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Steve Holtje: February 4, 2007

Eight new releases, catching up with one from last year, and a yummy trifle.

  1. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (Sub Pop)

    There are still plenty of pop hooks on the Shins’ third full-length, but James Mercer continues to mature as a songwriter and expand his production palette. Yes, as usual, we’re given an album of sad songs that jangle happily, but there are more sounds, more sonic variety (is that a banjo on “Australia”?), and more depth too. Read my review here.

  2. Deerhoof – Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars)

    Yes, Deerhoof continues its recent trend of writing catchier songs than when they started out, but they’re still plenty weird; in a way, expanding their options to include almost-normal songs makes them even more unpredictable than ever. The combination of avant-gardish anything-goes with recognizable melodies and riffs makes for both great fun and great art. Prog-rock, marching band trumpet and drums, abrupt edits, surreal lyrics, and Satomi Matsuzaki’s girlish voice all contribute to the masterfully mixed-up mayhem.

  3. Glenn Branca – Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses (Atavistic)

    This is an odd but fascinating compilation of three very disparate items. The title piece, for ten electric guitars and drums, is previously unreleased; a 31-minute Branca work from 1981 finally appearing is enough reason in itself to acquire this. Read my review for more info.

  4. The Bombay Connection, vol. 1 (Normal)

    Don’t think of Indian music as funky? Think again. This collection compiles music from 1977-1984 Bollywood action thrillers, when funk was practically a universal language. The 13 tracks here include some of the most frenetic, action-packed chase music and sinister scene-setters ever made, with everything but the kitchen sink in the mix, from lush orchestras to swirling organs or claviolines (early synthesizers) to jingling tambourines – and, of course, sexy vocals (in the broadest sense, including whispering, moaning, talking, or ululating). Where else can you hear a track titled “Giraffe Trapping Music”?

  5. Bombshell Baby of Bombay, vol. 2 (Normal)

    This one has more variety. The dance scenes in a Bollywood film aren’t always elaborate set pieces with a cast of dozens cavorting around a castle or a meadow; sometimes they feature one sexy woman shaking her hips to hip music in a nightclub. The music for such scenes will likely be a fusion of Indian sounds and whatever’s hot at the moment; in the time frame covered here, 1959-1972, that’s jazz, or surf music, or rock ‘n’ roll, but with sitars and tablas in the mix. Here are a dozen grooves you probably haven’t heard before (except for one I think I recognize from the soundtrack of Ghost World), but will want to hear again and again.

  6. Caetano Veloso – (Nonesuch)

    The Tropicalia icon’s September 2006 release appears relatively soon in the U.S., showing that the 64-year-old’s popularity here continues to rise forty years after his debut album. This disc is a bit of a departure from much of his work; in the words of one song’s title, it “Rocks.” Oh, he’s rocked before, though he is known most for gorgeous ballads, but here he’s working in a standard rock quartet, his acoustic guitars and vocals joined by an electric guitarist, a bassist doubling on Fender Rhodes electric piano, and a drummer who really pounds out the beat on the uptempo numbers, so this is a stripped-down sort of rock. Half the tracks are slower, though, so his beautiful melodies haven’t been left behind. It’s the best of both worlds, really, resulting in more variety than a lot of his records have had.

  7. múm – The Peel Session (Fat Cat)

    Finally available in the U.S., this four-track (one’s a medley), 21-minute EP is the first release from this Icelandic electronic band since 2004. Recorded by the group’s original lineup for the John Peel Show in 2002, its repertoire draws largely on their debut album Yesterday Was Dramatic – Today Is OK, except for “Now There Is That Fear Again” from Finally We Are No One. The differences in these performances compared to the album versions are sometimes significant (one even merited a title change); this makes a nice little appetizer before the band’s new album drops this Spring.

  8. Peanut Butter Wolf – Presents Ten Years (Stones Throw)

    Yup, a decade of cutting-edge hip-hop with a sense of humor. On disc one, label mastermind PB Wolf compiles 25 tracks, some never before on CD; disc two is a mix by J.Rocc. There’s a bit of overlap with the label’s earlier compilation, Stones Throw 101, but when it includes tracks as good as Wolf and Planet Asia’s “In Your Area,” it’s hard to complain. Lots of Madlib projects are featured, of course: Lootpack, Quasimoto, Yesterday’s New Quintet, Jaylib (with J Dilla), and Madvillain (with MF Doom). Other stars include Cut Chemist, M.E.D. , and Charizma. But there are lots of newer or lesser-known artists as well, so listeners may be introduced to Dudley Perkins, Koushik, Aloe Blacc, Homeliss Derelix, Gary Wilson, Funkaho, and many more.

  9. John Blum Astrogeny Quartet – untitled (Eremite)

    I put this on, frankly, only because Denis Charles is the drummer; this February 11, 1998 show, the only one by Astrogeny, was his last New York City performance before his sudden and unexpected death six weeks later. I’d never before heard Blum, a pianist, nor for that matter Antonio Grippi, the Italian alto saxophonist/also clarinetist who wrote all but one of the pieces played here. (Bassist William Parker I have probably heard more often than any other musician alive!) Well, I need to get out more, because they’re pretty good. This is an energetic collective effort in which Grippi’s themes open into powerful free improvisation that’s dissonant and energetic, thoroughly stimulating fare. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work by Blum and Grippi.

  10. Namie Amuro – “Come” (Avex Trax)

    The seventh end song used in InuYasha (episodes 128-146) is a 2003 synth-pop ditty that I like way more than I should. Possibly this is because I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve been brainwashed, but I really do think it’s got a great melody in the refrain. It’s also got an effective arrangement, and Amuro (the one-time “Queen of J-Pop”) sings the hell out of this cover of a song by Sophie Monk (ex-Bardot). If you’re in the mood to break the law, go here.