Electronica Album Reviews
Berlin is famous for its vast nightclubbing landscape, with destination venues existing alongside an endless supply of spots for house-music enthusiasts, just off the beaten track. Yet it also harbours a reputation for having drained the genre of all colour, sometime during the course of a transatlantic cultural dialogue that would reshape the scene.
It’s lucky for the city, then, that it now counts Jayda G as a resident: the Canadian-raised dance music producer and DJ moved to Berlin in 2016 with a contagious affinity for convivial disco, funk and house in tow. She leads by example in her sets, performing with a lively physical presence that sparks an electric atmosphere and dares other dancers to match her pace. Incorporating her research as an environmental toxicologist, her debut album Significant Changes serves as a manifesto for both dancefloors and ocean floors.
With a couple of honourable exceptions – specifically his self-titled 2001 solo debut and last year’s excellent Sparkle Hard – Stephen Malkmus has too often during his post-Pavement career found himself bogged down in amorphous, sub-Grateful Dead jams. Indeed, Frank Black aside, it’s hard to think of a solo canon that’s been quite so consistently underwhelming.
Which makes this long-delayed adventure in electronica such a surprise. In fact, it’s such a radical departure that his record label initially refused to release it – hence the title. Largely written in Berlin and recorded alone at home in Oregon, its stark and forbidding soundscapes owe much to the early-80s synth movement, the likes of opener Belziger Faceplant far more concerned with texture than melody; the deadpan A Bit Wilder, meanwhile, could be a mechanically recovered New Order offcut, circa 1981. Curiously, this bold new direction isn’t sustained; the further into the album Malkmus gets, the more normal service resumes, as if he isn’t entirely convinced of his new direction. Forget Your Place’s loops and treated vocals recall the Beta Band at their wooziest; Come Get Me sounds like a flab-free demo version of one of his Jicks songs; Ocean of Revenge, for all its flirtation with drum machines, is an unashamedly lovely acoustic ballad. It doesn’t make for a particularly cohesive album, but perhaps that’s the point.
I’ve always found the Cinematic Orchestra too pretentious, too austere, a band whose ambitions outran their abilities. With this fourth album, 12 years after their last, that austerity is over. To Believe is heartbreakingly brilliant: a collection of exquisitely assembled songs that appear delicate from a distance before revealing a close-quarters core strength. Band leaders Jason Swinscoe and Dominic Smith have loosely arranged seven lightly jazzy tracks around the themes of belief and what it means to believe. Much as the pair attempt to make movies with their music, the best song has no dialogue: the meandering instrumental Lessons is a glorious balm, nine minutes of murmuring conversation between the players, dominated by Luke Flowers’ gently military drums. It has depth and meaning without context, the ideal soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. The sweeping grandeur of A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life is another cinematic collaboration with the always articulate and engaging Roots Manuva, a sort-of sequel to the epic All Things to All Men, and just as good. Every song here could easily be five or 10 minutes longer. A triumph.
The trumpets that permeate Teeth of the Sea’s fifth album act like the prophetic horns of Jericho. Laid thick with reverb, they herald the dystopian landscape the London-based trio create through nine tracks of scattering electronic percussion, earthy bass lines and eerie ambience.
Largely instrumental, Wraith plays more like a slab of techno experimentalism than the noise-based maw of their previous record, 2015’s Highly Deadly Black Tarantula. The brutality dissipates on opener I’d Rather, Jack courtesy of Italo disco synths pilfered from Erol Alkan’s Phantasy Sound studio, where this album was recorded. As Wraith progresses, club sounds morph into the jazz horns and dissonant bass of Hiraeth, before taking a breath in the brassy ambience of Burn of the Shieling.
Always recognisable and always evolving, Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson’s barked social snapshots turn melodic
Sleaford Mods’ frontman Jason Williamson recently revealed that lately he’s been listening to Alexander O’Neal, Chaka Khan and Luther Vandross, although the Nottinghamshire duo haven’t suddenly gone soul or R&B.
