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Heavy Hands – “Smoke Signals” – [Language of Stone]

humana   3/6/2009   12-inch, A Library

This is rocking psyche as opposed to the shoegaze psyche of Citay. This New York City trio of Ambassador Hazy on gutiar and vocals, Mystical Revelation on bass, and Cristal Voyager on drums are heavy-handed on the psyche aspect of things, but it works for them. The B side is stronger than the A, featuring unique openings. A3 and B5 start out slow but have cool change-ups in tempo that bump the songs up a notch. Every song has lyrics that are hard to make out but often sound like Jim Morrison. Picks: B8, B6, A5.

Marissa Nadler – “Little Hells” – [Kemado Records]

humana   3/1/2009   A Library, CD

Dream folk: Marissa Nadler???s unmistakable soprano vocals come lilting on a wind of surreal, haunting bliss on her fourth full-length release. It flows along on the river of notes from her acoustic guitar, telling beautiful, sad tales. Most of the songs are very simply set to piano, guitar, or organ, but drums and lap steel, synth, theremin, and other guitars join in quite nicely at times, especially on 3, where the drum adds a heartbeat to make ???Mary Come Alive???. As Nadler sings in 7, ???I???m more than blue, I???m violet.??? Gorgeous lyrics, melancholy vocals, heartwrenching melodies–truly Nadler at her best.
PGM: 1 and 9 end at :03; 2 and 5 at :09; 6 and 10 at :06.
Picks: 3, 4, 7, 8, 10.

Bitter Tears, The – “”Jam Tarts In The Jakehouse”” – [Carrot Top Records]

humana   2/28/2009   A Library, CD

Their myspace page says the Bitter Tears sound like ???Sour Vaudevillians on a joy ride with Webb Pierce and the Vienna Boys Choir.??? I say these 10 songs are jaunty, quirky, and fun, and I???d love to see the band live, which I hear is essential (the front man has been known to wear a wedding gown). Playing ???dead genres??? of western swing, showtunes, and polka, these guys deliver a nice selection highlighted by off-beat lyrics, accordion, horns, strings, guitars, and vocals. I???ve rated them on the back.
3WR: Fun Folky Humor
PGM: Look for songs to end as early as :07.

Plumerai – “Untitled” – [Bmi]

humana   2/27/2009   A Library, CD

Post-punk gypsy: Boston band Plumerai put out these two songs at the end of 2008 to whet our appetites for more in 2009. As always, Elizabeth Ezell???s sultry vocals offer their signature charm and are complemented by Martin Newman on guitar, James Newman on bass, and Todd Richards on drums. Clara Kebabian joins Plumerai on this outing with her outstanding violins that add a folk flare to the edgy, upbeat first track. Track 2 is indeed ???A Slow One??? with its calm guitars and violin, although the drums pick up the pace at the climax.
PGM: 1 ends at :12, 2 at :03.

Emeralds – “What Happened” – [No Fun Productions]

humana   2/27/2009   A Library, CD

Ambient drone: John Elliott (synth), Steve Hauschildt (synth), and Mark McGuire (guitar) form Emeralds, a Cleveland-based improv group who have been compared to Tangerine Dream. Shimmering synths leave you awash and ???Alive in the Sea of Information??? (1); 2 starts and ends damaged sounding but there???s an oasis of guitar pulsing in the midst of sounds like bird chirps and helicopter whirs; 3 is a dreamy interlude that makes you wish being ???Up in the Air??? felt this trancey and good; 4 and 5 are more somber and contain sounds like buzz saws and locusts fading in and out, but 4 features a gentle guitar as well. Layers of ambience fit for a drone-starved palate.
PGM: All songs end at :04.

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – “Mama’s House Live 35th Anniversary Project” – [Katalyst Entertainment]

humana   2/21/2009   CD, Jazz

Jazz: This is a recording of a live February 2006 performance by the Chicago-based Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (EHE). To say that this band, who through 35 years has had many incarnations, is tied to anything earthly is a misstatement, however. Ever since Kahil El???Zabar returned to Chicago from Ghana and formed the band whose intention was to combine African American music with traditional African music, the EHE has sought to transcend walls that would box music in. Joining the multi-percussionist, vocalist, and composer El???Zabar here are young and talented Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Chicago sax legend Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. Picks: 3, 5, 4.
PGM: All songs end as early as :18 with clapping; 6 includes a retired history professor???s spoken description of griot starting at 1:29.

Odd Nosdam – “T.I.M.E. Soundtrack” – [Anticon.]

humana   2/20/2009   A Library, CD

David P. Madson of Berkeley (by way of Ohio) wrote and produced these tunes for the soundtrack of the 2007 Element Skateboards film This Is My Element. Although the first half of this instrumental CD seems mainly geared to warm you up for the better second half, all of it has the trademark beats and ambience we???ve come to expect of Odd Nosdam, the ???maestro of beat-driven collage??? who once again shows he???s in his own element. Jel appears on 1, 7, and 9.
PGM: 2 tracks into 3, and 3 into 4. 10 ends at :07, and 12 ends suddenly at :06. 13 ends at :05.
Picks: 8, 6, 9, 4, 10.

