Top Five (2017 edition)

Once again, it’s time for that grand tradition begun by Daniel Couch, Lindsy Lawrence, and me back in 2002, in an Austin, TX, backyard. (See the 2014, 2015, and 2016 editions.) Share yours.

Happy New Year!

1) New York, New York. I had not been to New York City since a quick winter sojourn in February 2005. It was time to go back, and I had an excuse: five nights of America’s best band at Madison Square Garden. I won’t spend too much time on the concerts—if there’s a band for which the phrase “Mileage may vary” applies, it’s Phish—except to say that, if you love them as I do, it was a pinnacle that it’s built up to for 30 years: thirteen shows at the most iconic concert venue in America, each built around the theme of a donut (hence calling the run “The Baker’s Dozen”), in which the band did not repeat a single song, and which the improvisation and song selection were inspired, surprising, and in some cases pointing to new directions for its sound. But the larger, more personal takeaway was facing the idea that it’s OK to innovate and change direction and forge new paths even in middle age, and even to do so when everyone’s looking at you. And I needed to understand that message at that particular moment. In January, I moved to Atlanta, my first time living in a truly big city since I was 18. This has been invigorating but deeply stressful, as I’ve had to make new friends and social bonds, two things that I’m historically not great at and which get harder to do as we get older. And here I was, thrust for a week in New York, processing all that, doing a lot of firsts: AirBnB for the first time (a success—a tiny, clean apartment in Harlem a block from a subway line); checking out a plethora of museums new to me, instead of revisiting old haunts (though I did take in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is one of my Happy Places in this world); organizing raucous meetups at Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis with friends also in town for Phish; figuring out subway routes and itineraries on my own; negotiating my way through unfamiliar neighborhoods and learning to be OK with relying on my smartphone; making new friends on the fly at Madison Square Garden, as most nights I wasn’t seated with my friends. I walked or took the train everywhere. This was August, so I was constantly pouring sweat—I don’t know how many handkerchiefs I went through. The point is: I spent a vacation semi-intentionally making myself uncomfortable, keeping myself exposed and open to new experiences. So, the vacation ended up not being an escape from my regular life in Atlanta but instead an encapsulation of what I’d spent the last seven months doing. It was good, and helped immensely by being surrounded by swirling avant-pop and 20,000 people who understood it and were there for the same thing, who I didn’t have to explain it to.

2) Storm King Art Center. As much fun as New York City was, the major revelation, to me, didn’t take place in the city at all. A close friend lives in Albany, NY, and I met her halfway by taking a train from Grand Central Terminal to Beacon, NY. We traipsed through Beacon, quaint and lovely, talked about changes she was going through—new jobs, new anxieties—at a terrific Mediterranean restaurant. Then, we went to the reason I took the train up there: Storm King Art Center. I can’t believe that I’d never even heard of before she mentioned it in a phone call. Basically, it’s a park nestled in the Catskill Mountains devoted to modern and contemporary sculpture. “Park” makes it sound small, when it’s actually 500 acres, large enough that you can rent bikes to traverse and there are multiple houses on the property. But most of the art isn’t in the houses but instead outdoors, hence all the trails. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces. It’s a who’s-who of modern sculpture and site-specific art: Claes Oldenburg, Andy Goldsworthy, David Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Kenneth Snelson, Nam June Paik, Louise Nevelson, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, Maya Lin, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi. And you just stumble on to new pieces as you’re walking. It is a triumphant art space, all this modernism and experimentation totally at ease in the rolling hills, looming mountains, foliage dripping all around you. I had trouble not crying, I’ll be honest. It was wonderful, and I wish we could’ve stayed longer than a couple of hours. I would gladly go back to spend a whole day there, maybe two or three.

