Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Things we like

1) D'Angelo Black Messiah. You probably heard Prince; at first, I heard Sly's Riot, and found the densely layered production resistant to listening at home, where I now listen to music at a volume level comparable to when I lived with my parents. (Apparently, hearing familiar stuff at whisper-volume triggers enough memory to give the illusion of having heard the whole thing, but this doesn't work for newer stuff.) In the car, where I do all my "close" listening these days, I was able to hear enough detail to beguile my ears until the irresistible hooks began to differentiate individual tracks from the sonic bath: the Parliafunkadelicment of "1000 Deaths" (replete with Hendrixian stankfinger guitar), the Uber groovaliciousness of "Sugah Daddy," the Stylistics-worthy slow-jam magnificence of "Another Life" (replete with Coral electric sitar). The presence of Roots drummer Questlove -- whose love for (and understanding of) R&B history informs everything he touches -- is crucial.

2) Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly. Last year, it was Beck and St. Vincent; this year it's this guy. (In my dotage, I'm listening to records I read about first in Rolling Stone.) This is a lot easier to hear than the D'Angelo, because it's mastered LOUDER, with the vocals right up front. At 27, this kid from Compton is renouncing all the stuff (violence and conspicuous consumption) that put me off hip-hop back in the '90s, while decrying both racism and self-defeating behavior patterns, and expressing ambivalence about success. Great band dynamic, too.

3) Lou Reed Animal Serenade. A year down the road, I'm delaying the dread realization that there'll be no more Uncle Lou forthcoming by listening to Set the Twilight Reeling, which I never really got next to when it was new (and missed seeing Lou when he played the Bronco Bowl, dammit), in the car, and this -- which just might be his finest live recording -- at la casa. While it lacks the somewhat inappropriate mock grandeur Hunter 'n' Wagner gave Rock and Roll Animal, it also avoids the self-loathing that made Take No Prisoners funny but ultimately unlistenable. The sound is as clear as Perfect Night Live, with a much better (maybe even definitive) set list. Besides Lou's ultimate accompanist Fernando Saunders, the always-supportive Mike Rathke, and the ever-ethereal Antony Hegarty (singing all the "Doug Yule" leads where melody's important), the secret ingredient in the drummerless accompaniment is cellist Jane Scarpantoni, who did the same job for Bob Mould on Workbook.

4) Captain Beyond. A collector's fave and absolutely archetypal '70s hard rock band in the same way Cactus was, this outfit brought together the original Deep Purple lead singer (before he screwed himself out of his royalties for touring with a fake DP), a couple of ex-Iron Butterflies, and Johnny Winter And's drummer (who wrote all the songs). Lots of odd time signatures and almost-prog electro-acoustic textures, plus it's dedicated to Duane Allman (with whom Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt jammed in Florida way back when).


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