After a somewhat monochrome March, April has been practically bursting with color, musically speaking: most dramatically, the Knife's noxious, fluorescent habit-shaking pink and green; but also the brightly shining blue and yellow of Kurt Vile's always-sunny-in-Philadelphia daze (the building is much yellower in my imagination) and the bold, somehow garish gray and, i suppose, peach of Phoenix's very entertaining, still-percolating Bankrupt! (which I'll get to soon enough.) Plus there were the pastels'n'posteriors of Chrissy Murderbot's latest goofiness (see below); Neon Neon (in name if not cover art); and even the (sexual) chocolate and silver of Breakbot's really fantastic By Your Side, which just came out domestically and has been on repeat quite a bit around here, though it seems to have gotten more or less overlooked by the tastemakers both times around... particularly poor form, i'd say, in light of all the hoopla around Daft Punk's return (power-color: burnt orange, a good choice.)
Which...jury's out on that one. "Get Lucky" is perfectly catchy and double-plus groovin', but it's also kinda overpowered by the "guest contributors" (as others have suggested, I could do with more of the parts that don't have Pharrell, though his singing is perfectly fine. also, what's with the "verse" being about a quarter as long as both the intro and the pre-chorus?) will be interested to hear the album version. and the whole album, of course. in the mean time it already feels like there's a French Touch revival going on, between the super-stylin' Breakbot record, Phoenix, and fake-French OG Jacques Lu Cont bacque in acquetion as well (still gotta get my hands on that.) more broadly, just around the corner in May, some sweet synth-poppin'-off from Classixx, Little Boots and the highly excellent Dungeonesse among others...basically what i'm saying is we are being well primed for another Summer of Dance-Pop - i can feel it in the musical climate almost more than in the actual weather (which is sunny and super-springy but still surprisingly chilly from time to time.)
As it turned out, my review quota for April was cut quite short – in fact, I didn't have a single review published in CP during April; I'm cheating a little bit with my inclusions below – so I didn't manage to actually write about most of the above (nor the also very worthwhile Iron & Wine, Shuggie Otis, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kalabrese albums.) I did write some stuff, but mostly it was on weird, lame old-people music, like jazz and punk and folk and rock and roll. ew, who listens to rock and roll??
Marc Ribot's Cermamic Dog
The title of album number two from guitarist Marc Ribot's gonzo jazz-punk power trio Ceramic Dog is mostly a visual gag: the cover shows a hastily scribbled tic-tac-toe board, eight of its nine spaces scrawled with Xs. Your Turn. The music contained within isn't quite that perversely sadistic – most of the time – but it's at least as blackly humorous. Vocal cuts (about half the record) find them railing with grim sarcasm against inequities political (a furious, Occupy-inspired take on labor anthem "Bread and Roses"), bodily (the pained, Morphine-esque blues "Lies My Body Told Me") and cyber-economic (sardonically self-abasing pro-download screed "Masters of the Internet.") There's just as much caustic comedy to be found in the instrumentals, replete with Ribot's ribald, axe-throttling skronk and the equally redoubtable, amped-up frenetics of bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith: oblique, Naked City-style freakouts; an unhinged "Take 5" takedown; a squalling noise dirge pointedly entitled "Prayer." While making space for everything from Beasties-indebted rap ("We Are The Professionals"), earnest, reggae-flecked protest folk ("Ain't Gonna Let Them Turn Us Round") and a swinging, deliciously twisted faux-standard ("The Kid Is Back"), Your Turn feels less self-consciously eclectic than 2008's Party Intellectuals; it's bolder, more focused (nothing pushes past six minutes), and just all-around more rocking. Decidedly unlike that pathetically futile game of tic-tac-toe, it's great, great fun.
Superpowerless and I Can Hear Music
In his review of their gently majestic, habitually exalted thirteenth album this January (in MAGNET #95) Brian Howard described Yo La Tengo's perhaps-improbable perseverance as a form of quietly determined resistance. But it's instructive to remember that their approach to music-making – pointedly personal; passionate yet decidedly low-key – was once simply a way of life, for them and many in the nascent days of "indie rock." For James McNew, who became the band's bassist in 1991, at age 21, playing in other people's groups wasn't enough, so he initiated his own project: recording to a 4-track cassette deck under the suitably smirky, self-effacing moniker Dump.
His first two LPs, recorded in piecemeal fashion throughout the early '90s alongside myriad singles and EPs (of which, for some reason, only one – a self-titled 1992 five-song 7" – is included among the bonus tracks on these Morr Music reissues) were issued in 1993 and 1995, respectively – exactly concurrent with YLT's seminal, ascendant early Matador run (Painful, Electr-O-Pura) – and they offer a fascinating, emphatically casual alternate perspective on that era. They're full of the spirited eclecticism that soon defined his main band – bucketloads of jangly pop butting up against droning feedback, sweetly folksy ditties, grungy rockers, sputtering "jazzy" instrumentals, churning two-chord slow-burns, and covers covers covers (which tended to receive somewhat more care than his plenty-winsome originals) – but with an almost aggressively laissez-faire attitude toward musicianship (vocal intonation included), let alone "recording quality." The point being, as any true indie knows, that none of that stuff ultimately matters: if you can get across a song, communicate a feeling, the more efficiently the better, well, you've got something worthwhile. Here are three hours, almost sixty tunes, and if it takes a little trash-picking to get there, there's something to treasure in nearly every one.