3) My first book reading & signing. I can’t rightly put “published my first book” as an item here because the truth is that it comes on in stages. Daniel and I were working on the book so continuously, and in different ways (writing, editing, proofreading, looking over marketing stuff, filling out forms), that it doesn’t seem like a singular event. Sure, that moment when I opened the package from Bloomsbury with my author’s copies was lovely but somehow anticlimactic. No, the fact that Bob Mould’s Workbook is actually a thing out in the real world didn’t hit home until I did a reading at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA, on September 22nd. About 30 people showed up, so it was standing-room only in that small space, a wonderful roll-out for a little book of epistolary music criticism/conceptual memoir. I read from an earlier chapter, improvised a preamble about how Dan and I wrote the book as a series of letter exchanges and interviews, and then took questions. The questions were good, which isn’t always a given at readings. People were genuinely curious about our writing process, and the younger members of the audience had smart questions about punk, post-punk, and the legacy of underground rock culture. In the spirit of punk, I made a giveaway zine for the event—really, edited versions of the two blog posts I’ve written about Bob Mould, with new drawings that I made, all printed out, folded, and stapled on Xerox copy paper. I’d forgotten how much I like making zines, how much I like creating homemade things, no matter how slight they are, and how much I liked seeing them in people’s hands. Friends took me out for a celebratory beer afterward.

4) Film Love Atlanta. This year, I’ve tapped into Film Love Atlanta. Film Love is an initiative by Andy Ditzler, a guy who loves the more experimental end of cinema—the odd shorts, the avant-garde documentaries, the crazy anti-narrative works, the stuff that hasn’t been released in the States and thus only otherwise gets seen in museum exhibits or in festivals. It’s truly a curated film program, with program notes written (wonderfully) by Andy. Sometimes, he brings in the filmmakers whose work is being screened. Because Film Love doesn’t have its own theater, Andy coordinates screenings at galleries and art spaces around town, a few times even in the back storeroom of a boutique salt supplier, so going to a Film Love screening means, by necessity, that I’ll be exploring a new part of the city. I need that. There’s always discussion afterward, led by Andy, who looks like a shy deferring guy but who also does a terrific job of moving the conversation along Socratically. There’s never much more than 25-30 people but we’re all dedicated, it’s refreshing and mind-expanding, and I look forward to these monthly events so much that I feel like an evangelist for Ditzler’s mad idea. (This interview with Andy gives a good sense of what Film Love is up to.)

5) A John Waters Christmas. I saw “A John Waters Christmas at the Variety Playhouse with my pal Nina and her pal Marie. Basically, it was 90 minutes of standup done by the legendary, infamous filmmaker and provocateur, talking hilariously and profanely about what he wanted for Christmas, about American politics and culture, about gay culture, and his hopes for the future. This was the filthiest hour and a half I had ever spent in anyone’s presence that didn’t involve sex with them, but it was also the funniest event I went to all year. The guffaws were cathartic, a tremendous and thoroughly foul release that was needed after this year of Trump farting at us constantly, in real time. Waters farted back, and he’s better at it.

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A year in reading (2017)

Happy New Year!

From September 2000 to mid-2015, I kept a reading log. I stopped it partly because it felt a little anal-retentive but mostly because it seemed dishonest. I mean, sure, I kept track of all the books I completed. But I left out books I abandoned, all the reading I do online, in magazines, or for my job as a book editor.

Turns out, though, that I missed the log. Scrolling through it, I can see patterns in my reading behavior, and can flash on memories of what I was thinking or doing or feeling at that time. So, around February 2017, I returned to the logging. So, here it is, a sort of reading diary for the year, with new notes, letter grades, and occasional links. Dates on which the books were finished are in red. Grades are in blue. You’ll figure it out.

Enjoy, and see you in 2018.

(If you’re curious, I’ve done this before.)
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Beer & Book #18

Been a while, folks. How ya makin’ it?

Last night’s beer: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale
Last night’s books: March, vols. 1-3, written by John Lewis (D-GA) and Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell
Last night’s music: Eddie Higgins Trio, Christmas Songs, vols. 1-2

Been sitting on Lewis’s March opus for a year, and I’m not sure why. Congressman Lewis is a hero of mine, one of the Big Six organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, a key architect of the modern Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968, roughly), and a man who continues to fight the good fight today. He is my congressman, serving Georgia’s fifth district (basically, Atlanta), in which I proudly live. And March is his story, in comics form—three volumes telling how he grew from a Alabama farm boy into a brilliant (and very young) activist and strategist, working with a who’s-who of the Movement, getting jailed, beaten, spat on, and yelled at in the process. Somehow, though, I guess it would be comics of the “eat your spinach” variety, despite all the praise and awards heaped on it. In fact, the accolades worked against it; I have a knee-jerk aversion to comics that everyone seems to love.