However, Andrew Fearn’s backing tracks are forever evolving and are a fair distance from 2013’s breakthrough, Austerity Dogs. The terrific Kebab Spiders is powered by two alternate basslines: one sounds like the sort of thing the great James Jamerson used to lay down for Motown and the other is clubbier, almost Belgian new beat. The brooding OBCT could be Depeche Mode or the Cure, until Williamson comes in and it includes, of all things, a kazoo solo. The highly melodic When You Come Up to Me, meanwhile, would be a lost 80s new romantic synth ballad were it delivered in any other voice. As ever, though, it’s Williamson’s trademark bark – a caustic, observant, irritant, unforgiving mix of John Cooper Clarke and Mark E Smith – which renders the Mods instantly recognisable. They are increasingly, as John Peel said of the Fall: “Always different, always the same.”
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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews
Brandon Isaak – Rise ‘N’ Shine
Brandon Isaak presents an all-original album of 13 blues tunes presented as a solo effort. Recorded in Vancouver’s Tin Can Alley, many of his local friends joined in with the making of this CD. The tunes range from raw, primitively recorded roots music to a more modern and upbeat style. Isaak’s last CD garnered recognition with a 2018 Juno Award Nomination for Blues Album of the Year in 2018. He has also won Maple Blues Awards for Acoustic Act of the Year and has been nominated for many categories of this award.
Isaak plays all the forms of guitars and some harp and drums and bass when his guest friends are not supporting the track. Keys are covered by Aidan Miller and Willie MacCalder, drums are by Chip Hart, and there is harp by Dave “Hurricane” Hoerl. Ed Isaak, Jack Lavin, Sam Shoichet, Lisa Rae Simons and Pa Darcus share bass duties and Jerry Cook provides the saxophones. Willie MacCalder and Jack Lavin are from the Powder Blues Band and Chip Hart and David Hoerl are from the Twister. It’s a hot music scene at Tin Can Alley.
The first track is a slick little mid tempo cut entitled “Right Around The Corner” with upright bass and piano added. It’s got a cool, old-time vibe to it; Isaak sings with feeling and picks some acoustic guitar. Isaak gets a little help on upright bass, harp on “Lose The Blues.” His lap steel and drums are cool and he again gives us another old school feel in this work. “I Wanna Be Your Man” adds drums, saxophones, electric bass and keys. Isaak (on electric guitar) and Company get a nice groove going and deliver another cool performance. Isaak’s guitar and vocal swing and jump in “Can’t Do No Wrong.” A little drum help sets the pace as Isaak plays his guitar with passion and adds a bit of harp to the mix, too. “Beautiful Day” has a little drum and keyboard help as Isaak testifies and takes us to church a bit, both vocally and on guitars. Next up is “PhD In The Blues,” where Isaak plays guitar bass, drums and sings and gets help from the sax. This ones got attitude as Isaak tells us how has been educated in the blues. It’s a little funky and drives with a hard beat. “That’s How I Feel” has some help on harp and piano in a bouncy little number where Isaak tells us how he feels about his woman.
“Me And The Blues” is Isaak with drum help; he sings a sweet, slow blues and plays his dobro with emotion. Isaak switches gears with “Time To Git It On,” mixing perhaps a bit of Chicago blues and a swampy feel to create a unique sound. Help on keys and drums make things fun, and Isaak’s electric guitar and harp are well done, too, and he mixes in some other guitars for fun. “Blame It On The Girl” is a somber, slow blues with piano, drums and electric bass helping to set the mood. Brandon sings with feeling once again and picks out some nice acoustic guitar. “No Matter What Thy Name” again features lap steel with added keys. drums and upright bass. Isaak sings of tolerance and makes his point with super vocals and nice work on his guitar. “Perfectly Happy With The Blues” features Isaac picking out some nice stuff with a little upright bass help. The cut is simple and sublime with a sweet melody woven up with great work on the dobro. Last but not least is “Sweet Dana Lee,” a swing tune. Drums, upright bass and the sax along with some well done electric guitar swing and juke with a jazzy, Louis Jordan sort of vibe.
