First things first: YES WE DO have the new Kendrick Lamar album in-stock! But we’ve also got new String Cheese Incident, John Mayer, and a trio of releases to make Gene’s jazz-classical heart sing! Read on…
KENDRICK LAMAR, Damn (CD)
Less obviously haunted by the influence of George Clinton than its predecessor, Damn still sounds rooted in early-70s soul. There are nods towards the luscious, harmony-laden mellowness of the Stylistics and the Chi-Lites (opener Blood even features a warped version of the kind of spoken-word monologue found on the latter’s single Have You Seen Her?), to the stentorian bellow that opens Curtis Mayfield’s If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go and to the dense sound of psychedelic soul – by way of Outkast – on Pride. If it seems a more straightforward listen than To Pimp a Butterfly, there’s a cheering sense that this doesn’t equate to a lessening of musical ambition. There’s none of that album’s wilfully jarring quality – its sudden, anxious musical lurches and abrupt, short-circuiting leaps between genres – but the tracks on Damn still feel episodic and expansive: XXX alone goes from massed harmony vocals to a downbeat rap over glitching, stuttering samples, to a thrilling moment where it explodes in a mass of sirens, screeching tyres and heaving basslines, to a dramatic drop in tempo and an understated guest vocal from Bono in the space of four minutes. Rather than angsty disruptions, there’s a more subtle sense of disquiet here. The heavy-lidded drift of Yah would sound relaxed were it not for the presence of two grating bass notes that fit with the lyrics’ prickly unease, where images of contented family life rub up against “theories and suspicions”. Meanwhile, on the brilliant Pride, troubled lyrical shifts from modesty and confusion to self-belief – “I can’t fake humble because your ass is insecure” – are mirrored by a rap electronically treated so that its pitch gradually speeds up and slows down amid the woozy atmospherics and falsetto vocals. Elsewhere, there’s brilliant, dexterous storytelling on Duckworth – the saga of how Lamar’s father narrowly avoided being murdered by a criminal called Anthony, complete with an eye-popping, no-spoilers twist – and another demonstration of Lamar’s nonpareil ability to write songs about the pressures of wealth and success that somehow manage to elicit the listener’s sympathy rather than a roll of the eyes. Fear deals in context, tracing the genesis of his mass of neuroses through the ages. Whether Damn will have the same epochal impact as To Pimp a Butterfly remains to be seen, but either way it sounds like the work of a supremely confident artist at the top of his game. Kendrick Lamar, it seems, is going to have to live with raised expectations for the foreseeable future.
ARVE HENRIKSEN/TRIO MEDIAEVAL, Rimur (CD)
Over several summers, Trio Mediaeval and trumpeter Arve Henriksen spent many days together by the beautiful Dalsfjorden on the Norwegian west coast, and it was there that most of the music for this recording was born. Fascinated and inspired by Icelandic sagas, beautiful chants, folk songs, religious hymns and fiddle tunes, the quartet has arranged a unique set of songs where improvisation, mediaeval and traditional music from Iceland, Norway and Sweden meet the present.
TIGRAN MANSURIAN, Requiem (CD)
Tigran Mansurian has created a Requiem dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide that occurred in Turkey from 1915 to 1917. Co-commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra and the RIAS Choir Berlin, Mansurian’s Requiem reconciles the sound and sensibility of his country’s traditions with those of Western practices, the combination of ancient Armenian religious and secular music with the Latin Requiem text “giving rise to something unexpected,” the composer says. This is profoundly moving contemporary composition, illuminated by the “glow of Armenian modality,” as Paul Griffiths puts it in his booklet essay. The work is a milestone for Mansurian, widely acknowledged as Armenia’s greatest composer. The Los Angeles Times has described his music as that “in which deep cultural pain is quieted through an eerily calm, heart-wrenching beauty.”
