Recent album releases
By Eric Saeger
Martina Topley-Bird, Some Place Simple (Honest Jon’s/Ipecac Records)
Apparently feeling somehow artistically indebted to non-techie shy-chicks like Norah Jones (Topley-Bird’s voice, if you haven’t heard her work elsewhere, such as on this year’s “Heligoland” LP from Massive Attack, is a direct cross between Jones and Sia), this multi-instrumentalist and former weirdy-beardy squeeze of Tricky has teamed up with mystery percussionist Ninja to folk-up her back catalog of trip-hop chill. Previously released things (mainly pulled from her 2008 LP “Blue God”) are re-imagined here in the form of Zero 7-like afterthoughts, with “Dadada,” for example, being stripped down to dandelion-puffs of toy-piano whimsy, and “Lying” (from her debut LP) submerged in organ-blooping. That’s all nice and stuff, very Corinne Bailey Rae, but in the end she’s known for irresistibly dank urban stuff, thus her fans could be quite put off by all this. There are 4 new songs included on this US version, including the Zero-7-ish “Orchids,” but it’s tough to tell if that’s the best thing to result from these sessions – the story of this girl’s solo life thus far has been a rap that her import versions “far surpass” the US versions, an annoyingly hip peccadillo in the eyes of fans who appreciate a little consistency when they pay money for audio products. Grade: B- [street date: 10/19/10]
Ranjit Barot, Bada Boom (Abstract Logix Records)
I’m no connoisseur of fusion, but it’s funny, flying blind without even reading the bio I sensed something very John McLaughlin about the guitar work on this, and hey, there it is, a McLaughlin credit on opening tune “Singularity.” Wait, don’t go anywhere – this isn’t your daddy’s fusion, it’s a very compelling debut from this Hindi multi-instrumentalist sideman, his guests a mix of friends and admirers. Sure, there’s an air of Romantic Warrior and stuff like that; muscular, almost too-tight sprints aplenty, but his ethnicity is a most welcome joker in the deck. The fake-outs are pretty cool – tabla parts played on a regular drum kit, guitar funk coming out of a veena – and create an experience that’s (no, I’m not going to say Bollywood, because it’s nothing like that) like a Return to Forever best-of dubbed with top-drawer Hindi folk. There’s an exciting, labyrinthine vocal passage on “T=0” that will make the whole album worth the listen for some people, but either way, serious prog-heads need to invest in this.
Grade: A [street date: 10/19/10]
Simian Mobile Disco, Simian Mobile Disco Is Fixed (Defend Music)
This first proper US release from the UK DJ duo is a mix saluting the Fixed night, the diverse weekly party at New York’s Tribeca Grand Hotel. Listener reviews of the pair’s work are usually quite mixed, giving the impression that SMD’s attention is as deficient as that of a kid trying to study calculus after he just got dumped by his girlfriend. But for the first 6 songs here – past the Kraftwerkian intro of Brain Machine’s “Eternal Night” – there’s clearly a common thread, that being fractal hypnosis, from the beauty of Conrad Schnitzler’s “Ballet Statique” to Etienne Jaumet’s glo-fi-tinted “For Falling Asleep.” Anyway, yes, rackety Justice-worshipping sounds are still the rage on SoundCloud, so the noise patrol drops in with Andre Walter’s “Malphas” (not that I have any problem with the squalling baby sample, being that it single-handedly made Foetus’s “Thaw” album unforgettable) and takes over from there, moving into SMD’s own woozy rub of “U Can Dance” from DJ Hell, a guy I can always live without. Slowly everything melts into madness: android-loving electro-house from Paul Woolford (“False Prophet”), some chimp-running-through-the-jungle silliness in Phillip Sherbourne’s “Salt and Vinegar,” and so on, highlighted by the pair’s own crazily trippy “Nerve Salad.” What ultimately strikes me is how brilliantly this would work at a velvet-rope joint and how poorly it would serve as commuter background. Grade: B- [street date: 10/12/10]
Runner Runner, Runner Runner (Capitol Records/CE Music)
More emo lemmings for the pile, this bunch brought to you by CE Music, a new tentacle of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants schlocktopus. Apparently Letterman’s drop in viewership (owing to the much better content being made available by Colbert, Hulu, and anything else that isn’t a Nerfball interview of Jennifer Aniston) led Dave’s overpaid marketing-droid army to believe the world is in desperate need of yet another Jonas Brothers clone boasting yet another polite, repressed singer who dreams of celebrating his girlfriend’s 21st birthday by taking her to Vegas to get married (“21″). Now that’s something all recent high school grads can aspire to, if they’re one of the 10 or so kids remaining in the country who get enough hours at Panera Bread to escape living with their parents.
But who are we kidding. This music – all of it microwaved leftovers from Hoobastank, et al – isn’t aimed at kids old enough to make terrible spur-of-the-moment adult decisions, it’s for teenyboppers who can text “OMG” at warp speed, that bizarre demographic that can actually detect the tiny micro-nuances that separate one cookie-cut dingbat boyband from another. All the power to them, as I cannot whatsoever. Grade: C- [Release Date: 9/28/10]
ARP, The Soft Wave (Smalltown Supersound Records)
Avant krautrock ambience resulting from Alexis Georgopolis leaving San Francisco outfit Tussle and moving to New York, where, by the way, he’s found some measure of success in the mixed-art arena. These vocal-less, eerie, understated pieces are full of subtlety, created with older-sounding synth lines as bases of operation, from which sprout lightly dissonant noises, sub-hoover, hearing-test patterns and various species of glitch. With that out of the way, as a public service I’m going to assume you’re (and I wouldn’t blame you for) hoping to be spared further deconstructo-art-fart babbling and awaiting simple layman’s terms. Ahem. This stuff provides the same level of entertainment as watching saltwater taffy being pulled by one of those big stainless-steel gizmos – it does its thing while your brain does its own, accepting or rejecting the patterns and (I did mention subtlety, right?) shifts of the compositions, and make no mistake that this isn’t self-indulgent nonsense but a set of concise, intricate patterns. Open-mindedness helps here, as in life.
Grade: A- [Release Date: 9/28/10]