Random record reviews: Hinds, The 1975, Shabaka and the Ancestors

(Above: Shabaka and the Ancestors’ second album, We Are Sent Here by History, is one of the best jazz albums to emerge in several years. It is essential for any serious music fan.)

By Joel Francis

Hinds – The Prettiest Curse

One need only compare the cover of Hinds’ third album, The Prettiest Curse, to their previous albums to notice change is afoot. While the first two covers look like yearbook photos shot in a dark corner of a gymnasium, The Prettiest Curse looks like it came from Glamour Shots.  While the music is similarly polished, it thankfully retains its soul and effervescent fun.

The album is filled with nods to the Strokes, the Breeders and the band’s hometown, Madrid, Spain. Back-to-back standout tracks “Boy” and “Come Back and Love Me <3” not only feature the quartet’s first Spanish lyrics, but an unguarded tenderness. This newfound vulnerability returns a few songs later, on “Take Me Back.”

Fans of Hinds early albums need not worry. They still know how to rock, but by peeling back the garage rock aesthetic, The Prettiest Curse reveals Hinds have considerable songwriting chops as well.

The 1975 – Notes on a Conditional Form

With a running time only slightly shorter than most romantic comedies, the fourth album from Manchester pop rockers The 1975 suggests an overstuffed epic. Instead, Notes on a Conditional Form plays like a manic yet polished playlist, careening from one style to another with little regard to flow.

The seven singles plucked from the album so far have done a good job of cherry-picking the high points, from arena rock and dancefloor pop to a tender acoustic duet and ‘80s pastiche. If that’s not enough, environmental activist Greta Thunberg, a gospel choir, an orchestra and several atmospheric pieces also appear.

There’s enough here that everyone will find at least a few tracks to like, but without a core narrative or flow, the album just ambles along. After 22 songs, Notes doesn’t conclude as much as it stops. It’s an album ripe for selective shopping, but spreading the songs across a surprisingly succinct four sides of vinyl, creates mini playlists. These smaller doses work in the album’s favor and make for a more enjoyable listen.

Shabaka and the Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History

In the 1960s, Impulse Records was responsible for releasing some of the most incendiary and forward-leaning albums by John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The spirit of those recordings thrives on Impulse’s latest release, the second album by Shabaka and the Ancestors. The 11 cuts on We Are Sent Here By History are filled with a sense of urgency and vitality that make them the perfect soundtrack to our tension-filled time.

Quite simply, there are no songs or even bad moments on this album. Imagine Kamasi Washington spiked with Afro-beat and the best elements of those ‘60s Impulse releases and you’re close. We Are Sent By History is an essential addition to any music library.

Celebrating Buck O’Neil, Kansas City and Jazz

(Above: Thirty seconds with Buck O’Neil is guaranteed to brighten your day.)

By Joel Francis

Buck O’Neil, Negro Leagues baseball player and ambassador of all things good, died at age 90 three years ago this month. Today we pay tribute to Buck by reprinting his longest music-only interview.

I spoke to Buck as an undergrad back in the summer of 1998 while freelancing for the Kansas City Blues Society. For some reason the article never made it into “Blues News,” and it languished until Ken Burns premiered his “Jazz” documentary series in 2001. I was working for The Examiner in Independence, Mo. at the time. They were all too happy to run my interview.

The day photographer and I took the picture that accompanied the story (not the one that appears online), we met Buck at the Blue Room then hit Arthur Bryant’s around the corner. Now *that’s* Kansas City.

Keep reading:
Buck O’Neil: Sweet Times and Sweet Sounds at 18th and Vine.

Funding the arts is good use of government money

(Above: A recent performance by the Blue Note 7 at the Gem Theater started this whole debate.)

By Joel Francis

Friend of the blog Plastic Sax ran a compelling editorial earlier this week about government sponsorships. The questions it raised about why classical music and jazz are the most heavily subsided genres and why private businesses featuring similar artists had to compete against government funds are worth greater discussion.

It seems the crux of the issues with subsidizing government sponsorships is that they run counter to the age-old capitalist creed of letting the marketplace decide. The folks at Jardine’s and The Phoenix work just as hard to bring people in to hear jazz as the Folly and the Gem, why aren’t they getting help?

At the risk of sounding like a socialist, The Daily Record believes there needs to be boundaries placed on the free market. Aside from public radio, there are no government subsidies on Kansas City’s radio dial, and the town has been without a jazz station and an FM classical station in nearly two decades. Beethoven will never bring the ratings that BTO seem to provide to the city’s countless classic rock stations, but does this warrant erasing classical music from the dial? How can an audience or appreciation be built in this void?

A case could be made that successful jazz clubs are penalized for their success, but the nights they compete with federally funded concerts are scarce compared to the evenings they have to themselves. Are the dozen shows each year at the Folly and Gem cutting that deeply into their profits? 

Jazz and classical music are funded because they’re the least controversial. They’re popular enough that most people will applaud the effort, but ignored enough that no one is going to waste the time digging into the music searching for scandalous meaning. There will never be a Piss Christ controversy with this music. However, imagine being the senator that suggests the National Endowment of the Arts support an evening of Slayer doing “Reign in Blood” at the Kennedy Center or a 20th Anniversary Death Row Records tour. This may not be fair, but equality is a rare visitor in the annals of politics.

It’s easy to be cynical and complain about an ever-dropping lowest common denominator. Jazz and classical artists will never be as popular as Ryan Seacrest and the latest American Idol, and “Nightline” and “Meet the Press” will never bring the ratings of “Two and a Half Men” and “Rock of Love Bus.” But that doesn’t mean work with greater meaning – whatever the medium – shouldn’t coexist with revenue-generating evanescence. A balance must be struck, and if it takes government funding to maintain that equilibrium, then the money should be spent.

Therefore, The Daily Record posits that if the government has billions of dollars each month to spend waging war and sustaining the defense industry, it should certainly continue to throw as many sheckles as possible into the arts, however they’re defined.