artists : Shady XV (Shady) Who would have expected the aggressively moronic, delightfully stoopid, and habitually offensive Eminem to remain such a joy all these years later? Yet here he is, the now no longer a disenchanted youth but a full-grown disaffected 42-year-old, making casual rhymes about being Pinocchio while no less than Rihanna seats herself upon him, headwise—this in a rush of less than a half-second—exhibiting the sort of verbal glee a doped-up anal compulsive might were he fidgeting in a great big mud puddle? Like the man himself, this album is a great big mess: A 2-CD collection of new stuff, old stuff, Eminem stuff, and related goods by a well-known crew including 50 Cent, Big Sean, D-12, Obie Trice, Yelawolf, unified not only for their affiliation to Detroit’s own Mr. Mathers, but also their similarity in audio honks, verbal bleats, and conspicuous lack of respect for just about everything. Fortunately for all parties, the production on nearly all these tunes is over-the-top excessive, the notion of taking nothing seriously is the best long-term strategy of all, and the intelligence on display is enough to appeal to the most fervent of rap-haters nationwide all these years later. Great fun, packaged as appealingly as ever!
Coldplay: Ghost Stories Live 2014 (CD/DVD) (Capitol) It may just be because I’m old enough to remember when live albums actually played a significant role in an artist’s career—and here I’m thinking back to those early-‘70s days of double-live LPs by Peter Frampton, Bob Seger, and the J. Geils Band that in some cases jump-started well-established careers—but really, what the heck is this? Yet another live album by the same band who offered up Coldplay Live 2012? So what do we get in the bargain? Extraordinary instrumental improvisation that makes every song here markedly different from its studio predecessor? Er, no, not really. Songs that sound sort of like the album but with enough reverb to sound like they’re coming from a live stage or two? Absolutely. But since this is both a DVD (featuring the band playing live at an LA studio) and a CD (featuring the band playing all over the world), and it’s 2014, not 2012, it is admittedly new and perhaps exactly the sort of package one might pick up on, say Black Friday, for less than $20 to present as a gift for a liked, if not loved, one this holiday season.
Rick Ross: Hood Billionaire (Maybach) I have to admit to a peculiar fascination with rapper Rick Ross, not because he’s especially good—heck, who even knows?—but because he seems to stand for something, and I’ll be doggoned if I know what that is! If he a complete fake? Did he maybe pretend he’s always been a gangster but in fact actually worked as a corrections officer or something? Maybe! If you do a search for his name and the word “controversy” do you find the words “rape lyric,” “Trayvon Martin lyric,” and “official apology?” Yep! It’s great! Toss in the fact that the actual term “hood billionaire” is oddly inspirational—I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the hood billionaire?—and that the fab tunes here include “Coke Like The 80s,” “Keep Doin That (Rich Bitch)” and “Neighborhood Drug Dealer,” and you may be listening to the record of the year! Mere minutes after you stop listening to this! It’s up to you!
The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (Universal) OK, this is it: In five years, maybe when it might be more appropriate to commemorate this album, who knows who’ll even have CD players anymore? But now, if you like to own things, and you like the Velvet Underground, you absolutely need to get this Super Deluxe edition of the Velvet Underground’s third album. Why? Because, first of all, it is their least celebrated—not that its two predecessors were giant sellers, but this is the album the least number of people out there have probably heard; second of all, it’s really the last of the Velvets’ core four to be blown-out, reissue-wise, meaning that sound, selection, and aesthetic judgment calls are probably as good as they’re going to get: and, not least of all, there’s enough Velvet Underground stuff floating around out there that needs a proper home and this, the post-John Cale, pre-Loaded album, is probably the best home for it. Plus, to this day, I find the album cover more fascinatingly, detachedly perverse than the more famous two that preceded it. Oh, and the songs? Completely remarkable. People old enough to have bought this album when it first came out actually first heard the so-called “closet mix” as opposed to the later Val Valentin mix; both are included here, as well as a mono mix, a batch of great stuff that later surfaced on Lou Reed’s early solo albums, live 1969 recordings from the Matrix and much, much more. It is, in the words of an undersung Beatles song, all too much and a worthy tribute to one of the very finest albums in all of rock ‘n’ roll history. It would be fair to say that you need to own this.
Gong: I See You (Madfish) The absolutely last thing in the world any true music fan would like to do is make “excuses” for a long-lived artist they once dearly liked but now merely admire and, perhaps privately, wish might have packed it in a decade or so ago—but not so here! In fact, this new album by the latest incarnation of Gong, led by the highly creative, now 75 year old guitarist/songwriter and creative spirit Daevid Allen, is stunningly good, and much in line with the man’s very best work of the early ‘70s. In the same spirit of the much-loved Radio Gnome Trilogy, I See You incorporates fluid rock and jazz stylings, timely politicizing (“Occupy”), and the same sort of instrumental ability/versatility that has made the entire jam-band music school, against all odds, an economically thriving environment. Translation: Phish fans would dig Gong, and probably already do! A surprisingly strong record, I See You needs people to hear it today.
Joni Mitchell: Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced (Rhino) There are a handful of artists in the music world that might be described as “iconic” without exaggeration, and Joni Mitchell is surely one of them. Her achievements are vast and numerous, and the woman has been recording since the ‘60s. Don’t know her? This is a fine place to start, as it the woman’s own perspective about her art—what she thinks make sense about the Joni Mitchell career—in gloriously remastered, re-contextualized (via art, liner notes and more), and full 4-CD form. In practical terms, that might mean missing “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi”—both still commercially available—but what you’re also getting, since she compiled this thing, is her own sense of how Songs A, B & C might be related, even though they were recorded decades apart. The sound is marvelous, Mitchell’s voice and music still wonderful, and the overall package—compartmentalizing a major artist into a mere handful by design—complete, satisfying, and artful. She’s very good, and so is this.
Kiasmos: Kiasmos (Erased Tapes) Out for a few weeks, but the sort of thing I find myself playing every few days or so, Kiasmos is the work of Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen—two sophisticated musicians that work in those peculiar undefined regions of music that are somewhere between classical, electronic, dance, ambient, and new age. But there is a throbbing beat to be had here, and atmosphere galore, and an interesting sense of motion and melody that will very likely lull listeners back for repeated listening. Subtle, hypnotic stuff, for the most part, Kiasmos may defy description for those looking to peg music to genres, but that it is very new, very appealing, and very now sounding can’t be argued with. For late-night driving, it rules.
Robin Williamson: Trusting In The Rising Light (ECM) How very strange, but oddly reaffirming, that the quirky, hippie-folkie guiding light of the ‘60s' wonderful Incredible String Band has soldiered on, through all these years, releasing fine record after fine record. A master of world music? Sure. A master of new age music? Well, maybe, once. A master of following his own muse? Considering that on this album alone, Williamson offers both “The Islands Of The Inner Firth” and “Night Comes Quick In LA,” that’s the general idea. He’s in great voice, his musical perspective continues to fit wonderfully into the ECM label’s adventurous, sublimely refined roster, and you couldn’t ask for a better sounding record. This sort of thing might restore your faith in humanity, if you let it.