This Month's Picks

The Epic (CD)

Kamasi Washington
Calling your solo debut  The Epic  and making it three-LPs long is gutsy, but then again, Kamasi Washington isn’t your everyday musician. The 34-year-old saxophonist and composer crafts a jazz record that is brash, forthright and inventive, all while staying true to jazz tradition. Washington’s skill as a tenor soloist in the Miles Davis/Ornette Coleman tradition has landed him on albums like Kendrick Lamar’s recent  To Pimp a Butterfly  and he’s toured with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Chaka Khan. But what surprises the most about  The Epic  is how accessible and listenable it is across its three discs without once aiming for a cheap crossover or diminishing Washington’s talents or sound. On 12-plus minute jams like “Change of the Guard,” Washington goes wild amid his carefully chaotic arrangement of piano trills, angelic gospel runs and cinematic strings. You might have to pause the album to catch your breath after that opener, but digging into  The Epic  unearths a wide variety of riches. The standup bass and liquid guitar soloing of “Askim” accompanies more stately, beautiful playing from Washington—until he goes much fiercer in the song’s second half, while still remaining melodic.  The Epic  balances such improvisational explosions with more atmospheric pieces, the organ-led rainfall of “Isabelle” and beatific “Seven Prayers” offering some respite. Vocalist Patrice Quinn appears on a few tracks, including sweet love song “The Rhythm Changes” and lush “Cherokee,” and shuffling Afro-Latin rhythms spice up songs like “Re Run Home.” Washington is happy to lose himself among the layered orchestration now and again, but he remains the star on most tunes, like the remarkable “Miss Understanding,” its grandiose opening giving rise to some of Washington’s best pure soloing, a pleasure to lose yourself in. Along with a handful of interpretations of classics like “Clair de Lune,” Washington’s originals announce him as an unstoppable new force in jazz, one who is able to make the music palatable to hip-hop and indie rock fans without watering anything down. For that alone,  The Epic  is something to celebrate. More
Genre: Jazz

Before This World (CD)

James Taylor
James Taylor’s storied musical history enters a new chapter with  Before This World , the folk artist’s first new album of original material in 13 years. From the opening of the redemptive bluegrass paean “Today Today Today,”  Before This World  reintroduces us to Taylor’s gentle voice and warm delivery, sounding as timeless and youthful as ever. Taylor harkens back to his strongest, early ’70s material on piano ballad “You and I Again” and the pastoral, country-tinged “Stretch of the Highway.” And at this stage in Taylor’s career, he’s able to pull off a silly, straight-faced ode to the Red Sox with “Angels of Fenway.” Taylor keeps things lively and varied throughout, returning to upbeat bluegrass for “Watchin’ Over Me,” and Sting joins Taylor for the carolesque medley “Before This World / Jolly Springtime.” Though you won’t find any forays into new territory for Taylor,  Before This World  is thankfully bereft of any misguided attempt at crossing over to the kids, which may have been temping—this is a man who has performed with Taylor Swift several times, after all. Instead, it feels like a summation of the tender folk sound Taylor has come to emblemize over the past decades.  Before This World  is a generous album, and one that will remind listeners of why they fell in love with Taylor’s music. More
Genre: Rock

3 (CD)

As the title suggests, this is the third album from the country/folk/bluegrass duo HoneyHoney. If you haven’t heard any of their previous albums you are missing out. They are the quintessential star-crossed musical duo. Think Marnie and Desi from  Girls , Sonny and Annie from  Treme  or perhaps even She & Him. These entertainment references used for dramatic effect due to singer Suzanne Santos' previous acting experience and the duo's ties to Keifer Sutherland’s Ironworks label. That being said this third album is anything but fodder for the entertainment industry. Ben Jaffe and Santos have sat with their alternative folk sound long enough to allow it to morph into something stronger and more resonant for the both of them. "You and I" and "Father’s Daughter" are some of the strongest moments on this well-crafted Americana record. More
Genre: Rock

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 5 / Vieuxtemps: Violin Concerto No. 4 (CD)

German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen [Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen], Henri Vieuxtemps, Hilary Hahn, Paavo Järvi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The young, classically trained and internationally renowned violinist takes on seven Mozart concertos alongside the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen chamber orchestra, led by Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi. More
Genre: Classical

Death Magic (CD)

It seems strange that HEALTH had only released two main albums up to this point. The L.A. noise-rock band’s profile has grown immensely, having soundtracked a blockbuster video game and chartered numerous remixes. Six years after  Get Color  and  Death Magic  seems overdue. Given that time discrepancy between albums,  Death Magic  feels like a restatement of purpose. Vocals are upped from faint and wraithlike to distinct, if still waifish, while the band’s cantankerous noise exercises have codified into massive songs that pulse with purpose. “Stonefist” features crowd-friendly electronic hits, while the synthesized sounds that whirr around in the background pull it back into the arcane. Tribal beats crash into laser-beam synths and gargantuan sound blasts on “Men Today,” on which it sounds like they’ve learned a thing or two from giving the likes of  Max Payne 3  its aural drama. The club-friendly beats of a tune like “Flesh World (Uk)” make way for the percussive brutality of track like the pulverizing “Courtship II,” later pulling back into the stellar electro-ballad “Life.” Without toning down their early mayhem too much, HEALTH find a happy place in which they’re allowed to write sly, hedonistic electro-noise songs about cocaine and have them sound slick enough to probably fool some exec into using “New Coke” as the backing for some new campaign. However much they’ve grown beyond the L.A. underground that spawned them, HEALTH remain as subversive as ever on  Death Magic . More
Genre: Rock

