Album Review: Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings


AlbumSoul of a Woman
ArtistSharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Matter of Time,” “Come and Be a Winner,” “Rumors,”  “Searching for a New Day,” and “Call on God”
Thoughts: It’s hard to listen to this album without feeling tearful, not just because of the music, but the knowledge that Sharon Jones’ voice was silenced forever with her death last year.  The final Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings album seems to recognize her mortality with more down tempo tracks, calls for reconciliation, messages of peace, and finish with the gospel hymn “Call on God.” It’s not intended as a final statement, but it’s what we get and serves as a reminder of the beauty and power that the great Sharon Jones brought to the world.
Rating: ***1/2

 

 

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Album Review: Rest by Charlotte Gainsbourg


AlbumRest
Artist: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ring-a-Ring O’ Roses,” “Deadly Valentine,” and “Dan vos airs.”
Thoughts: The single “Deadly Valentine” is the standout track on Gainsbourg’s first album in six years, one that reflects on grief and loss on the death of her half-sister.  While there is an allure of a woman’s voice singing breathily in French, most of the album is full of synthesizer crunches and disco beats that sound like very generic electro-pop.
Rating: **

Album Review: Half-Light by Rostam


Album: Half-Light
Artist: Rostam
Release Date: 15 September 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Bike Dream” and “Don’t Let It Get To You”
Thoughts: Half-Light is the solo album debut for Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend. Like his former band’s recordings, the music here incorporates World Music sounds ranging from reggae to Brazilian Batucada to Indian raga, with layered musical effects and Rostam’s tenor rising above it all.  I have kind of mixed feelings, about the album although I warmed to it on repeated listens, but I still feel he’s trying too hard as a producer to make “art” losing himself in the process.
Rating: ***

 

 

Album Review: If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples


AlbumIf All I Was Was Black
ArtistMavis Staples
Release Date: 17 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Little Bit,” “If All I Was Was Black,” “Ain’t No Doubt About It,” and “Try Harder”
Thoughts:

One of my favorite musical trends of 2017 is the appearance of the legendary Mavis Staples as guest artist on various recordings.  First, Arcade Fire released “I Give You Power” on the eve of Inauguration Day in January:

Then staples added her gospel chops to Benjamin Booker’s statement on police killings of black people “Witness.”

Next Staples joined Pusha T on the virtual hip-hop/electronic band Gorillaz’ Trump-inspired track “Let Me Out.”

Now, at last, we have a full album of new songs from Mavis Staples herself reflecting on our fraught, divided times and what we need to do to fight against it.  Frequent Staples’ collaborator, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, produced the album, appears on one track, and wrote all the songs (quite remarkable when you think that means he wrote the title track).  Staples’ versatility that makes her such a strong asset as a guest artist with distinctly different bands is seen here as well as the music mixes gospel, soul, blues, folk, and Americana.  Lyrically, the civil rights icon is still fighting the good fight but recognizes that she has limitations and that she’s still called to love her enemy.  Mavis Staples’ legacy is already well-established, and this album is probably not going to be what she’s remembered for, but nevertheless it is great to have her voice confront the issues of our times.

Rating:  ***1/2

Album Review: Utopia by Björk


AlbumUtopia
Artist: Björk
Release Date: 24 November 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Arisen My Senses,” “Blissing Me,” “The Gate,” and “Tabula Rasa”
Thoughts: The latest release from Björk is a dense aural soundscape with the singer’s notable voice layered over musical instruments, electronic noises, and sound effects.  The first three songs are the strongest, with the rest of the album hard to differentiate, although I do like “Tabula Rasa” simply for the novelty of hearing Björk swearing like a sailor. The down tempo nature of the music combined with bird and whale calls makes it all feel like an elaborate nature sounds relaxation tape.  I miss how Björk would incorporate upbeat melodies and dance rhythms into her earlier recordings.  Nevertheless, if you like Björk, this is more of Björk being Björk, and than can never be a bad thing.
Rating: ***

