MUSIC REVIEWS: R.E.M., Tortoise, David Moore, M. Nahadr, On Ka’a Davis
For those of us who spent 1984 playing Frogger, watching Punky Brewster, and humming “Axel F” while re-enacting Beverly Hills Cop at grandma’s house R.E.M. (and college rock in general) was something off the scope of our radar. It’s been 25 years and “the heat” is definitely no longer on, but R.E.M. is still a major presence on the music scene and now that grandma’s in a home and we’ve all had time to listen to and enjoy R. E.M., it’s important to go back and listen to how they began.
This year their second album, Reckoning, is being reissued along with a bonus live disk of a show from their “Little America Tour” from July 7, 1984 and the album served not just to prove that the band could follow up their amazing first album, Murmur, but also advance and learn to throw away the rule book. In sound, Reckoning is not all that different from Murmur, but it does have a looser feel, a darker more subdued mood at times, and two of the best songs from the R.E.M. catalogue: the eternal “So. Central Rain” and their first down-home country twist in “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.”.
The album includes gems like “Harborcoat” as well as fan favorites like “Pretty Persuasion” and the live disk is a great bonus including highlights from Murmur and Reckoning along with songs like “Driver 8” and a great cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.”
Tortoise is a band that is certified as one of the most influential experimental rock bands ever. Creating songs that match the varied timing, patience and allure of nature is their endowment. Rhythms are so smooth, heavy and awe-inspiring that they seem almost circadian to the natural inner-clock of most humans. Tortoise has a rare gift that easily captivates the mind and ear. Beacons of Ancestorship, is no different from the monumental wonder of their past mostly instrumental work. A bit more of a funkier, dub, punk rage, cowboy eeriness is felt, however. Drums pop in and out against super warm bass riffs that counteract with a wild host of dynamic instrumentation and keyboards. Having formed in 1990, this band out of Chicago, Illinois is known for its unique branding of sonic tidal waves. “Prepare Your Coffin” starts out with a heavy bluesy guitar riff reminiscent of a Curtis Mayfield solo. It easily lays into a shimmering comfy daytime pleasure ambience that rocks nicely against really rapidly moving percussive crashes. The meticulous and genius combination of many different musical influences and a high degree of well-gifted musicians who create as if they have a pulse on the soul of the living experience, Tortoise makes music reflective of the deeper tides of existence without even uttering a word.
Big drums, tough-guy vocal, jangle-jangle guitar, and lots of hard statements of love make up David Moore’s 12-song album My Love, My Stranger.
There’s big strings in the first tune “After Everything I’ve Done,” that jangle-y space guitar-which figures into almost every song here-and those in your face big drums on the very solid, singable “Breaking You Down,” and a stab at U2 with “Corners” (and some neat percussion). Moore gets almost country with “Home To Me,” another sing-able tune (the guy can write those great big infectious choruses) and just about when I thought I’d had it with the tunes sounding all the same here, thank God for “When You Fall,” a pretty little ditty featuring piano and Moore’s well-worn vocal.
Moore makes full use of his voice on “Jericho,” probably the best produced song for me here, it’s got nice backing vocals, that jangle guitar, some thick well-placed bass and the drums far back enough in the mix that I don’t feel hit over the head with a snare-drum headache. “Day is Done” is a nice tune, again with that layered-like watery background under Moore’s ‘kinda-start-with-a-whisper-then-roll-into-plaintiveness’ singing. For my money “Day is Done” and “Rise Up and Move On” the last tune of My Lover, My Stranger is the best of the twelve here. It lifts, separates, slices and dices, delivering that big deep statement over a rich tapestry sound I believe David Moore is going for more often then not with these twelve tunes.
M. Nahadr’s voice bellows upwardly in a full ranged, heady strength that is powerful yet angelic, it overwhelms because of its beauty and it also soothes. Sultry, smoky, rich, and soulful, EclecticIsM shows off this dynamic songbird in all her glory. Easily M. Nahadr’s vocal company is that of Cassandra Wilson and Chaka Khan. Rhythmic pulsing, chill-worthy and sweet thoughtful musical gems add to the richness of the album. M.’s grace floats over spaced out guitar strumming, wicked grooves and soft ballads. Her very refined, very stylized harmonies expand over a nice mixture of pop, rhythm and blues, ambient, and jazz structures. This album is the perfect companion to any environment and any mood. M. Nahadr’s perfect octaves make nice, every time. Outside of her sound but along with it, M. is stunning. She is a performance artist who explores balance after chaos and self-acceptance in a world that is not willing to embrace its own in her off-Broadway show, “Madwoman: A Contemporary Opera.” M. speaks to her life as an African-American albino. Her funkier side is heard on the soft pop upbeat sway of “The Dance.” The more rock infused sounds of “Blue Morning Sunday,” start out with a slide of electric guitar. M.’s voice glides in and out of an early morning dainty butterfly riff seemingly about a lover who has disappeared, so like a true survivor M. Nahadr decides to serenade the sun.
Avant-garde jazz painted slivers of drums spattering, basses moving through like an underground subway, horns fluttering and dipping like birds with the occasional breathy “ah’s” and “yeah’s” of song or dialogue one would hear hurrying down the street in pieces of rush hour conversations make up most of Seeds of Djuke a very experimental expressionist piece that is so disjointed its connected. Settling into one particular bass solo or Spanish guitar run that later catches up with a horn mocking the riff could be too complex and too difficult to understand, so one must simply ride and feel. Seeds of Djuke operates like art. Each observer will take away their own very distinct impression, no one will hear this album the exact same. An experimental guitarist from Cleveland, Ohio, classically trained in Vienna, Austria who later took up residency in New York’s Lower East Side, On Ka’a Davis is easily a seductive musical genius. “There, In Theatre,” moves like a storm. It starts off very percussive, very rhythmic, with starts and stops, then royally gets carried on the shoulders of frenetic guitars like trade winds, soulful slices of vocals and a bass thump that holds the song into a convoluted dialogue of a wild guitar fighting against yet another, soon becomes a more honed, more structured jazzy dance groove. The artistry, the undulating beat of drum and high hat taps are brilliantly crafted. Part jazz, rock, Spanish, afrobeat, funk, and a whole lot of complex unstructured instrumentation make On Ka’a Davis a renowned eccentric.