In Heavy Rotation #1

This is the first in a series of weekly columns I’ll be throwing down, and when I say weekly sometimes that might mean 7 or 10 or even 14 days (which I guess would be bi-weekly…) Anyway, look for these- I’ll be around.

Mulgrew Miller – Live at Yoshi’s, Volume One (2004; MAXJAZZ Records)

Pianist Mulgrew Miller got his start with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the mid-80s and has since gone onto play with some of the best in jazz; Ron Carter, Kenny Garrett, Freddie Hubbard and Tony Williams (just to name a few). On this collection, Live at Yoshi’s Vol. 1 (recorded in 2003) he shines along with Karriem Riggins on drums and Derrick Hodge on the bass. It’s more than your standard hard bop fare; Mulgrew’s playing is both dazzling and focused. The album’s closer, Pressing the Issue, is a romp into some inspired post-bop territory and my pick for the best track on the album.

Grimes – Visions (2012; 4AD Records)

I thought (judging from the album cover) this was going to be some scuzzy skate punk or thrashy garage shit. Boy was I waaaay off- it’s some synth dance pop from Vancouver native Claire Boucher. It would not sound even a little bit out of place on an early-80s dance floor at some club in Italy, either. This is probably the hugest surprise of the year; I figured it would be some unsettling and totally unlistenable blast rawk but it’s actually probably the most accessible album I’ve heard this year. Here’s to judging music by the cover art. Boy I feel dumb. Wanna dance?

Panda Bear – Young Prayer (2004, Paw Tracks Records)

I had totally forgotten about this, I almost feel now that it’s the “lost” Panda Bear album, considering how much people went crazy for 2007’s Person Pitch and all the hype around latest release Tomboy. But here’s a really raw, emotive, plaintive version of PB’s work- I think I read somewhere this was written as a eulogy for his recently passed father. If you view it as a component piece to Animal Collective‘s release from that same year (Sung Tongs) then it plays a lot like a b-side; where that album is a spazzy upbeat romp this is a somber, reflective ode.

Blind Pilot – 3 Rounds and a Sound (2008; Expunged Records)

Hyper-literate, melodramatic indie folk that could sidle up next to a band like Great Lake Swimmers or The Low Anthem and be right at home with its recurrent themes of bittersweet longing, reflective thoughtfulness and sweeping autumnal grandeur. My pick for best track on the album is The Story I Heard, a story about a train-hopper that can’t seem to escape the regrets of his life; they follow him everywhere he goes. Plays great on a Sunday afternoon.  

Iron Maiden – Powerslave (1984; EMI Records)

When Maiden fired vocalist Paul Di’anno in 1981 and replaced him with Bruce Dickinson, they cemented themselves at the top of the heap of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal for all times. The twin guitar assault of Adrian Smith and Dave Murray over top of the soild thrumming bass lines of Steve Harris with Nicko McBrain on drums pinning it all down made the Maiden an unstoppable force. The first album with the classic line up, The Number of the Beast, is not only one of the greatest metal albums of all-time, it’s one of the greatest records ever. Fast forward two years to ’84 and their Powerslave album- in my opinion their best (or my “favorite”, whatever). It shows them at the height of their powers, exploring a more proggier side of metal (bassist Harris never shied away from his love for Jethro Tull, Genesis and Wishbone Ash) and those associations have never been more apparent than on the album’s final cut, the thirteen-plus minute Rime of the Ancient Mariner (based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem of the same name). Another choice cut is The Duellists, which showcases that twin guitar attack I referenced previously.