Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails
First, a word about reviews. In reading the many reviews so far for Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails' first album in five years, a simple fact was once again made very apparent to me: those reviewers (like me) who love this album had to give it many repeat listens before being able to get into it. This is something I've known about Trent Reznor's music for decades. It's something I'd say that most of the fans seem to know. And it is something so-called "professional" reviewers claiming any expertise on the band are also supposed to know (hence the "professional" moniker). There isn't a single NIN album I've ever listened to where I was able to "get it" on one pass, and the same goes for any credible music critics I've ever heard from. And yet there are those out there who insist on making the mistake of assuming that they can mentally, aesthetically, rhythmically absorb an entire album this complex and layered in one sitting and then have anything meaningful to say about it. I hope like heck I'm not coming off as pretentious or elitist here because I truly am not trying to be, but for someone to give a new NIN album a proper chance, I believe at least a minimum of a half-dozen listens is required to really begin to grasp the depth and complexity of the music. For me, I'm well past a dozen listens and I'm still picking up all kinds of new things, and I know I still will be even after the next dozen. And yet I've been seeing occasional reviews by professionals (and amateurs) who insist on trying to write an intelligible review after their single solitary listen, only to end up sounding foolish. So, word to the wise: just like every other NIN album ever released, you'll want to give Hesitation Marks a proper chance to work its way into your head--the time investment truly pays off here.
That said, one does not so much "listen" to a NIN album as "experience" it. Don't get me wrong--there are the more immediately accessible tracks (inevitably released as singles) such as "Came Back Haunted" and "Copy of a" (and I would say "Satellite" fits the bill as well) that can each stand on its own readily enough from the start before one has had a chance to discover other soon-to-be favorites. But there's an overall compositional/thematic structure to each NIN album that lends itself more to complete listening once the novelty of the singles begins to wear off. If I had to put a name to it, my impression of Hesitation Marks'
I can't recommend this album highly enough. It has something for almost every NIN fan, and I'm sure it will entice new ones as well. I'm eager to see how and which songs get worked into NIN's phenomenal live show when I go to see them in October.
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Hesitation Marks, Nine Inch Nails
String quartets nos. 2-4, by David L. Post
If you have a taste for contemporary chamber music, this CD should appeal to you. The music herein, despite the composer's adventurous harmonic palette on Quartets 3 & 4, is both inviting and arresting due to Post's imaginative textural, motivic and rhythmic ideas. Quartet no. 2 and Fantasia on a Virtual Choral will acclimate you nicely to the two other quartets which, tend to be a little more challenging. The playing of the Hawthorne Quartet, which comprises members of the Boston Symphony, is exemplary, as is the recorded sound.
The Well, by Brad Shepik
We put this in our jazz section, although it could have just as easily be classified as World Music, given the prevailing Balkan/Middle Eastern tenor of its contents. But, no matter, as this is a fine recording by a terrific band which can groove in a variety of time signatures and seems completely at ease in this idiom. Compelling solos abound, particularly the work of guitarist/saz/tambura player Brad Shepik, bassist, Skuli Sverrisson and saxophonist Peter Epstein.
Thanks to all of for helping to make the this year a great one for the Library and all who work here. We appreciate all the kind words and support we've heard throughout the year.
The fine staff of the Children's room starts things off with their favorite children's and young adult titles of the year.
Bear has a story to tell, by Philip C. Stead ; illustrated by Erin E. Stead
A beautiful, sweet book by the 2011 Caldecott Winners of A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Bear has a story to share with his friends mole, duck, mouse and frog who are busy getting ready for winter's arrival. Preschool-Grade 2
Big Mean Mike, by Michelle Knudsen ; illustrations by Scott Magoon
Fluffy, white, adorable bunnies are hard to resist. This humorous book is about the toughest dog in town with the meanest, noisiest car. Big Mean Mike finds one fluffy bunny after another in his cool car and tries to find ways to get rid of them before they ruin his reputation. Preschool-Grade 2
Cindy Moo, by Lori Mortensen ; illustrated by Jeff Mack
When Cindy Loo hears the line in the nursery rhyme, "And the cow jumped over the moon", she sets out to do just that, even when the other cows laugh at her.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson ; illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The watercolor illustrations and thought provoking story will start many discussion in classrooms and at home. After her teacher gives a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have not treated a classmate very well and she longs for a chance to make it right. Grades 2-5
Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett ; illustrated by Jon Klassen
I read this picture book aloud to many students during class visits to the library. The illustrations are wonderful and the story is magical. Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn and her knitting transforms her cold, dark town. Annabelle knits for her friends, neighbors and animals and it seems her box contains an endless supply of yarn. Students love to share their thoughts about Annabelle's mysterious yarn box, and what they would want an endless supply of in their own magical box. Grades K-3.
Happy, by Mies van Hout
An almost wordless book for one-on-one sharing or a small group. The author uses fish with different facial expressions and postures to portray 20 different emotions. A great book for interaction and discussion about feelings with pre-school children.
Penny and her song, by Kevin Henkes
This is the first entry in a new beginning reader series by the Caldecott Medal-winning author. Henkes introduces sweet and curious little mouse Penny, who longs to share a new counting song she has learned at school but is stopped by her parents who fear she will wake the babies. Penny's dilemma is resolved when the whole family gathers for her solo performance, singing a catching tune from one to ten and putting the siblings to sleep in the process.
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
Children's Services loves this story and "wondered" whether it would resonate as much with children. It does. Children come in to request it, to rave about the book, and to ask for stories similar to it. Wonder tells the story of Ten-year-old Auggie Pullman, who was born with extreme facial abnormalities and is entering fifth grade at a private middle school after years of homeschooling. Told from multiple points of view, including Auggie, his sister, and several friends. School Library Journal notes that "everyone grows and develops as the story progresses, especially the middle school students. This is a fast read and would be a great discussion starter about love, support, and judging people on their appearance. A well-written, thought-provoking book." Recommended for grades 4-7.
Cinder: a Lunar chronicles novel , by Marissa Meyer
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
And here are a few more young adult titles from our teen committee:
The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Book 1 : This dark endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
Fifteen year old Victor Frankenstein struggles with feelings of inferiority towards his identical twin brother Konrad. While exploring the family home in Geneva with friends Elizabeth and Henry, the twins find a secret library filled with books on the occult. When Konrad becomes gravely ill, Victor becomes obsessed with alchemy and with creating the Elixer of Life to save his brother. During his search for the necessary ingredients, Victor's belief in the powers of the elixer take hold of him, changing the course of their lives forever.
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
A book about childhood cancer; it doesn't sound appealing at first glance, but it is filled with immensely appealing characters. This book follows the stories of several teenage cancer patients who meet in a support group. Augustus, Hazel and Isaac look at their lives and their illness with the frankness and irony common to teenagers. They have hobbies, dreams and relationship problems, but they live with the reality that their lives will not be long. Somehow John Green, without pity or sentimentality, manages to provide a peek into a world that most people fortunately never glimpse. Readers should push aside their reluctance to read this book for fear it will be depressing. I recommend this title to young adults and their parents. This book is written by an acclaimed author of young adult fiction and is on the 2012 list of Teens' Top Ten, a list chosen by young adult readers. Please watch this video of the author John Green reading the first chapter.
Dodger, by Terry Pratchett
Batman: Earth one , written by, Geoff Johns ; pencils by, Gary Frank ; inks by Jonathan Sibal ; color by Brad Anderson ; lettered by Rob Leigh
Code name Verity , by Elizabeth Wein
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
And here's what the rest of our staff has to say:
Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs
In Atlantic City a casino heist goes bad and "Jack" (our eponymous Ghostman) is called in to clean up the mess and find the money. It's not a job he actually wants to do, but he has a debt to pay for a job he botched years ago and the ruthless crime lord he owes isn't the type to forgive and forget. Jack must work against the clock and use all of his skills and cunning to outmaneuver the Feds and a rival crime lord before all $1.2 million of the casino take goes up in flames. I got the opportunity to read an advance copy of Ghostman and Roger Hobbs has written a taut, fast-paced crime thriller that will be hard to put down. This is an impressive debut novel from an author who, by my estimation, has a bright writing career ahead of him.
The Balkan Project, by Cavatina Duo
The recording I seem to be returning to most often recently is Balkan Project by the Cavatina Duo. The Library catalog describes this CD accurately enough as "Arrangements of traditional Balkan songs and dances for flute and guitar". What this phrase doesn't capture however is the virtuosity of both flautist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic and their almost telepathic interplay in service of lovely melodies, many of which are in odd-numbered time signatures. Much of this music doesn't sound particularly Balkan in origin -- more Pan-Southern European. Regardless, the often poignant lyricism of the material speaks directly to the emotions.
Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Walter re-imagines the lives of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor beginning at the time of the filming of Cleopatra in Rome. He has inserted a cast of memorable fictional characters into their lives to create an entertaining tale. In addition to Rome the narrative is set in a sleepy fictional hamlet on the Italian coast and in L. A. It weaves the threads of several story lines through nearly fifty years in amusing and occasionally tragic ways.
We Sinners, by Hanna Pylväinen
This slim first novel draws on the author's own life experiences. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the nine children and the parents in a large Midwestern family. Their lives are circumscribed by the beliefs and practices of the strict fundamentalist Finnish Lutheran church to which they belong. Each individual relates how he or she struggles to find his or her place in their family and in the world. Pylvainen who grew up near Detroit as a Laestadian Lutheran has written a sensitive portrait of family members wrestling with forbidden desires and trying to maintain their love for one another.
The Garner Files: a memoir , by James Garner
Out of the eleven books I reviewed this year, I'd have to say The Garner Files was my favorite! I read this book last March on the train when I went to visit my daughter in Charlotte. James Garner is one of my favorite actors, and I was very curious about his background. It was nothing like I expected! His mother died when he was young, his father was an absentee parent always on the road, and he and his brother were brought up by relatives. He never finished school, and never had any formal training in acting. Garner got into acting because a friend kept on prodding him. And he was a natural! This book relates his dealings with unscrupulous Hollywood managers, temperamental actors and humorous situations. He worked with some of the greatest actors of all times. As I mentioned in my earlier Staff Pick, I came away with a greater appreciation for the man James Garner. You should read it. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!
The Cherry Thing, by Neneh Cherry & the Thing
A collaboration between vocalist Neneh Cherry and Scandinavian instrumental jazz trio The Thing. Over the course of this lurching and powerful record they cover songs by the like of Suicide, The Stooges and Ornette Coleman, among others. They manage to put their own stamp on these songs. The band, made up of bass, drums and saxophone build walls of tension behind Cherry's vocals creating a singular sound.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, by The Flaming Lips
Only Wayne Coyne and his band could actually pull off this idea, a double album featuring different "guests" on each track without things turning into a crazy jumbled mess. As it turns out, almost whoever they threw into this stew manages to hold their own and add to the band's heavy and discomforting sound. This CD version pales a bit in comparison to the now out of print double vinyl version by adding a few unnecessary touches but still, it's confounding how it all comes together.
Swing lo Magellan , by Dirty Projectors
The sheer joy on display here from the band manages to overcome their many pretensions. Plus, this features the year's best guitar riff...easily.
Pulphead: essays, by John Jeremiah Sullivan
John Jeremiah Sullivan makes essay writing seem so easy. With an easy charm and a quiet confidence,he immediately puts the reader at ease. His quirky choices of subjects doesn't hurt either; my favorite essay leads the book off. In it he visits a christian rock festival. He was ready to make fun of these folks and, he still does but also gains a grudging admiration for them. But really, anywhere you open this book you're bound to find a charmer. Currently, Mr . Sullivan is writing frequently for the New York Times Magazine, where he most recently told us about his "Multiday Massage-a-thon."
(the critics were WRONG!)
When Horror came to Shochiku
Four classic Japanese horror films from the 60s finally available from Criterion.
Blunderbuss, by Jack White
Bish Bosch, by Scott Walker
Tempest, by Bob Dylan
Lady, go die!: a Mike Hammer mystery, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Redshirts, by John Scalzi
Leviathan Wakes: an Expanse novel, by James S.A. Corey
The Big Book of Ghost Stories , edited by Otto Penzler
Lots of classic horror tales by a very diverse collection of writers from H.P. Lovecraft to Joyce Carol Oates.
Shadow show : an anthology of original short fiction by 26 authors, each of whom was inspired by the legendary work of Ray Bradbury, edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle
The Voice is All: the lonely victory of Jack Kerouac , by Joyce Johnson
Marvel Comics: the untold story , by Sean Howe
Jack Kerouac: collected poems, edited by Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell
Assassins Creed 3, by Ubisoft
Ever wondered what downtown Boston and New York looked like during the revolutionary war? Well the designers at Ubisoft have accurately recreated both cities as your playground (in fact a good portion of the eastern seaboard can be explored). This game offers a historical fiction plot line with a serious sci-fi twist. Whether on missions or moving around in free play, this game is sure to become your next great time suck! As an Assassin, your job is to stop the evil Templars (who are responsible for the death of your mother). I highly recommend this to anyone who has an extra 100 hrs at their disposal! My favorite parts are participating in the Boston Tea Party and befriending Samuel Adams. Who said learning wasn't fun!
