1. The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos
The question that popped into my head when I heard that Les Claypool and Sean Lennon were collaborating on a new album was, which personality would assert itself most? Both are used to leading bands, and both have a strong sense of their own musical personalities. Listening to the advance, I’d say it’s a pretty happy tie, with maybe a slight edge to Claypool for singing the lion’s share of the songs and directing the rhythm with his bass. They find common ground in the early output of Pink Floyd and Genesis, creating earthy and progressive psychedelic soundscapes. “The Cricket and the Genie (Movement I, The Delirium)” is pretty and ominous with its gurgling bass and organ sound. “Mr. Wright” sounds the most like Primus, another of Claypool’s character studies. But even that strays off path between the verses, where the instrumentation gets a bit more diverse. “Captain Lariat” is a Primus-like march but with lush and lofty background vocals and chorus you won’t find elsewhere in Claypool’s catalogue. Lennon steps forward more on the second half of the album. On “Ohmerica,” a nicely-bent waltz through modern fascism and technology, he sings, “If we stop shopping the terrorists win.” Monolith is a wonderful side street to get lost on for a while.
2. Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger
It’s been 52 years since Paul Simon paired with Art Garfunkel, 46 since he went solo, and we’re a month shy of the 30th anniversary of Graceland, Simon’s most commercially successful album. His studio albums are becoming more rare – he’s released just four since 2000, including his latest, Stranger To Stranger, out today. Not only is Simon still swinging, he’s still swinging big. Stranger is adventurous sonically, dark and shimmering, often matching Simon’s mood. The narrator in “The Werewolf” warns we are coming to the end of the rainbow, and that might be a good thing. “Wristband” starts as a story of a musician locked out of his own gig – a bouncer demanding to see the singer’s wristband – then turns into a commentary on social privilege. “The riots started slowly,” Simon sings, “with the homeless and the lonely/Then they spread into the heartland/towns that never get a wristband/Kids that can’t afford the cool brand/Whose anger is a shorthand/For ‘you’ll never get a wristband.’” “In A Parade” kicks off with a hustling street beat with a strange buzz somewhere in the background, when Simon sings, “Some nights the ER is as quiet as an EKG.” It shortly becomes clear that the parade is a place to escape a grim reality.
3. Huh – Whatever You Want
This debut EP from NYC’s Huh would have gotten a lot of spins on the Hamburger Train, my old college radio show. Their indie guitar rock would fit nicely between Belly and Lou Reed on the playlist. They ride that nexus between a snarl and ennui, a level of cool that’s hard to capture.
4. Eli “Paperboy” Reed – My Way Home
Within the first few minutes of My Way Home, a picture arises in the mind of a band wailing away behind a bannister in a church on a sweaty Saturday afternoon in July, drums and bass thumping, organ swirling, guitar pushing an amp just past overdrive, and a singer testifying like he’d burst if he didn’t release his praise at this instance. The grouping of the first three songs, “Hold Out,” Your Sings Will Find You Out,” and a positively thrashing reading of “Cut Ya Down” (a.k.a. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” or “Run On For A Long Time”) is a service in itself. Only the tempo slows when he gets to the slow-burning “Movin’,” which he follows off with a bouncing “Tomorrow’s Not Promised.” The whole production is a throwback, from the songwriting to engineering style. The band sounds like it’s playing together on a stage somewhere, reverberating off the walls. Reed’s vocals even distort when he’s really slinging it. If you want the sound of a real band locked in and delivering, pick this up now.