There are some very interesting blues coming out of Canada. Brandon Isaak and his one man band and his guests have produced a very nice set of tunes in this, his third solo album. If you like blues and roots music with an edge then look no further. I enjoyed this one and think fans of similar interest will too!
Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze – 28 Years With The Blues
9 songs – 39 minutes
The magnificently monikered Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze are a Chicago-style blues band, originally formed by front man Wally “Sweet Daddy” Greaney back in 1990. 28 Years With The Blues is the band’s first release since 2004 and is a collection of live recordings. The press material states that the tracks are from a previously unreleased recording the band made during an East Coast tour, but while the tracks certainly sound like they were recorded live, there is sadly no information provided of where or when they were made.
The album opens with the funky swing of “He Loved The Blues”, in which Greaney recounts, almost in a sprechstimme style, the story of a late friend of his, who was particularly partial to the blues. It’s a tight band, with the rhythm section of Eddy Humber (bass) and Jimmy McNamara (drums) laying down a suitably taut groove, over which Greaney lays down some impressive harp and Mark Easton flails his guitar. The mix throughout 28 Years With The Blues reflects the fact that it is a live recording, with Easton’s guitar and Greaney’s vocal and harp very much to the fore, but with Joe Elliot’s keyboards and McNamara’s drums often buried very low in the mix.
The band follow up “He Loved The Blues” with a raucous version of Otis Rush’s “Keep On Loving Me” (curiously re-titled here as “I Want You To Love Me”) before launching into a tale that will be familiar to any touring musician, “Motel King For A Day” on which Greaney’s harmonica takes the solo. Unfortunately, there is no information provided about the songwriters for any of the tracks on the album, so it is difficult to know how many of the songs are self-written and which are covers.
The stuttering 12 bar “Jenny Brown” (not the The Smothers Brothers 1964 hit) and the Chicago shuffle of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “She’s My Baby” both allow Greaney and Easton some time to stretch out on the solos, while Greaney pulls out his saxophone on Ronnie Earl’s “Stickin’” (here called “Stickin’ It”), which also contains some lovely organ playing from Elliot.
The rapid shuffle of “Sweet Tooth Mama”, previously released on a Connecticut Blues Society sampler Local Flavor back in 2003, mines the wry lyrical theme of overindulgence and the resulting weight gain but features some neat interplay between sax and guitar before McNamara takes a series of mini-drum breaks that really raise the temperature.
Easton’s guitar showcase is a cover of Roy Buchanan’s “Sweet Dreams”, a potentially risky choice given Roy Buchanan’s hallowed treatment of the old Don Gibson song, but Easton holds his own even while acknowledging Buchanan’s influence in both the choice of notes and the use of techniques such as pinch harmonics.
The closing track on the album is James Cotton’s harmonica instrumental tour-de-force, “The Creeper”, a fitting tribute to one of Greaney’s primary influences as well as to original SDCB (and Cotton band) drummer, Kenny Johnson.
28 Years With The Blues is a relatively short but enjoyable album of modern Chicago blues and is a fine introduction to Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze. On the evidence of this release, they are clearly a fine act to see live.
Pete Madsen And Celeste Kopel – From The Delta & Beyond
For the past four years, guitarist Pete Madsen has been teaching prewar acoustic blues, with his “From The Delta & Beyond” program being an offshoot of the information he taught, including classic blues songs. This disc offers his renderings of thirteen songs that will be very familiar to many blues fans. Understanding that his talent lies in guitar playing, Madsen enlisted the aid of Celeste Kopel on vocals.
The first five tracks feature the duo, starting with Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues”. Madsen proves to be an adept picker, spinning out a complex rhythm to support Kopel’s measured singing style. The guitarist creates a dark soundscape on the Skip James classic, “Hard Time Killing Floor”. Kopel wisely refrains from trying to match the author’s falsetto singing voice. Covers of “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Walking Blues Medley” add further proof of Madsen’s six string skills. Their rendition of “Key To The Highway” is taken at a faster tempo, as Kopel once again gives a straight-forward performance, limiting the emotional pull until Madsen joins her for a brief duet at the finish.