Jerusalem: chronicles from the Holy City, by Guy Delisle; coloured by Lucie Firoud & Guy Delisle; translated by Helge Dascher
Cartoonist Guy Delisle has made a career of combining his NGO work with graphic novel travelogues. With Jerusalem he has reached a pinnacle of sorts, by masterly weaving together his day to day struggles living within the city and highlighting it's historical relevance and cultural diversity. Though they are covered, the political realities of the city rarely take center stage here, as Delisle is careful not to overshadow his narrative with the ongoing conflict. By doing so, Delisle succeeds in giving us a report from the frontlines that is remarkably humane.
The Turin Horse, directed by Bela Tarr
Hungarian director Béla Tarr has claimed that this will be his last film and it is indeed a masterwork. Shot in 30 long takes, the film's slow pace, somber repetitiveness and bleak outlook will turn away most audiences; but if you are in the mood for a Nietzchean reflection on the endtimes, this is the film for you. I found it incredibly moving, the kind of film that sticks with you for an eternity. Words truly do not do this film justice, each viewer should be left to interpret it on their own.
Black is Beautiful, by Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland
Under the moniker Hype Williams, Blunt and Copeland have released a plethora of material on mixtapes and blogs over the past few years. In the process they have built up a rabid cult following within the online underground music community. With Black is Beautiful, the UK duo have lived up to this praise and continued their prolific streak with a very non-traditional release. Every track on the disc feels like a work in progress, yet they all flow together as if premeditated. Throwing together disparate strains of free jazz, hip hop and reggae the duo take the trip hop sound laid down by artists like Tricky and Portishead over a decade ago, disassemble it and reconfigure for an uncertain future.
Lucifer, by Peaking Lights
Lucifer is a joyous celebration of low-fidelity musical mysticism. Peaking Lights combination of dance music refuse, dub and lo-fi/indie rock tropes is hypnotically dizzying in its scope. Unlike other acts mining similar territory, they approach their sound without an ounce of irony or self-awareness and this makes all the difference- as their sincerity shines through.
Rose: my life in service to Lady Astor, by Rosina Harrison
This is an engaging memoir by a woman, Rosina Harrisson, who made a career of being a lady's maid in the early to mid 20th century. During her life in service to famous and sometimes infamous Nancy Astor, she achieved her life dream of travel and adventure. It is interesting to compare her version of life upstairs and downstairs with the popular Downton Abbey and Gosford Park. It is also an excellent read in preparation for the new biography of Nancy Astor by Adrian Fort to be published in the US in January 2013. Nancy was an American southern belle divorcee who made a brilliant marriage to Waldorf Astor and became among many things, the first woman elected to the House of Commons where she stayed for 25 years.And Rose was with her the whole time keeping her clothes and diamonds in order as well as her renowned temper. This was no mean accomplishment for, a Yorkshire country girl. Enjoy!
Picks from our Cos Cob staff
Sandcastle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian
The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail , by Cheryl Strayed
Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
Where'd you go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010, by Greil Marcus
I've always admired Bob Dylan (whose real name is Robert Zimmerman). I consider him more of a poet-lyricist than a singer. His work has been covered by such great artists as The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash. No one can deny that he has had a great influence on a wide range of musical genres. So when I saw the e-Book Bob Dylan: Writings 1968-2010 by Greil Marcus, I just knew I had to download it. The author is a columnist, and began writing for the Village Voice in 1968. He covered the music scene in Greenwich Village, where Dylan and other great musicians started. Over the years, he wrote about Dylan in his columns for the Gazette, Rolling Stone and Artforum. I feel a kind of kinship with Marcus because he feels that Dylan does not have a particularly great voice, but the message in his lyrics is what gets people. The author writes that he tries to get close to the music to understand Dylan. Marcus calls it Dylan's "conversation" with people. This work is a collection of writings on Dylan's recordings, performances, books and movies. It's a good way to get the whole picture of one of America's greatest cultural icons.
As you might expect, the Greenwich Library staff are an erudite bunch; opinionated too. Here are some of their favorite things from the past year.
My Favorite Design Books
Design Sponge at Home, by Grace Bonney
This is an amazing book by the creator of the popular design blog Design*Sponge. The book features beautiful photos and illustrations with home tours, realistic DIY projects with helpful step-by-step tutorials, and before and after makeovers. If you're looking to personalize your home on a budget, and need to know how to do it all yourself, this is the perfect place to start.
Black & White (and a bit in between), by Celerie Kemble
Black and white is my absolute favorite color combination. It is striking, dramatic and glamorous but can also be soothing and understated. In addition to her own, designer Celerie Kemble includes rooms by other well known designers, so you experience many points of view along the common theme of black and white. Kemble also covers adding neutrals and pops of color to accentuate your space. Great for inspiration.
Some 2011 highlights
Beginners, directed by Mike Mills
This deft and charming film focuses on sad guy Oliver Fields, played by Ewan McGregor, as he comes to terms with the death of his father and his attempt, after many failures, at a meaningful relationship. The story, told in flashbacks as well as the present (well, 2003 but, close enough,) allows us to see the baggage that Oliver is carrying around in his adult life. We learn that after his mother dies his father, which much aplomb, comes out of the closet. And, in a way, it's the story of Oliver coming out of his own closet of sadness and self-doubt. He begins a romance with the lovely Anna (played by the super cute Melanie Laurent))after they meet at a costume party. It's the scenes of their sometimes awkward courtship that are intermixed with the back story of Oliver's life. Neither of them is very good at relationships and, thanks to Mills excellent script, we learn why Oliver is reticent but we are offered just brief clues as to what lies in Anna's past.Despite the fact that they are in their late 30's, they are still beginners.
Christopher Plummer nearly steals the show as Oliver's dad and, even despite the presence of a cute little dog, things never get too precious.
Our Lives are Shaped by What We love: Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973, by various artists
Who knew that, in the early '70's, Motown records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. ran a left coast version of his legendary Detroit record label. It was called Mowest and was dedicated to the grooving sounds of the west coast, with a sharp eye on the top of the charts. (Those were the days when top ten records really mattered.) Even though the label released over forty singles and close to a dozen albums the hits never happened and the imprint called it a day in 1973. But...that doesn't mean the music wasn't worthwhile because, in retrospect there were scores of great songs that were released during that time. Forty plus years later the best of those have been collected on this beautiful re-issue. Nearly every track is a winner and what's most striking is the wide variety of styles found on the collection. There's quite a bit of top shelf R&B, of course, by the like of such unknowns as Syreeta, G.C. Cameron and Sister Love but there's some nice Topanga Canyonesque rock from Lodi and some straight up hippie sounds from Odyssey. And after listening to this record I guarantee you that you'll never think about Frankie Valli & the Four seasons. They show up twice here, once offering up a fierce Meters like funk workout with a killer horn break called "Sun Country." The real highlight is a sneaky number by Syreeta called "I Love Everything Little Thing About You" that captures the breezy west coast sound Gordy was after with Mowest. It features an unmistakable Stevie Wonder on keyboards (he also produced her record for Mowest) and brings a synthesizer inflected funk sound to the track. I'd love to hear the whole record someday. This one was a super nice surprise.
Jernigan & Preston Falls, by David Gates
If all this Holiday cheer has you down I can recommend the writing of David Gates. While they aren't necessarily new (they were published in 1991 and 1998) these novels they're new to me. The men In these books, Peter Jernigan and Doug Willis, manage to wreck nearly everything and everyone they come in contact with. Jernigan is a self-centered drunk who is trying to come to terms with the death of his wife, who apparently was a bigger drunk than him. His dubious method of doing so is to drink even more than he used to and by losing his job. And, just when you think he can't sink any lower he moves in with the mother of his son's girlfriend. It's a creepy arrangement but it works...for a little while. It's a grim story but Gates makes it compulsively readable by creating characters that are entirely believable. He also adds a healthy dose of gallows humor to the book. Expanding on the same ground that Raymond Carver covered, Gates offers up a glimpse of a life that's spinning out of control. It's unclear if Jernigan actually wants to get well (at times he seems perfectly content to be a wretched drunk.) He doesn't do a whole lot of soul searching but, despite his shortcomings, he is still saved from his certain demise by his sadly neglected son. It's a powerful book that, in the wrong hands could have been too much. But Gates knows the territory well and cushions the blow with a strong dose of humanity.
In Preston Falls, Doug Willis isn't much better but at least he has a job. He's also smack in the middle of a mid-life crisis. To combat that, he decides to take a sabbatical from his corporate job and head to his summer house in Vermont with the intention of fixing it up. He leaves his wife and kids to fend for themselves. But a series of poor decisions ends turning his vacation into a nightmare. Throughout the book Gates drops hints that Willis's marriage has been on the rocks from quite some time. His wife is resentful that he's left but, in a way she seems thankful as well. His absence is one less hardship for her to deal with. Soon after his arrival in Preston Falls Willis falls in with some disreputable townies and before you know it, things are spinning out of control. He handles it about as poorly as a person could and ends penniless and on the run. And once again it's his wife, friend and family that do their best to get things squared away. Even though things are rough for a good portion of the novel, Gates leaves us with a little glimmer of hope.
Gates has scarcely been heard from since the publication of Preston Falls. Besides a short story collection there has been nothing. I can't help but suspect that some of the issues that surround his male characters come from direct experience. I also get the feeling that writing these books was a very difficult process. One that he may still be recovering from.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
Helen Simonson has written a real charmer of a book with Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Whether one is a avid or infrequent reader, this book can be a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding reading experience. The Major Pettigrew of the title is a retired, widowed British military officer recovering from the death of his brother. A chance encounter with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shop keeper, is the starting point of a friendship based, at first, on a mutual love of literature. Set in a seemingly tranquil English small town, the balance of this very well-crafted story follows the events in Pettigrew's life as he rediscovers the fact that joy can return to his life. While Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is Helen Simonson's first novel, this reviewer is hopeful that she will continue to write books as enjoyable as this one. The bonus of reading the Random House Reader's Circle edition available at the Greenwich Library is an interview with Simonson as well as a readers discussion section. This would be a great selection for a book club.
Briefly, if this reviewer were to pick the best books read in 2011, the fiction winner would be Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson and for nonfiction, it would be Founding Gardeners : The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf. That book is reviewed in the Staff Picks column.
Chamber Music, Vols 1-3, by Rodolfo Halffter
My musical discovery of the year is the Spanish/Mexican composer Rodolfo Halffter (1900-1987). The Library owns a series of three CDs (COMP DISC 785.1 HALFF) devoted to his chamber music and I was particularly impressed with the third installment. The distinctive mix of neo-classicism and accessible atonalism on this recording has led me to more repeat listenings than any other recent release. All three discs can also be auditioned via Naxos Music Library on the Digital Music Page of the Library's website.
Complete Music for Piano, by Joaquin Rodrigo
Joaquin Rodrigo isn't particularly well known for his compositions for piano. However, I discovered his Complete Music for Piano a few months ago via the Library's subscription to Naxos Music Library and continue to revisit this uniformly charming release regularly. Magisterially played by Gregory Allen, the two disc set is also available on CD (COMP DISC 786.2 RODRI) at the Main Library.
All the Devils are Here: the Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, by Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera
If you are still looking to read a single book that will explain the cause of the continuing recession, All the Devils Are Here is the right one to read. One of the authors, Bethany McLean, is also the author of the highly readable Enron expose, The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Joe Nocera is a business columnist for The New York Times. They two have woven together the history of the mortgage industry, the historical role of the U.S. government in promoting home ownership, backgrounds of the many financial institutions that devised financial instruments to trade mortgages and the human failures at all levels. They show that there is plenty of blame to go around.
Germinal, by Emile Zola
"Out on the open plain, on a starless, ink-dark night, a lone man was following the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou,1 ten kilometres of paved road that cut directly across the fields of beet." That first sentence and Nicholas Kristoff's recommendation in the NYT last summer led me to tackle a major novel of the 19th century. This work describes coal miners in France during a strike in the 1860s. The miners are not just the simple poor, but complex men and women living an impossibly bleak life. The mine owners and managers are multifaceted characters also buffeted by the changes of the Industrial Revolution. This book resonates long after a rousing group discussion. Read this novel and you will understand the labor movement as never before. I can't recommend Germinal highly enough
Narrow Dog to Carcassone & Narrow Dog to Indian River, by Terry Darlington
These are among the funniest books I've read. "We could bore ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, or have a bit of an adventure..." Retired Welsh couple Terry and Monica Darlington and their whippet Jim, take a couple of journeys on their narrowboat (a canal boat), first down the Rhone River to the south of France, and then down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. It quickly becomes clear why no narrowboat has been seen in the Eastern U.S. These two books are comic, poignant, dangerous and joyful. If you love the witty observations of Bill Bryson, and if you love Mark Twain, these two books will be right up your alley!
