Album Reviews 20/10/15

Yellow Days, A Day in a Yellow Beat (RCA Records)

If you believe the hype bubbling up around this second album from Yellow Days, a.k.a. George van den Broek, he’s successfully bending ’70s radio-funk into a form of “upbeat existential millennial crisis music.” What that translates to in the real world of real things is a patchwork of listenable-enough blue/jazz/funk sampling that draws from the Moby playbook. The 2.5-minute “Intro” is a bit tired: an old TV interview with Ray Charles (in which he bemoans the lack of artistic freedom granted to those poor downtrodden souls who’ve scored record contracts) pattering over a decent-enough imitation of 1980s jazz-pop chill, complete with dated synths, faux-xylophone and assorted other piffle. “Be Free” is more of a traditional tune (or extended ringtone, take your pick), one dripping with Carter-era authenticity, and from there you’re off to the escapist races with the rest of the songs, lounging in a silky hammock of occasionally skit-decorated Soul Train vibe. All of it’s pretty catchy, if that counts. B+

Spice Girls, Forever (Virgin Records)

Unless the holidays are canceled — and who would blame us — we’ve arrived at that time of the year when nearly all the new releases are reissues, box sets, bootlegs, laughably expensive multimedia DVD/CD packages (“Only 10,000 in existence!”), and, of course, first-ever vinyl releases, like this one. No, this isn’t the album with their monster hit “Wannabe” on it (that was from their 1996 debut album, Spice); Forever was their final studio album, and “only” reached No. 39 in the U.S. Not surprising, given that they were down to four singers by then (Ginger Spice, a.k.a. Geri Halliwell, left for a solo career and to write children’s books). OK, no, that wasn’t the unsurprising thing about this album’s failure to do much in the U.S.; it was the phoned-in quality of the songs. Like most of this stuff, “Let Love Lead the Way” (granted, a filler track if ever there was one) was at best a bad example of massage-spa background patter; “Get Down With Me” couldn’t decide whether it wanted to nick TLC or Missy Elliott, and so on. Frankly, the only thing that didn’t outright suck was the girl-power ballad “Goodbye,” which actually did fit as a final righteous statement. C-

Retro Playlist

If you haven’t yet cracked in half over this endless quarantine, one might guess that you may have discovered meditation and/or yoga. Those things do help soothe the soul, believe it or not, despite the fact that so many people suggest them.

I should know, if you’ll pardon. I became a certified Kripalu yoga instructor 15 years ago, after spending a month at the practice’s ashram, which resembles a suburban grade school more than it does any sort of ancient spiritual retreat. Regardless, this led to my becoming co-owner of the now-defunct Manchester Yoga Center, which was located over what was then the India Palace (now Royal India) restaurant on South Willow Street in Manchvegas. Strategic partnering, you see.

Music, of course, is a big part of the yoga experience. When you’re trying to rid your body and brain of toxins, it helps to play music that’s cleansing. Just to get this part out of the way, everyone automatically thinks of Irish multi-tracking weirdo Enya when they think of “yoga music,” and yeah, it is awesome stuff. I usually have her “Best Of” LP playing in the car around the holidays.

But honestly, Deva Premal is as good as Enya, if in a different way. I used to play her 1998 Essence album a lot in my yoga classes. Her voice is truly a marvel. Her last couple of albums kind of sucked, but that’s only proof that perfection simply isn’t attainable on this plane.

As for my personal go-to “yoga records” — which, it should be said, means “New Age Music,” of a sort — one constant has always been Anugama’s Shamanic Dream, which works as yoga-class ambiance and meditative trance-inducement. It’s a crazy-long tune made of one simple, gentle, super-cool tabla/synth pattern over which a faraway voice chants “So be it.” Really immersive stuff.

My most guilty New Age pleasure, though, is the 1996 Christopher Franke album The Celestine Prophecy. The story goes that Franke, of the early ambient band Tangerine Dream, was inspired to pay homage to James Redfield’s 1993 novel of the same name. Though a bit mixed, the results do include a tune titled “The Mission of Father Sanchez,” a song that is, to this day, the prettiest, most spiritually empowering thing I’ve ever heard. The ultimate wedding march. I can’t make it to the final fade without being overwhelmed with joy and blubbering like a baby. It gets me every single time. If The Lion King soundtrack makes your lower lip twitch, this tune might just knock you flat.

