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Otis Taylor
Below the Fold (Telarc)



The blues is a dying genre, thanks to most solid bluesmen (and women) who… well, died. There are a few who are trying to keep the spirit of the old style alive, none more important (or successful) than Otis Taylor. Because of his sparse, yet intense instrumentation, and his spoken lyrics of past injustices both personal and global, Taylor is the real deal. His sixth proper release, Below the Fold, contains some new tricks: drums on a few tracks, and trumpet on a few more. From the deranged hoedown of opener “Feel Like Lightning” to the trance-like “Your Children Sleep Good Tonight” to the openness of “Mama’s Got a Friend”, Taylor takes blues that would fit in the 1930s and moves it up to the next century. This is the best blues album of 2005, no question.
Lou Friedman PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



Rachel Stevens
Come and Get It (Polydor UK)


The second album by Rachel Stevens has its sights set on something bigger than Annie’s indie appeal or Girls Aloud’s audacity: propelling the former S Club 7 member to mega-stardom. The finest UK pop export since Kylie Minogue’s Fever four years ago, Come and Get It is crammed with potential hit singles. The glam-inspired single “I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)” ranks as one of Stevens’ best yet, replacing the “Hot Love” swing of 2004’s “Some Girls” with an audacious Antmusic (by way of Gary Glitter) stomp. Whether it’s the Richard X-produced brilliance of “Crazy Boys” and the aforementioned “Some Girls”, the Cure-sampling “It’s All About Me”, or club anthem in the making “Funny How”, Stevens shows she’s no empty-headed pop tart, allowing her own charisma to show through the music. It’s not a groundbreaking album, but personality goes a long way, and this saucy, sassy, sultry album positively radiates it.
Adrien Begrand Amazon



I Muvrini
Alma (AGFB)


Alma translates as soul in the Corsican language and the title definitely fits this release. The Bernardini brothers are two of the most soulful singers that I have ever heard; and the album is filled with songs that pierce into the depths of one’s soul. All the songs were written by Jean-François Bernardini and are a reflection of his feelings and beliefs. They are sung in Corsican, a language that seems perfectly suited for music, as if this language was born to be sung. On Alma they have merged their sounds with that of some extraordinary singers from South Africa. This makes for an extremely exciting blend of voices. Alma has not only become my favorite album for 2005; but it is probably one of my favorite all time recordings.
Gypsy Flores Amazon



Richard Hawley
Coles Corner (Mute)


Coles Corner was an overlooked diamond in this rough year of catastrophe. Hawley, once a guitarist with fellow Sheffielders, Pulp, crafted a classic ‘60s sound free from any ironic posturing while paying tribute to the melancholy pop of chanteurs Jacques Brel and Leonard Cohen. Songs “Darlin’ Wait For Me” and “Just Like the Rain” skip upon nimble arpeggios like stones upon water, evoking the classic recordings of Fred Neil and the pocket symphonies of Phil Spector. In a year blasted by water, “The Ocean” rises gradually on an orchestral swell, while Hawley gloriously sings, “You lead me down… to the ocean”. Like a Siren, Coles Corner seduces with an irresistible calling.
David Kootnikoff PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



Los Super 7
Heard It on the X (Telarc)


Trying to keep track of the members of the collective Los Super 7 is like trying to keep a scorecard on the latest New York Yankees line-up. One never knows what all-star will sign up next. The ensemble’s latest album features such home run hitters as Lyle Lovett, singing that swinging Bob Wills classic, “My Window Faces the South”, Delbert McClinton crooning that tender oldie, “Talk to Me”, Rodney Crowell covering the Buddy Holly pop ditty “Learning the Game”, Clarence Gatemouth Brown growling Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”, and a whole lot more that includes stellar contributions by Joe Ely, John Hiatt, Raul Malo, Flaco Jiminez, Rick Trevino, Ruben Ramos and the blistering Mariachi horns of Calexico.
Steve Horowitz PopMatters review Amazon



The Fiery Furnaces
EP (Rough Trade)


The Fiery Furnaces’ EP opens with a blissfully poppy dance track about domestic abuse. Domestic abuse? Yup, sweet alto Eleanor Friedberger delivers such violently visceral lines like “He beat me, he banged me/ He swore he would hang me” in such a carefree manner it’s jarring, disturbing and compulsively addictive. It’s too bad the Fiery Furnaces titled this collection of early tracks and b-sides as EP, because it’s their most cohesive, consistent album to date—and at 40 minutes, it certainly constitutes full-length status. The duo’s characteristic quirky lyrics, lush (borderline-cluttered) instrumentation, and skewed rhythms are all here, but they are subversively shaped into dance numbers, instead of the oblique mini-operas the Friedberger siblings usually compose. It’s also the most humanistic of their albums, with Eleanor expressing loneliness, nostalgia, and frustration with an eloquence missing from previous discs. While it’s not the difficult, revolutionary work Blueberry Boat was, EP captures the Furnaces at their most lovable and fun.
Raquel Laneri PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