Games of the Year
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, developed and published by Bethesda Softworks
Bethesda's fifth entry in its popular Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, is pure fun. Explore a massive and beautifully detailed world as just about any kind of character you want to be with a multitude of things to do. Just make sure you wear some knee armor!
Just Dance 3, developed and published by Ubi Soft.
Just Dance 3: Wow. As an early adopter of the Wii version of Dance Dance Revolution, I was sure I was going to like this game. But I had no way of knowing how ridiculously fun it would be to dance by myself in my living room. Do I look like a complete idiot? Most definitely! Am I having an amazing time and learning ridiculous dance moves that will certainly be displayed at the next wedding I attend? Yes! I've never been to a wedding where a good representation of the Robot is not appreciated. I also had the opportunity of playing multiplayer. It's like being in a music video and if I can convince someone to memorize some of these dance moves with me, I will have a full on performance planned in the near future. And for anyone looking for some physical activity, look no further. This game will get your heart pumping . The basics are simple. Pick your song (literally any genre) and follow the choreographed dance moves of the character. Your movements are judged on how closely they mimic the character and points are awarded accordingly.
** I should note that all dogs, people and furniture that you don't want impaled by flailing limbs should be moved as far away as possible as you will dance like you have never danced before.
L.A. Noire, developed and published by Rockstar Games
I love crime shows. And playing this video game was like taking control of a crime show set in LA in 1947. Rock Star Games, who also created the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, is responsible for this epic tale of murder, drugs, and corruption. So the synopsis of the game is as follows. You're an ex soldier who returned from the war to become a police officer in LA in 1947. As you solve crimes you are slowly promoted. Solving crimes involve all of our favorite things Rock Star Games has offered us over the years: shooting, fighting and driving fast. Unlike other Rock Star Games however, this one is slightly more structured and setup more like a level-up kind of game. Each case involves interrogations, clues, chases and or shoot-outs and not all conclude with a happy ending. I don't usually play a game for its graphics, but not mentioning them in this game would be doing this review a disservice. For anyone with an interest in old historical Hollywood, this game gives an unbelievably accurate representation. The sheer detail of the land makes you stop and look around. And the characters in the game look so real you actually can read their facial expressions. For any movie history buffs, this game will certainly excite you. The game is made to have that "Film Noire" look to it. It's dark, gritty and there's a crime of passion around every corner. It also references a lot of the emotions many men and women were going through post WWII (which for me, seems to be pretty deep for a video game). I highly suggested giving this game a shot, just be prepared to devote 60 hours of your next month!
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 , by Warner Home Video
As a fan of the Lego series games I am rarely disappointed by the release of another Lego game. And Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 held up to my expectations. All the basic game play is the same as previous Lego games. You break blocks and build them, wizardry can be used to move items and potions help you change characters. They added a few helpful hints to help you complete the game at 100% (which I was certainly grateful for). Much like the books and movies this game takes a dark turn during the last 4 chapters. Things have gotten a lot more serious for Harry. However, the game still takes the liberty to make small jokes whenever possible (which I appreciate- Keep your eye out for the Monty Python reference). I am not as familiar with the Harry Potter story as I am with some of the other Lego franchises. However, I was still able to complete the game. After unlocking several characters you are able to return to Hogwarts and unlock the evil areas as Lord Voldemort or perform new spells on signing mandrakes. Each level has characters to unlock and crests to collect. Red bricks can be found throughout Hogwarts (unlocking these give you extra abilities) and there are a total of 200 gold bricks to collect! The one thing I noticed first when playing this game is how much of the base area they expanded since Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4. There is still Diagon Alley and Hogwarts, but they have also added some parts of London and the train stations. Seeing these areas in the movies was cool, but interacting with them in a video game is even cooler! In the end this game is not really that hard, but it is fun and lasts long enough so that you can really enjoy the game play.
Life Itself, by Roger Ebert
Having lost the ability to speak, eat and drink due to multiple surgeries for thyroid cancer, Roger Ebert has written an eloquent memoir. He recalls his early life in the Midwest, his career in journalism as a film critic, and stories about his colleagues, celebrity actors and movie directors. He writes lovingly about his relationship with his father and honestly about his own and his mother's struggles with alcoholism as well as their divergent views of the Catholic church. His vivid memories of meals he has savored are entertainingly recalled. The account of how in later life he met and married his supportive wife, Chaz and bonded with her large extended family is especially endearing. Edward Herrman's narration of the cd version of the text is perfect.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, by Paul Theroux
When I thought back to the books I've read in 2011, the one that stood out in my mind was "The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia" by Paul Theroux.It reminded me of the great Agatha Christie novel "Murder On the Orient Express". Theroux decided to take a train trip to a warm, dry climate to shake off an illness brought on by the cold, damp British climate.He meets a motley crew of characters as he transfers from train to train. Train politics consists of bribing the conductor for an upgrade in accommodations. The trains seem to vary in their conformance to any kind of schedule. There are colorful descriptions of people and landscapes, as well as local customs. Sacred temples and sites are used differently from country to country. Perhaps the most striking aspect is the abject poverty visible across Eurasia. If you'd like to read a book with a touch of romanticism from an earlier time and space, and a stark look at other cultures, I suggest you download this e-book
Adventure Time: My Two Favorite People.
The only television program I watch with any regularity, Cartoon Network's Adventure Time, is a rollercoaster ride of fun and surrealism. An added bonus is having a show that I can enjoy on equal footing with my 9 year old son! Read more here.
Music for Merce, by Various Artists
The New World Records label has really outdone themselves with this 10 CD boxset. Chronicling over fifty years of music written/performed for Merce Cunningham's dance pieces, the names here are a who's who of modern music: John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, David Tudor, Morton Feldman, Gordon Mumma, and many more. The music is incredibly challenging, using primitive electronics and amplification processes to open up new avenues of composition. If you are a fan of experimental music, this boxset is simply manna from heaven.
The Viola Works, by Giacinto Scelsi
Italian composer Scelsi's work was relatively unknown during his lifetime, but his status as a true giant of 20th Century composition has been growing ever more prominent. These works for viola demonstrate his transcendent aesthetic perfectly. Touching upon elements of minimalism, non-western musical idioms and atonality; his compositions enter a realm of somber beauty all their own.
Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show 1, by Adam Hines
Hines' ambitious 400 page graphic novel may initially appear daunting, but upon reading the first few chapters the reader is transfixed. Detailing a world where animals can speak, their varying relationships with and treatment by humans are explored in depth. Hines' paints a realistic world that uses a dizzying array of layouts to form a visual narrative that never ceases to amaze. The story itself is a philosophical landmine, provoking the reader to question his/her relationship to nature and the world around them. Duncan may well be one of the smartest graphic novels I have ever read and will stay with you long after you read it.
We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, by John Maus
Maus has refined his craft as a member of Ariel Pink's collective over the years and his newest disc shows him to be at the pinnacle of his craft. Each track on this album feels like it was culled together from my own memories of the synthpop/postpunk tracks of my youth. This is further exemplified with the album's hazy, dreamlike production, leaving one with a disc that feels oddly familiar yet whose emotions are startlingly relevant.
Someone Gave Me Religion, by Arnaud Rebotini
Rebotini has always come across a vintage synthesizer fetishist, going so far as to list each piece of equipment used on past recordings. But with his newest release he finally gets his cherished gear to sing. From the opening 13-minute cosmic ambient track onwards, Rebotini references everything from minimal techno to ebm to Chicago house with giddy aplomb.
White Material, by Claire Denis
Claire Denis latest film to explore her youth in Africa is a stunning portrait of a stubborn French woman's quest to retain her family's coffee plantation amidst the violent collapse of African imperialism. Isabelle Huppert plays the woman with stoic intensity, trying her best to go about life ignorant of the chaos around her. She unwittingly becomes the savior of a wounded rebel army leader as warring factions within the country run rampant. The film's portrayal of Africa is both haunting and beautiful and carries an intense sense of foreboding till it's bitter ending. The rest of the cast are also superb including Christophe Lambert (Highlander!)and Isaach de Bankolé.
Human Centipede: The First Sequence, by Directed by Tom Six
A real guilty pleasure with this one, a horror movie that manages to disgust and humor simultaneously. Not for the faint of heart.
From the Cos Cob Branch Staff
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
Highly enjoyable with several coming of age stories. It's set in a small college community in Wisconsin with a background of baseball as a metaphor for life.
The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A moving story of a young woman whose gift for understand the meaning of flowers helps her overcome her past and learn how to love. A very powerful, beautiful work.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
I felt transported by this book to the jungles of the Amazon. Fascinating and unpredictable and a unique read.
The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
A young doctor in a small Balkan country find secrets abound after the war. A mix of myth and reality. It's a beautifully written tale with several stories unfolding.
Little Games, by The Yardbirds
Produced by Mickie Most (who performed similar duties for The Animals, Donovan and others) in a hurry during the spring of 1967 and released that July, Little Games would be both the last original album by the Yardbirds for over twenty -five years and the only one with guitarist Jimmy Page on all selections. Sundazed Records recently re-released the original mono version with only two extra songs, the B-side "Puzzles" (with Page doing twin lead guitar) and the parody "I Remember The Night", the latter not actually released until Little Games was first reissued as a CD in 1992 (and again in 1996) by EMI. Unfortunately, aside from the song listing, there are no liner notes detailing the production history of the album.* (And who made the regrettable decision to leave off the band's final, standout single "Goodnight Sweet Josephine/"Think About It" ?!?)
Despite the rushed production, Most's insistence on using session players such as bassist John Paul Jones (yes, him!)and keyboardists Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart alongside Page, bassist Chris Dreja, drummer Jim McCarty and lead singer Keith Relf, and some less than exciting songs, the album has a number of virtues going for it. There's the instrumental "White Summer" which foreshadows Page's work in Led Zeppelin (you'll hear echoes of "Black Mountain Side" and "Over The Hills And Far Away"); the power chords and bowing technique (!) Page brings to the Who-like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor" and the experimental "Glimpses"; and Relf's melancholic ballad "Only The Black Rose". "Smile On Me", with Page's stop and start solos, is a great blues rocker harkening back to the band's early days. And despite its seemingly unfinished, demo-sounding quality, the anti-war song "One Little Indian" (which got a much better production sheen in the aforementioned 1992 and 1996 reissues) stays with you long after it's over. Sadly, the album tanked sales-wise, and a year later, the Yardbirds broke up. Reif and McCarty would form their own folk-rock group, Dreja left the music business, and Page and Jones got together with Robert Plant and John Bonham to form what was supposed to be "The New Yardbirds" but instead became Led Zeppelin.
Not quite a masterpiece, Little Games is still a vigorous and powerfully sonic-sounding work by the Yardbirds (and friends) who overcome weak material (the songs, several commissioned from pop music writers by Most, sound better than they "read") and is worth a listen!
*(I'm very grateful for Greg Russo's 1997 book Yardbirds: The Ultimate Rave-Up for supplying background information on the making of this album.)
Quartetti Italiani, by Quartetto di Venezia
This 10 disc boxed set is a survey of string quartet music from Italy. The works of seven composers are represented, the earliest of whom is Boccherini (b. 1743) and the most recent, Gian Francesco Malipiero (b.1882). It is on the works of the latter that I would like to focus. My appetite for Malipiero was whetted when I encountered his 1st Symphony via the Naxos Music Library streaming audio service (Click here). This invaluable resource is made available for free to Greenwich Library cardholders. Having very much enjoyed my initial exposure to the composer's work, I borrowed Quartetti Italiani from the Library's collection. Malipiero's entire output for this configuration of players, comprising eight quartets in all, is present on discs 9 and 10 of this set. A harmonically adventurous spirit is evident on all these works, which, in conjunction with rhythmic vitality, creates a distinctive sense of forward narrative motion. Formal development is not emphasized, which may disappoint devotees of the Classical verities, yet these works cohere well, exhibiting a Faure-like logic as they unfold. I must admit, the Quartetto di Venezia does not exhibit the last degree of refinement and polish in their performances, but their playing projects enough excitement and commitment to put these pieces across and prompted repeated listenings on my part to all eight quartets; although I still haven't warmed up too much to #8. Predominantly tonal, these works, while frequently challenging, will reward those at ease with 20th Century idioms and iconoclastic compositional voices.