Album Review: Revelations by Shamir


AlbumRevelations
Artist: Shamir
Release Date: 3 November 27
Favorite Tracks: “90’s Kids,” “Blooming,” and “Straight Boy”
Thoughts:  Shamir Bailey’s debut album Ratchet was built on electronic beats and dance rhythms, making it club ready. His latest album is stunning stripped-down, pure pop melodies that draw on rock genres from 60’s girl groups to grunge.  The music doesn’t impress me much, but I do love Shamir’s soulful voice and how it emphasizes the striking lyrics of tracks like “90’s Kids” and “Straight Boy.”  It’s a short album (31 minutes), so give it a second listen if it doesn’t move you the first time.
Rating: ***

Album Reviews: Fever Ray, Blitzen Trapper, The Barr Brothers


This week, quick thoughts on three new albums I listened to today.

AlbumPlunge
Artist: Fever Ray
Release Date: 2017 October 27
Favorite Tracks: “Wanna Sip” and “IDK About You”
Thoughts: Fever Ray is the solo project of Swedish electronic musician Karin Dreijer, also of the duo The Knife. The album has some sick beats and synths, but Dreijer’s voice is unpleasant and the frequent profanity seems to be juvenile attempt to be shocking.
Rating: **1/2


Album: Wild and Reckless
Artist: Blitzen Trapper
Release Date: 2017 November 3
Favorite Tracks: “Joanna” and “Stolen Hearts”
Thoughts: A twangier, pure country outing from Blitzen Trapper grew out of a “rock opera” staged in their native Portland, OR that tells a sci-fi love story of two kids on the run.
Rating: **1/2


Album: Queens of the Breakers
Artist: The Barr Brothers
Release Date: 2017 October 13
Favorite Tracks: “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” and “It Came To Me”
Thoughts: The Montreal-based Americana jam band with a harp received good reviews for their innovative sound, but the album sounds kind of like generic folk-pop to me.  Not my thing.
Rating: **

Album Review: Colors by Beck


Album: Colors
Artist: Beck
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: Nothing stands out
Thoughts: I’ve been a Beck fan since he emerged on the scene in the 1990s and even once performed in a Beck choral performance, so I had to check out this new album.  And it is rather dull.  Nothing offensive about it, it features upbeat pop tunes that may sound good in the background at a party, but nothing you’d want to come back to.  So it’s ok, but disappointing for Beck who has done better.
Rating: **

Album Review: MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent


AlbumMASSEDUCTION
ArtistSt. Vincent
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: I’m a longtime St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) fan and have written about her on this blog many times, so I was eager to hear her fifth album.  Sadly, it’s a disappointment.  Supposedly this album is her attempt to move to a more pop-oriented sound, so naturally that would be alienating to a long-time fan.  But I don’t think it even succeeds as a pop album as there are no catchy hooks and the grim lyrics sound maudlin over the kitschy sound. St. Vincent’s music may be inaccessible to many, but this is the first time that I find it to be dull.  I can’t help but feel that there’s a message in the cover of the album where St. Vincent is mooning her audience.
Rating: **

Album Review: The Wild by Kris Delmhorst


AlbumThe Wild
Artist: Kris Delmhorst
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: I’ve been following Delmhort’s career for years (decades, actually!) and while she’s no stranger to the ballad, her albums usually have a fair share of raucous, upbeat tunes as well.  The Wild finds her in a more contemplative mood as every track slow, emphasizing her voice and introspective lyrics, with a touch of a country twang.  It may not be up there with my favorite Delmhorst recordings, but it’s still pretty darn good.
Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Cost of Living by Downtown Boys


AlbumCost of Living
Artist: Downtown Boys
Release Date: August 11, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Wall,” “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), “Lips that Bite” and “Clara Rancia.”