Boy, was I wrong. Powell’s jagged, high-contrast, intensely inked art—down to frayed panels and expressively loud lettering and page design—matches perfectly with the violence Lewis faced, and faced down. Lewis’s way is nonviolence, both as political statement and moral philosophy, and we see how this develops internally (for him) and externally (within the organizations in which he works) during the 1960s. Despite being a reverend of-sorts, Lewis’s narrative isn’t preachy but instead driven by persistence, fury, and an ever-tested sense of hope. It’s largely a memoir, of course, but it’s also the biography of a southern movement, and so Lewis, Aydin, and Powell are brave enough to slow things down at times to show how grassroots organizing worked on a granular level—the meetings, the indecision, the political maneuvering, the disagreements, the meetings, the actions, the revisions of the actions upon contact with racist governments and policemen, the tactics, the meetings, the disagreements.

Did I mention the meetings and disagreements? Lewis doesn’t shy away for portraying Movement activists as flawed people, and some of the actions as being misguided and/or needing correction. Though Lewis ultimately disagrees with both the tactics and vision of groups less inclined toward nonviolence than he was (and is), he lets Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X have their says without lampooning or diminishing them. Lewis was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick,” y’all), which was one of the groups that eventually fostered the phrase “black power” and which splintered into the Black Panther Party, so he’s a guy used to fierce internal conflicts. SNCC was considered the more radical wing and youth-led—Lewis was chair of it, essentially, in his early twenties—part of the Movement, the firebrands in the streets compared to the cooler (and older) heads of NAACP, and Lewis tells his story within it with verve, passion, and occasional pitch-black humor.

Throughout, Lewis, Aydin, and Powell weave Lewis’s reflections of the 1960s within a frame story of Lewis attending President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Because Lewis is insistent on giving credit and naming names, I actually learned a lot about specific organizers (Diane Nash, Ella Baker, Bob Moses, James Forman, and Bayard Rustin, in particular) and specific actions (sit-ins, Freedom Rides, Freedom Votes) that I didn’t know, which is impressive, given that I acquire books in civil rights history as part of my job. It’s a story of fury and insistence, told gracefully and with dynamic visuality. Powell shines—which shouldn’t have surprised me, as he’s drawn a comic about civil rights in Texas prior to March. It’s a portrait of political righteousness inked in blood, smelling of shoe leather, tasting of tears.

Oh, the beer: God bless the Trappists. St. Bernandus makes my favorite beers. I swear by the Abt. 12 but smile like a fool when the Christmas Ale is released in winter to this bleak land devoid of the source. Malty and semi-sweet on the tongue, with hints of cinnamon in the aroma, it’s delicious beyond compare on a cold December night.

And the tunes: I’ve written before about my antipathy toward Christmas music. There are exceptions, of course, but I stand by that post from (gulp!) 2005. But I keep trying to open my ears, damnit, which means that I turn Pandora to the “Linus and Lucy” station every December as I’m writing Christmas cards, downing too much spiked eggnog, and gorging on homemade sugar cookies. As I wrote, my eyes perked up at the piano-trio tunes that Pandora sent my way, initially confusing them for Vince Guaraldi arrangements that I had somehow missed. But no. The song, inevitably, would be by the Eddie Higgins Trio. After this happened six or seven times, I decided to dig a little into Higgins. A Chicago player, Higgins has the light touch of Guaraldi when doing snow-flurry runs of fast notes but his chords are more grounded and resonant. Jay Leonhart (bass) and Joe Ascione (drums) swing harder than Guaraldi’s boys, giving the hymns and American Songbook confections a sense of grit and swagger that’s lacking in most Christmas jazz. Beautiful stuff.

