Electronica Album Reviews
The second album from Floating Points – Manchester-born producer Sam Shepherd – is immediately visceral. Shepherd is a neuroscientist, and his sound has often been more cerebral and delicate than that of his UK electronic music peers (he first emerged at the peak of dubstep and breakbeat). His 2015 debut Elaenia was met with much critical acclaim, and this follow-up retains Shepherd’s intricate exploration, while pushing his sonics to a new realm of intensity. The opening track Falaise swims with familiarly warm orchestral sounds, yet Crush as a whole crescendos into moments of bleeps and whirring that invoke a disarming anxiety.
The album’s title, says Shepherd, is not to do with a romantic yearning, but with the helplessness of contemporary inevitabilities: climate change and self-serving politics. His signature cosmic lightness is often married here with weightier sounds: the urgent UK bass on LesAlpx; the slowburning elegance of Karakul juxtaposed with dissonant glitches; Bias pairs lithe garage beats with an eerie melody. Beautifully crafted, Crush unsettles with its quiet, fervent chaos bubbling beneath its surface.
Swapping crunching guitars for softer electronics, Laetitia Tamko’s second album is both sharp and tender
When Laetitia Tamko released her 2017 debut as Vagabon, the Cameroon-born artist was described as a saviour of indie rock, a genre largely dominated by white performers. The accolades were as limiting as they were well-intentioned, burdening Tamko as a corrective to a sound that probably didn’t represent the sum of her ambition or ability. Whether it’s a natural evolution or a pointed refusal, her second album swaps crunching guitars for a softer, mostly synthetic setting, a sound as expansive as it is intimate.
She’s charismatic and her challenges to western orthodoxy are welcome, but Sampa needs to find a fresher sonic palette
Over the past decade, hip-hop has relaxed its borders – welcoming in a flood of new styles, characters and concepts. One thing that still unites most rappers, however, is braggadocio; the aggressive, occasionally tiresome boasting that stems from rap’s battle past. As a Zambia-born, Botswana-raised, Australia-based woman, Sampa Tembo belongs firmly in rap’s inclusive modern age – but as her moniker suggests, she’s no stranger to a spot of rampant egotism. “I’m boutta blow up soon / I ain’t wasting time chilling with you”, she crows on Grass Is Greener, before describing herself in more biblically bombastic terms – as “The end / Beginning and on / and on” – over the intricate percussion of Dare to Fly.
Jóhannsson’s piece, inspired by artist Heinzmann, lacks the composer’s electronic trademarks, but it is full of poignant beauty in this reworking by Echo Collective
Since his death in February 2018 aged 48, the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson seems to have spawned a posthumous catalogue to rival Tupac Shakur’s. In the last 18 months, we’ve seen five film soundtracks that were completed shortly before his death, an expanded version of his debut album Englabörn, and an epic seven-disc Retrospective of early film soundtracks, including several previously unreleased scores (Retrospective II will follow soon). Also being unearthed from the archives is an album of fractured synth-pop that he recorded in 1999 under the name Dip, featuring assorted Icelandic indie royalty including Sugarcubes drummer Sigtryggur Baldursson, Jónsi from Sigur Rós and Emiliana Torrini.
(T4t Luv Nrg)
Octo Octa’s trans journey is mirrored in her electronic palette, using crunching beats, ambience and supple synths on celebratory tracks
For Octo Octa, music has been a journey of self-discovery that’s mirrored the development of her own identity. The electronic music producer and DJ publicly came out as trans in 2016 and refers to prior albums such as Between Two Selves as a “coded message” for her experiences. Since that pivotal moment, she’s found herself embraced by queer scenes all over, a shift that goes hand-in-hand with her move away from live sets and towards DJing, following a year of heavy touring. Her dance music baptism came in the form of drum’n’bass and breakcore, where percussive chaos channelled the same free-spirited energy she now also finds in house music. All three genres serve as major influences for her latest album, created in her New Hampshire cabin home.
