Share this article

print logo

Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


No Doubt, “Push & Shove” (Interscope). Eleven years have passed since No Doubt’s last album, “Rock Steady.” Listening to “Push and Shove,” the band’s sixth album and its first since reuniting three years back, you’d never know a day had gone by. You might interpret this stylistic stagnation in the positive sense – No Doubt knows who and what it is, and doesn’t need to keep up with the times to be relevant. You might just as easily interpret this as a lack of growth, a cluelessness born of narcissism. The latter seems to be the case throughout much of “Push & Shove,” unfortunately. Much of the blame can be dropped at the feet of singer Gwen Stefani, who has always been a terrible lyricist, but seems to have sunk to new lows this time around. Witness “Looking Hot,” a banal slab of Madonna-esque Euro-disco which is not aided or abetted by Stefani’s insouciant purr. “Do you think I’m lookin’ hot?/Do you think this hits the spot?” she wonders. Ugh. OK, OK, we know you’re in your 40s and still in great shape, Gwen. Congrats! The blend of bleached Jamaican sounds – mostly ska, less so reggae, lotsa dancehall, and regrettably but not surprisingly, a dash of dubstep – with UK dance grooves and even a little Bhangra is certainly infectious, it must be said. This is music tailor-made for dance clubs, where it will surely be welcomed rapturously and played often. No Doubt makes lite dance music with huge chorus hooks and some serious ants in its pants. The title song is the strongest example of just what it is that the band does well. The dreadful ballad “One More Summer,” which should’ve been earmarked for Demi Lovato’s next album, perfectly embodies everything this band shouldn’t be doing. Worth the 11-year wait? For true fans, maybe. Everyone else, let it go. No need to sweat the small stuff. 2 and 1/2 stars (Jeff Miers)


The Sea and Cake, “Runner” (Thrill Jockey). The resplendent cover of this album seems to promise an escape to some kind of wonderful, nautical dreamland. So it’s almost a tad disappointing that the disc within is just the latest release from the Sea and Cake, the most unrelentingly decent band indie rock will ever have. For nearly 20 years, this Chicago quartet has been passively plugging away at the same soft-spoken, slow-and-steady sound, with little variation. That’s not a complaint: They’re nothing if not consistent, and if you never expect to be bowled over by the Sea and Cake, you’ll never be disappointed by them, either. “Runner,” then, is indeed a wonderful album, just on a small scale and in a familiar way. After last year’s mini-album “The Moonlight Butterfly” – one of their most indistinct releases – the band returns with a tighter command on their subdued vibe. The energy starts high with the full-speed opener “On and On,” but the mood quickly settles into a summery, synth-flavored slumber that it never shakes. It’s all perfectly pleasant, and “Runner” pales only in comparison to this band’s modest standards. In the last decade, these guys were quietly on a roll, dropping some of their most subtly sharp albums, like 2003’s techno-tinged “One Bedroom” and 2007’s jazzy “Everybody.” “Runner” strolls along without any particular song or stylistic shift that makes it more than merely satisfying – which, for the Sea and Cake, is the bare minimum. The most dynamic moments here are short-lived nuances, like the gently intertwining guitars that open “Harbor Bridges” and the bright, weightless jam that closes out “The Invitations.” In fleeting moments like those, “Runner” is a lovely thing to drift away to. Elsewhere, it simply drifts. 2 and 1/2 stars (Jason Silverstein)


Dave Douglas Quintet with special guest Aoife O’Donovan, “Be Still” (Greenleaf Music). Much of this comprises one of 2012’s most beautiful and most moving jazz albums, which isn’t the slightest bit surprising when you know the story behind it. Trumpet player Douglas is one of the most praised musicians in jazz – not because of any unusual instrumental fluency but because of the exceptional conceptional daring and variety of his discs. It is commonplace for them to fuse with other seemingly foreign traditions. In this case, the music is American hymn and folk music of a sort that his mother long suggested he record. His mother died of ovarian cancer in August 2011. This – beautifully sung by Aoife O’Donovan and played by Jon Irabagon, Matt Mitchell, Linda Oh, Rudy Royston and Douglas – is superficially reminiscent of the music of guitarists Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny in its total immersion in the American pastoral in a music that couldn’t possibly be more recognizable as jazz. Nor is that their only historic use in jazz: remember the way Albert Ayler’s groups would launch themselves into expressionist ecstasies from music that almost sounded like an old Salvation Army Band. The three Douglas originals, including a raw “Middle March,” are very much in the folk and hymnodic spirit of the rest though, of course, much more complicated. 3 and 1/2 stars (Jeff Simon)
Magico –Jan Garbarek, Egberto Gismonti and Charlie Haden, “Carta de Amor” (ECM, two discs). More absolutely gorgeous music from ECM’s producer and founder Manfred Eicher and his searches through his extraordinary label’s vaults for previously unreleased music. These three musicians first got together for a record named “Magico” in 1979. Not long after came the album “Folk Songs.” This is from a live 1981 concert in Munich, and it’s heavenly. In fact, a good – and rather tragic – argument could be made that an identical live performance from such musicians couldn’t happen anymore – certainly not in America. An audience ready to concentrate as this chamber jazz requires for this length would now be terribly, and tragically, hard to find, if not impossible. Which is why this music’s existence on disc is irreplaceable. 3 and 1/2 stars (J.S.)