Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick Spins

John Legend and The Roots: Wake Up!***
Soul wasn’t a genre of love; it was a movement of power. John Legend has apparently decided that too many young music listeners have forgotten that. Legend frequently cites his soul influences as singers who didn’t just talk love; but also war, hatred, poverty and hope. And in an album that could have just as easily been titled “please remember where this music came from,” John Legend and The Roots join forces to deliver the most important album of 2010.

You can call it a cover album, but you would be doing a terrible disservice. Legend and the Roots picked 14 soul classics from 14 of soul’s most important figures, and then did modern interpretations of them. Legend’s voice in this work is the best on any of his albums, and you will get chills when you hear him cover Marvin Gaye. But despite Legend’s remarkable performance, the Roots have just cemented themselves as the best funk/soul band of my generation. The rhythm section on this album is not just the best thing the Roots have done on record, but also the best recorded collection of soul instruments since most of the covered artists featured in this work were in their heyday. You are going to hear these songs and want to go learn about the artists that shaped the scene today; and in that respect Wake Up! is a very important gateway drug.

Mark Ronson and the Business International: Record Collection***
At one point in my life, I would have loved to define a “mash up,” as an original work of a savvy DJ with the original work of a lyricist or singer. And with Record Collection, Ronson and company may have reached into that point in my life and made my definition a reality. First and foremost, Ronson is a discjockey; but for him, that is not a limitation. Ronson defines himself not just by beats, but by the melodies thathe can make with them, so even when rap is involved, it’s more song than spoken word. Perhaps this was his inspiration for naming his album Record Collection, because the people that he got to appear on this album would indicate that there is much more of this movement to come. The three strongest songs on the record feature Q-Tip, Ghostface Killah, and D’Angelo (yes, THAT D’Angelo). The fact that all three of these songs could easily become dance club smashes shows me that the hip-hop and R&B circle is much more open to movement and melody.

Could this Album be better? Absolutely. But, Ronson started really toying with songs like this in his previous release, “Version.” Now, he has mastered something; the authentic mash up. Taking a homemade song, and literally having your pick of the world’s artists to make it come alive. A few songs slow it down, but you have to judge this album on its potential to bring in a new wave of synth and effect heavy rap. And there is a ton of potential here.

Maximum Balloon
The guitarist and musical mastermind behind TV on the Radio, David Sitek goes for art-rock gold on his solo debut. With help from David Byrne, TV band mates Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Sitek is at maximum height with Balloon. A great debut and fun listen and grand departure from what we are accustomed to hearing from the assemblyman.

GrindermanGrinderman II
Nick Cave and his hard-hitting band prove they are dirty old men on their second disc. A dark (well, it’s Nick Cave it’s not going to be butterflies and synth pop) rock record with brutal sexual overtones that will give some the creeps and some will snark along in amusement.

Orchestral Maneuvers in the DarkHistory of Modern
On their first album in 13 years, the British synth pop pioneers are back and it is a welcomed return. History of Modern is a return to form from a band that has been influencing new wave dance rockers for five decades now. Not many surprises in style and sound but it is so great to have them back, this is a nice token as to why. Whatever they do next however will need to show a progression.

An hour long electronic journey, Underworld have crafted one of their finest records in years. Barking, is the band’s first album in three years and needless to say it is a sonic trip to the unknown. Enlisting producers from all walks of electronic life – Paul Van Dyke, Dubfire and High Contrast, Barking is a record not to be missed by any electronic fan.

Robert PlantBand of Joy
The 62 year old singing legend can be making millions right now on a world tour with Led Zeppelin, instead he chooses to do things his way. In some aspect – are you going to be the guy to tell Plant no? Especially after taking home a few Grammy’s including “Album of the year” in 2009 with Alison Krause. Band of Joy is Plant taking his love of the Earth and fitting it into one record. It is full of Earth tones and colors that explain why he is still very successful on his own. However, Plant – a Zep reunion would be awesome! Just sayin…

Sufjan StevensThe Age of Adz
He is a musical superstar and someone that should be way bigger than he is. Sufjan Stevens should be a household name and Age of Adz is a solid effort of more musical discovery from one of indie rocks favorite sons. Layered with so many musical complexities as Sufjan is known for, Adz furthers the proof that he is just as great as a composer as he is a songwriter.

New CollisionsThe Optimist
Fun pop-rock from Cambridge, Mass. that has asense of optimism while singing about decline. The debut from the New England band is as if Jarvis Cocker wrote songs for Blondie and maybe the next big indie rock band to come from Massachusets in a very long time. New Collisions are a band that sounds more Britpop than American indie (maybe that is why I love them, after all that is my favorite genre), this could be probable due to the fact that Zak Kahn of Britpop band The Sterns plays drums in New Collisions. This band is one to keep on your radar and The Optimist is the reason why.

Unicycle Loves YouMirror, Mirror
Jangley, quirky indie rock from a band that is theatrical as Dresden Dolls and as fun as vaudeville. Mirror, Mirror is a record inspired by sci-fi films and is a grand experiment in pop and how a band of musicians are willing to push the genre and stand out on their own.

Beats Antique – Blind Threshold
A fusion of global sounds and dance beats – think Gogol Bordello backed by anything coming from Mix Master Mike’s turntables, Blind Threshold is the latest release from a band that has been putting out releases non-stop since their formation in 2007. We covered this band at Lollapalooza this summer and they are something to witness, Blind Threshold is a fun record but the experience is laid out on stage.

Recently the band has been offered $10 million from a person who is not even a fan of the band to break up. The band’s live shows have been killer and they are known to be a premiere live act, however, records like Hurley make that offer hard to not take. This album makes you scratch your head and ask, “wasn’t this band awesome at one point?” Rivers Cuomo is a songwriter that went to Harvard yet he writes as if he still in middle school. Glad their live shows can save their career, because their recording career will not.

***Denotes that corresponding writer, Jared Ziedman wrote those reviews. Ziedman is a corresponding writer to and runs the sports website,