Some very brilliant stuff here. . .
Yes, Neil's infamous "new wave" album. Once an embarrassment, I can now hear it as a musician pushing forward and challenging himself just for the sake of not staying still creatively. Although, beginning with the standard Neil Young fare of 'Little Thing Called Love' does feel a bit misleading. The next four tracks find Neil aping Kraftwerk as much as anyone else did in the early 80's and masking his voice with a vocoder. And, at the time, it sure would have surprised me had I been there that, actually, the best tracks are the ones where Neil doesn't try to just tread water. 'Transformer Man' received a new lease when Neil tackled an acoustic version for his Unplugged album about a decade later. 'Computer Age' is the other really good synth-pop tune here that has rightly been reassessed in a more positive light. The synth redux of 'Mr. Soul' is pretty bad, but, like I said, at least he was trying something else. The album ends with one of Neil's most idiosyncratic masterpieces. 'Like an Inca' is absolutely mammoth in scope and executed pretty damn well, to boot. If it were billed to Neil and Crazy Horse and were on any other album besides this one, with eight minutes and one of the most rewarding chord changes in Neil's entire repertoire, it would have a much bigger reputation than it ended up with. To give an idea of how important the song is: Neil revived it for his own audio autobiography just a couple years ago. Yeah, that one makes it all worthwhile. Easily.
William Tyler — Behold the Spirit (2010)
An incredible record from an incredible musician. This one is just sheer mood. Like, the whole thing just feels like a symphony. Yeah, it's got separate parts and everything, but it's really just one big piece to behold. William Tyler is a very inspiring guitarist who has longstanding roots in two long running Americana bands and who has finally come to the spotlight in recent years. Comparisons to John Fahey, Will Ackerman and Leo Kottke are imminent, as Will does not sing at all. There's twang, sure. There's a big impressionistic emotional aspect to the music as well. But, I dunno, there's a different quality to what he's doing here. Instead, he just plays these glorious one man walls of fingerpicked sound; sometimes on an electric, a bit more delay and echo than your average folkie. Just wonderfully warm and heartfelt tunes. Then, he'll just go straight wacky psychedelic like on 'To The Finland Station.' Just something unique and sparkling about this guy. He released an album before this one in 2008 under the name the Paper Hats and it's really good too — but sorry, kiddos, it was a German-only release. It's on Amazon MP3 for cheap and Spotify (for free, of course).
William Tyler — Impossible Truth (2013)
One from earlier this year that I missed until now. Easily my pick for so far album of the year. Still sparse and mostly just Will, but he is joined by some backing musicians this time around. Just have a listen to the first track. An incredibly tuneful rollercoaster that rivals even the best work of his influences, its scope is only matched by its emotion. The whole album just feels like the most beautiful manifesto: the output of someone whose full potential has been fulfilled for the first time, and yet, who also seems to be just now entering a creative renaissance. Dreamy, seemingly bottomless near drones like 'Cadillac Desert' would have been album highlights in the past, but are now things that play like an easy intermission. Album closer 'The World Set Free' is gorgeous. And with slow burning development, it takes many side trips into any number of musical caves and crevices of influence. But, perhaps most importantly (to me anyway), in the final third of the tune, with the addition of a drum set, woodwinds, a string quartet and some straight up distorted guitar dissonance, it's as close to David Axelrod's scope as contemporary music has been for at least a few years. Whoo boy, what a find.
Brian Eno — Music for Films (1978)
A varied and emotional album of small pieces. Seriously, this thing is a single record, but there's eighteen tracks in total! Some of the tracks with a full band backing actually remind me of early Cocteau Twins, if you can imagine that. There's a really "spacey" vibe to this music and I don't just mean the silence between the notes. When I hear something like 'Alternative 3' or 'From the Same Hill' I get images of nebulae and elliptical galaxies in mind. Sigur Rós has obviously learned a lot from the 'Sparrowfall' series that closes out side one of the album. But Brian had obviously learned a lot from his time in Germany a couple years previous. Things go in cycles, after all. Very emotive stuff, in any case. And the relatively accessible melodies combined with the shorter length of the pieces makes this one arguably Eno's finest work that I've yet encountered.
Nic Jones — Penguin Eggs (1980)
Truly a wonderful, but bittersweet work from a musician that seemed to be on the cusp of something even better. This has one of the single greatest side one/track one's of all time with Nic's absolutely ace arrangement and performance of 'Canadee-I-O.' A stunner on any level of evaluation, it's probably the definitive version of the tune. The rest of the album is all traditional tunes as well, and the focus remains Nic's seemingly supernatural guitar playing. A tune like 'Courting is a Pleasure' just appears to be a pleasant song of a broken heart on the surface, but Nic's accompanying himself on guitar makes the song a lot fuller than it initially may appear to be. There's some tunes with accordion like 'The Drowned Lovers' and 'Barrack Street' that are so jaunty and bouncing, they sound nearly like sea shanties (in a good way). The solo instrumental 'Planxty Davis' is generally the sort of gorgeous thing you're in for here, though. Nic was injured not too long after this album and it left him unable to play for many years. At least this album got made.
Jimmy Woods Sextet — Conflict (1963)
A rare (and odd) sideman appearance from Andrew Hill drew me to this one. The alto player that led this session (not to be confused with the similarly named, yet equally as overlooked, bassist) was apparently a well-respected composer among his peers and this was one of only two sessions that he led before deciding that that was enough of that. Not only does Andrew Hill play on this one, Elvin Jones is at the kit and even tenor demigod Harold Land is present. I swear, if this one were on one of the east coast labels, instead of the long-ignored west coast-based Contemporary label, it would be considered right there with all the classics on Blue Note and Prestige. Have a listen to the title track and see for yourself. The whole record, perhaps because of Andrew Hill's presence (or so I'd assume?), has a similar "in-but-slightly-out" sound. This version has three bonus tracks that are alternate takes of tunes on the proper album, but hearing this band is an absolute pleasure, regardless of the tunes they're riffing on. A one hundred percent stone cold classic. Whoo boy, it's a firecracker of a session.
Jon Hassell — Power Spot (1986)
Truly, it would not seem a just world if Jon Hassell didn't have at least one album released on the ECM label. I'm just surprised it took this long into his career for it to happen. This album is probably the thing most similar in overall sound to his Fourth World album since that album, six years previous to this one. It's a very hard thing to review a Jon Hassell album and do it justice, simply because nothing else sounds like the music he creates. Dreamy washes of sound and percussive ramblings are the order of the day for the base on which Jon builds his towers of blurted out blocks from his heavily treated trumpet. It's a completely and strangely beautiful album and a defining moment, in both Jon's and ECM's respective catalogues. Top stuff.