After the recent hubbub of the Grammys, the sad demise of Whitney Houston, and the surrealistic news of further recorded collaborations by contemporary singing stars Rihanna and Chris Brown, one might say...anything goes!
And so, to celebrate, to get in the mood--to, in a sense, cleanse my palate of all that today's music scene has to offer--this week I decided to get rid of all my preconceived notions of what was right, wrong, good or bad, and, indeed, start from scratch! I would listen to every new piece of music that crossed my path and judge it purely for what it was--without prejudice, critical snobbery, or that numbing sense that everything now being done was once done before, but, sadly, even better.
And thus, to begin my quest, I decided I would start anew by listening to the complete recorded works of Dutch rockers Golden Earring, a long-lived band who since the mid-'60s have recorded a fascinating catalog of slightly off popular music that would eventually encompass a fascinating side-long cover version of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," a memorable testosterone-infused hit with "Radar Love," a staggering classic via the accompanying "Candy's Going Bad," an early MTV hit with "Twilight Zone," and a whole bunch of other albums that, remarkably, have never stopped coming. All over the place.
In short: They are now the critical baseline by which I will now render all of my judgments regarding today's popular music!
Were I not to notify you of this, I would be doing you a disservice!
Sleigh Bells: Reign Of Terror (Mom + Pop) While I am sadly hip enough to know this trendy duo appeared on Saturday Night Live this weekend, I simply did not have the energy to watch their performance! And it didn't matter! Because between Twitter and Facebook, enough people would tell me exactly what I needed to think--and I could spend my Saturday night listening to the complete works of Dutch rockers Alquin and, as is my goal, eventually hear everything! But I like this record, I like the aesthetic notion of loud and distorted guitars, a pleasing but mildly off-pitch female vocalist singing the barely understandable lyrics of "Road To Hell," hot babes, and album covers featuring bloody tennis shoes! For that matter, both the band name and the album title bring to mind the notion of an evil Santa Claus, and that's not a bad thing! By following no formula whatsoever, Sleigh Bells are an interesting, unique, noisy outfit that are infinitely more compelling than a night's worth of erectile dysfunction commercials--and almost up there with the charismatic cast of characters populating today's fascinating Mucinex spots! Bold words? Perhaps!
The Chieftains: Voices Of Ages (Hear Music/Concord) Aged, ancient and pretty spry, the Chieftains continue to roll out highly credible excursions of traditional Irish music, and this latest effort--which marks their 50th anniversary--should bring in a welcome slab of today's youth market, what with inclusion of such collaborators as Bon Iver, the Decemberists, the Civil Wars, the Punch Brothers, the Pistol Annies, and ultrahipster NASA Astronaut Cady Coleman, last seen cavorting at the Electric Daisy Festival, careening around shirtless at Burning Man, and looking for a similar verb starting with "c" to associate with another completely unlikely event purely for the sake of pathetic humor! A tasteful, well-played venture, certain to eventually cement the distinguished band's reputation as "those old guys who played with other, hipper guys again and again to broaden their commercial reach" according to today's poor kids forced to hear their dads and moms play this stuff for them in the SUV because that's what good parenting's all about! Bad parents: buy Lucky Charms and play hiphop--it'll all work out!
Sinéad O'Connor: How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? (MRI) This represents the ninth studio album by plucky Irish vocalist O'Connor--these days best remembered as the zany lady who once ripped up a picture of the Pope on national TV, who once had her biggest hit ever with a song she didn't write, and who once had her shaven-headed publicity photo filled in with a black Sharpie by a music writer who said, I forget to whom, "Hey, you know what? With hair, Sinéad O'Connor is actually pretty hot!" This latest album is about as good as any of them were--none of them were exceptional--but, as was the case with I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, the title seems almost there but sort of misses the mark; were it to be, say, How About I Be Me (And You Be A Nearby Inanimate Object Like, Say, That Chair)?, I, and indeed all society, might find it more compelling! Still, she's hip enough to cover John Grant's "Queen Of Denmark," so let's just call her a goddess and be done with it! Incidentally, speaking as a journalist, why have I only ever used the word "plucky" to describe Sinéad O'Connor?
