Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
This was a big, big week of notable music – hence the delay. I strongly encourage you to give a few of these a listen, there is quite a bit of goodness here.
David Byrne – American Utopia on Broadway (Live 2018) – 21 tracks / 90 minutes
Wow, just wow. Seven thumbs up.
It takes quite a bit to move Mr. Young from the first spot on a week in which he releases new music… this album forced me to do it. Sorry Neil.
Sure, David Byrne’s catalogue from his time leading the Talking Heads and his subsequent thirty year solo career is impressive, iconic, inspiring, influential, along with many other words that begin with the letter “I”. The beauty of this album, recorded last year, is twofold: first, David sounds absolutely magnificent. I don’t mean “he sounds pretty good for his age”, I mean holy crap the dude is still crushing it. Second, the highlights here are truly on the less-appreciated numbers, such as the killer suite “I Know Sometimes a Man is Wrong/Don’t Worry About the Government”.
Make no mistake, he plays the hits: “Once in a Lifetime”, “Burning Down the House”, “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, and “Road to Nowhere” are all found here and performed with zest. But I am telling you the highlights of this 90-minute set are in his more obscure creations and a terrific curveball cover. Some songs that hard-core Byrneheads will delight in include “Lazy”, “I Zimbra”, “One Fine Day”, and a ridiculously amazing version of “I Dance Like This”.
The aforementioned “One Fine Day” shines here and finds David singing over a choir of voices that serve as a foundation of his nearly gospel lyrics. This song was a highlight of this fantastic Everything That Happens Will Happen Today and sounds even better live than on that recording, with no instrumentation to accompany. Once more, the man sounds fucking incredible here – seriously hard to believe he is 67 years old.
His decision to close each night of his latest tour with a cover of Janele Monae’s protest song against police brutality and racial violence “Hell You Talmbout” (short for What the Hell You Talking About) is proof that he is a man of character and unafraid to make people think. I would argue that his mission throughout his career has been to do just that – even though his medium is music, his goal is to stimulate an otherwise melancholy and apathetic populace. For that he is one of the greatest artists of our time, and this recording shows that he is far from done. American Utopia on Broadway is a must listen for everyone, period – Feel the Byrne!
Key Tracks: “I Should Watch TV”, “Hell You Talmbout”, “One Fine Day”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/71tl4k4k63o0gHt6mDj0IR?si=y7EEErLpQt6op5s6tr_Gbg
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Colorado – 10 tracks / 50 minutes
The greatest singer/songwriter on Earth doesn’t care that he is “an old white guy”- he still burns with a passion on his 44th solo studio album that finds him reunited with 2/3 of his iconic backing band Crazy Horse.
Neil Young knows that many will find annoyance, apathy, or even incredulity in his continued quest to save the planet from climate change, greed, and the rise of nationalism across the globe. He doesn’t give a fuck what the haters think, as this album makes clear. For a man who has accomplished so much and also just turned 74, he sure has a lot of fire left in his belly.
Recorded over a week-long session in Telluride earlier this year, Colorado finds Neil jamming with Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, his Crazy Horse mates for over fifty years as well as Nils Lofgren who replaces the retired Poncho Sompedro. You may recognize Nils name – he has been Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist for years and also appeared on some of Neil’s finest work back in the 70s. The album is dedicated to Elliot Roberts, a man who was Neil’s manager since 1967 and passed away earlier this year.
Given all of that familiarity and comfort, it would be easy for this to have turned into some nostalgiac drivel, but rest assured that is far from the case. Although “Olden Days” does harken back to the memories of the titular times, the rest of this album is either embracing new love (although she is not named, Neil’s recent relationship with Daryl Hannah has been an inspiration and is evident on “Eternity”) or confronting the issues of today.
Those issues include global warming and a deteriorating planet (“Green Is Blue”), greed and rigged capitalism (“Shut It Down”, which is as punk as anything I’ve heard in years and could be Elizabeth Warren’s campaign song if she didn’t mind alienating centrist voters), and isolationism and xenophobia (“Rainbow of Colors”).
Here are a couple choice lines from that latter track: “This I can tell you, we the people are strong, and we know that our brothers and our sisters in song will always sing with us, and will always be strong, when the people have spoken, and the walls are all gone”, and the chorus that sums it up with “there’s a rainbow of colors, in the old U.S.A, and no one’s gonna white wash those colors away”.
Powerful stuff from a man who is caught amid an unnecessarily messy attempt to become a formal U.S. citizen but still believes that although there is plenty to work on in American today, if we confront the issues of our time the future can be bright.
Key Tracks: “Green is Blue”, “Shut it Down”, “Rainbow of Colors”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/47EbZp22zR6rGhKJJsuZBv?si=GQNbyyzARHWMyhQ794SqEg
Mikal Cronin– Seeker – 10 tracks / 41 minutes
The native Californian’s fourth album (and first not named after himself) is his best yet, and has a little something for everyone.
