Ben Folds – Best Imitation of Myself

It seems that Ben Folds is everywhere these days. Turn on your TV and you’ll see him as one of the judges on The Sing Off (currently in its third season), he recently appeared as a cohost on the fourth hour of the Today Show filling in for Kathie Lee Gifford, and he’s heavily promoting his new album, The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective. He even appeared on The Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick making my geek girl heart squee with delight. Mr. Folds has taken the media by storm (if my mom knows who you are, you’ve made it!) and he’s certainly hoping to use his new found fame in order to capitalize on his latest release.

I’ve been a fan of Ben Fold’s for many, many years, and while this latest album (well, albums–there are three discs included) really doesn’t offer much in the way of new material, I still felt like I had to have it. He’s included many of the crowd favorites that I expected to be there (The Luckiest, Rockin the Suburbs), but to start the album off with Brick seemed to be a bit odd. The tracks bounce around, and the flow isn’t great, but the songs are strong and that seems to make up for the overall disjointed feel of the album.

I keep coming back to Ben Folds and his tracks because I appreciate the slight wink and nod that he seems to give to his fans and to the industry. He doesn’t seem to take things too seriously (remember those two seconds when chat roulette was awesome? YouTube Ben’s chat roulette and you’ll see what I mean), he seeks out talented artists to collaborate with even if they aren’t musicians (recently working with Nick Hornby and Neil Gaimen), and his live performances are some of the best I’ve seen.

If you’re not already a fan of Ben Folds this album could be a good introduction to his work, but if you’re already a fan, chances are you have almost everything he’s putting out in the retrospective. That being said, there are few other artists today who have been as productive or inspiring over the length of a career. Listen to some Ben Folds and get in-touch with your inner piano rock god.

Vijay Iyer – Tirtha

John Coltrane spent the final years of his life exploring spirituality and pursuing the universal truth. Most of the most music he was composing throughout this period was modal jazz–compositions in which the musicians improvise over a certain mode, as opposed to improvising over an established harmony. Coltrane saw the connection between modal jazz and Indian music, which traditionally employs established ragas for the musicians to utilize, rather than the Western convention of harmony. But, Coltrane’s interest in India and the East extended beyond musical connections; he also read Eastern philosophy and embraced aspects of both Eastern and Western religions. This can be seen in his 1965 album, Om, which features chanting from both Hindu and Buddhist texts, and the liner notes of his 1964 masterpiece A Love Supreme and his 1965 album Meditations, which both express Coltrane’s Universalist stance on religion.

I was reminded of Coltrane’s musical union of east and west when I heard a 1981 performance by his wife Alice Coltrane on NPR recently. Though John died in 1967 and Alice in 2007, the joining of Indian music and jazz has not stopped. Enter pianist Vijay Iyer. Iyer has been making this kind of music since the 1990s, but he explores this fusion extensively on his 2011 album with guitarist Prasanna and Nitin Mitta playing the tablas: Tirtha. Though it rarely swings, the influence of jazz on Iyer and Prasanna’s playing is undeniable, particularly in their use of chromaticism. Iyer and Prasanna’s compositions also reveal their familiarity with the jazz canon and various jazz styles. The instrumentation shows East and West as well. Iyer’s piano is lacks the ability to slide between and bend pitches – a necessary element of certain Indian styles – making it sound Western. Mitta, on the other hand, plays a traditional Indian instrument, but often breaks out of the talas into Western grooves. And Prasanna combines East and West in his playing, by using some jazz type melodies and some ornamentation that immediately make the listener think of Indian music.

Check out the title track below. Listen to how smoothly West and East meet when Iyer’s jazz-style solo ends and Prasanna’s begins with Indian ornamentations around the 3:30 mark.

SuperHeavy – One Day One Night

In case you’d forgotten, superhuman Mick Jagger is still kickin’. He’s got a new supergroup called SuperHeavy, and their self-titled album came out last month. In their debut release, Mick Jagger, Damian Marley, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, and A.R. Rahman have put together a genre-spanning collection of songs that most people will probably either love or hate. Some of the arrangements can be a little confusing, possibly even grating, and the combination of vocals I feel could have been given a bit more thought on some songs.

Still, 68-year-old Jagger sings without apology, and Joss can get pretty gritty herself. Joss gets a lot of the lead vocals throughout the album, but since we pretty much know what she sounds like, and since I find the instrumentation in “One Day One Night” so interesting, I’ll leave you with this track. Ole Mick is most definitely still a badass.

Small Black – Two Rivers

Small Black - Two Rivers (Feat. Heems)

Lately, I’ve been feeling anchorless. It’s a queer sentiment; it’s like I don’t know what to do or where to turn. The world is rushing past me in a maddening blur, yet all I can do is hang back and observe. I just feel so temporary, like my sense of self is constantly being challenged. Is this an identity crisis? I can’t be certain - aren’t crises usually marked by pain?  Because there is no pain – only a cautious quietude. I’m simply floating.

Which is why I’m glad I stumbled upon “Two Rivers.” It just so happens to be the perfect music to float to.

“Two Rivers” feels a little more sudued than the tracks on New Chain. It’s quietly anthemic, and full of dreamy vocals that seem to melt into the lush electronic backdrop. Even better still, Heems of Das Racist contributes a freestyle.

Though it’s a dying genre, I think Small Black have created a perfect example of what chillwave should always be. The ethereal vibes of  “Two Rivers” are so seductive, it would prove almost impossible not to become lost in them.

Of course, when you’re already lost, it doesn’t take much to lose yourself.

Moon Killer is out 11/11.