America’s subconscious tops the charts this week and we’re perfectly fine with Lana Del Rey stripping away another layer from the American Dream. Things are not what they seem and we all know we’re living some weird lie wrapped in a layer of Starbucks receipts, n95 masks, soccer moms, hypocritical politicians, and woke cancel culture that won’t stop until it devours its own. Things are fine. Not really. Lucius and Sarah Mary Chadwick dig a little deeper.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby
Buy at Amazon (Inertia Records, 7112355, 33 rpm, LP)
There is an honest layer of misery that flows throughout this record that makes it that much more digestible. Recorded after a failed suicide attempt in 2019, Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby is a sorrowful, and very raw collection of tracks from the Australian singer-songwriter that don’t pull any punches. It’s almost the antithesis to Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club – at least from the perspective of authenticity.
Both albums are very stripped down productions, but Chadwick’s pain and conversation with herself about loss, death, and betrayal resonates through every track and you’re not sure if she needs a genuine hug or just someone to listen to her. It’s not the most uplifting record after the events of the past 12 months – but not everything should be about COVID. Human suffering didn’t put its boots away prior and Chadwick’s bleak album hits harder than any self-loathing and kvetching Del Rey can lay down on a record. – Ian White
Jerobeam Fenderson – Oscilloscope Music (Soundcloud)
I’m blaming Jeremy Sikora for this selection. While editing his latest column, I noticed that he included a reference to Austrian musician, Jerobeam Fenderson. A quick search on AllMusic and Qobuz resulted in a dead end. A search on Google directs you to a website with links to his music and audiovisual compositions on YouTube, Bandcamp and Soundcloud. His Oscilloscope Music project is an audiovisual experience, where images are drawn with sound. Waveforms are fed simulataneously into a set of stereo speakers and the X/Y-inputs of an oscilloscope.
I was rather skeptical of the recommendation and put on a pair of headphones because the hour was late, and I did not want to incur the wrath of those sleeping above. 45 minutes later, I turned off my MacBook Pro and disconnected the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC from the USB port.
Some of the music made me feel that I was stuck in an endless loop with Tron in the grid, but it’s definitely worth a listen if you enjoy electronic and synth compositions. The oscilloscope visuals can become tiring after more than a minute if you’re not on something. – Ian White
Sarah Vaughan – Sarah Vaughan
Buy at Amazon (Decca/Emarcy/Verve, AEMA 41301, LP)
Among the top ten musicians to come out of the Garden State, Sarah Vaughan gets the least respect and that’s always troubled me. Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra put New Jersey on the map, but Bruce has more talent than Sarah Vaughan? What about Count Basie? Or Whitney Houston? Her wide range and ability to pull off bop phrasing in her singing was extraordinary; Vaughan performed in Billy Eckstine’s orchestra and was given the opportunity to perfect her craft alongside Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
She recorded Sarah Vaughan in 1954 as a studio album with Clifford Brown and there are few jazz vocal albums that can touch it. She was at the top of her game during this recording session; her ability to swing, extend her range, and just cut loose – who can perform at this level with such presence in 2021? Nobody. Sarah Vaughan was one of a kind. – Ian White
Lucius – Wildewoman
I first discovered Lucius when I heard their lead vocalists, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, sing backup for Roger Waters at the Desert Trip Music Festival in 2016. The ladies sang a solo at one point that was truly jaw dropping, leaving everyone wondering who they were. The next year, I caught a full band show in Nashville, and that live experience cemented my love and appreciation for Lucius.
Wildewoman is the second album from this exceptional indie pop group led by powerhouse vocals from Wolfe and Laessig. Once you hear these ladies sing, you’ll never forget their voices. The record was reissued last year on tie-dye splatter vinyl, and there are still a few copies of the limited run left. The Budget Audiophiler actually tipped me to this reissue, so I’ll tell you what he told me – go grab this before it’s gone. – Lauren Halliday / Buy at Amazon
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Reunions
When Jason Isbell puts out a new record, it typically doesn’t leave my rotation for a long time. That’s been the case for his latest, Reunions, released last year. It’s another outstanding album from one of the greatest songwriters of a generation. While it didn’t capture my attention as instantly as his last record, The Nashville Sound, that’s in no way a dig given the quality of his material. On Reunions, Isbell’s lyrics are honest and moving as always, and The 400 Unit is as tight as ever. Highlights include “Dreamsicle,” “St. Peter’s Autograph,” and “Letting You Go.” If you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to Jason Isbell before, Reunions is a great album to make the introduction. – Lauren Halliday / Buy at Amazon
The Co-Op – The Co-Op
Jazz doesn’t have to be old to be good, as this 2007 session, recorded at the now defunct Clinton Recording Studio in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC and kept in the vault until 2016 surely proves. “The Co-Op” is a rather mysterious amalgam; there’s not much information to be found about them. Put together by the equally mysterious Brown Brothers Recordings, the group came together as an “ad-hoc” backing band for the Swedish singer-songwriter Malin Johansson, aka. Blue Utopia. It’s not clear if they ever performed with Johansson, but their bringing together was a stroke of genius, with the group of highly accomplished musicians, all composers/bandleaders in their own right, producing a tight session of atmospheric, modern jazz with a late-night feel – perfect for a dimly lit jazz bar/speakeasy.
Music is mostly down tempo and moody with late ‘80s vibe (think Miles Davis and Marcus Miller on Tutu), and occasional excursions into film noir territory (“Katrina” would fit seamlessly as part of the Sin City soundtrack) and fusion (“Jake’s Dilemma” could be a cutting room floor outtake from Bitches Brew); neither diversion feels out of place or diminishes the vibe of the album as a whole.
The line-up is Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, flugelhorn and production, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Kendrick Scott on drums, Derrick Hodge on bass and piano, and Warren Wolf, Jr. on vibes, piano and glockenspiel. Each contributed at least one original song, and musicianship is of the highest level, as is the recording and production. Though it was recorded digitally, sound is very alive and organic; it’s hard to believe the session was not AAA Analog. Presentation is completed with a high-quality tip-on gatefold sleeve with (almost impossible to read) graphics/credits by Mike Anderson, and the album was pressed on 180 gram audiophile vinyl at Pallas in Germany. – Eric Pye / Check Discogs
The Smiths – Rank
This album is special for me because its the first album I purchased on CD. Of course, I now own the original pressing on vinyl as well. This live album was The Smiths going away present as they broke up in 1987, releasing Rank a year later in 1988. There are many “gray market” or bootleg Smiths live albums out there, but this is their quintessential live album clearly having the best sound of all the live albums I’ve heard. All the hits are present with a smashing rendition of “StillIll.” – Jeremy Sikora / Buy at Amazon
The Beastie Boys – Swiss Cheese
I’m not going to lie, this purchase was a direct result of watching the “Beastie Boys Story” on Apple TV+. It brought me right back to when I was growing up and buying everything on CD the Beastie Boys released. Swiss Cheese is a pressing from the broadcast of their performance at the St. Gallen Festival in Switzerland in 1998. I saw them live in Toronto about that time and it makes this album even more memorable. The sound quality is certainly not perfect but the energy and stage presence of the Beastie Boys easily makes up for it. – Jeremy Sikora / Buy at Amazon