Beatles albums (remastered), by The Beatles
Who isn't a Beatles fan? Even the outspokenly anti-rock 'n roll Frank Sinatra recorded a couple of their songs (Something and Yesterday). Now, the Fab Four were a major part of the soundtrack to my adolescence and over the years, I have subjected all of their albums (excluding Let it Be, which I never cared for*) to aural exegesis. I have spent hours trying to decipher who is playing which guitar part** or even distinguish between guitar parts on a track; a task made more difficult by the original mixes which were great at conveying excitement, but not so great when it came to sonic subtleties. Not surprisingly, this was particularly true of the earlier albums. Consequently, I was pretty excited when I learned the entire Beatles catalog had been remastered and was due to be released. The advance reviews I read whetted my appetite further, with accounts of astonishing detail, clarity and presence. I have now listened to the entire batch (excluding Let it Be) and can affirm the raves. If you think you know this music well, you will be startled by what you have been missing. To my ears the major beneficiary of the new mixes is Sir Paul, whose bass playing throughout is even more of a wonder than heretofore. His 16th note repetitive pattern on The Word (Rubber Soul) for instance, had me laughing out loud at its sheer funkiness. Ringo's playing on the other hand, while still amazingly propulsive on the earlier cuts like Can't Buy Me Love (Hard Day's Night), seems to have been demoted in the new versions from idiosyncratic to sloppy in places. I doubt this will detract from your enjoyment, however. Of course, the truly important artifacts, the songs themselves, remain icons of popular music in the 20th Century. Revisiting this body of work, pretty much in its entirety, brought home to me, yet again, the caliber of songwriting inspiration and craft that set a standard of consistency unmatched since.
* Thanks, for the treacly string arrangements, Mr. Spector.
**Chances are, if you find a Beatle guitar part particularly interesting, it's not George Harrison. For example, the solo on Taxman (Revolver) was played by Paul and the cool rhythm guitar triplet figure running through All My Loving (With the Beatles) is John Lennon. That said, what would life be like without chiming Rickenbacker 12 strings?
The Who Sell Out,
by The Who
Previously reissued in 1995 as a single CD, this classic 1967 concept album by The Who has now gotten a massive upgrade with a new 2-disc Deluxe Edition. Listeners now get to hear the stereo AND mono versions of the album's original tracks as well as numerous extras. The original album was a take off on British pirate radio stations operating in the mid-60s. Various announcements, jingles and commercials are interspersed throughout the album, making it sound like an actual underground radio broadcast. The songs themselves mostly focus on relationships and growing up, with humor and sensitivity which would later be dispensed with in future albums. And unlike previous and future Who works, lead vocalist Roger Daltrey is not the dominant singer here; guitarist Pete Townshend does most of the vocals on four songs (including the sublime "Our Love Was" and "I Can't Reach You"), and duets with Daltrey on two more. Daltrey gets to shine vocally on the band's classic single "I Can See For Miles" (still one of the coolest and most exciting rock songs ever recorded, with drummer Keith Moon at his most ferocious), "Tattoo" and the pre -Tommy mini-opera "Rael", however while bassist John Entwistle provides his usual black-humored side with "Medac" and "Silas Stingy". Even more remarkable, the psychedelic-sounding opening track, "Armenia, City in the Sky" is sung by Thunderclap Newman's Speedy Keen. Yet the album, and it's various extras (about which, more below) remains cohesive throughout. The different shifts in musical material (which includes instrumentals) actually cohere together, creating for the listener a sense of how unpredictable, yet exciting, non- BBC British radio must have sounded like. The faux commercials are a riot too, with the aforementioned "Medac" a particular stand out. (Oddly enough, during this period, The Who actually did real radio commercials, including ones for the US Military!) The extras: Well, most of them are remixes of the songs from the album, along with some previously unreleased gems, including a version of "Our Love Was" (mono mix) with a killer guitar solo by Townshend not previously heard before, jaunty versions of "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hands" and a technically tighter version of "Rael". The mono version of the original album really rocks, with a lot more vitality and energy sound-wise. Oddly, two extras from the 1995 reissue, "Glow Girl" and "Melancholia", aren't included in this new edition. But there's such a wealth of material here (over 50 numbers!) that you won't really notice. The Who Sell Out still delivers!
The Basement Tapes,
by Bob Dylan with The Band
Every fan knows about the period in 1966-67, after the infamous motorcycle accident, when Bob Dylan retreated to upstate New York and recorded a number of songs with his backing band The Hawks (later The Band) in his home studio. Through several of the songs were subsequently covered by other artists like Manfred Mann and The Byrds, the demo tapes of these sessions were constantly being bootlegged throughout the rest of the 60s and into the 70s. Pressure from the critics and fans finally resulted in a collection of some (not all) of these sessions released as a double album, The Basement Tapes (the name given to these sessions), in 1975. Now Columbia, after a previously released compressed CD edition in the 80s, has reissued the album digitally remastered on compact disc, with the original photo layout/artwork and liner notes/booklet by rock critic Greil Marcus. This new release doesn't have any extras like more songs, outtakes or updated program notes, but the sound is much better than the previous 80s version and the music, which combines country, blues, folk and even garage rock genres, still sounds fresh and exciting. Dylan himself sounds more loose and witty than he had on his previous releases at the time. (One quibble which I've had since the original vinyl release: WHY did The Band's Robbie Robertson, who put together this collection, insist on redoing his group's contributions? The Band's solo work on the album, while sounding great, seem more slickly produced -several of their demos from the original sessions were actually re-recorded for this album- and sound more like selections from another, later period.) Highlights from the album include (by Dylan) "Odds and Ends", "Goin' to Acapulco", "Tears of Rage", "Too Much of Nothing", "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"; and from The Band, "Yazoo Street Scandal" and "Katie's Been Gone". You won't find any duds in this collection. Now let's hope all the other sessions not yet released from this period make it out to the public soon.
by Marshall Crenshaw
While it does not enjoy the eminence in the canon of Crenshaw's debut album, Downtown is another fine example of what MC does best, to wit: gorgeous melodies, concise yet polished wordplay mostly focusing on affairs of the heart, and a pre-Beatles rock 'n roll sensibility in both sound and spirit. The level of craftsmanship brought to these songs' composition and performance is reflected in a notable absence of the extraneous and gratuitous. Among many highlights, romantic obsession is conveyed with scary intensity on "Little Wild One (No.5)"; a lover's kiss off to his mate is given a humorous treatment on "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)" and the depths of remorse are explored on "Lesson Number One". As always, Crenshaw's guitar playing is a model of elegant soulfulness. Simpatico instrumental assistance is provided by notables such as Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, G.E. Smith, Mitch Froom and T-Bone Burnett.
Double concerto for harpsichord & piano with two chamber orchestras,
by Elliott Carter
One of the most esteemed American composers of the last half of the 20th Century, Elliott Carter is still plying his trade in his hundredth year. This piece was completed in 1961, and reflects the maturation of Carter's theories on "metrical modulation", where rhythmic continuity is maintained despite the cumulative change in tempo imparted by altering the note values played by individual instruments. I'm not sure this particular innovation had much bearing on my appreciation for the composition, which was visceral rather than analytical. What struck me repeatedly was the sheer beauty of texture and line; reminiscent, to my mind, of Edgar Varese's Arcana, although on a smaller scale. Indeed, this recording was recommended by a friend familiar with my enthusiasm for the Varese.
The disc also comprises Carter's Sonata for flute, oboe, cello & harpsichord (1948) and Sonata for cello and piano (1952). The former rivals the Double concerto for my affections for the same reasons cited above. The latter was a little more astringent; not surprising, given its sparser instrumentation, but still arresting. All told, this CD represents an investment of time I'm very glad I made.
Third/Sister Lovers, Big Star
After releasing two commercially ignored but amazing power pop records in the early 1970's Alex Chilton returned to the studio in 1974 with drummer Jody Stephens and Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, to record a more quiet and personal record. This record, Big Star's 3rd, was deemed too uncommercial for release at the time. It finally saw the light of day in 1978 and proved to be influential to a host of bands that followed in it's wake, most notably REM.
It's a dark and brooding record that barely hints at the buoyant pop sounds of the bands past. Eschewing the pop sound, Sister Lovers features such somber classics as "Kanga Roo" and "Holocaust." These grand and twisted pop experiments take some time to digest and their beauty grows with extended listens. It is one of those rare records that successfully utilize the recording studio as an extended member of the band. Strings and synthesizers abound and the songs, at times, sound distant and lonely. It is a perfect soundtrack to the crisp autumn evenings that will soon be upon us.
The Slip, Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor surprised a lot of people earlier this year when he released four volumes of new instrumental music by Nine Inch Nails, Ghosts I-IV, online in multiple formats with some of those formats available for free. On May 5th he one-upped himself by releasing his new full-length album The Slip online, again in multiple file formats, but this time they were all for free, accompanied by a message to his fans: "thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years - this one's on me".
Radiohead, eat your heart out.
The album itself feels almost like a summary of the previous two decades of Nine Inch Nails' music, even while sounding fresh. Discipline and Echoplex are two of the more obvious "catchy, radio-friendly" tracks, the lyrics of which could be about music and then the music industry, respectively. The album actually starts off with the instrumental 999,999, building from a pensive mood with shades of Help Me I Am In Hell (from the Broken EP) working in the background until launching into the ferocious 1,000,000, kick-started with the awesome Josh Freese's roiling drum-work. While I admit I'm still not entirely sold on Letting You (the chorus is too cacophonous for me, and that's saying a lot), I happen to think the chorus of Head Down is pure gold from my own existential angst point-of-view. Lights In The Sky (for which the current tour is named, by the way) is a beautifully subdued piano-and-vocal melody. Following are the two moody instrumentals Corona Radiata and The Four Of Us Are Dying, leading in nicely to the final track Demon Seed, which escalates upon layers of menace and barely-restrained power toward the promise of more to come. Which is plenty fine by me.
The Slip is a solid album in its own right, and therefore truly a gift to the fans (even for those like me who still insist on purchasing and owning a physical copy), and having seen Nine Inch Nails in concert over the summer, I can absolutely verify that the new material translates from disc to stage with no loss and all gain. If you've never heard Nine Inch Nails before, or just not in a very long time, do yourself a favor and give this album a listen--chances are good that you might like what you hear.
Get Away From Me, Nellie McKay
Since Nellie McKay will be performing at Greenwich Library in October, I thought I'd take the opportunity to write about her fledgling release, 2004's two-disc set, Get Away From Me. The title is a somewhat snide takeoff on Come Away With Me, Norah Jones's mega-hit, which predated Nellie's debut by two years. As such, it reflects Ms. McKay's jaundiced view of things in general and relations between the sexes in particular. Nellie does not mince her words, which, given the acuity and tartness of her perceptions of the (female) human condition, results in some devastating social commentary. Not infrequently, she is the object of her own barbs. But the real story of this recording is the seeming grab bag of styles contained therein; representing a kind of unhinged eclecticism. Think of a genre of popular music and it is likely to be present on GAFM. The fact that none of these styles are performed exactly idiomatically, doesn't for me, detract from the enjoyment of the disc. This is a tribute to the sheer personality Nellie puts across in her songs as well as the production acumen supplied by former Beatles engineer, Geoff Emerick. This utterly distinctive release put Nellie McKay on a lot of people's radar screens.
Paradise and Lunch, Ry Cooder
Ry Cooder was on a roll throughout the Seventies; releasing critically acclaimed albums such as Into the Purple Valley, Boomer's Story, Chicken Skin Music and the very first digitally recorded LP, 1979's Bop Till You Drop. My favorite record of this fertile period, however, is Paradise and Lunch, which appeared in 1974. Cooder's choice of material at this stage of his career was already quite eclectic, but perhaps not so exotic sounding to his primary audience as the Norteno, Hawaiian slack-keyed guitar, or Bix Beiderbecke selections which would characterize later works. With the exception of "Tattler", a gem, co-authored by Cooder, all songs on PaL are covers and all are redolent of an imaginary American past where R&B, Pop, Jazz, Blues, Gospel and Traditional styles had coalesced into a single quirky idiom. Throughout the disc, the utterly distinctive drumming of "Snakey" Jim Keltner is a constant and is the perfect compliment to Cooder's scraggly vocals. As always, RC's guitar playing is a miracle of concise soulfulness.
