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D'Angelo - Black MessiahD’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  After 15 years and countless false alarms, D’Angelo’s follow up to Voodoo is finally here, and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be: Funky, smooth, sexy, hip hop infused, and glorious neo soul.  Lead single “Sugah Daddy” is particularly strong, but there isn’t a weak spot on the album.  Is it another Voodoo?  Probably not.  Unlike most long gestating albums from reclusive artists, however, it’s a worthy follow up and a fantastic addition to D’Angelo’s catalog.  It also has the benefit of making all previously published ‘best of 2014′ lists invalid.  Better get to revising NME, Paste, Stereogum, and Rolling Stone (well, you should have been revising already).

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Another year has come and gone.  2014 saw another new batch of bands arrive, some depart, and lot of great music get made.  As far as I’m concerned, 2014 in the Twin Cities will be defined by the teenagers who burst onto the scene.  Regardless of genre, it seems like a crazy amount of the best music was made by people who usually can’t get into the clubs they’re planning when they aren’t on stage.  That said there is still room on this list for a man pushing 70 and room at the top for a guy who suddenly finds himself a part of the old guard despite only having been on the scene since about 2006.

As usual, these are just my personal top 15 of the year.  I can guarantee I missed something despite my best efforts to avoid it.  In fact, City Pages just published a list of the best local punk albums of the year and I don’t recognize a couple of them.  So once I publish this list, I’ll be heading over there to explore.  For now, though, here are my favorite Twin Cities albums for 2014.

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The Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments to an ElegyThe Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy

A Smashing Pumpkins album with Tommy Lee on drums and a running time of a mere 32 minutes?  I’m intrigued.  Oddly, even with the incredibly short (for Billy Corgan) running time, this is one of the more varied Pumpkins albums in terms of sound.  It has the heavy rockers you expect (“One and All”), but also has quieter moments (“Being Beige”), electronic based dance tunes (“Run2me”), and is that a flute on “Drum + Fife”?  Based on the title I guess that makes sense.  Surprisingly, on first listen at least, the album holds together despite these variations, and provides a very enjoyable listen.  It is way too early to know if Monuments to an Elegy will have the stickiness of its excellent predecessor Oceania, but it has that potential.

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Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper at Soundset 2014

I love live music.  There are few things in this world I enjoy more than going to a show and seeing an artist interpret their music in a live setting, so I get to as many shows as I can.  In 2014 that means I’ve seen 88 different sets of music (with several more on the calendar before the year changes).  Of those 88 sets, these are the 15 best:

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3

Dec

2014

Review: Sea Island by loscil

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | 2 Comments »

Sea Island

Several years ago, during a visit to Vancouver, I seized the chance to make a musical pilgrimage. Loscil’s First Narrows has long been a favorite of mine, especially the title track. Languorous underlying drones create a dreamy atmosphere, meticulously placed skittering touches keep the surface complex, the bass layer is unobtrusive yet interesting once you focus there, and mid-range acoustic instruments keep a hypnotic almost-melody going to carry the whole thing forward. It’s a remarkable union of stasis and forward motion that relaxes and fascinates equally.

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Trash Kit - ConfidenceTrash Kit – Confidence

Trash Kit is a post punk trio out of England.  Being a female band leads to lots of comparisons to The Slits and Raincoats and Trash Kit certainly has the hooks those bands did, but Confidence reminds me (and this is splitting hairs a bit) more of New York No Wave acts.  It’s not quite as shambling as a Lizzy Mercier Descloux or James Chance, but there is still a sense the music could fall apart at any moment.  The songs all hang together, though, (primarily due to their throbbing tribal beats) and they present a thoroughly enjoyable whole that explores some truly wonderful melodies and sounds.

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Savages & Bo Ningen - Words to the Blind

Savages & Bo Ningen – Words to the Blind

British post punk band Savages and Japanese psych rock band Bo Ningen came together for the collaborative album Words to the Blind.  Both bands have an experimental bent to their individual work and Words to the Blind seems to have increased those individual tendencies exponentially.  The single track album starts with about four and a half minutes of Savages’ frontwoman Jehnny Beth speaking in French and Bo Ningen’s Taigen Kawabe  speaking in Japanese with only the occasional instrumental note.  It’s unclear if the two are in conversation or even if the words are related.  Thereafter, harsh drones and baselines kick in for about five minutes followed by two minutes of eeriness. 

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Big K.R.I.T. CadillacticaBig K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica

Based on the early singles, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Big K.R.I.T.’s latest, and with its soulful, spacey, laid-back southern hip hop, Cadillactica more than lives up to my hopes.  As usual, K.R.I.T. brings positive, hopeful lyrics and acts as his own producer, so the beats and rhymes are of a piece (that piece is reminiscent of early Outkast, although not on that level).  There’s been a string of excellent hip hop albums released in the last few weeks (after a pretty barren summer), and Cadillactica, while very different in style/sound from something like Run the Jewels 2 or Hell Can Wait, fits in well with that high quality.  This one is highly recommended.

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Arca - XenArca – Xen

Arca is a very of the moment producer (some of Yeezus and one of my favorite albums of the year FKA twigs’ LP1), and Xen is very of the moment experimental electronics.  The album is hard hitting, glitchy, full of space, and in many ways harsh.  It’s also safe to say it is where a lot of experimental electronic music will be going in the next year or two.  This is an album to listen to on headphones when you don’t have anything else going on and can wallow in the oddness.

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31

Oct

2014

Into the Renaissance

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in A History of Classical Music, Classical | No Comments »

A History of Classical Music through Recordings: Part 10

hcmr044artnethThe Art of the Netherlands”. Early Music Consort/David Munrow. Virgin

While the Renaissance is regarded as having begun in Italy in the 14th century, convention has it that “Renaissance music” begins in the Low Countries and northern France in the 15th. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that whereas the art and literature of the Renaissance and of the classical period that inspired it had long been studied, the same wasn’t true of music. Until the 19th century, the music of the past tended to stay in the past, unperformed, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that there was much general interest in “early music” (broadly, anything before about 1750). Such music had literally to be rediscovered, and the music of trecento Italy simply wasn’t known about when ideas of “Renaissance music” were first considered. So perhaps Landini and his contemporaries should be called the first Renaissance composers; but convention has sided with the theorist Johannes Tinctoris (c1435-1511), who was dismissive of all music prior to the 15th century and considered music to have been reborn in his time. Spearheading this apparent rebirth were the composers of what’s called the Franco-Flemish school, beginning with Dufay and Binchois and ending over a century later. Like Dufay, many of these composers spent at least some of their careers in Italy or other parts of Europe, and the widespread diffusion of their works (aided greatly by the invention of printing) helped to create an international style of music.

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