Darkthrone - F.O.A.D.: "F.O.A.D." obviously being "#### off and die", a testament to how far (and how punk) their punk-metal hybrid is removed from their early black metal, though still very much riff-based. The opening "These Shores Are Damned", by the title -- I can't make out all the lyrics -- seems that it should be Viking metal at least in spirit, and it's got a fine galloping rhythm. Of course it could just be about buying office supplies or something and I'm talking out my ass. "Splitkein Fever" is a great kick in the ass of a track, and the title track, sung by Fenriz, is a great anthem. Try these three tracks first. This isn't as groundbreaking or as metallic as The Cult Is Alive but I think it's better. Only two tracks are under 4:26 but it doesn't feel at all bloated. "Canadian Metal" and "Church of Real Metal" are right next to each other in the tracklist, like how on Spiritualized's Songs in A&E you have "Soul On Fire" and "I Gotta Fire" next to each other (and "Sitting On Fire" two tracks later).
Darkthrone - Dark Thrones and Black Flags: The title is a hint. Their third album in three years (this far into their careers), this is the punkiest of them all and they sound stretched more than a bit thin. The best track is the opening, Judas-Priest sounding "The Winds They Called the Dungeon Shaker". It's all downhill from there; there are some okay songs but nothing to put the album on over because so much of it is just so nondescript. Too many trips to the well. Fenriz sings a lot here and wrote half the songs, plus he plays some guitar parts: the division of labor isn't as uneven as it once was -- surprising for a veteran band -- and, by the results, perhaps it shouldn't be.
Darkthrone - Circle the Wagons: Well this is different: the chorus to the opening "These Treasures Will Never Befall You" is the hookiest, most strongly melodic thing they've done to this point, and there's a shredding guitar solo on the second track, and so on and so forth, even some prog elements in the seven-and-a-half-minute "Stylized Corpse". The band sound rejuvenated after taking two years to make this one, and they took the time to grow even more -- this is a few million miles from black metal -- and although this could be called their pop album, they're in no danger of selling out. I'm not sure if Darkthrone ever really did guitar solos until here; if they did, they were rare and/or rudimentary. The riffs, though, once the basis of their sound, have fallen by the wayside.
Joe Beck & David Sanborn - Beck & Sanborn: So there was another guitarist named J. Beck who was playing fusion in the mid '70s. I had never heard of him (heard of Sanborn, of course), but from the CTI label I figured this was a '70s fusion record so here we go. Apparently Beck started in jazz in 1963 but he sure plays in a solidly rock idiom. Once you get past Sanborn's cheeseball smooth-jazz/television-late-show sound, which I assume was much less tacky in 1975, he's actually a pretty good saxophonist. It's a very solid if not spectacular record; I'll be putting it on again. There are some tasteful strings here and there, so sparse as to raise the question of whether it needs them. They don't hurt. "Ray Mantilla on percussion" really just means cowbell or shakers on a couple of tracks (please no more-cowbell jokes). Try "Texas Ann" or "Cafe Black Rose".
Gil Evans - New Bottle, Old Wine: Very similar to (and on a twofer -- very generous, as these aren't short albums -- with) the below. I don't recognize most of the musicians, but Cannonball Adderley is the featured soloist on alto. The concept is simple: these are Gil Evans' arrangements of old (and, at the time, not so old) tunes; the compositions range from Lil Armstrong to Lester Young to Charlie Parker but all sound right together and don't come off as discongruent. A thoroughly enjoyable twofer, as there's not a whole lot of difference between the two albums. It wears well.
Gil Evans - Great Jazz Standards: Very similar to (and on a twofer -- very generous, as these aren't short albums -- with) the above. I don't recognize most of the musicians, but Johnny Coles is the featured soloist on trumpet. The concept is simple: these are Gil Evans' arrangements of old (and, at the time, not so old) tunes; the compositions range from Bix Beiderbecke to Clifford Brown to the Modern Jazz Quartet but all sound right together and don't come off as discongruent. A thoroughly enjoyable twofer, as there's not a whole lot of difference between the two albums. It wears well.