JOHN MAYER, Search For Everything (CD)
TOMASZ STANKO/THE NEW YORK QUARTET, December Avenue (CD)
Nobody holds a single, long-blown trumpet note like the Polish pioneer Tomasz Stanko – a wearily exhaled, soberly ironic, yet oddly awestruck sound that is unique in jazz. In 2012 he formed a dream band with New York sidemen, including the sensational young Cuban pianist David Virelles, who sometimes camouflages his jazz skills, but not in this band – he curls Bill Evans-style harmonies around Stanko on the pensive Blue Cloud and the serene Young Girl in Flower, and cuts loose on the splashy, staccato Burning Hot. Stanko’s mournful tone and spacey timing are enthralling on Ballad for Bruno Schulz, and the title track features an infectiously old-school bass break from Reuben Rogers, bright uptempo improv from Stanko, and unobtrusive drum propulsion from Gerald Cleaver. A terrific successor to 2013’s Wislawa, this is just as exquisite an exercise in haunting tone-poetry, occasionally pierced by urgent avant-swing.
STRING CHEESE INCIDENT, Believe (CD)
JOHN MAYER, Search For Everything (CD)
CHICK COREA, Musician (4/21)
HOOTEN HALLERS, The Hooten Hallers (4/21)
And don’t forget these STILL-NEW platters that matter!
FATHER JOHN MISTY, Pure Comedy (CD/LP/2xLP, plus a 7″ single, with LP purchase, while supplies last!)
Towards the end of Pure Comedy’s 13-minute centrepiece track, Josh Tillman offers a glum assessment of the album’s commercial chances. His career’s current status, he claims, is under threat. “I’m beginning to begin to see the end of how it all goes down between them and me / Some 10-verse chorus-less diatribe plays as they all jump ship,” he sings, eight verses into the 10-verse chorus-less diatribe of Leaving LA. “‘I used to really like this guy / This new shit really kinda makes me wanna die.’” Even if it seems unlikely that Pure Comedy is actually going to end Tillman’s career – numerous excitable reviews certainly suggest the opposite – you can see still why he might have had some trepidation about releasing it. On the surface, it doesn’t sound that different from his 2015 breakthrough album, I Love You, Honeybear. A little starker and more subtle, perhaps – the wilfully cluttered Phil Spector-isms of its predecessor are largely confined to one track, Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution – but the main musical influence audibly remains the records Elton John made in his first flush of superstardom. For all the debt to Elton, the 70s work Pure Comedy most recalls in mood is Neil Young’s mournful On the Beach, another LA album thick with apocalyptic visions, dire premonitions about America’s future, savage wit and glum assessments of commercial success. Certainly, its overall message doesn’t seem that different from Young’s mournful 43-year-old parting shot: “You’re all just pissing in the wind.” That album functioned as a catharsis: Young’s work was never as bleak again. Whether Pure Comedy serves the same purpose for Tillman remains to be seen. “Hate to say it, but each other’s all we’ve got,” sings Tillman on Pure Comedy’s title track: it’s hard to work out whether that represents a sliver of hope amid the darkness, or if it’s the most damning line of all.
NEW PORNOGRAPHERS, Whiteout Conditions (CD/LP)
Since 2014’s acclaimed Brill Bruisers, the Vancouver collective have lost founding drummer Kurt Dahle and (at least for now) songwriter Dan Bejar (also of Destroyer) and set up their own label, but the upheaval has simply changed their course slightly, rather than knocking them off it. Now, Carl Newman and Neko Case are singing together at least as much as separately, while new sticksman Joe Seiders brings his own motorik groove and drum machines. Newman has said that they were aiming to be the “Krautrock 5th Dimension”, and there’s definitely more of the latter in Whiteout Conditions’ exuberant pile-up of harmonies, hooks and powerpop. Songs about depression, society and the environment sound euphoric, with elements of 80s synth pop and 90s fuzz and the racing tempos only slowing slightly for evocative closer Avalanche Alley. It’s hard to resist High Ticket Attractions’ oblique musings on the Trump era, delivered to the sound of what could be the Dandy Warhols’ Bohemian Like You being gloriously reinterpreted by the B-52s.