(Please don’t ever use it on me at a party. I do have a certain amount of Grinch cred to maintain.)


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Hey, everyone, guess what happens on Oct. 16? Yep, that’s right, all the new albums get released, because it is a Friday! Let’s start the festivities with this hipster dude over here, Kevin Morby, a Texas native who moved to Brooklyn because he thought it would be awesome, and he’d live this totally neat-o Singin’ in the Rain life, or something like that, I honestly don’t know what this stupid Wikipedia article is even trying to say. But whatever, he was in a band called The Babies with Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls, and — look at that, I’ve lost ya, haven’t I. Come back, man, I agree with you, seriously, like, who cares about bands who sacrificed nice suburban lives just to rack up 85 YouTube listens or whatnot, and so I will end the boring history lesson and go have a listen to whatever single is on tap from Morby’s upcoming new album Sundowner! I don’t know anything about this guy, but I swear on a stack of Silver Surfer No. 4 comic books that if this is melodically good but there’s really horrible singing, like every other “indie” band that doesn’t have a full band roster I’ve heard this year, I’ll — why, I’ll, well, let’s just say that you don’t want to know! OK, here’s the stupid single, “Campfire.” It’s a cross between The Cardinals and Bob Dylan, and it’s been done literally one trillion times before.

• Right, here we go, with British glam-rockers The Struts, who are releasing their third album, Strange Days! Will it be as terrible as The Darkness, or will it be technically awesome, like the old British glam rock band Sweet used to be? By the way, only ninnies call Sweet “The Sweet.” Their name is just plain “Sweet.” Why did people call them “The Sweet,” like, was there a misprint in the August 1979 issue of Hit Parader or something? I don’t care, at least this band definitely does have “The” in its name, and for that I thank them. Oh, let’s just go, the first single is the title track, and the “feat” person is none other than the guy from Take That, Robbie Williams! Wait, this isn’t glam, it’s soccer-mom music for the Ellen DeGeneres show. Come on, guys, at least do some cowbell, hah? Nope, no cowbell, no glam, just music for daydreaming about receiving a tender back massage from Bradley Cooper while dropping the kids off for a “play date,” or whatever soccer moms do, I have no idea. Barf, no glam, just over-processed piano-pop, let’s just move along here.

• Ha ha, look at the funny skinny soy-boy, who calls himself “The Wonky Angle,” on the YouTube, ranking Autechre’s albums from best to worst and gettin’ him some Likes! Is there really a difference from one album to another, when a band plays awesome glitchy IDM? Nope. The new album is called Sign, and there’s no advance, but — wait a second, why is the album cover a complete ripoff of Orbital’s Wonky, or at least the promo version? Whatever, I’ll take it, this will be awesome, don’t mind me.

• We’ll end the week with Don’t Know How But They Found Me, a band led by two of the sad emo clowns from Panic! At The Disco. The title track from their new album, Razzmataz, is — wait, is this Smirnov commercial real? Like, you can drill a hole on top of a watermelon and stick a vodka bottle upside down in the hole, attach a spigot, and you get drinkies? Uh-oh, yikes, I’m out of room, no time to talk about whatever this emo song is about.

Album Reviews 20/10/08

Tedy, Boys Don’t Cry (Sony Records)

This mononymed 28-year-old singer comes to us from Haiti by way of Montreal, where he’s most recently occupied himself with accumulating a gigantic flock of followers on TikTok and Instagram. He came out as gay on TikTok, which unleashed a tidal wave of attention from new fans, who readily took to his polite but somewhat dramatic triphop-tinged soul-pop; this EP is his major-label debut. The video for the title track isn’t a fun watch, which is the point, as he relives scenes of cruelty he’s witnessed and experienced in real life while making fine use of his Keith Sweat-ish sob-singing delivery. That track isn’t something I’d really ever need to hear again, but closer tune “War” is another thing entirely, built on the same sort of epic million-drum strum und drang theatrics as Toto’s “Africa” and such. In “Stuck,” he evokes a male version of Zola Jesus, sort of pining/not-pining for something that’s impossibly out of reach, the drama underscored by a chorus in which the reverb is pegged to a Himalayan level. Not wildly adventurous, but I’m in his corner, sure. A-

Body Double, Milk Fed (Zum Records)

