The Jayhawks--Paging Mr Proust

When Mark Olson parted ways with the Jayhawks in 1996, the band responded with 1997's Sound of Lies, one of their scrappiest and most eclectic albums. It was as if the Jayhawks (in particular Gary Louris) wanted to show the world they were still strong and lively despite the departure of one of their co-founders. Olson returned to the Jayhawks for the 2011 reunion album Mockingbird Time, only to leave the band again on less than cordial terms. Released in 2016, Paging Mr. Proust is the first Jayhawks studio project since, and once again it finds Louris and his bandmates mixing up their formula, introducing new edges and angles to the group's evocative, lonesome Midwestern sound. Louris adds lots of jagged guitar to the loop-based construction of "Ace," while "Lost the Summer" is a lean, ominous rocker with a noisy attack. ("Pretty Roses in Your Hair" is another, more subtle tune built around a ghostly drum loop.) Much of the time, Louris' vocals and melodies follow the template he's established in the past, but there's a fresh degree of energy in these performances. Peter Buck and Tucker Martine (who co-produced the album with Louris) have given the guitars an edgier and less pastoral sound than one might expect from the Jayhawks. Neil Young is still the clear inspiration behind Louris' soloing, but here the tone is sharper and the crunch has more impact, even when the songs are gentle at heart. All in all, Paging Mr. Proust is an album that honors the traditions of the Jayhawks but isn't afraid to play with convention. ~Mark Deming, allmusic.com

 

DJ Shadow-- The Mountain Will Fall

In the booklet for The Mountain Will Fall – DJ Shadow’s fifth proper album -- only a handful of interpolations and samples are credited. After the detailed track list, a series of images pointedly depict a wall of analog electronic gear. While this album is much less reliant upon repurposed recordings than what preceded it – Josh Davis voiced the intent to put his touch on what contemporary music moves him -- there are many shared qualities. The sounds of the components have varied from release to release, but The Mountain Will Fall, as much as anything else, can be classified as a sprawling, largely instrumental suite rooted in hip-hop. There are subtle and abrupt changes in mood, dashes of off-center humor, and moments of bass-drum bombardment following extended stretches of austere atmospheres. Likewise, there are tracks within tracks that slip and tumble down unexpected paths. There's even a modern-day equivalent to "The Number Song," the almost-as-cut-up and equally rambunctious "The Sideshow." The few guest appearances have true purpose, not merely the fulfillment of half-hearted offers to "work together sometime." In typically hostile and humorous form, Killer Mike and El-P mix it up with live brass and horns on the gunslinging "Nobody Speak." "Bergschrund" ("mountain crevasse"), made with Nils Frahm, is a bracing hybrid of stutter-stop beats, blips, and thrumming effects that evoke perilous suspense. ~Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

Death Grips--Bottomless Pit

California-based avant-garde hip-hop group Death Grips were last on the radar in 2015 when they released Jenny Death, the anticipated second part of their fourth full-length effort, The Powers That B. Now the widely revered powerhouse of industrial hip-hop returns with its fifth LP, Bottomless Pit. The album is standard nihilistic Death Grips, with some extra clarity thrown in with the vitriol, courtesy of producers Zach Hill and Andy Morin. It's another full-on audio onslaught, abrasive and rancorous, comprising 13 tracks of electronic fury, all brought together with the most crystalline production in their catalog so far. Opener "Giving Bad People Good Ideas" consists of some of the most frantic, unwavering drum work heard on anything considered "heavy" for a while. Led by an irresistibly catchy vocal hook from Clementine Creevy, the track both intimidates and sets the table for the subsequent noise, leading listeners into the jagged and claustrophobic number "Hot Head," which takes "grotesque" to new heights. MC Ride spits caustic lyrics over incoherent drum patterns and stringent digital synths before the mix segues into a more coherent structure, his vocals becoming more melodic yet still anchored with the same ferocity exerted in the song's earlier half. Ride's lyrics are littered with surreal and threatening imagery throughout, occasionally more self-referential than others.. Before this release, much of their following consistently seemed to agree that their best to date was their debut LP, The Money Store. This is almost a return to that point in their career, taking that formula and turning it up to beyond 11. Everything sounds so precise, crisp, hard-hitting, and indomitable. For that exact reason, Bottomless Pit is an ideal effort for longtime fans and newcomers alike. Needless to say, whatever the type of listener, it won't be forgotten. ~Rob Wacey, allmusic.com


