WEEK IN MUSIC
Welcome to the Week in Music. And even on a slow week, wonderous sounds abound.
RECORDING OF THE WEEK
Nineteen Movements for Unaccompanied Cello
Arlen Hlusko/Scott Ordway
Arlen Hlusko performing Scott Ordway’s Nineteen Movements for Unaccompanied Cello is an exceptional combination. Everyone we’ve foisted it upon, everyone who drops by and hears it, loves it. See Jay Lewis’ full review here
PET SHOP BOYS
Before I start, let me just say that I don't like cricket, not in the risible racist way of that 10CC song (...'I love it, yeah!), but in a deep-seated disdain kinda way.
So, calling a ten minute long track 'Cricket Wife' and having a sleeve that parodies a cable knit cricketer's jumper is not going to entice me... But this is the Pet Shop Boys and, after the revitalised joy of last year's 'Hotspot' album, this is another reminder of what exceptional artists they are. But whereas last year's album was filled with analogue synth euphoria, this is a symphonic, it's drama without bombast (think 'Jealousy' or 'Being Boring'). It's orchestral and shifts spectacularly from scene to scene. Tennant's vocal is as confident as anything he's sung before. It's a performance of great certainty.
Add to that, the b-side is the lockdown re-recording of 'West End Girls' (The Guardian's 'greatest single of all time). The PSB renaissance continues. --Jay Lewis
Wot to say? UK got Nil points in Eurovision. Think about it? It’s an accomplishment!
This bouncy wave your arms, giant foam hands, shout inanities, and look really happy, sounds like a tribute band tribute to the whole of Eurovision, despite the odd hints of Prefab Sprout, and a soft rock pop mix-up, I even expect Will Ferrell to bounce into view, all inoffensive, a bit like a friends’ springer spaniel.
Looking at the video, there's even one of those cute little dance routines for all to learn and practice. It's a bouncy, clappy song that is as forgettable as the 17th car park that you passed on the way to the supermarket. Perhaps this should be the next UK entry for Eurovision, if only for the dance routine that we can all learn and practice for the next Euro night. --Toon Traveler
WILD UP/JULIAN EASTMAN
'Prime' & 'Unison'
The world of art music rarely releases a single, but Julian Eastman was no usual composer. Black, gay, openly confrontational - prone to titling his compositions with the n-word before pop culture was commercially comfortable going there in the 70s/80s.
Yet, his take on minimalism (Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, et al) is often a gracious, warm, soulful one and these two movements from renegade chamber group Wild Up’s upcoming album Julius Eastman Vol. 1: Feminine are well, prime, examples.
'Prime' comes on like a sunset, piano unfurling into an alarm blast of strings in 'Unison.' It’s like a cosmic phone daring God to hit the snooze button before facing the world. According to legend, the NYC Sheriff's Department placed Eastman’s scores alongside the rest of his things in the curbside snow, so posthumous (Eastman died in 1990) readings of his work are rare, and in this case, luminous. --Alex V. Cook
Blues for Mr. Hill
Echo of Blue Note sounds, the Big Apple stretching, and waking, the start of the day, the end of the night, it's the wee small hours, neon lights, wet streets, yellow cabs cruise, trade seeking, trumpet wailing, mournfully, sad notes, minor keys, and slow playing.
The emphasis is on the trumpet, he's the real star here, he's the driving force, impressionist seeps, and splashes, it's a mix of sunlight, and moonlight, streetlight, and night glows, this music has romanticized passions, celebrating 50s/60s city life that was dying as the 60s rock and roll, and passions and soul, all weave through the music.
This is a delightful slice of revivalist jazz, that echoes back to the top Blue Note, Vanguard, and Impulse releases, the premier jazz notes that drove 60s jazz, pre-Miles, pre-Bitches Brew.
This a great slice of the modern-day jazz revival. --Toon Traveler
(Spinning Top Records)
The fourth album from this Australian band (Time Itself), sees them playing with the seriousness of their sound and the silliness of their outlook and integrating their new bassist Chelsea who also directs the semi-austere, Alice-in-Wonderland looking video for their new single.
By their own admission, the song is 'inspired' by the White Stripes and Blur. Children Collide are tight, punchy, and very funny: 'I made a boo-boo', lead singer Johnny Mackay opines,'...like an emu scratching around in the outback of my mind', he adds, presumably hoping to land the Australian tourist board gig.