Delightfully messy album helmed by Bay Area native Candace Lazarou, who handled singing for Pang and was more than happy to take on other roles within the structure of this five-piece (she’s a multi-instrumentalist, after all, and studied music at University of North Carolina at Asheville). For a no-wave joint, this is pretty darn near perfect, given the boombox quality of her vocal tracks and the buzzy, unwashed drone of her guitar (which tends to sound like early B-52s when she’s in jam-out mode). Her musical evolution is at a stripped-bare stage; she’s been occupied lately working out the kinks of something of a personal rebirth (she recently got off dope, which required that she delete her entire real-life-friends list and start from scratch). To state the shriekingly obvious, this isn’t presentable to anyone who can’t tolerate unprofessional-sounding stuff, but that’s why earbuds were invented. I’m pulling for her myself — she’s like a female Ozzy with no budget, fam. A+

Retro Playlist

My original angle for this week’s stream-of-barely-consciousness was inspired by a Yahoo Lifestyle article (yes, I know, how boomer of me, but really, there are days I just cannot deal with Google’s newsfeed and its bottomless pit of TikTok-ers of the Week, and since when did memes with short shelf-lives warrant actual news articles?). Headlined “The Pandemic Has Changed When, Where and How We Listen to Music: ‘A Break From Reality’,” the article had no meat whatsoever: “We’re not commuting much, if at all, so we don’t crank music in our cars/earbuds”; “Country music is family-friendly, so it’s become a staple in homes, because most people of all ages can deal with it”; “people are listening to music from their past, for comfort.” And so on.

Talk about paper-thin clickbait. I’ve talked about most of that stuff before in these pages, not that I plan on trolling myself into trying to write a piece about country music. In the meantime, I predicted a few months ago that some music trends “that may have been bubbling below the surface” would be “fast-tracked,” which seems to be happening, or something, the author didn’t really seem to know what he was babbling about, and he had statistics that made his point even murkier.

I do know that, as I’ve said, everything that came out Before Covid seems better. There’s no legitimacy to that nonsense, of course; if I like a record, I like it. In July 2013 I slobbered all over The Icarus Line’s Slave Vows, saying stuff like it made “Warlocks look like the accounting team at Best Buy.” The whole record is a blast, incorporating sounds from The Doors, INXS, Boris and White Stripes, and I gave them extra credit for tagging the Strokes’ tour bus with graffiti. Even if it had hit my radar last week, I’d still push that record. Pitchfork even liked it, which was of course a frontal assault to my sensibilities.

Timelessness is the key to any album, is what I’m saying, regardless of plague conditions, even if it’s diva-pop. In 2009 Joss Stone graced the world with Colour Me Free. I loved its “oldfangled ’60s girl-group” vibe and otherworldly hooks, including the one on the Nas-guested “Governmentalist.” I’d still take her over Ariana Grande any day of the week.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Oct. 9 is our next happy general-album-release date, here in this weird, disposable month that only has two holidays, Halloween and my birthday. To celebrate the former, I should probably start with the new Brothers Osborne album, Skeletons, because, you know, skeletons. Do I have any clue as to who these Brothers Osborne are? No, I do not, but only a country band would call itself a “Brothers” anything, so I’m assuming this will be country music, and the titular “skeletons” actually — and here comes the difficult “artsy” part — refer to past loves that went bad when the brothers tried serial monogamy on for size and came to find out that their “womenfolk” didn’t take too kindly to having their men driving off in their matching Chevy Silverados to drink multiple cases of lousy American lager beer and get into fights with bear-wrestling auto mechanics and cheat on their girlfriends with belly-shirted bartenders named Tammy and Patty. Or maybe not, I don’t know, I’ll just stop this tangent right now and go see for myself what these Whatever Brothers are about. Yep, there they are, ha ha, one of the guys has a ZZ Top beard, and they have cowboy hats. They’re into honky-tonk “outlaw” country, a genre that should have gone extinct during the reign of King Ramses II of Egypt. They’re from Maryland, and they got their big show-biz break after appearing on The Voice. So I nailed it, as you just saw, but did I get it right about the skeletons? Let’s go listen to the title track and find out! Yup, I came to the right place, the YouTube has a pickup truck commercial that I can skip through if I can stand the suspense for 10 seconds, and there we go, the beat is awesome and muddy and gross, like Charlie Daniels with an extra shot of whiskey. But yeah, fam, I had it wrong, the lyrics are about how this dude is 100 percent sure his girlfriend is cheatin’ on him, like there are skeletons in her closet! How do these people even dream up this stuff, I ask you.