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Tunes, tunes, arrgh, more tunes

Been a while since I played the meme game, so blame Terry Teachout for hipping me to this one. Like him, I’m not doing this as a 30-day challenge, as I really just wanted an excuse to create a playlist that could serve as a memoir of sorts. Enjoy.
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Movies I’ve Seen: Kedi (2017)

Directed by Ceyda Torun. Music by Kira Fontana. Starring the streets of Istanbul, the cats that roam it, and the people who love them. In Turkish.

About five minutes into Kedi, I realized that I wanted to talk at length with its director, Ceyda Torun, over mug after mug of fragrant, honeyed tea. How did she get such roving, intimate shots of the secret lives of cats? Where did she learn the patience to simply let felines, especially stray and undomesticated felines, get comfortable enough with cameras and crews and cinematic apparatuses to simply be? More important, how did she get the people who love these cats—with equal parts adoration and exasperation—to open up so thoroughly? For it’s clear that when they talk about cats, they’re talking about the deepest parts of themselves—who they think they are, who they wish they were, what they desire most about the world. One man muses that dog lovers love dogs because dogs imagine that their humans are God. “Cats are not ungrateful,” he says, accurately, “but they know better.” Cats know that we are, if anything, God’s middlemen—and they treat us accordingly. Continue reading

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Movies I’ve Seen: Toni Erdmann (2016)


Written and directed by Maren Ade. Starring Sandra Hüller (Ines), Peter Simonischek (Winfried/Toni Erdmann), Thomas Loibl (Gerald), Ingrid Bisu (Anca), and Trystan Pütter (Tim). In German and English, with snatches of Romanian.

I don’t know what Toni Erdmann is, exactly, and that lack of knowing is liberating. I don’t think I would call it a comedy, though it has a 15-minute sequence near the end that made me laugh harder at a film than anything I’ve seen onscreen in five years. I would call it a melodrama, given how histrionic some of the action and emotions get, but it’s shot in Steadicam—the slightly jittery camera got on my nerves after a while, though maybe the persistence of anxiety is part of the point—and with a muted color scheme that practically cries out “realism.” It keeps a melancholic tone throughout its 162 minutes (a running time appropriate for a family saga, not a clash-of-cultures comedy), and the movie begins and ends with deaths, but I wouldn’t call Toni Erdmann a drama. Though it centers on a father/daughter relationship, corporate capitalism is the air in which that relationship breathes, and Toni Erdmann is as much a satire (or perhaps just reportage) of globalization’s reach into our personal lives as it is a family dramedy. Rather, it’s a movie that keeps you on the edge of laughter, taking the idea of the Comedy of Discomfort (see: The Office [British version], Curb Your Enthusiasm, or practically any HBO comedy since 1999) as far as it can go, teetering between slapstick and despair.

So, it lacks a genre or maybe has too many of them. So, let’s call it a relationship film. The core relationship, between Winfried (Peter Simonischek) and his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller, phenomenal), is that of strained family relations that grow closer—well, maybe—as a result of highwire tension. Ines is trying to close a deal as an oil consultant that will ultimately result in hundreds of people losing their jobs. She knows this. She sorta hates it. But she wants to succeed, to be good at it, to be perfect, even, though she doesn’t really know why. Her estranged dad sees her despair—though he’s projecting some of his own into the mix—and attempts to help in the only way he knows how: by being an embarrassing buffoon in Ines’s public life. He does so in the hackiest ways, with a bad wig and fake teeth and schlumpy demeanor and basic faking his way through awkward social exchanges. He effectively blows up his daughter’s life in order to save it.

