August 21, 2013

Neko Case - The Worse Things Get

Neko Case - The Worse Things Get - cover art
Neko Case’s latest album, the breathlessly titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, rests not a moment on the laurels of her prior record, Middle Cyclone, where Grammy ambitions and lauding reviews likely afforded more mainstream audience exposure.  As Middle Cyclone was hardly light years above her earlier releases, its greater fame evidenced a common phenomenon in which artists, after toiling for years in cult status, creating stellar works, suddenly produce a “breakthrough” release, indicating only that the gatekeepers of popular culture have finally caught up.

August 11, 2013

C.P.E. Bach Keyboard Sonatas

CPE Bach - Keyboard Sonatas/Chaplin cover art
It’s quite fascinating how so-called transitional musical figures seem less accessible, and therefore familiar, to the average public, where compartmentalization of style can be a comfort (or, at the very least, a key that unlocks pocketbooks), while closer inspection reveals these trailblazers often went much farther than their descendants -- often a century or more of future innovations are housed within their curious experiments.

August 10, 2013

Josh Rouse - El Turista

Josh Rouse - El Turista cover art
The position El Turista occupies within Josh Rouse’s overall output is analogous to a Merry Melodies cartoon – a pleasant diversion, definitely not the main feature. That said, there’s no doubt that El Turista is, like everything Rouse produces, skillfully composed and arranged, but the result has to be considered (despite the inexplicably positive reviews) nothing more than a frivolous trifle.

Without question, Josh Rouse is one of adult alternative music’s most distinctive and talented artists, and the music’s accessibility, even to Dave Matthews fans,

August 8, 2013

You Never Notice Me 7" - The Garlands

Best Song You (N)ever Heard

The Garlands "You Never Notice Me" 7" cover art
Sweden’s The Garlands were formed in 2007 by indiepop mavens Christin Wolderth and Roger Gunnarsson, with releases that have included a 2010 Cloudberry EP, inevitable singles and compilation appearances, leading up to their first self-titled long-player on the Shelflife label in 2012.  In the end, the 2011 2-song 7” vinyl release of “You Never Notice Me”/”Continue” remains their standard-bearer, with both the influence, and result, in a word simply “Heavenly.”  “You Never” breaknecks out of the gate in Usain Bolt fashion, with a bass line tighter than a duck’s rump, Wolderth’s celestial vocals both hovering above, and

Zelenka Orchestral Works

Zelenka Complete Orchestral Works - Sonnentheil
Visit anyone professing to have an exhaustive classical collection and chances are you’ll find a notable hole on the right portion of the bottom shelf (given classical buffs always alphabetize fastidiously), just in front of their dusty Zemlinksy discs.

Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679 – 1745), a Bohemian composer born south of Prague who cut his teeth in Vienna before ending up in Dresden as a dreaded “church composer”

August 7, 2013

Such Great Heights

Cover vs. Original

Postal Service - Such Great Heights Cover
Garden State soundtrack - cover art I’ll admit my biases – I’ve always had a mixed opinion of Ben Gibbard’s work, both his Postal Service collaboration with electronic-minded producer Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel as well as his main band Death Cab For Cutie.  I’ll freely acknowledge he’s talented at a uniquely spare form of lyricism, but there’s a thin line between spare and hollow, and it often sounds like he’s channeling New Order and The Cure, then mixing in a bit of early Seventies pop in

Bach Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord

 J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord (BWV 1014 – 1019) occupy a rather unique position in the master’s catalogue. Greatly admired by musicians, these works, along with his other chamber pieces (gamba or flute sonatas) are much less known amongst the general populace, most of whom

August 6, 2013

Don't Say You Don't Know - Lost Homeboys

Best Song You (N)ever Heard

Lost Homeboys - Cloudberry EP (049)
Less than 15 sec. into “Don’t Say You Don’t Know” by Swedish indiepop outfit The Lost Homeboys you realize you’re on to something special:  lovely, infectious twee arpeggios arcing skyward over a searching bass line tellingly punctuated with a nervous, spontaneous snare, leading to a typically nonchalant, flat, thick, reticent Scandinavian vocal, the overall amalgam all summery, nostalgically wistful and achingly poignant.