10,000 Days, Tool
Two years old now but no less impressive than when it first appeared, Tool's most recent masterpiece remains one of my favorite albums of all time. The name, according to lead singer Maynard James Keenan, is a reference to the length of time that his mother spent paralyzed in a wheelchair after she suffered a stroke (27 years). The two centerpieces of the album in my opinion are "Wings for Marie (Part 1)" and "10,000 Days (Wings Part 2)", which are both named for her and flow together as one song (though the first track, "Vicarious", received the most airplay and the best reviews). The album features the "usual" Tool stylings which include scorching and lightning-fast guitar harmonies, high precision drumming by drummer Danny Carey (who also triggered all the sound effects on the album using a drum machine called a Mandala), and Maynard's poignant and often scathing lyrics. During their 2002 tour the band premiered "Wings for Marie (Part 1)" instrumentally and as a sort of funeral rite and honorarium for the singer's dying mother, ending the song with the sound of a coffin closing. For those unfamiliar with Tool, this may seem a bit morbid. However, for those that know and love the band (and in my experience fans are rabid, no lukewarm feelings there), the various allusions to family bonds and spiritual, shamanic and archetypal themes are many and varied. Truly, the album hearkens back to the earlier Undertow (mixed by the same sound engineer) in its tone, though not in its depth; 10,000 Days is the more spiritually developed and adult version. The second track, "Jambi", includes references to the province in Sumatra that was once part of Melayu Kingdom - which was led by a powerful and opulent sultan - and offers a colorful criticism of power and wealth in past and modern cultures. The song "Lipan Conjuring" references the Lipan Apache tribe and showcases the band members singing and chanting in haunting, indigenous tones that they make all their own. "Rosetta Stoned" is a play on the famous tablet that allowed Egyptologists to first decipher hieroglyphs, and "Intension" is a further play on words alluding to "intention," a foundational concept to Shamanic and spiritual work in general, "intension" in evolution which can refer to interbreeding, or simply the idea of "intensification." The last track, "Vigniti Tres", is Latin for the number 23, traditionally a mystical prime number and the source of much rumination in the recent (and not very impressive) Jim Carrey movie. You can see where I'm going with this: Tool offers listeners mysterious lyrics that reference ancient cultures and ancient concepts while offering a possible re-mystifyication of our modern, left-brained culture in a hard-rock, artistic way. And now for the best part - the album artwork, which received a Grammy Award. Alex Grey of Chapel of Sacred Mirrors fame was brought back for the bulk of the design work (he designed the majority of the earlier Lateralus) and the album features an interactive jacket which comes complete with stereoscopic lenses and about 20 individual pieces of art that can be viewed so as to appear three-dimensional. Novel in concept, masterful in exhibition and rife with symbolic meaning, the cover of 10,000 Days' can provide many hours of entertainment. The actual face of the jacket is decorated with a face that logarithmically spirals in on itself, taken from Grey's earlier painting titled "Collective Vision". The band has always been one to tease its listeners with half-hidden meanings and shaded references and this is certainly true here. Portraits of the band members holding sacred objects and surrounded by animals, birds and other artifacts are interwoven with Alex Grey's visionary and beautiful paintings, creating a mysterious counterpoint to the music itself. A complete work of art, and in my opinion a masterpiece.
Like their contemporaries Air and Daft Punk, French trio M83 are not shy about mining the recent past for musical inspiration. Their third proper album, Saturdays=Youth wears it's love of late 80's UK postpunk on it's sleeve and is all the better for it. The group had already developed a solid retro-dreampop/shoegazer sound on their previous outings using layered washes of synthesizers and vintage electronics tapered by masses of guitar effects. With Saturdays=Youth they have managed to balance a newfound level of songcraft with this soundscape work. Tracks like the Cocteau Twins-aping "Kim & Jessie" and tongue-in-cheek Cure tribute "Graveyard Girl" both beg to be singles, while "Up!" name checks Kate Bush's classic "Hounds Of Love" within it's lyrics and vocal work. Yet, M83 have not abandoned their hazy and opaque dreampop roots, and the final quartet of tracks on the disc provides a welcome aural overload. Those with a dislike of noise and volume may want to shy away at this point as M83 do their best to put every input on their mixing board into the red. In particular, finale "Midnight Souls" ends the disc on a high point with twelve minutes of escalating ebb and flow that will ring in your ears long after the music is over. By striking out into newer, unfamiliar territory on Saturdays=Youth, M83 have managed to avoid becoming pigeonholed as shoegaze-revivalists and move forward with relative ease.
Dig Lazarus, Dig!!!, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
After several years on hiatus Nick Cave has once again assembled his stellar backing band, the Bad Seeds and it's a beautiful thing. Cave, who recently turned 50, proves that one doesn't necessarily mellow with age. He's managed to navigate currents that have done so many aging rockers in. This is the Bad Seed's most frantic and aggressive record in quite some time. The guitars sound fuller, and genius Bad Seed Warren Ellis is all over these songs, filling them out with screeching violas and something listed in the credits as a Fender Mandocaster. The subject matter of the songs is classic Nick Cave. "We Call Upon the Author" pokes fun at second-rate writers, God and, just maybe, himself. The title track updates the story of Lazarus by making the story contemporary, renaming Lazarus "Larry" and sticking him in New York City. In interviews, Cave has described this record as "a hemorrhaging of words and ideas," All of Cave's albums aim to unsettle, but rarely have he and the Bad Seeds managed to do it so efficiently, so gracefully, or so forcefully.
Piano Works, Beata Moon
I have played this recording, by Korean/American composer Beata Moon, more than any other in recent weeks. Ms. Moon has crafted several engaging pieces for solo piano which sound thoroughly modern, yet accessible; each of which exhibit her own consistently distinctive compositional voice. This voice comprises very occasional touches of pop music juxtaposed with a more astringent harmonic palate and some outright gorgeous Ned Rorem-like passages, plus a whole passel of less easily identified influences. Debussy for the 21st Century? For some interesting biographical information, click here.
Oh, My Girl, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
In this earlier album, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter hit the musical nail on the head, perhaps for the first time in their burgeoning career. Languorous, sensual, lovelorn and beautiful are four adjectives that struck me upon first hearing this wonder of a disc; with each successive listening the breadth and depth of Sykes' lyrics, composition and delivery amazed me more and more. And now, after over 100 auscultations, I've decided to promote it to one of the top ten albums in my music library, right up there with the more recent Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul. There is something mysterious, sad, yet incredibly hopeful in Jesse Sykes' music: it is this strange something that does not disappoint the listener, this something that keeps one glued to the stereo track by track, wondering what's next. Sykes has an almost Beatles-esque ability to build a theme and a mood throughout the entire album and end it on a high note. This is a blue mood, from the gorgeous opening title track to the grand finale, "Grow a New Heart." She and the band take us on a tour of the secret, tender and bruised spots of the heart while illuminating the dark corners that all lovers share. Simple but poignant lyrics, amazing backing by the Sweet Hereafter and straightforward sound production result in a true gem, but be forewarned: this is love music. Sharing this CD with a member of the opposite sex may result in amorous entanglements.
12 Crass Songs, Jeffrey Lewis
Crass were a politically strident anarchist punk band. Active in the late '70's until the mid 1980's, the band popularized the seminal peace punk movement and advocated direct action, animal rights, and environmentalism. The band's message was accompanied by loud, poorly recorded guitar, bass and drums. They were one of punk rock's forebears. Jeffrey Lewis is a folk singer and songwriter (film buffs will recognize his voice from his work with the band The Moldy Peaches, who are featured prominently on the soundtrack to the movie Juno.) Lewis has taken 12 songs written by and originally performed by Crass and re-worked them in a way that allows the listener to hear those angry and incendiary lyrics in an entirely different context. What's striking is how the messages contained in many of these songs are still pertinent in today's political climate. Just replace Crass's targets, Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War with George Bush and Iraq War and the songs retain certain pertinence. One listen to the song "Securicor", which was released over twenty years ago, makes you conjure up images of Blackwater and the rest of the hired armies in Iraq. Where Crass delivered these songs with angst ridden earnestness, Lewis takes the band's message and offers it up with a voice full of mild-mannered wit as his acoustic guitar, toy piano; cello and accordion carry the rage in a different musical tone.
Don't Press Your Luck! The In Sounds of 60's Connecticut, Various Artists
In the mid-1960s, the state of Connecticut actually did have popular garage rock bands on the radio. Local groups influenced by such bands as The Beatles, The Byrds, The Rascals, Them and others, ruled, for a brief time, the Connecticut airwaves. Now, Sundazed Music has put together a nice CD collection of these bands, Don't Press Your Luck! The In Sounds of 60's Connecticut. The album features choice cuts from 1966-68 of such bands as The Shags, the Bram Rigg Set, the Wildweeds (who formed the foundation for the later NRBQ) and the Lively Ones. All these groups' singles were local hits heard between New Haven and Hartford, and beyond. Despite some rough production, the CD provides a good showcase for these bands that never were able to break through nationally but became, for a brief time, local heroes to the kids. The performers themselves were mostly high school and college kids, whose bands broke up due to outside realities, like school/college graduation and the draft, among other factors. But the sense of fun and enthusiasm these guys had in their prime becomes totally infectious with each listen.
Ghosts I-IV, Nine Inch Nails
Like other die-hard fans of Nine Inch Nails, I was both surprised and delighted when Trent Reznor recently announced the release of his newest, and hitherto unannounced work, Ghosts I-IV. Ghosts is something of a departure from the "usual" Nine Inch Nails catalog, relying less on structured hooks, beats and lyrics, and instead drawing its brilliance from a more improvisational format. Trent describes it thusly: "Nine Inch Nails presents Ghosts I-IV, a brand new 36 track instrumental collection available right now. Almost two hours of new music composed and recorded over an intense ten week period last fall, Ghosts I-IV sprawls Nine Inch Nails across a variety of new terrain. I've been considering and wanting to make this kind of record for years, but by its very nature it wouldn't have made sense until this point. This collection of music is the result of working from a very visual perspective - dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams. I'm very pleased with the result and the ability to present it directly to you without interference. I hope you enjoy the first four volumes of Ghosts." It's worth noting that until recently Nine Inch Nails had been, like most other commercial bands, beholden to its record label. But no longer. And now Mr. Reznor, et al, are free from constraint to offer up whatever music they believe their fans might want to hear without having a middleman second-guess the "commercial viability" of such new offerings, and to do so in whatever venues and formats they choose (i.e. direct download). After listening to these first four volumes of Ghosts (more volumes are expected), I'm sure you'll agree that less middleman interference is a good thing.
Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
This is easily my favorite album of 2007, indeed one of the top ten of the last decade. Jesse's haunting, beautiful, incredibly variable voice takes us through an ecstatic journey on her latest album, expressing a style that has been described as religious grunge, spirituo-country-grunge-folk, and other names which don't quite capture the true essence of this amazing phenomenon. The band has been praised from coast to coast and indeed, they sound as if they are (rightly) enraptured with their lead singer, providing perfect harmonies, slashing guitar solos and crescendos that take seven minutes or more to build and peak, culminating in something that is as moving as it is intellectually and emotionally engaging. When I first bought this album, I listened to it over fifty times in the first month. I simply couldn't believe that someone could sing the way Jesse Sykes does, that anyone could have this kind of inflection, passion, and depth to her voice and lyrics. And with each listening, I became more and more amazed by the backup band's perfect job of bolstering her and truly lifting her up with their own vocal and instrumental perfection. A must have for anyone that claims to really like pared-down, genuine music that has not been over-produced or pop-culture-sylized.
Ethiopiques. 22: more vintage, featuring Alemayehu Eshete
MORE VINTAGE!, volume 22 in the brilliant ETHIOPIQUES series, collects recordings from Ethiopian pop superstar Alemayehu Eshete made during the early 1970s. Eshete has earned many nicknames based on his funky ethnic R&B over the years. These included "the Ethiopian James Brown" and the "Abyssinian Elvis" The pompadour he's sporting on the cover of this CD certainly helps him earn those monikers. It's his rhythmic distinctive voice however, that brought him his notoriety. In addition to showcasing Alemayehu, this set shines a light on one of the key behind-the-scenes figures in Ethiopian pop, organist and arranger Girma Beyene. Something of Booker T. to Alemayehu's Otis Redding, it's Girma who provides the tight-as-a-drum funk and jazz grooves over which Alemayehu lets his stunning vocals glide. Although this is text-book Ethiopian pop from the golden era, listeners will hear the obvious influences of American soul and R&B.
