Apologies to those who sought out this blog and noticed it missing last week: I forgot to write it!
But for those who keep track, I probably would've said nice things about the latest album by Jamey Johnson, paid half-hearted lip service to Benjamin Gibbard's newest, yawned at the Ben Harper compilation, made a joke that would involve driving on the 405 freeway about Brandy's new album, completely tore into Scotty McCreery's Christmas disc, wondered aloud what the new albums by Mika and A Fine Frenzy sound like, since their labels don't seem to want to promote them, and devoted a witless, large paragraph to the new set by Bobby V in which I would mistakenly pretend he was the early '60s pop singer and give it a rave review!
For kicks, I would end it all by asking you to follow me on Twitter!
These things don't write themselves, but sometimes they get awfully close!
Taylor Swift: Red (Big Machine) I have two things to say about Taylor Swift! Just saw her in Las Vegas at the iHeartRadio Festival and, watching her image on the televised stage feed, was struck by the absolute certainty that this is one babe who has spent way too much time staring at the mirror and making faces at herself! Like, she practices or something! That said, I'm sure this new album will be as successful as it is controversial: Swift's conspicuous embracing of Communism, most notably via its title track and "Everything Has Changed," might not sit too well in America's heartland! Heck, she used to be so sweet! Had this been the King Crimson tribute album we'd all been promised, maybe things would be different—but Taylor Swift, for better or worse, is following her muse! And it just got on a bus!
Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos (Reprise) Oops! Had I actually been around last week, I would've mentioned this—but being a week late won't alter the inescapable fact that Fagen, the guiding light of Steely Dan—the band so great one might be motivated to write an e-book about them and offer it for sale on Amazon!—has put together his best album since 1982's The Nightfly, and you need to buy it purely to leave it to your kids when you die! Funkier than you might expect, as the cover of Isaac Hayes' "Out Of The Ghetto" might indicate, the nine tracks here offer sumptuous playing, fascinating lyrics that blend age, sex and technology in a manner that perhaps only a musically adept, highly intelligent 64-year old might muster in 2012, and a unique wryness that has been a hallmark of the man's work since Steely Dan's "Do It Again." He's quite good!
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath) When it comes to great hip-hop albums—and eventually, given the sheer number of titles involved, it does--there are many that get vigorously trumpeted but are quickly forgotten. Not so this one! Sonically fascinating, lyrically adventurous, abnormally punctuated, and the sort of thing you'd probably especially like if you listened to it on expensive headphones now being sold at outrageous prices and perceived first and foremost as a status symbol, good kid, m.A.A.d city is so good it will make your teeth hurt! Most notable may be transcendent anthem "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"—and really, who among us hasn't wanted to write a song with that title?—but song for song, track for track, "explicit" warning for "explicit" warning, this album rocks hard from its opening track to its (Deluxe Edition!) closer, an unexpected cover of Elvis Presley's "Now Or Never"! Like most great hip-hop, it shares an undeniable affinity for outrageous beats, uncensored sentiment, and the great Italian classic "O Sole Mio," composed in 1898 and still knocking 'em dead today! Don't tell me Taylor Swift won't be listening!
Swedish House Mafia: Until Now (Astralwerks) Sometimes when I review new albums I like to "smarten up" by doing a web search about the artists I write about! My advice: Don't type "Swedish House Mafia" and "stabbing" into that little white box! Now enormously popular--and, oddly, while not Swedish, actual members of the Mafia!--this fab electronic dance music trio has filled venues far and wide with their innovative blend of music, mixing, and pressing the correct buttons on their MacBooks at precisely the right moment, and are now apparently going on "hiatus"! Why does that sound dirty? As always, I opt for quoting other people's reviews when I feel those writers can make an astute point better than I, so, as a wise Amazon reviewer has recently noted, this is "definitely a good album for parties, working out, or just getting pumped up." Me? I think it makes great background music for Presidential debates! Like many of today's best albums, this may be most enjoyed when purchased in CD format and left on your car's passenger seat for others to see when you park your car!
Paul Banks: Banks (Matador) Forgive me for assuming this incident has allegorical implications, but just the other day a co-worker was listening to this album, and, as I heard various snatches, phrases and melodies, I was interested enough—but only just enough—to ask her who she was listening to. She told me it was Paul Banks, but then realized that name meant nothing to me—so she added he was the dude from Interpol. Oh. So then: a not bad at all album from a dude who, at this late date, is now best recalled as one of those two bands (Strokes being the other one) that were famous for sounding like other bands much better than them, but, all things considered, not especially bad. But Interpol never broke out in a big way, Paul Banks in the scheme of things is about as well-known as Peter Banks, the guitarist from Yes one generation earlier, and he apparently has it entirely within him to make interesting-sounding records, of which this is one. I like his album art, but—can I speak freely?—with this economy, he might want to change his name!
The Doors: Live At The Bowl '68 CD (Rhino) Blu-Ray (Eagle Rock) Available in Blu-Ray and DVD from Eagle Rock and in audio form via Rhino, this new repackaging of the Doors' historic 1968 Hollywood Bowl performance is an absolute winner through and through. Catching the band at their musical peak—well before their shows would devolve into the will-he-or-won't-he, post-Miami fun-fair they'd become—the buffed-up video in particular is visually striking, the sonics are amazing, and the song selection could not be a better representation of the Doors at the peak of their powers. If you've gotten the impression that the band's catalog has been, shall we say, vigorously exploited in the past decade, rest assured that this addition is, in the words of their late lead singer, stoned immaculate. Highly recommended.
Bat For Lashes: The Haunted Man (Capitol) It would be the height of sexism to boldly proclaim that many of today's best albums are in fact being recorded by women—like Beth Orton, St. Vincent, or Bat For Lashes' Natasha Khan—but this would then allow me to note that this great new album features a naked girl on its cover, which, all things considered, is better than a cylindrical container of Quaker Oats! Her third album, filled with moody lyrics, wistful melodies, artful arrangements, and the profound influence of rock demigods Maroon 5, The Haunted Man is a solid set, of which she should be proud, were she not so conspicuously preoccupied with trading bats for lashes or, more broadly, pursuing bartering rather than the actual exchange of cash upon which today's much-loved capitalist system is based! And I wouldn't be surprised if PETA gave her grief for that coat of hers!
Clifford Brown: The Singers Sessions With Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merrill (Hip-O Select) In the world of music reissues, I get the feeling that we may be on the last legs of large projects such as this—which in this case is the second volume of classic jazz by celebrated jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown recorded in the early '50s for the Emarcy label. Collecting the trumpeter's work with vocalists Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Helen Merrill, the three-CD set features fine remastering and exquisite vocals by all three singers, and puts all the tracks, once scattered in various albums and reissues, in one very worthy place. Great stuff.
Gary Clark, Jr.: Blak And Blue (Warner Bros.) Some well-deserved buzz on this highly skilled guitarist/vocalist, who's put together an album that draws from a variety of sources—the blues, R&B, Hendrix, etc.—shows amazing energy and musicality, and, in a world where album rock radio hadn't died a horrible death, with tracks like "Bright Lights" would fit right in between Free and Bad Company. Still, that implies a sense of retro that isn't entirely appropriate: This stuff sounds exciting and fresh--and suggests a possible future in which musicianship and technical skill won't be laughed at, disregarded, or considered quaint. (pause) Nah!
Diamond Rings: Free Dimensional (Astralwerks) According to his bio, Toronto resident John O is an "electro-pop maestro" who "defies laws of time and space"! To that end, he was born next year, died in 1556, and to listeners who favor psychedelics, resembles Grace Jones were she a nun! Yep, another Ke$ha clone!