Michel Legrand - Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

Michel Legrand is one of the most prodigious musical talents ever to come from French soil, achieving fame across a six decade career in genres ranging from film scores and instrumental jazz to French chanson and classical, and in similarly diverse roles:  as composer, arranger, singer, instrumentalist, conductor, and producer.  His prolific nature is also legendary, with over 200 film and television scores to his name and over 100 albums.

Xavier Cugat - Best Of

Best of Xavier Cugat - Cover Art
Xavier Cugat (happily shortened from his full name: Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Cruy Deulofeo) helped popularize many Latin American dance forms, such as the rhumba, tango and cha-cha across a career spanning eighty years, and this Spanish-born, Cuban-reared bandleader also found time to help launch the career of stars such as Rita Hayworth, as well as eventually becoming Charo’s husband.

August 4, 2013

Love - Forever Changes

In this age of digital delivery, can there be any great undiscovered bands from the past?  Well, take the Los Angeles band Love, who released a record many critics place among the finest of the Sixties (Rolling Stone ranked it at 40 on the 500 Greatest Albums list), yet remains completely unheard of by many.

This unique band, one of the first of mixed race and fronted by African American Arthur Lee, with his unique vocal style that ranged from bracing to ethereal,

August 2, 2013

Weekends Away - Math & Physics Club

Best Song You (N)ever Heard

"Weekends Away" EP - Math & Physics Club (Cover Art)
Easily one of the most essential American twee tracks, designed for hours of repeat-plays, Seattle artists Math and Physics Club employ lilting, summery, cascading guitar shimmers that imbue immediate feelings of warmth and nostalgia, buoyed halfway through by vibrato-laden organ chirps and matched by a heartfelt, in-the-moment lyric, Charles Bert’s nasal, introverted delivery charmingly backed by Saundrah Humphrey in select phrases. Influenced by a grab bag of like-minded bands ranging from The Lucksmiths and Razorcuts to the Smiths and Belle & Sebastian, MAPC’s first record

Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence

Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence
The Norwegian lads were in a pickle. In waiting five years after their previous release to present us with a new record, only two reactions were possible:  we’d expect it to be twice as good as Riot on an Empty Street and be disappointed; or, we’d love it, but be annoyed they held back for so long.  In the end, the initial response is probably a blend of the two, with a slight reduction in emotional heft as they've aged replaced with a more subtle, natural songcraft almost certain to be underestimated.

Pergolesi - Stabat Mater

Pergolesi Stabat Mater - King/Fisher
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), despite achieving modest fame in his tragically short 26-year lifetime, grew in stature as the 18th century progressed to such a degree that not only were his sparse collection of works among the most-published and performed, there arose one of the first instances of widespread musical fraud, as hundreds of falsely attributed works of the late composer were promoted by unscrupulous publishers.

August 1, 2013

Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison

Artist Profile

Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison - cover art
Them burst onto the Irish R&B scene in 1964 with a powerful set of shows at Belfast’s Maritime Hotel, tapes of which eventually caught the ear of Decca Records executives, who signed the band to a two-year deal with plans to market them as a British Invasion act.

While in any parallel universe worth its salt the presence of one George Ivan (aka “Van”) Morrison emitting teenage energy like a radioactive isotope would have guaranteed success, instead a fateful synchronicity of record company meddling, constantly shifting lineups

Drottningholm Baroque - Telemann & Vivaldi

Drottningholm Baroque - Telemann & Vivaldi
If asked to recommend a disk most likely to spark the casual classical fan, those whose collections consist solely of Marriner’s Brandenburgs and a Wal-Mart Four Seasons, to get truly excited about Baroque music, I just might turn to this splendid 1984 recording of four mixed flute and bassoon concerti of Telemann and Vivaldi as performed by the crackerjack Sweden-based outfit Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (DBE).  Not only is near perfection achieved in performances captured faithfully in a full, alive recording, but this