Comicopera, Robert Wyatt
Robert Wyatt, formerly of the influential British art rock band The Soft Machine, has spent his career on the margins. While he has a devoted (if somewhat small) following, his music has been too esoteric to make much of a dent in the mainstream. His most recent record, Comicopera, which features such stellar friends as Brian Eno on keyboards and guitarists Paul Weller and Phil Manzanera, won't do much to change that. It is a strange, stylistically diverse and beautiful record. Wyatt sings in a gentle, melancholy voice. The music that begins Comicopera is, lush and warm, like his duet with Monica Vasconcelos on "Just as you are," or the stunning "Stay tuned" and the striking chamber pop of "You You." As the record progresses this beauty is met with discord and things get both lyrically and sonically darker. The final third of this record moves as far from that pop sound as possible, with two tracks in Spanish, another in Italian, and a solo improvisation from jazz vibraphonist Orphy Robinson. This is heady stuff that one needs to sit with for a while to fully appreciate. The great achievement of this record is that its complexity doesn't overwhelm its overarching beauty.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, Original Soundtrack by Mogwai
Scottish "post-rock" quartet Mogwai may not be the most obvious choice when it comes to scoring a documentary about the renowned and controversial soccer star, Zinedine Zidane. But it makes perfect sense when considering that the film went well beyond the cliché of rehashing career highlights, opting instead to show an entire game from Zidane's perspective. No stranger to such arthouse film scoring, Mogwai make a conscientious effort to keep the bombastic quiet/loud dynamics they showcase on their studio albums in check. The bulk of Zidane is a hushed and somber affair, filled with minimal guitar and piano work that sets a slowly evolving mournful and reflective tone. Its cohesiveness is provided by a repeating keyboard/guitar motif that subtly alters from track to track, not unlike the soundtrack work of minimalist composer, Philip Glass. "Half Time" is particularly striking, solemn piano work laced with a brooding underbed of squalling feedback that never quite rises to the fore. The true highlight of the disc is the nearly half-hour dirge of a hidden track at the end of "Black Spider 2." This unnamed improvisation counters all that went before in a fury of low-end bass, droning feedback and broken amp hum. Though such cacophony will send many listeners rushing to stop the disc, it acts as a strong climax to the soundtrack's lulling tempo. As a whole, Zidane's extreme sparseness may turn many listeners off, but those willing to give into it's slowly weaving textures will find it incredibly rewarding.
Okkervil River, The Stage Names
While steeped in the tradition of the FM rock record of the 1970's, there is an air of beautiful mystery to this record. At the core of that feeling are Will Sheff's lyrics, which hint at a feeling of despair but do so in a very literary way that most indie rock lyricists (and vocalists) could never muster. The subject terrain varies, but often touches upon the intersection of art and life. Take "Plus Ones," where Sheff takes titles of popular songs with numbers in the lyrics (adds one number to the original) and molds a story. The opener, "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe" is a modern day Netflix hipster anthem - one of everyday life not living up to that of the big screen.
While the music is grounded by the usual guitar, bass and drums, one hears banjos, violins and pedal steel guitars throughout the record. In its quieter moments piano and organ find their way into the songs, to great effect. The record is abetted by thoughtful production and excellent use of the studio. It has the warm feeling of an analog recording.
Sky Blue Sky, Wilco
Halfway through "Either Way", the first song on Wilco's most recent release, Sky Blue Sky, new guitar slinger (ringer?) Nels Cline, unleashes a delicate, lyrical, yet technically impressive solo. The effect was to keep my attention focused for the balance of the recording as I marveled at Cline's imaginative and tasteful contributions throughout. Given my familiarity with some of his other work, I confess to being somewhat bemused when I heard he had joined Wilco. His trademark skronk seemed like a strange choice to complement the kind of song-craft deployed by leader, Jeff Tweedy. But here we have a different Cline; chameleon-like in his ability to provide varied and arresting accompaniment to Tweedy's idiosyncratic musings. Had I been familiar with Wilco's live CD from 2005, Kicking Television: Live in Chicago, on which Cline also plays before I heard SBS, I probably would have known what to expect. But Cline's guitar artistry is not the only attraction on Wilco's newest. The entire band and especially drummer Glen Kotche, play as though they have a personal investment in setting the appropriate tone for the somewhat obliquely expressed sentiments of the lyrics. Tweedy's singing remains an acquired taste, as he sounds like Jerry Garcia with (slightly) better pitch. But the songs cohere. For the most part, they seem to obey an internal logic in which the disparate ingredients combine to impart heft. One caveat: The album seems front loaded, with the final four songs falling a little short of the mark set by the earlier tunes.
Black Snake Dîamond Röle,
by Robyn Hitchcock
I am going through a period of musical nostalgia, revisiting some of the records that were influential and important to me in my younger years. For the most part I come away underwhelmed. Records that seemed brilliant when I was 18 haven't aged very well. One glaring exception is Robyn Hitchcock's first solo record.
After his band, the Soft Boys, disbanded in 1980 Hitch set off alone, recording this record with a few of his former band mates but this time, the songs and vision put forth are his alone. This is where he introduced his brand of twisted psychedelic pop; an amalgam of Syd Barrett, John Lennon and the Byrds, filtered through a post-punk sensibility. The beautiful 12 string guitar chime of "Acid Bird" shows one side of Hitchcock's song-writing prowess, the flipside being the thunderous rancor of "Brenda's Iron Sledge." It is a decidedly British record both thematically and aurally. Hitchcock delivers his lyrics with a fantastic accent that adds much to these songs.
This record was the beginning of a prolific career; Hitchcock is still releasing great records; check out his record "Spooked" from a few years back to see what I mean.
by Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor's vision of America and the world fifteen years from now is a nightmare. Los Angeles is in ruins after terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb, America is invading other countries (surprise surprise), and the government has been usurped from within by right-wing religious fanatics who keep the citizenry cowed by propaganda, drugging the water supply, and silencing opposition via the "Bureau of Morality" (not unlike 1984's "Ministry of Love"). Meanwhile, the environment continues on its own downward spiral (think: plenty of new waterfront property), and amid all the violence, paranoia and hysteria, thousands of people world-wide witness a gigantic ethereal hand reaching down from the sky...
The first of a 2-part concept album (the second is expected to be released early next year), Year Zero's dystopian themes should be familiar by now to all of us. But what really sets this album apart, aside from Trent Reznor's as-always amazing musical stylings, is the back-story, which has complemented the album as an alternate reality game of clues, hidden messages and Web sites that has kept fans busy since even before the album's official release in April.
Whether you're already a Nine Inch Nails fan, or a critic of America's current administration, or simply curious to hear what Trent Reznor sounds like after he's been reading Noam Chomsky, you'll want to give this one a listen.
Yours Truly, Angry Mob,
by Kaiser Chiefs
Yours Truly, Angry Mob, by the UK's Kaiser Chiefs is an exhilarating album of British power-pop/garage band fusion. Amusing, ironic lyrics mixed with up-tempo and bouncy hooks make this collection fun to play. Best numbers: "Ruby", "The Angry Mob" and the defiant "I Can Do It Without You".
Just Like That,
by Toots and the Maytals
The Library recently added this 1980 release to its CD collection. Toots Hibbert and Co. are in absolutely top form throughout, with the leader proffering some of the most soulful vocals you're ever likely to hear in Reggae or any other genre; particularly on the title cut. On this song, the influence of the singer's idol, Otis Redding, is clearly discernible as Toots whimpers, groans, babbles and generally crashes and burns at the departure of a lover. Whew! On more upbeat selections, the groove's the thing, as on two instrumentals: Turn it Up and the Dub-style Turn it Over.Throughout, the band is tight and the Maytals' sweet harmony vocals are used judiciously to spice up the proceedings.But the star of the show is the boss, a Reggae icon, who takes the listener through the extremes of joy and sorrow. The passage of more than twenty-five years has not diminished my affection for this album.
Memories of T,
by Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet
If you have ever fallen prey to the angular charms of Thelonious Monk's supremely idiosyncratic body of work, I suspect you will enjoy this CD for similar reasons. For one thing, the disc comprises many of the more familiar tunes from the Monk canon; such as Rhythm-a-ning, Pannonica, Straight-No Chaser, Epistrophy and Bemsha Swing. But many contemporary jazz releases feature Monk cuts, which don't capture any of the Klee-like appeal of the originals. Where this release excels is in the arrangements, by trumpeter Dan Sickler, which mimic Monk's comping and soloing, even though there is no piano present. Individual lines, often recognizable quotes from the great man's own recordings, will be divided up between, say, saxophone, guitar and trumpet, with each instrument playing in sequence. The fact that this difficult feat is accomplished with such complete rhythmic assurance by the players reinforces the sense that Monk's spirit is being channeled. Finally, drummer, Ben Riley, a Monk cohort from four decades back, imparts his particularly kinetic time-keeping, so that the proceedings swing as hard as 1965's Live at the It Club (COMP DISC 781.65 MONK); which is saying something.
The Phantom of the Opera,
by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Did you ever get so mad that you wanted to drop a chandelier on someone's head? Then Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is the musical for you. Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman lend their outstanding voices to the main characters in this darkly haunting, yet strangely beautiful original cast recording. The Phantom, a horribly disfigured musical genius who lives beneath a Paris Opera House, terrorizes all of its above ground inhabitants when he falls in love with Christine, a beautiful chorus girl with hidden potential.
The Studio Albums 1967-1968,
by The Bee Gees
Long before the Bee Gees became Lords of Disco in the late '70's they made delightful psychedelic pop albums. The smart folks at Reprise Records have collected their first three records and packaged them, along with a fact-filled book, into this fine box set.
This six-CD set of the Gibbs' first three international albums in stereo and mono mixes, non-LP singles, alternate versions and copious outtakes may seem like overkill for a band remembered for its AM-radio anthems, but Bee Gees 1st, Horizontal and Idea are startlingly filler-free. The excellence of these songs match their inspired titles; on the first record alone they give us such gems as "Cucumber Castle" and "Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts" One of the standouts of "Horizontal, the bands second record is "Lemons Never Forge."
The first reaction of the uninitiated is to comment on how much these songs sound like the Beatles. This is only partially true. While there is plenty of classic '60's pop on these records they also (and this is especially true for disc 3, which contains the "Idea" LP) mined a territory that was much more orchestral and baroque than their predecessors.
by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity
This album, originally released as a double-LP in 1969, brought about my abiding love for the Hammond organ. It also introduced me to one of the most thrilling vocalists of the 60's: Julie ("Jools", or "The Face") Driscoll. Stylistically, Street Noise is an amalgam of rock, jazz, folk blues and gospel, which maintains continuity from track to track, despite its eclecticism. Comprising equal parts original songs and cover versions, the album is that rarest, for me, of commodities--a record where I like every song. And it's a double album, no less. Furthermore, I had disdained some of the original versions of the covers chosen as either un-hip ("Flesh Failures: Let the Sunshine in" and "I've Got Life" from Hair), or just plain annoying ("Light My Fire"). But not so on Street Noise. In fact, here you'll find the only version of the oft recorded LMF that doesn't make me cringe, thanks to Jools's goose bump-inducing vocal and Brian Auger's subtle and atmospheric organ embellishments. Elsewhere, the band absolutely burns on original instrumentals such as "Ellis Island" and "Tropic of Capricorn", prominently featuring their co-leader's keyboard virtuosity. On Richie Haven's "Indian Rope Man", Jools and Brian vie for the spotlight; each outdoing the other on this incendiary track. Throughout the album, wherever Driscoll sings, she will compel your attention; whether on up tempo numbers or the gentle "Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge" or her dramatic rendition of the traditional song, "When I was a Young Girl". My only caveat concerning the album is an occasional shrillness on her part, but this shouldn't deter you from checking out this remarkable but relatively unknown release.
Tropicalia: e' proibida proibir,
(Soul Jazz Records)
Tropicalia was a musical and cultural movement in Brazil that lasted a little more than a year (1968), and ended primarily due to the imprisonment and subsequent deportation to England two its main protaganists, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
Tropicalia mixed American and British psychedelic rock and pop with Brazilian roots and European avant-garde and experimental music to create a new sound that was both distinctly Brazilian and truly international. Ideologically they mixed high art with mass culture and mocked the military dictatorship under which they were living at the time.
This disc is a great introduction to the movement's music. Every track is a winner and my guess this will leave you wanting to hear more from the artists featured here, which include the fantastic Os Mutantes and Tom Ze.
People Gonna Talk,
by James Hunter
When I first heard "No Smoke Without Fire", from People Gonna Talk, I was turning up the volume trying to figure out who I was listening to...was it Sam Cooke? The sax and guitar sound said classic 50's/ 60's soul to me. By the time I got to "Talking 'Bout My Love" ---I was a fan. This is the 2006 release from British R&B soul artist James Hunter. People Gonna Talk earned a 2006 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year. But I know I'm not the only one loving this sound. Van Morrison says "James is one of the best voices...in British R'n'B and Soul. Check him out."
Beside You In Time,
by Nine Inch Nails
Filmed during the winter 2005/2006 tour in support of their 2005 album With Teeth, Beside You In Time features a 19-song set-list shot in high definition video with Dolby 5.1 & DTS surround-sound and plenty of extras. The performances are tight and energetic, suitably representative of the tour (and the band's modus operandi) as a whole, and the main set-list offers a satisfactory balance between old favorites and new material. In addition to the main performance, extras include 5 additional songs shot during the 2006 summer amphitheater leg of the tour, rehearsal footage, music videos for "The Hand That Feeds" and "Only", a tour image gallery, and a discography of the band's entire catalog.
