Tag Archives: 2021

Rubén Blades with Roberto Delgado and Orquesta – Salswing

21 May

I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like SALSWING! The album takes Latin Jazz and Big Band standards, places them side-by-side and calls it a day. You’ve got standards like “Pennies From Heaven” and then it’s immediately followed by the Tito Puente classic “Mambo Gil” and both are done very well. There’s naturally tremendous similarity between the two styles and between that and the band’s clear competence, it only makes sense how comfortable they are in both styles.

It’s a fun album both ways too. “Contrabundo” in particular is a highlight. It is bright and sharp and has great Latin percussion and an excellent piano solo. Meanwhile, “The Way You Look Tonight” is a classic rendering of a standard.

If you’re looking for either some Latin Jazz or some Jazz standards, this is good and if you’re open to both, this is great. There’s nothing particularly surprising in it and there’s no interesting intersection of the two styles, but as a collection of top quality music from both, there are no complaints to be had.

Xiu Xiu – OH NO

11 May

I’m so used to feast-or-famine with Xiu Xiu that it’s kind of hard to deal with OH NO. This certainly has none of the sheer brilliance of Fabulous Muscles or A Promise, albums which can define a career and forever make a fan. It is however listenable, something that can’t be said for at least half of Xiu Xiu’s music. OH NO is strangely relaxed and surprisingly likable. There’s nothing that tries too hard and so nothing that just falls flat. Instead, it’s just a solid collection of experimental pop.

There are definitely moments that stand out. There’s a percussive crash to echo the line “don’t trip on your skates” that then melds unexpectedly with the song. “Rumpus Room” is unironically a lot of fun and “Fuzz Gong Fight” is a beautifully edged evisceration. It’s a song with weight behind it. It has nothing for me to return to in the way his best music does, but it was a pleasant listen and as such a mildly unexpected surprise.

The Weather Station – Ignorance

18 Apr

It’s not hard for pleasant to be a pejorative. Ignorance is, like many other albums, a nice listen. The music is all fairly reasonable. The vocals are the center of the album and it tends to be quite good singing. She has the occasional promising jaggedness, but it too often ends up predictable. The lyrics are also just not that clever. “Warm” comes close to coming together when the strings swoop and her voice comes close to breaking, but the whole just ends up uninteresting.

Finally, that’s where the album lands. It has neither the jazzy cleverness of a Norah Jones album nor the fun pop of a Haim one, despite the occasional feint towards both. It’s unobjectionable, and again, it’s quite a pleasant album, but pleasant is not exciting.

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

10 Apr

There’s no shortage of high-powered collaboration in music and there’s such a range of them that it’s hard for anything to really take one by surprise, but you don’t come across a trio of producer, saxophonist and orchestra everyday. You don’t come across an album this good everyday either. The three meld beautifully. It feels like the intersection of three separate strains – the ambient production of something like Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura, the nature-inspired classical music of compositions like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and the spiritual jazz of people like Sun Ra and John Coltrane, both of whom Pharoah Sanders played with.

The album evokes lush, verdant scenes whether through Floating Points’ productions as in “Movement 7” or the Orchestra in “Movement 6.” This is not the jungle, because the jungle lacks the intensity of this music. The colors of these soundscapes are too bright, too intense to be nature. They instead capture the feel of nature at its most immersive and leave you with nothing to distract from it. It is that first moment of experiencing a new vista made into a full album.

It’s filled with detail though. The refrain that ripples throughout the album is distinctive and beautiful. It’s wonderfully open-ended and accents the ambient music very cleverly. You can also feel the presence of many different organisms in the music. There are little flourishes of background hollering and chirping that enliven the music and add depth.

It’s the saxophone that really brings the human element to this album though. Sanders’ jazz comes in hot and adds that heat to what might otherwise be a very austere album. He even vocalizes in “Movement 4” and that integrates beautifully with the ripples of the music. He doesn’t go for the sheets of sound you might expect, but instead plays pure, drawn-out notes that express so much in their tone. When he comes in at the 7th minute of “Movement 7” with a sax scream, it’s the perfect way to agitate the existing music. Pharoah Sanders brings such a strong voice to this collaboration and his saxophone is the most noticeable thing here.

This an astonishing addition to some of the more storied careers in music history, a very individual album and music of the absolute highest tier.

Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club

5 Apr

So much of art rests on thin margins. Lana Del Rey has made a career out of evocative music, music that conjures a lot out of a few scattered pieces. This understatement was the core of her appeal. With Chemtrails Over The Country Club, the insubstantialness finally takes over and the magic just doesn’t hold and the result is hollow instead.

The biggest failure here is just the music. LDR was always languorous, but here the album is simply mired in tar. She has moved away from the hip-hop that underpinned her debut and suffers for the loss of energy that came with it and her stabs at punk rock are inexecrable. I respect that she loves Joan, so do we all, but the rest of us know to keep our imitations to the privacy of bathroom walls.

Normally, she is cinematic enough with her music that its magnitude gives it momentum. Here, the music is flimsy. The moments of pace and energy that dotted her previous work are completely missing here. Even more damningly though, the album just has far too little emotion.

It does manage some highlights. The title track is quite good and I love the drums at the end and the repeated “My Cancer is sun and my Leo is moon.” “Yosemite” is absolutely gorgeous and there’s a wonderful little Spanish string tilt in there. “White Dress” has the amazing “Men In Music Business Conference,” which I dearly wish she had expanded on more.

It’s a shame that the rest has nowhere near the same quality. Despite “Breaking Up Slowly” being her comfort zone and despite the brilliance of “Are these my good years, or do I have none?/Are there really good years for everyone?”, the song has no substance to it. It’s okay to be vague if you allude to something interesting, and the premise of this song is not. Even so, it’s substantially better than “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” or “For Free.” These are unnecessary songs which traffic in the most uninteresting cliches and do so in the most boring manner.

Norman Fucking Rockwell was excellent and showed Lana Del Rey as so much more than just her debut album. This album adds nothing to her legacy. With any luck, we’ll remember this as nothing more than an unfortunate speedbump, but it’s more likely that we just will not remember it at all.

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