Chaz Bundick turns modern concept album on its head.
TORO Y MOI
Chaz Bundick continues to leave the Chillwave that brought him to fame in the distance. "Outer Space" is a modern concept album, as Bundick sees just how many ways he can turn electronic dance op on its proverbial head. He guns for the hooks on several familiar originals ("Ordinary Pleasure" and "Freelance" will likely join his live set as crowd faves) before pushing himself into hip-hop-laced jams with Abra ("Miss Me") or balladeering on his own (the skittering "New House").
PEDRO THE LION
It feels like Pedro The Lion's David Bazan got lost in the indie rock shuffle. His style of open confessional songs were lifted by nearly everyone who cited him as an influence. On "Phoenix," his first album in 15 years, it is less Bazan and more his band. His voice has grown more seasoned and with his crack backing band of Erik Walters and Sean Lane, he sounds like he drew from the well of Bob Mould. The tracks bash at riffs that accentuate the uphill details of his stories. As he mostly recalls childhood ("Yellow Bike" and the beauty "Clean Up") and his hometown ("My Phoenix"), Bazan's search for answers is poignant and more earnest than ever.
Sharon Van Etten
Remind Me Tomorrow
When we last left the fantastic singer/songwriter Van Etten, she gave us the mature, haunting stunner "Are We There" in 2014. Much has changed in those five years. Now a mother, her new songs feel more about a universal love (the hypnotic "Jupiter 4" repeats "a love so real" as its mantra-like ending). Her time with David Lynch introduced a love for synths and atmospherics which she puts to great use here. While "Remind" is by no means an electronic record, Van Etten knows when to color her songs with her newly-discovered layers of sound ("Seventeen" floats along before she pushes it toward its dramatic conclusion).
Punk rock is enjoying quite the comeback. The combination of multiple methods of dispersing your music really agrees with the D.I.Y. methodology. This California group comes at you with insistent organ, bass and scrappy reverberated vocals. Like early Ramones (and everything in their wake,) these cuts are concise. Blink and one song has bled into another. "Nuclear Sun" and "I Don't Give A" really make spectacular use of the minimal Farfisa organ. "Come To Mommy" fakes you out with a false start before unleashing a torrent of low-fi desperation that demands to be heard again. Nine minutes later, it's all over and you are left begging for more of theirsuicide-meets-velvet underground with some classic Los Angeles punk thrown in for good measure.
THROWBACKS OF THE WEEK
As his vision of "Cosmic American Music" continues to blossom and grow into the Americana of today, it is easy to lose sight that it was his incorporation of classic Country, Blues, and Soul that laid its foundation. As a young Georgian who went to Harvard to study Religion, Parsons wound up on one of the most unlikely and mercurial paths to stardom. After founding the International Submarine Band ("Blue Eyes") in 1966, he began to lead the dissolute Hippie culture of Los Angeles toward Country. Hired for The Byrds (because he only listened to George Jones and James Carr,) he reshaped the preeminent Folk-Rockers into the preeminent Country Rockers (1968's "Sweetheart of the Rodeo") before leaving out of protest of their tour of South Africa. For the next two years, he was nearly a Rolling Stone. He spun "Honky Tonk Women" into the easy sway of "Country Honk" on "Let It Bleed" and practically wrote "Wild Horses." Then it was back to Los Angeles where he began singing with Emmylou Harris, thus completely changing the way duets would be sung forever and formed his own Country-Rock group with the legendary Flying Burrito Brothers (who led admirers like Don Henley to form The Eagles.) By the time his solo career begins in 1972, his tragic life is nearly over. Trading the Burritoes for Elvis' backing band, "GP" is a testament to Gram as a writer and performer. "A Song For You" and "She" show his soulfulness, while the Glaser Brothers (and Bobby Bare's) "Streets of Baltimore" becomes his song of longing and lament playing out like a classic O.Henry story. His pair of duets with Emmylou are game changers. "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes in the Morning" makes the Bakersfield sound Parsons loved finally universal. Sadly, as Parsons was descending into alcoholism and drug addiction, "GP" remains timeless as Parsons' biblical lyrics and sweet melodies predicted that Country always needs to revive its roots and never be wary of incorporating the best new styles and voices. GP was released in January 1973. Parsons died September 18, 1973.
The two most difficult albums in the early Top canon are still renown for their surprises. Unlike the record that separates the two (1979's searing "Deguello,") these are albums of detailed growth. 1976's "Tejas" comes after their whirlwind rise to fame led them to playing so many shows (100 shows alone between June 1976-December 1977) the album feels like an afterthought. The road-tested cuts fare the best "It's Only Love" is breezy, "Arrested For Driving While Blind" injects humor into their bluesy shuffle and "Pan Am Highway Blues" showcases their new habit of riffs that turn on a dime. "Snappy Kakkie" and "Ten Dollar Man" rip through their licks with abandon, but feel a little too loose. "El Loco" from 1981 finds the threesome coming to terms with their looseness. The outro solos and new technology favor the "party rock" anthems "Tube Snake Boogie," "Party on the Patio" and the ruthless groove of "Pearl Necklace." The oblique simplicity of "Necklace" would be the compass that guided the Best Little Band in Texas to superstardom in 1983.
Educated at the Sorbonne (where he also taught,) French guitarist/synthesist Pinhas is one of the more criminally underrated Electronic musicians of the 70's and 80's. His works with French band Heldon rival the early experimentation of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. Pinhas' minimalism always feels multi-layered and tuned to a new, necessary frequency. After his true synthesizer record (1976's "Rhizosphere") and its literary application (1978's "Chronolyze,") Pinhas meshed the two worlds on the dense icicle of beauty that is 1980's "Iceland." Like popular composers such as Mike Oldfield and Jean-Michel Jarre, "Iceland" is melodic at its heart playing endlessly with revealing its layers so that no listen is ever quite the same. Unlike those records, "Iceland" finds the warmth in icy synthesizer tones and achieves a solemnity while feeling intimate and personal.
A pair of lost Jazz classics where the bandleaders took music out of the typical realm of standards and solos tossed back-and-forth. As if 1963 already was not a watershed for John Coltrane's dexterous drummer Elvin Jones, "Illumination" proves he was headed in a different new direction. With English Horn and flute, this is hard-bop growing into Free jazz. However, with Jones holding the reins - it swings hard. 1970's "Nation Time" says a lot about where Jazz could have gone in the decade. With two drummers and an organ player, McPhee cuts loose in a soulful Coltrane-meets-Maceo Parker style. "Nation Time" is deeper funk than you hear today, especially the blazing 13-minutes of "Shakey Jake" with grooves so hot - your needle might just ignite.