This past Thursday night I had the honor of seeing, The Bad Plus, at The Neptune Theater in what turned out to be an incredible performance. I have been a fan of The Neptune Theater ever since my first show there which was Snarky Puppy. I think the venue is an excellent size, and usually has pretty good sound as well. Upon arriving Thursday night, I was surprised to find seats on the floor right in front of the stage. This was my first concert at The Neptune that has been seated, but looking back on the performance it fit the atmosphere very well.
Having no opener for them, The Bad Plus came out on stage and instantly started burning on a tune I didn’t recognize, and eventually morphed into a roaring chart titled “My Friend Metatron”. Instantly blown away, I knew the entire performance was going to contain the highest level of musicianship. It was after this tune that bassist Reid Anderson finally addressed the crowd. Showing a remarkably dry sense of humor throughout the performance, Anderson welcomed us all to the show and made everyone chuckle before the lads brought down the energy with a sensitive cover of “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper.
As the tune progressed, The Bad Plus continued to expand our understanding of the song by adding dissonant harmonies and convoluting the pulse more and more. Following up the cover came an Ornette Coleman tune entitled “Law Years”. The juxtaposition of these two songs one right after the other perfectly highlighted that, The Bad Plus, are not only musicians that know what the crowd likes to hear, but are also heavy jazz players that love to venture off into the realm of free improvisation as they abandoned tonal center and traditional rhythm. The Ornette Coleman tune found The Bad Plus experimenting with textures and harsh timbres that any free jazz fanatic would have been impressed by. What followed for the next hour came an inspiring mix of both pop and heavy jazz tunes that shifted along the spectrum from the most “out” to the most “in”, inciting cheers and immense applause from the audience countless times.
Over all, The Bad Plus demonstrated an ability to combine the familiar with the unknown, all the while remaining tasteful. Not a single note or idea was played that the music didn’t call for, which showed that pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer David King poses an immense sense of maturity and trust in each other as musicians. I would recommend seeing The Bad Plus to anyone who is a fan of music and can appreciate witnessing the experience and comfortability of three killin’ musicians who have spent the last 17 years shedding and making music together.
Legendary 90s shoegaze band Slowdive has returned with their first new music since 1995’s Pygmalion. Although the group reformed in 2014 for some live performances, they have not released any new tracks until now.
I’ll admit, whenever an older band releases new music after long periods of inactivity, I’m usually not expecting much, but Slowdive has such a strong track record of excellent music that I was cautiously optimistic when I heard they had been in the studio.
“Star Roving” does not disappoint. While their last album had a more minimalist, ambient vibe to it, their newest track recalls the sound of their earlier releases with layers of fuzzy-sounding guitar and distorted vocals. The music in some places sounds reminiscent of the band’s old contemporaries Ride or Chapterhouse, although I was reminded on first listen of the more upbeat Yo La Tengo tracks. I had worried that any new music they put out would sound uninspired or derivative, as can sometimes happen with band reunions, but “Star Roving” shows the band hasn’t lost their songwriting abilities. Hopefully the quality of this track is reflective of any future music Slowdive may put out.
New music output is a fickle thing. There’s new music being released all over the world all the time, even now; however, sometimes there seems to a be a huge burst or lull in output. One of the most reliable of these boom/bust cycles is the early fall rise, and the subsequent December-January comedown. Artists release music in the early fall, anticipating an end-of-year list bump in sales or a possible Grammy nod, and then the music world generally calms down for a while, recharging itself.
The first month of 2016 saw a decent crop, however: Rihanna’s ANTI, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, and of courseBlackstar all came out in the year’s first month. This year is yet very young, and yet we’ve already had some very high-profile releases in the indie world. The returns of The xx, The Flaming Lips, Run the Jewels, and even Dropkick Murphys have set 2017 off with a plethora of new tunes to try and wrap our brains around. And in the upcoming weeks, we’ll see a flood of new albums to sink our teeth into, seemingly from every genre under the sun. It’s a good time to be a music fan.
Some of the biggest names in music appear poised to release new projects this year, many of them under the ever-widening umbrella of the “indie” scene: Arcade Fire, Spoon, and The Shins have announced albums, and released accompanying singles as well. Tool have been hinting at something for a while (a long, long while) while. The Orwells have a new single. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is putting out another goddamn album. Gorillaz are coming back! And in the near future, some very exciting releases should be expected. Here’s a few of my most anticipated:
Cherry Glazerr, Apocalipstick: Los Angeles-based weirdo rockers Cherry Glazerr haven’t released a full album in just over three years, and they seem hellbent on following up their debut record, 2014′s Haxel Princess, with something huge. Collaborating with some big-name producers (Joe Chiccarelli of The Strokes’ Angles and Carlos de la Garza of M83’s Junk), the band is looking to expand their sound and audience on Apocalipstick. Preceding singles include the riffy, groovy “Told You I’d Be With the Guys”, which promises a rock record that could be among the year’s best. Apocalipstick is out January 20 on Secretly Canadian.
Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound: Cloud Nothings have a lot to live up to with this project. The band rode the swell of support for 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else through the departure of lead guitarist Joe Boyer, a collaborative album with Wavves, and a grueling tour schedule. But now they have to follow up two of the best lo-fi punk records of the decade, and we hope they can follow through on the promise of their two preceding records. Though lead single “Modern Act” disappointed me a little bit, follow-up “Internal World” brought much more to the table. This album, according to frontman Dylan Baldi, is supposed to be a bit more vocally interesting and less dark than Here and Nowhere Else, and I’m optimistic about where this focus will take the band. Life Without Sound is out on January 27 on Carpark Records.
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Japandroids have been putting out some of the most life-affirming, shout-along music in recent memory, which really makes you wonder: can there really only be two of them? The guitar-and-drums duo get such huge sound out of their instruments that it seems hard to believe. Their most recent release was 2013’s Celebration Rock, a critically acclaimed release that included standout track “The House that Heaven Built”, and since then the black-clad rockers have undoubtedly been looking for a way to adequately follow up a triumph like that. Near to the Wild Heart of Life has to be damn good. The album’s first single is the title track, which comes out of nowhere, hitting you with a thick wall of drums and pure energy. It bodes well for a band whose MO has always been: “Hit ‘em fast, hit ‘em hard.” Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out on January 27 on ANTI-.
The Menzingers, After the Party: The Menzingers are a band that remind me of the do-or-die emotion of high school, and that’s not just because I got a little too into them in my sophomore year. The Philadelphia-based quartet can be counted on for some killer hooks and some incredibly interesting lyrics to boot. 2012’s On the Impossible Past is, in my very humble opinion, completely flawless; it’s a masterwork the whole way through, an emotional call to a time that we’ve either forgotten or never had in the first place. 2014’s Rented World was a bit more flawed, but it had some notable standouts: opener “I Don’t Want to be an Asshole Anymore”, for all its long-windedness, is one of the best things they’ve ever done, and follow-up “Bad Things” is hardly a slouch. Their latest record is preceded by singles that range from decent (“Bad Catholics”) to exceptional (“Lookers”), and I look forward to hearing singers Greg Barnett and Tom May bleeding their hearts out all over the damn thing. After the Party is out February 3 on Epitaph.
Dirty Projectors, Dirty Projectors: Ah, Dirty Projectors. The perfect bridge between Arcade Fire’s accessible anthems to Animal Collective’s unrelenting madness, this band has always occupied a weird place in the indie world: they’re not the weirdos AnCo are, but they’re not exactly a band to show your friend whose closest brush with the indie scene was when he accidentally walked by Sufjan Stevens’ set at Coachella this year. They’ve always been really good, but never have they fully scraped their way into mainstream consciousness. The closest they’ve come was 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, an album that shivers and shakes but never falls down, and their new self-titled release hopes to deliver further on the promise of that record. If this record has anything near half as good as “About to Die” on it, you can catch me listening to it day and night. Dirty Projectors is out February 24 on Domino Records.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the American hip hop scene experienced a beautiful collision with jazz. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul gained a fair amount of fame from this movement. Let’s dedicate some time to another one: Digable Planets.
When I first discovered Digable Planets, my attention was immediately drawn to the presence of a female rapper. It caught me off guard to hear Ladybug rapping confidently alongside Butterfly and Doodlebug in the group’s Grammy award-winning single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”. My surprise quickly turned into admiration for their smooth flow. Listen to how their voices glide in “Where I’m From” (below).
The mellow sound of their music makes for easy listening, although it’s a bit of a juxtaposition to the content of their lyrics. The trio’s second and final release, Blowout Comb, is a highly politicized production. It’s interwoven with far-left, Afrocentric messages and references to race and class on the East Coast. “Black Ego” highlights Butterfly’s interaction with a police officer, while “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies)” evokes imagery from the Five Percent Nation. Other tracks like “The Art of Easing” shine a light on the realities of urban life in Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, after only a few years together, Digable Planets disbanded as a result of creative differences. Seattle native Ishmael Butler (Butterfly) is now a member of alternative hip hop group Shabazz Palaces. Doodlebug, aka Cee Knowledge, is the lead member of Cee Knowledge and the Cosmic Funk Orchestra, while Ladybug Mecca embarked upon a solo career.
Despite their short time together, Digable Planets’ sophisticated rhymes and jazzy rap remain fresh two decades later. I welcome this blast from the past every time I hear them, and I hope you all can do the same.
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This Thursday, the 19th, The Bad Plus is performing at The Neptune Theater. I first heard about The Bad Plus from their collaboration with saxophonist Joshua Redman, which was equally exciting and experimental. Similarly, on their own, The Bad Plus refuses to be confined into any one genre or sound. Drawing most of their influence from jazz, The Bad Plus often venture off into genres of rock and pop, but do it in a way that feels comfortable and not gimmicky. Known for off-the-wall covers of various rock and pop tunes, seeing The Bad Plus perform live will be an adventure through the realms of free jazz and pop music alike. The trio consisting of bassist Reid Anderson, drummer David King, and pianist Ethan Iverson all met back in high school and have been making music together since 1990. Regardless of what set the band decides to bring to the audience on Thursday night, it will undoubtedly be one that reflects their forward-thinking mindset and 27 years of musical experience together.
-DJ sneak peaks
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