Album Reviews: Naked City

I’m just gonna put this one out there. Not all album reviews have to be of new releases. Sometimes, it’s nice to take a look back, to pay respect to late greats. Murfie staffer, Ben, wanted to review some 1989 avant-garde music. So be it, I say.

~ John Zorn’s Naked City brings together jazz, rock, punk, and country influences into a harrowingly schizophrenic set of music. The 1989 release is the eponymous first album of the outfit, which Zorn brought together to explore the process of jazz composition with a typical rock band instrumentation.

Naked City takes its name from a book of photographs by Weegee (pseudonym of photographer Arthur Fellig), published in 1945, which depicted scenes of crime and emergency in New York City. The cover of the album, a stark image of a man shot in the street, is one of Weegee’s photographs. The book also inspired a film of the same title, and was very influential to film noir directors of the time.

The music of Naked City is similarly gritty, urban, and dark. As one might expect of an album that uses a dead man for a cover, many of the tracks are violent and shocking. Of the 26 tracks on the Naked City album, eight of them are very short – ranging from 11 to 43 seconds in length – and are sudden, frenetic outbursts (described aptly in the title of the track “Igneous Ejaculation”) that are tightly rhythmic, and feature the strangled, shouted vocals of Yamatsuka Eye. The longer tracks are often saltatory, rapidly jumping between styles and tempos. The result is the effect of a television flipping through channels, and highlight the players’ virtuosity. This is apparent in the manic “You Will Be Shot,” which starts with a heavy, driving rock riff, and through spurts of thrashing noise, oscillates to and from a relaxed, piano-led country feel. There are some moments of reprieve, such as the tender ballad “Chinatown,” which emerges from a pool of ambient Frisellian fluid, but for the most part, the album is full of flaming energy.

The band is filled with heavyweights – the well-known Bill Frisell on guitar, renowned experimentalist Fred Frith on bass, Wayne Horvitz on keys, and Joey Baron on drums. Zorn chose players who were accomplished jazz players, but were well-versed in all different styles, so the effect is not of jazzers aping other styles through a jazz lens, but of direct and believable shifts.

The album Naked City is undoubtedly a challenging work, daunting to listeners with faint hearts, but is incredibly important to avant-garde music of the later 20th century. Additionally, it’s very informative about the world of the time, bringing together a cornucopia of cultural influences: most obviously, their rendition of the James Bond theme (complete with gunshots!) and perhaps less apparently, Frisell’s tongue-in-cheek quotation of the three-note NBC motive in the track “Snagglepuss.” The album can be heard as a treasure chest of tropes, with surprises just waiting to be unpacked.
     – Ben Willis

Staff Picks: High Speed

You guys, just imagine if you were a stunt driver or getaway driver (à la Driver in the film Drive)? What a spectacularly high-speed, devil-may-care lifestyle! Thrills, no frills. The need, the need for speed would be in your blood…but you’d also need an adrenaline rush. So, to get that adrenaline going, what kind of tunes would you play on the job? Murfie staffers share their suggestions. (Btw, Drive has an awesome soundtrack, full of retro synth, electro tones. It’s my suggestion.)

Alive 2007 by Daft Punk. This is a classic case of the title speaks for the whole. Judge this album by its cover; it makes you feel alive. That Daft Punk style we all love surges throughout this entire live performance as a wave of improvisation and mixing” – Zach

“There’s no doubt I’d be blaring the album Raw Power by Iggy & The Stooges as I attempted an airborne barrel roll through a ring of fire. The first two tracks, “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger,” are enough to push even the most cowardly soul to the extreme!” – Jim

“I would have The Budos Band III blasting constantly! The combination of driving horns and pounding grooves creates a sound reminiscent of a theme to a 70s cop show: before you know it, you’ll be itching for a perm, some aviator sunglasses, and a handlebar mustache. Starsky and Hutch aside, let’s look at the facts. These guys are on New York based Daptone Records (a perfect fit), making them label-mates with the one and only Sharon Jones. The Motown hit machines of old are long gone, but Daptone stays true to form, keeping funk and soul alive and well in the age of Katy Perry and Glee (I’m not hatin’, just statin’). It’s almost as if The Budos Band emerged from a time capsule from 1974, bringing some vintage mojo with them. So, if you ever find yourself in a high-speed car chase, put on a fake mustache and blast The Budos Band III” – Henry

Album Reviews: Mylo Xyloto

Coldplay’s fifth studio album has met a pretty nice commercial response. Mylo Xyloto is currently topping the charts: it’s #1 on Billboard 200. But what of critical reception? Reviews have been mixed. Let’s see what Murfie staffer, Tynan, has to say about the band’s latest effort.

~ By this point, saying you’re a Coldplay fan can be like saying you’re a fan of the Dave Matthews Band: met with an eye-roll and quips about the band that has become a favorite of frat boys and radio DJs everywhere. But I’m a proud Coldplay fan, and I’m not sorry about it. There is so much more to the band than meets the eye, and nothing proves that more than their new album Mylo Xyloto.

Mylo Xyloto is the perfect next step for Coldplay. It seamlessly connects where they have been to where they are going. The album begins with tracks that are very synth-heavy, then eventually moves into a more instrumental territory, reminiscent of the “Parachutes” days. Their previous album Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends was a concept album packed full of large fanfares dealing with large themes such as love, life, death and war. While Viva La Vida was a great progression for the band and a huge commercial success, I always get nervous after bands release concept albums because they’re difficult to follow up. Remember when Christina Aguilera released her concept album Back To Basics? Neither does anyone else. Sometimes it’s difficult for audiences to understand artists when they go out on a limb.

But while Mylo Xyloto is perhaps less ambitious, it reminds us why we fell in love with Coldplay at the start. Tracks such as “Hurts Like Heaven” and “Charlie Brown” artfully blend Coldplay’s gorgeous instrumental compositions with an electronic sound, and then bring it back down with more intimate tracks like “U.F.O.” and “Us Against The World.” Other standouts are “Princess of China,” which features vocals from hit maker Rihanna and “Up In Flames,” a heartbreaking breakup track where lead singer Chris Martin sounds like a broken man. (If I were married to Gwyneth Paltrow, I’m pretty sure I’d be a broken man, too.)

Say what you want about Coldplay, but Mylo Xyloto is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year and the band shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
     – Tynan Sinks