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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some recent albums I've been digging

Here are a few recent purchases that I've been digging lately.

AC NEWMAN - Get Guilty (2009)
Very solid 2nd solo album from the New Pornographers/Zumpano front man. Newman writes great pop songs that are incredibly catchy without being obvious. As with his last solo record, it's the unique arrangements and odd instrumental flourishes that really put these songs over the top. As much as I like the New Porno records, I think his solo records, while not as immediate, are more consistent and get more play on my stereo.

PPP (fka Platinum Pied Pipers) - Abundance (2009)
Funk/Soul/R&B from Detroit with a big sound (horns, strings, lots of synths, rich female vocals, and a full band) and super production. I know nothing about these guys (the core is producer Waajeed and multi-instrumentalist Saadiq) other than that this record apparently sounds nothing like their past work, which was more Hip-Hop based. There's no rapping here - it's straight ahead R&B singing with some nice ballads and few strong mid tempo numbers. But what really hooked me are the half album's worth of danceable funk/pop songs that sound like a hybrid of Prince and Outkast (and occasionally Funkadelic). It's been a while since I've loved an R&B record all the way through as much as this one. If this doesn’t make my year end best of list in 12 months then it's been one of a year.

IAIN MATTHEWS - Tigers Will Survive (1971), If You Saw Thro' My Eyes (1971), and Journeys from Gospel Oak (1972)
I just recently discovered these early solo albums from former Fairport Convention singer Iain Matthews, but they've very quickly become favorites. His sweet voice works perfect with the material, which falls into the American country rock genre with a few hints at his British folk past, and at times straight ahead pop rock. There are traces of CSN&Y and some of these songs like they could have been the blueprint for the first few Eagles records. I also hear a little bit of the first few Band records, Flying Burrito Brothers, and even some Loudon Wainwright III on the few straight folk songs. In the mid 80's I bought his record of Jules Shear covers, which came out on Widham Hill and was produced with the same blandness of the Windham Hill's new age records. That's probably what kept me away from his other records for so long, but these albums are so damn strong I'm amazed that it took so long for me to finally connect with them.

EXPLORER's CLUB - Freedom Wind (2008)
I have a problem with reviews that compare albums to the Beach Boys, since most of the time the comparison is trivial or doesn't hold up at all. But in this instance, it's pretty damn obvious that late 60's Beach Boys is main reference point for this South Carolina band. The harmonies, the production, the instrumentation, the song style all point to Pet Sounds (in particular, but they touch on parts of the Beach Boys albums through Holland). On one hand, they could be a tribute band, but they manage to come up a collection of very strong songs and take the references into a very fresh sounding album. If you wished the Beach Boys made one more solid album in 1968 this could fill that void for you.

ANDREW BIRD - Noble Beast (2009)
I'm hit-and-miss with Andrew Bird's chamber pop, but since his last album had a few things I really dug I decided to roll the dice on this new one. Like everything he does - it SOUNDS great - mostly subtle, gorgeous pop songs with some eccentric instrumentation and delicate melodies. But at times he can be a bit precious for me and I wish a few songs were a bit more upbeat. Maybe I've just been too hyper lately to give in to his gentle delivery.

FIRES OF ROME - You Kingdom You (2009)
To be honest, the only reason I picked this up is because it was one of the first appealing releases of 2009 and after spending a month relistening to 2008 releases for my year end list I was itching for something brand new. I was pleasantly surprised to end up liking the whole damn thing. Musically they pull from a hodge-podge of genres including mid 70's glam, dance punk, early 80's new wave, and post punk - making for a very eclectic collection of songs. At one point it sounds like a glammy Shudder to Think and then suddenly it sounds like a more pop Les Savy Fav. I don't really know how to describe them since they’re all over the board, and I'm not sure I'll dig this as much in six months, but for now it's been a fun listen.