The remaining seven tracks include a mixture of contributions from Chuck Ervin on bass, Max Cowan on keyboards, and Nelson B. Santos on drums. Kopel tries hard but fails to capture the usually intensity normally found on “Drown In My Own Tears”. She fares better on “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out,” with Cowan’s righteous piano playing at the center of the arrangement. By sticking with a deliberate delivery, Kopel is unable to generate the poignant feeling at the heart of Sam Cooke”s “Bring It On Home To Me”. With Ervin’s stand-up bass leading the way, Kopel cuts loose on “Stormy Monday,” making a heartfelt connection with listeners.
“Trouble In Mind” starts off with Madsen and Kopel as a duo, then the band kicks in after one verse, morphing from a quiet acoustic setting to a rocking pace spearheaded by Madsen on electric guitar.
“My Babe” features some basic harp blowing from Ervin, followed by an unusually heavy take on “Born Under A Bad Sign,” with Madsen’s gritty solo the lone highlight. The closing track, “Mercury Blues,” revs up the tempo with Madsen on slide guitar. The cut also puts some of Kopel’s vocal limitations on display.
The acoustic portions of the project are good, and at times, quite appealing. The tracks that go electric are a mixed bag. Madsen & Kopel certainly have some talent. The question is, do listeners want to hear another disc filled with covers of well-known songs?
Eric Schenkman – Who Shot John?
Eric Schenkman is the lead guitar player from New York City’s The Spin Doctors. Originally hailing from Canada, Schenkman set up shop with them and still plays with them after all these years. Here Schenkman’s band is Shawn Kellerman on bass, Van Romaine on drums and Cody Dickinson on drums. Kellerman is also a Canadian guitar player who toured with Godboogie and Lucky Peterson, to name a couple of his efforts. Romaine in a Jersey boy who has played and recorded with a host of big time musicians and bands. Dickinson is the percussive half of the North Mississippi All Stars’ Dickinson brothers. Brent Barkman also adds some B3 and JJ Johnson is on sax. Schenkman wrote or had a hand in writing all the tunes- they are all originals. He also does all the guitar work and lead vocals.
“I’m Alright” gets things rolling. It’s a blues rocker that will please those who like a heavy dose of guitar in a rocking mode. Up next is “Locked In The House All Day,” pretty much a country/southern rocker. “Lincoln’s Feat” is a little but more blues-y and raw with a bit of a Delta feel as Dickinson and Kellerman set the pace. The vocals get a little monotonous, but I think that it was the intent to make it simple, repetitive and stark as in a hill country tune. The title cut gets a bit of a Cajun groove going in a song about who shot John at the Mardi Gras. “No Pain” is another rocker with steady and heavy guitar work and a deep groove.
We get some nice B3 organ added to the mix on the slow blues rocker “Sign Of The Times.” “Far Away” gets the pace back up as Schenkman lays out some more heavy licks. There is a bit of a Led Zeppelin feel to “Only A Fool,” a slow to mid-tempo rocker with a big solo by Eric. “Fortune Teller” is next, with a nice blues feel to it as Schenkman growls out the vocals and hammers out the lead on his guitar. Eric closes the set out with “Agent Orange Blues,” a very heavy, throbbing rock tune with a major backline groove setting the tempo.
The album is like an old school rock album, coming in at just over 36 minutes; none of the songs drag on or feature big time jams like the Spin Doctors albums did. If you are looking for traditional blues you won’t find much here. This is heavy, driving rock for the most part, where Schenkman unleashes his axe and plays with reckless abandon. If that’s what trips your trigger then this one’s for you. It’s got a huge dose of rocking guitar to satisfy the rock lover’s soul.
Gaye Adegbalola – The Griot
Hot Toddy Music/VizzTone Label Group VT-HTM-2420
17 songs – 68 minutes
Gaye Adegbalola has never been shy about speaking her mind through music. As a 25-year member of Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, she delivered the truth – both frankly and with a wry sense of humor. And she lays it on full force once again with this tasty solo effort.