Greatest Hits ★★★★★
There's not necessarily much logic to how Chrissy Murderbot operates. The Chicago DJ/producer/dance music savant's latest release consists of seven entirely new cuts and seven wide-ranging remixes, and – for no particular reason – it's entitled Greatest Hits ★★★★★ (Murder Channel). That gleeful, extravagant absurdity carries over into the music, which piles on the goofball catchphrases ("after the party it's the Waffle House..."), sci-fi lazer FX ("Pew Pew") and incongruously emotive soul vocals atop skittering, hyper-BPM juke and jackhammering jungle breaks. When it comes to moving bodies, dude's as no-nonsense as they come.
Praxis Makes Perfect
Praxis Makes Perfect (Lex), the second straight synth-pop bio-opera from Neon Neon – Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys plus avant-hip-hop producer Boom Bip – takes on the life of Italian publisher and communist activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. It's not quite as natural a fit as their eighties-steeped homage to John DeLorean – most of the sounds here post-date the subject's 1972 death – but it works, both as an offbeat lefty history lesson (check the eyebrow-raising "Hoops With Fidel") and as a sweet batch of yacht-friendly soft-pop and endearingly stiff, cheeky eurodisco.
Same Trailer Different Park
Nashville newbie Kacey Musgraves' breakthrough single "Merry Go Round," while not half as clever as she probably thought, was still striking for its frank, pointedly skeptical slice-of-life storytelling. Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury Nashville) – actually her fourth LP – confirms that she can throw together cliches with the best of 'em, often in an endearingly (even – for Nashville – radically) empowering manner, and have it come out improbably fresh; even building a hook around the word "stupid" that manages not to sound it. Musically, Musgraves' sweet, simple country-pop – never veering too far either way – recalls Taylor Swift's first album; lyrical-maturity-wise, Swift'll hopefully get there on her next one.
For Now I Am Winter
In his twenty-plus years of blazing incendiary new trails for the contemporary jazz piano/organ trio alongside compadres Billy Martin and Chris Wood, John Medeski has supplied keys for everyone from John Zorn to Iggy Pop, Robert Randolph, Trey Anastasio and, most recently (wow), Coheed and Cambria. But he's only now gotten around to cutting a record of his solo playing, displaying a radically different approach from the eclectic grooves beloved of jam-happy MMW heads. A Different Time – the first new release on long-defunct, newly-revived classic jazz imprint/Sony sublabel OKeh – is a beautifully spacious, ruminative, largely improvised nocturnal affair in the tradition of Bill Evans and, particularly, Keith Jarrett. While there's considerable virtuosity and classically-informed technique on display here – especially as it was recorded on a difficult-to-control 1924 French-made piano, the Gaveau – it's above all a masterclass in delicacy, expressiveness and restraint.
Solo guitar records can be engrossing, meditative, gorgeously textural – and, to be sure, Impossible Truth (Merge) is all of the above – but it's rare to find one as exuberantly vivid and lush as the second full-length opus from Nashville-based virtuoso William Tyler, whose playing has previously supported Lambchop, Bonnie Billy and the Silver Jews. Strictly speaking, it's not an entirely solo affair: pedal steel, trombone, vibraphone, bowed bass and even drums crop up in a few of these warmly expansive compositions, though they generally feel like subtle, nearly inconspicuous shadings against the foreground of Tyler's rippling, luminescent picking. The album was inspired by a stack of weighty non-fiction texts on American symbolic geography, and you can hear reverberations of the vast, mythic West in pieces like "Cadillac Desert" and "Country of Illusion," while the raga-like drones and pedals elsewhere gesture, equally evocatively, toward the imagined East.
The deliberately shadowy Goat maintain an epic, absurd and presumably largely fabricated (or at least heavily mythologized) backstory involving a generations-old tradition of voodoo worship, communal living and collective music-making in the tiny, extreme-North Swedish village of Korpilombolo. The group's three "core members" (the specific number and identities of the musicians involved are kept characteristically vague) do indeed hail from there. . . probably. Either way the narrative feels less like attention-seeking puffery than a legitimate (if grandiose) means to sever their music from conventional contexts and expectations which would hardly suit it anyway. Thankfully, their album, World Music (Rocket Recordings) – the title is simultaneously impish and self-evidently apt – doesn't feel the least bit pretentious or put-on. Instead it's a total blast, a swirl of Afro-beat, droney psych-rock squalls, instrumental acoustic folk and polyrhythmic Middle Eastern grooves that does for worldbeat what fellow Swedish fantasists Dungen did for classic rock, unleashing a celebration of wailing storm surges ("Goathead"), ritual incantations ("Goatlord") and party jams ("Disco Fever," which interleaves kraut-funk and Ethiopian jazz) replete with hand-drums, hammond-organ fever-dreams, tribalistic chanting and, of course, that most universal of instruments, the electric guitar.
Jamie Lidell's 2005 breakout LP, Multiply, was something of a eureka moment, unleashing his freaky, fearless falsetto against a backdrop of IDM-reared production chops and uncovering newfound possibilities for smooshing up old-school soul with mod-podge electronica. These days he's hardly the only electro-soul game in town (Autre Ne Veut, Quadron and Little Dragon all owe him some debt), although he remains in high demand as a vocalist (this month alone he's turned up on tracks by Atom™ and Brandt Brauer Frick.) Under his own auspices, Lidell's self-titled fifth full-length (Warp) tightens up the technicolor sprawl of 2010's Compass into something equally elastic but more narrowly focused, even reverent: a laser-lit homage to the original electronic/R&B interminglings of 1980s synth-funk, recasting the plushly poppy, machine-abetted boogie of Cameo, Bootsy Collins, P-Funk et. al., with the electronica wayback dials set to Lovesexy-style zap'n'twitch.