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20Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
It’s not like those electric Miles Davis albums just fell from the sky. Lurking behind the Revolution there’s always a whole lot of work and plain old groping around, and this box set—four concerts, three of them audio and one video—captures a crucial moment in Davis’s search. Recorded between In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, these concerts reveal an era when Davis’s earlier bop bled into stuff that Stanley Crouch would totally hate. For instance, not every “‘Round Midnight” sounds like Chick Corea‘s tearing apart his Fender Rhodes, but this one does! (That’s an endorsement.) Whether they’re playing funk ostinatos or fast walks, tunes or vamps, changes or none, it’s all crucial to this band’s sound. They break into various configurations, so each long song contains several mini-songs, not necessarily related to one another, sometimes just a free rhythm section sparring with itself. Listen to Wayne Shorter blowing furiously through his own “Footprints”—previously a stately waltz with changes derived from the blues, now nearly unrecognizable. You’ll hear how continuous the electric era was with everything that came before, but also how desperate these guys were to reach someplace new. Josh Langhoff
The Postal Service
Give Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)
19The Postal Service
Give Up (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)
When Give Up was re-issued this year, ten years after its initial release, I experienced two simultaneous reactions: eye-rolling and unbridled joy. In most ways, it’s that dichotomy that defines the Postal Service and their singular album. It’s a serious record for sensitive souls, a lyrically potent record for hipsters, but catchy enough for your parents to enjoy, too. Somehow (divine intervention?) it bridged the divide to become one of the most loved and biggest selling albums of the naughties. There is a bit of “scraping the barrel” here, some unnecessary remixes, and a few live session tracks across two discs. But there are also two new, worthwhile songs, and an aurally satisfying remastered edition of the original album. What it all amounts to is the sweetest of nostalgia trips. “The District Sleeps Alone” and “We Will Become Silhouettes” still make you teary-eyed, and overlooked gems like “Recycled Air” and “The Natural Anthem” sparkle with newfound shine. Don’t be ashamed or give in to regret, relive the best moments from your 20s with grace. Let the Postal Service be your guide. Scott Elingburg
The Clean made people wait for a while, releasing a bunch of singles and going on hiatus in the ‘80s before releasing Vehicle, the band’s debut/reunion album. And while it might have shined up the scuff on those singles, it was also clearly worth the wait. The album is a perfect distillation of not just the band’s sound, but also the Dunedin, New Zealand scene and the Flying Nun Records aesthetic. Flying Nun teamed with Captured Tracks to reissue the album, and now we can once again hear the tangled ring of David Kilgour’s guitars, the rumbling power of Robert Scott’s bass, and the airtight propulsion of Hamish Kilgour’s drums. The trio fires through classics like the lean “Draw(in)g to a (W)hole”, the bright surf-rock of “Bye Bye”, the moodier edge of “Diamond Shine” or the perfectly repeated hooks and triumphant chorus of “Dunes”. The album alone would make for a brilliant repressing on vinyl, but the new edition also includes the essential In-A-Live EP, which gives us the Clean on stage charging through great versions of stuff like “Anything Can Happen” and “Point That Thing Somewhere Else”. It’s not like we’ve forgotten about the Clean, but this reissue of Vehicle is still a great reminder of just how great a pop act they were, and how well this band we may remember for all those singles could put together a flawless album. The first of many, by the way, but still the best. Matthew Fiander
Aladdin Sane (40th Anniversary Edition)
These song aren’t about getting at what’s under the artifice so much as reminding us the artifice is there, that it is strong enough to keep those things hidden, if not entirely then effectively enough that won’t fully explicate them. This is the power of the best of David Bowie‘s work, and if Aladdin Sane isn’t his best record, it may be the best example of one of his central themes: the artifice not as something to break through, not as an impediment on the way to the real, but the artifice as its own sort of realness. Following Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane is a much more difficult character, a symbol in search of things to symbolize. These also fall into a series that both predates them (1969’s Space Oddity, 1970’s The Man Who Sold the World) and follows them with records named Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, “Heroes”, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), and so on. They’re all records named after symbols, the mask presented to us not as the thing that hides the face but rather the face itself. If these are Bowie’s most fascinating moments – along with other albums like Low, which fractures but never exposes – it’s interesting to note that his self-titled debut sounds little like the artist he’d become. It’s also interesting to note that later albums with more straightforward, real-world titles like Let’s Dance and Tonight fall utterly apart. It’s when Bowie is hidden that he shows us the most, that his music is at its best. Aladdin Sane is the best example of this thread of his career, and perhaps a better place to look for a new angle on Bowie in 2013 over the self-conscious looking over his shoulder he does on The Next Day. Aladdin Sane can tell us more about David Bowie than David Bowie can.
Change the Beat - The Celluloid Records Story 1979 - 1987
Not even the pop avant-garde is immune to misplaced nostalgia. Celluloid’s website describes the romance of the label’s heyday: “New York City, 1984… a much wilder place than today, Ed Koch is in control and the streets are mean.” Sounds great, a real crucible of creativity! Glossing over a bunch of muggings and killings and shit is this admittedly wonderful two-disc compilation of rap, punk, jazz, reggae, makossa, French electronica, and whatever you call Ginger Baker’s ‘80s comeback. Most tracks mix up two or three of those genres, as when the Clash‘s Mick Jones backs up Futura 2000’s graffiti rap, or Hamid Drake and Herbie Hancock jam with West Africa’s Mandingo Griot Society. Bankrolled by Frenchmen with good taste and largely produced by Bill Laswell, whose bands Massacre and Material both appear here, these songs sound like the basis for all the hipster music of the past 30 years, except maybe metal and freak folk. Not a lot of beards on Ed Koch’s mean streets. Josh Langhoff
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