In no particular order, plus a couple of these may have been released in ’09… but WTF
Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook by Bettye Lavette
Incredibly soulful versions of an interesting collection of British rock tunes from the 60’s. Artists such as The Moody Blues and Traffic get covered alongside overlooked nuggets from the Beatles’ catalog. Bettye stretches the familiar songs until they are barely recognizable, infusing each word with more emotion than one could ever imagine possible. Her live show for this album was one the greatest performances I’ve ever witnessed, but of course afterwards a veteran fan said it was a bit of an off night for her.
…And Poppies From Kandahar by Jan Bang
A dark, modern cinematic soundscape from this innovative Norwegian artist/producer. Bang has developed his technique of live sampling over many years while working with artists such as Arve Henriksen, vocalist Sidsel Endresen, and Jon Hassell – all of whom appear on these tracks. The album’s stunning centre piece is a perfectly realized, 10 minute long meditation with a constant, soft groove called Passport Control.
Butter by Hudson Mohawke
A welcome shock to the system. Garish, overblown, dense, brittle, hyper – this 20 whatever year old from Glasgow takes all the questionable bits and throws it into a manic mash-up. Elements of prog, fusion (!!!), electro and hip hop get inflated with helium on an exhilarating carnival ride.
Causers of This by Toro Y Moi
Another young upstart to give some hope for the new decade. Super catchy pop songs played on a very warped record, with the stereo speakers submerged in melted butter. Ingenious and delicious.
Small Craft On A Milk Sea by Brian Eno
We are obligated to buy every Eno album that comes out… right? It seems incredible that this one marks his 40th year as a recording artist. It sums up a lot of his ambient ideas that have been well explored over the decades, and in the middle adds a level of aggression that hasn’t been heard in his work since the early seventies. What strikes me is the complexity of his harmonic sense. It sets his work apart from the many artists he’s inspired and influenced, and also from his early work which was often based on very simple chord relationships.
Last Night The Moon Came Dropping It’s Clothes In The Street by Jon Hassell
Perhaps his strongest release yet, which is a remarkable feat considering his first album was done in the mid seventies. Like Eno’s newest, this is a summation of everything he has done, but with an added element of renewed energy from the brilliant musicians surrounding the master. Hassell truly has a vision, and his path has been so unique that he is seldom acknowledged for his significant contributions. His influence however is unmistakable in the current revitalized European jazz scene.
Interpreting The Masters – A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates by Bird And The Bee
Fourth album from LA uber genius keyboardist/producer to the stars Greg Kurtsin and vocalist Inara George. The duo’s previous CDs featured brilliantly executed, retro tinted pop confections flavored with bossa electronica, spy movie homages, and synth museum tours. This time they’ve turned to a substantial catalog of memorable songs to rewire in a fresh way. Inara’s beautiful voice immediately recasts the classic material in a new light, while Kurtsin never fails to amaze with his arrangement chops. Tons of fun.
Have One On Me by Joanna Newsome
Another fascinating expression from this utterly singular artist. Difficult to absorb because of the amount of material (spread over three CDs), and the complexity of both her music and lyrics, but quite rewarding to patient ears. Newsome’s quirky originality polarizes many people, which is a good sign that she’s doing something that will stand the test of time. Her artistic path reminds me of Joni Mitchell – a folky start that garnered an immediate strong following, and then following it up with epic scale material that alienated many. Whether Newsome loses some of her fan base doesn’t seem to deter her from pursuing ambitious, demanding material. Bravo!
The Way Out by The Books
The Book’s unique mix of spliced found spoken word, Americana folk, art song and lap top plug-in glitchery, has reached a refreshing cohesion on their fourth release. The songs feel quite song-like, with out being predictable. The duo explore some sizzling rhythms on a couple of tunes and most importantly, have not lost their wicked sense of humor. Their live video-intensive set for this tour at The Mod Club was super entertaining and hilarious.
Silence by Monolake
This is the seventh album from the pioneering German techno minimalists, whose first release, 1997’s Hongkong, was an exceptionally exciting collage of found sounds, silvery synth pads, and kinetic pin prick beats. Each album has basically built upon this foundation without drastically changing the formula. The results lack the initial delight of discovery, but the music is always carefully constructed and remarkable sounding. The signature concept of morphing field recordings with elaborately programmed IDM beats remain. One track for example blends wind sounds from the Grand Canyon, lending an incredible sense of depth along with organic, surging energy. It’s the inventive use of complex natural sound sources that sets this material miles apart from generic, tedious techno.