Sunday, July 29, 2012

Favorite Albums of 2012 (so far)

This post has been in the forefront of my mind, but somehow didn't get posted before July 1st. As I have been mining through my seemingly endless archive of new music, it is evident that 2012 has already been a fantastic year for music.  I have narrowed it down to fifteen records that made the cut so far, and I have only represented albums that were released from January through June. Unfortunately, this meant that certain albums like Aesop Rock Skelethon, Beak-S-T and Mission of Burma Unsound didn't make the cut, but they will more than likely have a spot on the year-end list. This list is also not comprehensive, as it does not feature singles, compilations or reissues that were released this year.  What I am featuring here is a distillation of the year's full-length records according to my taste, so this will not necessarily appeal to everyone, though it does feature a diverse assortment of hip-hop, garage rock, shoegazer rock, psych-folk, jazz and African-folk.

Favorite Albums of 2012 (so far)

1) Lotus Plaza- Spooky Action at a Distance- Lockett Pundt's sophmore release didn't grab me on the first couple listens, but over time this has become my most frequently played record of the summer. Lyrics and melodies that embed themselves into your mind and shape the trajectory of your dreams.

Strangers and White Galactic One

2) Spectrum Road- S-T- With a super group of sorts (Jack Bruce on Vocals/Bass, Cindy Blackmon-Santana on drums, Vernon Reid on Guitar and John Medeski on keyboards), this record is a jazz-fusion juggernaut from beginning to end, with blistering guitar solos and thunderous drumming that never lets up. 

Vuelto Abajo and Where

3) Sir Richard Bishop- The Unrock Tapes- Sir Richard Bishop is back with more scintillating 12 string bravado that ranges from contemplative folk to rapid-fire flamenco. Bishop remains one of the most consistently great musicians out there who continues to crank out stellar records year after year.

Boxcar Serenade and Empty Quarter

4) Rayon Beach- This Looks Serious-  Catchy, raw unadulterated garage rock that is seriously in the mood for a good time! 

Some Fun Before We Die and Jacuzzi Limo Explosion

5) Ty Segall and White Fence- Hair- Tim Presley from White Fence and Ty Segall teamed up for the first time on this year's Hair, and let's hope that this is the first of many collaborations between these two garage rock heroes. This one is cleaner than most of the White Fence records, and represents a good mix of the raw sound of Ty's earlier albums with the more mellow stylings on Goodbye Bread.

Time and Scissor People

6) Neneh Cherry and the Thing- The Cherry Thing- I'm a sucker for anything that The Thing does, so I was willing to give this a chance even though it features Neneh Cherry who had a popular hit back in the 80's called "Buffalo Stance". Most songs on this album features a mind-bending mixture of melodic jazz vocals that build into a swirling, discordant mess of horns and clattering percussion.

Dream Baby Dream and Too Tough To Die

7) Eternal Tapestry- Dawn in 2 Dimensions- This is much more of an epic stoner-rock record than last year's Beyond the 4th Door, and it more accurately reflects the sound of an Eternal Tapestry live experience.

Wholeodome and Marrow of the Wand

8) Sidi Toure'- Koi'ma- Hypnotic African folk tunes that sound like an unplugged version of Group Doueh.

Ni See Ay Ga Done and Ishi Tanmaha

9) Crash Normal- Your Body Got a Land- Distorted, reverb-drenched tunes that straddle the fine line between crunchy noise and melodic garage rock.

Kinder Country and Moon Food

10) Young Mother- Future Classics-Fascinating juxtaposition between free jazz and moody art-rock with vocals often buried beneath the mix. 

The Well Tempered Male and No Straight Lines

11) THEESatisfaction- awE naturalE- This is the debut full-length from the female protege's of Ishmael from Shabazz Palaces. It features a neo-soul sound with vocals that often trade off between singing and rapping, and a heady mixture of esoteric samples and electronic drum patterns.

God and naturalE

12) Lower Dens- Nootropics-  On the 2nd record, Jana Hunter and company have opted for more of an electronic sound with much less focus on the guitar. At first, I wasn't into this new direction in sound, but over time I have grown to love this record almost as much as the first one.  Deep, introspective tunes with a powerful vocal presence.