Isidore: Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels) A very nice, subtle return for odd-man-out collaborators Jeffrey Cain of Remy Zero and Steve Kilbey--the distinguished songsmith who's helmed Australian band the Church all these years, and whose voice and lyrical approach makes this one of his best efforts in recent memory. Atmospheric, thoughtful, intimate and biting, the 14-track set moves along, sonically adventurous and less deliberately droning than has been the latter-day Kilbey norm, and is welcome evidence that our better artists continue to grow with each passing year. Recommended.
Santana: Live At Montreux 2011 (Blu-ray) (Eagle Rock) Aside from the excellent musicianship that has marked every project Carlos Santana has had a hand in, the legendary guitarist's keen understanding of jazz improvisation--the legacy of greats like John Coltrane and Miles Davis--has made every new reworking of past glories an interesting, inspiring and unique listen. This new DVD, shot only last year, offers over 200 minutes of the guitarist and his superb band running through well-known hits such as "Black Magic Woman, " "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va," but each time bringing something new to the mix in terms of notes and emotional approach. Featuring guest stars like Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, the disc focuses wholly on inspirational music and, not incidentally, is a fine greatest hits set as well. The number of artists with this lengthy a legacy--and this credible a legacy--still out there performing is dwindling, and for Carlos Santana, this is one triumphant showing.
Cursive: I Am Gemini (Saddle Creek) I'm digging the latest Cursive album, one of Saddle Creek's more interesting artists, largely because of the their sonic versatility--the albums really don't all sound alike--and the fact that they've managed to stay interesting and listenable for seven albums now. This new set recounts the story of twin brothers Cassius and Pollock, twin brothers at odds with the world for supplying them names close but not close enough to be the Castor and Pollux of Greek and Roman mythology, as well as completely understandable vitriol directed at their parents, who apparently had no compunctions about naming one of the boys after a fish! Hey, when my wife was pregnant, I thought about naming our first kid Ba'al, but then I grew up! Buy this for kicks!
Eddie Hazel: Game, Dames & Guitar Thangs (Real Gone Music) If you were a record-buying human who visited record stores on a regular basis during the '70s, it would not be an exaggeration to note you probably saw a new Parliament-Funkadelic "project" every three months or so. George Clinton's impressive and productive legacy provided the world with a memorable array of albums, offshoots, and side-projects--Parlet, the Brides Of Funkenstein, Mutiny, and much, much more--but none have developed the cult following that has this album, by Clinton guitarist Hazel, which came and went, briefly, but affected those who heard it deeply. Rescued and reissued, the album sounds even better than it did in 1977--when it was just part of the assembly line--and can now be appreciated as the cultural touchstone it clearly is. Exemplary musicianship, whacked-out covers of "California Dreaming" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," the album is a precious slice of another place and time that now seems far, far away. Fabulous stuff.
Lambchop: Mr. M (Merge) The very unusual, and very compelling, recorded work of Kurt Wagner and his band Lambchop shows no sign of slowing well into its second decade; this excellent disc, the band's 11th, shows the same idiosyncratic subtleties that have made the band one of pop music's more unique and literate aggregations. Blah, blah, blah. Suffer migraine headaches? Plagued by horrendous hangovers? This is the band for you!
Tyga: Careless World: Rise Of The Last King (Young Money) An admittedly out-there concept album by Travie McCoy's rapping cousin Tyga, this new album is based on a memorable game of checkers played by Tyga and his good friend Winnie, the famous Pooh, in which both players watched in stunned amazement as a double-decked pair of checkers rose from the checkerboard, flew out to the kitchen and checked a pager lying by the toaster, and then promptly returned to the board without uttering a word! Heck, I'd make an album if I ever saw that happen! Featuring a batch of superstar guests like Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Nas, Chris Brown, Robin Thicke, and Jerry Mathers, the album is literally the finest product mankind has ever produced! Plus, it doesn't sound bad!
Fun.: Some Nights (Fueled By Ramen) From the get-go, Fun. has devoted their entire career to refuting those things many Stooges fans hold dear--and here, boldly boasting of even greater virility, they take on a classic Eagles track! Still, putting an engagement ring on your fiancée's toe is pushing it, dudes!