Thoughts: The Providence-based, bilingual punk band is back with an energetic new album filled with hard riffs and pointed lyrics.  I particularly like it when the horns kick in.  This is the music for our fraught political times, filled with anger but leavened with hope.
Rating: ****

Album Review: Prophets of Rage


AlbumProphets of Rage
Artist: Prophets of Rage
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Unfuck the World”
Thoughts: Back in the 80s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D said “rap is CNN for black people,” reflecting on the urgency of rap music to spread the word through the community.  The idea of message spreading is central to the new album from Prophets of Rage, the rock rap supergroup Chuck D formed with Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and DJ Lord of Public Enemy. And yet message seems to be all they’ve got, while the nearly 30-year-old It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still stands up musically.  At it’s best, Prophets of Rage reminds me of great collaborations of rap and hard rock like Public Enemy with Anthrax or Rage Against the Machine at their best, but unfortunately most of the album reminds me of the dreck that was late-90s rap-metal, and not worthy of the talent involved in its creation.
Rating: **

Album Review: The Underside of Power by Algiers


AlbumThe Underside of Power
Artist: Algiers
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Walk Like a Panther,”  “Cry of the Martyrs,” “The Underside of Power,”  “Death March,” and “Cleveland”
Thoughts:

This may be the most important album of 2017, and one that will certainly be on my year end best of ’17 list.  The politically-charged lyrics of the Atlanta-based band offer hope in times of chaos and despair.  Algiers sound is remarkable as it is indescribable, kind of a mix of gospel, with psychedelic soul (such as late-60s Temptations or Funkadelic at their most political), and punk rock all echoed in a wall of sound.  This is definitely an album you should put on your list to check out.
Rating: ****1/2

 

Album of the Week: Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes


Artists:  Fleet Foxes
Album: Crack-Up
Release Date: 16 June 2017
Favorite Tracks: “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” and “Fool’s Errand”
Thoughts:  After a six-year absence, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes return with this brilliant collection of new tunes.  The gorgeous harmonies expected from Fleet Foxes are still here.  There’s also a lot of experimentation in crafting the songs, many of which are suites of songs that shift dramatically in tone, but not only enough to be disarming not to to annoy.  The lyrics are dense and full of allusions, so much so that songwriter Robin Pecknold annotated the songs on Genius, but  I find myself content letting the music wash over me.  Crack-Up may not be everyone, but I find it the lovely end product of pushing folk rock to its limits.

Rating: ****

What I’m Listening to Now – April 2017


Song of the Month

“Cherry Blossom” by ALA.NI

Podcasts of the Month

Best of the Left Progressives Fight on Multiple Fronts

I hear too much infighting about the best way to conduct the resistance, so it’s good to hear this podcast the multiple fronts on which progressives are fighting for our country and our future.

Sound OpinionsMavis Staples

An insightful interview with the musical legend.

The Memory PalaceTemple

I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Turns out that the temple is not as old as I thought nor has it been in the Met for as long as I’d imagined either.  The stories of why it was built and how it ended up in New York are equally fascinating.

Ben Frankin’s World Paul Revere’s Ride Through History

Four scholars explore the history of Paul Revere and why we remember him today.

99% InvisibleSounds Natural

Viewers of nature documentaries expect that everything in the film comes directly from nature, but having microphones in the right place to capture sounds is so difficult and dangerous that most animal sounds are produced by foley artists.

StarTalk Radio – Baseball: Physics at the Plate

A baseball player, physicists, and comedians join together to discuss baseball at SXSW.  Good things happen

Planet MoneyGeorgetown, Lousiana

The story of a Louisiana town where many of the residents are descendants of 272 slaves sold to fund Georgetown University.

Albums of the Month

Artist: Charly Bliss
Album: Guppy
Release Date: April 21, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Glitter,” “Black Hole,” and “Ruby”

Thoughts: The Brooklyn power pop quartet bring back a mid-90s sound reminiscent of  Letters to Cleo and Velocity Girl.  Eva Hendricks sings a bit nasally over fuzzed-out guitars and drums with lyrics that aren’t anywhere as sweet as they’re sung.  It’s a great throwback but having lived through it all the first time around, I’d prefer something new.
Rating: ***


Artist: Future Islands
Album: The Far Field
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Beauty of the Road,” “Cave,” and “Shadows”

Thoughts: I was not familiar with the Baltimore-based synthpop outfit, but the reviews of the album were good so I thought I’d give it a shot.  The sound is very 80s, reminiscent of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, but Samuel Herring’s vocals overlaying the synths are more growly than romantic.  Once again, I’m feeling that I’ve heard this all before. The highlight is the duet with Debbie Harry on “Shadows.”
Rating: **1/2