• Look over there, guys, it’s U.K. grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal, with E3 AF, his seventh album! The single, “L.L.L.L.” features some other cockney rapper named Chip. The beat revolves around hearing-test drone, pedestrian trap, and a throwaway Super Mario ditty, but you don’t care about any of that silly “music” stuff, you want to know about the video, like what kind of person would be flying around on a jet-ski in the duck pond of some quiet British estate. Dizzee, that’s who!

• Sometimes I gravitate to albums that don’t interest me at all. Mostly it’s an attempt to broaden my horizons a little, or maybe learn to like humans more, or something. And that’s why I’m going to be talking about Touché Amoré’s new one, Lament, next. Except, surprise, this isn’t some stupid hipster band singing off-key and irritating me to no end, it’s a post-hardcore/screamo encore troupe from Los Angeles! Do you like the word “troupe”? I do — it’s French-ish! The single, “Limelight,” is cool-ish; the singer sounds like a 17-year-old Tom Waits for 30 seconds while hollering over a U2-meets-Cowboy Junkies guitar part, then it gets (spoiler alert) loud, and kind of Helmet-like. I pronounce it “OK.”

• To wrap up the week, we have North Carolina’s Travis Stewart, better known as Machinedrum, with his new one, A View of U. One of the tunes, “Ur2yung,” alternates between trippy, progressive IDM and big-beat techno. Awesome and boring simultaneously.

Album Reviews 20/10/01

U96 with Wolfgang Flür, Transhuman (Radikal Records)

The march of 1980s Nintendo-techno continues, this time with a worthy-enough pair-up between former Kraftwerk percussionist Flür and whatever’s left of U96, a project originally helmed by Alex Christensen, who’s no longer part of it. Just to be a jerk, I talked about the band Sparks a few weeks ago, and these tunes are as interchangeable with that band’s material as any other krautrock venture’s; if you’re captivated by dated eight-bit material, this is as good as any I suppose. “Planet In Fever” does have some soaring vastness to it, which counts for something; despite its obvious subject matter it’s upbeat in its way, but keep in mind that Euro-pop doesn’t seem to have a malevolent bone in its body. The title track is more to the krautrock point, featuring a beat that sounds like a free add-on that’s available to YouTubers who “just need some background music.” And so on and so forth. C+

Lo Tom, LP2 (self-released)

Follow-up to the 2017 debut album from this band, a ragtag indie-rock quartet composed of old friends who’ve played in joint and separate projects over the past 20 years, including David Bazan from the rather Pearl Jam-ish Pedro The Lion. The aforementioned debut had a rule in force that demanded minimal overdubs, which didn’t negatively affect the tuneage and got the band a lot of love from everybody who counts (Pitchfork, NPR, Stereogum, etc.). Their little one-off was so successful that this time they went with multiple overlays, resulting in a wall of Foo Fighters sound that and here’s the rub doesn’t actually do a whole lot for the songs, which aren’t outstanding to begin with. See, like I said, Bazan has an Eddie Vedder vocal range, but none of the frazzle-haired theatricality of Vedder’s delivery; the end result is some pretty bloody disposable TGI Fridays background tough-fluff with pricey-sounding production. Meh. B

Retro Playlist

Thanks to Covid, until further notice, our populace is mostly stuck doing nothing more soul-enriching than watching TV, with the occasional danger-fraught safari into a department store or getting takeout. I’m at the point where the only thing I can consistently tolerate is the Turner Classic Movies channel, where I immerse myself in a 1930s-to-1960s fantasy land where half the actors’ lines would have gotten them fired by today’s “cancel culture” standards.

My mellow got harshed completely during Labor Day weekend, when the station (do we call them “stations” anymore?) went on a retro-concert-footage tangent. Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, the drunken mess that was Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same, some Elvis Presley thing, all of it. For many people, these films stand as frozen-in-time moments that mark the point at which their personal investigations into pop music no, culture itself came to an abrupt close. I know a guy who seems to think it’s still 1983; his Facebook oeuvre is awash in pictures of and factoids about The Who, a band I never really liked.

