Album Review: Put the Shine On by CocoRosie


Album: Put the Shine On
Artist: CocoRosie
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Label: Marathon Artists
Favorite Tracks:

  • High Road
  • Restless
  • Lamb and the Wolf
  • Slow Down Sun Down
  • Ruby Red

Thoughts:

Sisters Bianca “Coco” Casady and Sierra “Rosie” Casady have been creating weird and eclectic music for nearly twenty years.  Their style is basically Americana with electronic instruments and has been classified as New Weird America. This is their first album in five years.  I find it hit or miss, or maybe it’s just that CocoRosie is better in small doses. Listening to the entire album all the way through and their weirdness starts to feel like an act.  I particularly don’t like it much when the Casady sisters rap, but I do like their punk rock vocals.  Nevertheless there are some good moments on this album when they achieve their peak fun and creativity.

Rating: ***

 

Album Review: Temple by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down


Album: Temple
Artist: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Release Date: May 15, 2020
Label: Ribbon Music
Favorite Tracks:

  • Temple
  • Phenom
  • Pure Cinema
  • How Could I
  • I’ve Got Something

Thoughts:

I’m a long-time fan of the work of fellow William & Mary alum Thao Nguyen, so I was excited when Thao & The Get Down Stay Down released their newest album in May.  Doubly so when I saw that Thao Nguyen and her many collaborators put together the first great pandemic music video, filmed on Zoom, for the lead single “Phenom.”

Lyrically, the album explores Nguyen’s recently outed queer identity and reconciles it with her Vietnamese-American heritage.  Musically, the songs sound different from the band’s earlier works. The sound draws on a variety of influences from blues rock to 80s post-punk to jazz to indie pop with some tracks incorporating hip-hop elements.  It’s creative and original, and a little bit quirky but also very catchy. It’s a great grab bag that rewards multiple listens.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: RTJ4 by Run the Jewels


Album: RTJ4
Artist: Run the Jewels
Release Date: June 3, 2020
Label: Jewel Runners | BMG
Favorite Tracks:

  • ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier)
  • walking in the snow
  • JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams and Zach de la Rocha)
  • a few words for the firing squad (radiation)

Thoughts:

This album hits like a ton of bricks.  Killer Mike and El-P rap on a variety of issues including police brutality, mass incarceration, capitalism, the legacy of slavery, and the school-to-prison pipeline. These tracks seem so relevant to the current Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police protests that they may have been written a couple of weeks ago.  But of course, these issues have deep roots. Lest you think this album is all social consciousness, Run the Jewels find room for some party tracks, as well. The album reflects the confidence Run the Jewels have built up over four albums, as well as the personal friendship of El-P and Killer Mike.

Rating: ****

 

Album Review: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple


Album: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Artist: Fiona Apple
Release Date: April 17, 2020
Label: Epic
Favorite Tracks:

  • Shameika
  • Under the Table
  • Relay
  • Rack of His
  • Cosmonauts
  • For Her

Thoughts:

I remember Fiona Apple as the tiny woman with the big, bold voice who had a hit with the song “Criminal” (and its unsettling video) back in the 1990s. I’ve heard whispers that Apple continued to have a great career, and I should’ve listened to them since this new album is absolutely brilliant.  In a way, it’s surprising that Apple has returned to widespread acclaim with this album because it’s very experimental with a heavy emphasis on percussion, only holding onto vestiges of pop music around the edges. Apple sings repetitive lyrics in a variety of chants, using her voice like Yoko Ono to become another percussion instrument.  As the title implies, this album is about release, and there’s anger there, but there’s also catharsis and humor.  It has to be heard to be believed.

Rating: ****1/2

Album Review: Unlovely by The Ballroom Thieves


Album: Unlovely
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves 
Release Date: February 12, 2020
Label: Nettwerk Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • Unlovely
  • Tenebrist
  • Homme Run
  • Begin Again
  • Pendulum

Thoughts:

I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended.  Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time.  The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.

Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies.  I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:

We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light

The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.

Rating: ****

This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.

The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”

 

Album Review: Rejoice by Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela


AlbumRejoice
Artist: Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Label: World Circuit
Favorite Tracks:

  • Agbada Boudou
  • Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same)
  • We’ve Landed

Thoughts:

Tony Allen was a drummer from Nigeria who was key in defining the genre of Afrobeat when working with Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 band.  In 2010, he collaborated with the equally legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela on the sessions that would lead to this album.  Masekela died in 2018. Allen completed the sessions with some of London’s top jazz artists.

Allen died on April 30, just a little over a month after this album’s release, so it stands as a memorial to him as well.  Nevertheless, it is a joyous recording as the title proclaims.  I don’t have the language and experience to adequately describe Afrobeat and jazz, but I like what I hear.  Most of the album is instrumental, with exceptions like “Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same),” a tribute to Fela Kuti.  In the music you can hear the freedom and friendship of two great artists pushing one another to greater heights.  It’s also a very crisp recording where each instrument resonates richly and deeply.

This is a terrific album and makes me want to dive into the back catalog of both artists.

Rating: ****

 

Album Reviews: A Sampling of Songs


A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of albums released in 2020 that had been recommended to me from various sources.  I’ve listened to them all, and starting next week I will begin posting full album reviews.  Today, though, I’m going to post a few songs I liked from albums that didn’t make the cut for an album review.  Kind of like a Monthly Mixtape, but kind of not.

In the meantime, if you have any albums or songs or EPs or rock operas or anything else from 2020 you think I should listen to, let me know in the comments.

Selections from A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip by Sparks:

“Lawnmower”

“All That”

Selections from Agitprop Alterna by Peel Dream Magazine:

“Emotional Devotion Creator”

“It’s My Body”

Selection from Manic by Halsey:

“Finally // beautiful stranger”

Selections from Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa:

“Don’t Start Now”

“Break My Heart”

Selections from Walking Like We Do by The Big Moon:

“Take A Piece”

“It’s Easy Then”

 

 

 

Album Reviews


If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a new album review since last year.  When New Years Day arrived, I thought about how I wanted to make my album reviews more interesting and more meaningful.  I came up with the idea that I would listen more and write less.  That is I would listen to lots of albums several times and then write about the ones that moved me the most.

With my focus drawn to reviewing movies, writing my A to Z Challenge posts, and the various distractions of the pandemic and isolation, I’ve ended up not writing a single album review in 2020!  To address that I’ve culled some titles from various “Best of 2020, so far” lists as well as suggestions from friends on social media.  I plan to listen through all these albums and then write and post 1 to 3 album reviews each Friday in June.

If you have any suggestions of any albums I should add to the list, let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to give it a listen.

Tony Allen, Hush Masekela – Rejoice
Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
The Ballroom Thieves – Unlovely
The Big Moon – Walking Like We Do 
Vanessa Carlton – Love Is An Art 
CocoRosie – Put the Shine On 
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
Halsey – Manic
Indigo Girls – Look Long
Kvelertak – Splid
Moon Hooch – Life on Other Planets
Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle
Jonah Mutono – GERG
Pinegrove – Marigold
Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna
Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Pert Near Sandstone – Castles in the Air
Porridge Radio – Every Bad
Rina Sawayama – Sawayama
Sparks – A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
SPECTRES – Nostalgio
Moses Sumney – Grae
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – Temple
U.S. Girls – Heavy Light
Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


Here are five albums from 2019 that I really loved. Check out my lists of favorite albums from 20142016, 2017 and 2018 as well.

