No, I’ve not decided to start blogging about weddings and wedding paraphernalia. Having blogged a lot recently about books or jazz, I thought it might make a change to post something on the albums of the last year or so that I keep coming back to.
First up is David Bowie’s Blackstar, released two days before Bowie’s way too premature death on 8 January 2016. The album stands on its own as a great Bowie album but takes on its own poignancy given the circumstances. I first heard the title track Blackstar on TV as it was the opening theme for The Last Panthers, and was intrigued, so bought the album the morning it came out. Another attraction was Bowie’s band on the album, which is formed of top class jazz musicians and is essentially the tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s quartet. It’s not a jazz album though. Bowie always surrounded himself with top class players, whether they’re from the jazz, blues or wherever world. Blackstar itself is a great track as is Dollar Days. The lyric during the latter, ‘If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to’ is just one example where you’re hit with an emotional pang. The album finishes on I Can’t Give Everything Away, a perfect close to the album and an amazing recording career and life. It’s hard to keep the tears in given the poignancy of the tune. McCaslin and Ben Monder deliver wonderful solos making this track one of the highlights of the album. Highly recommended.
Next up is Tame Impala’s album Currents, released in July 2015. Tame Impala is effectively a one-man band: Kevin Parker played all the instruments, wrote the tunes, produced the album, made the tea, etc. The album sounds like something that came out of the 80’s if the person making the album came back from the future with some Daft Punk albums! The album’s first track, Let it Happen, is an epic tune that gets better as it goes along and I imagine hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have gone nuts dancing to it. Other stand out tracks include Yes I’m Changing, a slower paced tune and something that wouldn’t be amiss if you heard it in 1982, and The Less I Know the Better, which includes a nice bass riff underpinning the almost ethereal sounding vocals. It’s an album that you can stick on and enjoy every (or most) tracks and it’s one that I keep coming back to. The album was in the top 5 of all the ‘Best of 2015’ polls and rightly so.
Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie and Lowell (named after Stevens’ mother and stepfather, respectively) was released early in 2015 and, like Currents, performed well in all the Best of 2015 polls. It’s a quiet, poetic album, reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel or Elliott Smith. The album starts strongly with Death with Dignity (you know this isn’t going to be toe-tapper!) and continues in a similar vein. One of the album’s highlights is Should Have Known Better, one of the tracks reminiscent of Elliott Smith and is itself about Stevens reminiscing on his earlier life, going back to when he was ‘three, maybe four’. Another personal favourite is ‘No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross’, which sounds and reads like poetry. If you’re not a fan or appreciative of S&G or Elliott Smith, this may not be up your street. If you are, then you may want to check out this gem of an album.
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly topped all the Best of 2015 polls and was a favourite with jazzers, not least as it featured the likes of Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and Thundercat. However, I prefer Lamar’s ‘untitled unmastered‘, which was released in March 2016. UU is simply an album of outtakes from the Pimp a Butterfly sessions; 8 outtakes which are better than most albums released! At 34 minutes long it’s less than half the length of ‘Butterfly’, which is perhaps one of the reasons I prefer it. The album kicks off with what has been aptly described as an ‘unashamedly apocalyptic opening‘. That’s a bit strong but it’s certainly got a dark streak running through it while it grooves along like nobody’s business. Untitled 2 (the tracks are named untitled 1-8) is another foreboding track, my favourite on the album, which sounds like the grim reaper is on the organ, on acid and having gone to ‘cool chords’ school. The rest of the album is a blend of funk, soul, jazz and even bossa-nova and closes with a groove that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Earth, Wind and Fire album. If you’re not into rap, give this a go. It’s worth sticking with and is highly recommended.
Other notable mentions include Radiohead and Badbadnotgood’s latest albums but hopefully these will keep you going until next time.