Review Roundup: Quick Looks Back at More 2011 Releases


I've already gone over the best of 2011, and periodically rounded up rock and pop releases as the year went along, yet there were many more albums that came out last year that I also meant to review but didn't get around to then, for one reason or another. Here are a few of them.

Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here Experience edition (Capitol)

Last time I did a review roundup, I dissed the Dark Side of the Moon two-CD remaster's second disc. I'm happy to report that this one's a lot more interesting.

Three extended tracks from a 1974 Wembley concert open it. The concert version of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" predates the studio version and is significantly different from it in both arrangement and improvisation. It's Parts 1-6, so that's a good 20 minutes right off the bat. "Raving and Drooling" and "You've Got to Be Crazy" are very early versions of two tracks from Animals: "Sheep" and "Dogs." Then come three studio goodies. Diehard Floydnatics will already have "Wine Glasses" from the Household Objects project, but it is a historically and stylistically apt inclusion that shows how they got to "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." There are also longer alternate versions of "Have a Cigar" (a little rougher, it sounds like a demo, but basically all the elements apart from Roy Harper's cameo are in place already; the interesting aspect is the vocal harmony) and "Wish You Were Here," the latter notable for featuring the sinuous stylings of jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

It's too bad that, as usual, you can't buy just disc 2, since so many of you already have Wish You Were Here (you don't? It's one of the greatest albums of all time, a brilliant tribute to ex-bandmate Syd Barrett, and I prefer it to its more famous predecessor -- I wrote about it on its 35th anniversary), but this time I'd say it's worth rebuying just for the second disc. By the way, the remastered Animals and Meddle (equally great) have no additional material. Ditto for Ummagumma and The Wall, but they're long enough already. However, 2012 will bring yet another reissue of The Wall that will include a third CD, so if you want a remastered version, wait until February.

Big Sam's Funky Nation: King of the Party (Hypersoul)

Actually a 2010 release. Brassy raw New Orleans funk from trombonist/singer Big Sam Williams, ex-Dirty Dozen Brass Band and a co-founder of the Stooges Brass Band. This quintet (also with trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums) has the broad range of historical influences one would expect from a New Orleans artist -- old soul (including a cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle"), brass bands, D.C. go-go, hip-hop, both old-school funk and '90s metal-funk -- but with hard-edged beats and sonic aggression that are totally modern. There's an occasional change of pace, such as the mellow sections in the middle of "Work It" featuring guest saxophonist Khris Royal, but most tracks are hard-driving juggernauts aiming to pump up the party.

Desertshore: Drawing of Threes (Caldo Verde)

This group's bassist, Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon), sings on six of the ten tracks here (the rest are instrumentals). Not to dismiss the contributions of guitarist Phil Carney and keyboardist Chris Connolly, or the two drummers, but Kozelek singing makes this album, occasionally a tad more energetic than much of his work, an automatic must-have. The vocal tracks are as beautifully atmospheric as any of Kozelek's work.

Dave Keener: The Easy Way (self-released)

Half of Them Keener Boys, on his own Dave Keener writes more sincere lyrics (though his famous humor resurfaces on some tracks, such as "I Had an Emotion" and the nostalgia send-up "Looking Back") and, less eclectic than in TKB, sticks to gently jangly guitar-pop songs. This sort of low-budget-production singer-songwriter stuff stands or falls on the quality of the tunes, and this one stands tall in that regard.

People Get Ready: EP (Quite Scientific)

To be able, at this point in music history, to be able to rejigger the basic elements of rock production and pop song into something that sounds distinctive rather than something prompting a lightning round of "name that influence" is quite an achievement.

Vivian Girls: Share the Joy (Polyvinyl)

In a world with Dum Dum Girls, this is sufficiently inferior in terms of songcraft as to be utterly superfluous.

The Red Button: As Far as Yesterday Goes (Grimble)

Pleasant retro-'60s pop, but not nearly as good as this band's incredibly catchy previous album, She's About to Cross My Mind.

Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (Sub Pop)

This project by Butterfly from Digable Planets blew up this year. With its interesting dark sound, I wanted to like it, but I found it hard to be genuinely positive about a hip-hop album that I only enjoyed when the MCs were silent.

EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrian Transmissions)

Droney, just like I like it. Equally recommended to the more adventurous fans of stoner-rock and to ambient and darkwave devotees.

Will Galison: Line Open (Waking Up)

This long-time studio musician, known mostly for his harmonica playing (with Carly Simon, Dar Williams, and many more) and for a litigation-plagued collaboration with Madeleine Peyroux, is also a pretty good singer-songwriter in a soft-rock vein. Listening to this is like traveling back in time to the sensitive '70s, but -- unlike Dawes, whose album comes off as a blatant Jackson Browne imitation -- Galison is not aping anyone in particular, he has just thoroughly absorbed the style and works in it in a natural, unforced manner. - Steve Holtje

Hotel California - Eagles

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer whose song cycle setting tanka by Fumiko Nakajo is finally complete at twelve songs. It is the most depressing set of songs since Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.


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