But watching The Kids Are Alright, the Who documentary (I used to have the album, way back), I remembered that I still have a special place in my heart for the band’s guitarist, Pete Townshend. He honestly didn’t like fans of pop music and wrote them off as suckers for buying the band’s records. Some of that honesty would go down really nicely these days, with deep-pocketed hipster bands releasing albums of remarkably low quality, apparently just because they’ve got the money to do it. Imagine if Pavement came out saying the same thing. They’d be instantly canceled.

Hands down, the best part of my long weekend bingeing TCM’s rockumentary vault was finally watching the early punk-rock doc The Decline of Western Civilization all the way through for the first-ever time. I do tend to name-check Black Flag a lot in this space, because their TV Party album was a revelation to Young Me, so this is just a public Post-It note to myself to remember to mention Circle Jerks when I’m trying to say that such-and-so-band is genuinely punk. The L.A. band is still around, which is surprising, given that they appeared to be so close to doom in the film. Frontman Keith Morris spends half the segment insulting the audience and the other half getting into fistfights with them.

Someday, maybe, one of the guys in Kaiser Chiefs will kick a front-row audience member in the head. At that point, I’ll have hope for this generation’s music, but not until then.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Onward to October, and the next general CD-release Friday date, Oct. 2! Now that it’s October, you know that it’s Christmas, when people get together for food fights over politics, watch out for that Tupperware thingie of mashed potatoes flying at your head, Uncle Steve, ha ha! Yup, there’s nothing like the holidays, which always start off with nonsense albums from famous people who are old and can’t remember the words to their own songs, so it’s safest to make albums of Christmas carols and festive Hanukkah dreidel ditties and block-rockin’ Kwanzaa mega-hits from Jacquie Godden. Yay awesome, one of my favorite holidays songs is — wait a gosh-dang minute, it’s Halloween, not Christmas, what’s going on here! Why is there a Dolly Parton album coming out on Oct. 2 called A Holly Dolly Christmas, and not an album called Dolly Sings The Monster Mash Featuring Former Members Of Twisted Sister? Stuff like this makes me cynical, like I almost believe that Dolly has declared a War Against Halloween, but then I remember that she doesn’t care about my feelings, and she wants her money, so get moving, hipsters, go buy this happy festive album for your yearly uncomfortable hour-long sleigh ride to Uncle Steve’s off-the-grid hunting cabin way up north, just charge your iPhone on the car battery in case a moose knocks out the electrical grid again this year. Oh, what treasures will we find on this wonderful holiday Dolly album? Well, the YouTube hath pointed me to a single, “Mary Did You Know,” an acoustic guitar ballad wherein Dolly sings about the manger and whatnot, and of course whenever she sings the word “child” she does it in a loud harsh loving whisper, because it is a special word, so sayeth the Hallmark Channel.

• Ho ho ho, can you even believe it, fam, it’s a brand new album from the human meme known as “Irony Buddha,” whom your grandfather refers to as William Shatner! This new album is titled The Blues, which leads me to believe that Mr. Buddha is laser-focused on making a comedy album where he speak-sings a bunch of old blues tunes in his trademark Captain Kirk language, ha ha, isn’t it always so hilarious the first and only time you listen to a new William Shatner song, but if you buy this album, at least you could listen to it more than once, which is comforting in its way I suppose, the fact that you once had $12 to waste on something before everyone gets laid off and we just call this whole thing a former civilization and start all over in caves. The first single is called “Let’s Work Together,” a collaboration with Canned Heat. What’s that? OK, Canned Heat was a band, back when there were bands, and William Shatner was learning to sing, but he got sick of it and quit singing, so now he has an album.

• Irritating New Yorker Mariah Carey will release her newest LP, The Rarities, in a day or so. As I suspected, most of these “rarities” are just remixes of her old hits from the 1920s or whatever, like a new version of “Fantasy,” but there is also a sad bling-pop ballad with Lauryn Hill, called “Save The Day.” It’s weak.

• To close out this week, it’s famous Pink Floyd man Roger Waters, with his new Blu-Ray/DVD thingamajig, Us + Them. It’s concert footage, so if you love all those 50-year-old “Floyd” songs, you’ll love it. I’ll be spending my money instead on canned goods.

