Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 85)


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PICKS

Kate Nash, Girl Talk     (Have 10p)

From the way people are avoiding these fifteen mostly stripped-down confessional punk dispatches, you’d think it was unreasonable or something to shout “fuck you” at somebody offended by feminism. Or maybe, like me, people are waiting for Nash to really sell the lines she’s mulling over or push forward the hooks resting underneath those Delta 5 bass lines and dual-channel guitars. Only the trick turns out to be pretty simple - play the songs to distraction until they start selling themselves, and sure enough, nearly every hook does what it needs to do. And since the awkward energy and daring frenzy Nash favors on the Poly Styrene-channeling heartbreak “Sister” might prove too much over an entire album’s course, I even came to love the slow ones and the icky/touching way she mockingly lathers on the self-pity (“you’re so cool / and I’m a waste of space,” indeed). Consistently conflicted, giving as good as she gets, Nash paints with such few strokes it’s easy to overlook how complete her vignettes are. If for some reason you can’t get behind somebody who la-la’s the melody to “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” over an apology to the girl whose heart she broke, or don’t care to notice how her anti-sexism rap specifically calls out the way sexism “destroys boys,” can you at least give it up for the power of her pen?  “I even wrote you poetry / so now I’m scarred”; “it makes me sick, the way we fight”; “no, they can’t shut us up”; “I’m sorry, is that too dramatic?/ I should just be far more placid/ well, blah-blah blah-blah”.

 

Bombino, Nomad     (Nonesuch)

The ugly rumors of Black Keys dude Dan Auerbach strong-arming the Cumbancha label into giving up their rising star in exchange for the grace of his production talents would seem to be true, and that should give pause to any music consumer interested in power dynamics, whether between indie labels or the patriarchal attitudes of rock stars convinced  “world music” differs from their own only in matters of overt spirituality and the absence of hands-on producers. Yet Auerbach was clearly the best man for the job. And he’s right - why deny a technician and artistic mind like this Nigerian whiz the right to have fun in a studio? Western observers clucking their tongues at Auerbach’s touches of exotica - the vibraphone on “Imuhar,” the Nashville pedal steel everywhere - should remind themselves Bombino is hardly a dusty nomadic artifact, having studied Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler videos back in the day to pick up on their tricks, and having made his first big splash outside Nigeria teaming up with Charlie Watts and Keith Richards to cut noted Tuareg traditional tune “Hey Negrite”. These performances tend to push harder than 2011’s sublime Agadez, and there’s nothing here quite as lovely as the opener on that debut, “I Greet My Country”. “Imidiwan” does come close. “My Friends,” that one translates as, not to be confused with “My Friend” and “My Darling”. Other topics under discussion: “Aman” [“Water”], “Adinat” [“People”], “Iter Tenere” [“In The Desert’].

 

NEAR PICK

Steve Coleman, Functional Arrhythmias     (Pi Recordings)

I’ve always found Steve Coleman (and most M-Base) to be theoretically funky at best, and this cheerful outsider shows no sign of cooling on the over-conceptualizing front - the title isn’t wry wordplay but a jumping off point for an album based around the ternary and triple patterns of the human pulse, along with a comment on the interplay of circulatory and respiratory systems within the rhythmic human form (hence such song titles as “Medulla-Vagus” and “Hormone Trig”). Fascinating as his background reading no doubt was, the primary attraction here is how the leader’s sax meshes with Jonathan Finlayson’s trumpet atop a stripped-down Prime Time-esque electric bass/drum rhythm section that makes room for Miles Okazaki’s subdued guitar on several tracks. And despite the deep theorizing behind every composition, you can predict a given song’s success based off a rather simple formula: the funkier the rhythm, the more compelling the number. So, program thusly: “Sinews,” “Cerebellum Lean,” “Adrenal, Got Ghost,” “Hormone Trig,” and “Snap-Sis”. If those do the trick, go back for more.

 

BOMBS

The Strokes, Comedown Machine     (RCA)

Twelve long years after these master craftsmen briefly fooled a willing audience into thinking they were more than a power pop band with Brooklyn bonafides, they’re now not even a power pop band. In attempts to approximate something resembling enthusiasm, Julian Casablancas and crew bedeck skeletal stabs at songform with glistening synth and lazed white-boy falsetto. How bewildering that such a washed-out outfit once inspired followers or generated media frenzy. Yet the decline was foretold in the space between their one great EP and their one decent full-length - recall the speed and ease with which these pros pulled “offensive” cover art and yanked “controversial” album track. That please-everybody philosophy has determined their trajectory.

The Black Angels, Indigo Meadow     (Blue Horizon)

Strange how some bands become less engaging the more obvious their overtures toward tightened songcraft, but that’s exactly what happens when these Austinites lay off the fuzzbox and shuffle away from epic drone. The inclusion of noodling Farfisa organ only highlights the way Alex Maas channels the phrasing of Jim Morrison. And the lyrics have definitely worsened - if once this outfit made admirable reference to the sufferings wrought by the Iraq War, they now make broad nods at gun violence and wax rhapsodic about how groovy it is to hear colors (“I can feel them / drippin’ in my eyes”).

Tyler, The Creator, Wolf     (Odd Future Records)

As a confirmed skeptic concerning most things Odd Future, let me note that it is indeed kinda sweet when Tyler tells his crush how much he jerks off to her. And it’s kinda moving when he laments the ongoing casualties of our crack epidemic. And it’s kinda touching when he admits his best friend is an inhaler. And it’s kinda cute when he arranges a treehouse playdate with Erykah Badu. And it’s kinda nice that he feels moved to note he couldn’t possibly “hate gays” because “Frank” (Ocean) is on ten of his songs. But that last line is also kinda bullshit, and maybe not even kinda. And since I count at least twelve appearances of the epithet “fag/faggot” from this non-gay-hating rapper, I must once again highlight my skepticism. Note: “no homo,” “dyke booty,” and “popped like the pussy on a bitch dyke” were not included within that above compendium of slurs. But they also make appearances.