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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews
The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling – Lucky Guy!
Alligator Records ALCD 4993
14 songs – 57 minutes
The Nick Moss Band was already riding high when this album was released. Not only did both Nick and Dennis Gruenling win a Blues Music Award for traditional artist and harmonica player of the year, but the entire band and their most recent previous CD, The High Cost of Low Living, garnered nominations, too.
But if you think that the Chicago-based quintet set a bar too high for themselves to overcome in the next awards season, you’re sorely mistaken. Lucky Guy! Is even better!
Nick enlisted the big guns for this one, which was dedicated to the memory of former bandmate, best friend and “li’l brother” Mike Ledbetter, who died suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year after rocketing to stardom as half of the Welch-Ledbetter Connection after the release of Right Place, Right Time and winning BMA honors last year.
The album was recorded at Greaseland Studios in California by Kid Andersen, who’s no stranger to awards ceremonies himself, and Andersen contributes guitar and mandolin on five of the 14 cuts. And Monster Mike Welch teams with Moss for a poignant tribute to his playing partner to bring the disc to a close.
Moss’ longtime, rock-steady drummer, Patrick Seals, is sitting behind the kit throughout, joined by the electrifying Taylor Streiff on keyboards. Kicking things up a notch is Brazilian-born newcomer Rodrigo Mantovani, who established himself as one of the top upright and electric bassists in the world while playing behind Igor Prado, Lynwood Slim and others.
From the opening cuts of “312 Blood,” Nick’s tribute to his Windy City home, Lucky Guy! is scorching hot. The arrangements are skintight, but leave plenty of space for attention-grabbing solos beginning with Streiff ripping and running in the opening break before Gruenling – who was also recently honored by the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of Harmonica as its international player of the year — and Moss trade eights on the second one. Midwesterners will love Nick’s description of the city as “New York done right.”
“Ugly Woman,” the only cover in the set, follows. A number recorded for Sun Records by Johnny O’Neal in the early ‘60s, but never released as a single, it’s one of the most unusual love songs you’ll ever hear. The rhythm section pulls out of the station with a brisk jump-time railroad feel as Moss describes his lady in some of unkindest, but most humorous words ever put to record. One listen, and you’ll agree.
“Lucky Guy,” an uptempo shuffle, finds Moss singing to the heavens about his lady accompanied by blazing solos before the mood darkens considerably for the slow blues, “Sanctified, Holy and Hateful,” a not-so-subtle statement about religious zealots pushing their own beliefs without any compassion or understanding of folks with different views. Nick’s extended, mid-tune solo absolutely smokes before he offers up a plea for them to open their hearts.
“Movin’ on My Way,” the first of two Gruenling originals here, is up next. An uptempo jump with choral response on the turns, it’s a parting shot after the implosion of a relationship, and it features a chunky guitar solo from Andersen. The traditional, medium-slow blues, “Tell Me There’s Nothing Wrong,” keeps the theme going before picking up tempo for “Full Moon Ache.” Delivered with a country-blues feel and propelled by Dennis’ harp, Nick’s daytime headache subsides with the moonrise.
The loping “Me and My Friends” is fair notice that the band’s heading for a boys’ night out before a tour-de-force instrumental entitled “Hot Zucchini.” The old-school Chicago blues, “Simple Minded,” describes someone who’s extremely timid before Gruenling takes the mike for his own “Wait and See,” a warning to a lady that he’s got her in his eye.
“As Good as It Gets” sings praise of a lady with an uptempo, old-school feel before “Cutting the jazzy Monkey’s Tail” swings from the jump. The action closes with Moss on vocals and Monster Mike on six-string for “The Comet,” an intimate, barebones tribute to Ledbetter, whose brief life and amazing talent soared like the celestial body and streaked across the sky before disappearing from sight.
Available through most major retailers, and highly recommended. Run, don’t walk, to pick this one up. It’s that good!
