New music

Reviews of this week’s CD releases

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POP/ROCK Spoon

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POP/ROCK

Spoon

Lucifer on the Sofa (Matador)

A confession: I’m a very recent Spoon convert. Sure, I’ve been aware of the band for the past 25 years or so but I’d never really paid a whole lot of attention until I recently watched a “Best of Spoon” episode of Austin City Limits.

Transfixed by the edgy, elastic guitar-based rock of singer/guitarist Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno (the group’s other founding member), I jumped into their catalogue and fell in love with their adventurous spirit and musical consistency.

So I was excited to learn a new album was coming from the Austin, Texas-based band in February.

Single The Hardest Cut has been all over radio for much of the fall and winter, and its gritty guitar riff and slinky ZZ Top vibe signalled the quintet’s 10th full-length studio effort is a straight-up rock ’n’ roll record.

That’s indeed the case, as the band — rounded out by keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Alex Fischel, guitarist Gerardo Larios, and bassist Benny Trokan — wastes no time getting to the essence of things on Held, a Spoonish arrangement of a song by Smog’s Bill Callahan that Spoon has been covering live for nearly 20 years. Sinuous, taut and sensuous all at once, the song floats on an edgy vibe before building to an ear-blasting piano-and-guitar crescendo (Canadians might almost hear a Tragically Hip vibe).

The Hardest Cut follows, before Daniel examines life’s temptations on a pop–rock groove called The Devil & Mister Jones and then takes us on a percussive, pulsating reminder that release is sometimes necessary on Wild.

Sessions for the album, which was produced by Mark Rankin (QOTSA, Adele) and Justin Raisen (Angel Olsen) at Eno’s Austin studio, began in 2018 but work wasn’t completed until last year, which gave Daniel time to infuse it with some pandemic vibes. The title track depicts an isolation state-of-mind, while My Babe, a gentle love song, is a reminder that hope resides in love. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THESE: Held, On the Radio, Lucifer on the Sofa.

— John Kendle

JAZZ

The Shuffle Demons

All In (Shuffle Demons Productions)

While most of the reviews here can be considered a serious look at a mostly serious genre, sometimes there is a spectacular example of, well, something completely different. This album is a wonderful antidote to current world issues. It is an unabashed, outrageous and often hilarious romp that is pure fun.

The Shuffle Demons are a Canadian band that has convened every now and then since 1984 to make you smile while they chew the scenery. The album is their 10th and the best of the ones I’ve heard. The band is Richard Underhill on alto and baritone, Kelly Jefferson and Matt Lagan on tenors, Mike Downes on bass and Stich Wynston on drums. In concert they are known to dress in outlandish costumes that match the mood and style of the music. I suppose funky might be the best summary descriptor, but that is far from the whole story.

While sometimes described as clown princes, their music is much more than just comic relief. The compositions swing like mad, the ensemble playing is incredibly tight and the solos are as good as it gets. The harmonies in every melody show clean writing and wonderful musicianship by all members. The overall effect is a joyous, in-your-face journey that simply feels good. The fun these guys are having is tangible. The music needs no intense analysis; just lighten up and enjoy the ride.

The track called Covid Blues wrestles the pandemic to its knees with a super uptempo drive that would send truckers back home. It takes real skill to make something difficult seem easy. The Shuffle Demons use serious skill to create this cheerful and celebratory environment. Long may they live.

Rated 13 stars; one for each province and territory

STREAM THESE: All In, Covid Blues

— Keith Black

CLASSICAL

Shostakovich Symphony No. 7

London Symphony Orchestra

Gianandrea Noseda, Conductor (LSO Live)

The London Symphony Orchestra, led by Gianandrea Noseda, delivers Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 on this album originally recorded in December 2019 — the fifth album in its ongoing cycle of works by the Soviet-born composer.

Considered one of the three “war” symphonies penned during the Second World War, the four-movement work, a.k.a. the “Leningrad” — which more specifically reflects the German siege of that city — bristles with taut tension and militaristic, driving rhythms, particularly pronounced during the opening Allegretto. It’s propelled by its rat-a-tat snare drum à la Ravel’s famous Bolero, further underscoring the “invasion” theme. Noseda’s clear pacing throughout the 27-minute movement allows momentum to build to climatic fury before blaring brass gradually subside into more sombre, hushed tones.

The Moderato, also titled “Memories,” provides welcomed repose, including a plaintive oboe solo offering both sonic and emotional counterpoint to the previous storms. The following Adagio, with echoes of Stravinsky, showcases an effective wind ensemble joined by unusual pair of harps, ultimately seguing into the Finale.

It takes an accomplished ensemble of great conviction to infuse an epic-scaled symphony with the requisite gravitas, and here the London Symphony Orchestra excels, making this ever-resonant work ring with power and the relentless truths of war. ★★★★ out of five

STREAM THIS: “Allegretto” from Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 7,” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

— Holly Harris

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