Let’s Be Frank!
Let me take this opportunity right now to apologize if you are one of my many friends or acquaintances who might have received an odd email from me this morning, at around 9:49 am PDT, that offered nothing but an anonymous URL upon which you theoretically were supposed to click!
In fact, it was at that precise moment that my hacked personal email account sent you--courtesy of a wonderful benefactor in Poland--marvelous spam!
Additionally, if you were one of the half-dozen or so now-deceased acquaintances that I apparently sent email to since 1997 or so, rest assured it's OK if you don't send me a personal note telling me my account has been hacked!
Just tell me if it really made a difference if you were good or bad while you were still running around on earth! And if you can really tell what I'm wearing while I type this!
Maybe we should take this offline!
Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE (Odd Future) Everyone's talking about the new Frank Ocean album, and with good reason! The big question? Is he related to Billy Ocean? Heck, I don't know! Even more importantly: In the scheme of things, can massive physical bodies like mountains, clouds, rivers or oceans ever be less than frank? You know--insincere? "Hi, even though I look like a big, ominous dark storm cloud in the sky, I have no intention whatsoever to rain--so go ahead and have your picnic!" It's no small matter! Still, the man of the hour--who has written for artists such as Brandy, Justin Bieber and John Legend, according to a trusted biographical source, and is a member of the spectacularly written about for no apparent reason Odd Future--has released a power-packed album filled with marvelous songs, guests like Andre 3000, John Mayer, and the legendary Earl Sweatshirt, and an album title certain to puzzle anybody with a TV remote control in their hand! I'm thinking it may be the most meaningful experience I've ever had in my life! Well, except for that day in confession!
Susanna Hoffs: Someday (Baroque Folk) Look, let's be honest--any guy with an ear for pop music who's between the age of 30-75 is going to approach a new album by Susanna Hoffs positively, hoping that somehow, if it's any good, and you give it a good enough review, she'll read it, drop everything, track down your phone number, give you a call to chat about Big Star and the first time you heard Nico's Chelsea Girl, and maybe ask you out for coffee! Heck, that's just the way it is! Luckily, saying nice things about Ms. Hoffs' new set is no aesthetic stretch, as it's quite good, and the former Bangle has not lost her touch either song-wise or sound-wise, and producer Mitchell Froom has crafted a compelling context against which Hoffs' songs might be enjoyed. Still, the singer's much-discussed desire to emulate Mary Poppins during her "rebel" phase surfaces on inconvenient occasions! I think I like her more than Lita Ford!
Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth (Collective Sounds) For many people, Jimmy Cliff may represent the first reggae artist they ever heard--at least for Stateside residents--and Rebirth offers up the same level of quality that brought him to our attention in the first place. Much credit belongs to producer Tim Armstrong, whose work with Rancid may not be precisely up this writer's alley, but who manages to lend a contemporary sheen to Cliff circa 2012 when, with another producer, the singer might've just as easily ended up sounding like Johnny Nash with a string section--or Lionel Richie singing a bunch of duets with people wearing cowboy hats! Add the fact that Cliff can be heard here singing reggae classics like the Clash's "Guns Of Brixton" and Rancid's "Ruby Soho"--truly the "My Boy Lollipop" of a different era entirely--and that fact that he's wearing a marvelous hat on the album cover, and you've got the album of a lifetime! Namely, the lifetime of Larry Jones--a nice guy who drove a bread truck in Omaha until a few months ago!
The Fixx: Beautiful Friction (Kirtland) Sometimes, during those odd weekend hours when it's twilight and I'm a little bored, I pop in my car, put on my sunglasses, pull out a cigarette, light it, crank up my stereo, and drive up and down Ventura Boulevard here in LA, windows down just a little bit, so people can hear the fine tunes I'm jamming' on! You too? When I do it, I like to listen to things like this brand new Fixx album--it kind of rocks!--and swerve curbside when, on occasion, I spot a certain type of person--say the sort of woman with teased hair who might've appeared in a Bon Jovi video that MTV might've run in 1983 or so--and let her hear the beautiful music I'm cranking! Lately, big guys in muscle cars drive up behind me, honking their horns and stuff, and I drive away miffed, maybe stopping at the 7-11 to regroup for a few minutes, true. But when I get home, out comes the Fixx once more--louder than ever!--and I catch a little TV and maybe pull out the high school yearbook! Then I wonder if I should maybe feed the dog!
Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again (Cherry Tree) This record has been out for a while in the UK--where singer Kiwanuka is rightly perceived as a young, very significant talent--but here in the States, where it will hit an entirely new audience, it will be received without the buzz and purely on its own merits. Fine. It's a very strong, memorable debut--filled with deeply felt songs sung midway between soul and folk styles--that seems less a product of commerce than one of purely documented art. It sounds better with each listen. That it's so good, and so unpretentious, ironically makes it sound less "contemporary" than it might--this might've been released by Warner Brothers in the mid-'70s--but the sheer quality of the talent on display here makes it that much more unusual in 2012. Very likely to be a few people's favorite record of the year, Home Again is one of the year's brightest displays of raw, new talent. Highly recommended.
Shoes: Ignition (Black Vinyl) Though the very notion of a musical genre called "power pop" now sounds hopelessly quaint, the music given that designation is often anything but. This new set by much-admired band Shoes, who've been pioneers in the genre since the '70s, is a powerful, wonderful reminder that the best artists in that field often make music that sounds tied to no specific era: It is sharply produced, filled with fresh and dynamic pop songs, and certainly as strong as anything they've ever released. Marvelous textures, great harmonies, and certainly nothing that sounds deliberately retro, Ignition is one of the year's better rock albums--and a good a reason as any to track down every recording this band has ever released.
The Velvet Underground: Squeeze (Kismet) I've always gotten a cynical kick out of people who've claimed to be the world's biggest Velvet Underground fans and have simply dismissed this album--the one recorded following founder Lou Reed's departure--often without actually hearing it. Recorded in 1972 and effectively a solo album by latter-day Velvets member Doug Yule, the disc is much better than most have been led to expect--and former member's Reed's consistent dismissal of it has been no small factor. These years later, a few of the tracks oddly recall the sort of parallel-world rock album the Grateful Dead might've recorded after Workingman's Dead--and I know that sounds weird--but at least one track, the gorgeous "Friends," is equal to just about anything the "real" Velvets ever recorded, and Yule's vocals, so compelling back in the days of "Candy Says," here may be his all-time best. Play it for a Velvets fan who's never heard it, tell them it's "a lost track from the third album," and watch them rave.
Milo Greene: Milo Greene (Chop Shop) Sometimes it's really tough to praise a band whose major claim to fame revolves around their music's appearance on Grey's Anatomy and Suburgatory--like dude, I would watch those shows, but I'm busy illegally downloading music!--but when you innocently play a new album and find yourself coming back to it again and again, it's sort of a good sign! Comprised of a bunch of California-based humans--by no means an actual human named Milo--this band happens to sound really good, do not seem to be pursuing big money, and accidentally appear to be a group you might really want to hear. It's sort of a puzzle!
Dreams: Dreams (MP3 download) (Columbia/Legacy) Forgive me for delving deep into the past, but when one of pop music's all-time best "horn rock" albums of the '70s resurfaces--this time in the very cheap MP3-only configuration--it's worth pointing out. While bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Chase and billion other imitators were out there making big noise, this group, centered around the "pre-crossover" Brecker Brothers, made two of the very best albums of the genre. This one, their 1970 debut, is an absolute classic--seven songs, well sung, superbly arranged and written, certainly equal to all but the very first BS&T album with Al Kooper. Its follow-up Imagine My Surprise never reached these heights, and with the Breckers' soon-to-come success as fusioneers at Arista, the pop excursions were long gone, but this album, really and truly, was one of a kind.
Ozzy Osbourne: Speak Of The Devil DVD (Eagle Rock) Recorded in 1982 at Irvine Meadows in California shortly after the death of much-mourned lead guitarist Randy Rhoads, this fascinating DVD features former Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy with guitarist Brad Gillis, keyboardist Don Airey, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge. It captures the singer comparatively early in his post-Sabbath career--two albums in--and makes for fascinating TV fare, particularly with the sound on. I quite like him!