[You can hear Alex’s work here, here, and here.]
Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz, Celia & Johnny: I heard this album for the first time today, not knowing what a breakthrough it was. The grooves are so swinging, and the fiery band sounds so much bigger than it actually is. Queen Celia, y’all. I can’t imagine where we’d be without Johnny Pacheco and Fania Records. The well from which Salsa springs.
Keith Jarrett, Dark Intervals: Keith Jarrett is hands-down my favorite jazz pianist of all time. His sense of melodic line is staggering, and hearing him improvise entire solo piano concerts without a net boggles the mind. This record is a go-to because the compositions are shorter and we therefore get more snapshots to look at. “Americana” is EXQUISITE and it gets me every time.
St. Vincent, St. Vincent: All of Annie Clark’s records are excellent, but I went to this one because “Rattlesnake” is my JAM. This album brought with it a new image to her brand/fashion/performances (a Bowie move), and I always found it compelling and singular. I have mad respect for St. Vincent and her artistry.
Jacob Collier, Djesse Vol. 2: Jacob Collier is the past, present, and future of music all at once. He is an alien with supernatural harmonic powers, whose brain works at a scarily high level of theory — I’ve never seen or heard anything like him. I find this album to be warm and enveloping, with an organic flow to the compositions and arrangements that make for a smooth jump aboard if you pick up the frequency.
Living Colour, Time’s Up: This record was a HUGE influence on me and my buddies when we were growing up. There is a high-wattage charge within all the performances, and I am ALL ABOUT the mix of rock and metal and jazz and punk and funk, the way Living Colour does it. Peerless and fearless, these guys.
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell: This album is so haunting, both in its music and its lyrics. You feel the struggle of trying to come to terms with the death of a mother when the relationship was fraught. I find Sufjan’s just-above-a-whisper delivery to be so heartfelt and heartbreaking. Pro Tip: this album pairs perfectly with a quiet rainy day.
“We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.”
— Bertrand Russell
[You can see Joan’s work here.]
Bob Wilber, For Saxes Only: One of my favorite things about doing actual physical crate-digging is and always has been the joy of finding records with beautiful or beguiling or goofy covers, titles and premises, buying them blind, then going home to see if what you got was a gem or a dud. I got this gem on the next-to-last record shopping trip my husband and I made before the lockdown, at the great Musique Plastique records in our Portland, OR neighborhood. It’s an instructional jazz record for sax students wherein each arrangement has everything but one sax line. Some of the sheet music is inside. You’re supposed to sit there with your sax and play along! I have no sax, and Musique Plastique’s physical location is now all cleaned out and closed, but I do have this record, and I listen to it a lot.
Adnan Othman, “Bershukor” A Retrospective Of Hits By A Malaysian Pop Yeh Yeh Legend: This is out on the great Sublime Frequencies label, and before I came across it, I had no idea that there was a yeh yeh scene in Malaysia and Singapore in the 60s. Did you? This is full of jams, and also tons of great photos and notes of Othman that really transport you if you immerse yourself. Adnan Othman was the big dude on the scene, like a flashy Ian Svenonius/Little Richard figure. The 26 jams on this double LP are almost all room-mic’d, and have a lot of live feeling to ’em; it’s very dirty garage sparkle, and it’s a delight.
Natural Beauty, the newest LP from Portland power pop prodigy Mo Troper: Man, I have listened to this record, no joke, nearly every day since it was delivered to our house from the wonderful Portland-based Tender Loving Empire imprint earlier this year. It’s such a smart, smart record that I exclaimed “what the FUCK” about 20 seconds in to the opener, “I Eat“. There are so many brilliant arrangements, so many deft production moves, so many sharp harmonies. It’s Teenage Fanclub-level power pop with a chip on its shoulder; it’s earworms with an Elliott Smith-level attention to detail (a note my husband pointed out that I agree with completely). There are little easter eggs all over this thing, and it just keeps giving and giving. And what a voice! BIG FAN OF MO TROPER. LET’S ALL BE FRIENDS, MO!
Please Advise, the new EP from DC legends Beauty Pill:Always listen to Chad Clark. Always learn from Chad Clark. Chad is a visionary, a luminary, one of our most brilliant and innovative Capital A Artists. Being #blessed with a new Beauty Pill EP in the year of our lord 2020 is a balm. Chad describes this EP as “A document of a time of uncertainty and fragmentation” — he and the band are masters of sonic texture, of lyrical storytelling, of peering into the deep darkness and somehow holding up a match so that you can see it too. What will you do with the match? Just watch, or burn it down, or singe yourself, or use it to light the fire of your own creative desires? Everything BP does is a filmic conversation with its audience, with sick-ass beats and velvety delivery and a hand on the shoulder. If you’re not already a devotee, get on it.
The Music of Trinidad, a Sounds of the World recording from the National Geographic Society: I have had this record since I was a teenager; I think I got it at Sound Exchange in Houston for a dollar (again with the “buying a record for the cover” thing). It’s a beautiful and frustrating listen because it’s presented as a bit of a montage; more of an appetizer platter of different types of traditional, folk and then-contemporary (this came out in the mid-60s) Trinidadian music. Just when you get into something and want to hear an entire record of it, the track is cut short and it’s replaced in a jarring way with another stylistically different track that makes you want to hear an entire record of THAT, and so forth. It’s meant to be a document of a ton of different styles, and there’s a large Houghton Mifflin-style outdated Eurocentric book inside detailing the origin of pan, calypso, etcetera. The thing that’s great about the record is that I always rush to learn and hear more after listening to it; everything on it is absolutely gorgeous and luminous and makes you have saucer-eyes and hungry ears.
KANKYO OGNAKU, Japanese Ambient, Environmental and New Age Music, 1980-1990: This is being played into the ground over here; it is a MUST-HAVE BOX SET. Every weekend morning, especially if it’s a Sunday, throw one of the LPs on, light a candle, make some coffee, read a book or the paper while you’re sitting near a window and a plant, and you’re on the right track. It is a Light In The Attic joint, all architectural soundscapes from various geniuses that squeeze your individual mind grapes differently. I have not had a xanax prescription or taken acid in a very very long time, and this gorgeous set helps do what those things did, and lord knows we all need that right now.
“To have a life or a place or a poem that is formless — into which anything at all may, or may not, enter — is to be condemned, at best, to bewilderment.” — Wendell Berry
“The end of the world will be legal.” — Thomas Merton