Album reviews: Jim James, Adron, Kamasi Washington, and Earth Girl Helen Brown

Earth Girl Helen Brown combines four recent EPs into Four Satellites, Vol. 1 . Publicity image Earth Girl Helen Brown combines four recent EPs into Four Satellites, Vol. 1 . Publicity image

Jim James

Uniform Distortion (ATO)

Jim James takes enough chances that I gotta pull for the guy— usually from a distance, but hey. Uniform Distortion’s 11 squalling tracks walk the line between garage rock and classic rock demos before landing in the latter camp—the tip off coming on “You Get to Rome” with its quote of The Who’s “5:15” and James’ (ironic?) “Let’s rock!!” There’s plenty of humor in his growl on “Out of Time,” and “Throwback” is an effective plaint on scrolling through the past while the present slips away. “Over and Over” plays like bashy Buddy Holly, while “Too Good To Be True” sounds like a scuzzed up New Morning-era Dylan track, until the scuzz gives way to an earthy organ and a guitar solo so sweet and delicate it almost evens out the aggressively dumb (ironic?) wank of “Yes to Everything.”


Water Music (Tribo)

On Water Music, this Atlanta-raised, L.A.-based guitarist-singer brings
us a solid slab of that good ol’ tropicália Americano. She has a sweet, clear, high voice, and if the music is unsubstantial, well, it goes down easy, and that seems more the point. What is she singing about? Lots of waves, sea, lightly worn melancholy (a typical refrain is the brave-sad “and you don’t have to worry ‘bout me”). So yeah, Water Music is a one-note samba—a mood album for breezy day tree-watching in the backyard with one umbrella sprouting from the table and another from your drink. Which does sound nice.


Heaven and Earth
(Young Turks)

Kamasi Washington is clearly feeling it—after 2015’s three-CD The Epic and last year’s Harmony of Difference; after collecting credits with Kendrick Lamar, John Legend, Thundercat, et. al., here’s another sprawling set, clocking in at two-and-a-half-hours. Washington’s like the Robert Pollard of Afro-futurist jazz—or really, Afro-retroist, as Heaven and Earth continues his exploration of the post-Coltrane cosmic groove, with detours into ’90s acid jazz—there’s even a golden-age Stevie Wonder turn on “Testify.” Along for the heavy ride are a string orchestra and celestial choir, and while soloists like keyboardist Brandon Coleman get time to shine, they don’t get a ton of room. The crazy-thick textures smother the weaker tunes like “Street Fighter Mas,” but Washington’s best compositions like “The Space Travelers Lullaby” are almost Wagnerian in their scope and power.

Earth Girl Helen Brown

Four Satellites, Vol. 1
(In the Red)

Earth Girl Helen Brown, née Heidi Alexander, came to attention guesting on Sonny Smith’s 100 Records project, and she travels the same pomo pathways as Smith, with a similarly deceptive craft and polish. Thankfully, she avoids his affectations, presiding casually over this compilation—culled from four recent EPs—and over a crack band featuring West Coast indie rock luminaries John Dwyer, Ty Segall, Tim Presley, and Mikal Cronin. Rough and ready, they cover a lot of ground from “Helicopter,” which sounds like Can and Fela jamming as babies, to “Language of Love,” which sounds like Sade and Fleetwood Mac jamming on a sotted evening. There’s the groovy little ’70s jam “Set the Woods on Fire” and the ridiculous doo-wop sections of “My A.I.,” and whaddaya know, with the exception of the pointless 12-minute psych out “Oh! What a War,” Four Satellites Vol. 1 is kinda low-key great.

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