Tortoise - The Catastrophist

Simply put, Tortoise has spent nearly 25 years making music that defies description. While the Chicago-based instrumental quintet has nodded to dub, rock, jazz, electronica and minimalism throughout its revered and influential six-album discography, the resulting sounds have always been distinctly, even stubbornly, their own. It’s a fact that remains true on The Catastrophist, Tortoise’s first studio album in nearly seven years. And it’s an album where moody, synth-swept jams like the opening title track cozy up next to hypnotic, bass-and-beat missives like “Shake Hands With Danger” and a downright strange cover of David Essex’s 1973 radio smash “Rock On” sung by U.S. Maple’s Todd Rittman. Also included is the bittersweet, honest-to-goodness soul ballad “Yonder Blue,” sung by Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley. “We’d finished the track and decided it would be good to have vocals on it,” recalls McEntire. “Robert Wyatt was our first choice, but he had just retired and politely said no. We were discussing asking Georgia to do something, but not that track in particular. Then we realized it would totally work.” Throughout, the songs transcend expectations as often as they delight the eardrums. Tortoise, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dan Bitney, John Herndon, Doug McCombs, John McEntire and Jeff Parker, has always thrived on sudden bursts of inspiration. And for The Catastrophist, the spark came in 2010 when the group was commissioned by the City of Chicago to compose a suite of music rooted in its ties to the area’s noted jazz and improvised music communities. Tortoise then performed those five loose themes at a handful of concerts, and “when we finally got around to talking about a new record, the obvious solution to begin with was to take those pieces and see what else we could do with them,” says McEntire, at whose Soma Studios the band recorded the new album. As ever, Tortoise has conjured sounds on The Catastrophist that aren’t being purveyed anywhere else in music today. There’s a deeply intuitive interplay between the group members that comes only from two decades of experimentation, revision and improvisation. And at a time when our brains are constantly bombarded by myriad distractions, The Catastrophist reminds us that there’s something much greater out there. All we have to do is listen.

 

Baroness -- Purple

A bus accident in 2012 permanently altered reality for Baroness. While on tour to promote the just-released Yellow & Green, they crashed through a guardrail in heavy rain and fell 30 feet. Though all the members survived, drummer Allen Blickle and bassist Matt Maggioni each suffered fractured vertebrae and ultimately left the group. Frontman/guitarist John Baizley (who spent months in recovery) and guitarist Pete Adams enlisted drummer Sebastian Thomson (Trans Am) and jazz bassist Nick Jost (who also handles keyboards) as their new rhythm section. Purple was produced by Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney) and issued on the band's Abraxan Hymns label. Baroness' penchant for using colors as album titles is apt here: Purple denotes both bruising and healing. Musically, this is an energetic (at times anthemic) hard rock album whose songs are drenched in hooks, soaring vocals, and vibrant singalong choruses; they're scored for blistering twin guitars, a forceful, inventive rhythm section, and a boatload of sonic atmospheres. Throughout, influential references seemingly emerge at once: Mastodon, Wishbone Ash, The Obsessed, early Queen, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Metallica, etc. Fridmann is an equal collaborator: His creatively textured palette is dynamic and sprawling. Baizley's lyrics continually reference the aftermath of trauma but never weigh down the songs. Though not as "experimental" as their previous couple of records, as a whole Purple is far more focused, and it's certainly more euphoric. Surviving a close brush with death resulted in a celebratory affirmation of life that equates physical bombast and rockist swagger with woozy, dreamy, rainbow-streaked beauty.~Thom Jurek, allmusic.com

Dylan LeBlanc-- Cautionary Tales

The third studio long-player from the Muscle Shoals-born crooner, the aptly named Cautionary Tale finds Dylan LeBlanc exorcizing some personal demons while injecting some much needed pomp and circumstance into his signature blend of breezy, '70s West Coast singer/songwriter pop and Bible Belt-bred gothic Americana. A conscious attempt to avoid relying on the self-described "sad bastard songs" that were so prevalent on his prior two releases, Cautionary Tale doesn't exactly shake the rafters, but the addition of a rhythm section, along with copious amounts of cello, violin, and viola, certainly helps to expand the young troubadour's sound. His high and lonesome croon, a velvety mix of After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young, James Bay, and Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold, sits much higher in the mix this time around, and imbues highlights like the lush and lovely Eagles-esque "Roll the Dice," the snappy and soulful "Easy Way Out," and the road trip-ready title cut with an air of confidence that had been missing up to now. Even the quieter moments, of which there are still quite a few, especially on the LP's more laconic back half, are bolstered by tight production and the sterling performances of both LeBlanc and his band. Lyrically LeBlanc is still mired in the faux-verisimilitude and myopic ruminating that are the bane of all twentysomethings, but with Cautionary Tale, his finest outing to date, he's stepped far enough out of his shell that the world around him is starting to come into focus.~James Christopher Monger, allmusic.com