J.S. Bach - A Bach Festival (The Empire Brass; Douglas Major, organ): Yeah, #### you; I like this stuff and it was only $2.99. Pops arrangements for organ (on a few tracks solo) and brass band of the obligatory warhorses as well as a bunch of stuff I haven't heard, mostly music from the cantatas. It's hard to recommend this particular album since it's probably been out of print since the day it was pressed (1986) and there have been a zillion others since then exactly like it. But if this sounds intriguing to you by all means go ahead and look at stuff like this. I won't judge you. "Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten" sounds like a mariachi band doing polka. Update: I looked on Amazon and this album has been reissued both on CD and on MP3. Who'd'a thunk it?
"The Berlin Recital": Bartók - Solo Violin Sonata, Violin Sonata No. 1; Schumann - Violin Sonata No. 2, Kinderszenen (Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich): The booklet gives a rather unconvincing rationale for pairing these two composers. I'm not big into solo violin music (Bach excepted): it usually has a thin texture with little lower end. There's some really good music in Bartók's (one of my favorite 20th-century composers); it's rather severe and gets off on the wrong foot with an especially severe chaconne, and it's not something that I'd buy if it weren't in the recital. [later: what was I talking about? This is a fine piece. One of those things that depend on your mood at the time. Lots of contrasts and interplay of textures, too. Kremer is a wizard.]. The Schumann sonata is wonderful music if inessential. OTOH the Bartók sonata (with piano) is absolutely gorgeous and powerful stuff and in particular you should hear the slow movement before you die. The Kinderszenen is basically fine; this is a good performance but I've only heard one other recording. Kremer and Argerich are in great form.
Buxtehude - Organ Music, Vol. 1 (Magnificats; Praeludia; Chorale preludes) (Volker Ellenberger): I've tried to resist this but this music suffers from the "pre-Bach effect", where I'm underwhelmed by them with the thought that his music just leads up to Bach's, as people once thought Haydn's London symphonies were just proto-Beethoven. Buxtehude's multipartite works (basically fantasy-fugue-fantasy-fugue) seem simplistic and unmoving in comparison. The praeludia aren't so hot; they're basically fugal passages interspersed with chordal and melodic ones and can seem kind of dull or dry if you're not into organ music. The sequencing saves the best -- and longest -- track, the G-minor praeludium, for last. It's actually a chaconne, and who doesn't love those? (The theme is carried through the constituent sections.) There are gaps of over ten seconds between tracks. It's good, but I don't see myself putting this one on much. I know Buxtehude is important in his own right.
Chopin - Piano Concertos (Benjamin Grosvenor; Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Elim Chan): Elim is Garak's first name on Deep Space 9. I already had enough recordings of these works for one lifetime -- there are dozens, maybe hundreds of recordings -- but everything Grosvenor, my favorite new-generation pianist, touches turns to gold. Unfortunately he records sparingly; this is his latest and only his second recording with orchestra. Obviously it's masterful; I'm not going to do a shootout of my Chopin concertos because I'm not Trung, but I think, both with its quality and my confirmation bias, this is my favorite of these concertos and it might be my new reference recording (over Argerich's) although Grosvenor has a few idiosyncracies in his playing. The sound quality is great: every instrument is perfectly placed and there's a discrete (yet discreet) bottom end that matters more than you'd think it would.
A Greek Reader for Schools: Very easy still, most of the way through the (Atticized) selections from Herodotus; I've only needed to look up an online translation once this whole book long. The notes in back only give circumstantial information and the lemmas of difficult forms; the stories are simple enough that you can just stare at the page for a while till you suddenly comprehend it. The syntax is very simple, but the content is interesting and it's great for practicing verb forms.
Cicero - Pro Milone: This is one of the few of the court speeches Cicero published in which cases he lost. His client was Titus Annius Milo, on trial basically for murder. For more information look up the death of Publius Clodius Pulcher. This edition is a level above the ones I'm used to in that the notes are almost entirely encyclopaedic or biographical, with little in the way of help for vocabulary or grammar except in unusual cases or uses. You need to be pretty mentally flexible to make sense of some of the language. One passage I didn't understand talked about how a military tribune "ripped away the chastity" of a young soldier. It never occurred to me that he raped him. That may seem obvious but it's not always easy. It's a trial by fire but it's not that bad; I consistently make one or two mistakes per section but they're usually understandable and not just sloppiness. On the back are listed a bunch of other Cicero works in this series and I plan on cutting my teeth on them until I'm good.