Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (pt.2)


PICKS

Paul Simon, So Beautiful Or So What

The old pro could teach the young’uns a thing or two about crafting solid lines of verse – it’s not about clever rhymes or obscurity, but it does have something to do with selecting small details, keeping the jokes subtle, and asking big questions with small words. It also has something to do with placing deceptively simple lyrics atop sympathetic arrangements and within charming melodies. 

Nigeria 70: Sweet Times (Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju From 1970s Lagos)

Typical solid compilation from the Strut label, in which various performers both known (Ebenezer Obey, Dele Abiodun) and unknown (Soki Ohale, Tunde Mabadu) spin out grooves less beholden to American funk and more in line with traditional highlife and the emergence of juju. But there’s still plenty of funk – Strut remains a groove label, after all.


NEAR PICKS

 Wild Beasts, Smother

Speaking of smothering, successfully fight off the urge to choke lead crooner Hayden Thorpe with a pillow, and you just might find a quietly pulsing collection of synth pop nuggets and some of the most preposterous sex lyrics to grace an album this year. “O Ophelia / I feel yer,” goes one, and it gets better from there.

Colin Vallon Trio, Rruga

Fairly typical ECM piano jazz – lyrical, never swings too hard, heavy on the atmospherics. More Richie Beirach than Keith Jarrett, for good or ill. And pretty literal fellas, too – “Eyafjallajokul,” named after the infamous Icelandic volcano, rattles and clinks just like tectonic plates converging. I was actually hoping for something a little more whimsical. 

BOMBS

Dengue Fever, Cannibal Courtship

When this Cambodian singer and her non-Cambodian LA backup band were delivering most of their material in Khmer, they at least had a shtick to help them stick out. Having now switched to mostly English lyrics, their lack of imagination has been thrown into relief. Still fun at times, but anybody lucky enough to regularly sample LA’s fleet of pan-cultural food trucks won’t be too blown away by the melding of cultures herein. 

The Antlers, Burst Apart

I’ll agree that sincerity may be preferable to irony, but not if it’s going to be this defiantly down in the dumps. And while losing a pet may indeed be a personal tragedy, when an arty indie chamber-pop outfit chooses this as the subject matter for their grand and hyperbolic finale, they’d better expect a few chuckles.