Cold Cave’s ‘Icons of Summer’ is a pop epic in the overdramatic ’80s tradition, complete with Morrissey-esque lyrics.
AMSTERDAM KLEZMER BAND Katla (Essay Recordings)
Imagine what it would sound like if snarky punk act Dead Milkmen morphed into a Dutch Gypsy-folk act, and you’ll be a step closer to understanding the wit, wisdom, and talent of the Amsterdam Klezmer Band. Formed in 1996 by saxophonist Job Chajes, AKB presents a collection of original tunes on its latest album that runs the gamut from fast-tempo klezmer dittys like “Geen Sores” to the slower, çiftetelli
rhythm-kissed “Toi.” Katla examines themes as varied as Italian painter Bellini’s muse (“Nicolosia”), the beauty of aging (“Marusja”), and drowning one’s sorrows (“Naie Kashe”). In “Gogol Mogol,” AKB rails against visitors to Amsterdam who head straight for the hashish cafés: “ Wherever he’s from, once in Amsterdam, he’ll go straight to the Red Light District’s coffee shops and, not so straight, back to his bed-and-breakfast. There he will collapse on his cot. Look! There’s the smartass; he only wants to smoke hashish.” Delivering a klezmer stew that blends Scandinavian, German, and Romanian folk traditions, the seven-piece AKB doesn’t shoot for regional authenticity. If that’s your preference, look elsewhere for your simkhe soundtrack. However, if you appreciate solid musicianship, this ensemble’s playing, especially the horns, will blow your moyekh. Besides, who can’t love an album named after an Icelandic volcano that’s named after a mythical kitchen maid who murders a shepherd for stealing her magical pants? — Rob DeWalt
Music for a Royal Wedding (Silva Screen Records)
For five and a half months, you counted down the minutes to the royal wedding. You got up in the middle of the night to watch the simulcast on BBC America. And now it’s over, just like that. You could sink into depression and ingest huge quantities of old Madeira and spotted dick. Or you could take action to keep the magic in this marriage alive, in which case Silva Screen Records is here to help you. It has assembled (as the press release states) “a hand-picked selection of the wonderful and unforgettable music from past royal weddings.” The hands that did the picking showed a sure instinct for the artistic middle-ground, incorporating snippets from the soundtracks of Braveheart and the Baz Luhrmann-directed Romeo
+ Juliet (movie scores are Silva Screen’s specialty), not to mention the “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem, “sung by Britain’s most popular soprano, Lesley Garrett.” (I can’t figure out which royals included those items in their wedding playlists, but researching it can be part of your therapy.) Mendelssohn, Wagner, Elgar, Walton, and other old friends make predictable appearances, and various orchestras and military bands bring their sturdy shoulders to the wheel. Break out that set of William and Kate paper dolls you bought, fire up the CD player, and Bob’s your uncle.
— James M. Keller
Cherish the Light Years
Welsey Eisold began his music career in hardcore bands before switching to lowkey synthpop with Cold Cave’s 2009 debut. Cherish the Light Years splits the difference between both approaches, ramping up the electropop tempo and firing it in bold new directions. The band tears out of the gate on the first two tracks, marked by ferocious drumming and Eisold singing in such a fashion that you picture him gripping the microphone in an aggressive stance similar to Henry Rollins, even if his voice comes across more like The Cure’s Robert Smith. After those tracks, he slows things down for “Confetti,” a glittery, mid-tempo number with a strutting beat, high synths streaking across the sky like neon streamers, and materialistic lyrics like “I feel guilty being alive while so many beautiful people have died” and “You look so good on the outside.” If this song doesn’t get major play at New York’s Fashion Week, then Eisold should sue somebody. The band recaptures that magic two songs later on “Icons of Summer,” a pop epic in the overdramatic ’80s tradition, complete with the Morriseyesque opening line “Seasons change, and passions change, and I live in a city with no seasons and passions at all.” Those two songs are the twin towers of an album that can get tiring and can sound tinny with all the high synths and compressed production, but ultimately contains a full fireworks display of pop pleasures. — Robert B. Ker
THE COOKERS Cast the First Stone ( Plus Loin)
The second album by The Cookers features saxophonists Billy Harper, Craig Handy, and Azar Lawrence; trumpet players Eddie Henderson and David Weiss; pianist George Cables; bassist Cecil McBee; and drummer Billy Hart. These are jazz big-leaguers in their own rights, but it’s fascinating to consider even a sampling of the talent that’s being channeled in this music: Gil Evans, Lee Morgan, Jaki Byard, John Coltrane, Betty Carter, Miles Davis, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Jackie McLean, Jimmy Smith — an immense register of jazz giants The Cookers’ band members have jammed with over the past 50 years. The result of all that time-brewed chemistry is a hard-bop fest. The title track is by Harper, and the brawny-toned tenor player is up front right off the bat. In the liner notes, Weiss mentions the band’s “play hard and mean it” aesthetic. This song is a good example, although the album also offers a fair range of dynamics. McBee crafts an engaging solo in his airy “Peacemaker,” which also boasts fine work by Henderson and Handy (best known for his work with the new Mingus bands). Lawrence, on soprano, burns beautifully on Cables’ “Looking for the Light.” This and the pianist’s other piece, “ Think on Me,” provide some mild contrast to heavier songs like “ Cast the First Stone” and the closer, Harold Mabern’s “The Chief.” Overall, this is an exhilarating album. — Paul Weideman