Artist: Alexandra Savior
Album: Belladonna of Sadness
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Thoughts: This debut from the Portland, OR singer-songwriter features moody crooning over 60’s style jazz-pop.  It’s a little bit reminiscent of Fiona Apple, not to mention umpteen singers from the swinging sixties.  There’s too much polish on this album and the raw talent Savior has is unable to shine through.
Rating: **


Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: Whiteout Conditions
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “High Ticket Attractions”

Thoughts: I’m a long-time fan of The New Pornographers and I’m disappointed by their latest release.  There’s nothing new about it as the reliance on synthesizers seems to just water down their traditional sound rather then expand into new territories.  The emotion and variety of previous albums.  Perhaps the absence of Dan Bejar contributes to the lack of balance and feeling of incompleteness.
Rating: **


ArtistGorillaz
Album: Humans
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ascension” (feat. Vince Staples),”Momentz” (feat. De La Soul), “Let Me Out” (feat. Mavis Staples and Pusha T), and “We Got the Power” (feat. Jenny Beth)

Thoughts: The band of animated characters is joined by an army of guest artists on this hip-hop, indie pop, electronic dance party album.  It’s all over the place and delightfully strange but there’s a little something for everyone.
Rating: ***1/2

That’s April!  If there’s something I should listen to in May, let me know in the comments.

What I’m Listening to Now – March 2017


It’s more than halfway through April so it’s about time I get this post up for March.

Podcasts of the Month

99% InvisibleChurch, Sanctuary part 1

Sanctuary churches have been in the news.  Here is how it works in practice.

BackStoryTaking it to the Streets

A history of mass protests in the United States.

Best of the LeftLiving in an empire of lies (Propaganda)

Stepping back from the headline news and taking a deep dive into the history of propaganda in the United States.

To the Best of Our Knowledge – Every Time You Troll Me, A Scientist Gets Her Due

Emily Temple-Wood decided the best way to get back at misogynist trolls on the internet is to write a new entry about a woman scientists on Wikipedia every time they attack.

RadiolabShots Fired, part 1

An investigation into police shootings of innocent or unarmed individuals and the networks of the families and friends left behind.

Fresh Air – An ‘Intimate Portrait’ Of Dorothy Day, The Catholic Activist With A Bohemian Past

An interview with Kate Hennessy, author of a new biography of her grandmother, Dorothy Day.

Song of the Month

Frank Turner adds another song to the rapidly growing Resistance Mixtape, “The Sand in the Gears.”

Albums of the Month


Artist: The Feelies
Album: In Between
Release Date: 24 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “When to Go,” “Stay the Course” and “Turn Back Time”
Rating: ***

The Feelies are a band that seems to have always been around, but this is only their 6th album in 40+ years.  They managed to both influence R.E.M. and be beneficiaries of R.E.M.’s popularity in the 1980s.  The jangle pop of this album is reminiscent of the 80s, not in the 80s Nostalgia Industry way but in the type of music you’d hear your older sibling’s cool best friend listening to in the car in the 80s.  The songs appear laid back, but grow in lyrical and emotional intensity.


Artist: The Shins
AlbumHeartworms
Release Date: 10 March 2017
Favorite Tracks: “So Now What” and “Cherry Hearts”
Rating: ***

The Shins return with their typical high harmonies and wall of sound arrangements.  This album appears to do some genre hopping – ska to EDM to psychedelia – but all within The Shins’ framework.  Definitely a good return to form after a long 5-year hiatus.


ArtistPeter Mulvey
Album: Are You Listening
Release Date: 25 March 2017
Favorite Tracks: “D.I.A.,” “Are You Listening,” “Just Before the War,” “The Details,” and “Oh, The Rain”
Rating: ****

Peter Mulvey is who I’d want to be as a singer-songwriter. On this new album produced by Ani DiFranco, Mulvey’s bass voice resonates and his profound lyrics are full of thought and emotion.  Definitely an album you’ll want to check out.

What I’m Listening to Now – February 2017


Better late than never, here is the report of what I was listening to in February, a short month punctuated by a delightful vacation where I mostly listened to the laughter of my children.

