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Pocket Change

By Mike Hotter

Todd Nelson

A founding member of storied Albany new-wave outfit Fear of Strangers, Todd Nelson is a preternaturally tasteful guitar player whose jazz and blues-flavored improv skills have been utilized by such varied acts as Aimee Mann, Hayseed and local rock & rollers the Rumdummies. Billed simply as ·music for guitar, bass and drums,· Here is a seven-song affair filled with no-frills instrumentals that highlight Nelson·s clean, clear electric guitar tone and always interesting melodic sense. Comprising five originals, along with arrangements for two traditional tunes, ·Into the House· and ·The Blacksmith,· the album is enjoyable from start to finish, ranging from the Steely Dan-esque sophistication of ·Dinosaurs· (co-written with Rumdummies bandmate Pat Conover) to the rueful balladry of ·Crestfallen.·


Nelson impresses without ever showboating; while more nimble-fingered than most ax-slingers (at times bringing to mind such heavyweights as Bill Frisell and John Scofield), his guitar lines hew mindfully to the emotional intent of each composition, and he is always sure to leave plenty of space for both the melody and his rhythm section. Composed of bassist Kyle Esposito and drummer Manuel Quintana, this solid and ·in-the-pocket· duo can usually be found backing up Hudson Valley songstress Anna Cheek (alongside lead guitarist Nelson, naturally). It·s a joy to hear this trio explore beyond the boundaries of the standard singer-songwriter format.

Custom built for fans of instrumental rock and jazz, Here is unpretentious enough in its pleasures to please even those who don·t consider themselves aficionados. What Nelson and co. have made here is an exercise in melodic improvisation, well-built and extremely well-played.

 

Fennesz Daniell Buck

Knoxville

This half-hour CD was recorded at the inaugural Big Ears Festival in 2009; the title is taken from the Tennessee city where that festival was held. It captures the first musical meeting of a trio of potent improvisers: guitarist David Daniell, drummer Tony Buck, and Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics. The three enter their mutual yard with softly trod first steps, the opening number talking shape as gentle weather patterns meet metallic sonics bearing the character of child-sized farmyard contraptions. Five minutes into the eight-and-a-half minute piece, storm clouds appear over the prairie, vast and magnificent. The next two numbers contrast with one another: ·Heat From Light· spends the bulk of its duration boiling away, bringing to mind the unrelenting vigor heard in Australian Buck·s long running band, the Necks; ·Antonia· then offers a prayerlike retreat inward. The set concludes with the densely sparkling grandeur of ·Diamond Mind,· a textured and undulating tunnel pointed towards a flickering light that blinks as it keeps flying farther away, like a distant star being towed into another dimension.

·David Greenberger

 

These New Puritans

Hidden

Welcome to post-Kid A rock & roll. It took a while but it was bound to happen. Thanks to modern technology, your local band could decide to abandon their guitars and begin using found sounds, sequencers, choirs, 6-foot taiko drums, a 13-piece woodwind and brass ensemble, and movie samples all at the drop of a hat.

On Hidden, These New Puritans do just that·and they create something along the lines of a mix between Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Radiohead·s more experimental albums. This is a recording that represents the modern indie·brooding tracks about life, death, love and war, built with pieces of electro, post-rock, dance rock, the Arcade Fire thing and hip-hop.

The album seethes with imagination, thriving at its sinister, sci-fi movie best. The album-opening ·Time Xone,· built on alternative percussion, horns and strings, feels like the intro of the film Inception. The following track, ·We Want War,· is built on an eerie sample that starts in the background but becomes increasingly prominent as the song stamps along. Lead singer Jack Barnett is no Thom Yorke, but what he lacks in glorious high notes and pomp he makes up for with a narrative urgency that keeps you engrossed.

Listening to Hidden is like reading the brilliant work of a first author·intimidating, frustrating, but full of new discoveries and rewards. In the end These New Puritans will likely achieve bigger things, but if they were to never release an album again, Hidden would still be revealing secrets and treasures in its labyrinthine structure for years to come.

·David King


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