Ry Cooder – Money Honey For me, this month essentially began and ended with Ry Cooder. I've fallen in love with albums of his before, especially the stellar I, Flathead, but the enormity of his genius, the sheer amount of time he's been making great music, escaped me until I started sifting through his catalogue (which goes back to 1970) this month. Deep roots illustrated in his choice of material, delicious playing by him and many (seriously, many!) collaborators, and often great songwriting. No ego. No bullshit. Check out Ry Cooder more. I'm talking to you, Jon.
Cate le Bon – Are You With Me Now? I was obsessed with Cate Le Bon's last album Cyrk for an extended period of time a couple years ago. This new album captures a lot of the same magic, with some overt references to great bands (like Television) thrown in. She's one-of-a-kind though. Dry, understated, clever, unfussy, incredibly tuneful. Soothing without being one bit boring. She manages to somehow make indie rock sound like world music without doing anything remotely ethnic. I can't explain it. Maybe it's the accent. I love just hearing four people play together over the course of a whole album without any muckety muck. Looking forward to seeing her in January.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Naufragée du Tendre [Shipwrecked] I've got the McGarrigle's great Dancer With Bruised Knees on vinyl, and it seems to always satisfy a craving like nothing else I have. It's one of those albums that I just can't wrap my head all the way around. Not because there's anything that far out about it, but more like I just don't understand about their musical milieu. I like that.
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band – BAD DANCER For those who have been paying attention, Yoko Ono has been winning the charm wars for at least several years. It's almost like she's known all along that some day she'd be 80, and all of her battiness and experimentalness would fit perfectly. Even acknowledging that so much of the music on this album is made by her collaborators (chiefly Sean Lennon), it still blows my mind that something this slamming, this sharp, this 2013 is attached to an 80 year-old, someone who was essentially a first-hand witness to the birth of modern pop music 60 years ago. Can you imagine your grandmother going into the recording studio and coming out with this? Holy hell. Politically charged without sounding preachy or plastic. Listening to what she has to say actually sounds like wisdom.
Joe Henry – Sticks & Stones I listened to this album a couple years ago when it came out and liked it, but didn't love it. Coming back to it recently, I think I'm somehow more willing to travel with Henry lyrically. I can't say why, exactly. Musically, it's pretty spectacular - great playing, especially by drummer Jay Bellerose. I also really appreciate the way it's recorded, reportedly in Joe Henry's basement with all of the windows open. Sonically it breathes in a way that makes so much sense for this music. In my small experience recording at home, I've always felt like it sounds better when I don't try to sequester the sound, and I've often wondered why more recordings aren't done this way.
Chuck Carbo – Can I Be Your Squeeze I broke down this month and got Gabe her own premium Spotify account so we can stop wrestling for music over the internet. As proof that this was a great idea, one day she sent me the link to this old hit that I'd never heard before.
Arcade Fire – We Exist As with many new music from a band at the top of the heap, there's been a lot of hand-wringing about the new Arcade Fire music. One thing seems certain to me - Arcade Fire has a pronounced interest in being a band that is not Arcade Fire. This is evidenced both in the (dramatic?) shift in the sound of the new record, and in its marketing - which created a whole new fake band, called the Reflektors. While the desire of a band to keep evolving, to not get stuck doing the same thing over and over, is understandable, and laudable, I kind of wish Arcade Fire had simply tried to figure out how to be a better Arcade Fire, rather than try to figure out how to be LCD Soundsystem. They are a great band, but even with the help of producer James Murphy they are a shitty LCD Soundsystem. It’s kind of like watching a handsome man put on a suit that is wildly oversized, a suit which looks great on another equally handsome man, but which makes the first guy look like a clown.
I had the privilege of seeing Arcade Fire in 2004 in a tiny venue with about 100 people. I had goose-bumps continuously for about an hour, and it remains the single best show I've ever seen. Above all, what made that show, and their best moments on record, so remarkable was the sense of a group of people acting as one entity, rather than a band backing up a lead singer. I remember watching them perform on that too-small stage and thinking that they resembled a street gang more than a band - like any one of them would literally die for the group. There was no "I" present, only a defiant "We." Lyrically and thematically this always been the bands strength too. Go back and listen to their old stuff - it's always "we." It wasn't music about Win Butler's experience, it was music about our experience, and that's the thing that made them special.
Aside from the unconvincing "groove" of the rhythm section, the half-baked religious philosophizing of Butler, the syrupy limp arrangements, and the self-indulgent use of David Bowie as an in-record shill for the band ("the fantastic - Arcade Fire!" Really!?), my main problem with this album is that it seems to shift the focus of the band away from the "we" and towards Win Butler's "I," both lyrically and musically. To me, he's just not that interesting of a person. I don't think his singing was ever the strong point of the band, especially compared to James Murphy, whose personality and oddness made LCD special. Part of me feels like this whole album might be designed to capitalize on The Suburbs' best track (Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)), an especially "dance-y" track. The problem with this is that that song wasn't sung by Win Butler, but by Regine, a much more compelling/interesting vocalist.
THAT BEING SAID - I do like many moments on the new record, including this song, which obviously transcends the "I"-ness that bothers me about a lot of the other stuff on the record.
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band – SHINE, SHINE Yoko for president.
Booker T. Jones – Progress Marc Maron had Booker T. on WTF recently, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear how down-to-earth and interesting he is. Maron at one point asked him about working with the Roots, and my ears pricked right up. This whole album was done with them as the backup band, and the great Jim James on this one track. A totally unexpected roster of musicians that hits it just right on this song.
Fruit Bats – Slipping Through The Sensors This year marked the tenth anniversary of some great albums that don't seem like they should be that old, including Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People , and the Fruit Bats' Mouthfuls. I got the special vinyl edition they issued for the anniversary and appreciated it more and more as I kept turning it over. The whole album accomplishes a modest but special feat by walking right up to the border of preciousness without ever sticking one toe over. It makes me believe every dreamy romantic sentiment.
Brightblack Morning Light – Everybody Daylight While listening to the psychedelic rock group Wooden Shjips recently I couldn't help but want to turn it off and crank up this album. I'm not sure there's anything quite like the combination of outerspace stoner vibes and tight grooves they manage to turn out. There's something totally out of time about it. Listening to it feels simultaneously like laying on a two-feet deep bed of moss and drinking in a futuristic milk bar. Great.
Doug Stanhope – Just Move I've been listening to a lot of standup again, and Stanhope instantly stands out. It's barely comedy, and I sometimes don't agree with what he says or the way he says it, but the dude could win a gold in the Olympics of having a point of view. He's artless, in all the best meanings of that word. Wickedly smart and truly honest, not in the way so many comics try to sell meanness under the banner of being honest.
Ry Cooder – How Can You Keep Moving [Unless You Migrate Too] Oh, Ry. More please.