A blog for Seattle music lovers of all stripes, from hip-hop and indie rock to jazz and world music.
Topic: New Recordings
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December 3, 2013 at 9:56 AM
Britney Spears, ‘Britney Jean’ (RCA/Sony)
Fourteen years ago, Britney Spears sashayed onto the worldwide pop stage as a teen idol, and now is improbably making excellent albums as an adult. She works around her thin voice with production tricks and odd pronunciations (she was always more of a dancer than a singer). She has pulled back from her well-documented drug troubles. She is holding herself together.
“Britney Jean” continues her trend of highly digitized, android-esque pop, though its songs are sadder, more personal, and less sexy than on the oblivion-seeking “Femme Fatale” (2011). The album’s highlight is “Alien,” galloping electronica that is restrained yet heavy, where Britney tattoos the chorus of “not alone / not alone / not alone” until it becomes a mantra, as if she’s trying to internalize it.
The rest of the songs go from hip-hop (“Tik Tik Boom”) to exercise anthems (“Work Bitch”). A song with sister Jamie Lynn (“Chillin’ With You”), in which Britney sings about red wine and Lynn sings about white, adds a personal feel. All in all, it’s a gleaming, bittersweet pop experience.
Other new releases
Cher, “The Lowdown” (Chrome Dreams)
Jake Owen, “Days of Gold” (Sony Nashville/RCA)
Ben Allison, “The Stars Look Very Different Today” (Sonic Camera Records)
November 19, 2013 at 5:30 AM
This two-CD set captures 29 of the performances from the Crossroads Festival last April in New York. Eric Clapton puts this festival together every two years to benefit his drug-treatment center, and usually it’s been outdoors. This year he moved the fireworks inside to Madison Square Garden and even included local boy Robert Cray, who contributes an excellent “Great Big Old House.”
The set is dynamite. It helps that Clapton plays with an intensity on his seven tracks that he often lacks on his tours. But what really makes the show come alive is the pairings of players. Clapton, for example, performs “Lay Down Sally” with country guitar player Vince Gill, and it’s a fabulous rendition.
His duet with Keith Richards on “Key to the Highway” is somewhat less successful, as their styles don’t mesh as well and Richards sounds off his game. But when Clapton joins the Allman Brothers Band for “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad,” the results are epic. There’s also a two-disc DVD release with a slightly different track listing. Any fan of guitar rock will want them both.
November 19, 2013 at 4:30 AM
Sandrider, ‘Godhead’ (Good to Die)
When Sandrider’s self-titled, seven-track debut was released at the end of 2011, it was rightfully celebrated by local critics and heavy rock enthusiasts alike for its forceful riffage and creative use of fantasy imagery. At that point, Sandrider was a side project, the creative offshoot of three veteran Seattle metal musicians: Jon Weisnewski and Nat Damm of legendary local hardcore band Akimbo, and Jesse Roberts of The Ruby Doe.
When Akimbo announced its breakup the following year, Sandrider became the trio’s focus, and the band poured its efforts into “Godhead,” its second album.
Much of ‘Godhead’ sounds like a band re-starting from scratch. The simple stomps-and-claps and repetitive guitar notes of opener “Ruiner” sound like they never got much past the jam stage. The same goes for “Overwatch,” and “Scalpel.” Things get better on the growler, “Castle,” then take a dip mid-album when the initially-promising title track detours into ill-fitting vocal harmonies.
The short breakdowns toward the end of “Scalpel” and “Gorgon” are refreshing segments, and the stadium-rock “Tides” puts an interesting twist on Sandrider’s hard-hitting formula. But as a whole, “Godhead” is uneven and far more predictable than the inventive progressions found on the first album, not to mention the members’ other projects.
Todd Hamm, Special to The Seattle Times
Sandrider celebrates the release of its new album at 8 p.m. Nov. 30 at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $10 advance (206-709-9467 or www.neumos.com).
November 13, 2013 at 4:37 PM
Ravenna Woods, “The Jackals” (Ravwoo)
Local brooders Ravenna Woods have provided the soundtrack for your next six-month bout of seasonal affective disorder with “The Jackals,” a 15-song collection of gloomy indie rock.
“The Jackals” follows Ravenna Woods’ 2010 debut LP “Demons and Lakes” and the EP “Valley of the Headless Men,” from 2011 — both of which managed to snag KEXP’s “album of the year” award.
Powered by tribal rhythms and an effective Kickstarter campaign, “The Jackals” is a carefully considered album that happens to sound like it was recorded in a dark cave somewhere on the Olympic Peninsula. In reality, all of the recording happened at the home lead singer Chris Cunningham shares with his friend and producer Chris Proff.
The first few songs set the tone, from the slowly building “Eidetic” through four tracks that establish themes of alienation and paranoia, culminating with the single “Border Animals.”
The song provides a look at Ravenna Woods at its best. The insistent, frenetic drums are there, as are the clean guitar lines, emotive yelps and dark, reverb-laden lyrics. When Cunningham sings, “They dig up everything/they always find out in the end/they’ve got your job, friends, lovers all calling you out,” it’s a warning that things might not end well.
They don’t and for a band that bucks the pastoral comfort most acoustic artists offer, that’s kind of the point.
Other new releases
The Beatles, “On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 (Capitol)
Grizzly Bear, “Shields: B-Sides” (Warm)
Lady Gaga, “ARTPOP” (Interscope)
November 13, 2013 at 1:59 PM
Is there room on your shelf (or your iPod) for another album of Yuletide songs?
It’s worth making room, if you are a fan of the ultra-cool ensemble vocal jazz purveyed by the seven-member Seattle aggregation Groove for Thought. The group releases its new holiday CD “Songs of Good Cheer” this week, and they’ll celebrate on Dec. 5 with a 7:30 p.m. concert at Kirkland Performance Center.
Groove for Thought, you may recall, made it into the finals of TV’s acapella “Sing Off” competition. They like to put their own spin on familiar tunes in distinctive vocal arrangements, so their version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” on “Songs of Good Cheer” has a reggae feel, “Christmas Time is Here” really swings and “Carol of the Bells” recalls The Swingle Singers’ jazz baroque settings. They have instrumental backing here, but the texture of blended voices is still the main event.
The album is available on amazon.com, iTunes and at www.grooveforthought.com.
November 12, 2013 at 11:00 AM
“The Magnolia Electric Co.” reissue
Too few people knew the names Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co., but those who did will remember where they were the morning of March 26, 2013, when word reached them that Jason Molina had died at age 39 from organ failure.
The Ohio-born musician’s 2003 full-length “The Magnolia Electric Co.” would deserve tenth anniversary reissue treatment no matter what — yet in light of Molina’s passing, the double-CD set arrives Tuesday as a bittersweet memento of a career cut short. (more…)
November 7, 2013 at 1:19 PM
“Bad Guy,” the intensely dramatic opening track of Eminem’s eighth album, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” is over seven minutes of the Detroit veteran displaying that he’s not only still really, really good at rapping, but also still a master of “Da Art of Storytellin” (all due respect to Andre 3000). After the opening track reveals itself as a sequel to the first Marshall Mathers LP’s runaway narrative hit “Stan,” and the following skit track seems to pick up right where that same, now 13-year-old album’s closer “Criminal” left off, it appears for a brief moment as if Eminem might actually be rivaling his pre-”Encore” output – some of the best to come out of that era.
But then track three, “Rhyme Or Reason” starts. Within one minute, Eminem is rapping in a Yoda voice over a sample of The Zombies’ “Time Of the Season,” and any momentum built up in those first eight is swiftly dashed. Things fail to get much better from there, although Em’s spit-flecked, multisyllabic rappity-rapping is in rare (or just retro) form, almost enough to make you forget how awful these beats are. Those looking for pure lyrical skill might enjoy the “Marshall Mathers LP 2,” but the album’s appeal hinges mostly on how badly the listener wants to hear a 41-year-old rap over Joe Walsh and Billy Squier samples.
I’m no ageist, but something about Eminem complaining about his struggles with computers (“My apologies/no disrespect to technology/but what the heck is all of these buttons?”) is wildly hilarious and insanely depressing at the same time.
November 5, 2013 at 5:03 AM
Melvins ‘Tres Cabrones’ (Ipecac)
The Melvins’ “Tres Cabrones” loosely translates to “three dumbasses,” but don’t be fooled — the Washingtonian native sons have never been Beavis and Butt-head, couch-potato types. They’re one of heavy music’s most productive, influential bands, and have been for some time.
This summer, singer-guitarist Buzz Osborne and multi-instrumentalist Dale Crover celebrated 30 years of downtuned riffs and screwball pranks, and “Cabrones,” their 19th LP, is a victory lap of sorts.
The 12-song set, which reunites the core duo with original drummer Mike Dillard, has the spirit of early days spent bashing it out in a rural Northwest shed, interspersing textbook stompers (“American Cow”) with gnarled slow-burners (“I Told You I Was Crazy”) and irreverent covers (“You’re in the Army Now,” “99 Bottles of Beer”).
Like all Melvins output, “Cabrones” is sludgy, fun and plenty weird, albeit less essential than 1991’s “Bullhead” or 1993’s “Houdini,” the best starting points for new listeners. At this stage, Osborne and Crover seem content to make records primarily for their longtime fans, and this particular offering is probably best filed under “for completists only.”
Other new releases
Eminem, “The Marshall Mathers LP2” (Aftermath)
Lady Gaga, “ARTPOP” (Interscope)
Various Artists, “Divided & United: The Songs of the Civil War” (Ato)
October 29, 2013 at 10:46 AM
Hailing from Chicago, Russian Circles plays brooding instrumentals that combine post-rock’s cinematic scope with doom metal’s sonic heft — instrumetal, if you will.
Like a Windy City winter, the trio’s sound is rugged and austere, its work ethic intense. “Memorial,” out Tuesday, is its fifth LP since forming nine years ago.
On 2009’s “Geneva” and 2011’s “Empros,” bassist Brian Cook (formerly of Seattle’s Botch), guitarist Mike Sullivan and drummer Dave Turncrantz ably balanced dissonant chug and deep, melancholic tones. But with “Memorial,” the band doesn’t forge ahead so much as go, well… in circles. (more…)
October 29, 2013 at 10:33 AM
Arcade Fire, Reflektor (Merge)
“Reflektor” isn’t the Arcade Fire’s best album. In fact, it doesn’t best any of the Montreal’ band’s first three efforts. Arcade Fire’s achievement on “Reflektor” is that the band is able to make its weakest record to date and still maintain its position as one of the world’s most exciting rock bands by planting the seed of anticipation.
“Reflektor” is simultaneously a quintessential Arcade Fire album and a, yes, reflection of the time in which it was made. The band’s signatures are here: the cascading crescendos, the religious imagery and the foot-stomping melodies. It’s all pushed through the broad dance-music prism that has permeated nearly ever genre of music today, from rap and rock to pop. The album is tastefully dated, a reflection of both the band and the era from which it was spawned.
A band’s cannon needs texture – hits and misses; experimentation and comfort. “Reflektor” is all of this. By taking chances – by refusing to go the way of bands like Pearl Jam that coast down the same sonic freeway for more than a decade – Arcade Fire has proved that it can put out a solid, if not classic record by expanding on, rather than imitating its past.
The album’s been out less than 24 hours and I’m already curious about what happens next.
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