Thursday, March 27, 2008

Casual Listening Extra 3-28-08

Casual Listening


March 28, 2008

The B-52’s – Funplex (rock)

There was a time in college when I couldn’t escape “Love Shack.” Overexposure killed that song for me, but Funplex I can deal with. The same B-52’s sound that you know, with a new set of hip-square tunes.

Head of Femur – Great Plains (rock)

I’m a bit of a sucker for baroque-folk: quirky songs with expansive instrumentation. Sufjan Stevens is the captain of this genre. Head of Femur isn’t far behind. Great Plains rocks a little harder, with cameos of everything from banjo to melodica. I’m still waiting for the next Sufjan album, but this will tide me over in the meantime.

Casual Listening 3-28-08

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

March 28, 2008

! The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely (rock)

All that is pure and holy in Rock & Roll findeth expression in this release. Rough-hewn, hook-laden songs shine through wailing, overdriven guitars. I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to hear Led Zeppelin IV the week it came out. Listen to this album, and believe.

* Tony Trischka – Territory (folk)

One of the world’s best banjo players cuts a brace of tunes worthy of the Smithsonian Folkways label. Trischka’s note-perfect picking sparkles on songs from a variety of traditions – old-tyme fiddle tunes, celtic reels, Hawaiian steel, and, of course, bluegrass. Guests such as Mike Seeger and Bill Keith round out the string band.

* Chimpanzé Clube Trio – Chimpanzé Clube Trio (world)

Hot Brazilian jam-funk – a South American answer to Medeski, Martin, and Wood. The instrumental syncopations are serious, and largely indebted to (North) American funk. Still, there’s enough Tropicalia influence to give this a unique twist.

Scott Wheeler – The Construction of Boston (classical)

An Americanist operetta in the tradition of Copeland and Bernstein, which follows three lives responsible for the architecture and spirit of the city. Harmonically, this is a modernist piece with difficult yet beautiful passages. In tone, it is playfully self-conscious, with characters representing the land, wharves, and even the opera itself.

Kassav’ – All U Need is Zouk (world)

Zouk is Caribbean carnival music from the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, and Kassav’ are the masters of the form. You’ll pick out generous amounts of Soca and Calypso, a little Reggae and even a pinch of Salsa. This is music that knows how to party.

Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life (country)

An impressive honky-tonk debut album. A retro sound blends rock influences from his dad (Steve Earle), folk balladry from his namesake (Townes Van Zandt), and classic country laments from his muse (Hank Williams). Lyrically, it’s blue and lonesome from end to end.

Chicha Libre – Sonido Amazonico (world)

Chicha Libre is a retro Peruvian surf guitar band, definitely a one-of-a-kind ensemble these days. A sample tune does a minor-key send-up of Vivaldi’s Spring, to the Spanish lyrics “In the Amazon jungle, there is no spring.” Chicha Libre gives a first impression of bizarro-cool, with repeated listens revealing an infectious style of dance music.

In the blog this week: B-52’s, Head of Femur.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Casual Listening Extra 3-21-08

Casual Listening


March 21, 2008

Against Me! – New Wave (rock) released July, 2007

Gabe Gonzales, a loyal Casual Listening reader, suggested this album, which garnered a lot of buzz as a standout political punk album last year. Gabe describes this better than I can, so I’ll print his review:

Two songs sing out. One is thrash unreal and the other is borne on the fm waves of .....

I love these songs for two different reasons. With thrash unreal, the lyrics are insane. The chorus alone is enough to grab you "No mother ever dreams that her daughters gonna grow up to be a junkie, no mother ever believes that her daughters gonna grow up to sleep alone" and there's more "when people see the track marks on her arms she knows what thier thinkin, she keeps on workin for that minimum, as if her high school education gave her any other option"
But the final line is the killer "if she had to do it all over again you know she wouldn't change anything for the world". Turns out after all that heavy shit that the song is an anthem. Crazy.

Borne on the FM waves is a different kettle. Its a summer love song that begins with the words "No... that's not what I meant to say...." And later "exciting and excited, you give me no mercy. Grind my teeth smooth and flat in my sleep" but it's not the lyrics alone. The riff that underlies the chorus is the sound that coldplay always reached fruitlessly for. The build of the song, starting with a lone electric guitar and ending with a wall of sound that spector would envy, is intense. And who could hear the chorus of "just fighting to stay in control of the situation" and not think of what it meant to be in lust and 15.

And finally, the indictment of the music industry that "up the cuts" provides is materful. As an organizer, i totally feel the chorus "are you restless like me?"

Its more than a paragraph, and i could go on. But rather, read this and listen again.

