Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 77)


PICKS 

Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob     (Warner Bros.)

Admit it, this is what you always wanted Intelligent Dance Music to sound like, and in an era full of quality four-on-the-floor anthems, isn’t it satisfying to watch as a Canadian duo once of Lilith Fair muscle their way into the pop pantheon through sheer willful machination? Brandishing synth hooks so capacious even Kelly Clarkson might blush, the Quin sisters deliver bridge after chorus after verse of energized songcraft with little in the way of let up until two closing numbers serve as calming salves to the workouts preceding them. And while producer Greg Kurstin deserves the accolades tossed his glossy direction, this is hardly a producer’s record - the singer/songwriters clearly used him as a means to their calculated end. Indie kids have been conditioned to claim unease when faced with this kind of ambition, just as some will no doubt try to fight off the sugar rush of indelible melodic constructions “I Was A Fool,” “Drove Me Wild,” “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend,” and new classic “Closer,” to name just four songs out of a good half-dozen delivering the same immediate pleasures as last year’s Carly Rae Jepsen singles bonanza. So anticipate some raised eyebrows, especially since the music’s enchanting surface obscures how uneasy the relationships under lyrical analysis remain. In language so unadorned it first seems utilitarian, two women with no delusions chronicle the highs and lows of passion and despair, from tangled sheets and the love that heals all wounds to packed suitcases and a long line of goodbyes, touching upon the ecstatic (“rush before we touch”) through the pathetic (“someday soon / I will be the one to insult you”) to the crestfallen (“wondering whose life you’re making worthwhile”). So certainly, these anthems ache. But they also inspire, most movingly during a richly subtextual exploration of the perils of adulation that alludes to identity issues they’ve neither shied away from nor actively courted as thematic tropes: “Sometimes it feels like the side that I’m on / Plays the toughest hand, holds the longest stand / I’m not their hero / But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave”.

 

Chris Potter, Sirens     (ECM)

No way this saxophonist could be considered an up and comer, not with fifteen plus solo dates to his name and quality time under the aegis of luminaries as varied as Paul Motian, Dave Holland, and Steely Dan. Yet this ECM debut still feels like an arrival, his post-Michael Brecker soul fully positioned alongside a world class rhythm section encompassing both pianist Craig Taborn and multi-keyboardist/Cuban expat David Virelles, the latter brandishing prepared piano, celeste, and harmonium. No doubt those interested could trace the many parallels to Homer’s epic alluded to mostly through song titles, from the swaying soprano theme of “Penelope” to the almost-closer “Stranger At The Gate”. Far more intriguing are the nods to jazz history - a ballad fully reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s mid-60s Davis Quartet compositions (“Dawn”), chiming celeste on “Nausikaa” that can’t help but bring to mind Monk’s usage of same on 1956’s “Pannonica,” the halting Jackie McLean/“Little Melonae” swing of free bop “Kalypso,” or the expansive tone poem atmospherics on the bass clarinet-led title track recalling the solemnity of Coltrane’s “Psalm”. Warm, generous, expansive - ECM seems less chilly every year.

 

NEAR PICKS

Aaron Neville, My True Story     (Blue Note)

The idiosyncratic Neville claims he’s been trying to make this “doo-wop” album against record label protestations for thirty years, and the fact that it’s proven his highest charting release in five decades of music making says something about the instincts of new Blue Note honcho Don Was. But maybe it also says something about the perils of steeping ideas for so long a time - while one doesn’t expect raucous energy from Aaron Neville, this is silky and smooth and restrained where the originals always boasted a little rasp and slop. No doubt Keith Richards might have inserted himself more forcefully into proceedings, just like Benmont Tench and Lenny Pickett could have winged their solos in the name of spontaneity. Still, how spontaneous can any musician be on numbers as well-worn and familiar as “Under The Boardwalk,” “Tears On My Pillow,” or “Be My Baby” (complete with flute)? Right, it’s not Neville’s job to excavate the past, not when his purpose is to revisit the tunes of his fondly-remembered New Orleans youth and beyond. So while I might have suggestions a-plenty for any future installments (Jivin’ Gene’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” The Five Satins’ “To The Aisle,” The Flamingos’ “Golden Teardrops” for starters), hearing Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five offer harmony behind “Work With Me Annie” is a mild delight. The delights of Neville interpreting Curtis Mayfield’s “Gypsy Woman” and The Clovers’ 1952 number one hit “Ting-A-Ling” aren’t mild at all.

Tracks: “Gypsy Woman,” “Ting-A-Ling”

Andy Moor & Yannis Kyriakides, Folia     (Unsounds)

This third collaboration between guitarist Moor and electronics specialist Kyriakides takes as its starting point the 16th century Portuguese motif known as “La Folia,” which might very roughly be thought of as an “I Got Rhythm” for the Classical era - not so much a tune as chord sequence possibilities in a minor key, an old motif passed among countless composers from Scarlatti to Liszt to Rachmaninov. You might not hear any of that in these fragments, nor the “South American folk music” alluded to in the spotty notes. You might instead be reminded of the plinks, scrapes, and jagged edges that Derek Bailey and Fred Frith are known for, only here fleshed out with howling synthesized strings, audio verite snatches, and periodic pulse (cheaters take note: the best beats appear in Parts 5 and 7). So file the context into your subconscious and submit to the treated process.  

 

BOMBS

Indians, Somewhere Else     (4AD)

It’s certainly not Søren Løkke Juul’s fault that a context-seeking Village Voice blogger labeled him “Denmark’s Bon Iver,” although vaguely soulful mellow white guys from places where it snows should apparently best beware. There’s actually quite a bit more of ‘70s Paul McCartney at his most eccentrically cuddly than Justin Vernon on these ten rather long acoustic guitar/synthesizer dispatches, with daft hoedown “Cakelakers” the standout example of his potential charms. But boy, does Juul meander. How could a song entitled “Lips, Lips, Lips” be so dreadfully fussy and doleful? Why stretch “Melt” out for nearly six minutes’ worth of vocal swoops, waltzing piano, and funny sounds? What’s the point of double-tracking yourself impersonating Neil Young if it’s only to swoon “girl…./ I am haunted”?

Tracks: “Cakelakers”

Trapt, Reborn     (Epochal Artists)

At a loss for words placing this well-scrubbed we-used-to-go-platinum alt-metal unit into their proper context (better than Three Days Grace? worse than Three Days Grace?), I took the rare step of consulting promo materials presided over by no less an authority than lead singer Chris Taylor Brown. “This record is really a new sound for Trapt,” he gushed, which might refer to new drummer Dylan Thomas Howard or might refer to supposed touches of “electronica” (ie, a synthesizer playing chords). But continue. “With Reborn we really wanted to use new sounds and textures as well as experiment with delays, reverbs, synths and many other techniques we have learned over the years or have heard in our influences.” Wow, delays and reverbs (plural!), gotta admire their devotion to the avant-garde, although us schoolmarmish types might churlishly note that “synths” are not “techniques”. But I interrupted, go on. “Lyrically, this album is as deep and thoughtful as any album that Trapt has done in the past.” Perhaps. I offer for your perusal lead-off single “Bring It” (as in “Bring It On,” of course): “I’m gonna hit you / right where it hurts / I’m gonna give you / everything you deserve”. Might earlier Trapt incarnations have given the girl in question “something to cry about” instead? Progress!