The biggest musical event for me since the last of these posts was seeing the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet at Firehouse 12 in New Haven last Friday. Bynum likes working in larger ensembles, which is great because I love a large ensemble. Aesthetically, I prefer the bigger noise of modern jazz than, say, a solo piano album. I’d seen Bynum before playing with Tomas Fujiwara (who is the drummer in this band too). He’s an energetic player with a pretty charismatic personality on stage in a world where a lot of relatively younger players are fairly subdued personally. This is Bynum’s core band, which he sometimes increases to 9 or 10 players. Jim Hobbs was on alto sax, Bill Lowe on tuba and bass trombone, Certified Genius Mary Halvorson on guitar, Ken Filiano on bass, and Fujiwara on drums. And it was just great. A full hour without breaks, much of it a noisy cavalcade of sound. Just seeing Halvorson play again would have made it worth the price of admission alone, but Bynum is really a genius in his own right. Great stuff. Check out his albums if you can. Here’s an older performance of this band.
The second biggest musical event, and it’s a bit of shame that it’s not the first, was finally seeing Sleater Kinney live, at the House of Blues in Boston. Look, at some points it was great. How long I have waited to see “The Fox” and “One More Hour” and “Oh!” and “Call the Doctor” and “Dig Me Out” and “Bury Our Friends”? A long time! And much about it was great. But there were two caveats. First, the new material remains really jarring live. Not all of it–“Broken,” Corin’s song about Christine Blasey Ford, for instance, works really well. But the first half of the show especially, where they are switching from The Center Won’t Hold to the earlier albums, sounds like two different bands. They really kept up the electronic stuff in the live show and I don’t think it is particularly compelling in that format because it is too different from the rest of the catalog. Plus, while whatever hired gun they found to replace Janet Weiss on the live tour was a fine drummer, the person was no Janet, in terms of bringing her spirit to the band or her chops or her uncanny ability to pick the right setlist for a given show. So yeah, it was a perfectly fine but not really life-changing show. The opener was some sort of comedic opera-singing performance artist, which sounded like something Carrie thinks is cool from her Hollywood and comedy friends but which was mostly pretty dumb.
I’ve long held that Wilco is wildly overrated and the one time I saw them live did not really challenge my belief, but I remain in the minority.
I never really found R.E.M.’s Monster a compelling album, but it’s the 25th anniversary of it and that’s getting a lot of attention. Here’s an interview with Michael Stipe and Mike Mills about it.
Robert Freeman, the photographer who took the pictures that ended up on many Beatles’ album covers, died at the age of 82.
Tyler Childers, County Squire
The latest Childers album has received a lot of buzz, partially because of its Sturgill Simpson production that gave it his stamp of approval. It’s a completely solid country album. But it also knows few emotions outside of nostalgia. Now, nostalgia is perhaps the most important emotional state of country music. The entire genre, from the very beginning, has been awash in it. And that’s fine. But it also has its limitations when that’s the only thing going on. Childers’ position here is to tell his story about Life on the Road, an all-too-common and rarely interesting place for musicians to go (Old 97s, Most Messed Up is an amazing exception to this). He manages to transcend the cliches to some extent. And he’s a skilled singer. But I think there are more limitations to this album than most reviewers seem to.
Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains
David Berman’s return to music is a gigantic triumph. It also represented the tragedy of his suicide a few months after this release. It’s a fantastic album. It’s also an album of an extremely depressed man. Had I heard this before he died, I would have hailed Berman’s return and hope he’s OK. Hearing it after his death, I just think it is a brilliant last statement by a major artist. And lest the discussion be strictly about Berman’s death, the band put together for this was absolutely fantastic and while there are a couple of less compelling songs in the middle of album, it’s mostly gems from stem to stern.
The evaluation of any given Tinariwen album is the same as most of the desert blues bands–to what extent do you think the droning sameness of this music works for you. The musicianship is great. The ability to really tear the place apart is obviously there, but things remain at a pretty good simmer. The music remains incredibly evocative. If you like this stuff, you will like this. If you find it a bit repetitive, you might not.
John Paul White, The Hurting Kind
When The Civil Wars released that album that went huge overnight, I was impressed by the talent of John Paul White and Joy Williams but found the overwhelming romantic emoting of the album a bit much to take. That band broke apart to save both of their marriages and they’ve had moderately successful solo careers since. White’s recent album is alright, but it still mostly trucks in the emotive sadness that I didn’t find all that compelling on The Civil Wars material.
Fauxe, I K H L A S
Did you ever think you needed a Singaporean producer spending a bunch of time in Malaysia exploring the nation’s folk music and then mashing up that music with his beats to tell a sort of musical story about modernization? Probably not. But this is that album. At the very least, this is very interesting. And really, it’s more than that, it’s a success. I don’t know that I need to listen to this repeatedly. I am very glad I listened to it at least once, as I usually am with releases from the Chinabot label.
Boyracer, Fling Yr Bonnet Over the Windmill
I was never a big Boyracer fan, but I figured I’d check out this collection of three very early EPs onto one recent release. And yeah, it’s fine in the poppy punk place that Boyracer occupied in the 90s. Not too much more than that, but not less either.
Anteloper is a project between the astounding trumpeter Jaimie Branch and the drummer Jason Nazary that brings their prodigious talents and adds a whole bunch of synthesizers and electronics to it. Mostly it works, with the exception that at times the longer drums/electronics interplay get a little slow, particularly toward the end of the third track. But this is certainly a listen worth your time.
Antibalas, Where the Gods Are in Peace
The question with Antibalas is never the quality of the music. It’s whether you are really just seeing a Fela cover band and well, why not listen to the original? That’s unfair, they aren’t actually a cover band. And they deserve credit for spreading the joys of Afrobeat to a lot of people. I’ve never seen them live and I am sure it is a hot show. Would go out of my way to do so. But I can’t totally get past this feeling when I listed to the studio albums.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics.