Brian Eno--Reflection

Reflection is the latest work in a long series. It started (as far as record releases are concerned) with Discreet Music in 1975 ( - or did it start with the first Fripp and Eno album in 1973? Or did it start with the first original piece of music I ever made, at Ipswich Art School in 1965 - recordings of a metal lampshade slowed down to half and quarter speed, all overlaid?) Anyway, it’s the music that I later called ‘Ambient’. I don’t think I understand what that term stands for anymore - it seems to have swollen to accommodate some quite unexpected bedfellows - but I still use it to distinguish it from pieces of music that have fixed duration and rhythmically connected, locked together elements. The pedigree of this piece includes Thursday Afternoon, Neroli (whose subtitle is Thinking Music IV) and LUX. I’ve made a lot of thinking music, but most of it I’ve kept for myself. Now I notice that people are using some of those earlier records in the way that I use them - as provocative spaces for thinking - so I feel more inclined to make them public. Pieces like this have another name: they’re GENERATIVE. By that I mean they make themselves. My job as a composer is to set in place a group of sounds and phrases, and then some rules which decide what happens to them. I then set the whole system playing and see what it does, adjusting the sounds and the phrases and the rules until I get something I’m happy with. Because those rules are probabilistic ( - often taking the form ‘perform operation x, y percent of the time’) the piece unfolds differently every time it is activated. What you have here is a recording of one of those unfoldings.

~ Brian Eno

 

Drive-By Truckers-- American Band

From their breakthrough album (2001's Southern Rock Opera) onward, the Drive-By Truckers have never shied away from dealing with the political and philosophical divides that come with life in the American South. But as issues of race, violence, and the failings of the electoral process have come to dominate the national conversation in 2016, the Drive-By Truckers have responded with their most explicitly political album to date. American Band contains a dozen songs that deal with familiar themes for this band in some respects, but instead of pondering "the Southern Thing," these are stories that confront all sides of a great but troubled nation, as racism means not just the mixed message of the rebel flag but the unjust death of Trayvon Martin, and one tries to come to terms with the many ways our culture is slowly changing in some ways and stubbornly refusing to evolve in others. This is music full of both fury and purpose, but with rare exceptions, American Band isn't an album of anger but of puzzlement and concern. Patterson Hood's songs are thoughtful journal entries informed by his experiences as a Southern man who had left his home for the Pacific Northwest, especially "Ever South" and "What It Means." Mike Cooley, as always the Yang to Hood's Yin, writes and sings with greater grit and Southern swagger, but he delivers some of his smartest and most eloquent work to date with "Surrender Under Protest," "Ramon Casiano," and "Once They Banned Imagine," all superb studies of the flaws of human nature. American Band is an op-ed column with guitars, and it presents a message well worth hearing, both as politics and as music. ~ Mark Deming, allmusic.com

Gillian Welch--Boots No 1: The Official Revival Bootleg

Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg, is a collection of outtakes, demos, and alternate versions committed to tape before or during the making of Gillian Welch’s debut Revival. The front cover of Boots No. 1 features a photo from the same sitting that produced Revival's cover art, except this time Welch is holding an electric guitar. The shot is a subtle but cheeky reminder of what should have been the point all along: Gillian Welch wasn't a savant but an artist, one who drew clear inspiration from the sounds of America's past, but used them as a starting point to tell powerful and eloquent stories of her own. And while Welch could pass for the lost member of the Carter Family when she saw fit, Boots No. 1 reveals there are plenty of other directions she could have taken that would have been just as compelling and just as valid. Most of the tracks here follow the essential template of Revival -- Welch and her constant collaborator David Rawlings blending their vocals and guitars with minimal accompaniment, sometimes in glorious mono. But the ragged but right rock & roll of "455 Rocket," the sinewy midnight groove of "Pass You By," and the evocative Patsy Cline-isms of "Paper Wings" (which appears in two versions, one featuring ethereal pedal steel work from John R. Hughey) testify to Welch's versatility, as well as her unerring skill as a singer and tunesmith. And while Welch had plenty of gifted accompanists on board (no surprise with T-Bone Burnett producing the sessions), you'd be hard-pressed to name two people who are as musically simpatico as Welch and Rawlings, and his graceful, lively guitar work is a joy to behold here. Boots No. 1 plays less like an expansion of Revival than a document of a fertile period of creativity in the life of Gillian Welch, and while fans of the original album will revel in it, you don't have to be familiar with it to be dazzled by the subtle passion, intelligence, and eloquence of this music.~Mark Deming, allmusic.com


Pretenders--Alone


Chrissie Hynde sneers "I like being alone" on the title track and opening song on Alone, the first Pretenders album since 2006's Break Up the Concrete. That much is true. She may have revived the Pretenders name for Alone, the follow-up to her belated 2014 solo debut, Stockholm, but, just like in 2006, Martin Chambers isn't in the studio. Instead, Hynde is collaborating with Black Key Dan Auerbach, who brings in half of his side project the Arcs to help him play the instruments on Alone. Unsurprisingly, this studio incarnation of the Pretenders shares some '60s AM aesthetics with the Arcs, sometimes cooking along with the cool grace of Memphis soul and sometimes feeling as thick as rockers cranked out in a greasy garage. The latter is familiar territory for Hynde but the former is a new wrinkle for her, so one of the pleasures of Alone is hearing her laying back in a slow, soulful groove. "Roadie Man" simmers like classic Booker T. & the MG's, "Never Be Together" feels like a dispatch from an alternate Stax, while "One More Day" trades in a bit of bossa nova, a bit of rhythmic flair that illustrates how often Hynde and Auerbach play with forgotten '60s pop sounds. This gives Alone a supple, attractive feel, but Auerbach also encourages Hynde to lean into her tough side so that Alone swaggers like a classic Pretenders album. Attitude counts for a lot with Chrissie Hynde, but the true appeal of Alone is how it marries solid songwriting with a sympathetic, surprising production, all of which amounts to a very satisfying Pretenders album. ~Thomas Erlewine, allmusic.com

 

Blood Orange--Freetown Sound

Devonté Hynes' struggle with identity and its interaction with the world is perfectly captured within the 17 tracks of Freetown Sound; often confusing, with multiple overlapping thoughts, the album charts a parallel course through Hynes' personal reflections on race and gender, and his impetus to call out the obstacles shared by all those who consider themselves outsiders.

Hynes' reflection is far-reaching, going all the way back to the capital of Sierra Leone's complex history -- where his father was born -- for its thematic roots. There are so many ideas, guest appearances, and samples that Hynes transcends the concept of a personal record; Freetown Sound is the closest you'll get to being Devonté Hynes' mind, body, and soul. Such a complex experience makes the first listen challenging; the first half of the album swims past in a woozy, yet harmonious, deluge of expressions, thoughts, and feelings. Initially, latching onto something concrete proves difficult, but around halfway the picture becomes a little more focused. "Hands Up" and "Hadron Collider" mark the change; the latter track, with its standout guest vocal from Nelly Furtado, shines in particular.

The number of guests present, whether with full vocals or just short clips, only goes to show how far Hynes has expanded his sphere in the last three years. The record is so personal that the only one able to understand every layer is Hynes himself. As a result, Freetown Sound can come across as weighty, indecipherable chaos to some. But for anyone who can relate to him on some level, it's hard not to be in awe of a man as complicated as Devonté Hynes being able to compose such an insightful, personal experience.  ~Liam Martin, allmusic.com


Ages and Ages -- Something To Ruin

A band started by Tim Perry with the purpose of making uplifting music with sunny harmonies, Ages and Ages succeeded in doing just that on their 2011 debut. Ages and Ages face a similar challenge on Something to Ruin, an album set against a backdrop of corporatization, gentrification, and exploding real estate prices in their base of Portland. With membership (11 credited here) spread across the Pacific Northwest, it's a relatable topic for those in many other cities, big and small, at the time of its release. The gravity is even captured on cover art that shows elephants roaming the streets of a city in dystopian ruin. Can the music possibly be peppy, especially with titles like "Kick Me Out" and "I'm Moving" among the track list? While the lyrics aren't always optimistic, Ages and Ages' rustic indie pop does deliver on their mission, if it's a bit tempered by a somber reality. The message is brighter on "So Hazy," a melodic rap and group chorale about muddled thoughts that features Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock. (The album was recorded in his studio in Portland.) If, on average, the album's enthusiasm is muted, it's still stacked with infectious melodies, warmth, and Perry's engaging songcraft. The trippier "As It Is" closes the album on a hopeful note: "You're gonna find your peace and anonymity." Though Something to Ruin may not be an escapist work, it does deliver feel-good tunes with substance, and that may prove to be even more of a comfort.
~Marcy Donelson, allmusic.com

 

 

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