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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Phish, BLK JKS and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

ROCK

Phish

“Joy”

Jemp

***

Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio is singing to an unidentified old friend but could just as easily be addressing his bandmates when he intones “laughing all these many years/we pushed through hardships, tasted tears” at the start of the quartet’s new album. “Joy” is Phish’s first studio effort in five years and the first since the band reunited after an amicable break-up that turned out to be merely a hiatus (not to mention regular contributions to each others’ solo projects). A spirit of, well, joy buoys these 10 tracks, ranging from the sub two-minute blues of “I Been Around” to the trippy 13-and-a-half minute epic “Time Turns Elastic,” which reportedly took more than 260 takes to piece together. The net result is perhaps the best and certainly most consistent of Phish’s 14 studio sets, blending the improvisatory adventure of the group’s DeMille-length live shows with a tightness and polish crafted alongside producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Dave Matthews Band), who also worked with Phish on 1996’s “Billy Breathes.” A rootsy melodicism — not dissimilar to spiritual forefathers the Grateful Dead — dominates “Joy,” including the smoothly sentimental “Backwards Down the Number Line,” the reggae-tinged “Sugar Shack,” the loping hippie rocker “Ocelot,” the full-throttle “Kill Devil Falls” and the dynamically building “Twenty Years Later.” “Joy’s” title track explores more gentle terrain, and “Time Turns Elastic” has enough twists and changes to hold your ear throughout its epic arrangement. Time away certainly hasn’t hurt Phish; this is as “Joy"ous a return as fans could have hoped for.



WORLD MUSIC

BLK JKS, “After Robots” (Secretly Canadian) ***

This is not your Paul Simon version of South African music; this quartet actually has more in common with murky rock outfits such as the Cure and My Bloody Valentine, although the polyrhythms and [i]kwaito[/i] stylings of its full-length debut make clear “...Robots” hail from another world entirely. Talking Heads exert a bit of influence, too, on tracks such as “Lakeside,” while the trancey opening of “Cursor” builds into a dramatic swirl of sound, “Banna Ba Modimo” ebbs and flows its way through gritty hard rock and jazz sections, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble adds weight to reggae-flavored “Skeleton.” Like the buzz-building spring EP “Mystery,” the feel is positive without necessarily being celebratory, though the production — by BLK JKS with Secret Machines’ leader Brandon Curtis — could do with a bit more clarity and definition. Nevertheless, this is fresh sonic alchemy that adds another welcome celebrant to the world party.



New & Noteworthy:

A Fine Frenzy, “Bomb in a Birdcage” (Virgin): The sophomore outing from singer-songwriter Alison Sudol, who courted some buzz with her 2007 debut, “One Cell in the Sea.”

Boys Like Girls, “Love Drunk” (Columbia): The Boston quartet continues to straddle the pop-rock divide on its sophomore album and follow-up to 2007’s gold-certified self-titled debut.

Danko Jones, “Never Too Loud” (Bad Taste/Caroline): The Toronto hard rockers bang heads with Kyuss’ John Garcia and Pete Stahl of Wool Scream and Goatsnake for a six-minute epic called “Forest For the Trees.”

Dethlok, “The Deathalbum II” (Williams Street): The latest set of metal mayhem from the Adult Swim series “Metalocalypse’s” house band.

Marie Digby, “Breathing Underwater” (Hollywood): The onetime YouTube phenomenon recorded her second album with collaborators who have delivered hits for Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson, Jesse McCartney and others.

Howie Day, “Sound the Alarm” (Epic): The Maine singer-songwriter continues his melodic ways on his third studio album, which he recorded in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Bloomington, Ind., and London, England.

Jay-Z, “The Blueprint 3” (Roc Nation/Atlantic): The conclusion of the rap mogul’s “Blueprint” trilogy, due out Friday (Sept. 11), features collaborations with Kanye West, Timaland, Swizz Beatz, the Neptunes, with guest appearances by West, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Young Jeezy, Drake, Kid Cudi and more.

Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, “The Bear” (Vanguard): Singer-songwriter Kellogg and his hard-touring trio switch labels for their fifth album, which was recorded in New York City and Maine.

Babatunde Lea, “Umbo Weti: A Tribute to Leon Thomas 1937-1999” (Motema): The veteran percussionist recruited an all-star band to pay homage to the under-celebrated singer Thomas on this live set.

Sondre Lerche, “Heartbeat Radio” (Rounder): The expatriate Norwegian singer follow’s 2007’s “Dan in Real Life” soundtrack with a more traditional pop song collection.

Juliette Lewis, “Terra Incognita” (The End): Actress Lewis keeps throwing music out to see what sticks, this time working with Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in the producer’s chair.

Os Mutantes, “Haih or Amortecedor” (Anti-): The legendary Brazilian [i]Tropicalia[/i] band gets a new lease on recording life with its first album in 35 years.

The Proclaimers, “Notes & Rhymes” (429): Scotland’s Reid twins are back with a batch of their own songs after covering Kings of Leon’s “17” on a recent EP.

Pronto, “Pronto” (Contraphonic): Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen gets some of his own music out on this digital-only release.

Raekwon, “Only Built4 Cuban Linx II” (EMI): The Wu-Tang Clan member sequels his 1995 solo album with plenty of guests from the Wu clan and one track, “House of Flying Daggers,” produced by Detroit’s late J Dilla.

Rodrigo y Gabriela, “11:11” (ATO): The virtuoso guitar duo returned to its native Mexico for a set that pays homage to Jimi Hendrix, Paco De Lucia and the late Dimebag Darrell.

Saosin, “In Search of Solid Ground” (Virgin): The heavy modern rockers took three years to follow up their debut, focusing on songwriting with producers such as Butch Walker and John Feldman.

Simple Minds, “Graffiti Soul” (Decca): The ‘80s favorites from Scotland hope you haven’t forgotten about them as they release their first new album in four years.

Peter White, “Good Day” (Peak): Though best known for his covers, contemporary jazz guitarist White penned a set of originals for his latest project.

Yo La Tengo, “Popular Songs” (Matador): The New Jersey trio’s 12th album has been streaming online since late July. We’ll see how that effects its popularity.



From the Vaults: Brooks & Dunn, “#1’s...and Then Some” (Arista Nashville); The Commodores, “The Definitive Collection” (Motown/UMe); the Fabulous Poodles, “Mirror Stars"/"Think Pink” (American Beat); the Get Up Kids, “Something to Write Home About” (Vagrant); Jeff Healey, “Songs For the Road” (Ruf); the Laughing Dogs, “The Laughing Dogs"/"The Laughing Dogs Meet Their Makers” (American Beat); Slipknot, "Slipknot: 10th Anniversary Edition" (Roadrunner); the Stone Roses, “The Stone Roses: Legacy Edition” (Sony Legacy)

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