November & December 2015 ~ Back in the Saddle

Deerhunter - Snakeskin  I went to Thalia Hall in Pilsen for the first time this December to see Deerhunter with my friend Mark Sorkin (see his recent Guest List here). Great venue, from what I could tell. Mark definitely loved the band, and I liked a lot of what they did (despite their lousy drummer). For me, one of the best things about the show was that it started at 6pm, which is kind of awesome for someone who grows less and less interested in staying up till 2am.

Ernie K-Doe & Allen Toussaint - Mother-In-Law Last Christmas when G and I went to New Orleans, one of the things my dad recommended we do was go to the Mother-In-Law Lounge, formerly proprietated by Ernie K-Doe. Although we didn't make it there, it really struck me as a weird name for a bar. I mean, considering the traditional connotation of mothers-in-law, why would anyone want to go to her lounge? After Allen Toussaint passed in November, Fresh Air played a mix of old interviews with him. Among the many interesting things I learned was that one of his hits was this song, which I'd never even heard. A fun, simple conceit that serves as a vehicle for this great groove. Next time in New Orleans we'll be sure to make it to the Mother-In-Law Lounge.

Carlos Malcom - Tiptoe Gabe went to Mexico City before Christmas for a little solo trip. Among the great stuff she came back with were some amazing plates from Uriarte Talavera in Puebla and a stack of cool used records. This one was for me, a great artifact of older Jamaican music. Despite the name Skamania, this music reaches far out beyond what one typically considers ska - it's really more of a big band jazz sound with an upbeat added. I'm imagining Cab Calloway born in Jamaica. Great stuff. I'd never heard of Carlos Malcolm before, but his bio on Wikipedia is a mind-blower.

Some excerpts: "From the late 1950s Carlos Malcolm worked professionally as a musician in conjunction with his 'other job' as a photo journalist with the West Indian Review magazine in Kingston."

Or this: "The popular Jamaican Hit Parade program partially developed by Malcolm, spawned and influenced the careers of many Jamaican artists such as Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley, who became international Jamaican music icons."

How about this: "In 1999, Carlos Malcolm was appointed an Artist in Residence by the California Arts Council for the City of San Diego, California. He created alternate educational learning programs, taught in middle schools and mentored "at-risk" teenagers in community centres with his program "bak2bay6 –with a Musical Twist", which teaches young student (as well as adults) the elements of English, Math Music and Critical Thinking, using "rap" and original songs to deliver subject matter."

Total mind-blower. And great playing. 

 Santigold - Can't Get Enough Of Myself I loved Santigold's 2008 debut. She still manages to make shiny pop music that doesn't kowtow entirely to the ascendant conventions. It's not incredibly obvious, but there's definitely some ska DNA buried deep in here. Maybe it's just the way she reminds me of a cooler Gwen Stefani. 

Lucius - Born Again Teen Ooooh. New album from Lucius coming in March. Love these dudes so much. 

Nils Frahm - Wall I got hipped to Frahm on All Songs Considered, and spent a lovely hour or two in a coffee shop writing poems to his fussy little masterpieces. Like Colin Stetson with the saxophone, Frahm hybridizes classical technique with modern recording technology, using multiple close mics to manifest the physicality of the music aurally. Translation: you can hear every little noise the piano makes as a kind of percussion. I love how tactile it is. Much of it is less repetitive than this piece, but I find it really meditative. You can read a poetic "transcription" of another of the songs from the album on my other blog

Surachai - Visions from Misplaced Runes I When I met my old roomie Surachai several years ago, he was kind of straddling two musical universes - the metal universe and the synth universe. Over the last few years he seems to have been on a mission to unite them. While I'm no acolyte in either faith, I think he's done an amazing job of finding the commonalities in two sounds that don't seem like they would have many. What I particularly love about this album, which I'm pretty sure is made entirely with one set of analogue synths and a live drummer, is how it conveys the hallmark emotion and attitude of metal without any of the traditional trappings - aka guitars. And, the absence of guttural screams makes the medicine go down a little smoother. Watch out, he's probably already got another record at the pressing plant, one being mastered, and another half done. The guy never stops. 