Grimes--Art Angels


Grimes already defied easy classification on Visions, a collection of dreamy electronic collages that resembled pop just enough to make it one of 2012's most acclaimed albums. When she returned three years later with Art Angels, her music was even more paradoxical; Claire Boucher's fourth album is wilder, more ambitious, and -- at least on the surface -- more accessible than her breakthrough. This time, Boucher's production draws attention to all the sounds and styles she's juggling: "laughing and not being normal" begins things with symphonic pomp, its trilling vocals, piano filigrees, and pizzicato strings signaling that this album is an event. "SCREAM," a fiery duet with Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, incorporates drumline-tinged beats -- as well as Boucher's spine-tingling howls -- into its iconoclastic feminine power, while "Easily" and "Artangels" touch on different but equally shiny flavors of late-'90s pop without a trace of irony. On "Kill V. Maim," she combines her perkiest vocals and angriest lyrics, topping beats that land like bombs with cheerleader-like chanting. Similarly, Boucher explores how destruction and creation are joined at the hip in vivid, hooky songs like "Flesh Without Blood," where ending a relationship means self-preservation, and the standout "California," where bliss and disaster meet ("When the ocean rises above the ground/Maybe I'll drown") with an unexpected but very welcome twang. "I'll never be your dream girl," Boucher sings on "Butterfly," but she adds "you could be anything," making the connection between honoring yourself and ignoring others' expectations clear. She does both consistently -- and consistently well -- with Art Angels' truly independent pop.~Heather Phares, allmusic.com

 

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon--Jesu/Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek and Justin Broadrick (Godflesh) released their debut collaboration Jesu/Sun Kil Moon on January 22 through Caldo Verde Records. The album also features guests Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy, members of Low, Rachel Goswell of Slowdive and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.

Janine Schaults reports on Stereogum: “Kozelek sounds like a man making great strides in self-acceptance. This rosier outlook, coupled with Jesu’s fuzzy, grunge-era melodies, lightens (thankfully) the demands put on the listener. An annotated glossary outlining locations, people, and callbacks would still be helpful, though not necessarily essential.  He doesn’t just deliver the good, the bad, and the ugly. He throws in the mundane, the uncomfortable, the tedious, and the miniscule. And he’s only getting more adept at it. He excels in TMI — not the kind we normally endure, like someone who wants to expel all the mystery behind a recent bout of food poisoning. Kozelek actually gives us too much information. No one walks away from one of his post-2011 records feeling refreshed. They’re exhausting. But so is life.”

Jesu and Sun Kil Moon including drummer Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth will play five shows in February and March 2016 to support the album.



Baaba Maal -- Traveller

2016 release from the Senegalese singer and guitarist. The album is a blend of African roots and more contemporary electronic influences all beautifully woven together at varying tempos, and carrying different messages for the listener. The Traveller opens with the raucous ‘Fulani Rock’, underpinned by dark throbbing drums, intricate guitars and Baaba Maal's distinctive vocal soaring overhead, carrying messages for his people. Other standout tracks are the beautiful 'One Day' and 'Gilli Men', both resplendent with glistening guitars, velvet-sounding tom-toms, soft strings and Baaba Maal's voice gently echoing against a backdrop of rapturous, layered backing vocals, which tell us to both 'Pursue your own excellence,' and 'Feed your soul'. Unsurprisingly, for an artist who uses music as a medium to spread important messages to his people and beyond, the album closes with two songs 'War' and 'Peace.' Both feature powerful spoken word poetry by Lemn Sissay, official poet of the 2012 Olympics and recently appointed Chancellor of The University of Manchester. The Traveller was recorded in both London and Senegal and was produced by Johan Hugo from The Very Best. The record includes Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons, who met Baaba Maal at his annual music festival Blues Du Fleuve in Fouta, Northern Senegal.

 

 

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