Ceramic Dog, Your Turn (Northern Spy)
Power trio dynamics from uncategorizable skronk king Marc Ribot’s rock band, only here the vibe is more avant-garage with plenty of blues, thanks to bass/drums duo Shahzad Ismaily and Ches Smith morphing between punk gallop and jazz groove as the boss wails atop. You got your rinky-dink reggae, you got your Sonic-Youth-scrape-meets-Hendrix-white-noise, you got your Cole Porter joke followed immediately by your Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond joke, you got your what-if-D.-Boon-had-lived-beyond-1985 punk jam (“Ritual Slaughter,” for those keeping track). Plus, some actual songs with verse/chorus/verse, like a Pretty Things opening crawl or the horn-laden Beastie Boys joint “We Are The Professionals”. And while nobody here has a singing voice for the ages, the untrained vocals are consistent with that avant-garage aesthetic. Besides, the words do matter - even signify. “Our lives will not be sweated / from birth until life closes,” goes one line from the Rose Schneiderman-inspired, James Oppenheim-derived, Lawrence Textile Strike-memorializing, killer guitar solo-boasting “Bread and Roses,” which in its call to “share in life’s glories” helps contextualize earlier anti-downloading rant “Masters Of The Internet”. When Ribot sarcastically sneers “we ask no compensation,” he isn’t demanding your money, not really. He’s defending his own dignity in a right-to-work kinda way. Which may have something to do with your money.
Peter Evans, Zebulon (More Is More Records)
It wouldn’t be fair to label these four very long acoustic trio cuts “crowd-pleasers”. Still, nothing by this Oberlin-trained, NYC-based, avant-garde trumpet player (and part-time Mostly Other People Do The Killing member) prepared me for how stripped down and basic he could get when backed by John Hebert (bass) and Kassa Overall (drums) in a live recording from a now-defunct Brooklyn club kindly memorialized in the album’s title. Give partial credit to the rhythm section for the relative accessibility - Hebert can lay claim to both Andrew Hill and Fred Hersch as mentors, while Overall has drummed behind everybody from Geri Allen to Das Racist. But it’s Evans himself who sets the tone by eschewing electronic tricks he previously flaunted. True, he doesn’t completely play straight, managing to simulate digital noise and feedback through mouthing/breathing techniques, periodically indulging in the kinds of impressive circular figures which will delight experimental types while convincing plenty of others that the hornman just ran out of ideas. Yet the dominant characteristic here is Evans’ brusque and full tone, sharp blasts and note flurries showcasing perfect intonation amid wisps of the blues. Highlights are tough to pinpont - best just to let each performance wash over you - but the rising/falling dynamics of twenty-five minute set-closer “Carnival” darts from briefly-emerging melody to fever pitch through joyous swing and tight groove. The Zebulon crowd does sound mighty pleased.
The Stooges, Ready To Die (Fat Possum)
Proof positive he’s at his best when stooping towards the lewd and crude, Iggy leans hard on a rejuvenated James Williamson, whose great riffing on “Gun” can’t overcome the leader’s banal observations on American violence or, worse yet, said leader’s lame delivery. Far better is something like the Spaghetti Incident-era G’n R sleaze of “Job,” as in “it don’t pay shit,” graced around the edges with castanets the way Raw Power’s “Penetration” made room for a celeste. While 2007’s The Weirdness floundered under such lyrical misdemeanors as “my dick is turning into a tree,” here Mr. Osterberg revels in fabulous stoopidity - “I’m on my knees / for those double D’s,” indeed. And if the slow ones serve as a reminder that Leonard Cohen shtick is best left to L. Cohen himself, it’s entirely possible that acoustic crawler “Unfriendly World” boasts the best riff on an album filled with good ones.
She & Him, Volume 3 (Merge)
These are real catchy and throwbacky and cute, plus they got strings and handclaps. But it’s also so mannered it goes beyond twee, and while Ms. Deschanel’s more than occasional flat notes aren’t of the greatest concern, such sour droplets do spoil the sweet cream on offer. Indie that rocks as hard as Terry Stafford - who knew there was a demographic still anxious to scarf it up?