Prinzhorn Dance School Prinzhorn Dance School (DFA Records/Astralwerks)
Prinzhorn Dance School’s name salutes Dr. Hans Prinzhorn, who, according to AllMusic.com, “collected the art of his mentally ill patients” -- and the unhinged quality of the music made by Tobin and Suzy Horn makes the moniker seem wholly appropriate. “Black Bunker” and the tracks that follow are extraordinarily spare, with lots of air left between the primitive beats, the alternately doomy and slashing guitar punctuations, and the Horns’ vocals: his declamatory and deadpan, hers high-pitched and almost hysterical. By taking minimalism to thrillingly twisted extremes, they present a challenge that even fans of indie rock at its edgiest may fail. But those who are able to see the dark humor in “I Do Not Like Change,” which, true to its handle, changes hardly at all over its two-minute span, will likely find themselves being strangely attracted to this highly unusual institution. -- Michael Roberts
Swizz Beatz One Man Band Man (Universal Motown)
Swizz Beats, who remains one of the most in-demand producers in hip-hop, isn’t getting much critical love for his most recent solo album, and that’s understandable. As an MC, his flow frequently coagulates and his rhymes aren’t exactly enlightening. On the other hand, enlightening rhymes are about as easy to find these days as polonium-210 (unless you’re a Russian undercover agent, that is), and SB deserves props for not going the Timbaland route and cajoling everyone he’s ever remixed into making cameos. Indeed, there are only four guest stars on One Man Band Man: Drag On drops by during “Bust Ya Gunz,” while Lil Wayne, R. Kelly and Jadakiss decorate a remix of “It’s Me Bitches.” In the end, memorable production touches like the faux xylophoning heard throughout “Bitches” and the mad glockenspiel on “Big Munny” receive the attention they deserve because it’s easier to ignore one rapper than thirty of them.-- Roberts
Grand National A Drink & A Quick Decision (Recall)
The music of Rupert Lyddon and Lawrence “LA” Rudd, the two Brits behind Grand National, is designed to sneak up on listeners, not club them over the head. Cuts such as “Reason to Hide In” and “By the Time I Get Home There Won’t Be Much of a Place For Me” lope along at a medium tempo -- a pace that will inspire dancers to sway rather than sweat. The modesty of the presentation is a mild drawback, but the melodies are enveloping, the singing is warm, the production is consistently convivial and the gentle grooves are compelling in a strangely modest way. -- Roberts
Matt Shulman So It Goes (Jaggo Records)
At the outset of So It Goes’ title track, trumpeter/singer Matt Shulman seems like just another young jazz crooner/instrumentalist -- a pleasant player with a pleasant style marketing his music to people who prefer music that stays in the middle of the road. But he quickly moves off the map used by most of his contemporaries, bound for unexplored territory. He’s equally adept at lovely, lyrical horn lines as squawking runs that he achieves by pushing his voice through the bell, and he doesn’t hesitate to leave melody when the mood strikes. An example is “Zeppelin,” which begins with a minute of solo puffing, fluttering and what-not that explodes into an almost psychedelic soundscape disrupted by Shulman’s lingering brays and moans. Some of his experiments are more successful than others. Still, his wild inventiveness adds intrigue and excitement to music that refuses to put safety first. -- Roberts
Various artists Love Songs: Number 1’s (Hip-O)
Many members of the music-loving public responded to compilations of number one singles by the Beatles, Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones by buying a bunch of songs most of them already had. No wonder Hip-O, Universal’s reissue arm, has come out with a batch of collections employing the same approach to varying degrees of success. Love Songs is probably the weakest of the bunch since the category is far too broad. There have been a helluva lot more than sixteen love songs to top the charts, so why the hell pick Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best For Last,” which doesn’t, or Nelson’s grisly “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection”? As for the other eleven I’ve received to date, here’s a quick rundown for each:
Classic Disco: Number 1’s: A bit of a scam, too, since these songs only had to top the dance charts, not the Billboard Hot 100, to gain entry to this album. The result is a mix of the obvious (the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”), the unlikely (Edwin Starr’s “Contact”) and the obscure (the Ritchie Family’s “Brazil,” which is actually pretty good).
Modern Rock: Number 1’s: The chronology is all over the place on this set, making for a mondo-erratic listening experience. Betcha the people happy to spin Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” won’t be digging the Cranberries’ “Salvation.”
Soundtrack Smashes: Number 1’s: Everything identified as a smash in the title of this CD actually fits the description, which is a step in the right direction, and selections such as Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” and Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” actually hang together better than expected. But why is Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” here as well as on Classic Disco? One “Maniac” is more than enough.
’90s Rock: Number 1’s: Judging by this comp, ‘90s rock really sucked. A few good songs are sprinkled around, including Robyn Hitchcock’s “So You Think You’re In Love” and (guilty pleasure) Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother.” But does anybody in 2007 really want to hear anything by Tonic, the Wallflowers, the Gin Blossoms or (again!) the Cranberries? If so, have you recently suffered severe head trauma?
Jazz: Number 1’s: There’s no chart info on the liner notes of this jazz volume. Instead, a fine-print sentence reads, “This collection consists of recordings that were the best selling jazz discs of their time.” Unless I’ve gravely underestimated the sales success of Richard “Groove” Holmes, the programmers regularly break de facto pledge. Still, there’s some good stuff here by Jimmy Smith, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and others, and only one reel teeth-grinder, the Crusaders’ “Put It Where You Want It.”
’60s Pop: Number 1’s: Yeah, this disc’s not anywhere near all-encompassing, either. But if selections such as “The Loco-Motion,” “Wild Thing” and “Happy Together” are far from surprising, they seem like real number ones, not ditties that slid through a loophole.
Motown: Number 1’s: Now we’re getting somewhere. Motown contains loads of great stuff from the Detroit label’s classic period and only a few cringeworthy offerings from the dubious later years (like “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie and “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men, both of which also turn up elsewhere). Biggest problem: The bonus track -- Michael McDonald singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” -- is really a debit.
Motown, Vol. 2: Number 1’s: Yep, Motown had more than enough classic singles to justify a second volume of this series, and it’s no downgrade thanks to the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” Eddie Kendricks’ “Keep on Truckin’ Pt. 1” and more.
Marvin Gaye: Number 1’s: Finally, a CD that sticks to a single group’s work, as well as the blueprint that made the number-one notion work in the first place. This collection does serve as a reminder that Gaye was as good a singles artist as he was an album maker, and the four bonuses, including “Pride and Joy” and two duets with the luminous Tammi Terrell, actually qualify this time.
The Temptations: Number 1’s: Another winner. And unlike the Gaye comp, the programming is chronological, so consumers can follow the Temps from their early days as Smokey Robinson acolytes through their soulful middle period and their unexpectedly effective forays into funkiness.
Stevie Wonder: Number 1’s: Of course, chronology has its drawbacks. This disc provides a taste of Wonder’s charming early stuff and a heaping helping of his unassailably brilliant ‘70s work before dropping them off in the late-period disappointments that provoked a spot-on rant by Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity. “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? Sorry, wrong number.-- Roberts