FKA Twigs – LP1 (Young Turks)

Tahliah Barnett’s first full-length record nearly falls apart just as it should be settling in for the long run. After an intro and two great songs that fill out Barnett’s previously restrained sound, no less than three additional writers and four producers show up for “Hours,” each one contributing to a bloated, awkward middle that feels out of touch with everything Twigs has ever touched.

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Luluc — Passerby (Sub Pop)

Luluc come from Australia and now split their time between Brooklyn and Melbourne, but if you had to guess the band’s heritage based just on its music and cheap national stereotypes you might pick something more Germanic, maybe even Nordic. Partly because Zoë Randell has a Nico-ish shade to her calm voice, but mostly because the warmth of the songs on the duo’s second record sound like it’s being summoned against the cold (the most quietly joyful song on Passerby is, after all, called “Winter Is Passing”).

She has a particular knack, even when singing about events and feelings that are distressing or puzzling, of making it seem as though all of the problems of life are manageable as long as they’re taken on in the serene spirit of Luluc’s music. It’s not as if Randell has a limited emotional range here; these songs deal with fresh and buried pain, small pleasures, boredom, uncertainty, loss, satisfaction. It’s more like she’s singing from the part of your mind that can consider these things without agitation and make the right choices.

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Hiss Golden Messenger—Lateness of Dancers (Merge)

The little girl who slept, as a baby, through M. C. Taylor’s Bad Debt recording sessions, now turns up to introduce “Day Oh Day (Love So Free),” joining in to an album that is conspicuously less haunted and solitary than that album, less foreboding than Haw. This outing, the fifth in the Hiss Golden Messenger catalogue, is by contrast, a communal, celebratory affair, almost light-hearted in its porch-picking, soul-smouldering way. It’s not the good-time record promised by titles like “Saturday’s Song” or “I’m a Raven”’s “Shake children, shake” refrain, but it’s closer than you would have imagined a year or so ago.

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Listening Post, September 2014 Part 2: The Gospel List

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The second half of our current listening roundup starts with Aphex Twin’s unhealthy glow then moves steadily towards the light. (Part One is here)

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Mark Turner — Lathe of Heaven (ECM)

According to conventional wisdom, it’s been over a dozen years since Mark Turner’s last turn as leader on record. The tenorist was among the ill-fated crop of “young lions” courted and signed to major labels in the 1990s and summarily dropped when sales didn’t meet corporate bean counter expectations.

A harrowing accident with a power saw in late 2008 sidelined him for several months, but Turner has kept impressively busy, most recently as a member of quartets led by Billy Hart and Tom Harrell. He’s also co-led the cooperative Fly with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, so the leader claim above becomes a bit of a misnomer. 

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Listening Post, September 2014 Part 1: Herpetology and Death in the New Wave

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The first half of our September convo gravitated towards undersung songwriters of the New Wave, both gone and hanging on. Dwelling on end times and brittle wit, the Dusted crew sees the light in our next installment.

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S – Cool Choices (Hardly Art)

Jenn Ghetto’s three previous albums as S took different approaches to the lo-fi pop aesthetic. 2010’s im not as good at it as you was a stripped-down affair, mostly confined to voice and guitar; it recalled her 2001 solo debut, Sadstyle, albeit with a cleaner production. 2004’s Puking and Crying delved somewhat into the world of programmed beats; the sound was still stark, but a bit more propulsive. At times, Ghetto’s music has fallen more on the side of the languorous: her band Carissa’s Wierd played gorgeous, sometimes ornate music that evaded easy classification. Smart and self-aware, yet more than willing to place heart fully on sleeve, their discography has aged nicely. Right about here is probably a good time to mention that Cool Choices reunites Ghetto with producer Chris Walla, who also worked on Carissa’s Wierd’s 2002 swan song, Songs About Leaving. That’s less a sonic signpost than an indication that there’s a degree of familiarity here, and (one assumes) a certain comfort level. Whatever the reason, Cool Choices is the most gripping music Ghetto has made as S: propulsive, cathartic, catchy, and at times harrowing.

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Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler — Slant of Light (Thrill Jockey)

The most remarkable thing about this intimate, almost self-effacing record is that it was crafted via a series of improvisations. You wouldn’t think so, to listen to it. Mary Lattimore is a harpist who has played with Wreckmeister Harmonies and Kurt Vile, among others, and her preferred instrument is hardly the first to spring to mind when someone mentions the word “improvisation”. However, in Jeff Zeigler, who enmeshes elegant synthesizer drones with her fragile plucked notes, Lattimore has found a perfect foil and, although slight, Slant of Light contains a number of moments of real beauty. 

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John Coltrane and Friends — Sideman: Trane’s Blue Note Sessions (Blue Note)

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In this celebratory year for the pioneering Blue Note label, it is fitting that John Coltrane’s few sideman sessions, for Blue Note and for a few smaller labels now under its control, be gathered and chronicled.  While none of this material is new to veteran listeners, having it all in one convenient three-disc set provides a chronological glimpse into the rapid journey, encompassing 1956 and 1957, from apprenticeship toward the mastery and individuality that would define the rest of Coltrane’s career.

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John Coltrane — Offering: Live at Temple University (Impulse)

On what would have been his 88th birthday, the late tenor saxophonist John Coltrane remains one of the most heavily written about and admired of all the luminaries in jazz’s pantheon. One of the very few heavyweights who gets name-checked by rappers, usually has a place in your average NPR listener’s collection (A Love Supreme, naturally), and nonetheless still inspires the most serious study and adulation among the cognoscenti, Coltrane remains singular. That said, his late work has remained among his more controversial music, particularly the torrential performances of his last working group featuring second tenorist Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Alice Coltrane, bassist Sonny Johnson (instead of stalwart Jimmy Garrison), and drummer Rashid Ali (a unit often supplemented by additional horns, a second bassist, and a smattering of extra percussion). The jaw-dropping Offering is, despite this vast body of expectation and interpretation, a genuine and joyful surprise. 

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Arnett Cobb — Funky Butt (Progressive)

Points scored immediately for its plainspoken title, Funky Butt carries the bittersweet distinction of being Arnett Cobb’s final studio date. Only trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison had him beat in delineating the drawbacks of an unkempt posterior with the contemporaneous “Dirty Butt Blues.”

Cobb considered Coleman Hawkins a patron saint and was a card-carrying member of the Texas Tenor School that also included Illinois Jacquet, Buddy Tate, Booker Ervin and others. Blessed with a lengthy career he still didn’t have an easy time of it. A bad back sidelined Cobb for two years at the cusp of the 1940s, and a tour bus accident roughly a decade later further hobbled his legs (another album on Progressive pictures the saxophonist slumped over the crutches he would rely on for the remainder of his life). 

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