New Music, Good Music

28 May

I’ve found that as a composer, my creative cycle goes sort of like this: writewritewritewaitwaitrestwritewriterestlistenwritewriterestrestlistenlistenlistenlisten.  Rinse and repeat.  I’m sort of at that very end part – my album is complete, and I’m working on getting that music onstage and out there, so I’m sort of letting the batteries recharge before tackling any new material.  And I’ve found that this time is the perfect time to listen to new music – so that’s what I’ve been doing.  Here are some of the albums I’ve been listening to (and loving) lately:

1) Andrew Bird – “Noble Beast”

andrew_bird-noble_beast-special_edition1I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is Bird’s most assured record to date (or, at least that I’ve heard). The songwriting is as focused as anything I’ve heard from him, his vocals freaking soar, and the little sounds that he gets, particularly on tracks like “Masterswarm” and “Nomenclature” are just awesome.  Little crinkley drum sounds, grooves built out of looped and manipulated clicks and clacks, all in service of creating an intimate groove that he can wrap his spectacular violin playing around.  It’s the latest step in his evolution as an artist, and just an amazing listen.  I’m going to go and get his entire back catalog, too – there’s some pretty great, eclectic stuff in there, and it seems to inform his current work in a really cool way.

2) Darren Johnston – “The Edge of the Forest”

Darren Johnston The Edge of the ForestI’ve known of Darren (and, more recently, actually known Darren) for a while now – he’s certainly a major presence on the SF jazz scene. I hadn’t really had a chance to hear him play until recently, when I caught his group Nice Guy Trio (Darren plays trumpet and leads the band, joined by Rob Reich on accordion and my buddy Daniel Fabricant on bass) at the Red Poppy Art House.  And DUDE.  Darren is a heavy player.  His phrasing is an absolute blast – rolling lines sequencing into one another, phrases as long as you please.  I got to take a listen to the rough tracks from the upcoming Nice Guys record, and it’s super good stuff – really melodic, with great playing.  Darren half-jokingly described it as his “populist effort,” and now that I’ve listened to his solo album, “The Edge of the Forest,” I can see what he’s talking about.  The material on “Forest,” while still accessable, is basically free-jazz – chord-less music anchored by some absolutely outstanding bass playing by Devin Hoff and Smith Dobson on drums. Sheldon Brown and Ben Goldberg contribute some ridiculous bass and Bb clarinet playing, respectively, and Rob guests on Accordion, as well.  The freedom of this playing on this record, the way the band splits into “mini-bands,” freely improvising off of one another… it’s so much fun to listen to.  One minute, Darren is going off with Devin and Smith (drums), the next Sheldon and Ben are playing a ripping unaccompanied clarinet duet through a chord progression of their own invention.  It’s really, really cool stuff. Darren tells me it’s going to get reviewed in Downbeat in August, which is exciting, because let’s face it – they’re going to like it.  You should get a copy.

3) Hanne Hukkelberg – “Little Things”

Hanne+Hukkelberg+-+Little+ThingsIn my “Things that aren’t lame” post from a few days ago, I shared a video from this  Norwegian singer/multi-instrumentalist, and I gotta go the next step and talk a little about her album.  I actually have her first two, both “Little Things” and “RYKESTRASSE 68,” though so far I’ve had more of a chance to listen to the former than the latter. “Little Things” is a wonderful, special record, shiny, both warm and cold… it’s a brilliant listen. Hanne plays a ton of cool instruments, including keyboards, water sound effects, mouth effects, toy controllers, while her drummer, Erland Dahlen, plays all kinds of cool percussion tricks, including “eggs,” which probably means he was clicking two eggs into the mic.  On all of her records, electric tuners are barred from the studio, so all of her music is in tune with itself, and with her ears. God, do I love that idea. Hanne’s voice is enchanting, miked close and deep through the tubes, and the whole album just flies around the stylistic stratosphere, never content to rest in a single place for more than a little while.  There’s some really outstanding reed playing, too, and the way she arranges saxophones and bass clarinet on tracks like “Displaced” makes me really want to do something similar in the future.  I can’t recommend checking out her music enough.

4) Realistic Orchestra – “Symphonies from Down The Block”

2267301385-1Adam Theis’s Realistic Orchestra is pretty awesome; I believe we’ve been over that before.  Despite the title, this particular album isn’t the Hip-Hop symphony he performed at the Palace of Fine Arts back a little while ago (though I believe that a recording of that music is on the way).  What “Symphonies from Down The Block” is, however, is a really great big band record. A ton of slamming players (many of the same guys and gals from the expanded band that played the symphony) lay down some really cool stuff over the course of the disc, with some really fun guest appearances peppered throughout. I majorly dig “Fugata,” the accordion freak-out featuring Colin Hogan, as well as the sax feature “Dune Flume,” (great sax arranging!) and the live take of “Search.”  “Symphonies” is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the band before the recording of Adam’s full symphony is released.

5) Franz Ferdinand – “Tonight”

franz-tonightYou guys, this record is so much fun.  I’ll go ahead and say that Franz’s eponymous debut was one of the best rock records of the 2000’s, as close as a band can get to pitch-perfect from start to finish.  It was so much fun, so hook-y, and had such a great winking sense of humor.  And I think it’s safe to say that their second record, while pretty good, just didn’t quite match it.  But I’ve been having so much fun listening to “Tonight,” the band’s third release – made even more enjoyable by getting to see the awesome show they put on last month at the Fox..  It brings back so much of what made the band appealing, and shows signs of musical growth, as well.  My favorite tracks are the shuffle tune “Bite Hard” (hilarious lyrics), the totally badass synth part on “Can’t Stop Feeling,” and “What She Came For,” which features one of the most groovy introductions since “Stayin’ Alive.”  Put that tune on and walk down the street – I dare you not to strut in time to the music.  Also, it features “Lucid Dreams,” which is a real evolution for the group, and ends with one of the coolest instrumental breakdowns I’ve heard in a while.  I’ll leave you with the video for the super-rad “No You Girls.”  Bam:

There ya have it – lots of good new stuff.  And that’s not even mentioning other records that I still need to get and listen to, including the new one from The Decemberists, Queen’s “Night At The Opera,” and Mastodon’s new one.  And there’s always so much more that I don’t even know about!

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