Bomba Estéreo, Elegancia Tropical (Soundway)
This quintet from Bogotá peddles something they’ve named Electro Tropical, cumbia and champeta informed by contemporary dance music and laced with inventive (even incessant) electric guitar figures. Although the framework is always grounded in the traditional rhythms of his native Colombia, founder Simón Mejía is nobody’s folk preservationist - if Technotronic doesn’t get covered this time out, they sure come close to capturing the vibe on tracks like “True Love,” a dance blast that would light up any self-respecting DJ’s setlist. After a slightly restrained opening section in which mild dub and light riddims hint at a Caribbean diaspora, the beats noticeably toughen and the synthesizer tricks turn harsher for an unflagging second half. It’s too bad overzealous followers like to compare vocalist Li Saumet to M.I.A., by which I assume they mean both are female and sing atop roiling beats. But Saumet does work her way up into a nice growl by the time “Rocas” rolls around. And while I understand they’ve mostly dropped the politics that once informed much of their material, musicians from the land of the FARC deserve a little escapism in their art.
Iceage, You’re Nothing (Matador)
Not much news to report since we last checked in with these Danes eighteen months ago. At the time, I scribbled something about teenagers confusing Killing Joke with hardcore, and while their tempos and rampaging guitars have if anything quickened and hardened, there’s no indication they’ll ever blossom into memorable songwriters. The one number they choose to honor with their native tongue is no more and no less comprehensible to English speakers than anything else on the record, and even if a piano makes its brief (rumbling) appearance, the quartet would seem to lack the necessary formal initiative to realize the Hüsker Dü grandeur they make sloppy passes at - “Awake” and “In Haze” at least kick off with SST-era riffs. Still, they possess two notable characteristics absent from many another heavy outfit. One is Elias Rønnenfelt’s imperfect vocals, shunning practiced mannerism in favor of on-the-spot caterwaul. The other is the equally imperfect raging of the band itself, lurching busily between tempos with no sense of mathematical urgency, stopping and starting just to prove they can do it together before sliding back into the maelstrom. As always, the lack of precision heightens the menace.
Next Collective, Cover Art (Universal / Concord)
There’s a gimmick at play here, although we should just call it an angle, and that’s a septet plus guests considering contemporary popular music as vehicles for jazz improvisation and arrangement. The only reason anybody’s calling it a gimmick is because jazz snobbery presupposes contemporary popular music to lack the chordal complexities necessary to spark flights of fancy. But really, jazz albums have always sought gimmicks and angles: 1957 alone saw Sonny Rollins tackling cowboy tunes on Way Out West, Charles Mingus adding castanets to travelogue Tijuana Moods, and Max Roach constructing an entire full-length in 3/4 time. So don’t get hung up on the framing device - these songs serve as melodic scraps for improvisers to briefly state and then pivot away from. And as such, they succeed admirably. Hits by Little Dragon, Drake (a smoky “Marvin’s Room”), and N.E.R.D. hold steadfast to their melodic constructions even as D’Angelo (“Africa”) and Stereolab (“Refractions In The Plastic Pulse”) signify as primeval grooves. If the schmaltz of Bon Iver and the breezy pop of Dido aren’t messed with enough to transform their familiar qualities, just check out the way guest Christian Scott’s trumpet melds with Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III’s saxophones on a moody translation of Jay-Z / Kanye West standout “No Church In The Wild,” Frank Ocean’s hook preserved even as guitarist Matthew Stevens turns the original Phil Manzanera sample inside out. And if you’ve ever wanted to hear Pearl Jam’s “Oceans” as a mid-60s Blue Note album cut, now’s your chance.
Tracks: “No Church In The Wild,” “Oceans”
Chelsea Light Moving, Chelsea Light Moving (Matador)
If Thurston Moore wants to insist upon the autonomy of this musical outfit, well, that’s his right. It sure sounds like a pick-up gig, though. Perpetually in-the-red and as sludgy as Mudhoney, he crunches and riffs like he’s got something to prove, which perhaps he does - the noisy stretch near the end of “Alighted” might be the heaviest piece of music the boy wonder’s ever put on tape. Yet for once, this Downtown lifer’s famed cool gets the better of him, assembling a William S. Burroughs “tribute” that’s pure junkie-chic drivel. Given Thurston’s insistence on incorporating his own dismal spoken verse into proceedings (“you surprised me in the shower again,” he intones: “submit and dominate….and submit again” he declaims), name-checking Frank O’Hara was an even wobblier idea. But this curio serves its purpose. Now that Moore’s kicked against the pricks and Ranaldo’s indulged his pastoral tendencies, it’s anybody’s rightful guess as to what Kim has in store.
Tracks: “Groovy & Linda,” “Sleeping Where I Fall”
Ingrid Laubrock Anti House, Strong Place (Intakt Records)
If only this German saxophonist had crafted another track that sparkled with the cleverness of “Cup In A Teastorm,” a Henry Threadgill tribute that is jaunty, clever, winsome, rollicking - in short, everything the rest of these drearily mannered and aleatory chamber pieces are not. Like the sun peeking through clouds, Tom Rainey’s drums and Mary Halvorson’s guitar occasionally break out of Laubrock’s lockstep devotion to knotty thematic complexity. But mostly this just fits and starts. One attraction to jazz has always been that it has soul.
Tracks: “Cup In A Teastorm”
Beach Fossils, Catch The Truth (Captured Tracks)
It’s important to note that this timorous quartet is allied with the likes of Richard Serra and Wire when it comes to prizing The Process over any eventual objet d’art. What makes Beach Fossils far less compelling rationalists than either Serra or Wire is the frivolity of their mode of expression. I mean, surf guitars and smothered vocals? At least their 2010 debut arrived in a swampy state of disorganization giving off the veneer of weirdness. Three fucking years later, they’ve compressed the tempos somewhat and swapped out a beatbox for a drummer eager to prove he’s flesh-and-blood - too eager, as witness the fumble-fingered rhythmic pattern of “Caustic Cross”. Perhaps there’s a greater conceptual argument at play here that I’m missing, perhaps an extended reflection upon the tyranny of formula. They certainly argue that point well enough. But no band this disengaged should dare a song title like “Sleep Apnea”.