VARIOUS ARTISTS Eccentric Breaks and Beats (Numero Group)
Aside from Dylan’s The Basement Tapes and Prince’s Black Album, it’s pretty rare that leaked albums end up as official releases. Yet that’s the story with Eccentric Breaks and Beats. Numero Group, a Chicago label that resurrects obscure albums of the past few decades, got wind of a vinyl bootleg of outtakes from its Eccentric Soul series. The album, however, was far more than a pirated copy; it was a remix of hundreds of samples into a galactic hip-hop mix of horn-heavy ’70s soul. Numero Group eventually found out that the mix was the work of Shoes, a shadowy DJ outfit that puts out underground remixes of classic R&B and Detroit techno. So instead of issuing a cease-and-desist letter to the record company, Numero moved to put out the bootleg as its record — which in a way, it is. The result is a mixtape album that recalls the astral soul of DJ Shadow and Massive Attack. While it’s full of abrasive, stagflation-era funk, the record scrambles and stretches its source material to the extent that it can be hard to identify the original songs. Perfect for summer cruising, the CD is essentially two 22-minute tracks (sides A&B) composed of hot guitar licks, delirious hooks, and rhythm sections as tight and fluid as anything Stax or Motown put out in their heyday. — Casey Sanchez TOKYO POLICE CLUB Champ (Mom + Pop Music) Youthful, nerdy Canadian indie-rock collective Tokyo Police Club follows up its 2008 debut, Elephant Shell, with a tamer slab of down tempo songs that finds lead singer-bassist Dave Monks getting nauseatingly nostalgic while stretching his nasal-y rock pipes to new heights of “wicked awesome, ehh.” When he sings on the opening track, “Favourite Food,” “With a heart attack on a plate, you were looking back on your days, how you spent them all in a blur, when they asked if you were for sure,” you know you’re in for plenty more eye-roll-worthy reminiscence. With few exceptions, Monks should have looked back to the infectious quick-and-dirty pace of his band’s first full-length album and saved these songs for his inevitable aging-hipster solo career. The Strokes-influenced poppy/squealy guitar hooks, subtle keyboard melodies, high-octave cheek-a-chunk rhythm guitars, and driving percussion are still intact, but they lose their umph in songs stretched to the three-minute mark and beyond. (That would be most of the tracks.) The air of chaos and immediacy on Elephant Shell is traded for something more musically mature and thematically self-indulgent here, which may be the result of employing former Beck/Elliot Smith producer Rob Schnapf. There are a few throwbacks to more carefree TCP days, like “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)” and “Big Difference,” but out of 11 tracks, less than half feel like a genuine effort.
— Rob DeWalt
Chamber Music (Naxos) The name will ring a bell for music-lovers, but who among us really knows much about Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989)? Though he was overshadowed by his English contemporaries Walton, Tippett, and Britten, Berkeley was no slouch. The most notable British pupil of the redoubtable Nadia Boulanger (to whom he was referred by Ravel), he served for more than two decades as professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He composed in many genres, but his sensitivity to instrumental texture found an especially comfortable home in chamber music. The four little-known works elegantly performed on this CD by the New London Chamber Ensemble (plus colleagues) reveal considerable stylistic breadth. Touches of Hindemith enliven his ebullient Horn Trio, and his Viola Sonata, written at the end of World War II, is somber and moody. His Sonatina for Flute and Piano was originally envisioned for recorder and harpsichord, but it has always seemed awkwardly constrained in that neo-Baroque setting. Played on flute and piano, it frolics like a lark. If the Flute Sonatina seems a cousin to the music of Poulenc, Berkeley’s Quintet for Piano and Winds is imbued with a sense of mystery and harmonic adventure we may associate more with Milhaud. This well-balanced program is not ponderously deep, but it charms: just the thing to listen to on a summer evening while sipping a glass of rosé. — James M. Keller
With few exceptions, Dave Monks should have saved the songs on ‘Champ’ for his inevitable aging-hipster solo career.
FOL ChEN Part II: The New December (Asthmatic Kitty)
Bands with both male and female vocalists have an advantage over their unisexual counterparts in that they can directly convey harmony or discord simply by choosing who steps up to the microphone at any given time. Unsurprisingly, communication (and lack thereof) is often a major theme of their work, from Fleetwood Mac up through The XX. Los Angeles sextet Fol Chen incorporates that dynamic into its ongoing narrative wherever possible, detailing disconnect in lines like, “I’m so sorry / I’ve forgotten your name/I forgot my own” on “The Holograms” and on “C/U,” “All the notes you wrote me, they’re falling apart/I try to read them but the phrases stop and start.” The band underscores these lyrics with a sonic palette that is diverse but never dense, marching in the same minimalist funk as Prince & the Revolution’s Parade. This holds true whether Fol Chen engages in an airy waltz on the title track or an Eastern-influenced, Timbaland-like jam on “In Ruins.” Unfortunately, the hooks that the band hangs its expressive lyrics and eclectic instrumentation on aren’t terribly sticky; the record is a slippery affair that doesn’t stay in your head long after listening. That’s a drawback, for sure, but the silver lining is that every time you listen to The New December, you make colorful new connections that you’d previously overlooked or forgotten about. — Robert B. Ker