1. D Generation – Nothing Is Anywhere
It’s been almost 22 years since D Generation released their eponymous debut album (and almost 22 years since I reviewed that album for my college magazine, one of the first album reviews I ever wrote, thankfully now lost to history). I listened to a bit of that album in between listens to the new one, Nothing Is Anywhere, and I’m happy to report the band is still the same in many good ways, 17 years after they released their third album and split up. They are still scrappy, they still like loud guitars, and they’re still agitated after all these years. They used to say they didn’t want to “sing the graveyard song,” now they’ve got an anthem for the end of the world called “Apocalypse Kids.” On that one, Jesse Malin sings, “We are the ones born an endangered species/Five easy pieces keeping time.” They’re also more tuneful, and there’s a heap of hooks both vocal and musical. For the set always looking for the band that’s going to save rock and roll (it’s fine, though, guys, really), this is an album to hoist a flag to. And to sing with desperate optimism, like Malin does on the closing track, “Tomorrow.” Amid the crashing stars and shadows, he sings, “Tomorrow is all I have.” Glad the band woke up again.
2. essence – Black Wings
It’s hard to resist the title track to this album, all tenderly chiming mandolins and pastoral lyrics until the wonderfully profane whiplash of the chorus, “You’re fucked up enough/I found you, you found me/All of the pieces fit together perfectly… You’re fucked up enough for me.” Even better when you consider essence’s (that’s her real name – she had hippie parents) last album was called A Dog Named Moo and was directed at kids. Maybe she got tired of singing kids songs and snapped in the other direction, because this album also contains a song called “Bullshit,” a resonator-heavy tune that starts with the lines “Bullshit/I don’t believe you/You say you’re leaving/But I still see you.” Which is not to say this is a pottymouth album. There’s the more delicate leaving song, “Headed North,” and a song of ultimate devotion called “Fossils.” On that one, essence wins the songwriting prize for taking a metaphor to its absolute zenith. She sings to her lover that she loves them in their human state, then when they’re bones, then when they’re dust and fossils, then when the fossils become oil and then gasoline, then when it’s used in a car, then all used up. “I love you even more than that,” she says. Can’t ask for much more than that. Not everything hits the mark on this album, but there’s a lot to like. And essence can find the twang and tremolo in her voice for a classic country sound or tame that for a smoother delivery, from “9 to 5” to Allison Kraus.
3. The Silks – Turn Me On
The first thing that struck me when I heard “All Day,” the opening track on this Providence, Rhode Island trio’s second album, was that they sounded a bit like Chris Stapleton fronting a garage rock band. Plenty of twang and good energy. A little trippy sometimes with catchy riffs. Some sweet harmonies and vocal melodies over a crunchy guitar sound, and a rhythm section with some bounce. There’s a little bit of Grand Funk lurking in there, too, especially on “Let It Ride.” It sounds like summer music to me.
4. Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra – Songs of the Night: Dance Recordings 1916-1925
So maybe you’re a little more serious about Throwback Thursday than your friends. Maybe you read the D Generation review above, got to the part where I wrote it had been 22 years since their first album, and yelled, out loud, “Ha!” This might be more your style. I didn’t get a chance to preview the music, but it’s intriguing. It’s the first compilation of Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra, which was part of the soundtrack for the trending popularity of dance halls 100 years ago. My sense of history here is lacking, but the press release mentions that Smith was the first to record Cole Porter and George Gershwin songs, and was the first to include vocal refrains on dance songs. He also helped people set up their own dance parties at home by laying this stuff down on phonograph records. So if you’re having a little party at your house or apartment this weekend and you turn on the music and dance, maybe say a quick thank you to the guy. You can sample some of the stuff here.
5. Camille Harris – Where I Go
Harris is both a singer and a stand-up comedian, and she has indulged her goofy side on albums past, singing songs like “Kindergarten Is for Communists” and “Baby on the Subway.” She even named her 2013 album Silly Jazz. She plays it straight on this EP, though, a sophisticated and modern vocal jazz album. Her voice is nimble and smooth. The arrangements groove. Give it a spin.
1. Anthony Atamanuik and James Adomian – Trump Vs. Bernie: The Debate Album
Electoral politics is a tricky subject for comedy. It’s good in the moment, when everyone’s reading the same headlines, but it has a limited shelf life. James Adomian and Anthony Atamanuik are great being Bernie and Trump. They’ve got the cadence and the spirit down, and their riffs on this album are timely and hilarious. A lot of the references are very specific, and I’ll be interested to see if this album holds up or if it seems like a keepsake of a different time, like Vaughn Meader’s Kennedy or David Frye’s Nixon. Of course, both comedians have careers established outside of their political impressions, so they won’t depending on this shtick in a year or two. And right now, this is wonderful. In opening remarks, Trump calls “Little Marco” Rubio the “Indian in the Cupboard” of the primaries. He says he killed everyone in the primaries, adding, “If I become president, I will kill everyone.” As for Bernie, he says he understands he looks he’s running for president of the Muppets, and that he’s winning the vote amongst people who shop at Whole Foods but feel guilty about shopping at Whole Foods. Bernie hopes to tax micro-aggressions and raise billions from Trump alone, who counters that all of his aggressions are macro. Trump plans to work with an energy company he calls “Triple K” to help the country run on an unlimited resource – white power. That kind of rhetoric makes it even funnier when Trump chides the crowd for complaining about a nanny state while reporting everything they do on Twitter and periscope or schooling them on how the country was built on free slave labor. For his part, Bernie promises to literally punch the big banks and, if some coins happen to fall out of the bricks, to share them with everyone. To paraphrase Mort Sahl, times have gotten so outrageous they almost impossible to satirize. Who could come up with anything crazier than reality? Atamanuik and Adomian have solved that. This is an absurd and unhinged hour and 16 minutes of comedy, perfectly suited for its time.