Podcasts of the Month

Fresh AirThe History of US Intervention

A discussion of the United States involvement with the rest of the world from isolationism to the world’s police to the more sinister activities of imperialism and corporate hegemony.

Jacobin RadioWe Can Do Better

What is capitalism, what role does it play in our lives, and is it really the best we can do?

To The Best of Our KnowledgeA Borderless World

Borders and immigration are a key issue of our times.  These stories illustrate how the idea of borders is becoming an outdated one.

BackStoryWorld Apart

The divide between urban and rural populations is one of the major causes of political disagreement in the US today, and one that goes back throughout the history of the United States.

This American LifeIt’s Working Out Very Nicely

Stories of the confusion and struggle that arose in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Twenty Thousand HertzAudio Descriptions

Movies have a track of audio description intended to help the visually impaired and this podcast describes the art of narration and how audio descriptions can benefit all viewers.

Decode DCHow cops can legally take your car, home, or cash

The chilling law of civil asset forfeiture that allows police to take property from suspects even if they’re not convicted or even charged with crimes.

Have You Heard?You’re Fired

All about why school turnarounds – a theory of fixing low-performing schools by firing the teachers and staff that has widespread, bipartisan support – is an idea that doesn’t work, and what actually does.

Song of the Month

Chicago singer-songwriter Zeshan Bagewadi (aka Zeshan B) provides a powerful interpretation of the 1970 protest anthem “Cryin’ in the Streets” by  George Perkins that ties together generations of protest for justice and equality in the United States.  Learn more about the song The World interview.

 

Albums of the Month

Artist: Tinariwen
Album: Elwan
Release Date: 10 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Sastanàqqàm,” Ténéré Tàqqàl,” “Assàwt,” and “Nànnuflày”
Thoughts: The Northern Africa Desert Blues band from Mali’s most recent release includes guest appearances by indie artists like Kurt Vile, but the band itself is the stand out performer of this collection of melodic, resonant, and politically-charged tunes.
Rating: ***1/2


 

Artist: Clap! Clap!
Album: A Thousand Skies
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Ar-Raqis” and “Elephant Seranade”
Thoughts: Clap! Clap! is a project of Italian producer Cristiano Crisci, who creates instrumental dance tracks relying heavily on indigenous percussion.  An earlier Clap! Clap! recording, Tayi Bebba,  made my 2014 favorite albums list.  While not as strong as its predecessor, A Thousand Skies is equally enjoyable as festive ambient music for a party or for getting through a gray day at work
Rating: ***1/2


Artist: Visible Cloaks
AlbumReassemblage
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Bloodstream”, “Place,” “Valve (Revisited)”
Thoughts: Somewhere between Phillip Glass, a church organist, and a lullaby lies this lovely collection of ambient tunes.
Rating: ***


Artist: Molly Burch
AlbumPlease Be Mine
Release Date: 17 February 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Fool”
Thoughts: A collection of retro, country-tinged tracks sung sweetly by a barroom singer.  It’s pretty and well-produced, and while there’s nothing wrong with Burch’s album it’s nothing we  haven’t heard before from Patsy Cline and singers produced by Phil Spector among others, so it’s just a tad bit dull.
Rating: **


 

What I’m Listening To Now – January 2017


This is an experiment.  Instead of constantly filling this blog with Podcast of the Week, Song of the Week, and Album of the Month posts, I’ve decided to try to collect all the things I listen to over the course of a month in post.  Hopefully, allowing myself the time will also allow me to create something more worth reading.

Let me know what you think, and what you’re listening to, in the comments.

Podcasts of the Month

Maeve in America: The Annie Episode: Annie Moore Room?

This ongoing podcast about the experiences of individual immigrants in America relates the tale of the young Irish woman who was the first person to be processed through Ellis Island.

The Nation – Start Making Sense: We Can’t Just Protest Trump, We Must Defy Him

I recently started listening to this podcast from The Nation and it offers some great strategies for what we must do in the Trump era.

Reveal: Water Wars

One of the scariest things in the world today is the lack of access to fresh, clean water, which is of course vital to life.  The war in Yemen is possibly the first war ever fought over water.