Album Reviews 20/09/24

Clan of Xymox, Spider on the Wall (Metropolis Records)

This Dutch goth-rock outfit, originally comprising three songwriters, is nowadays down to one prime mover, Ronny Moorings, who’s been at the helm since, well, forever now, the early 1990s. After some success on the 4AD and Polydor labels, including a whopping one hit single, the recipe still remains an obvious, if wonderfully chosen, one, namely a combination of ’80s-pop and darkwave. To wit: this album’s opener “She” re-imagines Skinny Puppy’s hard grinding “Assimilate” as an early Cure single, which pretty much sums up the aforementioned styles at work here, but, of course, if you’re a Gen Xer who grew up on a strict diet of New Wave, you might think the tune is the single most innovative joint you’ve ever heard. I mean, I don’t hate this stuff at all; Moorings has a fetish for the ’80s, and that, coupled with his melodically genial approach, makes for some highly listenable, slightly-edgy-but-not-really stuff, mostly echoing the soundtrack from the first Fright Night. No, seriously, it’s a 40something’s dream, trust me. A

The White Swan, Nocturnal Transmission (Self-released)

Well, this is delightful, a sludge-metal thingie with female vocals. With their super-slow-mo bliss-drone, Sunn(((O))) forged a path for doom bands (don’t let’s get pedantic, I realize those guys aren’t trying to be Black Sabbath, whatever) to try new things, and this one totally works, more in the vein of a sort of Kyuss-vs.-Boris deal, with Kittie’s Mercedes Lander covering drums and vocals. Thankfully, Lander isn’t trying to caterwaul her way into metal history; her singing here is no-nonsense, melodic and powerful, more than fitting for the swampy, epic quicksand going on underneath — think a handful of Tyrannosaurs fighting as they sink into a tar pit. For doom-heads, you’d want to start with the title track of this EP, as eventually Shane Jeffers drops a Nile-reminiscent guitar solo onto your heads, proving that the band is capable of a lot more than blasting listeners with fast-acting noise-goop. No, this is definitely a band band, and hopefully they continue with this project. A

Retro Playlist

More and more every day, it seems that anything that came from The Time Before The Coronavirus ignites nostalgic passion in our hearts. I already loved old stuff to begin with, even before all this. The over-dried, mummified smell of estate sale wares always makes me hesitate to unload the car after we come back with a haul; I want the scent to sink into the upholstery. On this page I’ve chatted plenty about really old music, too, which is still my go-to choice in the car. The oldest CD I have is some marching music from the 1910s; the album’s buried somewhere in these catacombs, and I can’t remember who the bandleader was, but I do know he played the cornet, a sturdy, trumpet-like brass instrument that was big in those days.

I’ve name-checked Lead Belly plenty of times here, the early 1900s Black singer from whom Led Zeppelin pilfered plenty of material, including my favorite Zep song, “Gallows Pole.” But Zep wasn’t the only crazily famous band to have drawn inspiration from the blues legend; George Harrison once said “No Lead Belly, no Beatles.” A two-CD set of his old recordings, Masterworks Volumes 1 & 2, can be had on Amazon for 17 bucks.

Today there are plenty of artists working to revive older sounds, like Carolina Chocolate Drops nationally, and, to some extent of scope, Bitter Pill locally. Nine years ago this past week, I told you about Red Heart the Ticker, the husband-and-wife team of Tyler Gibbons and Robin MacArthur, who received a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to record an album called Your Name in Secret I Would Write, meant to preserve a collection of obscure New England folk songs made of “broke-down waltzes and Stephen Foster-esque wordplay” that would have become extinct forever if MacArthur’s grandmother hadn’t passed them along to her while on her deathbed.

Yeah, gimme the oldies any day.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Some long-overdue good news: the next general CD-release Friday date is Sept. 25, and in honor of this horrible, dreadful, worst-year-ever being three-fourths over, I will be as cool as I possibly can to the new Will Butler album, Generations, which will street on this glorious Friday. Will is the brother of Win Butler, the human responsible for much of what Arcade Fire has done to us all, with their hayloft-indie music records, and the video for Will’s new single, “Surrender,” is OK for what it is, some borderline Baptist-choir singalong-ing by two nice hipster ladies over harmless, kid-safe Aughts-rock molded to the same kind of beat as Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” which used to play every single time I went into Toys R Us to try to find a cool Batmobile for my desk. The song has that Arcade Fire feel, and the video is OK, except some of them are wearing ski caps in warm weather. What’s with the ski caps in warm weather, millennials? Please explain, so that my next rage comic will have some context.