Or maybe he’s not that useful at all. Parents, as their children grow older, tend to think that they have a clearer sense of their children’s needs than the children do, even though—by necessity—parents actually know less about their kids’ day-to-day lives as the kids grow into adults and thus away from their parents. Still, at Toni Erdmann‘s beginning, Ines is shot and structured as a standard Ice Queen—always on the smartphone, even at family gatherings; keeping up with things in Shanghai and Bucharest by Skype, while neglecting what’s directly in front of her; flailing at a vaguely defined (but high-paying) job that keeps her rootless, and keeps her embedded in a deeply sexist workplace; her relationship with a colleague is clinically sexual, despite a kink involving a petit four, and there’s little romantic or even passionate in her life. Ines performs her work life with a series of fixed smiles, a clipped vocal tone in a variety of languages, and with smooth facial expressions; none of it seems quite real. She needs help and, deep down in those quavering eyes of hers, she knows it. What’s interesting, though, is how our knowledge of her changes over the course of the movie. In the first third, I sympathized with Winfried’s semi-inspired clowning but grew weary of him by 45 minutes into the movie, shifting my allegiance, if you can call it that, to Ines. She’s in a tough spot, in a demanding industry that she’s not even sure she respects, much less likes. She’s in the midst of a difficult business maneuver involving multiple countries, languages, and competing professional alliances. And here comes Dad to tell her how Empty It All Is, and how keeping your humor and grace will save the day. It’s irritating, especially when it becomes clear that Dad doesn’t really know what she does for a living.

Then again, neither did I as an audience member. Maren Ade’s screenplay and direction make it clear that “consultant” is a catchall term that implies and demands of a lot of things involving PowerPoints and backroom negotiations, and that saying that one is a consultant is a way of putting on a mask, of disguising your true intentions. There’s a lot of that in Toni Erdmann, right down to the title. “Toni Erdmann” is the half-assed pseudonym that Winfried adopts while trying to improve his daughter’s life, and it’s arguable that the daughter is the film’s protagonist, anyway. Ines is the real “Toni Erdmann,” playing at roles continually throughout the movie—she makes her assistant (Ingrid Bisu) switch clothes with her before a major meeting, after a bloody mishap; she switches languages fluidly, depending on who she’s talking to; she pretends to be Toni Erdmann’s secretary, for reasons of her own. Ade makes the point perhaps too obvious by having Ines show her true self, finally, by getting literally naked—for about 15 minutes—as a corporate team-building exercise. Of course, given the genre queasiness of this movie, you can read that moment as a long-overdue mental breakdown. It’s also Ade lampooning the casual workplace sexism that Ines deals with throughout Toni Erdmann, by having Ines force anyone who wants to enter the team brunch (at her apartment) to come as naked as she is. As with so much of this movie, the scene can be read in several directions at once. And that’s before the seven-foot-tall faceless furry monster steps into the apartment.

The movie elicits nervous giggles throughout it, because the situations have the potential for high comedy, but are so often played and shot flatly. (The cast is as deadpan somber/funny as a Wes Anderson picture.) The naked team-building brunch allows for a tremendous release. The nudity isn’t played to leer at Ines (though Hüller is stunning and sexy, clothed or not) but to ramp up the laughter, with each new person entering the apartment adding to the guffaws. The audience I saw Toni Erdmann with rolled and rolled during this sequence, almost in relief. This sequence is terrific but I think a slightly earlier one gets at the heart of Ade’s movie.

During a day that starts with Winfried and Ines handcuffed to each other, and finding some Romanian toughs to unlock the cuffs1, the daughter and father end up in the Romanian countryside, at an oilfield where Ines needs to do business. It’s here that we finally get to see the people who will lose their jobs because of Ines’s corporate work, as well as the limits of Winfried’s buffoonery—he accidentally gets someone fired as a result of a bad joke; he’s disconsolate about this; Ines calmly (but not coldly) informs Winfried that her consulting firm would have fired the guy eventually, anyway. We see poverty, people in shacks with septic tanks nearby, children scheming for cash because they need it, and the general rundown nature of life that globalism tries to smooth over in think-tank conferences and trade summits.