Oh and one more from thrash unreal "they don't know nuthin bout redemption. They don't know nuthin about recovery. Some people just ain't the type for marriage and family"

Melody Gardot – Worrisome Heart (jazz)

This CD is even more impressive when you know the story behind it (which you can find thanks to NPR here). The music is solid vocal jazz, on the mellow side, and straight ahead. If you’re a Nora Jones fan, you’ll probably dig this as well.

Casual Listening Concert - Mwata Bowden's Sound Spectrum

Casual Listening

Concert Review

Mwata Bowden Sound Spectrum, March 7, 2008 at Velvet Lounge, Chicago

It's been years since I've been to the Velvet Lounge. Their old spot on Indiana was a smokehouse - dark, warm, and thick with cigarettes. In their new space just east of Chinatown, the smoke is no longer an issue, and cool colors give the space an open feel, like a younger cousin to the now-defunct Hothouse.

The show is advertised for 9:30, and when I walk in, there are seven people in the place. Four of them are with the band. The crowd won't top twenty before I leave at the set break. For being the creative epicenter of Chicago's jazz scene, the Velvet Lounge still doesn't get the respect it deserves.

The band's in no hurry - I have the pleasure of eavesdropping on Bowden at the bar talking about the finer points of circular breathing. He dates himself remembering Coltrane's death as being just before he got into jazz, as well as recalling the Art Ensemble of Chicago's daily rehearsals during their early days. Bowden is now one of the elder statesmen of the avant garde Chicago jazz scene. He is chairman of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which includes the Art Ensemble and several more of the most dynamic Afrocentric jazz groups in Chicago today. The only organization in town that can arguably claim more top-shelf musical virtuosi than the AACM is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

A substantial arsenal of instruments waits onstage. Near Bowden's perch is a rogues gallery of clarinets, saxophones, flutes, and didgeridoos as well as all manner of bells and rattles, Behind this are the larger instruments: a drum kit, an acoustic bass, and a cello. These are obviously jazz instruments - worn with scratches, dirt, and fading finishes. For a jazz musician, your instrument isn't a showpiece or a status symbol; it's a second skin.

The four musicians take the stage. The brief silence in the room is itself the opening movement of the piece. Bowden blows across a cane flute, playing an extended solo without actually fingering notes. He slides his fingers across the holes, altering the sound without changing the pitch. He caps the end of the flute with his hand, emitting a two-tone whistle. He is reminiscent of a Japanese shakuhachi master, for whom the focus isn't melody, but sculpting the quality of breath.

The rest of the band adds texture with bells and shakers, and gradually moves to the larger instruments. Michael Avery on drums and Junius Paul on bass provide rhythmic support, able to lock in a groove, but also knowing exactly how and when to unlock it. This music ebbs and flows like the tides, and requires musicians, not metronomes to set the pace. Cellist Tamika Reed is an expert addition to the group, able to switch between extending the rhythm section and giving a direct counterpoint to Bowden's flute work.

After thirty-five minutes, they pause to regroup. Bowden raises the didgeridoo, another monotone instrument, played with the freneticism you'd expect to hear from Ornette Coleman. What would have been a blinding tonal array on a saxophone is here only imagined, underscoring the energy of the performance within a narrow sonic expression. Reed plucks cello strings on both sides of the bridge, and tangles with Paul's bass to the point of sounding like a single instrument played by four hands.

Sound Spectrum's performance offers ready parallels to another quintessentially Chicago art form: improv theater. Two long-form pieces emerge from the void, performed by talented players whose genius lies primarily in listening. Good improvised art challenges us to listen as well - beyond the script, beyond the tune or the beat - to listen for the movement of the creative force itself.

Casual Listening 3-21-08

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

March 21, 2008

! Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple (R&B)

Gnarles Barkley throws down the gauntlet on nothing less than the reinvention of soul music. The original soul drew heavily on church traditions, and here the electric organ, choral singing, and a revivalist tone are evident. For being such a precisely produced record, the percussion sounds organic: drum kits, handclaps, shakers, and claves. This album also contains some of the most danceable tracks since Chubby Checker did the Twist. I can only hope that in 30 years, the wedding song that brings all ages onto the dance floor is by Gnarles Barkley.

* Haydamaky – Kobzar (world)

Rides the line between traditional Ukrainian music and rock without falling too far in either direction. Accordions and electric guitars seem to get along, playing traditional-sounding tunes with an edge that appeals to the kids.

* Moreland and Arbuckle – 1861 (blues)

With a sound plucked fresh from the juke joint, this trio drives a hard-edged blues. Boss harmonica with a warm, fuzzy sound like a C. B. radio run through a tube amp. Electric guitar, drums, and menacing vocals round out the party.