Les Copeland – One More Foot in the Quicksand
Earwig Music Company CD 4973
18 songs – 72 minutes
One of the most respected blues artists in Western Canada and based out of Vernon, B.C., Les Copeland proves once again that he’s a skilled guitarist across multiple platforms with this release, his third under the auspices of Chicago’s Earwig Music.
A lifelong musician who cut his teeth on pre-War Piedmont blues as a child, his stylings on the six-string are deeply influenced by Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake, Barbecue Bob and Furry Lewis. He also had a close relationship with the legendary David “Honeyboy” Edwards, frequently serving as the first-generation acoustic blues superstar’s opening act and later traveling across Europe in his trio, which also included Michael Frank, Edwards’ longtime harmonica player and manager as well as the founder of his current label.
Copeland’s also served as front man for pop, jazz and mainstream blues bands, too, something that comes across loud and clear on this lengthy, diverse album. Les switches off on electric, acoustic and slide guitars here, accompanied by Cameron Ward on bass and Scott Grant on drums. Frank makes the only guest appearance, sitting in on harp for a single cut.
A collection of seven originals and 10 covers, the disc opens with a funky, modern uptempo take on Albert King’s “Change of Pace.” Copeland’s stylish single-note solos breathe new life into it. His attack is solo and the six-string’s electric for a powerful take on Big Bill Broonzy’s warhorse, “When I Been Drinking,” before exhibiting his acoustic picking skills on Sleepy John Estes’ “Drop Down Mama,” reworking it with a sprightly dance groove.
Copeland’s picking skills on Freddie King’s ‘70s powerhouse, “Woman Across the Water,” are prodigious, but his vocals are somewhat wanting prior to a run of four originals, which follow. “Gone” is a top-notch acoustic pleaser that’s a bittersweet announcement that someone dear is departing, while the walking blues, “Perfect Man Like You,” features Les solo on both electric and slide. “Uncle to Aunt,” an electrified instrumental in trio format, is up next before “This Fool Will Never Know” is a sentimental, melodic ballad on which the guitarist trades licks with himself as he sings about lost love.
A cover of Broonzy’s “Treat Everybody Right” provides some good advice before the original, “Tiny People,” revisits the sound of Santo & Johnny, Brooklyn-born brothers whose steel guitar instrumental, “Sleep Walk,” topped the charts in the late ‘50s. Copeland’s joined by Frank for Shannon Lyons’ “Soggy Bottom Breakdown” next. A new tune with a ’60s swamp-pop feel, it moves forward sensually before “Let’s Get Together Again” delivers a message of friendship atop a medium-slow dance groove.
The pleasant, true blues shuffle, “Good Friends,” moves the message forward before a take on Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So” and four more originals – the acoustic Piedmont styled “I’d Be Nothing,” “Lost Sheep Out in the Woods,” which has a ‘50s Chicago feel, and the funky “Just Another Foot in the Quicksand” and “Gotta Get Up” – bring the action to a close.
Available through most major retailers, One More Foot in the Quicksand will have you tapping your toes throughout, and Copeland’s a great picker. He would have been better served, however — and the album would have been much stronger with the omission of a few weaker tunes from its 72-minute run.
Jersey Swamp Cats – Go Cat Go!
Self-Release – 2019
9 tracks; 29 minutes
The Jersey Swamp Cats hail from New Jersey and on their debut album they mix jump jive, New Orleans R&B, rock and roll and blues. The band is Gerry Gladston on piano, Don Leich on guitar, Larry Ghiorsi on bass and Chris Reardon on drums. Gerry handles most of the lead vocals but everyone chips in on B/Vs and Larry and Don each take the lead on a number apiece. Horns are added to three tracks by Anthony Salimbene Jr on tenor and Patrick Dudasik on trumpet.