• Indie-folk anomaly Sufjan Stevens fooled everybody once with his “50 States Project,” an idea that was supposed to be a set of albums focused on all 50 states but that turned into only two states, Michigan and Illinois. Remember that one, and how he said it was a promotional gimmick? I didn’t honestly care myself, considering that no one would have bought an album called South Dakota anyway, so whatever. His new full-length, The Ascension, will be out in a day or so, featuring the 12-minute song “America,” which I don’t like at all, like, it sounds like an old reject acid-trip song from 10 CC that didn’t make it onto one of their albums: slow, trippy psychedelica with backward-masked synth-noise and one part that sounds like slow math-rock. I don’t get it, which, as always, means that it’s possible you’ll think it’s the most awesome song ever, but I shall not judge.

• As everyone know, the coolest thing ever to have come out of Sacramento, California, is the alternative metal band Deftones, whose most famous song, the Nine Inch Nails-like “Change (In the House of Flies),” was heard on such movie soundtracks as Little Nicky and Queen of the Damned. The band’s new album, Ohms, their ninth, is on the way, led by the title track, released as a single a couple of weeks ago. It is, of course, awesome, a cross between Sabbath, High On Fire and Soundgarden, and — what, you’re still here? Why are you not off listening to this awesome song?

• To close things out we have even more awesomeness, specifically Public Enemy’s 15th album, What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down. The single is “State Of The Union (STFU),” a song powered by one of their relentlessly pounding signature beats. It is so awesome you will literally crack in half if you’re not worthy, so I advise you to please be worthy.

Album Reviews 20/09/17

Allegra Levy, Lose My Number: Allegra Levy Sings John McNeil (SteepleChase Productions ApS)

You may have noticed that not a lot of jazz vocalists’ albums make it into this space, or maybe not, but I’ll tell you that the main reason for it is that I’ve heard too many that sound too academic-fixated. Luckily this isn’t like that at all, nor is it the usual Great American Songbook suspects; it’s actually a rather daring collaborative project between rising New York City vocalist Levy and trumpet player McNeil, who wrote and originally recorded this set of songs as instrumentals at various times between the 1980s and the early Aughts. Since they weren’t written with vocals in mind, Levy’s task was to add lyrics and scatting and rearrange things a bit, a tall order indeed, but because the material is lighthearted, fluffy ballroom jazz in the first place, the result is more than listenable: her scatting is never nerve-jangling, and McNeil’s modal tradeoffs with acoustic pianist Carmen Staaf are pretty stellar. High-class stuff. A

VAR, The Never​-​Ending Year (Spartan Records)

If you want to see me run for the hills from a record, make sure it lists Sigur Ros as a “RIYL” comparison. But since I’m at the Gandalf The Grey stage of my music-critic life, when the smallest pleasant surprises can make my day, this was a nice departure. I assume the Sigur Ros name-check is PR shorthand mostly appointed by some need to rope in hipsters who’ll bite on any band that’s from Iceland (which this foursome is), but it wasn’t necessary (matter of fact, the fact they’re from Iceland almost drove me away, for whatever that matters). No, this is a rumbling, emotive typhoon of shoegaze-math, to slap a genre on it; imagine if Silkworm didn’t suck at their instruments, had a singer who could karaoke 1970s Bread, had a cool drummer with a chainless snare, and whose sole mission was to slow-emo a crowd into rapt stillness. That’s this, and it’s uniquely good. A

Retro Playlist

Now that Covid seems to have moved in for good, many of us are spending way too much time on Facebook, Instagram, whatever your poison. I was on Twitter a lot and got quite addicted, then had to stop for a lot of reasons, but now I’m back on it, as well as Facebook. With Facebook, I’m mostly there just to support the friends who seem to need a good laugh or a pat on the back, which seems to be everybody. This thing has taken its toll on people’s sanity, it really has.