Alphabet Song and Propagation

13) Kelan Philip Cohran and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble- S/T- With a band comprised of eight of Philip's sons along with the master trumpeter himself, you can't go wrong here. This album has a mix of upbeat, horn-heavy tracks and mellower, trance-inducing songs.

Cuernavaca and Spin

14) Cate LeBon- CYRK-This record came out pretty early in the year, and I knew it would be on my list from the moment I heard it. LeBon's second record is more diverse, featuring a wide array of sounds and styles such as jazz, psychedelic, folk, and electronic. Undoubtedly one of the best records of the year!

Falcon Eyed and Greta

15) Hush Arbors-Aboretum- Aureola- This is a split LP between Hush Arbors and Arboretum which features five tracks from Hush Arbors and three from Arboretum.  On the Hush Arbors tracks, the band pick up where Yankee Reality left off and take their psychedelic folk sound in a slightly darker direction. Arboretum's sound is more heavy and psychedelic, with all three songs clocking in at over five minutes and featuring extensive guitar solos.

Prayers of Forgetfulness and People and Places

This concludes my Favorite Albums of 2012 (so far). I hope you enjoy the music on this list, and I encourage you to drop a line in the comments with your favorite albums of 2012.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Concerts from the Vault: Rashaan Roland Kirk

Summer has been in full bloom in Portland since the first week of July, so my time on the computer has been sporadic at best. Recently, I caught Bettye Lavette at the Riverfront Blues Festival, and witnessing this soul diva groove to the music and belt out old and new tunes with such enthusiasm was an awe-inspiring experience. I left feeling that there are artists out there who really feel each and every note that they are singing, who live and breathe each chord progression as it unfolds in front of the audience. They aren't in it for the money, fame or adulation, though I'm sure they aren't going to turn it down.  This is simply a passion that runs deep in their blood and surges through them, never letting up until they have created music that resonates in their soul.

This is why I am so passionate about live music. There is something about the sound, the vibrations, the groove, the beats, the melodies and the chord progressions that keep me coming back for more. I firmly believe that the best avenue for experiencing the full breadth of what music has to offer is in the live context. When a band is firing on all cylinders right before your eyes, there is no other feeling like it in the world. All of your senses are stimulated at the same time, releasing more serotonin in your brain, and in turn, bringing your body and mind to a state of euphoria.

You may ask yourself, what am I leading up to here? Over the past few months, I have been promising you a new series that showcases live shows that I have collected, downloaded and recorded over the years, and today it is finally coming to fruition with the debut of Concerts from the Vault

For the first installment of Concerts from the Vault, I am featuring one of my favorite jazz musicians Rashaan Roland Kirk and the Vibration Society with a show from the Village Vanguard in 1973. Rashaan's playing is unparalleled in the world of jazz, especially considering that he managed to play multiple, specially modified saxophones simultaneously while being completely blind. Most musicians would be thankful if they could play one saxophone as well as Rashaan juggles three without missing a beat, but Rashaan has also mastered the flute, clarinet, harmonica and trumpet.

The tunes from this concert include the raucous 'Bright Moments', the playfully peppy 'Three for the Festival Pts 1 and 2' with a phenomenal flute solo, the old-timey, Dixieland styled 'Dem Red Beans and Rice' and a blistering rendition of Thelonius Monk's classic 'Epistophy'. All in all, this is one worth listening to again and again.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the Vibration Society

Village Vanguard

MP3 (320K)

Rahsaan Roland Kirk, reeds
Hilton Ruiz, pno
Henry "Pete" Pearson, ds
John Goldsmith dr
Kenny Rogers, bari sax
01. Fine and Dandy> (1:24)
02. Wow, Look at those Beautiful Black Indians (Cherokee changes) (23:39)
03. Blues in C (Frankie and Johnny?) (8:20)
04. Bright Moments (11:28)
05. Three for the Festival Pts. 1> Pts. 2 (5:46)
06. Dem Red Beans and Rice (5:11)
07. Epistrophy (14:19)
08. UNK (9:26)


I hope you have enjoyed the first installment of Concerts from the Vault.  Expect more episodes of this series in the near future. Please drop me a line in the comments to let me know what you think of this show.