Album Review: The Switch by Body/Head


Album: The Switch
ArtistBody/Head
Release Date: July 13, 2018

Thoughts:

Kim Gordon (of Sonic Youth fame) and Bill Nace recorded five extended tracks of crunch, feedback-looped guitar solos with limited vocals. The tracks are layered and mesemerizing as they slowly build and change. If you’d like some discordant, atmospheric music as the background to catching up on reading the news, you could do no better.

Rating: ****

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Album Review: All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do by Milk Carton Kids


AlbumAll the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do 
Artist: Milk Carton Kids
Release Date: June 29, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Just Look at Us Now
  • Mourning in America
  • One More for the Road
  • Big Time
  • I’ve Been Loving You

Thoughts:

The folk duo of  Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel – tight harmonies, introspective lyrics, and understated instrumentation.  This is the first album recorded with a backing band, but nevertheless the instruments are restrained, adding resonant bass notes, thumping bass drums, and country twang only to support and emphasize the vocals.  Of course, the instrumental performances should not be overlooked, and the 10 minute long “One More for the Road” is highlighted by solos that are not at all indulgent.  While much of the album is inward-looking as you’d expect from contemplative folkies, “Mourning in America” is a standout political track.  I don’t listen to folk music nearly as often as I did about 15-20 years ago, but this is a standout album.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington


AlbumHeaven and Earth
Artist: Kamasi Washington
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “Fists of Fury,” “One of One,” “The Space Travelers Lullaby,” “Vi Lua Vi Sol,” “Journey,” and “Will You Sing.”
Thoughts:

I feel like I really don’t have the knowledge and vocabulary to review jazz.  Of course you could probably argue that for my rock and pop reviews too.  But the new album by the tenor saxophonist, bandleader, and composer from Los Angeles, Kamasi Washington, seems a significant addition to the jazz ouevre.  Washington and co record epic tracks of epic length in two parts of an hour each, with the sound veering from cinematic scores to psychedelic rock to funk to symphonic fantasia.

Rating: ****

Related Post: Album Review: Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington 

Album Review: so sad so sexy by Lykke Li


Albumso sad so sexy
ArtistLykke Li
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • two nights
  • jaguars in the air
  • so sad so sexy
  • utopia

Thoughts:

The album title sums it up perfectly as Swedish singer-songwriter sings heartbreaking tunes of romantic entanglings that ultimately end in failure. Stylistically, Li has shifted from indie rock and dream pop to contemporary R&B and electronic dance music.  It’s not a shift that I think works for her, as the music doesn’t sound bad, but it loses Li’s unique style for something that sounds like a lot of other music out there today. I’m thinking that this album will be recognized more as the transition to whatever Li does next than for itself.

Rating: **1/2

Album Review: Pink is the Colour of Unconditional Love by Gabriella Cohen


AlbumPink is the Color of Unconditional Love
ArtistGabriella Cohen
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Music Machine
  • Baby
  • Miserable Baby

Thoughts:

Doo wop harmonies, psychedelic twangs, and long guitar solos are all part of the genre-bending sound of this Australian youngster’s sophomore album.  A good album that should appeal to fans of music of many eras.

Rating: ***

 

Album Review: The Future and the Past by Natalie Pras


AlbumThe Future and the Past
Artist: Natalie Prass
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hot for the Mountain
  • Sisters

Thoughts:

This is the second album from Richmond, VA singer-songwriter Prass.  I was drawn to this album by the anthemic “Sisters” which will certainly make my end of year favorite songs list.  But the rest of the album is meh, a collection of downtempo tracks in a smooth R&B style.  That is not to deny it is a technically proficient recording with lyrics focused on protest and solidarity in the age of Trump, but it’s just not a style that resonates with me.

Rating: **

Album Review: Tracyanne & Danny


Album: Tracyanne & Danny
ArtistTracyanne & Danny
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts
  • Jacqueline
  • O’Keefe

Thoughts:

This duo features Tracyanne Campbell, formerly of the Scottish band Camera Obscura whose album Let’s Get Out of This Country was on my list of favorite albums of all time.  Her partner is Danny Coughlan, an English singer-songwriter from England, of whom I have no prior knowledge.  The sound of the album reminds me of 60s pop, not necessarily what the nostalgia industry categorizes as “60s music,” but the type of pop that was popular with older listeners in the period. Nevertheless, there’s a a lot of variety from folk to lounge music to jazzy to  the lushly orchestrated. The album on the whole is beautiful but melancholy, as to be expected since it is Campbell’s first album since the death of friend and bandmate Carey Lander in 2015.

