Music Review

Canadian Quintet Rebounds by Stripping Down

stars_five_ghostsStars: The Five Ghosts (Soft Revolution/Vagrant)

After 2004's magnificent Set Yourself on Fire, it seemed that Stars were ready for (no pun intended) stardom. They followed it with two missteps: an awful remix of that album, and In Our Bedroom After the War with its weaker songs and overblown production. It seems that those disappointments and the passage of six years largely removed such expectations from the Canadian quintet.

First-Class Prog/Fusion from Vets Holdsworth & Pasqua

Holdsworth_Blues_for_TonyHoldsworth/Pasqua/Haslip/Wackerman: Blues for Tony (Moonjune) Guitar aficionados with prog-rock and/or jazz fusion proclivities certainly know and appreciate Allan Holdsworth's four-decades-long body of work: stints in Soft Machine, Tony Williams' Lifetime, supergroup U.K. (whose eponymous debut, the only U.K. album Holdsworth played on, was one of the last great classics of prog's '70s heyday), Gong, and Jean-Luc Ponty, plus fine work as a leader (I.O.U. and The Sixteen Men of Tain are favorites). Nonetheless, it's fair to say that many lesser talents have achieved far greater fame.

Three Greats of Music Depart

Bill DixonBill Dixon October 5, 1925 - June 16, 2010 Maureen Forrester July 25, 1930 - June 16, 2010 Garry Shider July 24, 1953 - June 16, 2010 The pop myth is that celebrity deaths come in threes. That's silly, of course; there are enough celebrity deaths that, with no time limit, a grouping of three will inevitably occur. But in the space of one day yesterday, the world of music suffered three grievous losses, one each from the pop, jazz, and classical genres. By the standards of People magazine, they might not be celebrities, but they were all revered icons in their separate fields.

We All Fall in Love Sometimes

elton-john-rush-limbaughVATICAN CITY. Political commentator Rush Limbaugh resurfaced in the holy city yesterday, having cut short his honeymoon with his latest wife, Kathryn Rogers. An anonymous Vatican source stated that the radio personality was granted an annulment by the Pope himself due to undisclosed “irreconcilable differences” with the 33-year-old Florida party planner and direct descendant of John Adams.

After the annulment, his holiness, Benedict XVI -- seeking, say critics, to distract attention from further international molestation charges -- married the conservative commentator and his piano player, Sir Elton John.

Deutsche Elektronische Musik: Experimental German Rock and Electronic Musik 1972-83

Deutsche_Elektronische_MusikVarious Artists Deutsche Elektronische Musik: Experimental German Rock and Electronic Musik 1972-83 (Soul Jazz) If you're looking for a history of Krautrock, look elsewhere. This two-CD compilation, by being largely true to its title across its 24 tracks, picks up four years after the birth of Krautrock, and the "rock" thrown into this set's subtitle seems designed to excuse a few crucial context-providers (notably Neu!'s "Hallo Gall"). But the concentration on electronic music is hardly regrettable; on the contrary, it provides crucial focus and coherence.

Relax, It's Only Frankie Goes To Hollywood!

frankie-relaxFrankie Goes To Hollywood: Welcome to the Pleasuredome (ZTT Import) In order to remember, it is sometimes necessary to revisit the scene of former crimes, old happiness, and expended excess. Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, pop music was an instrument of dissidence, rebellion, and social change. In the case of the wonderfully brief, outrageously successful and contentious Frankie Goes to Hollywood, a quarter of a century has passed since they rattled the cages, frightened the horses, and ran amok in the minds of their generation, and those older who looked on in profound but bewildered disapproval.

ANNIVERSARIES: Isaac Albéniz Born 150 Years Ago

Isaac_AlbenizAlicia de Larrocha Isaac Albéniz: Iberia; Navarra; Suite Española; etc. (EMI Classics) Isaac Albéniz led one of the most exciting and unusual lives of any composer. Born May 29, 1860 in Camprodón, Spain, he was precocious in the extreme, making his public debut as a pianist when just four years old. (His sister Clementine was also a piano prodigy.) Already composing by age seven, when he became a pupil of Antoine-Francois Marmontel (who also taught Bizet, Debussy, and d'Indy) in Paris, the handsome and virtuosic Albéniz was a popular attraction even at that age and was booked for concert tours by his parents, for which he was dressed in a French musketeer's uniform complete with sword.

Soul Vet Betty LaVette Conquers Foreign Territory

Betty_LaVette_InterpretationsBetty LaVette: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti) Uh-oh: concept album. Could the wonderful Indian Summer of Ms. LaVette finally be winding down? Before even listening, two obvious, opposed answers suggest themselves. On the one hand, how could she sound bad singing anything with that voice? She's got a jagged but full-bodied rasp that makes Marianne Faithfull sound mellifluous in comparison, and she wields it with all the hard-won experience of the five-decade soul veteran that she is.

Steve's Spring Rock and Soul Review Roundup


Goldfrapp: Head First (Mute)

I just learned recently that I've been listening to Allison Goldfrapp for longer than I realized: She's on Tricky's 1995 classic Maxinquaye, five years before the debut of her duo with Will Gregory. For a long time they were a reliable source of dancefloor anthems, but last time out found them taking a folkier, less beat-driven tack. Head First finds them back doing what they do best, dance music, but with their most poppy, tuneful batch of songs yet. My friend Mitch Friedland (Springhouse) came in one day when I was listening to this and joked "What is this, the new Olivia Newton John?" It's funny because it's true, but it's also true that this is a better album than ONJ ever made, the strong Italo-disco influence and high-gloss production pleasing the club crowd while the solid songwriting makes it fine home listening as well.

Flying Lotus Reaches New Heights on Cosmogramma

CosmogrammaFlying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp) Steven Ellison, the artist known as Flying Lotus, was already widely praised for his 2008 album Los Angeles, but Cosmogramma is a jaw-droppingly awesome leap forward in imagination and creativity. In a year that's already gifted us with many fine and surprising electronica albums, in my non-specialist opinion this is the main contender for best of 2010.