Known mostly for being a member of garage/punk hero Ty Segall’s band, Mikal has been making a name for himself as a solo artist for a decade now. Unlike so many individual artists, he continues to get better with each release. 2015’s MCIII put him on my radar, but he is on another level here. Sure, the production and arrangements are improved, and there is less overt punk or garage influence. The biggest difference, however, is the quality of the songs – this is a true work of art and these ten songs are diverse enough that I guarantee that everyone who listens will find a song or two (at least) that they cherish.
Opening track “Shelter” has a tense and ominous intro with strings that is strikingly reminiscent of Radiohead, but then settles in when Mikal’s vocals appear. “Show Me” is a beautiful ballad with strings, a killer background guitar solo, and lovely piano work. When he sings “I feel it all… ready to go… better off dead” on the rock hook that is “Feel It All”, it cuts like a knife.
“Time to sell again, take the pretty things away; decide their worth, let the people see” – so begins the heartfelt and vulnerable piano saddo “Sold”. This is followed up by the two most straightforward guitar rock songs on the album, “I’ve Got Reason” and “Caravan”. The latter song is one of a few here that ends before you would like it to, which if you think about it is a good thing. Oh, and enjoy the harmonica and driving militaristic drumbeat of “Guardian Well”- I know I did.
Rounding things out is the mellow advice of “On the Shelf”, which starts out with this awesomeness: “please don’t cry little one, you shine so bright, you shame the sun”. This album cements Mikal as an artist to be reckoned with, and the anticipation for his Treefort appearance is palpable (at least from this seat).
Key Tracks: “Show Me”, “Sold”, “I’ve Got Reason”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/62XWADJuNmJKEmb4pyzF40?si=KkWctwVLQvOGkBBYHz7aeg
Desert Sessions – Vols 11 & 12
This glorified EP finds Josh Homme and an interesting cast of characters making music in the desert, a long-awaited follow up to the most recent Desert Sessions album sixteen years ago (that brought us the magnificently dirty “I Wanna Make It Wit Chu”). However, considering the likes of Les Claypool, Billy Gibbons, and Jake Shears were involved in the Joshua Tree, CA getaway, the resulting music is light on greatness.
“Move Together” gets things going marvelously, with seductive lyrics and muy interesante percussion, and “Noses in Roses, Forever” has a quintessentially Queens of the Stone Age sound that would have fit nicely on Villains – but after that things go downhill fairly quickly. Clearly the eclectic personnel were having a good time, but their inside jokes (see “Chic Tweetz”) just don’t pan out for the listener – at least not for me. All right, all right, “Easier Said Than Done” is pretty badass as well.
Some great news, however: there is some scuttlebutt that Them Crooked Vultures (think Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones) might be making some more music – and that is (potentially) a B.F.D.
The Growlers – Natural Affair
This follow up to their finest effort (Casual Acquaintances) comes up short, but “Truly” and “Coinstar” are my picks from this one.
Foo Fighters – 00020225
Yet ANOTHER Foo EP, as they continue to empty out the vault this year. The highlight here is the long sought after single “The One”, which when I first listened to it last week instantly brought images of Jack Black and Colin Hanks. That makes sense, because this was on the soundtrack to the film “Orange County” way back in 2002. “Normal” is pretty boilerplate Foo but even that is better than most bands.
Kinky Friedman – Resurrection
My favorite Jewish Texan songwriter is back with another helping of no-frills country tunes, and although this may not be his finest effort, it has no shortage of great moments. The title track is a look at life in its later years, and finds his longtime friend and collaborator Willie Nelson joining in.
“Greater Cincinnati” finds Richard Samet Friedman telling a tale of a lonely boy with a father that doesn’t have the time or interest in being a father, and sounds like a personal lament. If you have a heart at all, or have every truly loved a dog, “A Dog in the Sky” just might move you: “Goodbye Mister P, it was always you and me, now you are my dog in the sky… if there’s one thing that I know, it ain’t the pot of gold, it’s the rainbow”. Goodbye Mr. P, indeed – and long live The Kinkster.
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
These guys make a largely instrumental brand of elegant, beautiful prog-metal. Fans of their work will enjoy this album, and those who aren’t familiar but are intrigued should start with the superior Shelter.
Van Morrison – Three Chords and the Truth
The legend continues his prolific recent run with a set of originals – the title track and “Dark Night of the Soul” are the standouts as far as I am concerned.
Thunderpussy – Milk It
On their latest EP the gals continue their retro-rock sound. The finest cut here is the balls-out (inappropriate?) rocker “Never Know”, which finds Molly Sides repeating the mantra “I can take you higher, you can take me lower; if you want to think about it, we can talk it over”. “Trust A Man” starts with a guitar intro that is a clear homage to Zeppelin, and finds them mining some mid-tempo gold.