I don’t have any particularly compelling personal musical experiences since the last Music Notes post. My concert schedule has a lull in it right now and until the beginning of February actually. But I’ve listened to a lot of albums lately so it’s time to go through those.
A few things of note:
The hip-hop artist Juice WRLD died today after collapsing at Midway Airport in Chicago. He was only 21. Terrible.
I watched Marriage Story last night and thought it was fantastic. Noah Baumbach is such a great director and he gets such wonderful performances from his actors in every film. Anyway, Pitchfork has this occasional feature when someone famous is interviewed and they give one album for each five years of his life. With Baumbach now 50, he is the latest installment.
Pantera is very much not my thing, but it is for a lot of people and some people will no doubt want to check out this Phil Anselmo remembrance of Dimebag Darrell.
While I am always skeptical of holiday music, No Depression has a guide to decent holiday selections in its alt-country world. I could see maybe giving the Los Lobos songs a spin.
The INXS documentary could be interesting. I highly doubt the concert film will be.
Chuck Cleaver, Send Aid
Surprisingly, after over two decades of releases with Ass Ponys and Wussy, this is Chuck’s first solo album. Less surprising, it’s a very solid little dirty rock album, filled with his wry observations of life, his self-denigration, and his ability to channel loneliness. His writing has carried much of the last two Wussy albums and while I imagine many of these songs would fit in fine with the band, he has a lot of them and a solo release was very much worth it.
I don’t think Mekons are really capable of a bad album, but there are better ones than others. Deserted isn’t the very best, largely because of some real slack in the second half. But is this a good quality album that any fan of the band would want? Yeah, I think so. It’s just not what you’d start a new listener with .
The Regrettes, How Do You Love?
Here’s a fun mostly female LA punk band with a solid album about relationships. Typically of this generation of young people, the songwriting is very open about vulnerability and the emotions are pretty much laid out on the table, but this is no sad weepy album. Good guitar and drums, good singning, nice songs. Worth a listen.
Taylor Ho Bynum 9-Tet, The Ambiguity Machine
The latest by the great trumpeter and his preferred large band format. The joyful noise erupts in incredible bouts of virtuosity, 9 wonderful musicians creating with each other, including Mary Halvorson, Tomeka Reid, and Ingrid Laubrock. But much of this is also subdued as well, such as the 10 minute tribute to Ursula Le Guin. Most of all, it’s simply a very fine example of modern creative jazz, one especially perfect for the listener who likes it loud.
Ben Goldberg, A Good Day for Cloud Fishing
There’s never enough clarinetists leading modern jazz ensembles. Goldberg is one of the best. Inspired by the poetry of Dean Young, it is sort of a silly gimmick because what happened was that Young would give Goldberg a poem, then the band would play music inspired by it while Young said on the side writing more poems. Evidently the CD liner includes a couple dozen of the poems, but I streamed it on Bandcamp. Anyway, it’s an excellent album that includes greats such as Ron Miles on trumpet and Nels Cline on guitar. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no spoken word on the album. It can be a bit slow from time to time and often very abstract, but overall, this is a very fine release.
Calexico and Iron & Wine, Years to Burn
When Calexico and Iron & Wine teamed up for the great EP In the Reins back in 2005, it was a revelation. Calexico has always worked better as a backing band than on their own and Sam Beam was at the peak of his powers. One of the finest albums of the 2000s, even at only 25 minutes or so, it helped define indie folk at that time. Nearly fifteen years later and Calexico is basically the same they’ve always been while Beam’s releases have been to a rather more limited returns over time as his vision didn’t have anywhere to go after about 2007 or 2008. This reflects where both bands are now. There’s some high points here, especially “The Bitter Suite” but sometimes Bean moves closer to easy listening. Calexico always brings complex instrumentation and the album has value for that alone, but it is not 2005 anymore.
Calexico, Edge of the Sun
Having listened to the Iron & Wine collaboration, I decided to give Calexico’s 2015 release a shot. But it is like the rest of their output. Basically, Calexico is an amazing backing band whose own music barely ever gets above background music for liberals who like some Mexican sounds. The lyrics are progressive and take on border themes, but the music is just never very interesting, despite the skill of the artists. I have a soft spot for this band, because it was the first show I saw with who became my wife. And it was a good show. But the albums consistently need a kick in the ass.
Michael Kiwanuka, Kiwanuka
I thought Michael Kiwanuka’s Love and Hate one of the best albums of the decade and was pretty excite to hear his follow-up. But this just doesn’t really lead anywhere. Whereas the instrumental work on Love and Hate led to a building sound that the lyrics then pounded home, such as what opens the album on “Cold Little Heart,” here, they too often tend toward nothing very interesting. Reviews have noted that Kiwaunka has released the rare album in this era that has a real concept behind it and maybe that is true, but it doesn’t mean it is particularly successful. One of many albums I was excited about this year that disappointed.
My Morning Jacket, Z
Having never really seen the point of My Morning Jacket, I decided to listen to their 2005 album that so many people love to see if I was wrong. But no, I’m not wrong. It’s not a terrible band or album, but it’s just kind of mediocre indie guitar rock that never stands out in any useful way. I’m sure some people will be outraged by this take. I welcome your hatred.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and absolutely nothing politics. Some commenters tried to talk politics in the last of these threads. I’ll be deleting all of those with this post.