Myself, I prefer their less, shall we say 'indebted' songs from the new album, particularly 'Funeral for a Ghost'. There is an appeal in their mixture of whimsy and earnestness that probably undermines their more serious intent, and with which they should make their peace. --John Robinson
SUCH SMALL HANDS
(Such Small Records)
All Melanie Howard does is pretty notable as far as we can figure. I can't not mention her evocative painting and the little coda of letting us know what she is listening to as she paints. I'm going steal that for my column. But I'll begin by revealing that I was listening to Such Small Hands while writing this! Carousel The Raw Home Sessions LP actually surpasses the studio set in its emotional reach. Electric Touch is even more mesmerizing at home. It's so beautiful it hurts. -- Ancient Champion
Live at the Bunker Studio
I think that the story goes that Big Thief gathered together to get ready to tour....and although that didn't happen, this rehearsal recording did. Buck rehearsing those head fakes. Intimate and gnarly. Shoulders sounds so like Lou Reed is still alive, no? -- Ancient Champion
London minimalists, Portico Quartet, (Duncan Bellamy and Jack Wyllie), ready big screen splashes for moments of super 8 grainy intimacy. Their notes are constellations of stars. 'Terrain' is their long-player in three movements and is one of the most adventurous, exciting, and yes of course, minimal of releases you'll hear coming out of the UK this year. 'Terrain' has been described as a paean to hope, recorded during the lockdown. Ommadawn. I mean, OMG. Mercifully there's actually no 'In Dulce Jubilo' on here. How far we've come together since being 'Knee Deep in the North Sea'. -- Ancient Champion
GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW
Summer banger for the discerning nail. Georgia Anne Muldrow’s 10,000-pound bass takes centre stage on this wrenching ball swinger. Muldrow performs this all herself, instrumental save for cameos from Ayun Bassa and Shana Jensen, and she does so with stellar dopeness. 'Passin' Oooout' is a soul clap supernova that could pilot you over the hottest city sidewalk to Mars. 'Throwback Baps' is accurately packaged but upgraded for consumption by advanced, future civilizations. 'Love Call Groove' can be read straight forward as a title or as a command to love, asking that groove be summoned. Either way, it shows up with friends. --Alex V. Cook
It is a conservative estimate that I have listened to Lambchop’s 2000 masterpiece 'Nixon' three times a week since I bought it a few months ago when we could creep back into record stores.
Kurt Wagner’s barely there croon is the raven caw of my recovery. Here in the new era, he seems to have a new gravity. It might be his ongoing dalliance with autotune, this time pitching it lower, pushing it forward like you do with the blade of a snowplow. Showtunes bears almost none of the twang disco cocktail swagger of Nixon and the like, but a knee-deep saturation in sumptuous strings and narcotic piano. A nervous breakdown happening in Matrix bullet dodges. He might have hired an orchestra and a zombie Nelson Riddle to arrange. It is gorgeous, even if it doesn’t possess that finger-snapping thing Lambchop does. Their oven-dried humour is present - see 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone Journalist' and 'Impossible Meatballs' - but it is encased in amber. The hallucinatory 'Fuku' is the closest you are going to get to the old soft shoe, but that’s okay. I have those old records already. This one is for when the night gets weird and that little trucker hat is the only thing keeping your brain in. --Alex V. Cook
RAVE FROM THE DAVE
THE WEDDING PRESENT
Seamonsters 30th anniversary edition
Whereas The Wedding Present's previous albums commenced with bursts of recognizable energy that jolted listeners into David Gedge's tales of love's disappointments, 'Seamonsters' is a more complex creation. There's an unobtrusive strum, followed by a voice that is intimate, exhausted, and anguished. Over the next four minutes, both the soundtrack and vocals will build and build, until 'Dallaince' reaches its furious conclusion.
This is unexpected. The introduction of Steve Albini as the producer enabled The Wedding Present to immerse themselves in darker, grungier textures. The lyrics are now the inner thoughts of someone who has been badly bruised by love. The aforementioned 'Dalliance', as well as 'Heather' and 'Blonde' are equal parts forlorn and bitterly accusing.
Even when things are looking up, as on 'Octopussy' and 'Suck' the tales have a claustrophobic, almost obsessive, tension to them. The minute-long squall of feedback that separates 'Lovenest' and 'Corduroy' feels like a metaphor for the entire album: uncomfortable and strange yet oddly compelling.
Now held in high regard, 'Seamonsters' initially perplexed critics, with a young Steve Lamacq at the NME choosing to compare the listening experience to '...having sandpaper rubbed over your ears'. Thirty years on, this reissue (together with a bonus disc of EP, b-side and session tracks), is a brilliant reminder of a significant band's watershed moment.
It's time again to dive back in. --Jay Lewis
Main Image: Arlen Hlusko by Jiyang Chen