Robert Glasper: Black Radio Review
In 2009, Robert Glasper released Double-Booked, his third record for the historic jazz label, Blue Note. Capitalizing on the album’s witty title, Glasper used two different backing groups. Half of the record was done with his traditional acoustic trio, while the other half was with The Experiment, a group which incorporates elements of soul, R&B, funk, and rock into their sound. While most of Glasper’s previous work has been jazz-oriented, he explored a more varied sound with The Experiment. Glasper shifted between the two groups on styles on Double-Booked, but his latest record pushes him completely into the realm of The Experiment.
Black Radio, credited to The Robert Glasper Experiment, is the group’s first proper record. For their debut, The Robert Glasper Experiment humbly chose to take center stage, featuring other artists on nearly every track. Erykah Badu guests on a stunning version of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” during which Badu deftly weaves lines over the cascading piano and Rhodes of Glasper. Rounding out The Robert Glasper Experiment are multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (who just finished a stint as the drummer touring with D’Angelo in Europe).
Backed by this band, every one of the artists shine. Lalah Hathaway fronts a cover of Sade’s “Cherish The Day,” which features a kaleidoscopic sax solo by Benjamin. Black Radio brings together an ensemble of heavy-hitters, including Meshell Ndegeocello, Musiq Soulchild, Stokley Williams (of Mint Condition), Bilal, and Mos Def, to name a few.
Stylistically, Black Radio recalls the heavily groove-based R&B/soul/jazz from the early ’00s (think the Soulquarians and Roy Hargrove’s The RH Factor). However, instead of merely imitating, Glasper finds his own unique sound, due in a large part to the incredible chemistry of his band. Chris Dave’s post-Dilla boom-bap drumming, the incredibly tight pocket of Hodge, and the fluttering horn pads and futuristic singing of Benjamin all help Glasper provide a sonically rich backing to the showcase of talent that is Black Radio.
Like Double-Booked, Black Radio’s title is its central theme. On one hand, the title references the album’s cast of entirely black musicians. On the other, it’s a reference to the black box of an aircraft, which is a small device which records information and audio through the duration of an airline flight in case there is any sort of mishap. Like a black box, Black Radio serves as a snapshot into the current world of black music, and it’s one that will almost certainly stand the test of time.
—Cole (On the Corner)
The Chrome Cranks: Ain’t No Lies in Blood Review
What happens when a band that epitomizes that “’90s cool” reforms? Never mind that The Chrome Cranks are a direct influence on all your favorite garage-rock-explosion bands of the 2000s. Alongside bands like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, they had that cool guy swagger: kind of reckless, kind of dangerous, full of intrigue. After packing it up and calling it quits in the late ’90s, a few surprise reunion shows later the Cranks are back in action with a brand new record.
“I’m Trash” pretty much picks up where the band left things 15 years ago. Descending riffs spiral around Bob Bert’s stomping backbeat, both led by Peter Aaron’s line “I’m trash / dead last.” “Rubber Rat” is a swaggering piece of noisy guitar jazz, while the fake out acoustic opening of “Star To Star” almost sounds like a Michael Gira parody—that is, before it erupt into a noise rock stomp. “Broken-Hearted King” is full of slide guitar and a strong midpoint to the record. Among the originals, a pair of covers sit near the end of the album. You might not even recognize them as covers, because the band so easily makes them their own. “Black Garage Door” is a great version of 1980s Ohio punks The Libertines (not to be confused with the more recent British band), while the 10-minute closing take on The Byrds’ “Lover Of The Bayou” teeters on the brink of self-destruction. Every before its closing feedback makes us wonder where these guys have been all our lives.
I spent many years doubting band reunions, calling them as simple cash-ins that could never really recapture the magic of the past. With Ain’t No Lies In Blood, The Chrome Cranks prove this theory wrong yet again. Welcome back guys, we’ve missed you.