The band skilfully alternates five familiar tunes with four of their originals. Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive And Wail” bounces along well to open proceedings as the band shows they know their way round a jump blues classic. The first original is “Cupcake!”, a number in Rn’B style driven by Don’s fluid guitar and a call and response chorus. Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday” is a great vehicle for Gerry’s piano work and is immediately followed by more New Orleans flavours in “I Don’t Mind” which is effortlessly catchy with the horns and piano to the fore.
Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “Too Tired” has been frequently covered since Gary Moore’s version on Still Got The Blues and the band does a solid version with Don on vocals, with good guitar work and rolling piano. Pianist Gerry has a smooth vocal style that particularly suits the strolling shuffle rhythm that underpins ‘Dance All Night’, the horns adding some good accents to arguably the pick of the four original tunes. The horns stay on board for the traditional Cajun tune “Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing” which is delivered by bassist Larry before Don shows us how well he has absorbed Albert King’s guitar style on “I Get Evil”. The band closes with the pure rock and roll punch of “Shiny Gray Corvette” on which Gerry attacks his piano with glee.
This is an enjoyable listen and makes you want to hear more of this band in the future. Worth seeking out.
Blue Moon Marquee – Bare Knuckles & Brawn
CD: 11 Songs, 40 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, Horn Blues, Swing Blues, All Original Songs
Upon reading the title Bare Knuckles & Brawn, from Canada’s Blue Moon Marquee, one might expect a CD full of hard-driving numbers that prove Saturday night’s all right for fighting. Imagine this reviewer’s surprise on finding eleven original songs that bring back the big-band sound of the 1940s, complete with horns, ragtime beats, and lead vocals reminiscent of Louis Armstrong’s. The lyrics also hearken to earlier days, expanding upon song names such as “High Noon,” “The Red Devil Himself,” and “52nd Street Strut.” Those who prefer their blues on the raunchier, meatier side won’t find much to chomp on, but those who like it smooth and hot will simply adore this album. It’s also great fuel for inspiration in quiet moments, meant to silence mental chatter and let one’s thoughts flow.
“This album, to me, represents a combination and evolution of our last records,” says front man A.W. Cardinal. “I believe it features some of our best recorded work, and we were able to do it with some of the best possible musicians.” Bassist and vocalist Jasmine Colette adds, “We recorded [it] in three days. I like all the grit and pulp with my music, so the warm sound of the tape made it come together. All the songs were written…in the last year of our travels, in relation to the air of the times, characters we meet, cities we walk in and the weather we feel.” Blue Moon Marquee currently makes their home in an island shack on the coast of the Salish Sea in British Columbia.
Joining Cardinal and Colette are guest musicians Darcy Phillips on piano and Hammond B3; Jerry Cook on tenor sax, baritone sax, and clarinet; Jimmy “Hollywood” Badger on drums; Jack Garton on trumpet; and Paul Pigat on guitar for “The Red Devil Himself.”
“Big Black Mamba” starts things off, a unique meditation on the snare of fossil fuels: “I asked for water; she brought me gasoline. That’s the meanest gal I’ve ever seen. Big Black Mamba, you got me moaning low, dirty mis-treater from the stars of Texaco.” Up-tempo love ballads “Smoke Rings for my Rider” and “Fever Flickering Flame” follow, guaranteed to make even the dead rise from the grave and dance. Cardinal’s guitar is cardinal on both, a prime example of his instrument of choice conversing with listeners via musical notes. “Hard Times Hit Parade” slows things down, the perfect background music for a film noir scene. Dig Darcy Phillips on his Hammond and the melancholy horn solo, echoing in one’s ears like a night breeze.
“As I Lay Dying” contains the album’s title in a pithy piece of lyrics: “The world was built [with] bare knuckles and brawn.” A.W.’s vocals are at their Armstrong-iest here. Earworm “High Noon,” according to the band, “is a reference to Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Lakota people and the perseverance of Native peoples.” The next two tracks will make guitar lovers swoon, especially “Big Smoke” for traditionalists. “52nd Street Strut” is a rat-a-tat tribute to Billie Holliday, featuring Jasmine Colette’s velvety voice. “Wayward” and “Lost and Wild” close things out, with the final song wistfully bringing “What a Wonderful World” to mind.
