June 2016 ~ Feeling the Fugue

De La Soul, ft. Snoop Dogg - Pain In honor of the new single from De La's forthcoming album (their first in a decade), a fun little manufactured mini-controversy made the rounds early this month when MTV news published an article in which millennial music writer David Turner encounters the classic 3 Feet High and Rising for the first time. A kind of gonzo-lite account, it includes a lot of subjective reactions that seem to demonstrate a serious lack of understanding about the context and historical significance of the album (deviating from the gangsta paradigm, using samples from atypical sources, etc). It lays bare the perfectly predictable generational rift in the hip-hop world. Most of all, though, it is sloppy journalism, that one hopes was done purposely to raise hackles. My favorite reaction was from Open Mike Eagle on Twitter -  

Christian Scott - The Eraser Jazz covers of rock tunes (especially Radiohead) are pretty abundant these days, and most don't manage to transcend gimmickry. Count on the fabulous Christian Scott to arrive at something truly beautiful in the translation of this song from digital twitch to organic groove. 

Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band - Queen of Cheeba I heard this one day while listening to a podcast of The World, which quietly has some of the best-curated music of any radio program. 

Vince Staples - Lemme Know I heard Staples' sophomore album Summertime '06 in the background at Robb and Helean's several times before actually sitting down and listening to it proper. Those background listens didn't prepare me for the surprising musicality of the album, with production and arrangements that go way beyond the simplistic "1+1=2" nature of most rap music. The music, regardless of lyrics, feels like true songs that develop and change as they progress, ending in a different place than they started. The other surprising thing to me was how much a lot of it sounds influenced by trip-hop, and Tricky in particular. With its doubled male-female sleepy drawl, darkly bouncy bass, and background echoes, this song almost sounds like an outtake from Maxinequaye. 

The Jayhawks - The Comeback Kids I first saw The Jayhawks nearly twenty years ago, with about 50 people in a rec room at Hamline University in St. Paul. In my circle of friends from college, The Jayhawks are a kind of central band - a fact which sometimes make me feel a little bit like a fuddy-duddy. I won free tickets to see them this month at Lincoln Hall (Chicago's best music venue!), and that feeling of elderliness was dispelled immediately when I looked around and realized I was probably the youngest person in the room, an experience that has grown pretty rare at concerts. For a group of musicians in their sixties it's fun to hear them stretching beyond their comfort zone on the new Paging Mr. Proust, turning in this Strokes-y tune with a tuneful chorus beyond the scope of that younger band. 

Margaret Glaspy - You and I One of several great songs from Glaspy's super catchy, well written debut full length. Looking forward to seeing her this fall at the Green Mill, of all places - typically a jazz club!

Anaïs Mitchell - Why We Build the Wall Stumbling on an article in the NY Times about the restaging of Mitchell's "folk-opera" Hadestown reminded me how great the original recording is. A reworking of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, it manages to honor that story's theme of love and fate while simultaneously serving as a parable for the perils of late-stage capitalism in 21st century America. No small feat! Originally conceived for the stage, it features a cast of great singers as the voices of the characters, including Justin Vernon, Ani DiFranco, the Haden Triplets (as the Fates), the Low Anthem's Ben Knox Miller, and Greg Brown as Hades. The NYT article points out the trenchancy of this song, resonating directly with Trump's very unallegorical wall. My other favorite part of the article is how the singer portraying Hades onstage gushes over the outrageously low notes in his part, which he says he rarely gets to sing, and which Greg Brown nails with typical aplomb and gravity. 

Ralph Stanley - Rank Stranger In honor of this elder statesman's passing. 

The Consort of Musicke and Anthony Rooley - As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending One of the surprising things I've learned since I started working at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance is how much more moving I find the dance performances than the music. Spurred by that experience, and wanting to take full advantage of the opportunity to see such superb musicians, I've been trying to develop my classical music knowledge a little. During a visit to New York City this month I picked up a couple of books at the Strand, including How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, by Robert Greenberg. So far, it's exactly what I needed - providing a succinct history of classical music, detailing the transition from medieval religious music to the "concert music" we know today. The book calls out specific pieces that serve as examples of broad musical inventions and forms. This piece plays proxy for late-16th - early-17th century madrigals, when composers were playing with "word painting - a kind of musical pun, in which the music literally matches the words, the way the melody descends along with Vesta. Every time I listen to this I'm surprised to enjoy it as much as I do. There's a kind of soothing power to it. As I suspected when I set out on this knowledge quest, knowing something about the historical/musicological context and technical skeleton of the music also really help. 

Olga Bell - Power User I got routed to Olga Bell after stumbling on Anna Meredith last month. Wonderful electronic pop music with a decided experimental bent. I'm seriously jealous of the crisp production, and the way the phrase "power user" shifts is super smart. 

Homeboy Sandman - Eyes Slightly crooked beats, with a sneakily catchy chorus and devastatingly inventive rhymes. I remember checking out Homeboy Sandman a few years back and feeling ambivalent, but this new album is chock full of great stuff. Probably just wrong time, wrong state of mind for me in the past.  

Glenn Gould - Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 847: Fugue Another shout-out from the Greenberg book, but one that is a lot more familiar. Listening to this after learning about a fugue works feels like suddenly putting on eyeglasses for the first time. 

Radiohead - Desert Island Disk I know Radiohead is a great band, but ever since Amnesiac I've had a gripe, that grows with each new album, that they essentially stopped evolving their sound after Kid A. I acknowledge that it's basically an indefensible grouse. It just seemed to me like they acquiesced to the "bleep-bloop" electronics that were such a revolutionary leap on Kid A,  but seemed to become more and more a hackneyed parody with each iteration. Moon Shaped Pool, their new album, sounds (finally) like a step forward. This song especially continues to catch me off guard, sounding more like a modern-day British fingerstyle folk song than a circuit-bender's wet dream. Instrumental covers of Radiohead songs (like the one above - yes I know it's not technically a Radiohead song) prove that their melodies are top notch, and that there's an identifiable Radiohead sound regardless of what knobs/strings/valves are used to manifest it. It's nice to hear them acknowledge that in their own recordings.  

Esmé Patterson - The Waves A poetic little bit of head-swaying melancholia. "When the waves get a hold of your heart they don't let go." Actually, a nice companion to Sturgill Simpson's A Sailor's Guide to Earth.

Vince Staples - Jump Off the Roof I just cannot get enough of this production. And the fierce pathos of Staples' lyrics and delivery, utterly lacking in unnecessary posturing - vulnerability and anger braided with emotional honesty. Talk about keeping it real.

Beck - Wow After 2014's Morning Phase, a reflective and quiet strum of a record, it seemed time for Beck to visit the part of his castle where he keeps the disco lights and 808. Right on schedule comes this lollipop of a song. Who knew the phrase "it's like 'wow'" could be such an infectious pop hook. Bodes well for the full album due this fall. 

Wham! - Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go I just... I just got this stuck in my head this month. Great bass playing, if you never noticed that before.