The Chrome Cranks
Introducing: Living Ghost
Living Ghost is yet another project from Lawrence, Kansas’ Dan Davis, whom you might know from his former bands Rickyfitts, Weather Is Happening, and a few more. ZENITH///DRONED is the band’s 3rd release and the sparsest sounding release yet. Armed with a guitar and drum machine, ZENITH///DRONED drops some of the brutal harsh shoegaze of the previous releases for a hazy, yet sparse, guitar and drum beat, while the vocals still remain reasonably unintelligible. You can download the album for free and sample the previous releases Lavinia’s Hands and wilderness names.
Food Pyramid: Mango Sunrise Review
Like a shark, Food Pyramid needs to consistently move and evolve. On each of their excellent Moon Glyph tape trilogy, they wove new colors and textures into their electronic tapestry—from zoned out sax solos to exploratory house music (and this ignores their celestial new age CD). With these outstanding releases as building blocks, their first full-length LP, Mango Sunrise, continues the forward-moving and –thinking trend—and might be the most fully realized document the band has produced.
The nine songs on Mango Sunrise show the band’s willingness to both expand and look within. Starting with the electric waves of the title track, the album is bursting with energy and leaves no stone unturned. Ranging from the mysterious groove of “The Thief” to the euphoric, almost-Primal-Scream acid house of “Oh Mercy,” the band stretch their sound in divergent and interest directions. The rumbling, dubbed-out bass of “Burger Night” and the fuzzy bounce of “I Know What I Saw” shows the band’s playful side. But they’re also tight, experimental, and never afraid of a melody or a groove.
Mostly forgoing the long and meandering tracks that have been present on their previous releases (only two of the nine tracks are over 5:30-long), the band seem content and confident. The music is “experimental” enough to get nerds like me on board, but the lush tracks on Mango Sunrise seem ripe (pun intended) for a larger audience. Echoing the best of their tape trilogy and outside releases, the group seems to have taken the logical next step with their evolving sound and created the best new local release this year.
Buy the record from Moon Glyph.
Flashback Friday: Afrofunk “Body Music”
Naming your band after the type of music you play isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it made me a little apprehensive diving into the latest re-issue from local label Secret Stash. London band Afro Funk’s album Body Music is the record in question, a release that didn’t get the band the fortune or fame they had hoped when it first dropped in 1975. While it didn’t set the world on fire as far as sales, that doesn’t mean that this band of West African ex-pats didn’t create solid music, combining the afrobeat grooves from their home country along with some classic soul and funk on this six song EP. While I was worried their take on the afro beat would be overdone and cheesy, their expression of their namesake genre is actually the record’s strength.
When the band sticks to the sharp horns, wah’d-out guitars, and infectious rhythms of afro beat, they hit on all cylinders. On tracks like “Afro Beat” (which, lets be serious, is going a little overboard—album, band name, and song??), the eight-minute scorcher “Farewell to Ibusa,” the thick groove of “Obanya Special,” and the understated strut of “Tei Egwu,” the band prove adept at touching on all the relevant afro beat reference points. Their songs are tight, but with plenty of room for exploration. The percussion and bass creep into your spine, while the horns punch through the mix to keep your head bobbing. The vocals are impassioned and, while not overshadowing the music, add another layer to the euphoric collage. Where the band loses their way is when venturing away from their namesake genre and into ill-advised attempts at funk and soul. The singing on “Hot Love” is overdone and sounds like second-rate reggae. The band labors to bend their sound in a direction it shouldn’t bend. Unfortunately this isn’t the greatest sin on the record, a distinction that falls to the cheesy Issac Hayes sounding “Try and Try,” which is a faux funk-soul albatross that hangs around the neck of the album. It plods through three minutes of uncomfortable music that does not highlight the band’s strengths.
I find it somewhat amusing that I went into this album worrying that it was going to be an overblown and trite take on a genre that I really love. Strangely enough, my biggest complaint from the record is when they ventured away from the horns and stretched out grooves. The four of six songs that stayed within their wheelhouse make this record worth checking out, but the two miscreants plague the middle of the LP. For a group that names their band, album, and a song on their album after a genre, you would have thought they would know better than to stray from music that was obviously close to their hearts.
