Andy Sheppard / Michel Benita / Sebastian Rochford, Trio Libero (ECM)
Softly, softly - that’s the idea behind this international trio fronted by a lyrical British saxophonist switching between tenor and soprano. But where so many other ECM dates confuse a gentle touch with fragmentary impressionism, Sheppard unapologetically embraces melody. Having opened recording sessions with a series of group improvisations, Michel Benita and Sebastian Rochford joined the saxophonist in transforming those basic sketches into full-fledged compositions, only to once again dismantle the framework via another round of improv. Such behind the scenes technicalities won’t matter to most listeners, although the peerless blending of theme with simple yet dense embellishment leads directly from their chosen approach. And make no mistake, these are songs, not just skeletal frames. “Slip Duty” could be a warm-up reed exercise, yet it’s also graceful; “Spacewalk 1” is appropriately haunting; closer “When We Live On The Stars” is slow-burning cool. Unpack these performances, then - Benita’s folk-like bass, Rochford’s whispering drums, and especially Sheppard’s alternately spritely and mournful lines - and you’ll never once think to complain about the languorous pace.
Don’t Talk To The Cops!, Let’s Quit (Out For Stardom)
Taking the logical position that anarchism works best when actually anarchic, not to mention silly, a Seattle duo channel any number of influences - old-school hip-hop tag team vocals, minimalist punk (“I Don’t Like Rachel” is a “Beat On The Brat” for the electro crowd), sleazy funk (a distorted ode to “that special sauce / you can take that off” on “Murderburger”) - into one abrasive yet danceable whole. Early shock tactics are soon subsumed by Emecks and djblesOne’s cracked yet warm logic, with supposed in-jokes opening to welcome all and - this is key - catchy pop hooks shaking off lo-fi trappings that prove essential components of those very hooks. Plus, these kids never lie and hardly ever obfuscate - “Someday I’m Gonna Be Rich” is a boast deployed so lazily it seems within reach, while closing faux-hardcore chant-a-long “Puke Party” is exactly what it says it is (“you’re not invited to the cool puke party!”). No doubt those suspicious of contemporary bohemianism might charge these two with archness. Fair enough. But when Emecks boasts “I’m an elephant,” a sampled elephant briefly trumpets. That’s not arch, that’s funny.
Jack White, Blunderbuss (Columbia / Third Man)
Remember this guy? Before Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn production gigs, before The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, before It Might Get Loud, Karen Elson, and Insane Clown Posse singles, there was a stripped-down blues punk duo equally adept at primordial riffs and pop hooks, and despite his noble efforts as roots rock ambassador to indie nation, riffs and hooks are what he does best. So glory glory, he revels in vocal tics and noise guitar even on this ostensible singer-songwriter venture, letting his mostly female backing band determine forward propulsion while stealing the riff out from under The Who’s “I’m Free”. Eventually, piano and organ overtake his six-string, and “the blues” becomes subsumed by what you might call Americana and I’m comfortable labeling classic rock. Historians can parse every line herein for insights into divorce and heartbreak - plenty of glances at hypocritical kisses and requests for love to stick the knife in deeper, even while the title references his sloppy striving towards a doomed romantic idealism whose failings he only rarely blames himself for. I’m more intrigued by the way White lays claim to r&b nugget “I’m Shakin’,” turning Little Willie John’s classic into a fuzzed-up stomp bringing to mind Screamin‘ Jay Hawkins even while channeling Iggy Pop squeaks and the golden god timbre of prime Robert Plant. Talk about your influences.
Tropicaza, A Mover El Bote! Afro Dancing Rhythms From The Americas - Mexican Style (Mochilla)
As would seem to be common practice over at Mochilla, all fifty minutes of these non-artist-identified “afro dancing rhythms” from Mexico circa 1964 to 1979 are crammed inside one long track, meaning you’d best be prepared to sign on for uninterrupted listening or be fairly adept at skipping around. Decent party background music if non-worrisome grooves are all you seek. Pay closer attention, however, and what sticks out is how un-funky those remakes of “Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” and “Cissy Strut” are.
OFF!, OFF! (Vice)
Displaying little in the way of formal distinction from 2010’s collected Four EPs, this 15-minute “album” of preserved-in-formaldehyde thrash barely differentiates itself from the early singles created by Keith Morris and his fellow “hardcore karaoke retirement home” pals back in the bad old days of 1980. If Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP was/is your Catcher In The Rye, hearing such pioneers recreate the powerless rage of a testosterone-fueled nineteen might help you overlook the fact that Greg Ginn (more specifically, Greg Ginn’s guitar) is missing. But it might be harder to overlook the fact that Morris at fifty-six isn’t as powerless as he was at nineteen, which takes the thrill out of his rants. Invective like “You pushed me in a corner / what did you expect?”, “Are you smoking pot / or is your head up your ass?”, or “I wanna club you like a baby seal” suggests the thirty years separating this statement from the Circle Jerks’ debut were spent stockpiling grievances rather than accruing wisdom. Who knows, maybe “I’m tired of looking at your arrogant smirk” was inspired by the likes of Sheldon Adelson. Or maybe just some tourist Morris bumped into down at the Huntington Beach pier.
Daughn Gibson, All Hell (White Denim)
“Dream-country” delivered by a lugubrious Vaughn Monroe type channeling the slower moments of American Music Club, distinguished primarily by skittering shuffle beats and sampled vocals here and there. Also distinguished by the notion that a drunk man crying equal high tragedy. “Nothing mawkish or condescending about All Hell,” notes one prominent reviewer. Maybe their advance copy was missing the title track, which apparently samples a hayseed from some piece of vinyl screaming about sick babies and Jesus before Gibson smugly croons “she is a lonely girl / she wants to doooooooo it……outside” over spooky marimba.