Rating: ***

Related Post: Concert Review: Camera Obscura

Album Review: Nightstand by Tancred


Album: Nightstand
Artist: Tancred
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Queen of New York
  • Something Else
  • Underwear
  • Reviews

Thoughts:

This album from Tancred, the stage name for a project of Maine’s own Jess Abbott, is a collection of 90s style power pop, somewhere in-between Letters to Cleo and The Breeders.  The lyrics are confessional and intimate.  Abbott alternates rockers with quieter, acoustic tunes.  I prefer the former, but really there’s something for everyone here.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Medicaid Fraud Dogg by Parliament


Album: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
Artist: Parliament
Release Date: May 22, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • 69
  • I’m Gon Make U Sick O’me (feat. Scarface)
  • Antisocial Media
  • No Mos
  • Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  • Insurance Man

Thoughts:

Yes, Parliament has released their 10th studio album, and first in 38 years. But can you teach an old, uh, dogg new tricks? George Clinton and company (a mix of long-time funk veterans and contemporary r&b and hip-hop artists) have a lot to say in a 23-track album that’s almost 2 hours long and focuses thematically on the corruption of the pharmaceutical industry (in Clinton’s weird way).  Hip-hop artists have been sampling from P-Funk for decades so this album returns the favor by blending hip-hop sounds seamlessly into the Parliament sound. There’s probably too much content to declare this a great album, but beggars can’t be choosers, and after such a long wait, this overdose of funk is much better than could be expected.

Rating:

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Album Review: Hell-On by Neko Case


Album: Hell-On
Artist: Neko Case
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hell-On
  • Halls of Sarah
  • Curse Of The I-5 Corridor
  • Sleep All Summer
  • Pitch or Honey

Thoughts:

Looking through my archive I’m surprised that I’ve never reviewed a Neko Case album before as she is one of the great voices of our times, whether on her own or with the New Pornographers and side projects like case/lang/veirs.  Turns out this is Case’s first solo album in five years, and I haven’t been reviewing albums that long.  Hell-On offers what you expect from Neko Case – strong singing, heartfelt and poetic lyrics, and dynamic music that surprises and pleases.  This album also has a lot of guest artists including Beth Ditto, k.d. lang, AC Newman, Kelly Hogan, Doug Gillard, Laura Veirs, Joey Burns, Mark Lanegan, and Eric Bachmann (the last two each share vocals with Case on a pair of stunning duets).  This isn’t Case’s best album (it’s a few notches below Fox Confessor Brings the Flood and Middle Cyclone) but a merely good Neko Case album is still a wonder to behold.

Rating: ***1/2

 

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Album Review: Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts


 

Album: Wide Awake!
Artist: Parquet Courts
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Violence
  • Before the Water Gets Too High
  • Mardi Gras Beads
  • Almost Had To Start A Fight/In and Out of Patience
  • Tenderness

Thoughts:  The Parquet Courts are an indie rock band from New York City by way of Texas.  Produced by Danger Mouse, the music has a lot of elements of classic punk rock mixed with funk, psychedelia, Everley Brothers-style harmonies, dub reggae, and pub sing-a-longs.  This approach could be generic but the Parquet Courts manage to make a joyful sound that’s even danceable.  Despite the amalgam of retro sounds, the lyrics of this album are “woke” (ast the title implies) focusing on current issues, albeit not through specific references but via moods that are rooted in our times.
Rating: ****

Album Review: Kiss Yr Frenemies by Illuminati Hotties


Album: Kiss Yr Frenemies
Artist: Illuminati Hotties
Release Date: May 11, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • (You’re Better) Than Ever
  • Shape of My Hands
  • Paying off the Happiness

Thoughts:

The Los Angeles-based band lead by Sarah Tudzin plays bubblegum rock songs with an edge, a style they call tenderpunk.  Over the catchy melodies are lyrics with wit and whimsy of the woes of the twentysomething.  My favorite track, the cheerful power pop of “Paying off Happiness” is about being in constant debt.  As the young people say these days, it’s relatable.

Rating: ***

 

Album Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett


AlbumTell Me How You Really Feel
Artist: Courtney Barnett
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Hopefulessness”
  • “Charity”
  • “Need a Little Time”
  • “Nameless, Faceless”
  • “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”
  • “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence”

Thoughts:

Australian singer-songwriter Barnett’s second album contains crunching guitars and strong punk melodies over which Barnett’s world-weary voice sings quotidian lyrics of frustration and self-doubt, anger and tenderness, confrontation and ambivalence.  The 90s indie rock sound is aided by the guest appearance of Kim and Kelley Deal on “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence.” But this is not retro music, it’s fully-engaged in the cultural issues of our times, just not in an anthemic, speaking for everyone manner.  If I’d gotten around to making a best albums of 2015 list, Barnett’s debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit would’ve been a shoe-in, and Tell Me How You Really Feel builds and improves on that. I’m grateful to be alive at a time when I can hear an artist like Courtney Barnett coming into her own.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Roza Cruz by La Mecánica Popular


AlbumRoza Cruz
ArtistLa Mecánica Popular 
Release Date: April 13, 2018
Thoughts:

It’s hard to describe the music on La Mecánica Popular’s album Roza Cruz.  I think it sounds like psychedelic Latin jazz, NPR describes it as “Radical Afro-Latin Futurism,” and the band’s own website says they are a “Brooklyn-based Afro-Latin group” and that “their sound is steeped in 1970s’-era Salsa Dura, yet incorporates a heavy dose of modern gadgets – a unique blend of processed Peruvian-style guitar licks & experimental sounds, synths, and textures.”  However one describes it, the five instrumental tracks on this album are a treat for the ears.