But then, graciously, Ade shows us the flipside of this: community and familial life in action, despite the poverty. On the way back to Bucharest, Ines and Winfried stop off at a Romanian family’s house for a traditional Easter celebration. It’s a cramped house, filled with loving family members. There’s food and tchotchkes everywhere, and an egg-dyeing station in the dining room. There’s a cheap keyboard that’s perfect for drunken singalongs. Given the tonal weirdness of this movie, you just know that Winfried (in “character” as Toni Erdmann) is gonna end up playing that keyboard. Ines, who is near her emotional breaking point, will end up singing to the family. As everyone encourages Ines to sing, she resists, and I was initially annoyed by her coldness. But then, as they egged her on, I began to empathize with her—she didn’t want to come, she doesn’t really know why she’s there, she didn’t ask to participate, and now Dad’s gotten her into another fine mess. And then I realized what song Winfried was playing, and began to chuckle, and then to laugh. And then Ines finally sighs and we can see her think to herself, Jesus, fuck it all, and then she launches into…

Ines falters at first, and gradually warms to the song, and the song warms to the family around her, and this crowded scene flickers through so many emotions—hilarious embarrassment, mounting pride, a sentimental flooding of a heart, and then a kind of earned grace that fuses wistfulness and jaw-dropping, did-she-just-do-that? wonder. It’s not that Ines matches Whitney Houston’s pipes. No, her voice cracks at moments, and she gets flat once or twice. But she really, really, really feels the song. She goes all in, emotionally and performatively, in a way that she hasn’t done up to this point in the picture. (Hüller will do it again, at her birthday brunch.) That Easter moment has everything that’s in Toni Erdmann in a single scene. And then, as soon as Winfried hits the final chords, Ines bolts out of the house. She doesn’t even say goodbye. We’re not sure whether that’s out of pride or out of embarrassment, and maybe, in that instant, they’re the same thing for her.

1. Again, so many of this movie’s contrivances read like slapstick comedy on the page but visualize like kitchen-sink drama.

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50-worders: Keeping up with the fogeys

This is way late, originally intended for December 2016, but life intervened, mostly in a good way.

Considering that I recently turned 40 years old, and I’ve spent a year co-writing a book of musical criticism about a single record, I was surprised to look at my CDs & phone and learn that I actually bought more new releases in 2016 than in the previous two years combined. So, I’m keeping up! Except, you know, not so much—half of my buys have been new records by my old mainstays, and the other half are longtime jazz masters with whom I’m just now catching up. Here we go with some 50-word reviews and recommendations.

I’ll have a larger reflection on a new Sun Ra release in a week or two. It’s a three-disc affair, and the Man from Saturn deserves more than a snippy sentence or two.

(For a primer on the process and rating system, go here. I added two rows for, respectively, favorite and least favorite tracks. You’ll figure it out.)

50-word-cheetahaphex twin — cheetah [EP] — 9.5
Beats throb like a thumping heart; everything else courses like a river of blood. The synths echo and skittter nervously off the walls. The instruments feel soft, rounded, and pulsing with erotic energy. Play it loud, quietly, on your headphones, or through your speakers—no matter what, it’ll flow through you.
reminds you of: The Orb / Autechre
slay tracks:
“CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix],” “2X202-ST5”
just say no, Nancy:
n/a (and, no, that’s not a song title)

50-word-and-the-anonymous-nobodyde la soul — and the anonymous nobody — 6.0
When everyone shows up to your party, sometimes people forget who threw it. Supa Dave West’s all-star group funked around uninterrupted for hours; the gorgeous tracks were built from these sessions. David Byrne, Snoop Dogg, Estelle, Usher, 2Chainz, Jill Scott, Damon Albarn, and others add contributions. Guess who feels missing?
reminds you of: D’Angelo’s Voodoo / Jurassic 5 / Lucy Pearl
slay tracks:
“Pain,” “Memory of… (Us),” “Trainwreck, “Here In After”
just say no, Nancy: “Drawn,” “Lord Intended,” “Whoodeeni”

