Album Review: Kill the Lights by Tony Molina


Album: Kill the Lights
Artist: Tony Molina
Release Date: July 27, 2018
Thoughts:

The They Might Be Giants’ album Apollo 18 features a suite of songs called “Fingertips,”  each song only a few seconds long and in a variety of musical styles.  This Tony Molina album reminds me of “Fingertips” as each of the ten songs on the album is around a minute long.  Unlike “Fingertips,” which was essentially a gag for people who listened to their CDs on shuffle and whose lyrics were essentially one phrase (sometimes repeated), the songs on Kill the Lights feature full lyrics.  Sometimes the songs even have guitar and piano solos.  It makes you wonder why so many pop songs are 3 1/2 minutes or longer when one can get to the essence of a song in so much less time. The two-minute long “Jasper’s Theme” even sounds like indulgent 70s prog rock.  This is a delightful collection of jangly power-pop that one can listen to in a short walk.

Rating: ****

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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: ****

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: 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: 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:

Related Posts:

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: Dear Annie by Rejjie Snow


Album: Dear Annie
Artist: Rejjie Snow
Release Date: February 16, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Egyptian Luvr
  • Spaceships
  • Mon Amour

Thoughts:

Not so long ago, a rapper from Dublin, Ireland would’ve been a novelty gimmick.  But the worldwide expansion of the hip-hop genre, and growing diversity of Ireland (at least in major cities like Dublin) means that an Irish rapper can stand on its own.  Dear Annie is hip-hop at its most smooth, Snow’s voices over jazzy samples.  At 20 tracks, this album feels bloated to me, but Rejjie Snow’s talent and potential stands out in it’s strongest parts.

Rating: **1/2

Album Review: Little Dark Age by MGMT


Album: Little Dark Age
ArtistMGMT
Release Date: 2018 February 9
Favorite Tracks:

  • Little Dark Age
  • Me and Michael
  • One Thing Left to Try

Thoughts:

Little Dark Age sounds like it was recorded in 1985 and has been sitting in a vault all these years to finally be released.  You could find it on the shelf somewhere between Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and the Pet Shop Boys, and even the lyrics of songs like “She Works Out Too Much” sound like commentary on the 80s aerobic craze. The songs on this album are hit or miss, and it’s never going to live up to Oracular Spectacular, but it’s a fun pop confection.

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: Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington


Album:Harmony of Difference
ArtistKamasi Washington
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Thoughts:

I don’t listen much to jazz, especially contemporary jazz, but a streaming music account means there’s no excuse to not try new things.  The new EP by the hot saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington brings together 6 pieces in about 30 minutes of running time.  There’s a lot of retro feeling to this music, with nods to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” 60’s Brazilian bossanova, and 70s funk fusion.  The EP culminates with the 15-minute piece “Truth” which brings back and mixes together themes from the other five pieces.  Washington’s music has a sound that would be suited to scoring films although it’s also a bit too “smooth jazz” for my taste.
Rating: **1/2

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

 

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.