Scratch and Company – Chapter 1, The Upsetters [coll] – [Clocktower Records]

humana   2/13/2009   12-inch, Reggae

Lee Scratch Perry teams up with Brad Osborne to produce a fine offering of upbeat dub and reggae. Read the album cover for Brad Osborne???s glowing praise of Lee Perry. My favorite offerings are circled, and they include vocals. Osborne himself plays flute on A5, and B3 features Scratch???s distinctive voice. The Barrett family and Reggie Earl ???Chinna??? Smith are on this album as well. Enjoy!

Gamelon Son of Lion – “Sonogram” – [Innova/American Composers]

humana   2/7/2009   A Library, CD

As the name suggests, herein lie 2 CDs containing nearly 2 hours of gamelan music–not one minute of which is boring! How a collective of composers (including Denman Maroney, Barbara Benary, Laura Liben, and Daniel Goode, among many others) based in New York City manage to create innovative, fresh sounds for the traditional Indonesian gamelan percussion instruments is nothing less than miraculous and beautiful. The liner notes are fascinating and crucial to a full appreciation of each song. Disc I, Track 2 has a musicbox version of the Beatles??? ???Yesterday.??? Disc I, Track 5 features tin cans, while Disc I, Track 7 uses glass. Disc II, Tracks 1-7 contain a tribute to 9-11, and the last track gives you a happy klezmer ending with clarinet and gamelan. You have to sample it for yourself to believe it. I???ve circled my favorites on the back.
PGM: Early endings marked on CD back.

Mr. Scruff – “Ninja Tuna” – [Ninja Tune]

humana   2/6/2009   A Library, CD

Electronica/Dance: I wish I could apprentice with Mr. Scruff. He knows how to DJ. Alice Russell (2) and Andreya Triana (9) bring their sultry voices to this effort. Quantic (3), Roots Manuva (6), and Pete Simpson (stellar on 12) lend their hip vocals as well. Danny Breaks helps out on 7, and Andrew Kingslow is ever-present, most notably on keys. Mr. Scruff demonstrates his outstanding programming skills on each and every track. It is clear how he can hold a club mesmerized for an entire night as he is at the controls, choosing the rotation of funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, and rhythms with care and absolute mastery.
Picks: 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

Palais Schaumburg – “S/T” – [Phonogram]

humana   2/6/2009   12-inch, A Library

A band that existed in Germany for a few short years in the early 1980s, Palais Schaumburg is characterized by a frenetic, bass-driven weirdness that you could dance to if you had enough energy. The lyrics, translated on the inside sleeve, lead to headaches if you try to analyze them, so just let the percussion peppered with piano, guitar, synth and horns by Thomas Fehlmann, and treated voices that often sound like they???re switching between 45 and 33 rpm wash over you as you indulge in this avant-garde effort.
Try: B5, A3, A4, B1, B3.

Yellowman Feat. Fathead – “Just Cool” – [Vp Records]

humana   1/31/2009   CD, Reggae

Jamaican Yellowman (so-called because of his albinism) exhibits his signature rude reggae and dancehall DJ skills here on these tracks from 1982 that have been remastered. Fathead joins him with his ???oinks??? and ???ribbits,??? among other vocalizations. Every tune is upbeat, if not clean. The last two are bonus, longer tracks.
FCC: 1, 3, 10, 12

Baker, Steven – “Lunar Etudes – Time Differentials” – [Edgetone Records]

humana   1/31/2009   A Library, CD

Line this one up for the Day of Drone! Five tracks that represent a sonic exploration of the moon???s orbit of the earth. Baker builds instruments such as the Chalice, Microtonal Drone, and Leaf Springs on Daf–all out of metal and woodwork–to convey harmonics that inspire meditation. Thollem McDonas appears on 2 with a 117-year-old Cornish pump organ. Track 4 is appealing with its sound resembling gamelan bells, very intense and trance-inducing.

Br??ckner, Michael – “Days In The Sun” – [Self -released]

humana   1/30/2009   A Library, CD

Electronic/ambient: Germany is a hotbed of electronics, and Br??ckner does the genre proud with this release. It???s a luxury to let one song track through to the next, as they are all of a piece, with 9 (???The Siren???) seeming the most distinct because of its jarring siren start. The long tracks (1 and 8) are never boring because of their ambience. Br??ckner???s wife adds her rich voice to 1 and 3 (which she sings in English and is very melodic), and his daughter adds her pretty voice to 7 (although she sings in a different language). Field recordings of crowd sounds are heard throughout, and book???s pages turning open 4, which is a cool journey (???In a Book???). Beats heard on 6, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, and there???s an oasis in 11 followed by a male-spoken, computer-manipulated poem. Fascinating. 9 is the most versatile track.
PGM: Everything tracks through.

