The Frightnrs--Nothing More To Say

The Frightnrs have made a splendid debut album, but it's an open question if listeners will be able to listen past the story behind it and hear it for what it really is. The story is a biggie: hailing from Queens, New York, the Frightnrs were a band that re-created the sound of vintage rocksteady and early reggae with striking accuracy and genuine sincerity. After the Frightnrs made a name for themselves on the New York club circuit, they were tapped to cut an album for Daptone Records, the celebrated retro-soul label. During the sessions for the album, lead singer Dan Klein began experiencing serious health problems, and he received a shattering diagnosis: Klein had contracted ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the neurodegenerative condition sometimes known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." While Klein rallied his strength to complete the album, ALS claimed him three months before Nothing More to Say was released, and in the eyes of many it will be seen as an obituary rather than the work of a tough, very talented band. Good reggae and rocksteady is all about nuance, and the Frightnrs have nuance in abundance. The rhythm section (Preet Patel on bass and Rich Terrana on drums) is outstanding, capturing the deep space of authentic Jamaican grooves with authority and a brilliant intuitive feel, and Chuck Patel's keyboards show he's listened to more than his share of vintage rocksteady and reggae and absorbed the influences into a style of his own. And Klein's vocals are outstanding, fitting the mood and the feel of this music without affectation or clichés, and that these performances were the work of a man who was literally fighting for his life is truly amazing. Dan Klein's passing means we may never get another Frightnrs album, and certainly not one with this lineup. But this is music about life, and the passion and gritty joy of Nothing More to Say are what make it essential listening, regardless of the fate of the lead vocalist.

~Mark Deming, AllMusic.com

 

Nels Cline-- Lovers

Whether playing with his own avant-jazz bands or Wilco, strangeness and invention are two of guitarist Nels Cline's defining characteristics. Since the 1980s, he's longed to cut a large-scale album of "mood music" revolving around the concept of love and romance. He made ever changing lists of tunes from the Great American Songbook, cinema, jazz, pop, and exotica, but thought the project beyond his capability. Poet and producer David Breskin convinced him to pursue it. Cline enlisted award-winning arranger/conductor Michael Leonhart and a chamber orchestra of 22 players -- trumpeter Steven Bernstein, guitarist Julian Lage, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, harpist Zeena Parkins, and vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen among them. Blue Note made Lovers a physical reality.

This 18-track, 80-plus-minute set pays homage to iconic muses: Henry Mancini, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Gary McFarland, Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall, and more. Uncharacteristically, over 13 covers and five originals, there is little anarchy and no guitar freakouts. Tunes fold into and rise out of one another, emerging with lush romanticism and erotic tension. Due to its extensive length and low-key demeanor, Lovers is demanding. That said, Cline's harmonic, textural, and timbral palettes deliver it as a compellingly engaging and original take on orchestral -- and by intent, conceptual -- jazz. He hears possibilities in the historical past and articulates them with timeless ardor. This may be Cline's quietest recording, but it is one of his finest. ~Thom Jurek, 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


Y La Bamba--Ojos Del Sol


For the Portland band Y La Bamba, creativity and talent have combined and crystalized to form a unique sound. That sound is the sum of many individual musical experiences and influences, but it also reflects a shared vision. Most importantly, on the new Ojos Del Sol, it sounds as if the group is having a blast playing music.  The biggest step forward on the new record lies in how Y La Bamba uses Luz Elena Mendoza's voice: It's employed like a musical instrument, as part of an ensemble sound. That may sound easy, but it's difficult to pull off. Singing delicately in her upper register, she seems enmeshed in the instrumental arrangements, which gives her bicultural storytelling an almost otherworldly feel.  Ojos Del Sol represents a major step forward for Y La Bamba, not least because it fully establishes Mendoza as one of the most innovative and exciting young vocalists around.~Felix Contreras, NPR

 

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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