BERKELEY TO BAKERSFIELD
Like frontman David Lowery’s other band, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker has turned to sounds and memories of California for inspiration. Not surprisingly, the artists’ rights advocate sings Internet-era protest songs on this double album. The folk rock-influenced “Berkeley” disc includes “March of the Billionaires,” which indicts technology companies (“take what you got, we’ll sell it all back to you”), while “Bakersfield” offers Cracker’s clever, joyous take on C&W. Despite his sharp criticism of the music business, or maybe because of it, Lowery and collaborator Johnny Hickman still make outstanding records.
CHES SMITH AND THESE ARCHES
Belching tenor and alto saxophones, guitar wails, wheezing accordion, and the elastic drumming of Ches Smith are showcased on this 2012 live recording. While at its core quite conventional, a zany abstractness transforms the seven songs of International Hoohah into madly imaginative set pieces, where you’re as likely to hear brawling barroom beats (“International Hoohah”) as Monk-inspired playthings (“Punks Vs. Jocks”). International Hoohah gazes intently into the bizarre.
The vibrant city of Melbourne, Australia boasts a new, hot band every few years; Cut Copy is one of the few with international staying power. Here, the trio curates a seamless DJ mix of quality dance tracks generated by 19 artists in its hometown. The driving tracks are reminiscent of early- to mid- ’90s house but with indigenous inflections such as didgeridoo. It’s a true reflection of the city’s lively underground scene—sounds like Melbourne is the place to party.
The most long-form of the Wu-tang Clan, Ghostface Killah thrives in a boom-bap caper. For his most recent bugged-out narrative concept, the almighty GFK—a.k.a. Tony Starks, Ironman, Pretty Toney, and Ghostdini—returns as a vigilante Staten Island superhero, backed by Brooklyn’s live band-production unit the Revelations and joined by AZ, Kool G Rap, Pharoahe Monch, Kandace Springs, Rell, and Tre Williams. The finished product—uncut dope, pure Blaxploitation swagger—snaps between slow-burning, soulful melody and gritty breakbeats.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE VOLUME 3
Soundtrack Volume 3 from the brilliant Prohibition- era series features swingin’ ’20s jazz performed by big band Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks, and sung so beautifully by Elvis Costello, Regina Spektor, Marshall Crenshaw, Norah Jones, BE star Margot Bingham, and more. In keeping with the era and location of later episodes, this volume also features Cuban music and the sounds of early radio. All three soundtrack albums make delicious souvenirs of the series, and stand on their own as well.
REZ ABBASI AC OUSTIC QUARTET
INTENTS AND PURPOSES
Jazz-rock was once considered a 1970s musical weakness when otherwise sane jazz musicians longed for the groupies, gold lamé, and loud electronics of prog bands like ELP and Rush. But casting the learned eye of re-appraisal, guitarist Rez Abbassi reinvents jazz-rock standards within an acoustic setting led by steel string guitar and vibraphone. Intents and Purposes pours new life and meaning into Weather Report’s “Black Market,” Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” Pat Martino’s “Joyous Lake” and others.
NO CITIES TO LOVE
Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss return without losing one beat, still hitting wiry indie-rawk marks with math-rock precision and the ferocity of post-hardcore. No Cities percolates with kinks more akin to their pre-2002 spikier songs rather than the blown-out sonics of 2005’s No Woods. However, the crisscrossing guitars and vocal parts dovetail just as effortlessly as they dart, forming angular but never gawky whorls showing the band as even more densely synchronized and harmonized.