Blue Moon Marquee has demonstrated that their name should be in lights once more with the classic sound and big-band bravado of Bare Knuckles and Brawn!
Lauren Anderson – Won’t Stay Down
Self-Release – 2019
5 tracks; 17 minutes
Lauren Anderson is a singer/songwriter born in Chicago and now based in Nashville. This five-tracker is her fourth release but the first that this reviewer has heard. Lauren wrote all the material, one song in collaboration with Sandy Ramos; she also produced the recording with Taylor Kropp.
Lauren sings and is supported by Jimi Greene on guitar, William Adkins on keys, Hutch on bass and John Rodrigue on drums: Emmanuel Echem and Kiran Gupta add trumpets to one track and Meg Williams and Jenny Teator add background vocals to one.
Lauren has a strong voice with a touch of grit and she is certainly the prime focus of the songs. Opener “Honey, Call Me Baby” sends a tough message to a guy who is getting on Lauren’s nerves, the throbbing bass underpinning a stop-start rock rhythm. The background vocals add a smooth touch to “Too Little, Too Late”, a soulful ballad about a relationship that is beyond repair swept along by William’s churchy organ and delivered in emotional style by Lauren who moves from a deep, quiet vocal to full-on blues belter on the chorus.
The title track celebrates Lauren’s resilience as she will not stay down, whatever life throws at her, a funky guitar-driven tune. Lauren complains about the way that the music industry treats artists as she wants her “Cake” and everything else on a jagged tune fueled by wah-wah and decorated with the trumpets. The EP closes with the co-write, “Wild & Free” which recounts the tale of a girl who had straight A’s and academic potential but opted for the rock and roll life. The song has an attractive riff and a pounding chorus with a touch of country rock which is accentuated by Jimi’s solo, making it a very radio-friendly cut and this reviewer’s top pick.
There is little straight blues here but fans of strong female vocalists will want to check the release out.
Pop Album Reviews
“Make It Right” originally appeared on the K-pop outfit’s Map of the Soul: Persona project from earlier this year and featured co-writing contributions from Ed Sheeran. This reworked update, meanwhile, brings pop singer and Troye Sivan associate LAUV into the fold. It also comes paired with a cute video of BTS interacting with fans.
BTS are officially ending their “extended hiatus” with Love Yourself: Speak Yourself [The Final], a concert film that hits US theaters on October 27th. In recent months, the K-pop phenoms have let loose a mobile video game (and its guest-heavy soundtrack) and other concert visuals like BTS World Tour ‘Love Yourself’ New York, BTS World Tour ‘Love Yourself’ Europe, and Bring the Soul: The Movie. Their jam-packed release schedule is perhaps in preparation for their possible enrollment in South Korea’s compulsory military program.
Check out the LAUV-assisted “Make It Right” below.
Billie Eilish is as big as any pop star right now, but her fashion choices are very metal. At a recent concert, she was photographed wearing a custom shirt made from sewn together Rob Zombie, Type O Negative, and Cradle of Filth tees.
Despite her chart-topping pop success, Eilish’s aesthetic certainly has a tinge of goth and metal. Her songs are as spooky as they are catchy, and her wardrobe would fit right in with ’90s-era Korn.
The bands were certainly into the custom garment (and free publicity). Type O Negative’s Facebook posted:
“Billie Eilish is certainly a unique and bad ass superstar who absolutely walks her own path. How awesome is it to see the Type O support!! #billieeilish”
And Rob Zombie’s Instagram gave her the following shout out, after sharing an earlier image of Eilish wearing another Zombie tee:
“@billieeilish rocking another custom Zombie shirt. Rock on! #billieeilish#robzombie”
Billie has also incorporated metal into her own merch, as she’s currently selling a beanie with her name in the style of a death-metal logo (see image above).
