Monthly Report: April Albums
1. The Nels Cline Singers - Initiate
It’s a great time to be a Nels Cline fan these days -- last year’s solo joint Coward was one of his best albums ever, and now his long-running group’s 4th album is their most ambitious and exciting to date, a double album that’s half studio and half live. The studio disc takes full advantage of his rhythm section’s versatility and is just all over the map, in a good way, and new wrinkles like Cline singing (!) some wordless vocals (which work great on “Divining”) and some guest players (Yuka Honda and members of Deerhoof) just make it even more fun and unpredictable. The live disc is interesting -- I wasn’t even sure if it was a concert recording or just a ‘live in studio’ performance until some audible applause at the end of “Raze,” about 27 minutes into the album. What’s especially interesting is that while there are renditions of familiar Singers songs -- “Blues, Too” and “Fly Fly” were on 2004’s Giant Pin, and are each stretched out by 4 minutes here -- there are also songs that originated on other Cline projects, like “Sunken Song” from 2000’s The Inkling and “Thurston Country” from Coward (the new version of which is especially revelatory). That leaves 4 songs with titles I can’t place -- curious if those are new compositions or even more obscure tunes from Cline’s vault. Incidentally, the Singers released another album with the Rova Sax Quartet in March that totally passed me by -- has anyone heard it?
2. Nice Nice - Extra Wow
Nice Nice is a Portland namd that I saw play a show in Baltimore with Cex about 7 years ago that really blew me away -- just 2 really inventive musicans doing crazy shit with their instruments. The album that I picked up at the show, Chrome, didn’t quite have the charm or energy of their live show, and had a little more of the band’s perfunctory attempts at vocals than I’d like. And other than them backing Cex on his Actual Fucking album a couple years later, I hadn’t really given these guys much thought since 2003. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear that they were finally releasing another full-length, this time on Warp Records of all labels. And while the half-assed attempts at vocals/songwriting still kind of drag Nice Nice down at times, they’re still a really odd, interesting band and they’ve kinda stepped up their production values and come up with some wild textures on this record.
3. Trans Am - Thing
Trans Am are a band that I think I grow to love and respect more the longer they go on making their records, kind of off in their own world, creating their own weird canon, and I wish more indie bands working in similar lanes had half their instrumental chops and production ingenuity. I don’t know if this one holds together as well as the last record, Sex Change, but it’s got the same overall feel (acoustic guitars are a surprisingly welcome new staple of their sound) and there are, as usual, some stunning moments, particularly the drums on “Naked Singularity.” I’m really really kicking myself for missing the tour they just did with Nice Nice when it came through the area.
4. Medications - Completely Removed
Devin Ocampo and Chad Molter have been making records together for over a decade with various other players rounding them out to a trio. True to Dischord tradition, they changed band names from Faraquet to Medications after the third member changed, but have decided to stick with the Medications name after the most recent lineup switch. And I’d almost say a name change would’ve made more sense this time, considering that Molter is now sharing vocal duties with Ocampo and their sound is kind of expanding in a few new directions. I can’t say I’m wild about all the changes (I dislike the opener “For WMF” so much that I’ve taken to playing the album on shuffle), but the one Faraquet album is a classic to me and it’s always good to hear these guys just jamming out on their mathy proggy post-punk steez. Their lyrics are getting better/more prominent, but I feel like they kinda fit into the inadvertent mostly-instrumental theme of the list this month.
5. Zeena Parkins - Between The Whiles
Zeena Parkins plays an electric harp, which is almost as awesome in practice as it is on paper, and I’ve heard her over the years on records with Nels Cline and Lee Ranaldo, but had never really checked out one of her solo albums before. These kinds of albums that are basically an hour of formless improv and noise and sound shapes have a limited appeal for me, so I don’t know if I’ll keep coming back to this much, but I do enjoy it for what it is. There’s a good amount of electric screech but you also get a nice showcase of the harp’s natural texture on “inyoufrom.”