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Music Notes


I grew up outside of Eugene and the thing about that city is that while it is great in many ways, it has a terrible music scene. Somehow, Michelle Zauner from Japanese Breakfast is from Eugene, which may give one a sense that the town’s scene is much hipper than it is. Mostly, it’s hippie jam bands that suck.

So it’s rare that I am at home and there’s a show I want to see. But going out there for Thanksgiving, I had an unexpected surprise when I was able to see the great Tejana songwriter Tish Hinojosa at WOW Hall. I had never seen her. Her heyday was in the 90s when she was part of the larger Americana movement, but while her albums get less attention now than they used to, she’s still very good. The show was a combination of her songs and Mexican folk songs, with another guitarist and a keyboardist/accordionist accompanying her. What’s particularly interesting about her band is that the three of them have played together since they were young in San Antonio and remain together decades later, which is pretty remarkable given how often sidemen leave bands or lead singers want to mix things up.

I have to admit that I was very tired at the show, after a late plane forced me to spend an unexpected night in Salt Lake City on a day that started with a conference presentation in Minnesota, so I wasn’t at my best. But Hinojosa was quite good. As it usually is at these shows, the entire performance was better by the venue not allowing alcohol. Everyone was paying attention and everyone was into it. It was also a benefit for some Central American migrant organizations in the region, so that was cool to support. If you have a chance to see Hinojosa, take advantage of it. I love Mexican-American music and so it was a real treat for me.

The last time I did one of these, a commenter noted that he had interviewed the amazing Iranian-American saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh for Bandcamp on his attempts to merge Iranian and American music and that’s definitely worth a link on this post.

A couple of deaths to note–the composer Alvin Lucier has died at the age of 90 and Joanne Shenandoah, the Native musician, died at 64.

The Year End Best Of lists are coming out fast and furious. It’s amazing that I listen to this much new music and how few of the top albums I have heard yet. But I’ll work on it by the end of the year!

Tom Petty is getting an honorary PhD from the University of Florida, even though he’s dead.

New Orleans definitely should change its street named after Robert E. Lee to being named after Allen Toussaint.

Despite the general impossibility of actually living in San Francisco, there are still bands coming out of there and here’s a discussion of some of the recent ones.

Album Reviews:

Evan Greer, Spotify is Surveillance

I’d had to listen to any album with this title. Greer is a queer left-anarchist singer out of Boston. I can’t do a better job summarizing this album than did “Babylonian Eve” on Bandcamp: “Had a delightful time scream-singing this with the rest of my queerplatonic polycule farmstead co-op, which I have to assume is the intended use case. Highly recommended if you share this specific life scenario!”

That’s basically it. And that’s fine. The problem is that Greer doesn’t have the voice to pull it off. This is a punk influenced singer who has too soft a voice for the anti-capitalist punk influences. This sounds more like an anti-capitalist gender fluid John Darnielle than the Joe Strummer it hopes to be. It’s alright.


Courtney Barnett, Things Take Time, Take Time

I think we have to come to terms with the fact Courtney Barnett was a one-hit wonder. Sometimes I Sit and Think is one of the greatest albums of this century. But her work since has been….inconsistent at best. There’s some good songs on her new release, especially the opening track “Rae Street.” But part of the reason she advanced so far from her early EPs with Sometimes was that it rocked. It was big rock star guitar. Now she’s back to mostly strumming through songs while having trouble bringing the high quality wordplay and cynical sardonic wit of her early work. Basically, this sounds like a set of demos.


Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey, Reels

The great pianist Shipp has played on dozens of albums with the drummer Dickey. I’m not sure if this is their first duo album, after all, it’s hard to keep track of all the releases. But even with the minimalist instrumentation here, the music astounds. Constantly pushing forward, building off of each other’s improvisation, these two legends create a near-masterpiece. I only hesitate in the sense that both have played on even more astounding works than this, so the bar is very high here.


Chet Faker, Hotel Surrender

Other than an atrocious stage name, this Australian can really sing. He also has nothing to say. Each song is a midtempo electro-pop R&B thing. They all blend together into what become a pretty boring album. Skip it.


Satoko Fujii/Ramon Lopez, Confluence

This is an interesting piano/drum experimental jazz album that is a useful comparison with the Shipp/Dickey album above. The thing about people such as the latter two is that in the end, they remained heavily influenced by the Black musical experience, which means swing and blues and rock, as well as the history of jazz. Satoko Fujii is a tremendously talented and creative pianist from Japan who I have had the privilege of seeing a couple of times. She’s amazing, but her influences are much more clearly from the world of modern orchestral work. Both albums are not exactly for general consumption, but whereas the former has the kind of ass-kicking sentiments of rock and roll at its core, this has the concert hall as its core. In other words, they are both difficult but this is the harder one to latch onto. Lopez is a Spanish drummer who has played far and wide in the jazz world over the last 20 or so years, but in the end, he has that background too. It just depends on how you like your experimentation. I respect the hell out of this. But the Shipp/Dickey is more fun to hear.

Nothing from this album seems to be on YouTube, but here’s a song from an album they did with Natsuki Tamura, so check that out.


Parquet Courts, Sympathy for Life

I pretty much approved of Parquet Courts’ transition to dance band on Wide Awake! It worked with their voices and sound. Sympathy for Life builds on that. But while there are some highlights here, the whole impact is a muted, perhaps because they seem unsure how far to go in this direction. To be clear, this album is entirely fine. But compared to the rest of their albums, it’s a step down.


Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, & the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises

Widely considered the best jazz album of the year, I will say it is certainly a fascinating recording. I tend to be extremely skeptical of bringing in an orchestra to back up other forms of music. Usually it’s a sign that the artists have nothing interesting to say and are going to release something with strings just to get something out there with a different sound. Meanwhile, while Sanders is obviously one of the all-time post-Coltrane jazz legends, it’s not as if he has exactly had a consistent career and his releases have been a pretty mixed bag for about 30 years or more now. But this collaboration with Floating Points, the stage name of the English electronic musician and neuroscientist Sam Shepherd is quite an achievement. This album is really his deal. He wrote the songs and organized it. He’d become friends with Sanders and got him to play on it. That’s the biggest pay off. The backing music is pretty drony and repetitive, which works fine because the great saxophonist is playing on top of it with some of his best work in years.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics.

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