Every year I promise not only to listen to more new music, but to keep better track of everything. 2013 is no different and for the first three weeks of the year I’ve done a fairly good job of listening, but not such a good job of keeping track.
I’m going to try and put a lot of my notes here. I won’t go into a ton of detail, so if you want to know more about something, just ask. I’ll also post some shuffle lists here as well.
Let me start with CDs I bought over the holidays using various gift cards:
Debo Band – ST (Sub Pop/Next Ambiance, 2012): This is one of those bands that was recommended by a friend and then discovered later as I was reading about 2012 releases. I thought the name sounded familiar and sure enough I went back and found the email suggesting I check these guys out. They’re a Boston based ensemble who play both traditional music from Ethiopia as well as originals that are inspired by the African nation. This is a perfect example of taking something that’s old and making it new again. Many of you may be familiar with the Ethiopiques CD series of 70s Ethio Jazz. Debo band have used them as a basis for building their sound and added acoustic and electric violin and brass into the mix to create their own sound. Well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Ethiopiques series.
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant (4AD/Todo Mundo, 2012): This is another album that I heard a lot ABOUT before I actually heard it. The review that caught my eye mentioned Antibalas and another horn section, I’m a sucker for anything with a horn section. I’m not sure I was prepared for just how much I was going to love this record. The songs are all catchy and the arrangements are excellent. I find that my ears can only take so much guitar, bass, drum before they get tired. Love This Giant is a welcome change from your average instrumentation and something that I wish bands would experiment with more. It seems that over the last few years acoustic guitars, fiddles and other folky instruments have been all the rage, maybe bands will start using more horns? In reading through the liner notes (yes I still read liner notes!) I noticed that Byrne listed many horn based groups as inspiration: Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Asphalt Orchestra, Banda Citta Ruvo di Puglia and Banda Ionica. Before reading this list I felt like this album reminded me of Elvis Costello’s Spike (1989) which also featured the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I see this album being in heavy rotation for a long time on my iPod. It’s worth noting that Love This Giant comes as a CD and 5×5 cards in a printed plastic sleeve…nice packaging idea.
Zappa 2012 Reissues (Zappa Records/Universal Music): I’m a Zappa fanatic and have most if not all of his catalog on CD so I was a little skeptical when they announced last summer that the entire catalog was going to be remastered and reissued again. Frank had remastered everything in 1993 and put them out through Ryko in 1995, so why go through all of this again? Because they sound better, that’s why.
I missed hearing Zappa’s music on vinyl and since Frank was such a proponent of the CD format, I assumed that the Ryko versions would be definitive. But it seems that Frank may have used a little too much technology in 1993 by adding reverb and ‘fixing’ parts of his masters that he thought could not be captured properly on CD. I think he had good intentions, and maybe at the time it was the right choice to make. But the 2012 versions are largely remastered from the original analog sources and to my ears they sound like brand new recordings.
Listening to the remaster of a song like “Peaches En Regalia” from 1969’s Hot Rats that I’ve probably heard thousands of times is literally an eye opening experience. I’m told that the new versions sound almost exactly like the original vinyl versions, but without any surface noise. I just know they sound new and fresh and I love them.
Now not ALL of the 2012 reissues have been through this process, so you may want to look a little closer before you go out and buy all of them. So far I’ve only picked up CDs that HAVE used the analog sources: Absolutely Free, Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Waka/Jawaka, Over-Nite Sensation and One Size Fits All and they all sound amazing. I happen to prefer CDs, but if you’re more a digital person, you can get all of the 2012 reissues on iTunes as well.