In other celeb-musicians-wearing-metal-shirts news, OutKast’s André 3000 was just spotted rocking a Devil Master hoodie. As metal continues to have success on the charts, perhaps the genre is in for a mainstream surge musically and in the fashion world.
Either way, we’ll definitely give Billie Eilish more metal cred than the Real Housewives star who couldn’t name one Metallica song despite wearing a Metallica shirt.
The new track is a sensual cut about — you guessed it — Perry riding motorcycles around the island. It was written with help from Charlie Puth, Johan Carlsson, and Jacob Kasher Hindlin.
Along with her Harley adventures, the track’s accompanying music video sees Perry taking a nighttime dip in a pool, singing at a club, and making out with a certain someone. If you missed out on a tropical vacation or summer fling, this is your chance to live vicariously through her.
Check out the clip, directed by Manson (aka the trio of Pau Lopez, Gerardo del Hierro, and Tomas Pena), below.
“Harleys in Hawaii” Artwork:
In support of new album Lover, Swift performed several of its tracks, such as “The Man”, “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, and the title track. She also reached into her back catalog to play “All Too Well”, off her 2012 record, Red.
Though known for her big budget productions and arena shows, Swift’s Tiny Desk appearance was noticeably a more stripped-down, intimate affair. The global pop star, accompanied only by her guitar and a bit of piano, performed at NPR’s cozy office in Washington, DC in front of just a handful of people.
(Read: The Top 25 Songs of 2019… So Far)
“Tiny Desk is like one of my favorite corners of the Internet,” Swift said prior to starting her mini set. “It’s an opportunity for artists to decide a different way to showcase their music.”
“So you’re kind of inundated by overwhelming opportunity and choices,” continued the 29-year-old artist. “I just decided to kind of take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them. “So it’s just me.”
Lover is out now and Swift recently announced her first 2020 tour dates behind the record; grab your tickets here. The Grammy winner also performed on Saturday Night Live earlier this month, which no doubt inspired Adam Sandler and his family to get their Swift on just days later.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) October 11, 2019
Following the airing of Lifetime’s damning Surviving R. Kelly docu-series, Lady Gaga pulled her R. Kelly collaboration “Do What U Want” from all streaming services. Vowing to never work with the alleged serial abuser, she replaced the track with a version featuring Christina Aguilera. Now, it appears Gaga is removing “Do What U Want” from future ARTPOP re-releases altogether.
As NME points out, HMV’s pre-order pages for the upcoming physical reissue of ARTPOP make no mention of Gaga and Kelly’s joint single. When the album originally hit shelves in 2013, “Do What U Want” was listed as the seventh song on the 15-track LP. These new CD and vinyl editions of ARTPOP instead consist of just 14 songs.
The re-release is due out November 11th, and you can see a screengrab of the tracklist below.
In her statement condemning Kelly earlier this year, Gaga apologized for collaborating with the disgraced R&B star and said she stood behind the women featured in Surviving R. Kelly:
“I stand behind these women 1000%, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously. I’m sorry, both for my poor judgment when I was young, and for not speaking out sooner.”
She also talked about her own experience with sexual assault and explained how “Do What U Want” came to be. “As a victim of sexual assault myself, I made both the song and the video at a dark time in my life,” the Grammy winner said, “my intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life.”
Gaga closed by pledging to “support women, men, and people of all sexual identities, and of all races who are victims of sexual assault,” going forward, a promise she’s keeping by scrapping “Do What U Want” from ARTPOP.
Kelly is currently facing 40-70 years in prison on federal charges in Illinois, in addition to a federal indictment in New York and a recent Minnesota criminal case filed in August. An investigation was also started in Georgia after the Surviving R. Kelly broadcast. Of course, these are just a few of the countless allegations of sexual crimes against Kelly.