Yesterday, someone posted a Facebook thingie about “What Would Your Entrance Song Be?” I immediately said mine would be Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life,” which for some reason was the national anthem of Toys R Us before they went under. I was lying of course; if I ever wind up talking about my book on Bill Maher’s show, I’m thinking I’d want to walk in with Black Sabbath’s “Trashed” playing. But regardless, it got me thinking about ultimate coolness, and can we talk here, no one can out-cool Iggy. No one. He was as punk as a human can get. During his live shows, the guy used to dive onto broken glass. I talked about his appearance on the song “Punkrocker” 14 years ago when I reviewed the TeddybearsSoft Machine album, a record that single-handedly saved the Aughts from being the worst decade of music ever. I mean, I love that album.

Until one of my friends mentioned it yesterday on the Facebook thread, I’d totally forgotten about Iggy’s collaboration with Underworld on the 2018 EP Teatime Dub Encounters, which I mentioned in one of the Playlist pieces. It’s no “Punkrocker,” but the beat to that record’s “Bells & Circles” is so filthy you need a rubber ducky bath after listening to it, and all the while you have Iggy free-associating about smoking butts on a plane while trying to get a date with a girl. I mean, never mind Black Lips being rad, it’s simply too late to be as awesome as Iggy, because his world is just plain gone.

Now, no discussion on ultimate badassness would be complete without mentioning GG Allin, New Hampshire’s dirty little secret during the punk years. None of his song or album titles can be printed here, but he was beyond Iggy, into the realm of — oh, just trust me. If you have Showtime, you should check out the 2017 documentary The Allins, about his life and legacy. Actually, you shouldn’t. His mom, who died last year in Franconia, was a nice lady, let’s just leave it at that.

A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Sure, why not, let’s see if the new CD releases of Sept. 18 can shake us out of our doldrums — it couldn’t hurt! I mean, at the very least, talking about new albums will make us feel more connected, as we will at least enjoy the schadenfreude (the German word for “sucks to be them, and I like it”) that comes from knowing that even rich rock stars and whatnot are having to deal with the misery of the ‘rona, and they have to eat their bowls of ultra-rare coelacanth chowder not in the company of hottt groupies but instead with the captured Pizza Hut delivery guys they keep in cages, for company. I’m almost glad I’m not a rich celebrity, except just forget it, I’m totally lying. Anyway, where were we, you people really need to stay focused, even though we are all lonely, miserable and insane — ah, yes, it’s a new album from Yusuf, who used to be known as Cat Stevens, back when all shipping in the United States was done by trains and all commerce was handled by Gringotts goblins with quill pens and uncomfortable wooden chairs. Our boy Yusuf is apparently completely out of ideas, as this new album, Tea for the Tillerman², is a “reimagining” of the 1970 album of the basically same name, but without the 2. Of course, he’s “72 years old” (that’s according to Wiki, meaning he’s probably 90, but whatever), so — oh, who cares, let’s just get this over with, the title track sounds just like the old 1970 version, droopy piano, some gospel choir, blah blah blah, “reimagining” indeed, may I go now?
• When last we left San Francisco garage-punks Thee Oh Sees, they’d changed their name to OSees, so hey, copy guy, make sure “Osees” is in bold and “Thee Oh Sees” isn’t, otherwise you will commit rock ’n’ roll heresy and we’ll all have to run for our lives. It’s not the first time they’ve made a slight change to their name, which may be the stupidest move I’ve ever seen from a band that’s trying to sell albums, but I have no control over these people, I really don’t, so try to keep up, or just skip this part, it’s all good. The forthcoming new album from these dummies is Proteen Threat, and the single is called “Dreary Nonsense.” (Disclaimer: I didn’t tell them to use that title, they did it on their own, in a display of rare honesty.) No, wait, calm down, this sounds like early Wire, spazzy, dissonant, artsy and crazily punky. Why is this band being awesome? Stop it this instant!
• Whatever, here’s that New York City band, Cults, again, with a new album called Host! They are on Sony Records in the U.S., and Lily Allen’s personal imprint elsewhere (Note for beginners: That does not automatically make them hip). “Trials,” their new single, has a slow, sexytime beat, with the usual bee-stung singing from whatsername. It’s OK, if a bit uneventful.
• Lastly, let’s talk about Canadian analog-drone lady Sarah Davachi and her new album, Cantus Descant. I don’t usually like drone, and that should wrap things up here; the leadoff single, “Stations II,” is slow and gloomy and weird, like a funeral march for a well-respected Martian accountant or something. Yup, yes, that’ll wrap it up

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