50-word-sunday-night-at-the-vanguardfred hersch trio — sunday night at the vanguard — 7.8
So warmly recorded that I often forget how chilly the music is, I appreciate Hersch aiming the standard piano/bass/drums format beyond tasteful ballads, even though the band ultimately clings to that mode. They mesmerize me enough that I almost never longed for feedback, bad ideas, or, like, a kazoo. Almost.
reminds you of: Bill Charlap / Martial Solal / Bud Powell (but when is that ever not true for a piano trio?)
slay tracks:
“Blackwing Palomino,” “The Optimum Thing”
just say no, Nancy:
“Serpentine,” “Calligram”

50-word-ritual-spiritmassive attack — ritual spirit [EP] — 7.5
So much remains the same—outstanding singers and MCs made usefully indecipherable by dense production; slow-building sonic layers; intricate beats—that the changes are jarring: Tempo’s generally up, beats crunch instead of thump, and it emphasizes industrial harshness instead of hiding its digital roots. It rocks but I wish it bounced more.
Reminds you of: Shabazz Palaces / Tricky / RZA
Slay tracks:
title track, “Voodoo in My Blood”
Just say no, Nancy:

50-word-perfectionmurray, allen & carrington power trio — perfection — 9.0
Like Sleater-Kinney, this trio doesn’t need bass. What David Murray’s saxophone can’t croak on the low end, Geri Allen’s left hand covers on piano; whatever she misses, Terri-Lynn Carrington catches on drums. Jaunty and roiling, this combo sasses and snaps, gets gorgeous, and then slinks away—often on the same track.
Reminds you of: Ben Webster, at his most full-throated / Martial Solal, at his most angular / Elvin Jones
Slay tracks: “Barbara Allen,” “Geri-Rigged,” “Mirror of Youth”
Just say no, Nancy:
oddly, the title track (“Perfection”)

50-word-big-boatphish — big boat — 6.0
The Vermont boys tamp down the D&D lyrics and complex changes, which surface only on “Petrichor” (gorgeous) and “Waking Up Dead” (awful). Trey loves horns (good). Page loves vocoders (*sigh*). Even the drummer wrote a song, because that’s what “Friends” are for. Everyone invests in generous emotional clarity, for once.
Reminds you of:
Sting / Styx / Motown
Slay tracks:
“More,” “Breath and Burning”
Just say no, Nancy:
“I Always Wanted It This Way,” “Waking Up Dead”

50-word-we-got-it-from-herea tribe called quest — we got it from here… thank you 4 your service — 10.0
Phife’s dead, Ali Shaheed Muhammed is mostly absent, and Tribe is technically defunct, not that you could tell. Jazzy beats and liquid flow remain but respectively harder and funnier. This time, Tribe’s politics reach beyond Afrocentrism, embracing “mothers and fathers and dead niggas,” and brothers and sistas of all colors.
Reminds you of: Blowout Comb (look it up; you need to own it) / Fear of a Black Planet (ditto)
Slay tracks: “Dis Generation,” “The Space Program,” “The Donald”
Just say no, Nancy: n/a

50-word-ring-spielmike watt — “ring spiel” tour ’954.5
A few ringers—Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Pat Smear—help Watt out in Chicago but it’s his show. The melodic bass crowds the room, inventively, sure, but mixed too muddily to tell. The music jangles and throttles in equal measures but, God bless, Watt can’t really sing. Or write a memorable chorus.
Reminds you of: fIREHOSE / Pearl Jam
Slay tracks:
“Big Train,” “Piss-bottle Man,” “Chinese Firedrill”
Just say no, Nancy:
“Powerful Hankerin’,” “Habit,” “Against the ’70s”

50-word-forever-soundswussy — forever sounds — 8.5
Lisa Walker (honeyed, confident) and Chuck Cleaver (yelping, anxious) sing so differently that it always surprises how beautifully they intertwine. Here, they bury their beautiful voices (and lyrics) in corrosion, spacy synths, and downtuned sludge. Clean songcraft suits Wussy; frayed atmospherics makes you dig for the magic—which is still there.
Reminds you of:
Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot / Lush / Sleater-Kinney’s The Hot Rock
Slay tracks:
“She’s Killed Hundreds,” “Hello, I’m A Ghost,” “Better Days,” “Majestic-12”
Just say no, Nancy:
“Hand of God”

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