Album Review: American Head by Flaming Lips


Album: American Head
Artist: Flaming Lips
Release Date: September 11, 2020
Label: Warner
Favorite Tracks:

  • Dinosaurs on the Mountain
  • Mother Please Don’t Be Sad
  • Assasins of Youth

Thoughts:

The Flaming Lips enter their fifth decade as recording artists with this trippy new album. This seems weird to me even though I first heard the band in the 1990s, and began listening to them avidly with their legendary releases of the 2000s. The album is a loose concept album drawn from band leader Wayne Coyne’s childhood in Oklahoma City. Musically, the Flaming Lips aren’t breaking new ground and the lyrics are full of gratuitous drug references. But the melodies are gorgeous in this collection of mostly ballads awash in rich instrumentation. Kacey Musgraves provides counterpoint vocals on a few tracks.


Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Shore by Fleet Foxes


Album: Shore
Artist: Fleet Foxes
Release Date: September 22, 2020
Label: Anti
Favorite Tracks:

  • Sunblind
  • Can I Believe You
  • A Long Way Past the Past
  • Going-to-the-Sun Road

Thoughts:

I think this is what they call “headphone music” because the rich instrumentation and lush harmonies of Fleet Foxes become readily when pressed up against one’s ears. There’s a definite warmth to the album which according to the band’s frontman, Robin Pecknold “celebrate “life in the face of death.” And so I can say “it speaks to our time of COVID” for about the 100th time in this blog. But if good art is one of the few worthwhile things that the pandemic brings us, then I will accept that.

Rating: ***1/2

Other Albums I’ve Reviewed by this Band:

Album Review: FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For by Illuminati Hotties


Album: FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For
Artist: Illuminati Hotties
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Label: Self-released
Favorite Tracks:

  • freequent letdown
  • melatonezone
  • content/bedtime
  • reasons 2 live

Thoughts:

Singer/songwriter Sarah Tudzin’s pioneering work in “tenderpunk” takes a turn in this brief (12 songs in 24 minutes) but eclectic collection. This is the band’s sophomore effort after Kiss Yr Frenemies and shows a willingness to experiment.  The album comes in the wake of their record label’s demise explaining why it is self-released and probably why it is so short.  Still, if this is just a place holder until the next “real” album comes out, then we can expect great things.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Dialectic Soul by Asher Gamedze


Album: Dialectic Soul
Artist: Asher Gamedze
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Label: On the Corner
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts:

I don’t know much about jazz, but I know what I like. South African drummer Asher Gamedze draws on free jazz and Black liberation traditions of the 1960s and 70s and fuses them with contemporary jazz and protest music.  The standout track “siyabulela,” a slow tune with vocals by Nono Nkoane cuts to the soul.

Rating: ****

 

 

 

Album Reviews: Music on the Wing


This week I’m posting less of a music review, and more of a suggestion for a couple of recordings I found clever, enjoyable, and even educational.  Each is a compilation of works by various artists that draw inspiration from a flying animal.  In one case, bats, and in the other, birds:

Album: Field Works, by Ultrasonic
Release Date: May 1, 2020
Label: Temporary Residence

Stuart Hyatt returns with another sonic wonder in the Field Works series, bringing the listener into truly uncharted acoustic territory. Ultrasonic is perhaps the first-ever album to use the echolocations of bats as compositional source material. For this special album, Hyatt has assembled an extraordinary group of contributors: Eluvium, Christina Vantzou, Sarah Davachi, Ben Lukas Boysen, Machinefabriek, Mary Lattimore, Felicia Atkinson, Noveller, Chihei Hatakeyama, John Also Bennett, Kelly Moran, Taylor Deupree, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Julien Marchal, and Player Piano. Ultrasonic is part of a broader storytelling project about the federally endangered Indiana bat. Generously funded by the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute and the National Geographic Society, each album contains an official printed booklet of The Endangered Species Act of 1973.

