In September 2014, the Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrated the works of the prolific film composer John Williams at their annual Opening Night Gala. The concert, a program conducted by the always magnetic Gustavo Dudamel, featured the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, The Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and master violinist Itzhak Perlman. The 82-year old composer was paid loving tribute as works from films such as Jaws , Schindler’s List , Catch Me If You Can , and Star Wars filled the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Now the memorable concert is presented on DVD and Blu-ray with bonus interviews from John Williams, Dudamel, and Perlman. Directed by Michael Beyer this footage captures the intricacies and nuances of the Philharmonic’s outstanding performance at Dudamel's hand, as well as capturing the inescapable magic of Williams’ unforgettable compositions.
Flo Morrissey’s debut introduces us to a uniquely beautiful new voice influenced by the so-called freak folk of artists such as Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Like Vashti Bunyan or Linda Perhacs before her, Morrissey’s voice raises into a high, strange swooping coo, but her voice also has enough range and power to be swooned over by vocal coaches, thick and warm and capable of lowering into unexpected depths or getting raspy for effect. Morissey’s gentle fingerpicking and bucolic arrangements are boosted a bit by Noah Georgeson’s production, which can add sunlit sheen to a song like “Pages of Gold,” making it more palatable in the process. At only 20 years old, Morrissey’s songs can feel naturally wide-eyed, but you also get the feeling she’s an old soul. “I am no longer afraid of my past,” she sings on “Show Me,” a song about looking forward without reservation. With a debut as gorgeous as Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful , it’s clear that Morrissey’s apparent optimism about her own future is less wishful thinking and more a premonition.
The longstanding !K7 mix series DJ-Kicks has reached the epic 50th release! As the !K7 DJ mix was born in Berlin in 1995 who better to escort this landmark mix to the public but Berlin's own DJ Koze? Unsurprisingly, Koze blends countless genres, including deep soul, underground hip hop, indie pop, and even William Shatner, with aplomb. The mix in result listens at times like an incredible playlist from your favorite Radio DJ instead of a hardcore party mix. However the skill in Koze’s edits and harmonious stream of consciousness logic proves undeniably listenable. A perfect mix for the laidback listener that requires some experimentation, and one that !K7 can surely be proud of.
Glaswegian Electronic / Hip-Hop producer Ross Birchard releases his second album to date under the Hudson Mohawke moniker. His follow up to 2009’s Warp debut, Butter , sheds light on what the producer has been doing with his time. Lantern , first and foremost, is a Hudson Mohawke record. So all of the successes he has seen, be it with his collaboration with Lunice TNGHT or the stellar production he has done for Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, are just illuminated pieces of the whole. "Very First Breath," the first single off the album, blends bass and synth with a trap pace. Whereas "Scud Books" takes that same synth and pairs it with an epic, bone-crushing bass and string section. Both indicative of what HudMo can do, but utilized to do only his bidding. Even powerful featured vocalists like Miguel on "Deepspace" or Jhené Aiko on "Resistance" are put in their place and forced to blend with Birchard’s at times atonal vision. Needless to say it’s phenomenal. Lantern proves that Hudson Mohawke can drop bangers not only as a hired gun, but as an electronic auteur as well.
The path that Benjamin Burnley has carved out for himself has not been the easiest. His steadfast career has been riddled with countless medical, legal and artistic complications. But nothing has shown his perseverance more than the post-hiatus return of Dark Before Dawn. The Breaking Benjamin namesake/frontman, having cut ties with his former backing band, proceeded forward with a full line-up change in 2014. Each member picked by Burnley himself is meant to be a complimentary and respectful addition to the new group. While the post-grunge sound of previous albums, the personnel change instead casts a new outlook on the band itself. “Every great relationship is built on respect. You get what you give. Everybody is just totally humbled. We just want to go out, be real and have a really good time with our fans.” This new positive outlook is very exciting for fans due to the amount of work that they might see out in the future (a possible acoustic album). That sound for now however is very reminiscent of his post sober work on 2009’s Dear Agony. No surprise there, considering former Dear Agony co-writer Jasen Rauch is now a full member of the new Breaking Benjamin. For fans of the group, the revitalization of Dark Before Dawn is an exciting landmark for great things to come.
Cayucas make irrepressibly sunny guitar pop that suggests they’re the West Coast’s answer to Vampire Weekend. Their sophomore album may sound like it was engineered by the folks at the Ace Hotel for maximum margarita-sipping vibes, but there’s a cleverness to Cayucas’ arrangements. Single “Moony Eyed Walrus” is an irresistibly catchy tune with guitars that skip like a stone, its emotive strings serving as a nice counterpart to Zach Udin’s vocals, which flip from detached stoner to beach party emcee. They infuse songs like the title track with subtle marimbas and snaking basslines to match their island-hopping guitars, while lyrics about a certain dancing muse give the song the feel of a poolside update on “Hotel California.” Though it can be a bit on the nose when the band sings about Jacuzzi nights and Tahitian blues on “Backstroke,” the song still has a nice Afropop-leaning funk to it and vocal oddities that make the song a pleasure. And “Ditches,” a piano ballad about getting the hell out of suburbia, sees the band stretching its wings. So don’t feel bad about blasting Dancing at the Blue Lagoon all summer; you won’t be the only one doing so.
Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell embark on a rustic set of covers with Sing Into My Mouth . Named after a line in “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads, the album sees Beam and Bridwell trading off singing lead on well-chosen covers that easily fit to both artists’ new-Americana styles. Beam adds warmth and sincerity to “This Must Be the Place,” resetting it from its minimalist Afropop-inspired roots to a more straightforward acoustic love song. Bridwell reveals new layers to his voice stripped of the noise and copious reverb of Band of Horses on a gentle cover of the Spiritualized song “Straight and Narrow.” Sighing steel guitars, organ, piano and other light instrumentation provide a subtle backdrop for these excess-free covers, and longtime friends and Beam and Bridwell prove ideal vocal counterparts, with Bridwell’s earnestness tempered perfectly by Beam’s breathy wisdom and vice versa. It’s a beautiful album in its own right, wonderful as a Saturday morning easy listen, and one that suggests Beam and Bridwell should collaborate on originals in the future.
There’s little that can be said about Sticky Fingers that hasn’t been said a million times, but it bears repeating: It’s the most consistently great album in the Rolling Stones’ estimable catalog, making it easily one of the most solid albums ever. Sticky Fingers ’ 10 songs saw the band entering the ’70s in style, with some of their hookiest and best songs, from iconic singles like “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” to the growling, bluesy expanse of “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” paralleling “Sister Morphine’s” dead-eyed comedown, the elegant garage-rock of “Sway” and “Dead Flowers” and beatific closer “Moonlight Mile.” These new deluxe editions strip off the borders from such a venerated album and let us see it in a new light. There’s a scrappy take on “Brown Sugar” with Eric Clapton on guitar, an even sparer “Wild Horses,” and a slimmed-down take on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” while “Bitch” goes off the rails into a wicked jam. Sticky Fingers is the best place to start for Stones newbies, and this edition presents the best-ever version of the classic album.
Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah and producer Adrian Younge deliver the second installment of their cinematic Twelve Reasons to Die series, and it's got more drama than your average summer blockbuster. A combination of voiceovers and lyrical content tell the story of black New York gangster Lester Kane, with Shakespearian levels of vengeance, star-crossed lovers, evocations of violence and resurrection. Raekwon provides the voice of Kane as Ghostface and others, including Vince Staples, Bilal, RZA, Lyrics Born and Scarub, provide the narration. None of this would matter if the music itself wasn't as strong as it is. There's a full dedication to telling these stories, which can be a bit familiar, that comes through in the venomous spit on tracks like the Staples-starring "Get the Money" and creative cadences on "Death's Invitation." Composer Adrian Younge's score, full of horror movie organs, Blaxploitation basslines and Spaghetti Western orchestral touches, is as fun to get lost in as the script. Taken together, the Twelve Reasons to Die albums succeed as concept albums because of their easy-to-follow, singular subject matter and that the music doesn't suffer as a result of a weighty plot. Now someone call up Quentin Tarantino and let's get this thing made into a movie.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra continue their transition into the best funk band from another dimension with Multi-Love . The title track sounds like Stevie Wonder on a space-rock kick, as frontman Ruban Nielson raspily sings of polyamorous affairs over proggy movements and danceable beats. “Like Acid Rain’s” disintegrated R&B dazzles and melts in your ears. “The World Is Crowded’s” lockstep groove accompanies lush soul vocals singing quizzical lyrics, asking “did she blow my brains out?” like a robot waking up from a one-night stand. And “Ur Life in One Night” takes the psychedelic-leaning funk and soul of the ’70s and making it sound truly interstellar, as though Curtis Mayfield and Funkadelic records were transmitted via satellite to an alien galaxy, and this was the responding message. But however proudly UMO wave their freak flag, Multi-Love is still rooted in reality. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” begins on a film-noir opening, with cinematic horns, booty-shaking jungle drums and 007 riffs growing into curious melodies that curl into an earworm chorus on perhaps their best song yet. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s particular universe is perplexing only until you get your footing; then you’ll never want to leave. It’s truly one of the best things we’ve heard all year.
Norwegian artist Jenny Hval’s peculiar sound world incorporates spoken-word performance, of disjointed observations and sexually exploration, and an unpredictable singing voice, at times softly melodic, other times creepily singing about “shaving in all the right places” over cerebral pieces built on musique concrete and classic goth-rock. Listening feels like stepping into a darkened room and following a pinhole’s light. You’re unsure of what you’ll find, yet you’re oddly compelled to move forward through songs that feel more like dream-logic scenarios in which borders are unrecognized. Some echoes of Broadcast, Laurie Anderson, Bjork and Kate Bush poke through, but Hval, schooled in gothic metal, writing and performance, has a solitary perspective that can’t truly be forced into traditional influences. More accessible tracks like the loose, organ-driven “The Battle Is Over” give way to avant-garde sound pieces like “White Underground,” built on layers of ascending vocals and wails and synth drones that emit horror movie vibes. Hval skillfully keeps things tied together and swinging back and forth between the esoteric and tangible, moving back toward the latter for the French Pop-inspired “Heaven” and soulful wonderland of “Why This.” Hval’s ability to transmute her dreams and internalized feelings into pop-distorting pieces is a rare thing, giving Apocalypse, girl the thrilling feel of discovering the obscured.
L.A. duo Girlpool find something new and intriguing among familiar elements on their debut LP, Before the World Was Big . Twin vocals wrap around lonely bass and guitar lines that wander the empy space left by a lack of accompanying instruments, placing the focus on the Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad's vocals, wide-eyed and untamed like two feral children searching for clarity in a supposedly civilized world. Their debut calls to mind indie-rock heroes of yore from The Breeders to Modest Mouse without really sounding like any band before them—a feat in and of itself—singing of the trappings of a typical life ("Ideal World"), endless tour boredom ("Dear Nora") and the sudden nostalgia that hits at the end of your teenage years, where Tucker and Tividad currently find themselves, evoking the image walking to and from school in matching dresses and feeling like you grew up too fast on the title track. Unlike that of most bands, the hype surrounding Girlpool is entirely understandable—it's rare to find music this special.