A native of Fredericksburg, Va., a former biochemical researcher, bacteriologist, technical writer and Virginia State Teacher Of The Year, she’s earned top honors across the board. Not only is she a Blues Music Award winner, but she’s garnered the Parents Choice Gold Award for a CD targeted aimed at children. And she’s also taken home prizes for her work as champion of empowerment and social justice.
A gifted songwriter, guitarist and harmonica player, Adegbalola carries forward the songster/storyteller of West Africa tradition – known as “griot” – with this release, the fifth album under her own name. She penned 14 of the 17 tunes here, which deal with everything from adult themes to mundane observations about everyday life.
She’s accompanied brilliantly throughout by Jeff Covert on guitars, bass, banjo and percussion with guest appearances by Keith Armstead and Roddy Barnes (keyboards), John Freund (guitar), Chris Sexton (cello), Jackie Merritt (bones) and a horn section composed of Zack Smith and Davis Smith (trumpets), Steve Patterson (sax) and Dan Haverstock (trombone). Resa Gibbs provides one chant and backing vocals, and Queen Lovelace contributes tambourine.
The uptempo opener, “Nothing’s Changed,” boldly states that racism in America remains strong despite the passage of time, that folks with big money still control everything and that there’s much more that we can do. The brief “The Griot” delivers a spoken-word description of this CD’s theme before the banjo-driven “Liearrhea” deals with folks who grin in your face while simultaneously spreading vicious untruths. Gaye warns the double-talkers, however, that she’s going to “love the hell right out of you.”
A quartet of strong political statements follow. A simple drumbeat and chant open “FGM,” which explodes into a diatribe against female genital mutilation, which still exists in some cultures today. The slow shuffle “Dirty Sheets” speaks about poverty and “(You’re) Flint Water” condemns pollution before “Kaepernicked” kicks off with a bar from “The Star-Spangled Banner” before evolving into a blues that both comforts and credits the NFL quarterback for taking a knee and protesting injustice with respect and dignity.
The themes brighten for the next trio of tunes. “Ain’t Technology Grand?” commends modern devices for putting the entire world in your hand and capture wrong for everyone to see while the ballad “Gon’ Be Alright” addresses loneliness in old age and “Don’t Criticize Me” warns not to complain unless “you can clap on the two and the four.”
The ballad “Nothing Left…” paints a tragic picture of mental illness before Gaye delivers a little hope with a cover of Doc Pomus’ “(There Is Always) One More Time.” Sex and romance are the themes in a take on Bessie Smith’s “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl” and the original “Tea Cake Kind Of Love” before “3 Hour Shoes (Stylin’ For The Lord)” deals with the vanity. The disc concludes with “Sorry, But…No Shame,” a cry for freedom, and Ma Rainey’s “Jelly Bean Blues,” a tale of betrayal.
Available through most major retailers, and strongly recommended for anyone with a social conscience. Fair warning, however: Some of the lyrics contain explicit language.
Pop Album Reviews
Don’t expect to hear new music from Justin Bieber anytime soon.
In an Instagram message to fans, the 25-year-old pop singer said he is currently “focused on repairing some of the deep rooted issues that I have… so that I don’t fall apart, so that I can sustain my marriage, and be the father I want to be.” Bieber added, “Music is very important to me, but Nothing comes before my family and my health.” (Bieber married Hailey Baldwin in November 2018.)
Bieber’s declaration came in response to fans’ inquiring about the status of his new music. “So I read a lot of messages saying you want an album,” Bieber noted. “I’ve toured my whole teenage life, and early 20s, I realized and as you guys probably saw I was unhappy last tour and I don’t deserve that and you don’t deserve that, you pay money to come and have a lively energetic fun light concert and I was unable emotionally to give you that near the end of the tour.”
That said, Bieber isn’t writing off music entirely. “I will come with a kick ass album ASAP, my swag is undeniable and my drive is indescribable his love is supernatural his grace is that reliable,” he promised. “The top is where I reside period whether I make music or not the king said so. but I will come with a vengeance believe that..”
Bieber released his last album, Purpose, in 2015. Most recently, he teamed with Bloodpop on the 2017 single “Friends” and appeared on tracks including DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One” and “No Brainer”, David Guetta’s “2U”, and a remix of Louis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito”.