Zaba (CD)

Glass Animals
"Indie pop" has just become a ubiquitous term when it's hard to pinpoint a pop sound that explores new territory. Case in point Glass Animals: a band from England that combines poly-rhythmic Afro-rhythms and desert dry synths that are a more radio friendly take on Jon Hassell's  Fourth World  albums of the early-'80s. Lead singer Dave Bayley conceptualized the band as a solo, lofi project, but brought childhood friends Drew MacFarlane, Edmund Irwin-Singer, and Joe Seaward into this sonic Heart of Darkness. A tropical flavor coats the entire album with syrupy-sweet surprises sneaking up on you. Then psychedelic layers of lucid vocals spin your head through a mystery trip of 21st century exotica. The heavy bass envelops you in a warm womb-like trance that fits the equally freaky and odd lyrics that coo out of Dave Bayley's mouth. "Gooey" is a particularly surreal experience as drippy, melty sounds pour into one ear and float out the other into the atmosphere until it fizzles out into a haunting memory.  Zaba  is a no mere-morsel of a first album. It's a wondrous smoothie of jazzy, electro mellowness that has more and more rich textures to discover on each play. More
Genre: Rock

Sol Invictus (CD)

Faith No More
No longer merely a reunited live act, Faith No More are back with a new album that stays true to their heavy and experimental roots. After the album opening title track, which lurches to life slowly on Mike Patton’s quiet ruminations, the band launches into “Superhero,” sounding just like classic Faith No More, with Patton in full manic mode, his voice still elastic and cutting as ever after all these years while the band grinds out majestic post-alt-rock. However, “classic” Faith No More may be a misnomer; the band was never known to stay put in one genre within their albums, much less across them, and accordingly,  Sol Invictus  moves freely without losing focus. Piano interludes, funk guitar and time-signature shifts break things up on “Sunny Side Up.” Tracks like “Cone of Shame” find Patton and co. in full horror-movie mode, drumming up substantial atmosphere on the strength of the band’s dynamic playing and Patton’s creeping whispers. Patton, who’s also had a career juggling many other projects including the nightmare carnival sounds of Mr. Bungle and avant-electro-metal of Fantomas, spreads his wings on songs like “Motherfucker,” with its gleefully sung refrain “hello motherfucker, my lover” and spoken word delivery approximating that of Tom Waits. But the band still sounds amazing when it tears through its best-known alt-metal sound, on the metallic riffs and snarling vocals of “Separation Anxiety.” Mostly it’s an excellent reminder of how great and varied Faith No More’s music can be.  Sol Invictus  is the rare reunion album that is more than worth your time, honoring fans while trying new things at the same time. More
Genre: Rock

Royal Albert Hall (CD)

The latest live Eels release chronicles the long-running cult band with songs from across their career, plus a cover of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” More
Genre: Rock

Second Hand Heart (CD)

Dwight Yoakam
Fourteen albums in and Dwight Yoakam is still surprising us. “In Another World” starts the album off with propulsive guitars that call to mind the open road, with Beach Boys harmonies coming in to send the whole thing sailing. Similarly, the title track rocks out with sunny, overdriven guitars and Yoakam’s hiccupping croon, while “Dreams of Clay” slows things down for a sorrowful ballad. “Off Your Mind” gets unabashedly honky tonk, “Liar” is a fun spin into Beatles-inspired rock ‘n’ roll and Yoakam’s country-rock cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow” hits hard and lends a hellraising bent to a well-loved bluegrass classic. Especially in its more energetic tunes,  Second Hand Heart  feels like a driving album, meant to be played loud ‘n’ live, though closing track “V’s of Birds” makes for a wonderful closing ballad, full of stirring banjo and some of Yokam’s most heartfelt vocals. It’s a terrific comeback album that finds Yoakam better than ever. More
Genre: Country

St. Catherine (CD)

Recorded across the country while on tour with his other band, Real Estate, Matt Mondanile crafted and recorded his latest album with the band Ducktails. Stepping away from the radical, psychedelic pop of  The Flower Lane ,  St. Catherine  returns to the type of sound they've perfected. The wispy, ethereal and beautifully melancholic sound of  St. Catherine  recalls the days of the rich orchestrated pop sound of The Left Banke. Each track is a decadent bite out of a delicate soufflé. Each light and airy bite feels no less substantial than any other meal and is just perfect. Not the jam of the Summer, but the "relaxing on your porch while the sun is setting" jam of the Summer. More
Genre: Rock