Britney Spears - Toxic Lately I've been serving as iTunes valet for my favorite 11-year-old. We sit and search for songs that she wants downloaded on her iPod, with her largely guiding the search and me trying to throw golden nugget in front of her ears every once in a while. Her limited knowledge and language about music present some challenges. What she says she wants: Pop! What she means: Super shiny, bombastic contemporary pop that is compressed to the hilt and gets to the hooky chorus within the first 15 seconds of the song. During a recent session I found myself just wracking my brain to find something to fit this criteria but closer to my own 11-year-old days. Spice Girls? No. Information Society? Boring. To my utter horror and amazement, I found myself feeling a sense of relief when we landed on Britney Spears. It's an experience I would have sworn would never happen. Then, you know, I realized/remembered - "Hey, I kind of like this 'Toxic' song." Crazy. 

The Arcs - Pistol Made of Bones - I like Dan Auerbach a lot. I like his music, and I really like some of the producing that he's done (especially the Bombino album). This newer group of his really sounds like a collaboration with another super producer/player - Richard Swift. In some ways it seems like a natural fit. In other ways, I picture a clash of titans, like the squid and the whale wrestling it out in the deep. In reality though, it's probably just two awesome musicians (and a bunch of other people) digging playing with each other. My favorite part is the members of the (insanely amazing) all-lady mariachi group Mariachi Flor de Toloache that have been folded into the group. Check out the recent great Tiny Desk Concert, which strips the production from this song and reveals its very solid skeleton.  (Also, do yourself a BIG favor and check out Flor de Toloache's own Tiny Desk here.)

Gabby Pahinui - Ku'u Pua Lei Mokihana Stumbled on this record on vinyl during some holiday shopping indulgence at Reckless Records. A whole host of Hawaiian slack key luminaries, AND Ry Cooder? I mean, how could I pass it up? 

Josh Berman - Your Uncle Nearly ten years ago now, when I first moved to Chicago, friends and co-workers at the sushi place I worked at would often end up at the Charleston after work. That incarnation of the bar remains my very favorite bar ever. It's since been bought by different owners and stripped of its soul, but back then it was like the funky clubhouse you dreamt of as a kid, but with booze. Best perk of all was that every week a bunch of Chicago's best rising star jazz cats would get together and jam. It was free. It was always incredible. It was entirely without pretension. You can't read about jazz in Chicago these days without seeing the name of one of the people we saw every week. Sometimes I run into one of them somewhere and they still recognize me. It's crazy. Several years ago it happened with Josh Berman, who was always at the jam session. The guy's a stellar musician, and incredibly friendly. 

I love the playfulness and humor of this music. And if there's ever been a better title for an album (A Dance and A Hop), I'll eat my hat. 

PJ Harvey - Working for the Man I've been in love with Harvey's Let England Shake since it came out in 2011, but it's only recently that I've worked my way back down the well. My god. I just really love PJ Harvey. Listening to this early album, it came to me like a person drinking his second type of IPA ever and realizing - "Oh, I just really love IPAs." It was like that for me - "Oh, I just really love PJ Harvey." She's got a new one coming out soon, and I can't wait. 

EL VY - Need A Friend A recent collaboration between The National's Matt Berninger and Menomena's Brent Knopf. Literate, catchy, and a couple notches less moody than Berninger's usual mode. 

Pell - Monday Morning When I first heard Pell I, for some reason, assumed he was British. There's something about his delivery that seems outside of the American verbal rhythms. I think the production on this album by TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek contributes to that displacement, being naturally unconcerned with rap orthodoxy. Nope, Pell is from New Orleans. Highly recommend the whole album. 

Haley Bonar - Money Bonar's Golder has been on heavy rotation during working hours in the Josh B. Fox grant writing headquarters (aka the dining room). Lovely. 

Kronos Quartet - Wind on My Back I've been doing some grant writing work for the Harris Theater, which has a lot of classical music programming, and feeling like I need to develop my classical music tastes more, especially when it comes to contemporary stuff. Kronos is a natural place to start. You can plug them into Spotify and confront hours (days?!) of the most varied sounds that could come from two violins, a viola, and a cello. This is pleasingly tame and sentimental for them. They can do anything.