Spoon: Transference (Merge)
Three years following the so-so Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, Spoon return triumphantly with what could very well go down as the best album of their careers. With Transference (arriving January 19), the Austin, TX-based band chose to produce themselves, resulting in a piano-driven classic that perfectly pitches frontman Britt Daniel‘s presumed desire to transplant Joe Jackson’s debonair new waver into Ray Davies’ Waterloo sunset. From the odd time signatures of opener “Is Love Forever?” to the Rundgren-esque balladry of “Goodnight Laura” to the Amy Heckerling teen dream rave-up “Got Nuffin,” this is a brilliant zigzag through one of the most genius minds in modern pop songwriting executed by some of indie rock’s most reputable elder statesmen. (Ron Hart)
Dave Rawlings Machine: A Friend of a Friend (Acony)
Gently massaged modern folk comes no better than this solo debut from longtime Gillian Welch foil. Rawlings has a pure, incisive voice similar to Johnny Irion, a lil’ on the sweet side, perfect for the material, which includes a heartrending “Cortez The Killer” melded to Conor Oberst’s “Method Acting” and a pile of rib-sticking originals. This taps into the bounce and innate gentility of folk music, pouring out music that’s cooling, refreshing, and quite satisfying, if somewhat orthodox. (Dennis Cook)
Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL)
Who would have thought that it would take the music of four well-to-do, boat-shoed preps from NYC to make the sounds of Paul Simon’s 1987 yuppie, world pop classic Graceland cool in the eyes of today’s indie rock youth brigade? For the follow-up to their heavily hyped 2007 debut, VW doesn’t stray from its successful formula so much as improve upon it. Songs like “Horchata” and “White Sky” smack of a band bristling with growth and experience without losing their distinct flavor. However, when these guys do take a few left-turns, particularly within the context of the surfed-out post punk of “Cousins” and the warm utilization of Auto-Tune on frontman Ezra Koenig‘s vocals on the dancehall-inflected “California English,” it goes to show these dudes aren’t one trick ponies, either. (RH)
Jim Campilongo: Orange (Blue Hen)
Simply stunning – an album instrumental music fans will likely quickly salute as a classic. Touching on the streams unleashed by Roy Buchanan, Les Paul, Jeff Beck, Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Bryant, Campilongo shows why he’s one of the most revered six-stringers alive here. The flexible, wholly engaging core trio of Campilongo, Stephan Crump (acoustic bass), and Tony Mason (drums) is cleanly captured by producer Anton Fier, and Leah Siegel offers fab vocal turns on inspired covers of The Stooges’ “No Fun” and the Stones’ “No Expectations.” Orange (arriving February 16) bursts with succulent playing and juicy compositions, an ear- snagging winner in every regard. (DC)
Gilded Palace of Sin: You Break Our Hearts, We’ll Tear Yours Out (Central Control)
England’s Gilded Palace of Sin might harbor a name that recalls the hazy California country rock of the classic album it was christened after, but once you dig into the gothic dustbowl dirge of this promising trio, you will hear far more Death Valley than Laurel Canyon. You Break Our Hearts, We’ll Tear Yours Out (released January 12), Gilded’s debut album on former Magazine/Bad Seeds bassist Barry Adamson’s Central Control imprint, harbors a flavor born of Nick Cave’s fixation with the American West and old Sergio Leone films, coupled with an arsenal of instruments including banjo, Theremin, glockenspiel, jaw harp, ukulele, music harp and computers underscoring a din of anthemic electric guitars. The results are akin to a UK version of Black Heart Procession, and offer promising signs of things to come from this exciting new band. (RH)
Goose Creek Symphony: Head For The Hills (Bo Records)
Long before there was slamgrass, nu-grass, etc. there was Goose Creek Symphony. Celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2010, these free spirited, under-sung folk-rock/Americana pioneers continue to introduce their sweet catalog to a new generation with this reissue of a 1975 ace. Goose Creek’s ability to weave together bardic threads with something slippery, earthy and lysergic is on full display on Hills, which offers up some of their best originals alongside clever takes on “Goin’ Down The Road” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” The word “timeless” is used too liberally but this music feels as vibrant today as when it was cut. (DC)