Fresh Air: The Systemic Segregation of Schools

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a journalist who tracks how generations after Brown v. Board of Education, public schools are still largely segregated by race, and inequitable, and the choices of even the most liberal people of privilege maintain the system.

All Songs Considered: The Power of Politics, Music, and More

New songs, especially the first four songs in this podcast, tie in with the political issues of our day.  The a cappella performance of MILCK’S “Quiet” from the Women’s March on Washington is below.

Decode DCHey Tea Party, Meet Your Lefty Cousins

The American Left will need to use the tactics and strategy of the Tea Party to make any headway in the Trump years. The Indivisible guide explains how.

Albums of the Month
 

Artist: Bonobo
Album: Migration
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Migration” and “Outlier”
Thoughts: Electronic drumbeats and resonant bass notes are coupled with world music melodies on this album that is largely instrumental music.  This is not going to get you on the dance floor, but is more music for relaxation and meditation.  With the exception of a couple of bland tracks with vocals, this is highly listenable if not too original downtempo electronica.
Rating: ***


ArtistFlaming Lips
Album:  Oczy Mlody
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “How??,” “One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill”,” and “We a Family”
Thoughts: The Flaming Lips have a penchant for being weird, but an album about unicorns and faeries and demons all experienced through a psychedelic drug is really weird.  A concept album with a healthy dose of profanity makes this reminiscent of Funkadelic, although this is more dreamy and fuzzed-out than funky. The music is downtempo but also has a sunniness that puts it at odds with the band’s last album The Terror.  Also, Miley Cyrus is guest vocalist on one track. Weird.
Rating: ***


ArtistRun the Jewels
AlbumRun the Jewels 3
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks:  “Talk to Me,”  “Call Ticketron,”  “Don’t Get Captured,”  “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” (featuring Tunde Adebimpe), and “Oh Mama”
Thoughts: I shouldn’t be allowed to review hip-hop albums since I’ve not paid much attention to the genre the past 25 years, but I’ve liked what I heard from Run the Jewels and their latest doesn’t disappoint.  In a way, it’s not too dissimilar to the hip-hop I liked in the late 80s/early 90s – sonically dense, musically creative, and lyric that are conscious and in your face but not preachy.
Rating: ****


ArtistThe xx
Album:  I See You
Release Date: January 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Dangerous” and “I Dare You”
Thoughts: I was looking forward to this album since band member Jamie xx’s album In Colour was on of my favorites of 2015.  Unfortunately, I find myself disappointed with the full band’s effort.  The songs have more of a contemporary r&b sound, and while there’s nothing wrong with downtempo music, a lot of these tracks sound lethargic. It’s not a bad album, but it’s not memorable either.
Rating: **


ArtistAustra
Album:  Future Politics
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Future Politics,” “Utopia,” and “43”
Thoughts: Wow, this is powerful album, musically and politically, from the Canadian band.  Once again, I’m reminded of the 1980s with the synthpop sound and the bold vocals of Katie Stelmanis put me in mind of Alison Moyet and Yaz.  It’s worth the time to immerse oneself in this album.
Rating: ****


ArtistPriests
Album: Nothing Feels Natural
Release Date: January 27, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “No Big Bang,” “Pink White House,” and “Suck”
Thoughts: Loud, angry music from the D.C. punk band.  ,Like with Run the Jewels I’m transported back to the 1980s, yet the music is fresh and current. This is music that captures the anxiety of the contemporary zeitgeist.
Rating: ***


 

2016 Year in Review: Favorite Albums


This is my second attempt at making an Albums of the Year least after my first try in 2014.  There aren’t any real surprises here as most of these albums are appearing on every other list, so I will have to seek out younger and more experimental musicians.  Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on five great albums from 2016.

Listed alphabetically by title, with links to my original reviews where possible.

David Bowie, Blackstar

Bowie’s final album, released days before his death, shows that he was an experimenter to the very last, incorporating jazz and electronic songs into richly textured songs about mortality.

Beyoncé, Lemonade

Confession: I never listened to anything by Beyoncé before this year.  But this album blew me away with it’s mix of genres and the blend of personal travails with the political aspirations of black women.  It seems appropriate that it comes 25 years after Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Beatle’s Revolver because each album created a new sound for its generation.

