Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Illinois Entertainer Reviews 2013: A

Leanin’ on Slick 

The current musical element of this veteran West Coast rapper (pronounced “A.C. Alone”) is a hard-swinging, pre-disco funk so infectiously lively that even listeners who don’t ordinarily cotton to hip-hop will love it.  Ditto for anyone predisposed toward hip-hop requiring no explicit-lyrics warning.  These days Aceyalone averages only one vulgarity per song (each of which he blunts with auto-tweak), freeing up his syllables for wisdom such as “Greener grass don’t mean no stress” (“What You Gone Do with That”), “The workin’ man makes the world go ’round” (“Workin’ Man’s Blues”), “Bad times don’t last forever” (“Things Get Better”), and--echoing James Brown--“I can get it myself.”  By the time he hits the road, Jack, you can’t help hoping he’ll come back some more.


Ever since rock has been old enough for its practitioners to have an album’s worth of misspent-youth favorites, there have been albums like this one--lovingly enthusiastic attempts to prove that the pupil has surpassed the teacher by covering the latter’s greatest hits and actually improving on them.  Sometimes such alchemy happens.  Usually, however, as is the case with this eight-cut example, the “classic” versions remain definitive.  Not that Adrenaline Mob’s headlong dive into Badlands’ “High Wire,” Van Halen’s “Romeo Delight,” The Doors’ “Break On Through (To The Other Side),” Dio-era-Black Sabbath’s “The Mob Rules,” and Heart’s “Barracuda” don’t kick butt or bang heads.  They do.  But the originals are still what you’ll want if and when you ever find yourself stranded on a desert island.

My Shame Is True
(Heart & Skull/Epitaph)

This album’s title plays off a phrase made famous by Elvis Costello thirty-six years ago, and, appropriately enough, the jittery hookiness and verbal wit of the opening cut (“She Lied to the FBI”) faithfully echoes that halcyon era.  As of this writing, however, it has not, despite being far and away this album’s best song, been released as a single.  Instead, that honor has gone to “I Wanna Be a Warhol” (as in a Warhol painting) while videos have been made for “The Torture Doctor,” “I, Pessimist,” “I’m Only Here to Disappoint,” and “The Temptation of St. Anthony”--monochromatic, mid-tempo, metal-chord crunchers all, just like the remaining tracks only less so.  And don’t be surprised if “I wanna be a warthog” becomes the misheard lyric of the year.    

A Is for Alpine

“A” is also for “Australia” (where Alpine comes from), “atmospheric” (what the disembodied space-chick vocals of Phoebe Baker and Louisa James sound like as they float Bananarama-like atop the tangerine dreams of their four instrument-playing bandmates), “Autobahn” (the famous German highway that christened the birth of this whole genre when Kraftwerk named a song after it nearly 40 years ago), “All lovers go” (a non-sequitur that occurs in both “Lovers 1” and Lovers 2”), and “All For One” (the refrain of which reinforces the centrality of non-sequiturs to Alpine’s aesthetic by ending “We are the love, / we are the love, / we are the love, / ’cause this is our time”).  “A” is also for “amazing,” which somehow--the foregoing criticisms notwithstanding--the catchiness of this music almost always is.

La musique numérique
(Park the Van)

It’s hard to say whether this delightful synthpop album (well, that’s one of the things it is) picks up where 2011’s Celestial Electric left off or leaves off where Celestial Electric picked up.  There is, after all, a chronology-discouraging, time-traveler ambience to Lee’s electronic exploration of the music of the spheres in general and his attraction to its most AM-friendly hooks in particular.  That’s “AM,” by the way, as in “radio”--programmed back to back, “Two Times” and the cover of “Steppin’ Out” practically beg Alan Parsons to roll over and tell Joe Jackson the news.  But Lee’s soundscapes are just as friendly to AM the singer, whose easygoing vocals redefine “airy” with a grace that’s every bit as non-daft as it is non-punk.

Sudden Elevation 
(One Little Indian)

Like her fellow Icelanders Björk and Sigur Rós, Ólöf Arnalds comes off exotic.  (Some would say weird.)  Her swoop-prone, Yoko-Ono-meets-Madeleine-Peyroux voice alone suggests far-flung foreign vistas.  Yet Arnalds seems at least as intent as her famous countrymen on crossing over.  Not only does Sudden Elevation find her singing completely in English (which, no surprise, she accentuates idiosyncratically) for the first time in her six-year career, but it also finds her doing so with instrumentation and melodies that at their most conventional (“Perfect”) will appeal to fans of Fairport Convention and that at their most incredible (“Bright and Still”) will appeal to fans of the Incredible String Band.  So what if she’s stuck in the ’60s?  At least she’ll never consider using Auto-tune.

The Ballad of Boogie Christ
(Lonely Astronaut)

Joseph Arthur’s latest album simultaneously focuses and expands the musical and verbal details of Bruce Springsteen’s most panoramically exuberant rock beyond the blue-collar horizon and into realms where people wrestle against flesh, blood, and spiritual wickedness in low places.  You might even call it a concept album, albeit one in which, to quote Arthur, “the listener [gets to] fill in some of the blanks.”  Those blanks include, but are by no means limited to, what redemption and sanctity might look and feel like to inhabitants of a culture desensitized to its need for either, a culture that just happens to resemble the very “zoo” Arthur says he misses in “Miss the Zoo.”  Why does he miss it?  Because although he doesn’t live there anymore, it still lives in him.

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