Explosions In the Sky
Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
4 stars (out of 4)
They call it "post-rock," but hey, what's in a name? All you really need to know about the sound conjured by the young Texas band Explosions In the Sky is that it's mind-blowingly awesome, huge, widescreen and a present-day analog to "Ummagumma"-era Pink Floyd.
Well, that and the fact that all the songs are instrumentals.
The whole "post-rock" tag is usually meant to imply that the band employs rock instrumentation and sounds to construct music that is not really rock. Which sounds an awful lot like a rather indulgent exercise in semantics. Why not just say "This band kinda sounds like Tortoise, and plays long, trippy, dreamlike instrumentals with a cool light show for support"? Guitarist Munaf Rayani said it best, when he told the Washington Post, "We don't consider ourselves post-rock at all; we consider ourselves a rock band." OK, then.
Far more interesting than the debate over what to call the music is the music itself. With "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care," the band's sixth album, the Explosions crew displays abundant growth, most of which can be observed in the guitar-arrangement department. The album builds in roiling swells of guitar intricacy, crescendoing gloriously before falling into minor-key repose. Then it does it again. If this seems like a formula, it's a formula that works incredibly well during the album-opening salvos of "Last Known Surroundings" and "Human Qualities," two songs that rather brilliantly offer clear narratives without the benefit of language.
Somehow, this music summons an environment of its own creation, and then makes you, the listener, long to call that place home. That's a pretty cool trick.
On its website, Explosions In the Sky posts a "recap" of a few seminal events in its collective history. One of them involves its initial coming together, when three members found the fourth, through a flier tacked to the wall in a record shop. It read "Wanted: Sad, triumphant rock band."
That pretty much nails it. Get this, and listen to it often.
-- Jeff Miers
A cartoon group makes an album entirely on its leader's iPad, while in the midst of a North American tour. Welcome to the future. Weird, isn't it?
Gorillaz -- a band represented by animated images that suggest a futuristic amalgam of Pixar and Japanime -- is the brainchild of Blur's Damon Albarn, who seems to enjoy himself far more, and far more often, than the average Joe. On his latest Gorillaz project, Albarn sounds like he's having the time of his life. Really, it's enough to make you a bit envious.
The entire conception of the band-as-cartoon-avatars is in itself a bit of mildly snarky commentary on the looks-obsessed pop music world, and the band's blend of of-the-moment dance-based rhythms and timeless pop songcraft lends an additional angle to the dialectic. This may be true, but it needn't be pondered if the listener isn't interested. Sitting back and listening passively is fun, too.
"The Fall" finds Albarn giddily assembling sounds, as if he's the uber-talented, bratty offspring of a mad scientist and a collage artist. It shouldn't work -- it's almost cynical, on the face of it, and is not really organic in the way most of the rock music that moves us deeply is. The record was made on an iPad, for goodness' sake!
And yet, somehow -- in a manner not unlike the way Radiohead singer Thom Yorke's "The Eraser" makes computer-based blips and bleeps sound like agonized cries from the soul itself -- "The Fall" comes across as intelligent, emotion-soaked music that's as fun to listen to as one imagines it was fun for Albarn to make.
Grab it. Or at the very least, download "The Snake In Dallas" via iTunes.
[CTI/Sony Masterworks Jazz]
3 1/2 stars
Once upon a time, the CTI jazz label was anathema to the more pitiless jazz purists. So unexpectedly popular were some of its 1970's discs and so powerful did it prove do be in creating jazz stars (most notably the less-than-sublime Deodato and the superb soul jazz saxophonist from Buffalo, Grover Washington Jr.) that in characteristic American Puritan style, it was assumed by some that the music couldn't possibly be any good.
In fact, the best of it was great. Creed Taylor's label made one of the cleverest compromises with popularity that anyone made in the then-burgeoning fusion era. Rock rhythms from drummers like Billy Cobham and elaborate arrangements from the likes of Don Sebesky didn't stop great jazz soloists from performing (and writing) brilliantly. Even that thorny jazz individualist Randy Weston made a sensational CTI disc called "Blue Moses" which Weston, understandably has always inveighed against because he was prevailed upon to play electric piano but which remains, to this day, a brilliant example of what a lavish orchestral colorist could make out of arrangements of Weston's music.
Don Sebesky's "Giant Box" could easily make some cringe at the kitsch of it all. Large orchestral jazz versions of Stravinsky's "The Firebird" mixed with the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Birds of Fire?" Or Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise?" Joni Mitchell's "Song to a Seagull?" All on the same record?
Well, yeah. But before you cringe, it's seldom less than fun. And listen to some of Sebesky's arrangements which were, on occasion, the closest thing to the great Gil Evans until Maria Schneider came along decades later to be Evans' apprentice and to learn from him. And for pity's sake, listen to the solos here by Washington, Freddie Hubbard, Paul Desmond, Milt Jackson, Joe Farrell, and Jackie Cain and Roy Kral -- the CTI roster, all with features.
It's taken years to have an intelligent reissue program of CTI's best in full swing but it's happening now. Along with Sebesky's "Giant Box" there are gorgeous new CD versions of such rare (over the years) CTI beauties as Freddie Hubbard's "First Light," George Benson's "Beyond the Blue Horizon" and Stanley Turrentine's "Salt Song."
Can that compromised orphan masterpiece "Blue Moses" be far behind?
Whatever happens, the return of CTI in reissues is some of the great jazz recording news of the past year.
-- Jeff Simon
"w h o k i l l"
Merrill Garbus doesn't want to make things easy, starting with the typographic quirks of the name of her project, tUnE-yArDs. She recorded her first album, 2008's "Bird-Brain," at home on a digital voice recorder, using found sounds and field recordings to scuff up her percussion, ukulele, and startlingly dynamic voice. The new "w h o k i l l" is a studio recording, and Garbus is joined by bassist Nate Brenner. It expands her sound without diminishing her eccentricities.
The foregrounding of beats -- often a pounded snare drum -- roots Garbus' songs in hip-hop and bhangra, and "Gangsta" sounds a bit like M.I.A. But tUnE-yArDs tunes twist and turn, with splatters of guitar and bleats of horns, and Garbus' voice leaps and gallops through singsong melodies, so "w h o k i l l" is deliciously difficult to pin down. Fans of Dirty Projectors, Bjork (at her most experimental), and Yoko Ono take note: Here's a new avant-pop contender.
-- Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer