Saturday, January 26, 2013

Best of the Rest of 12: Legacy Acts

These are all acts with histories, boldly forging ahead in their own idiosyncratic ways.

Steely Gaze
Sunken Condos, the latest from Donald Fagen, has him once again turning his acerbic eye on contemporary society. Although it's his first album made without using the big production values that we've come to expect from the Steely Dan camp, it sounds absolutely fantastic, with a rich bass and gleaming keys. His voice is also a delight, demonstrating a mastery of phrasing that can only come from singing for decades. The songs are far more energetic than his last solo effort, the disappointing Morph The Cat, and overall Sunken Condos is a great listen. While a few of the tracks are just too familiar to allow it in the pantheon, his mind-blowing cover of the Isaac Hayes obscurity Out Of The Ghetto shows that Fagen still has a few surprises up his sleeve.

The Family That Destroys Angels Together
How To Destroy Angels, Trent Reznor's latest project, featuring his his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, along with frequent collaborators Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan, has been quietly establishing themselves over the last couple of years. On their second EP, An Omen, Maandig's feather-light voice seems to have inspired some new approaches. This is especially evident on the gorgeous song Ice Age, which features an interlocking arrangement of acoustic sounds that could be a cross between a Swiss watch and a Harry Partch composition. All five songs are strong and demonstrate Reznor's masterful production skills. The album is slated for March 5th, 2013.

Empire Of The Sean
Sean Lennon has pursued his career at what looks like a relaxed pace, but in 2012 I noticed an increased level of activity at Chimera Music, his label. It's all rather intertwined - his side projects have side projects - but I have been keeping a closer eye on the goings on. The Chimera MusicSampler goes off in a number of directions with the general flavor of arty ear candy for fans of Cornelius and Cibo Matto. I was also glad to see a full-length electric album by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, his band with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl. For some odd reason it was only available on their 2010 tour until now. Grab it.

Kemp Muhl first began making music with her childhood friend, Eden Rice, when they were in elementary school. After the disruption of Kemp's international modeling career, they got back together as Kemp & Eden. From what I understand, some of the songs on their debut Black Hole Lace are from their teenage years - and it shows. The lyrics are often cringingly sophomoric. However, their harmonic chemistry, gorgeous voices and versatile instrumental skills carry the day and promise great things. Sparrow features a haunting melody that does not dissipate until long after the song has ended. With The GOSTT seemingly on hiatus as Lennon pursues his Mystical Weapons project with Greg Saunier, perhaps Kemp & Eden will turn out some new songs where everything comes together.

Eno Deluxe
I had a wonderful experience at a listening event for Brian Eno's Lux, his first new ambient work in some years. It was further proof that he is master of that particular domain and has become more assured as a composer since his groundbreaking ambient albums of the 1970's. It's acceptable to put it on in the background, but taking the time to slow down and just listen will be richly rewarding. 

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