Hear samples from the record and order the LP from Secret Stash HERE. The label is having a release show for the record tonight.
Ecid: “Werewolf Hologram” Review
Werewolf Hologram, the fifth official album from Fill In The Breaks head of operations Ecid, is a dazzling, dark, and cynical piece of work. Coming from humble beginnings on his debut solo record, Biograffiti, Ecid decides to focus on the lyrical content he used on his first four solo records, but manages to expand on the palette of sounds he originally brought on each of his four releases, and what follows on Werewolf Hologram is a lot of play on words, over a wide array of microsampled, yet organic sounds, and a dizzying array of cynical, freshly delivered puns and plays on words that rank among the best work that Ecid has committed to record.
From the eerie, blood-curdling whistles of the title track, to the wheezing synths and whirring, yet sporadic guitar thrashes on “Men Kill Men,” Ecid delivers each soundscape with an unflinching calm, even the chops on “I Heart Gravity” are delivered with quite a melodic awareness that is suffering in a post-Bush apocalypse, and that helps further drive the point home on Werewolf Hologram. Around the time you hit “The Pursuit of Everything In Between” onward, Ecid states that “BOOM! And you don’t even know what just hit you,” where a dizzying array of melody and microsampling hit on every turn, and even the changeups and breakdowns that are scattered throughout the record, especially on “Go High Lion” where a reggae-like sample are shapeshifted into an amalgamated composition. At every turn, Ecid orchestrates an opus worthy of his signature sound.
“They’re burning up villages in Libya, while we’re bitching about sitting on a city bus” he states boldly on “Boo Hoo,” while elsewhere on the disc, similar points are brought up, such as “Hey there mister President, how’s big business been?” on the sing-along “Incredible,” whereas on “March” he exclaims”Holly wood, wouldn’t she? Suck the wood right off a money tree and stump the company.” While there are plenty of quotables on the socially accepted norms and constructs of a society idolizing Hollywood & hipsters, perhaps the most crushing blow comes on “Rock Stars Don’t Apologize,” which is a free-for-all delivered by Awol One, Kristoff Krane, and contains what could be the last posthumously recorded Eyedea verse, and what a verse it is. Not to obviously take away anything from Ecid of course, as throughout the course of Werewolf Hologram, he is the album’s main narrator and does a damn good job of it too.
Coming in at a lean 60 minutes, most would walk away with the notion that its a lengthy record that contains a lot to take in sonically and lyrically, but on the contrary, this is definitely one of Ecid’s most focused works to date, and the statements made in this record, along with Werewolf Hologram’s commentary, stand to be one of his strongest works as well. Werewolf Hologram provides quite a ride for the listener, and what an enthralling and strong statement Werewolf Hologram is.
Ecid’s “Werewolf Hologram” celebrates its release on Friday, March 2nd at the Triple Rock Social Club. Ecid will be performing along with Kristoff Krane, Awol One, Carnage and David Mars. Chuck U will be present doing live art, who also is associated with doing the artwork on “Werewolf Hologram”. Awol One & Ecid will also be doing an in-store at Fifth Element on Saturday, March 3rd.
Jim & The French Vanilla: II Review
The Blind Shake doesn’t keep their love for Michael Yonkers a secret. I couldn’t blame you, though, if you have a hard time connecting the dots between the psychedelic legend’s lowfi garage-folk strangeness and the punk trio’s hard-charging sonic assault. Microminiature Love isn’t as difficult to wrap your head around, but once you get into Michael and the Mumbles or Goodbye Sunball, the similarities get harder to pinpoint.
Enter Jim and the French Vanilla. JatFV is the solo project of Jim Blaha, one of the Blind Shake’s fraternally linked guitarists. Blaha’s solo material is mix of low-fi garage and acid folk—not unlike the side of Yonkers that you used to hear back in the sixties. Now, I would never say that Jim and the French Vanilla and early Yonkers are two peas in the same pod, but understanding their stylistic similarities is a good place to start.
