Iron Maiden: The Book Of Souls (BMG) There are very few bands since the so-called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal arrived way back in ‘70s that have not only managed to last, not only managed to become part of pop culture iconography, and not only achieved fame on nearly every corner of the globe—but who are actually not bad at all. Among the best would be the oddly cuddly Iron Maiden, who with their famous Eddie mascot, their logo, their very sharp, intelligent singer Bruce Dickinson, and their ability to riff to excess but not to extreme—a subtle distinction—have managed to stay on just this side of lovable. Their 16th studio album, Book Of Souls is well-played, appropriately melodramatic, and features the odd lyrical snippets—words like “Necropolis,” titles like “Death Or Glory”—that are absolutely perfect in the context, heartwarming in their intent, and probably a lot of fun to witness being played live. I bought my nephew an Iron Maiden t-shirt and beer combo package last Christmas and felt absolutely great about it. So did he. They are great, great fun, and something to be proud of. And this record rocks just like you thought it might.
Public Image Ltd. : What The World Needs Now (PiL Official) First off, to get a great inkling of what John Lydon, the former Johnny Rotten, is all about as a living, breathing human being, let me recommend the superb, extended interview session he just did with Yahoo Music’s managing editor Lyndsey Parker, which effectively tells the tale just about as well as does his actual music. A sharp dude with excellent musical taste—absolutely classic that punk rock’s main man was a huge fan of Can and Van Der Graaf Generator, no?—Lydon made his most interesting music after the Pistols, and though I’m personally partial to his Metal Box years—now that was band—he’s always thrown something into the mix bordering on the extraordinary. This album isn’t exactly that, but it’s good, intelligently crafted, and not exactly put together due to staggering commercial demand. Which means it already wins big. Give it a listen.
Mueller-Roedelius: Imagori (Groenland) Speaking of Can, which we were only moments ago, let’s take a moment to examine the similarly long-lived legacy of fellow German experimental pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius, once of Cluster and Harmonia, and the sort of fellow who invented the so-called “New Age” genre years before it actually existed. Still going strong and still making fascinating, oddly decorative music, Roedelius returns here with Christoph H. Müller, of the Gotan Project, for a listenable set both beat-heavy and minimal—if that makes sense—and a distinctive electronic percussive effect that very much recalls the sound of a ping-pong ball being smacked by a paddle. In short: Very much like Rihanna, but without that pesky singing. Recommended stuff.
Fidlar: Too (Mom + Pop Music) It’s difficult to not wholly embrace LA’s Fidlar, if only for their conspicuous love of the YOWP, PLOD, WHINE and THUD of all good, percussive rock ‘n’ roll, and the fact that this new album—their second full-length—“marks the first time the band has worked with a producer,” which, conceptually speaking, instantly makes you want to hear their earlier stuff! There’s energy galore, humor, and sense of “community,” for want of a better word, that permeates the music here, that conveys a young and energetic band finding and growing a very interesting, youthful audience. It’s real good stuff, loud but surprisingly subtle, and more fun than you might expect if you’ve never heard it. So hear it and find out for yourself.
Various Artists: Groove & Grind: Rare Soul ’63-’73 (Rock Beat) Each year there a few jaw-droppingly great, staggeringly cool reissues that well, frankly, you never knew there was a need for—and this is one. A 4-CD set produced by James Austin, this collection deliberately loads on great soul singles, one after another, with the key requisite being that they are all—each and every one of them—surprisingly obscure, whether by well-known artists (Carla Thomas, King Floyd, Betty Wright, Ike & Tina Turner) or, the bulk of them, one-, two-or three-hit wonders most people have never heard of. A deep collection, and a massive thrill to record collectors who spend their spare time trolling obscure R&B blogs, this set is put together with love, is a revelation on a nearly track-by-track basis, and one of the best arguments out there for the intelligent curation of music in world where everything ever recorded is out there, in a big blob, just waiting to be discovered. A thrill a minute, this is one of the best reissues you’ll hear this year.
The Clientele: Alone And Unreal: The Best Of The Clientele (Merge) It would be safe to say that England’s Clientele are one of my very favorite bands of the last two decades or so: They are so unmentionably good and clean and precise and not like everybody else but so very right. Thus it’s entirely logical that this set, which purports to be their “best of” set, would be about as good as this stuff gets. And it is very good indeed. Buy the deluxe version, Clientele fans, and you’ll get bonus album The Sound Of Young Basingstoke, previously unreleased and from a very early version of the band, but buy whatever you can by the Clientele before it all goes away and you miss some of the very best, most wistful, most gorgeous pop music you’ll ever hear in your entire life. Enjoy them now before that whole cult thing starts happening in 20 years or so.
Sun Ra Arkestra: Babylon Live (In + Out) If in the course of your life—whether brief or extended—you missed the opportunity to see the brilliant, late jazz composer/arranger/player/conceptualist Sun Ra, then you have my sympathy. Luckily, his legacy has been preserved via a wealth of recordings, videos and film documentaries, and, in real time, projects like this—a post-Ra Arkestra out there performing much of their leader’s best-known music. Here featuring bandleader Marshall Allen—now 91, unbelievably—the band is caught performing live in Istanbul and sound wonderful throughout. The package includes thorough liner notes, sounds great, and best of all includes a live DVD, which hints at the mad visual legacy Ra and his crew methodically constructed since the 1950s. Great stuff which, as at least one writer has pointed out, sounds not unlike the Duke Ellington Orchestra on LSD. In other words: altogether perfect.
The Doors: Full Circle / Other Voices (Rhino) All these years later comes the legitimate CD release of the last two Doors albums—the ones without Jim Morrison—and however anti-climactic they may be, their reissue here is welcome. Very much a continuation of the jazz-esque feel the band offered up circa scattered tracks of Morrison Hotel and “Riders On The Storm,” the music on display here is just fine—it’s the vocals that are the issue. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek has a yelp that, whatever his intent, can’t help but sound bar-bandesque and yeoman-like; guitarist Robby Krieger, while not exactly a vocal dynamo, has a subtlety that works much more to the band’s benefit. It’s good the band called it a day when they did—there was nowhere to go but down, post-Jim Morrison—but this reissue, remastered and including the rare “Treetrunk” B-side from 1972, puts a final polish to the Doors legacy and was very long in coming. Glad to see it’s officially here.