A Tribe Called Red, We Are the Halluci Nation

As the Water Protectors made their stand  against DAPL this year, it is appropriate that the Ottawa-based DJs of A Tribe Called Red released their most angry, political album yet.

The Avalanches, Wild Flowers

It wasn’t worth waiting 16 years, but it’s still a wild mix of sounds that feels like a back alley journey through American music.

Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker

Another farewell album recorded by an artist in his dying days that shows that the power of creativity can persist into old age.

For an entirely different list of albums I’ve never heard before (but really want to now), check out this list on the Speed of Things by my friend Erik.

What are your favorite albums of the year?

 

 

 

 

Albums of the Month: December 2016


A gaggle of albums to finish off 2016.

Artists:  Car Seat Headrest
Album: Teens of Denial
Release Date: 2016 May 20
Favorite Tracks: “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” “1937 State Park,” and “Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra)”
Thoughts:  This one is from earlier in the year but I decided I’d give it a spin after hearing Bob Boilen of All Songs Considered declare it one of the best albums of all time.  It’s your typical punk/grunge/powerpop blend with tonal and stylistic changes within the track.  Reminiscent of bands like Pixies, Pavement, Beck, and Franz Ferdinand (and perhaps because I just spent a week listening to The Replacements I’m hearing their influence too).  Not bad, but also kind of generic.
Rating: **1/2


Artists: Muddy Magnolias
Album: Broken People
Release Date: 2016 October 14
Favorite Tracks: “Brother, What Happened?,” “Shine On!,” “Devil’s Teeth,” and “Train”
Thoughts: This Nashville-based duo sings songs of love lost and love desired, tragedy and hope in a blend of blues, country, and soul.  Both Jessy Wilson and Kallie North can belt it out with their own searing vocals.  This album is a balm for our troubled times.
Rating: ***


Artists: Margo Price
Album: Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Release Date: 2016 March 26
Favorite Tracks: “Hands of Time,” “Four Years of Chances,” and “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)”
Thoughts: Speaking of Nashville, I don’t listen much to country, but when I do I prefer the twangy honky-tonk of the 1960s and 1970s to the more polished pop country of recent decades.  Margo Price channels Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and other country superstars of the era.  Her voice is terrific and whether she’s singing about a man who done her wrong or the story of how her parents lost everything, you know she’s taking no prisoners.  My favorite Margo Price song, “All American Made,” is not on this album but you can watch her perform it in this Tiny Desk Concert.
Rating: ***1/2


Artist:  Moby and The Void Pacific Choir
Album: These Systems Are Failing
Release Date: 2016 October 14
Favorite Tracks: “Hey! Hey!” and “A Simple Love”
Thoughts: This album features Moby the hardcore punk funneled through Moby the producer and DJ.    It’s a set of 9 songs of angry chants set over drum beats targeting Moby’s political and personal opponents.  It’s fun for a listen or two but it does feel empty and repetitive.
Rating: **


Artist:  The Rolling Stones
Album: Blue & Lonesome
Release Date: 2 December 2016
Favorite Tracks: They’re all pretty good.
Thoughts: The Rolling Stones released their first album in over a decade and it’s a collection entirely of covers of the Chicago Blues classics that inspired them to start a band over 50 years ago.  The positives: the rhythm section is tight, Richards’ guitar wails, and Jagger’s harmonica and vocals are the top of their game.  There’s no doubt that they’re having a good time making great music.  The negatives: the recordings of the original artists performing these songs are out there and they’re just as good or better.  And this album is not going to be remembered as part of the Stone’s legacy.  So this album is a transient joy but perhaps it can also be a gateway to discovering the Chicago Blues greats and the Stones’ originals.
Rating: ***1/2


Artist:  Childish Gambino
Album: “Awaken, My Love”
Release Date: 2 December 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Have Some Love,” “Zombies,” and “Redbone”
Thoughts: Donald Glover’s latest album is a sonic trip back to the 1970s reinterpreting the musical sounds of PFunk, Prince, Earth, Wind & Fire and others.  It’s a strong album, but much like Blue & Lonesome, I wonder what we get from listening to this over the original music.
Rating: ***