Yael Naim – Yael Naim (folk)

Uber-cool folk-pop that sounds sophisticated in any of the multiple languages she sings in on this recording. Music to drink espresso, travel Eurail, and, apparently, to buy a Macintosh by.

Be Your Own Pet – Get Awkward (rock)

Incendiary garage punk. A commanding lead vocal performance in a class with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Black Tide – Light From Above (metal)

You know who you are. Your first rock concert was Def Leppard, and you shed a tear when you put the souvenir t-shirt out at a garage sale. You cut your hair and started a “sensible” music collection, but you still want nothing more than a chance to Rawk. Black Tide will save your soul. Because you can graduate from high school, but the rock goes on forever.

In the blog this week: Mwata Bowden at the Velvet Lounge (for real this time); Gabe Gonzales on Against Me; Melody Gardot.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Casual Listening 3-14-08

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

March 14, 2008

* Dalia Faitelson– Pilpel (world)

A hybrid of Israeli traditional and French cabaret signing, Faitelson casts a thick and sultry spell. Frame drum, accordion, and guitar provide the backdrop for her mournfully beautiful voice.

* Bisc1 – When Electric Night Falls (rap)

A seamless integration of landscape, mindscape, and soundscape. The landscape: New York City, through the eyes of a graffiti writer. The mindscape: an interior monologue that swings between self-expression and self-doubt. The soundscape: like standing underneath power lines – electric pulses fuzzed around the edges.

*Marian McPartland – Twilight World (jazz)

McPartland exudes confidence on this piano tour de force. Bass and drums add texture, but the focus here is McPartland’s keyboard improvisations, ranging from nostalgic to adventurous. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what she can do when she doesn’t have to share the spotlight with a radio guest.

Kaki King – Dreaming of Revenge (rock)

Ethereal melancholy, supported by exquisite guitar playing. A mix of sung and instrumental tracks, the sonic emphasis here is more on the “dreaming” than the

“revenge” part.

Jason Kao Huang– Stories From Within (jazz)

It’s hard to find four words more likely to condemn an artist to obscurity than these: violin avant jazz fusion. In Huang’s case however, it’s undeserved. Balanced and compelling, his work is edgy without being pretentious. Worth a listen.

In the blog (later) this week: Mwata Bowden at the Velvet Lounge.

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Casual Listening Extra 3-7-08

Casual Listening


March 7, 2008

The Black Crowes / Howlin Rain cage match

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding The Black Crowes’ new release Warpaint, saying that it’s a return to their Southern Rock Roots. I’m glad these guys are still around, but Warpaint doesn’t lift me the way that Southern Harmony and Musical Companion does. It rocks, but there’s a heaviness to it that’s a bit of a drag. If you want a taste of what the Crowes were and could be again, check out this week’s release Magnificent Fiend by Howlin Rain. The vocalist doesn’t have quite the finesse that Chris Robinson has on his best days, but the music feels way more inspired. Check them both out, then write me and tell me what you think.

Flogging Molly – Float

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Make this the Celtic rock soundtrack to your party.

Casual Listening 3-7-08

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

March 7, 2008

* Toumast – Ishumar (world)

Toumast is a prime example of Bedouin Blues, music made by nomads in the African Sahara. The music has eerie similarities to American blues – repetitive guitar lines with bent “blue” notes and a swung tempo – despite being a clearly African form. The Touareg are a dispossessed people, and the depth of emotion here parallels the weep and moan of more familiar blues.

* Los Tigres del Norte– Raíces (world)

One of the most veteran Norteño bands takes a turn at classic Mexican tunes. I can’t say that I’m familiar with most of these songs (yet), but there’s a bite to this band’s sound that’s more compelling than your typical accordion conjunto. The material’s great, and the sound grows on you.

White Hinterland – Phylactery Factory (rock)

Sweet songs with a twist of melancholy, White Hinterland pairs lounge-inspired piano with everything from violin, to vibraphone, to electric organ to ukelele. Luminous vocal work seals the package.

Mia Doi Todd – Gea (folk)

Todd evokes great deep-voice chanteuses from Joni Mitchell to Astrud Gilberto. Spare, beautiful arrangements keep the focus on her voice and subtle acoustic guitar work. Pensive and heartfelt.

The King Blues – Under the Fog (rock)

British punk reggae. Drives with irresistible energy through loping tempos. Politically committed, loud, and fun – The Clash would be proud.

Bauhaus – Go Away White (rock)

Thick distortion and heavy bass lines focus a great set of rock & roll. While they tend to be associated with Goth, this album displays a debt to groups like Iggy and the Stooges that were more edgy than spooky.

In the blog this week: Black Crowes / Howlin Rain cage match, Flogging Molly

* highly recommended

! highest recommendation

Check out the blog at . To subscribe or unsubscribe, or just to say hi, send an e-mail to