Jim and the French Vanilla’s sophomore album, simply entitled II, explores a wide variety of styles—from country to psychedelic rock. The string that binds them is that nearly all 14 tracks feature Blaha solo, playing guitar and singing in a highly reverbed environment. Occasionally the tunes feature Blaha recording on multiple tracks and filling out the sound, but with the exception one Blind Shake acoustic joint and Jim’s brother Mike joining him a few times on drums, it’s purely solo Blaha.
Thematically, II is melancholy, with Blaha providing his own overarching concept in the lyrics to “Misery”: “It’s misery, played by me.” A handful of the songs, like “Unlucky” and “Deep Water,” display a folk-country tinge. However, even at his rootsiest, Blaha keeps the psychedelic flame alive. The distorted vocals are notable, as is Blaha’s skill on the guitar. II’s most intrepid journey into acid folk is probably “Long Ways From Here,” which features an Eastern-oriented (dual) guitar part that sounds a bit like some of Sandy Bull’s farther-out material. The shadow of the Blind Shake isn’t too far off either—“The Big Day” actually sounds like it could have been lifted from the Blind Shake catalogue, none the wiser.
If you are accustomed to the Blind Shake’s sound, you might not have an easy of a time with Jim and the French Vanilla. While the similarities are there, II’s slower pace may not be ideal for fans of brain-melting garage punk. If you don’t mind slowing it down a bit, II has a lot to offer attentive listeners. Not only does it sport a bevy of good jams (my favorites in addition to those already mentioned being “Too Bad” and “Unusual”), it’s also an interesting trek into the Blind Shake’s span of influences. But of course this is a JatFV record—not a Blind Shake record—and it should be listened to on its own merit. At the same time, if you ever wondered what the Blind Shake did with all those unused acid folk influences, Jim and the French Vanilla may satisfy some of your curiosity.
II will be available via Modern Radio on March 1st. Jim and the French Vanilla’s record release show is on the same day at the Kitty Cat Klub.
Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Three reactions, Three impressions, Three Takes on Old Ideas by Leonard Cohen.
There is something absurd about evaluating a Leonard Cohen album. The work is too singular. There are so few points of comparison with other artists in popular music. Is it good? Compared to what? Compared to the other septuagenarian Jewish-Canadian Buddhist monks who publish in the New Yorker while selling out world tours doing “folk” music? He’s definitely in that Top Ten.
Thematically and lyrically, Old Ideas is right line with the albums that built his legend in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Sonically, much less so. The beauty of those early albums was in the simplicity of Cohen’s weathered sing-speaking against spare acoustic guitar. That voice, now deeper and more roughened by age, would be even better served by the old formula. Instead, he opts for a full band with horns, electric bass, synth, archilaud, and wispy female backing vocals (which sometimes come off as a bit cheesy). The result is very close to his recent live shows.
If you were lucky enough to see his mesmerizing, three-hour performance at the Orpheum in 2009 or the filmed London show from the same tour, you know that the full band works well on stage. However, on a recording it works less well. The smooth jazz-style horns and the electric bass sound retrograde, and one can’t help but wish he would have had the guiding hand of a Rick Rubin to strip it all down à la Johnny Cash’s American Recordings.
That said, the album is a stunner. Cohen may be 77, but he’s at the top of his game. Lyrically, he has no peers. Once again, all of the big biblical themes are explored—love, hate, lust, sin, forgiveness, redemption, and, most of all, death. Each is examined from different angles and in different moods, sounding at times hopeful (“Going Home”) and others despairing (“Darkness”). Like his earlier albums, it bears many listens and will only get better with age. So if you only buy one album from someone your grandpa’s age this year, make it this one.
Despite his legendary status, I am not very familiar with Leonard Cohen’s work. I am completely clueless as to what he has been up to basically since 1998’s I’m Your Man. Staying active, it appears.