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So I read a lot of messages saying you want an album .. I’ve toured my whole teenage life, and early 20s, I realized and as you guys probably saw I was unhappy last tour and I don’t deserve that and you don’t deserve that, you pay money to come and have a lively energetic fun light concert and I was unable emotionally to give you that near the end of the tour. I have been looking, seeking, trial and error as most of us do, I am now very focused on repairing some of the deep rooted issues that I have as most of us have, so that I don’t fall apart, so that I can sustain my marriage and be the father I want to be. Music is very important to me but Nothing comes before my family and my health. I will come with a kick ass album ASAP, my swag is undeniable and my drive is indescribable his love is supernatural his grace is that reliable…. the top is where I reside period whether I make music or not the king said so. but I will come with a vengeance believe that.. (grammar and punctuation will be terrible pretend it’s a text where u just don’t care).
Ahead of their historic performance at Coachella next month, K-pop girl group BLACKPINK have announced the impending release of a new EP called Kill This Love.
Due out April 5th, Kill This Love serves as the follow-up to BLACKPINK’s debut EP, 2018’s Square Up, and marks the group’s first release in partnership with Interscope Records and Universal Music Group.
#BLACKPINK ‘KILL THIS LOVE’ LISA COMEBACK TEASER POSTER
— YG FAMILY (@ygent_official) March 25, 2019
In April, BLACKPINK will make Coachella history when they become the first K-pop girl group to play the Indio, California festival. To coincide with their appearance, they’ve mapped out a North American tour taking place throughout April and May. You can get tickets here.
BLACKPINK 2019 Tour Dates:
04/12 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
04/17 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Forum
04/19 – Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
04/24 – Chicago, IL @ Allstate Arena
04/27 – Hamilton, ON @ FirstOntario Centre
05/01 – Newark, NJ @ Prudential Center
05/05 – Atlanta, GA @ Infinite Energy Arena
05/08 – Fort Worth, TX @ CC Arena
05/18 – Amsterdam, NL @ Melkweg
05/21 – Manchester, UK @ Manchester Arena
05/22 – London, UK @ SSE Arena
05/24 – Berlin, DE @ Max-Schmeling-Halle
05/26 – Paris, FR @ Zénith Paris
05/28 – Barcelona, ES @ Palau Sant Jordi
What do you do when you break up with your partner of 12 years? You leave your native California and crash at Annie (St Vincent) Clark’s in New York.
Jenny Lewis is a songwriter’s songwriter, a dulcet and subversive chronicler of LA shammery whose often sombre subjects come wrapped in the sweetest of country-tinged deliveries. To her breakup we can add the death of her mother (who featured on 2006’s stunning Rabbit Fur Coat). More recently, Lewis tweeted her solidarity for the women accusing her former collaborator, Ryan Adams, of abusive behaviour.
One of the standout debuts of 2014, Ex Hex’s Rips was a joyful homage to late-70s/early-80s power-pop, most notably Cheap Trick and the Runaways. It also served as a good showcase for the talents of guitarist Mary Timony, once of Helium and fleetingly brilliant indie supergroup Wild Flag. The follow-up, long in gestation, fails to reach the same heights.
On the surface, nothing much has changed: Timony is backed once more by Betsy Wright (bass) and Laura Harris (drums), producer Jonah Takagi is on board again, their reference points are largely the same. It’s just that whereas the songs on Rips sparkled, here they’re just a little lacklustre by comparison. Opener Tough Enough is a case in point. It begins with a muscular, chugging riff and features an elegant yet unshowy guitar solo, but without much in the way of a chorus, it fails to really go anywhere. The swaggering hard rock of Rainbow Shiner is more convincing, as is the upbeat Radiate, even if its intro sails a little close to Gang of Four’s Glass. But the ponderous Another Dimension makes for a worryingly inessential five minutes, and too much of the rest is polite rather than unapologetically fun. For a new band, this would be a perfectly serviceable debut, but with Ex Hex having flown so high previously, It’s Real is a disappointment.