Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Playlist: April

Albums currently in rotation:

  • No-Man—Love and Endings (2012) 
  • St. Vincent—The 4AD Sessions (2012)
  • The Mars Volta—Nocturniquet (2012)
  • Jack White—Blunderbuss (2012) 
  • Storm Corrosion—Storm Corrosion (2012)
  • Gotye—Breaking Mirrors (2012)
  • Joe Bonamassa—Driving Towards the Daylight (2012)
  • Bass Communion—Cenotaph (2011)
  • Steely Dan—Katy Lied (1974), The Royal Scam, (1976), Aja (1977)
  • The Aristocrats—The Aristocrats (2011)
  • The Shins—Port of Morrow (2012)
  • Anathema—Weather Systems (2012)
  • Miles Davis—Bitches Brew (1970)
  • Thin Lizzy—Black Rose deluxe edition reissue (1978)
  • Blur—Best Of (2000)
  • Trevor Rabin—Jacaranda (2012)
  • Radiohead—Kid A (2011) 
  • Jimi Hendrix—Electric Ladyland (1968)
  • John Wesley—The Lilypad Suite (2011 - Madfish edition. Thanks for sending, Wes!)
  • Butterfly Boucher—Butterfly Boucher (2012)
  • Amadou & Mariam—Folila (2012)


The theme of this month might as well be, "And now for something completely different."

Storm Corrosion is a collaboration between Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, Bass Communion and, now, a burgeoning solo career) and Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth). If you've no idea who Steven Wilson is, here's a primer on the musician who is a genius. (That's not hyperbole.)

Mikael Akerfeldt, too, has finally been getting the recognition that he deserves, too. Pitchfork, of all sites, just wrote a glowing critical re-evaluation of Opeth's back catalog and awarded its albums uncommonly high grades.

Wilson and Akerfeldt's longtime friendship, which began when Wilson produced Opeth's Blackwater Park, has led to mutual guest appearances on Opeth and Porcupine Tree albums. But Storm Corrosion is their first proper project outside of those bands. It's a beautiful yet understated record that may underwhelm some listeners at first. It is filled with ye olde medieval folk influences -- see the music video above -- which means lots of classical guitar and flutes and woodwinds and orchestra and mellotron. Some genteel electric guitar solos in the mix, too. Very little percussion/drumming. Occasional avante-garde moments. Both men share vocals, usually during the same song, and their voices make for a very complementary pairing.

Don't expect the dramatic sharp shifts and contrasts of Opeth's Heritage and Grace for Drowning, though the songs often take detours such as the pleasingly unexpected maypole of rondelay vocals that pop up during "Drag Ropes" (see video, above), or the blackout of disharmony that briefly threatens to overtake the placid beauty of "Storm Corrosion." The album is very subtle. Listen closely to "Hag," for instance, for the insistent pulse of the hooky two-note bassline in background - it will stay with you long after the song has concluded.

Storm Corrosion demands one's undivided attention. Indeed, it has to be listened to very late at night with the lights off and with no other distractions -- without that curfew environment, the album doesn't work. It should come with a sticker that says "not to be listened to during daylight." But listened to in those conditions, and approached on its own terms rather than one's preconceptions, it's a beaut, especially if you love records such as Scott Walker's avant-garde masterpiece Tilt and David Sylvian's Approaching Silence. Comus looms large as a key influence. The stupendous final track, "Ljudett Inaan," is clearly influenced by Talk Talk's Laughing Stock, right down to the dead snare sound of the drums.

On the strength of Storm Corrosion, I hope this isn't a one-off project.

And while we're still on the topic of Steven Wilson... I've been enjoying a new live album by No-Man, a duo consisting of Wilson and singer and lyricist Tim Bowness.

I'm a big fan of No-Man's emotive art rock and the live album Love and Endings is a nice entry point into the band's wide-ranging styles. I recently conducted an extensive in-depth interview with Bowness about the history of No-Man and his many other side projects, which you can read here. This album is exclusively available at Burning Shed, which has a free MP3 of the No-Man track "Lighthouse" available. In the meantime, check out these two videos from the DVD which comes with the live album.


From one African to two others: I believe that everyone needs to have a bit of Amadou & Mariam in their record collection. The duo, a blind married couple from Mali, have found international success over their past three albums. New album Folila, which features memorable contributions from Nick Zimmer of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, and Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, is their best album to date! As I wrote in my review of it, the album "can barely contain the joy."

Take a listen to "Wily Kataso" (featuring the guys from TV on the Radio) below.



At Steven Wilson's shows, I've been absolutely floored by the drumming of Marco Minnemann. He's right up there with the likes of Neil Peart, Gavin Harrison, Vinnie Colaiuta and Keith Carlock.

Friends of mine in Tel Aviv (hi Brian and Adam!) kindly sent me a CD by Marco's own band, a purely instrumental trio called The Aristocrats, who play hard rock and utterly insane jazz fusion. The guitarist, Guthrie Govan, has chops that would make even Steve Vai drop his guitar pick. (Watch Govan's mesmerizing fingers as he teaches guitar licks here and here and here.) Beautiful guitar tone, too. The Aristocrats are finishing up their world tour by playing two nights at the Alvas Showroom in San Pedro (Los Angeles harbor area) on June 2 and 3 where they will be doing a DVD shoot. I'll be there. Take a listen to the trio here and while you're on their site, download the free MP3 of a track called, erm, "Sweaty Knockers": http://the-aristocrats-band.com/music/