His newest record, Old Ideas, will be his third released in the 21st century. And speaking of active—despite getting old, Cohen still sounds like he’s getting around. Even if he’s now touched by the wisdom of age, to hear him sing about love, sex, and poetry . . . well, he still has the passion of a young man. Despite some instrumental changes over the years, Cohen is still singing in the same rhyme patterns and gravelly baritone croon. I don’t like that he’s often accompanied on Old Ideas by a chipper female accompaniment, but that hardly distracts from Cohen’s gravitas. For the most part I can ignore the cheesy window dressing and concentrate solely on Cohen and his carefully chosen words. I would have preferred that he just recorded the record unaccompanied by anything save the wear and tear of years gone by. But he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon, so he’s still got plenty of time for an album like that.
Tim (Vernon Wayne)
Leonard Cohen comes at you with the softest lyrical hammer on Old Ideas. Tracks like “Amen” display a careful and gentle arrangement that are at times reminiscent of the somberness of “Nobody Home” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This album feels more personal than that, though. “Crazy to Love You” has the mystique of a French noir film, but wouldn’t feel out of place soundtracking shots of an aged, sad-looking Bill Murray dressed in strange clothes in a Wes Anderson film. Despite this, these songs don’t feel like characterizations, but a window into Cohen’s own somber, reverent life. What we see here is a musician showing his age, but wearing it as a badge of honor.
There are points in the album, which is full of down-tempo gospel and blues-inspired folk, in which the instrumentation becomes less important that Leonard’s hypnotizing voice. It has as much character as a gnarled oak tree, but is delivered with the tenderness of a lover. Tracks like “Lullaby” float the listener down a river on a makeshift raft with a harmonica: the music pushing the album forward, Leonard stepping in only to steer you along.
Fans of Toms Waits’ quirkiness (sans circus side-show, plus cathedral gospel choir) will have a lot to look for in this record. Some songs are more up than others, others more down. But front to back, Leonard Cohen offers a deep experience to the listener. Put this record on when you want to relax, zone out, be sad, contemplate, or just sit down and listen to a story from grandpa.
Peter and the Wolf: Easy Mountain Review
When Red Hunter, lead singer of Austin folk band Peter and the Wolf, sings the phrase “I’m Living the Dream” on the song “Rosariot,” I found myself wondering what exactly he meant. Did he mean he had everything, the living manifestation of all that he ever wanted? Or was he saying he lives his life in a dream? Either could be possible listening to his new LP Easy Mountain. Hunter is not yet sounding completely content, but the worn vocals and lush instrumentation on Easy Mountain give the impression of a well-worn soul, or at least someone who has seen and experienced enough to fill a songbook or two.
From the boardwalk folk of “Lightfalls” to the mellow, plaintive “Silver Sand,” anyone who has heard Hunter’s well groomed and emotive folk styling’s will feel right at home on Easy Mountain. Even when he falls victim of trite lyrics like “nothing to do but walk around/maybe to the end of town” on the somber, folky “Sure I see the Sun,” he still can ramble on with his folky charm. The track, even with its lyrical shortcomings, feels like a lo-fi , more depressing Simon and Garfunkel. His last LP was the Of Montreal-esqe freak funk under the nom de plume of Traffique, which he slightly references on the eccentric “The Sunglasses Song,” which leans on a bubbling bass synth line instead of acoustic guitars and mellow string arrangements.
Hunter makes the kind of music that is deceptively simple and almost too easy to absorb on first listen, giving the listener the impression that it isn’t any deeper than your average top 40 song. The track with Peter and the Wolf if that most of the songs prove to enigmas wrapped in dual vocal parts and slight twists of phrases. From the first time I heard the stunning “Safe Travels,” which is still one of my favorite songs of all time, I have found Hunter’s material to be captivating and hard to resist. Whether Easy Mountain is Hunter living in a dream or through a dream, whatever it is I hope he can keep it up.
Listen to preview tracks below and grab the album straight from the source HERE.