The New Normal by STL GLD

The Boston hip hop act STL GLD is well-regarded as one of the best groups in the area by local media. Boston isn’t a notable location on the hip hop map compared with other cities, but The New Normal should draw attention to our city. Moe Pope, Christopher Talken, and Jonathan Ulman perform songs that speak to the present moment of the Trump era, and all the political and personal turmoil that entails, but also offering a positive alternative vision. And STL GLD is not shy about getting their message out, including holding a listening party for the album’s premier in the unlikely setting of the Museum of Fine Arts. I admit that I don’t know enough about hip hop to write a thorough review, but I know what I like, and The New Normal, lyrically and musically, is worth listening to.

It’s Real by Ex Hex

This is the second album (following 2014’s Rips) from the Washington, DC based trio of Mary Timony on guitar, bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris.  It’s got a mix of 80s punk and hardrock with touches of power pop and 60s girl groups thrown in.  There’s nothing quite original here, but it is a well-crafted collection of raging guitar solos and sweet harmonies.

The Best of Luck Club by Alex Lahey

Do you like 1980s power pop, but want to hear it from a young, contemporary artist? Australia’s Alex Lahey fits the bill on this album that just totally rocks.  She even rips out a sax solo on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” A year ago this week, I reviewed an album by Lahey’s fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, which I completely loved, and I feel just as strongly for The Best of Luck Club.  Lahey is maybe a bit less edgy musically than Barnett, but her lyrics are empowering and uplifting.  And even on the ballads the pair of ballads that close out the album – “Black RMs” and “I Want to Live With You” – Lahey express the contended domesticity of a loving relationship while still being a rock & roller.

Cut & Stitch by Petrol Girls

I have a soft spot for punk rock that features women’s voices shouting over shredding guitars.  The Petrol Girls website bears the tagline “Raging Feminist Post Hardcore from the UK and Austria” which about sums it up.  And while the shouted lyrics may not always be easy to understand, I appreciate that they’re saying important things, the emotion behind them is clear.

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo

Lizzo is one of those artists that excels in making music that fits into multiple genres – pop, hip hop, soul, funk, & R&B – so much so that her music is kind of it’s own Lizzo genre.  I was going to compare the music on Cuz I Love You to the work of Prince, and that was before I learned that Lizzo is from Minneapolis (in fact she appeared on the Prince and 3rdeyegirl album Plectrumelectrum).  The other obvious comparison is Janelle Monáe, and again there’s a direct connection as the pair performed together at Coachella last week and Lizzo interviewed Monáe for them. magazine.  What sets Lizzo apart is her joyful exuberance.  A large, black woman gets discriminated at from every angle, but Lizzo has embraced self-love, and much of the theme of this album is sharing the message of empowerment.  And she sounds she’s having so much fun while doing it.

Album Reviews: Quick Thoughts


What if I didn’t review any albums for some time and then did a bunch at once?  Again?

AlbumThe Competition
Artist: Lower Dens
Release Date: September 6, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “Two Faced Love” and “Young Republicans”
Thoughts: These songs have a lush sound reminiscent of the 1980s New Romantics.  Which is fine, if you’ve listened to all of that 35+ year old music and yearn for more. The big twist is that lyrically it is much more political than romantic.
Rating: **1/2


Album: Close It Quietly
Artist: Frankie Cosmos
Release Date: September 6, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “41st,” “So Blue,”
Thoughts: Greta Kline follows up on 2018’s Vessel with another collection of lo-fi folk rock tunes.  Her sweet voice clearly sings ruminative lyrics about growing into adulthood.
Rating: ***


Album: Crush
Artist: Floating Points
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Thoughts: This collection of minimalist electronic music from UK musician Sam Shepherd was just what I needed to hear right now.
Rating: ****

 


Album: There Existed an Addiction to Blood
Artist: clipping.
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “Nothing is Safe,” “The Show, and “Blood of the Fang”
Thoughts: This the third album from this experimental hip-hop act from Los Angeles, and first since 2016’s Splendor & Money.  There are two great things about this album: 1. the rapid rhymes of Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame) and 2. the deep-textured synth sounds he raps over.  The lyrics are grim and gory, making it an appropriate addition to your Halloween party playlist.
Rating: ****