Having had the privilege of attending five shows from this tour, I can say with confidence that this DVD captures the essence of a Nine Inch Nails live performance very well; it may not be quite as good as actually being there, but if you were unable to get tickets (or you are a new fan) then this really is the next best thing.
Anthology: The Essential Crossexion,
by Ronnie Wood
Anthology: The Essential Crossexion is a nice double CD set of the Rolling Stone guitar player Ronnie Wood's work over the past four decades, from his work with 60s groups the Birds, the Creation (these two bands, with their raw R'n'B, Who-like electric sound, both deserved better success than they ultimately got) and the Jeff Beck Group to later stuff with Rod Stewart, the Faces and of course the Rolling Stones, the latter represented by only two cuts. There's also a lot of Wood's solo stuff, including the promising new single "You Strum And I'll Sing", reuniting the guitarist with Stewart (who sounds better here than he has in years, including the recent blah release "Still The Same"). Thirty-seven great, if slightly rough around the edges, selections in all. Check it out.
Boys and Girls in America,
by The Hold Steady
There's nothing complicated about this record: catchy songs, power chords and insightful lyrics. At times reminiscent of Springsteen Born to Run era (especially when the keyboards take over) at other moments I hear the Replacements. It's an honest, down to earth rock and roll record and I didn't think they made those anymore.
Singer and guitarist Craig Finn lyrics touches upon the dreariness and the small moments of excitement of growing up in a suburban wasteland; the parties in the woods, the burnouts from your school, the mall rats. He gets it just right.
The band has managed to tread a fine line; they are a bar band that even the hipsters like. They are just so uncool enough to be cool.
by The Who
Twenty-four years after their last studio album, the surviving members of the Who release their newest work, "Endless Wire". Although the manic quality of the band's rhythm section (represented here mainly by bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Zak Starkey, plus various guest musicians and Pete Townshend himself) is much missed, and Townshend's lyrics pontificate a bit too much, the music, anchored by vocalist Roger Daltrey, still delivers the oomph that bands half their age still can't muster. Daltrey finally gets, after failing to in previous albums, the nuance and tone of Townshend's music, giving excellent vocal performances (alternating with Townshend on some cuts) throughout the CD. (And is Pete doing a Tom Waits vocal riff on "In The Ether"?) Plus, just like 60s albums "A Quick One" and "The Who Sell Out", the band performs a ten song mini-opera, "Wire and Glass", whose plot about an aging rocker serves both as a metaphor for the group and a showcase for some of their most impassioned work. (There's also a DVD enclosed featuring the band performing live in Lyon, France last summer. Not one of their good nights.) Choice cuts: "It's Not Enough"; "Endless Wire"; "Mike Post Theme".
by The Bad Plus
I've never really been all that into Jazz, but something about this band really intrigues me. Maybe it's the way this Jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) compliments each other so well, or maybe it's the fact that they do a really killer cover of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" that peaked my interest. Either way, this is my favorite CD to listen to right now. The other two titles of theirs in our collection are very good as well.
by John Scofield Trio
Enroute: Live documents performances recorded in December 2003 at New York's Blue Note. The band comprises Scofield, on guitar; drummer Bill Stewart and the venerable electric bassist, Steve Swallow. I have been returning to this CD for the better part of two years and have been consistently rewarded as new insights emerge with each subsequent listening. "Astonishing" is the word that comes to mind regarding the collective level of musicianship. Any album featuring either Sco or Stewart is something I will automatically want to check out and longtime collaborator Steve Swallow's steady presence seems to be the perfect catalyst to elevate the proceedings to the sublime. I have noted Swallow's similar effect on other groups; notably that of his own trio featuring saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Adam Nussbaum. This feat is not accomplished via blazing technique, but rather, by unerring instinct for the right note, gorgeous timbre and a sense of swing that anchors the rhythm unambiguously. In short, this is the perfect platform for both Scofield's and Stewart's flights of fancy. The former deploys his usual pungent tone in the service of solos that are never predictable, frequently startling, and yet, paradoxically, seem almost preordained in their "rightness". Similarly, when Sco shreds (infrequently), the display of sheer chops does not seem gratuitous, which is unusual if not unprecedented in these days of dime a dozen guitar virtuosi. Stewart, for some time now has been my favorite drummer, bar none. His contributions to this album reinforce that assessment. Yikes!
In sum, three topflight musicians in absolutely transcendent form: Did I say "Yikes!" ?
by Juana Molina
After doing a bit of research I discovered that in her native Argentina Ms. Molina is a popular comedienne. That's ironic because her fourth record "son" is a thing of quiet, unsettling beauty; it sounds nothing like you would expect from someone whose main job is to make people laugh. Instead we get a strummed acoustic guitar backed by bubbling electronic noises, found sounds and percussion, all topped off by Ms. Molina's beautiful vocals. It's an ambient-folk experience like nothing you may have heard. You might want to pull out the headphones.
by The Roots
After what some might call a slight mis-step (2004's The Tipping Point) The Roots are back with a record that is just as brilliant as their magnum opus, 2002's Phrenology.
The energy on this record is palpable as the band hustles its way through a stylistically diverse set of songs. Unlike most hip-hop acts, the Roots play their own instruments. The songs are anchored by Ahmir Thompson's tight funky drumming. On Game Theory his snare drum snaps so loudly (how tight is that snare head anyway?), especially on the elbow-throwing "Here I Come", that it nearly overshadows everything else.
This is one heavy album which features more guitar than we've heard from the band before and, it's heavy in a figurative way as well: the hangman on the cover, the anger and paranoia that rapper Black Thought puts forth. And don't forget that beautiful, ultra low end bass. You can feel it.
I think the record reflects perfectly the tailspin that this country finds itself in. My guess is that if Bill Clinton was still in charge, (remember diplomacy? remember $2.00 a gallon gas? remember the good times?) the band may not have as much urgency and fire. But fire and urgency they have to spare and, I guess that is the only thing I can thank the current administration for.
by Scott Walker
Trying to figure out singer Scott Walker's latest CD, The Drift is an exercise in of itself. The performer's first album in nearly a decade, Walker sings (in alternating styles) of 9/11, the execution of Benito Mussolini and other cheery subjects in a grim, almost fatalistic tone, with a stripped-to-the-bone production to match. Not for the faint hearted. (Walker's 1960s output with the faux-British Invasion band the Walker Brothers, who had a big hit here in the states with The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore can be heard on the CD After The Lights Go Out: Best of 1965-67, which also has its grim moments amidst the pop frivolity.)
Return to Cookie Mountain,
by TV on the Radio
This long, ambitious album takes a few listens to entirely digest. What one hears one the surface is just part of the story. What's striking at first is the soulful and often unsettling vocals of Tunde Adempimbe. His voice is the driving force of these songs. It rarely sounds the same and, throughout the course of the album channels both Peter Gabriel and Gavin Friday. He delivers his lyrics with an earnestness one doesn't often hear.
But, the more you listen the more you discover all that the band is up to behind Mr. Adempimbe. Great walls of distant sounding guitars, fractured horns, haunting organs and, wait a second...is that a cello? Great welling masses of sound.
The band has staked out a sonic territory that is theirs alone. It seems to be a complicated and, at times, beautiful place. TV on the Radio have crafted a work of immense, cataclysmic, almost overwhelming power and righteous fire.
by Bob Dylan
Well folks, a new Bob Dylan album has been released and you know what that means: Music critics are cranking up the hyperbole machinery in order to reassure us that a venerable cultural icon has still got it. This usually takes the form of sentiments like "his best work since X", or similar invocations of his storied catalog. Where Modern Times will ultimately end up in the pantheon of Dylan's oeuvre is anybody's guess, but I am tempted to consign it to the mid-to-lower echelon at this point. Especially when compared to its immediate predecessor, 2001's Love and Theft. For a start, the latter had more compelling and varied grooves played by a tighter, more musically adventurous band and more committed (albeit more ragged) vocals by the Man. Lyrically, Bob's as opaque as ever, but his ideas seemed more portentous on "Love and Theft" by virtue of his startling vocal presence on that earlier release. And Modern Times is a L-O-N-G album comprising L-O-N-G songs, that frequently flirt with tedium. On the other hand, lest I seem too negative about the new arrival, I do like several of the album's tunes quite a lot including "Spirit on the Water" which has an interesting chord progression that doesn't wear out its welcome over the song's 7:42 length and Dylan's reinvention of the 19th Century folksong "Nettie Moore", where his singing is drenched in regret. And finally, the album convinces you there is valid reason for its existence and what it has to say, in contrast to most of the self-indulgent, cookie-cutter, singer-songwriter musings of recent memory.
I haven't been able to put down the newest release from Tool since I got it. The opening track, "Vicarious" has an odd time signature - 10 beats per measure instead of the expected 8. The resulting feeling is one of incompleteness, as every measure seems to end with the beginning of another, unfinished one. I can't think of a cooler way to start out your album - and it just gets better from there. There's also a really neat pair of stereoscopic goggles built right in to the CD case, which you can use to view the outstanding original artwork included in this release.
Under the Covers Vol. 1,
by Sid n Susie
A great collection of covers of late 60's pop songs by Matthew Sweet and former Bangle Susanna Hoffs. I admit, I was not a huge Bangles fan, as I considered myself more of a Go-Go's type. But how could you not love a CD that includes a cover of a Left Banke song? And they didn't pick the obvious "Walk Away Renee," though after hearing this CD, I'd love to hear their take on it. Both Sweet and Hoffs, performing as Sid and Susie, have perfect voices for this type of music. They cover such a wide range of what could be filed under "pop", from The Who's "The Kids Are Alright" (my favorite Who song,) to Love's masterpiece "Alone Again Or." This CD is simply brilliant. I hope the fact that they called it Volume 1 means that there really will be another one.
by Boards of Canada
I don't stay up late much anymore but, when I do, I am usually listening to this CD. It's electronic music... but with a heart.In place of the usual digital coldness and frantic beats that plague most electronic music, the Boards of Canada gives us more ambiance with an obsessive attention to detail. Listen closely and you'll hear all sorts of sounds and instruments bubbling just under the mix. At times it sounds like transmissions from a distant planet, coming through on a staticky radio station. At other times the productions evoke the image of a reel-to-reel machine's 1/4 inch magnetic tape steadily disintegrating as it plays for the last time...but in a good way. And finally, there are moments of pure transcendence and joy. Just listen to the album's closer "farewell Fire" to see what I mean. Even if I can't make it until dawn, the beauty of that songs distant synthesizer melody makes me feel like I made it anyway.
You've Stolen My Heart: Songs from R. D. Burman's Bollywood,
by Kronos Quartet
I know, the whole Bollywood thing is so over now, but I couldn't resist this one. I love the Kronos Quartet's take on pop music, so I was really looking forward to this disc. They have taken the music of Bollywood films, sung by Asha Bosle herself, and put their own spin on it. For those who need an introduction, Asha Bosle is the actual female singer in most Bollywood musicals. She was also immortalized in song by the Anglo-Indian band Cornershop with the song "Brimful of Asha (on the 45.)" Though known as a classical group, this disc isn't what most people would think of as classical music. It's got more of a dance beat to it. I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Seven Steps to Mercy, by Iarla O'Lionaird
In Seven Steps to Mercy, Irish singer Iarla O'Lionaird's haunting voice and traditional sean-nos singing style are set off by atmospheric (but not obtrusive) background samples or instrumentals. The music is straightforward, heartfelt and beautiful. Just try listening to the song "Lament at Calvary", and you'll be hooked. O'Lionaird also has become noted for his collaboration in the "Afro-Celt Sound System", blending African and Celtic music to great effect, but this remains his most spectacular album.
The Way Home by Kevin Braheny
Musician Braheny made the transition years ago from jazz and rock to electronic music. In the 1970s he worked on designing and playing improved models of synthesizers; one of his specialties is the Steiner electronic woodwind, featured on this album. It consists of two pieces, "The Way Home" and "Perelandra", the latter inspired by the C.S. Lewis novel.Both are examples of space music at its best: haunting tapestries of tone and melody which can be enjoyed whether you want to watch the patterns or simply float with the music.
Wilco's first record "A.M" was a run of the mill, overly earnest attempt at straight-up alt-country. Fortunately, after that, head honcho Jeff Tweedy began taking the band into more adventurous territory. But, it wasn't until 2002's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" that the band entered the realm of greatness; jettisoning their traditional rock stylings and making an amazing record of head music. Since that time, Tweedy and the band have been on a roll. I am usually no fan of live records but this one, recorded in Chicago last spring, finds the band at the top of their game. Focusing on the band's later, more complex material it offers the first recorded document of Wilco's new (and best) line-up. While many of the songs featured here sounded cool and mannered in the studio, here they gain new muscle and force. Guitarist Nels Cline complements Tweedy's songs perfectly and this record puts their songs in a new perspective. It also shows that this already great band is just getting better.
