The Roundup: November 2015

It is getting increasingly cold, and unpleasant outside for us midwesterners.  Our temptation to spend time outdoors dwindles as we huddle under blankets indoors with warm beverages.  Subsequently, this is a perfect time to sit and listen to some albums.  I did just that, so lets huddle up under our snuggies and enjoy The Roundup: November 2015.

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Basement Jaxx – Remedy

The debut LP from Basement Jaxx has none of the uncertainty or unease that typically comes from a freshman release.  Its songs are bold and brave, not taking ‘no’ for an answer as they force you onto the dance floor.  This was before the era of “big drops” and the dominance of deep-house so everything has a nice variety to it, giving the listener multiple catchy flavors to sample from.

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Van Marrison – Tupelo Honey

If you are one of the couple billion individuals on Facebook then you likely have seen the meme comparing classic rock lyrics to modern lyrics, making Led Zeppelin look like Kafka and Nicki Minaj like some kind of illiterate dolt.  This on its own is a pretty unfair comparison as there are loads terrible lyrics from that era, using every bad metaphor to describe the female anatomy or sex, but in comparing the instrumentation of an album like Tupelo Honey to Roman Reloaded we can see that apparently over time the appreciation for intricate compositions and layered instrumentation has slowly eroded.  Not only are these songs catchy folk-rock numbers, they are brazingly dense, with sharp drum patterns and a variety of guest musicians.  When Van is firing on all cylinders he has few peers and this is a perfect example of that.

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U.K. – U.K.

After the umpteenth  implosion of King Crimson Bassist John Whetton and drummer Bill Bruford grabbed a few other musicians to make U.K. one of many British progressive rock supergroups to be born from the partnering of various ex-members.  The problem with these groups is that while they tend to be musically clever, they often lack soul, having no reason to exist beyond “well we did this before and we are good at our instruments”.  U.K.’s self-titled LP has enough up its sleeve to be entertaining, but none of it ever hits the levels achieved by their previous groups, coming of ass more novelty than passion.  For those begging for more classic Brit-prog you’ll be satiated enough

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Spiritualized – Amazing Grace

A significantly more stripped down and rock-centric album from Spiritualized does not equal a worse album.  In fact for those who have been terrified of Jason Pierce’s eternally dense albums you will find solace in this more spacious and focused album.  Songs like She Kissed Me (If Felt Like A Hit) are slick with catchy hooks and grooving riffs, but still glowing with personality.  Yes, it may not be as high-brow as some of their other albums, but it makes up for that in excellent song crafting.

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Niagara – Niagara

To boil down the essence of Kraut Rock seems a pretty radical thought considering its traditionally bare-bones approach to music, but Niagara‘s self-titled album pulls it off.  Consisting of just percussion, the album has this amazing ability to suck you into its simple constantly layered patterns.  The ability to determine where one loop ends and the other begins is impossible in these two twenty minute jams, leaving the listener in a never ending sea of drumming and head-bobbing euphoria.  You aren’t playing this one at your next party, unless your next party starts with everyone taking LSD and rolling around on bean bags.

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Nas – Illmatic

A friendly reminder here that I often miss quintessential albums for years at a time.  Nas‘s classic Illmatic can finally be crossed off my list, and once again I am pained at missing out until now.  Slick jazz-influenced beats give massive space for Nas provide deep and thought-provoking words for listeners to mull over.  I am not much for song lyrics, but Nas had me listening with deep intent, unfolding his personal outlook in front of me.  I know you have heard this all before from so many other publications, but this is an amazing piece of work that is still a benchmark for others to achieve.

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Cat Power – Dear Sir

Cat Powers sultry vocal demeanor mixed with slow and grizzly instrumentation makes for one ultra depressing and dreary album.  Fortunately, however, Cat Power‘s Dear Sir doesn’t get too morose, and even so its short half-hour run time does go long enough to really ruin your day.  It has a whiff of intellectualism, making it not depressing and stupid, like a poorly written Puddle of Mud song. Well worth the brief investment

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Cat Power – Dark End Of The Street

The cover for CCR’s Fortunate Son alone is worth the price of admission.  Another short Cat Power romp paired nicely with the former to make a pleasant hour of a few cigarette in seductions paired with grunge inspired albeit mellow rock music.  I am excited to hear the rest of her music in the coming months.

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Duran Duran – Rio

Duran Duran is more than cliche’ 80’s pop hits that inspired numerous, terrible, imitators.  There is a high level of musicianship that is predominant in this era classic, which is the antithesis of many pop groups of the time.  Yes there is are unmistakable tropes of the era filling its grooves, but they are mixed in with intricate bass lines, and well-developed drum patterns.  Even classics like the self-titled Rio and Hungry Like The Wolf are not as straight forward as you might remember them.  Some of the proclaimed classics of the decade have aged poorly, but Rio stands firm as an all around strong album with a lot to offer.

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KUDU – Back For More: A Remix Collection

Kudu was a dark horse of the early 00’s, providing new spins to party music, but somehow never quite breaking out.  It is a shame too as I find their two major releases far more entertaining and well-thought than some of their more popular peers such as LCD Soundsystem.  This victory lap has novelty for the few hardcore KUDU fans, but the remixes rarely go above and beyond just a minor rearrangement of the music with the same vocal patterns.  Some, like the 12 minute reinventing of Hot Lava do truly present the song in a new light, but otherwise it does not do a whole lot new.  Fortunately, the material is strong in any form and worth a brief look.

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J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

The self congratulatory self-righteous bragging of 90’s and 00’s rap seems to be fading out as new pioneers such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar choose to rap about societal struggles and engage in intimate self-disclosure.  There are a few moments in 2014 where J. Cole pays homage to those old days with a few cuts about his excellence, but for the most part he opts for a more open and honest exploration into his psyche.  The 14 minute album closer could have been cut, but I respect the artist for making sure we all knew who helped him get to where he is.  A true masterpiece.

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Adanowsky – Ada

I was originally drawn to Adanowsky due to his suave Latin lounge numbers that exuded machismo and sex.  There was a classic 1920’s coolness to them that made him seem hip beyond recognition.  Then all of a sudden he decided that like everyone else he should make an 80’s pop album because 30 years later nostalgia is cool.  Part of me hopes that this is a parody album, a joke on the current trend of every artist making this exact same album because it is just completely terrible and unpleasant to listen to.  It is the laziest album I have heard in ages.

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Adrian Belew – Side Three

As noted, Adrian Belew is at his best when avoids lauding over his 60’s pop-rock idols and focuses on his stranger output.  Side Three, the third (obviously) entry in this four part series gives polite nods to said idols, but really does a great job of focusing his efforts on tight grooves courtesy of his power trio and make more ecstatic guitar noises that no one knew could exist. Numbers like Beat Box Car and Men in Helicopters showcase how his guitar work can really be amped up when given a great backing bad for which to work from.  While Adrian had an integral part of King Crimson for years, the cohesive nature never allowed him to really go wild.  Here he can.

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Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner

I genuinely do not understand why the Grime scene never erupted in the United States, instead being a niche that is mainly loved in England.  Dizzee shifts from ferocious spitting to subdued crooning all the while fighting the erratic and off-kilter nature of the beats surrounding him. The songs have an odd spaciousness to them, yet their drunken swagger makes them completely unpredictable.  Dizzee always seems to be at war with the music, trying to make sense of what he is working with minimum success.  This is a good thing though, as it helps fuel your own sense of nonalignment, which is what this music is about.

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Radiohead – King Of Limbs

My recent attempt to give Radiohead another try has been mostly a success, but there are moments were I truly do not understand the appeal, such as here with King of Limbs.  The stereotype of Radiohead being new-age electronic music with Thom Yorke mumbling nonsense can’t be argued against after this dull and uneventful album.  It is not that there is a lack of dynamic happenings, but rather there is a lack of anything happening.  Little bleeps and bloops surface to make music that may work as a background soundtrack, but are a drudge to listen to on my own accord.  Thom’s vocal work is as wildly subdued and is completely forgettable.  Musical Ambien.

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 Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

I am skeptical of any band that has a ridiculous spelling that then insists ‘its pronounced ____’ (I’m well aware of the irony of that statement on this website).  Chvrches, beyond its ridiculous name, also confuse me because they are for all intents and purposes a pop act, one that is hardly that different than what you are hearing in the mainstream. Somehow, despite this they are considered an ‘indie’ band with underground credibility.  The music itself is pretty straightforward pop-music with a lean towards 80’s retro synths.  After about half way through the album I had felt I had heard enough, despite another 20-30 some minutes to go.  Further diversity would have helped carry it further.

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The xx – Coexist

The xx’s dark and atmospheric sound is at its best when benefiting from its sparse environments.  Often a song will have very little going  beyond a muted drum machine and a guitar with a load of reverb.  Also to its favor is the albums brevity, preventing from the sparse, intimate sounding album from overstaying its welcome.  The whole experience has a very bare and unnerving feeling to it which is quite pleasant.  More music would have probably worsened its approach and taken away from its mysterious aura.

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Portishead – Portishead

The second album from British masterminds Portishead leans more heavily on the hop side of things rather than the trip.  The more loop-centric music would have felt fitting with an MC calmly firing rhymes instead of Beth Gibbons heart ache felt wallows.  Her pained voice is what allows Portishead to have this constant feeling of endless emotional outpouring from its music, which is still the case here with nearly flawless execution.  The musical elements, while focused on brief loops have this haunted ambiance to them that sets a perfect stage for contemplation and drinking into deep depression.

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Minutemen – The Punch Line

The band name Minutemen is a bit of false advertising as many of theirs songs don’t even get that far.  Yet, miraculously these extremely brief numbers pack a lot of power in their shockingly brief tenures.  Even better, is that the albums go well beyond anticipated high-speed riffs and screams (a common staple of 45 second songs) and go into jazz, post-punk, and new-wave style grooves.  Best of all, is if you hate something on here you know it won’t be around long enough to cause any real pain.

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Kevin Ayers – Joy of A Toy

Discarded to the way-side during its time was former Soft Machine‘s Kevin Ayers psychedelic pop-rock adventure.  It is rather tragic that it took until the 2000’s for the album to really find an audience as it is a load of fun, being a clever capstone to the far out 60’s.  An appropriate way to describe the album too as it captures many of the themes and elements that were ever present in popular pop-rock during the decade, while also pay respect to his jazz roots with accompanying horn sections and strange mindless freakouts.  Ayers’ mellow bellowing tone brings a soothing calm to all the happenings going on as well, ensuring the listener doesn’t get too weirded out from the proceedings.  Picking up a special edition will even net you a bonus track featuring Syd Barret.  Now there is a match in heaven!

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