After spending January and February trying really hard to keep up with all the new releases and the surrounding conversation, I apparently rejected that approach in March, with exactly zero 2011 releases acquired this month. It's actually been a nice palate cleanser, for the most part. Here's a recap of what I picked up, in chronological order. Next week I'll have a quarterly roundup highlighting, specifically, my favorite acquisitions (new and old) of the last three months.
Harry Belafonte: Calypso
Possibly my favorite acquisition of the year so far. This is one of those records, like Les Paul & Mary Ford's Best of the Capitol Masters or Doris Day's greatest hits or Sam Cooke's greatest hits, that will likely be in perpetual play around the house. What I possibly like most about it is that it's not as raucous as you might think it is, assuming like me you only know "Day-O" or "Jump in the Line." Most the songs here are quite stripped down and lovely—sometimes heartbreaking.
- Harry Belafonte: Jamaica Farewell
Crosby, Stills & Nash: s/t
After years of getting in deep with the Byrds, I figured it was finally time for me to give CSN an honest chance and listen to one of their records all the way through. Well, the opinions I'd previously held based on their hits remains unchanged. For the most part CSN is just too pristine. I am an avowed fan of great harmonies but CSN for whatever reason leaves me cold. They're all harmony, no heart. I do really like "Lady of the Island," though. Other than that, I'm ambivalent to this record.
- Crosby, Stills & Nash: Lady of the Island
Fugiya & Miyagi: Lightbulbs
"Knickerbocker Glory" was one of my favorite songs of 2008, though I never got around to picking up the album from which it came. Three years later I came across it on a whim and brought it home. "Knickerbocker" kicks things off and frankly the rest of the record, though following the same basic formula, is rarely as good as that song. A few songs get close—"Uh," "Pickpocket," "Pussyfooting"—but for the most part Lightbulbs is a pleasant if not exhilerating lazy disco album for stoners. There are worse things to be than lazy disco for stoners, of course.
- Fugiya & Miyagi: Pussyfooting
Can: Unlimited Edition
This is a b-sides and outtakes collection that spans 1968 to 1975 and includes material from various lineup iterations of the band. It is almost totally worthless. Most of the nineteen tracks are aimless and kinda stupid. Some are fine but not special, and a small number rise to above average.
Low: The Great Destroyer
I feel like a fool. Low, can you ever forgive me for writing off The Great Destroyer based on a couple of listening station samples and a stray mp3 all those years ago? I should have had more faith in you, shouldn't have trusted the middling-to-poor reviews. Who were those reviewers, anyway? I didn't know them—not like I knew you. And yet I let six years go by before I listened to The Great Destroyer all the way through. Low, will you take me back? It's is not a perfect album, but it is a fulfilling album. Where it felt disappointing back in 2005, now it feels refreshing. The great strength of Low is that, even within the confines of their overall aesthetic, they always find ways to push their own envelope. Trust didn't push too hard, while The Great Destroyer pushes harder than anything they'd done before. With this album, Low are clearly trying to break their own mold. Whether you want that mold broken or not will dictate how you feel about the record.
- Low: Silver Rider
Deutsche Wertarbeit: s/t
Over at ILM there is a "Krautrock Listening Klub" thread that has supplied me with inumerable new-to-me jams. The thread went dormant a few months ago but was recently revived, starting with Deutsche Wertarbeit's self-titled debut and Earthstar's French Skyline. I've never heard of either of these groups before, despite my love of the genre. Both of these albums are great, the Deutsche Wertarbeit record in particular. It falls on the more electronic side of krautrock—think Cluster or Harmonia—though comes a little late in the game, 1981. A lot of krautrock acts segued from pioneering electronica in the 70s to cheesy new age in the 80s. Deutsche Waterbeit is a good milemarker on that trajectory. The music is clearly indebted to Cluster or Harmonia's—"Deutsher Wald" feels ripped from Deluxe—but it's also made on synthesizers that sound like harbingers of Tangerine Dream's awful mid-80s work. (Confession: I also acquired Tangerine Dream's Le Parc this month but deleted it from my hard drive after two listens. Dreck.) It's a strange pivot point in the evolution of some krautrock bands, where the aesthetic sensibility is still at a high level but the technology is evolving into something that, to these ears at least, is a bit silly. Don't take that comment too much to heart, however: I really like this album. It's one of my favorite acquisitions of the month, especially for the gorgeously sedate closer, "Der Grosse Atem."
- Deutsche Waterbeit: Der Grosse Atem
Earthstar: French Skyline
I've spent less time with this album but it too is pretty great. Interstingly Earthstar is actually an Americna band, from Utica, New York, who were so enamoured with the music happening in Germany at the time that they moved there. Recorded by none other than Klause Schulze, French Skyline was Earthstar's second album, and first to be released on the German label Sky records (home of Cluster, Michael Rother, and others). It's some epic drone with occasional guitar solos. Actually it feels like a precursor to what Emeralds are doing thirty years later.