AlbumA Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America, & the Caribbean
Release Date: June 26, 2020
Label: Shika Shika

An album of music inspired by the song of endangered birds with 100% of the profits going towards organisations working to protect them.

“A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean” is the second Volume in the series following on from “A Guide to the Birdsong of South America”, originally released on Robin’s label Rhythm and Roots. Volume I raised nearly 15,000 USD for two birding organisations and featured artists like Nicola Cruz, Dengue Dengue Dengue and Chancha Via Circuito.

For this second edition we have shifted focus north of the equator and to the vulnerability of bird species like the Momoto Carenado (Nicaragua), Ferminia (Cuba) and the Jamaican Blackbird (Jamaica), birds who have dwindled in numbers as a result of the environmental repercussions of climate change, deforestation and trapping for the pet trade.

For the album we chose 10 endangered or threatened bird species and challenged 10 of our favourite producers or musicians from the region. Working with the Xeno Canto birdsong community and the Macaulay Library, we sourced a recording of each bird’s song. Each artist was then asked to create an original piece of music inspired by the bird and its song.

In line with out vision at Shika Shika the curation of artists is specifically geared towards those bridging connections between traditional music and modernity, or between organic and electronic sounds. There are contributions from artists in eight different countries, ranging from Jamaica’s organic dancehall trio Equiknoxx, to Dj Jigüe, one of the leaders of Cuba’s burgeoning electronic scene. Belize’s critically renowned Garifuna Collective have been bringing the unique Garifuna culture and language to a global audience for many years, while Tamara Montenegro has been one of the leaders of Nicaragua’s electronic music scene for the past decade.

The project would not have been possible without the support of an incredible Kickstarter community, helping us raise £12,599 in August 2019.

Once the costs of production have been covered, all of the proceeds from this album will be donated to Birds Caribbean, La Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica and Fundacion TXORI in Mexico. All profits from the sales of the record, music streaming, poster and t-shirt will be shared between these organisations who focus on engaging local communities to help improve and grow the bird tourism sector, create awareness of vulnerable birds with young people and crucially, provide rescue, rehabilitation and breeding programmes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlCirOY-zs8

Album Review: The Cycle by Mourning [A] BLKstar


Album: The Cycle
Artist: Mourning [A] BLKstar
Release Date: May 15, 2020
Label: Don Giovanni Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • If I Can I May
  • Sense of an Ending
  • Mist :: Missed
  • So Young So
  • Be

Thoughts:

The Mourning [A] BLKstar website describes the group thusly:

We are a multi-generational, gender and genre non-conforming amalgam of Black Culture dedicated to servicing the stories and songs of the apocalyptic diaspora.

Founded in Cleveland, Ohio.

I can’t sum up MAB any better than that.  The music has touches of soul, touches of gospel,touches of jazz, and touches of hiphop, all built over electronic music. The music is most reminiscent to me of Algiers, but MAB is mostly unique and original.  If you like strong vocals, beautiful harmonies, horns that lift you up, and beats that make you want to move, this album is for you.

I’ve spent the past month “catching up” on album releases from the first six months of 2020, and this is my favorite of the year so far, but also probably the most important release of 2020.

Rating: ****1/2

Album Review: Agitprop Alterna by Peel Dream Magazine


Album: Agitprop Alterna
Artist: Peel Dream Magazine
Release Date: April 3, 2020
Favorite Tracks:

  • Emotional Devotion Creator
  • It’s My Body
  • Do It
  • Eyeballs
  • Up and Up

Thoughts:

Brooklyn’s Peel Dream Magazine only formed in 2018, but they sound like they’ve mined the sounds of 90s bands like My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab. On the one hand, the lack of originality is frustrating.  I could just listen to Loveless and Emperor Tomato Ketchup if I wanted to.  On the other hand, those 90s bands are making anything new either and I love escaping in the dense swirls and minimalist  sounds of Peel Dream Magazine’s shoegaze  guitars and dreamy synths.

Rating: ***

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: ****