Noise 

The Bad Plus
These Are The Vistas

Columbia
It’s been damn hard to make a buck playing jazz for most of the last half century. Thanks to a small tribe of hip hoppers using real musicians, not just samples and scratches, and jam bands hyping instrumental virtuosity, it’s become a bit easier lately—but not without adding a little hyphenated crossover (punk or funk or blues or bluegrass) to your sound. The Bad Plus’ These Are The Vistas is no exception. The upright bass, acoustic piano and drum kit trio plays jazz. They also play covers, or re-imaginations, of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Aphex Twin’s “Film.” But don’t judge. There’s nothing straight about these covers (the band murders Blondie and brings her back to life with Dr. Frankenstein-inspired madness), and there’s nothing straight about their post-Bop originals. All three players are top-notch instrumentalists—each has been kicking around the jazz and/or rock scenes for more than a decade—but they don’t rely solely on the look-how-many-notes-I-can-fit-into-this-Hendrix-cover approach. The drowsy tunes balance out the expected loud, fast dissonance. (Jed Gottlieb)

Neil Young
Greendale

Warner Brothers
Neil’s outdone himself. He’s conceived and created an entire town and the people who live in it, written their soundtrack and penned a play about their lives. The town’s called Greendale, and it’s a lot like a lot of little American towns. It’s got old folks, kids, cops, drugs and a few farmers struggling to survive.

Musically it has its moments, and whether or not you like those moments depends on whether you like the music Young makes with Crazy Horse or not. It’s bluesy and raw, and there isn’t much to it, which is also its charm and power. Young is a genius of simplicity, and all the songs on Greendale are carried by that gritty edge. The album also comes with a live DVD recorded in Dublin, Ireland.

The beauty of Greendale is in its story. Hang around town long and you see its uglier side: corruption, greed, consumerism and mean cops. But there’s hope in Greendale, too. The people begin to take their town into their own hands, raising hell, making waves. It’s a good story. You should listen to it. (David Nolt)

Ween
Quebec

Sanctuary
You either love Ween or you hate them, and the little room in between seems to be reserved for those who hate them but are amazed by their musical talent and creativity. Ween gets better with every album, harnessing fully their capacity for weirdness. The best part is the sheer drama they put into it all, and Quebec has plenty to go around, from tales of tribesman to a catchy little number about Zoloft. They’ve covered their bases.

The guitar work of Dean Ween is what really shines on this album. From the tripped-out honky tonk of “Chocolate Town” to classic rock ballads like “Transdermal Celebration” and “The Argus,” Quebec contains some beautiful compositions. What exactly they’re talking about is hard to tell, but it makes me laugh. There’s something to be said for that. (David Nolt)

Gillian Welch
Soul Journey

Acony Records
Gillian Welch is the most prolific singer-songwriter in American music right now, or in the past 10 years for that matter. She opens her voice and so much soul and strength comes out it’ll make you choke. Soul Journey is more of the same, and one of the finest albums of the year thus far.

It’s a collection of 10 little tunes, most of which were written by Welch and guitarist David Rawlings. The two make beautiful music together. Rawlings is a phenomenal guitarist, and his subtle style perfectly accompanies Welch’s voice, which could easily drown out an entire band.

Musically, Soul Journey doesn’t depart from Welch’s previous music much, but it doesn’t need to. When you can write song after song and have them all come out as beautifully simple and classic as she does, why change? She dangles words in front of you, and just when you’ve stretched as far as you can to grab them, you’re already holding them, simple and true. Welch embodies American music down to its roots, and in a country where those roots are steadily rotting with corporate, money-driven musicianship, she is priceless. (David Nolt)

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