Summer has been beating down the door, melting the windows and cooking me from the inside out over the past week. For some reason that meant folk in the morning and rock or hip hop in the evening. In between was spent listening to old sunshine classics and mood music. Luckily it was a good week for some unexpected releases in each of these genres. I also included one old album that I dusted off and have been loving all week long. Enjoy.
Jean Grae - Cookies or Comas: This new mixtape came out a few weeks ago and I finally got it this week. For those who don't know, Brooklyn's Jean Grae is probably the best underground rap slinger around and deserves mainstream acclaim. On these songs, she once again demonstrates her exceptional lyrical skill with one intelligent rhyme after another. Ranging from laid back rap to straight up hardcore, this album is pretty fresh and reminds me of Digable Planets' Blowout Comb without the jazzy elements. Talib Kweli (of Black Star) appears on a few tracks and the two flow together very well. Not as amazing as The Evil Jeanius, but damned good.
Wugazi - 13 Chambers: When I saw this new mashup of Fugazi and Wu Tang, I nearly burst a gasket. Conceptually, it sounds like it could be brilliant. In actuality, it has very mixed results. When it succeeds, it achieves what every good mashup should, making both sound new. "Last Chance for the Clientele Kid", "Nowhere to Wait" and "Killa Hill" are perfect examples of mixing the right songs together. Where it fails is typically when a slower Fugazi song is used and it slows down the Wu Tang intensity. Definitely worth checking out, even if you end up slimming it down eight or nine chambers.
Beirut - The Rip Tide: The third full album, and first since 2007, from Brooklyn's Zach Condon sees the songwriter venturing ever farther into the chamber pop sound which has developed out the more chaotic genre bending earlier efforts. Though I miss a little of the messy adventure of the earlier albums, I very much enjoyed this album. It has a bit of an Andrew Bird style to it and it's a great album to wake up to in the morning.
The Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave: I've followed this Danish band since their fist album back in 2003. With this, their fifth album, the band has progressed from earlier more garage rock sound into much more of a dreamy shoegazer band. It suits them well and I've seemed to enjoy each album a little more than the previous. There's also a bit of Pat Benatar vibe on some of the songs that truly works well. A nice airy sound that's good for summer because it has the power to create an imaginary breeze.
Josh T. Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen: I picked this up on the insistence of the dANIMAL and was not disappointed. This is a very bare bones singer songwriter album with minimal music and salvation type vocals from Pearson who sounds like a wandering preacher. It's reminds me very much of J. Tillman. Another wonderful and heartbreaking album to listen to in the morning before the sun ruins everything.
Kaizers Orchestra - Violeta, Violeta Vol. 1: I've been a huge fan of this Norwegian band since their debut in 2001. They play a frantic variation of indie rock, with the same dark edge as their other great countrymen Madrugada. This album is a little more gypsy punk than indie rock, but somehow doesn't feel as fiery as earlier albums. Still it's quite good. Volume 2 is due out soon, with Volume 3 set to follow next year. I'll withhold final judgment until all three are released, but so far the project is off to a decent start.
Volcano Suns - The Bright Orange Years: I first heard the Volcano Suns when I was 15 after buying a 7" of their based on the cover. I then bought an album of theirs, which I didn't care for. After listening to the 7" again a few months ago, I decided to check out more of their work. This is the Boston band's 1985 debut and it's quite a bit better than their 1989 album which I used to own. This has that post-punk sound that inspired early grunge. You can hear the influence this had on early Mudhoney songs such as "Touch Me I'm Sick". This is raw rock n roll done right.
Alice in Chains - Unplugged: This is the old album that made it into a fresh review after listening to it pretty much every day. Highly underrated, this is easily my second favorite MTV Unplugged album after Nirvana. Layne Staley, well into the junkie oblivion that would claim his life six years later, is barely able to sit upright during the performance, but still sounds incredible. Like someone singing with one foot in the grave, his voice haunts these originally hard rock songs, transforming them into spiritual epics. Each song is phenomenal. Just a super evening album to listening to as the sun is setting.