Ellis, Alton – “Mr. Soul of Jamaica” – [Treasure Isle Records]

humana   1/30/2009   12-inch, Reggae

This is an uptempo album that is viewed as being definitive of rocksteady, a dance style that preceded reggae. Tommy McCook and the Supersonics back the pleasing voice of Ellis on these songs, whose tempos are slower and more relaxed than ska. Check out the cover of ???You Make Me Happy???. ???Willow Tree??? is sweetly melancholy, although the riddim can???t help but make you smile anyway. All tracks are enjoyable, but I???ve starred my favorites. Ellis??? influence on the trajectory of dancehall, reggae, and hip hop is significant, albeit little-known.

Cosi, Valerio/Franchini, Enzo – “Conference of The Aquarians” – [Last Visible Dog Records]

humana   1/25/2009   A Library, CD

Electronic/jazz/rock: Valerio Cosi and Enzo Franchini got together in Italy to do some free jazz improvs, and later Cosi added overdubs and radio manipulations (especially on 8). Cosi???s alto sax screams and squawks on 1, yet sounds smoky on 2. Franchini???s cymbals and drums are the highlight of 4, and his vibes close out 7 quite nicely. Cosi adds sitar, double bass, electric guitar, piano, synth, and electronics (see scraping on 2, glass-breaking sounds on 6, and radio voices on 8). Snake-charmer vibe to 3. These pieces move in various ways, but mostly they are fast and weirdly accessible.
Picks: 7, 6, 3.

French Quarter – “Self-Titled” – [Gilgongo Records]

humana   1/25/2009   A Library, CD

Minimalist pop: Almost 21-year-old Stephen Steinbrink from Arizona offers us fresh sounds featuring his rather sweet voice backed by gentle guitar, percussion, toy piano (?), and other keys. His songs are simple and inviting, with lyrics marked by a refreshing innocence. There???s a more psychedelic sound to 4.
PGM: 5 and 6 end around :10, and most others around :05.
Picks: 8, 1, 4, 10, 5.

Monkey Power Trio – “Lest We Be Misunderstook” – [Pochontas Swamp Machine]

humana   1/24/2009   7-inch, A Library

This is a fine product of the 13th reunion of five friends who one day out of the year become the Monkey Power Trio. Highly amusing are each of these songs, from the mellow ???Hit it With a Bible??? to the Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired, more rocking ???Kraken.??? Recorder, guitars, and bass back up humorous vocals. There???s a soul vibe to ???Juicy Peaches,??? which mentions Captain James T. Kirk. ???Buddha Sings??? is like a Sunday school song. One guy sings the lyrics while the others chime in commentary as chorus–it???s humorous and fun. Not bad for a once-a-year gig.

Tower/Wind Chant, The [coll] – [Anticlock.Net]

humana   1/24/2009   7-inch, A Library

Slap this one on your turntable for a nice morning repast of sinister folk loveliness from Language of Light, then chase it with a dose of tribal percussion and banjo from Crow Tongue. Each song has fascinating lyrics, which are included in the covers. Out of Stillwater, Oklahoma, Language of Light (Frank Suchomel and R. Loftiss) deliver ???The Tower,??? which begins with a girl child???s voice telling a story as though through a tube, accompanied by guitar. Then the ???parents??? warn her never to go back to her ???cold and lonely path of dreams???. The sinister lyrics belie the pretty, calming nature of the music that includes violin by Justin Jones and vocals by Sarah Hughes. On the flip side, Crow Tongue (of Beating Heart, Pennsylvania) bring us ???Wind Chant,??? a very simple, appealing tune that ends with a high-pitched chant that could be a female, train, or the wind. tiMOTHy on guimbri banjo (his invention based on a Moroccan instrument) and AE Hoskin on percussion (djembe and kit). show us that the beat is the thing, and it is steady, repetitive, insistent. tiMOTHy???s vocals are deep, clear, and interesting. The song moves along for all its repetition, and reminds me of a Marikesh market.

Clarke, Jonnie – “Dread Natty Congo ” – [Dynamic Sounds Recording]

humana   1/16/2009   12-inch, Reggae

Dancehall vocalist: The clear, youthful voice of Jonnie Clarke is the standout instrument in these tracks whose subject is primarily romance with a bit of moralizing sprinkled in (B3). ???Remember Me??? (B4) was later sung by Diana Ross & the Supremes. There???s an upbeat, dancey party vibe going on throughout this album, produced by Bunny Lee and featuring Augustus Pablo on organ. The Aggrovators are mentioned on the back cover as well. I???ve starred my favorites.

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