The Wallflowers
Rebel, Sweetheart (Interscope)


I’m just going to get right down to it. It’s not their fault “One Headlight” was overplayed, okay? So stop blaming them. Rebel, Sweetheart, Jakob Dylan and co.‘s best album since their ubiquitous breakthrough, is a no-holds-barred rock record dripping with country hooks, angst, and Dylan’s sultry voice. “Happy birthday”, he sings grimly on the opener “Days Of Wonder”, “to the war”, backed with a forceful sound like Springsteen and his E Street Band. Dylan’s cryptic songwriting has never been better, and gems like “Nearly Beloved” and “The Beautiful Side of Somewhere” demonstrate the Wallflowers’ ability to revive the aging folk-rock genre pioneered by the likes of Tom Petty, Springsteen, and the elder Dylan. Those guys may be approaching retirement, but we can rest easy. This Dylan will carry the torch.
Maura McAndrew PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



Low
The Great Destroyer (Sub Pop)


Low’s The Great Destroyer was a record that baffled me in 2005. Very sincerely, I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t talking about it. So, I did what I will sometimes do when I don’t like a record that is touted everywhere. I kept listening. I listened to The Great Destroyer all year long, waiting for that moment when I would start to find it contrived, boring, lame. I searched the lyrics for unoriginality. I studied the dynamics and looked for signs of bombast. In the end, Low won the battle. The Great Destroyer is a fantastic rock release, full of all the power their minimalism once kept restrained. They’ve let the quietness go (a bit) and the results are thrilling, whether or not you are a fan of their past output. It’s growth, and certainly should have been applauded more than it was. Almost a full year for me, and it’s only gotten better.
Jill LaBrack PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



Kraftwerk
Minimum-Maximum (EMI)


Minimum-Maximum, for those of you who might have missed this great historical document, is the collected highlights of 2004’s Kraftwerk world tour, edited with stereotypical German precision into the perfect live album. No histrionics. No ‘How y’all doing tonight Dusseldorf’. No bullshit. Just the hits, sounding bigger and better, funkier and harder than the original studio recordings, the perfect accompaniment for a two hour blast down any autobahn in the world. The granddads of electronic pop reinvent the concert album. Still asking questions. Still pushing the envelope. Still having it large. All together now, “Ein, zwei, drei, vier…”
Robert Collins PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



James Yorkston and the Athletes
Just Beyond the River (Domino)


James Yorkston, sensitive Scottish folkie, has made possibly the most romantic album of the year. The flush of love is all over Just Beyond he River: folk pastorals, a beguiling city girl, swooning instrumentation, and Yorkston’s warm burr of a voice. Songs like “Heron” and “Shipwreckers” are buoyed by gorgeous washes of accordion, fiddle, and bouzoki. The songs stick with you, thanks to Yorkston’s quiet confidence as a writer and singer. He honestly details the sufferings of love and nature’s bounty, and creates a coherent piece of eleven songs rooted in the Scottish moors whose scope aims for Wuthering Heights.
Elisabeth Donnelly PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



Maximo Park
A Certain Trigger (Warp)


In hindsight, “Apply Some Pressure” gave all the wrong signals and signs. Sure, the first single from Maximo Park’s debut album was undeniably immediate and the obvious choice for commercial release. But it also reeked of a band all too eager to dine on table scraps, a band perfectly happy to cash in on the goodwill earned by Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party yet add no distinctive mark of its own. It’s both a surprise and a shame then that A Certain Trigger is everything that “Apply Some Pressure” promised it wouldn’t be: adventurous, expansive, and, above all, better than the albums of Maximo’s allegedly superior predecessors. So instead of fulfilling what looked to be its destiny as an also-ran, Maximo Park may instead be condemned to a very unjust first impression, even if, I suppose, only a few thousand will know the difference.
Jon Garrett PopMatters review Amazon iTunes



Oneida
The Wedding (Jagjaguwar)


As I began to realize I was way out of the mainstream in liking this one the best, I went back to it, thinking that maybe my admiration for past work had overshadowed the thing at hand. Not so. Once past “The Eiger,” the excitement started kicking in, the ritual tempos, the drifting harmonies, the blood-pumping drums, the sense of meaning just out of reach. These songs open up like Russian dolls, the precise architecture of “Run Through My Hair” splitting to reveal howling, distorted feedback, the headlong rush of “Did I Die” receding into a time-ticking, keyboard laced chamber interval. Blame the smallish label, the band’s contempt for the promotional process, or the sudden shift from last year’s equally excellent Secret Wars, but don’t blame the music. It’s all here, as good as I thought it was.
Jennifer Kelly PopMatters review Amazon iTunes

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