11 Tracks of Whack,
by Walter Becker
Walter Becker's 1994 release, 11 Tracks of Whack, never managed to attract as much popularity or critical acclaim as The Nightfly, by Becker's Steely Dan co-conspirator, Donald Fagen. Nevertheless, I prefer the former and listen to it more often than the Fagen solo album, partly because The Nightyfly's production is ultra-clean, almost to the point of sterility. Not so, 11 Tracks of Whack (henceforth ETOW). ETOW also seems more human in its lyrical concerns, which may reflect a particularly harrowing time for Becker, following the breakup of Steely Dan, struggles with chemical overindulgence and his removal to Hawaii. I hasten to point out this is only conjecture on my part; deriving from vague hints in interviews with the reunited Dan principals. The album is also a departure from The Nightfly and most Steely Dan records in that, with the exception of Dean Parks on guitar, studio musician A-Team players are absent. The result: an idiosyncratic blend of musical styles (rock, fusion, country, jazz, some cheesy drum machine tracks) with an oddball charm, consistently fascinating lyrics and more heart than the entire Steely Dan oeuvre, and I'm a huge SD fan. One listen to "Little Kawai", ETOW's final song, takes you to a warm fuzzy (though not saccharine) place, not encountered in any song by Becker's regular band. Caveat: Becker's singing may take some getting used to.
by Jocelyn Pook
Pook has written music for films, TV, dance, and theatre in an eclectic and evocative style of which this CD gives a good sampling. She draws from many cultures and periods to produce music which is sometimes like Enya, but often with a darker tone; the mix of classical instruments and modes, and multi-cultural effects, is fascinating. Try the piece "The Last Day", and you'll be hooked. The bad news: she doesn't seem to have done any other CDs like this, although some of her film music is available.
Waiting for the Siren's Call,
by New Order
I have been disappointed in New Order's more recent releases, so when I placed this in the CD player, I was not expecting much. However, instead of being disappointed, I was very pleasantly surprised. This is probably one of the best albums I've heard so far this year. The sound is full, lush beautiful - and danceable. There is even some references to their earlier work as part of Joy Division in the more out and out "rock" tracks. I'll even go out on a limb and say that overall, this is up there with Low Life, perhaps even better.
Early Piano Works,
by Gabriel Fauré
These typically elegant pieces, many of them achingly beautiful, are interpreted in a thoughtful manner by Ms. Röling, which emphasizes their inherently graceful structure. In these recordings, she does not display the technical polish Jean-Philippe Collard brings to bear on his complete traversal of the Faure barcarolles (also part of the Library's collection). But to my mind, the music does not suffer as a result of her more deliberate approach. Given a chance to really breathe, these pieces simply display different facets of their characters. An especially intriguing inclusion is Impromptu no. 1 in E flat major, op. 25, which hints at the more adventurous harmonic palette Faure would explore in later years.
I ♥ Huckabees Soundtrack, by Jon Brion
Film soundtracks can be pretty dicey as a rule. More often than not they are just a series of songs that have little in common with each other and even less in common with the film they are supposedly enhancing. If you've seen this movie, you probably couldn't help not to notice the music, which matches the film's mood perfectly. A good portion of the music on Brion's soundtrack is incidental music, used solely as a background for the scene. These pieces have more charm than most and stand out on their own but, the real attraction here are the four or five breathtaking pop songs Brion includes. Imaginatively produced and almost perfectly rendered, they make one wish that Brion would take some time off from his soundtrack work (he's also responsible for the soundtracks to Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) to release a proper album of his songs.
by Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith didn't invent jazz organ but his name has become synonymous with it. This four disc set is a great place for those of you who haven't heard his organ playing to get caught up. Spanning 30 years of his music, it touches upon most of the highlights of his career, some of it funky, some of it sultry, but all of it worth hearing. Surrounded by musicians of staggering talent including Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson and Stanley Turrentine among others, these recordings spawned a whole legion of jazz organists and created a cult of Hammond B3 enthusiasts. Sadly, he died this past February at the age of 76.
by Bob Dylan
In 1978, at an emotional and artistic crossroad, Bob Dylan released his Street Legal album, which was attacked by critics for meandering lyrics and amazingly bad sound (the lp I owned sounded like it had been recorded during a rainstorm). The latter problem has been resolved via the SACD remixed edition, released a year and a half ago. Dylan's backing band and choral singers play as if their lives depended on it. No more muddy mixes here.
As for the so-called "meandering" lyrics, well, "Changing Of The Guards" & (especially) "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)", to name but two songs, ominously hint at both a coming Armageddon and the "born-again" path Dylan would take in his next album, the much more sanctimonious SLOW TRAIN COMING. It's hard not to be shaken (or shudder) with lyrics like "But Eden is burning/Either brace yourself for elimination/Or else your hearts must have the courage/For the changing of the guards". You want to think Dylan's just having a bad day, but maybe he also knows something we don't. Not easily accessible (or even comforting) at first listen (what Dylan album is?), but stick with it.
Five Guys Walk Into a Bar,
by The Faces
The Faces' long-overdue four-disc collection Five Guys Walk Into a Bar from Rhino is a terrific compilation of this unsung band's singles, b-sides, live takes and rehearsals spotlighting their feel for R 'n' B, Soul, power pop (their version of that tired warhorse "Maggie May" is particularly strong) and solid rock and roll! Led by vocalist Rod Stewart, the band included former Small Faces members Ronnie Lane (bass), Kenney Jones (drums) and Ian McLagen (keyboards), accompanied by future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood on guitar, all tanked up by their love for the music (and the half-pint of ale or two). Featuring "Maybe I'm Amazed", "The Stealer", "Cindy, Incidentally" and of course their one US hit, "Stay With Me" - the ultimate "see ya later" song ("What was your name again?"). Sixty seven tracks and not a dog among them. So relive a time (1970-75, actually) when Rod Stewart actually was cool (and had cool material & bandmates to boot!). Includes a terrific booklet that chronicles the band's history and pays tribute to the late Ronnie Lane (d.1997).
by Tenacious D
Tenacious D's self-titled 2001 album is in a category all by itself. Jack Black's sense of humor comes thru loud and clear, as he and guitarist Kyle Gass host an ensemble of guest musicians thru such hilarious songs as "Wonderboy", "Explosivo" and "Tribute". Those of you who enjoyed Black's family-friendly rocking in School of Rock might want to wait until the grand-parents have gone to bed before listening to Jack' musings.
You Are The Quarry,
Morrissey's You Are The Quarry is the long-overdue return of the former lead singer of the Smiths. Backed by a terrific bunch of musicians and featuring some of Morrissey's most stinging lyrics, this is a top-notch return to form. Welcome back dude!
God Bless the Go-Go's,
by The Go Go's
Maybe I'm dealing with getting older by rediscovering some of the favorite bands of my youth. At any rate, this is a surprisingly good album by one of my favorite 80's bands. I'm usually wary of reunion albums - with good reason- but this is California-style pop at its best, bringing to mind bands like the Descendents. As usual with the Go-Go's, the slower songs are a bit weak, so stick to the more upbeat tracks, particularly "Unforgiven."
by Franz Ferdinand
For those who like cutting edge power pop/rock, the group Franz Ferdinand delivers the goods on their self-titled first album. Similar in style to the Strokes, this Scottish band highlights punchy playing with sharp lyrics.
...and this is our Music,
by The Brian Jonestown Massacre
A bit of a throwback, this one is. Not so much musically (but there is a bit of the past that surfaces there as well) but rather, conceptually. "...and this is our music" sounds like it was envisioned and written with a certain "wholeness" in mind, the same way bands used to put out "albums" instead of singles or videos. While all the tracks are strong, none stand out. The songs are played and arranged with assured confidence. Sixteen musicians overall are credited in the liner notes (including the Holy Spirit for "just kicking back and doing his thing"). It takes a close listening to discern just how much is going on. An organ drones, casually anchoring the songs. Horns appear frequently, meshing with the fabric of each tune.
BJM's leader and brainchild Anton Newcombe (one of the most intriguing narcissist timebombs in the history of rock) has toned down the bands sound, which in the past veered more into the retro garage territory. This time around, he still hearkens back to the 60's for his musical inspiration but adds his own, more contemporary touches. While the music may be more subdued, the song titles and subject matter still touch upon the classic rock and roll cliché of drugs ("Prozac vs. Heroin" and "A New Low in Getting High"). This time, however, the songs are put forth with an air of melancholy and resignation. It's almost as if Newcombe and his band mates feel as if they no longer have to try to impress people. With quiet resolve the band appears to be looking backwards and realizing how lucky they are to have come out of their hedonistic rock and roll past relatively unscarred. It's that resolve that is in evidence in these songs. Life isn't easy for hell-bent artists who live past their point of departure. While there's only one Keith Richards, there are thousands who've wrecked themselves the same way, and in Newcombe's defense, he realizes he's getting off light.
Drums and Wires
English Settlement, by XTC
Back in the late 70's and early 80's it seems that there were thousands of bands in England making pop records. Of those bands, XTC rose to the top on the strength of their quirky songs and cerebral lyrics. For the band, the period between 1979 and 1982 is truly their high water period. Starting with their record Drums and Wires, the band began to further hone their pop sensibilities. So much so that, on the three records released during this time, there is hardly a lame song in the bunch. In 1980, the band released Black Sea. Lyrically their finest hour, the songs are more poignantly political and satirical. Vocalist Andy Partridge's voice also reaches a new dimension; previously it was frantic and breathless, trying to keep up with the pace of the music. On Black Sea, the more complex and thoughtful songs allow him to catch his breath and deliver the lyrics with more assurance. The record also features such XTC landmarks as "Tower of London", which features Dave Gregory's soaring guitar break and "Respectable Street", which captures the essence of English family life perfectly in a mere 3 minutes and 37 seconds.
As the band's confidence grew, so did their output. In 1982 they released a sprawling two- record set called English Settlement. Stylistically all over the map, this record amazed me when it came out. Twenty-two (!) years later, it holds up amazingly well. Around the time of "English Settlement", constant touring got the best of Andy Partridge, causing a nervous breakdown and the band ceased playing live; they continued to record though. The bands recorded output from the rest of the 80's and beyond fluctuated between further brilliance, moribund three chord pop and downright strangeness. But, for a brief moment in rock history, XTC were the pop band all others aspired to be.
2 Many DJs Mix Album,
by 2 Many DJs
Impossible to find in record stores, I can't believe the library managed to get this one.One of the most disparate mixes of songs I've ever heard. If you have never made a connection between Royksopp and Dolly Parton, you'll hear one now.
by Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem is perhaps better known for his Paris and New York Diaries, which scandalized the music world, than he is for his musical compositions. This is a shame because he is one of America's most gifted composers of the past 60 years. His symphonies, here performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jose Serebrier, exhibit gorgeous orchestration, like the large-scale works of Ravel, who had a profound influence on Rorem. While generally more harmonically sophisticated, they are lyrical enough to put you in mind of Aaron Copland occasionally.
by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's legendary (and much bootlegged) performance at New York's Philharmonic Hall on October 31, 1964 has finally been released to the public after nearly forty years on the two-disc Live 1964 from Columbia Records. Features the then-23 -year-old singer/songwriter playing such now-classic numbers as "The Times They Are A-Changin'", "To Ramona", "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" and (with Joan Baez on a few cuts) "With God On Our Side" and "It Ain't Me Babe". Recaptures the excitement and power of the phenomenon named Dylan, whose songs mix social comment, humor and an underlying concern for the oppressed and who would continue to influence his generation and the ones to follow. See also: The Essential Bob Dylan, a two-disc overview of the performer's amazing career.
Dead Can Dance, 1981-1998,
by Dead Can Dance
A retrospective collection covering the entire recording history of this extraordinary group, which created a unique and often mesmerizing music from many sources: Medieval and Renaissance music, folk, and World music from many countries are prominent in the mix. Dead Can Dance was a pioneer in the use of unusual instruments, sampling, and fusion to create an alternative rock music. The compositions, while varying greatly in style and structure, are immediately recognizable as theirs.
by Black Sabbath
The album Paranoid by Black Sabbath is one of my favorites. Originally released in 1970, this legendary effort from the godfathers of metal shows just how far ahead of their time Ozzy & company were. Starting off with the all too poignant song "War Pigs", this CD packs in mega-hits such as "Iron Man" and "Rat Salad" while still saving room for electronic flights of mind-expanding fancy like "Planet Caravan". All in all, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable album.