YO-YO MA, CHRIS THILE & EDGAR MEYER, Bach Trios (CD/LP)
For many people, the name Yo-Yo Ma immediately brings to mind the Bach Cello Suites and Ma’s bestselling album; the album that has defined many a young cellist’s ideas about the performance of the works. However, many discerning listeners also think ‘innovation’ when they hear or see his name, given the many different styles in which he performs and records on a regular basis. What I love about his new recording is this blend of traditional classical repertoire with a good dash of contemporary reimagining. When Bach lived in Germany (1685–1750) it was normal and considered the highest form of flattery if someone took your idea and did something new and interesting with it. Bach himself borrowed heavily from his contemporaries, particularly for many of his teaching works, as can be seen in the ‘Anna Magdalena notebook’ written to help his wife learn keyboard.Rejoining Ma are two of his frequent collaborators: Edgar Meyer on double bass and Chris Thile on mandolin. This trio has taken a number of Bach’s keyboard works and one lovely viola de gamba sonata to create a new Bach sound. It is apparent from the outset that not only are all three modern musicians at the top of their game, but that they work together seamlessly as a trio. Ma, Meyer and Thile each take an individual strand of melody from these complex works and interweave new tonal ideas. Bach’s music can often be bogged down in a heavy polyphonic style of composition in which many voices are all trying to have their own say simultaneously. This can sound, to the untrained ear, like a bit of a mess of noise and notes. But in these recordings, with the lightness of the mandolin and both the string players’ gentle delight in the brightness of the melodies, each piece burbles along like a stream of music from some sort of Baroque heaven.
CORY BRANAN, Adios (CD/LP)
Adios is Cory Branan’s death record. Not the cheeriest of openings, but like all of Branan’s mercurial work, it’s probably not what you think. As funny and defiant as it is touching and sad, this self-dubbed “loser’s survival kit” doesn’t spare its subjects or the listener. Never a genre loyalist, ADIOS finds Branan (much like his musically restless heroes Elvis Costello and Tom Waits) coloring outside the lines in sometimes startling shades of fuzz and twang. While unafraid to play it arrow-straight when called for (“The Vow,” “Equinox,” “Don’t Go”), ADIOS veers wildly from the Buddy Holly-esque rave up “I Only Know” (sung with punk notables Laura Jane Grace and Dave Hause), through the swampy “Walls, MS” to the Costello-like new wave of “Visiting Hours.” The blistering punk of “Another Nightmare in America” bops along daring listeners to “Look away, look away, move along, nothing to see here” (the song is written from the point of view of a racist killer cop). And as the mourning singer on “Cold Blue Moonlight” shifts from paralysis to panic, the song’s jazzy drone shifts to an almost Sabbath fury. The tonal shifts are always deliberate and not just simple genre hopping; while the turns can be jarring you can trust Branan to take you somewhere unexpected.
JAMES LUTHER DICKINSON, I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) (CD)
When Jim Dickinson died on August 15, 2009 at the age of 67, his hometown paper, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, ran a lengthy, appreciative obituary chronicling his many achievements and credits. The lead read “The North Mississippi Allstars have lost their father, Bob Dylan has lost a ‘brother,’ rock and roll has lost one of its great cult heroes and Memphis has lost a musical icon with the death of Jim Dickinson.” His work in the studio with the likes of Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Big Star, the Replacements, Ry Cooder and others had consistently put him in the front ranks of recording studio “go to” guys, not only in Memphis, but in Muscle Shoals and Miami, as well. His music was powerful, a driving force, marked by explosive spontaneity, it was an outlet for a creative spirit who found inspiration in the artists with whom he worked as well as those who had influenced him early on. Son Luther Dickinson writes in his poignant liner notes, “Nobody could rock as hard as he could.” I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) is Jim’s 5th album released on Memphis International Records. The “Lazarus Edition” is the second album culled from his Friday, June 2, 2006 concert on the stage of the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street. He is backed by the North Mississippi All Stars, sons Luther on guitar and vocals and Cody on bass and vocals along with de facto/honorary son Chris Chew on bass plus session jack-of-all-tracks Jimmy Davis on guitar and vocals. The “Lazarus Edition” includes unreleased tracks from that live recording and two historical live tracks featuring legendary Sun Records rhythm section band members including Roland Janes, Stan Kessler, Cowboy Jack Clement, Billy Lee Riley and J.M. Van Eaton. I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) is a reflection of Dickinson’s lifelong affinity for songs that have style, substance and, are at the same time, truthful. Dickinson is very much alive on these incendiary tracks reaffirming the prescient contention that gives this remarkable set its title.
