Monthly Report: April 2014 Albums

1. The Nels Cline Singers - Macroscope
With Trevor Dunn seamlessly settling into Devin Hoff's role as the bassist in the Nels Cline Singers, the trio increasingly feels most notably like a collaboration between Cline and Scott Amendola. Of course, Cline is the primary composer and his guitar is the defining texture of even most recordings where he's a sideman, but Amendola, always an impressive leader in his own right, has been given more and more free reign to experiment with different percussion ideas and even loops and effects on Singers records, to great effect. The dubby sounds on "Red Before Orange," the busy, overstuffed groove on "The Wedding Band," all really brilliant stuff. Over the years there have been occasional (wordless) vocals on Singers releases that have made the band's name less ironic, and that also continues here on "Respira." I'm bummed that I missed the Singers' recent show in Baltimore, but Nels seems to be coming here more regularly now, so there'll be other shows. Here is the 2014 albums Spotify playlist that I put every album I listen to on, btw.

2. Wye Oak - Shriek
I've got a big piece on Wye Oak coming out soon so I won't say too much, other than that I've loved this band for a long time, and this album feels like a really exciting, necessary step in their evolution. Their recent show at the 9:30 Club was one of those concerts that made the new stuff sound so good it's almost hard to go back to the album, but the record itself sounds amazing too, all the syncopated bass guitar stuff is such a cool way to revamp their sound while still retaining the interesting rhythmic and melodic sensibility they've always had.

3. Little Feat - Live In Holland 1976
The last few months have been a really good time to be a Little Feat fanatic -- there was a biography of the band, a remastered box set of their Warner Bros. albums, and now a new commercial live album of a Lowell George-era show. Of course, this was recorded only a year before the band's definitive live album, Waiting For Columbus, which remains impossible to top, but Live In Holland 1976 is highly enjoyable in its own right. Where Columbus was polished with studio overdubs and featured a horn section onstage with the band, this sounds more like someone holding a mic in front of the stage for a great performance by the band's core lineup, hitting these amazing loose gritty grooves on "Skin It Back" and "Cold, Cold, Cold." George's slide guitar on "Rock And Roll Doctor" is just staggering. It's also interesting from a historical perspective, in that this was around the point when the band was going overseas more and becoming really well loved in Europe -- John Peel's first Festive Fifty was at the end of 1976, and it featured two Little Feat songs.

4. Tate Kobang - Crown Of Thorns
I already wrote about this but I'm still processing it, really. The dude is crazy talented and one of my favorite rappers in Baltimore, and in some ways this is a more mature, balanced record than his previous tapes, and not in a boring way, he's just being more autobiographical and vulnerable but still making really visceral music and rapping his ass off. Check it out on DatPiff.

5. Deleted Scenes - Lithium Burn
This is a D.C. band who plays Baltimore often enough that I've seen them quite a few times, since before their first album was out, and it's been really cool to watch them grow and develop up through this, their third album. I'm still kinda stuck on some of the songs from their first album as their most memorable tunes, but the production and performances on this are really outstanding. The dynamics of just the first three tracks, bouncing from the jagged, hyper "Haircuts Uniform" to the anthemic "Caught In The Brights" to the piano ballad "Landfall," really set up the great way this album hits all these peaks and valleys.

6. Future - Honest
This album has a few joints and I'm glad it's finally here, but I'm kind of surprised by how many people are enthusiastic about such a total archetypal sophomore slump. It reminds me of Tha Carter III, one of those albums recorded over such a long period of time, while so much great material was thrown out on other projects or for other artists, that the final product feels almost like an outtake (except Carter III, flawed as it is, was still way better). I like "I Be U" and "Side Effects," and "Honest" is still great, but really it's the multitude of so-so songs like "Look Ahead" that drag this down. Also, it's kind of amazing, after what happened with Lil Wayne's "Karate Chop" verse, that Future had the balls to beat the China like Kunta Kinte on "Move That Dope."

7. The Both - The Both
As a big Ted Leo fan and a casual Aimee Mann fan, I was intrigued by this pairing, and overall liked the results, which sounded more like a lower fidelity Leo album with Mann throwing in her two cents here and there, when I might've actually liked to her some of her polish in there too. It's funny to think of them finding this common ground a couple decades after he was playing in hardcore bands while she had big poofy hair on MTV. I need to pick this album up and give it more listens, though, I only heard it streaming on NPR pre-release and it hasn't been on Spotify, and I'm lazy about hearing stuff I can't stream these days.

8. Mobb Deep - The Infamous Mobb Deep
I did my phone interview with Prodigy a couple months ago, which was really pleasant if not exactly riveting conversation, before this album was out, so I kinda wrote about what was known about the project without being able to offer any kind of opinion on it. Now that the album has been out, and it's gotten at least one middling review that made Prodigy wild out on a critic on Twitter, I mean, it's neither as bad as some as written about nor good enough to go to war over. I like it, though, for some reason new Mobb music doesn't seem to hit the spot like Prodigy's solo stuff, especially with Alchemist, but not through any fault of Havoc, who in a way sounds more like he always has than P. Some nice low key bangers like "Say Something" on here. Packaging it with some hot outtakes from the group's undisputed masterpiece was maybe not the best way to get people excited about Mobb Deep's new stuff, though.

9. Repelican - Pall Mall Blues
I've already written a lot about Jon Ehrens's various bands, and almost didn't write my recent Repelican feature until an opportunity came out and the article turned out really well, so I'm always happy to spread the word about his stuff. This is maybe one of his weirder, more insular and lo-fi records, not as much of an entry point as the White Life and Dungeonesse albums, but it's still got some jams. Check the album out on Bandcamp.

10. Iggy Azalea - The New Classic
I already admitted to enjoying "Work," but that was a year ago, back when it didn't seem that plausible that Iggy would shortly become legitimately famous in America, and now that she has, the pushback from most rap fans has geared up into overdrive. And on balance, I'm pretty much okay with saying that her rise is kind of depressing and predictable and follows a whole disheartening trend in pop music with the careers of white rappers and R&B singers. That said, she makes pretty solid pop rap, if someone more acceptable like Nicki made an album with these beats and hooks everybody would bow down. That doesn't exactly excuse the cringe-inducing aspects of her rapping and her persona, but I'm just saying, this album has clear aims and succeeds at them, and I kinda respect that. I don't really fuck with "Fancy," but "100," "New Bitch," "Fuck Love," those are jams.

Worst Album of the Month: The Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast
As a teenager in the '90s, the amount of music I was interested in inevitably exceeded my CD budget, and there were a lot of bands that wound up indefinitely on the perennial to-do list, until it was convenient and cheap to check out their albums on Spotify or whatever. One of them was The Afghan Whigs, who I'd spent a couple decades vaguely thinking were kind of awesome, until I heard the albums and decided they were kinda bullshit. They seemed intriguing at the time for being one of the few alt-rock bands with some kind of engagement with R&B and a sense of provocative sexuality and noirish drama, but beyond a couple ace singles, they're really just kind of hamhanded and lousy: borderline unlistenable singing and a band full of players with absolutely no personality or creativity. So in a way it was just an interesting exercise to hear how much worse they could be now, reunited, than they were in the so-so old days.
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