Kanye West: VH-1 Storytellers (GOOD-Def Jam)
If it had aired in its entirety, Kanye West’s memorable performance on VH1’s Storytellers would have clocked in at three hours, which saw the Chicago rap wunderkind ramble on like a swaggered out Lou Reed circa Take No Prisoners and riffing on everything from God to Chris Brown to Radiohead. The CD version (released January 5) of this event whittles down the already truncated 90 minute broadcast (made available on the DVD portion of this two-disc set) to a solid hour. But luckily, the final track list concentrates heavily on material from Kanye’s vastly misunderstood 2008 existential Auto-tune masterpiece 808s and Heartbreak, which was still in the process of being recorded around the time of this show’s taping. Say what you will about this guy, but few entertainers in pop music today can spin this kind of gold out of their own emotional complexities quite like Kanye. (RH)
Corey Harris: blu.black (Telarc)
It’s alright for Harris to use the phrase, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” but most of us should probably refrain. This highly Afrocentric release continues Harris’ Motherland thrust but in a less academic way than recently. These might be the most sugary tunes about slavery and social disconnection ever penned or produced. Harris has embraced his inner Soul Man (who dances with African, Jamaican and Americana partners here), and the results are surprisingly effective, though you may find yourself pulled out of the groove periodically if you’re a honky like myself. White guilt is a bitch. (DC)
Spacemen 3: The Perfect Prescription (Fire)
One of the great albums of the late 1980s gets the definitive edition it so richly deserves courtesy of UK imprint Fire Records as part of its critically acclaimed reissue series of the Spacemen 3 catalog. 1987’s The Perfect Prescription, long considered to be the influential English band’s finest hour, is presented here in a gorgeous LP-style package that tacks on a pair of instrumental b-sides to the original nine-song tracklist, along with a rich remastering job that really brings out the hallucinogenic pulchritude of the album, whose sound is said to have been constructed to parrot the cerebral highs and lows of an ecstasy trip. Any Spiritualized fans out there looking to get into Spacemen 3 for the first time, your best bet would be to start off with this marvel, which rings closest to the style Jason Pierce took with him to construct the massive beauty of his celebrated space rock outfit. (RH)
Major Stars: Return to Form (Drag City)
Boston’s premier psychedelic rockists turn a textbook music critic cliché into a monolith of electrifying riffery with their seventh album. The group’s second release (arriving January 26) since signing to Drag City and employing former LA Drugs frontwoman Sandra Barrett finds them streamlining their sound to craft their most accessible effort to date. Barrett’s blues mama howl provides the perfect foil for the group’s massive triple-guitar assault, which really comes into the fray on cuts like the near-eight-minute “Black Point” and the ferocious, UFO- esque “Run From Me Devil.” This is hard rock the way it was meant to be heard – hot, heavy and flanked by an uncompromising, foxy lady who can sing. (RH)
Oh No: Dr. No’s Ethiopium (Stones Throw)
Madlib‘s little brother might not be the hottest MC to rock the mic, but as a producer Oh No is closely gaining on the elder Jackson in his family as a talented beatsmith in his own right. As the follow-up to his 2007 instrumental effort, Dr. No’s Oxperiment, which saw the young Stones Throw lion pilfering grooves from old ’60s and ’70s psych albums from the Middle East, Dr. No’s Ethiopium finds the producer mining rare soul, jazz, funk, folk and acid rock from Ethiopia. He wound up with 36 tracks that find Oh No challenging both himself and the listener with intriguing blends and segues that blur the lines between urban and indigenous. Anyone looking for some new instrumental hip hop to bump on their desktop or in their car would be wise to invest in this eclectic mix, which puts a different spin on the indie world’s current fascination with the Dark Continent. (RH)
JamBase | U.S.A.
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