Rating: ****

 

 

Album Review: Last Man Standing by Willie Nelson



Album: Last Man Standing
Artist: Willie Nelson
Release Date: April 27, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Last Man Standing”
  • “Don’t Tell Noah”
  • “Something You Get Through”
  • “Heaven Is Closed”
  • “I’ll Try to Do Better Next Time”

Thoughts:

At 85 years old, Willie Nelson is cognizant that many of the people he loved and worked with have died and that he doesn’t have much time left.  Nelson’s new album explores that sense of mortality with tenderness and a sense of humor.  Musically, Nelson sounds as good as ever, and the display of musical styles is a retrospective on his musical career as much as the lyrics. May we all age as gracefully as Willie Nelson.

Rating:

Album Review: Vessel by Frankie Cosmos


AlbumVessel
Artist: Frankie Cosmos
Release Date: March 30, 2018
Thoughts:

Frankie Cosmos – the stage name of Greta Kline (a perfectly fine popstar name but I suppose she’s trying to distance herself from her famous parents, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) – sings in a sweet voice over power pop arrangements, sounding kind of like Kimya Dawson crossed with 90s bands like Velocity Girl and Belly.  The songs are short and the 18 tracks combined total just over 30 minutes so the album feels over before it really gets started.  The music is pleasant but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Maybe I’ve just gotten too old to relate?

Rating: **

Album Review: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe


 

Album: Dirty Computer
ArtistJanelle Monáe
Release Date: April 28, 2018
Favorite Tracks: It would be easier to list my least favorite tracks, but really there are no duds on this album.

Thoughts:

It’s hard to believe that this is only Janelle Monáe’s third studio album as she has made such a huge contribution to musical pop culture in the past decade.  Monáe’s film work put this album on the back burner, but it was worth the wait.  This is the first album where Monáe steps out from behind her Cindi Mayweather character, and thus it is the personal music she’s released.  Similarly, stepping out of the metaphors of the Metropolis narrative, Monáe directly addresses political topics of the day while celebrating women,  Blackness, sexuality, gender identity and being American (““It’s gonna be my America before it’s all over”).

Monáe picks up the mantle from David Bowie and Prince as the icon of redefining norms for gender identity and sexuality.  In fact, Prince worked with Monáe on defining the sound of the music early on and it shows.  Make no mistake though, this is Monáe’s album and guest artists from Grimes to Brian Wilson to Zoe Kravitz to Stevie Wonder move fluidly to her beat. This is the first great album of 2018, and the song “Americans” should be the song of the summer.

If you want to read more of my dumb thoughts on Monáe’s earlier body of work, check out my Music Discoveries post.  For a more thoughtful career evaluation, read this article by Charles Pulliam-Moore.

Rating: *****

 

Album Review: The Deconstruction by Eels


AlbumThe Deconstruction
Artist: Eels
Release Date: April 6, 2018
Favorite Tracks: “The Deconstruction” and “Bone Dry”
Thoughts:

I’ve liked Eels (a one-man band of Mark Oliver Everett) for some time going back to 1996’s “Novocaine for the Soul.” There’s something about lush orchestration behind a gravelly voice singing songs of self-incriminating introspection. The thing is, what worked in 1996 doesn’t work for 2018.  While Everett attempts some more upbeat music and optimistic lyrics, the overall sound hasn’t changed much, and he’d be better off releasing a greatest hits compilation.  That said, the first two tracks, “The Deconstruction” and “Bone Dry,” are pretty spectacular.  If only Eels released a single instead, because the rest of the album is meh.

Rating: **

Album Review: I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists


AlbumI’ll Be Your Girl
Artist: The Decemberists
Release Date: March 16, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Once In My Life
  • Severed
  • Everything is Awful

Thoughts:

Of the two albums by bands I really like released this week, I didn’t expect to like The Decemberists more than Yo La Tengo, but I do.  Sometimes a band goes for a new sound, and in this case The Decemberists go for several sounds from 80s synthpop to a Laurel Canyon, but overall there’s a much more electric sizzle compared with the acoustic folk sound of previous albums.  Like any album of 2018, the lyrics have more of a political bent as well.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: All Nerve by The Breeders


AlbumAll Nerve
Artist:The Breeders
Release Date: March 2, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Nervous Mary
  • Spacewoman
  • Dawn: Making an Effort

Thoughts:

The Breeders’ Last Splash is a masterpiece of 1990s rock music.  All Nerve is the first album with the same personnel that made Last Splash, and sounds very much like a follow-up if you ignore the 25 years and 2 albums with different lineups in the interim.  I find the album hit or miss, but The Breeders definitely have an energy and talent on display that show they’re still a vital band, especially compared with the blah Pixies album released a few years back.

Rating: ***