COLD WAR KIDS, La Divine (CD/LP)
The sixth studio album from Cold War Kids, LA Divine, is a satisfying soulful record packed with great moments, and the band’s strongest work since their debut effort, Robbers and Cowards. Produced by Lars Stalfors (who played keyboards with The Mars Votla and also worked on the previous two albums from the Cold War Kids), there’s a lot going on sonically, but everything is finely balanced. There’s a strong focus on the piano throughout the record and the vocals (both Willett’s powerful lead and the layered backing vocals) are probably the best in the band’s catalogue.
FUTURE ISLANDS, Far Field (CD/LP)
Samuel T Herring’s hiccupping vocal mannerisms recall the late-night ennui of Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples, and what Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer might once have described as “singing in the club style”. Along with Herring’s distinctive delivery, Future Islands’ appeal rests on their anthemic love songs. The Baltimore band’s 2014 single Seasons (Waiting on You) topped end-of-year polls, and tracks on The Far Field such as Cave share a similar tempo, wearily lovelorn lyrics and impassioned pitch. Then there’s William Cashion’s Peter Hook-ish bass, which often seems like the lead instrument, bubbling around amid washes of synth. But while their fifth album is not a giant leap forwards, all their essential elements are intact and thriving, and it reaffirms their mastery of modern synthpop. There’s not a great deal of variety, though the lovers’ rock of Candles creates some breathing space. And Debbie Harry duets with Herring on Shadows, sounding more Marianne Faithfull/grande dame than the Blondie pop princess of old.
MIGOS, Culture (CD)
Migos’ second LP doesn’t break from the Ramones-like consistency of the onslaught of mixtapes they’ve released during the past six years, or their official 2015 debut, Yung Rich Nation. The beats are booming, the flows still rattle off like Tommy Guns and there’s dreams about swimming in a pool full of cash. If Migos are indeed the new Beatles, Culture could be any of their pre–Rubber Soul albums: A taut, infectious, reliable, no-bullshit collection of 12 songs, almost all of which could be singles. “All Ass” treats the crack-whipping action “beat the pot” like a nursery rhyme, “Deadz” puts “ah ooh!” exultations into a Game of Thrones gladiator march, and “Big on Big” continues their uncanny knack for fun catchphrases.
TECH N9NE, Dominion (CD)
Tech N9ne delivers the next album from his Collabos series. The lead single from the project is ‘Put Em On,’ which features Darrein Safron and Stevie Stone. The mesmerizing track has Tech N9ne and Stevie Stone saluting their crew, family and Day 1 friends, all of whom have stood by them through life’s trials and tribulations. Darrein Safron’s soulful crooning in the chorus and the song’s outro provides a heartfelt perspective to persevering through seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Elsewhere on Dominion, Ces Cru, Tech N9ne and Wrekonize blend social commentary and lyrical gymnastics on the explosive ‘Casket Music,’ while Murs, Tech N9ne and Rittz team for a riveting rhyming exercise that highlights some of the best talent from the West Coast, South and Midwest on ‘Mo Ammo.’ Krizz Kaliko, Mackenzie Nicole, Ryan Bradley from Above Waves, JL, Prozak among others make appearances on the album. On this Deluxe Edition, the incomparable Brotha Lynch Hung is featured on the additional track ‘Bacon.’ Throughout Dominion, Tech N9ne traces his career evolution via revealing skits and interviews. Tech N9ne’s commentary provides a spellbinding look at the Kansas City rapper’s professional progression, from winning fans over during his early shows to touring with Jay Z, among other things