Neko Case/kd lang/Laura Veirs--case/lang/veirs


When artists of note collaborate on a project, the greatest obstacle is usually balance. The participants may truly respect one another, but as talent, ego, and personality enter the picture, someone is inevitably going to dominate the proceedings, and someone else will end up in the shadows. Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs seem keenly aware of this on the album case/lang/veirs, an album of songs the three singers and songwriters wrote and recorded between 2013 and 2015. And these songs often suggest a conscious effort to  make sure everyone gets her share of the spotlight and that everyone's strengths are put to good use. Oddly enough, one of the consequences of this is that k.d. lang, the strongest vocalist here, doesn't get as much time at center stage as one might expect, and ultimately she makes less of an impression than her partners. One could argue that lang potentially has the most to lose in this project; while Case and Veirs have healthy followings, lang is the genuine star here, but she hasn't made an album that's been as celebrated as her reputation in some time. While this project could have given lang a chance to step out of her comfort zone and try something new, here she's content to stick to atmospheric midtempo numbers that fit her skill set beautifully, but offer little in the way of surprises (beyond the irritating fake woodwinds on "1000 Miles Away"). However, Case and Veirs give her a chance to sing harmonies with vocalists who approach her own level of skill for a change, an opportunity she seems to relish, and here Case sounds most like the album's MVP. Case's cool, introspective indie rock approach dominates the album's melodies and production, her lead vocals are both naturalistic and dramatically effective, and she harmonizes beautifully with lang and Veirs. And Veirs ends up shining unexpectedly bright on case/lang/veirs; the sweet, homey modesty of her vocal approach is a pleasing complement to the more dramatic stylings of Case and lang, and she contributes a gorgeous uptempo pop tune to the set, "Best Kept Secret," as well as an affecting homage to Judee Sill. ~Mark Deming, 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


James Blake -- The Colour In Anything

Little was heard from James Blake throughout an almost three-year period that followed Overgrown, his second straight Top Ten U.K. album. Drawn like a scene from a dissolving relationship that immediately precedes release and relief, the track "Modern Soul" hinted that the album could be a bit brighter with less of the anguish that permeated the singer/producer's first two albums. Another song, a vaguely aching minimal dub ballad, was aired two months later, possibly chosen because it too had a title, "Timeless," that could potentially wind up detractors. The Colour in Anything materialized at a length nearly that of his first two albums put together. Recording began in London. Once stalled by creative fatigue, Blake decamped to Rick Rubin's Malibu studio. The sunnier environment had no evident effect on the album's outlook. Regardless of location, Blake continues to deal in fraught romantic trauma, setting the album's tone immediately with "Radio Silence," a mix of mournful gospel and surging synthesizers in which "I can't believe this, you don't wanna see me" is stated something like ten times. As he sifts through the wreckage in puzzled and lucid states, he still stretches and distorts his frail but transfixing choir boy voice. A few lines are expressed with Auto-Tune fillips, some are enhanced through fine layering, and others are left unembellished, sometimes sunk into the mix of basslines that tap and thrum, percussion that gently skitters and scrapes, and synthesizers, applied like coating, that swell and swarm. Most disorienting is "Put That Away and Talk to Me," akin to a malfunctioning lullaby mobile playing a late-'90s Timbaland knockoff. Blake sought some help, not only from Rubin, who co-produced the Malibu sessions, but from Justin Vernon, who assisted with two songs and is heard on "I Need a Forest Fire," while Frank Ocean co-wrote another pair, including the all-voice closer, where Blake solemnly resolves -- ta-da -- that contentment is up to him. Compared to the self-titled debut and Overgrown, this a more graceful and denser purging, one that can soundtrack some intense wallowing or, at a low volume, throb and murmur unobtrusively in the background.~ Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

 

 

 

 

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