Alice Cooper - Constrictor: Damn this is bad, but not at all as bad as its reputation, and it improves with repeat listens. Yes, every song sounds alike ("Give It Up" and "Thrill My Gorilla" are literally almost the same song, and one follows the other) -- but for a few superficial differences, mostly in (big anthemic) choruses, but it's not a typical 1986 dinosaur-act album. For all the hair-metal guitars, this is basically a rock and roll record, a kind of dumbed-down update of his '70s stuff and is perfectly listenable. Big LOL at Jim being obsessed with "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" back in the day. It's otherwise the lamest track of them all. If you go into it with low enough expectations this is actually a fun album.
Alice Cooper - Raise Your Fist and Yell: God I'm retarded. In the right frame of mind -- which is almost always -- I'm eating up Alice Cooper hair metal. Raise Your Fist and Yell is about the same thing as Constrictor, maybe a little less diverse; all the tracks sound the same even more than the songs on the earlier album did. Still loud guitars, sweeping choruses, the whole deal. I've got to check it out but somehow George has this above both Constrictor and Trash, when they all sound the same. Hair-metal Alice is fun Alice: the last three songs here form a triptych like the ones on Welcome To My Nightmare, with "Chop Chop Chop" being (an awesome) song about killing prostitutes, "Gail", which is about a specific dead prostitute, and the closer is about blood or something. I tuned out the lyrics. If you can't take the bright/glaring sound, listen over speakers.
The Jazz Butcher - In Bath of Bacon: Their debut, and pretty rough. It seems that, at least in the beginning, the Jazz Butcher was a definite alter ego of Pat Fish, as some kind of singer or emcee (master of ceremonies, not a rapper) at an evening's entertainment -- actually, this is all a lot like Sgt. Pepper's, if they had stuck with the concept -- together with the album title, it would stand to reason that this was meant as a one-off project. "The Jazz Butcher Theme" is jazzy in the sense that "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" is: that is, not in the least. The songs are stripped down and mostly a notch over mediocre, though they're all endearing and they point the way forward (things would very much improve even on their second LP, A Scandal in Bohemia. "Bigfoot Motel" is basically the same song as the later "I Need Meat", but the latter is much more fleshed-out, with a chorus). Check out "Chinatown" for an un-PC treat. "Love Kittens" is awesome.
J.S. Bach - Keyboard Works (Fantasias and Fugues in A minor (BWV 904 & 944), Aria Variata, Sonata in D Major, Suite in F minor, Partie in A Major, Adagio in G Major, Fugue in C Major; two chorale preludes) (Angela Hewitt): Collections of miscellaneous minor pieces like this usually go one of two ways: either it's a disjointed muddle of mediocrities, or it makes a great case for the music. This one is the latter. There's another Hewitt disc like this at the store but I read the back wrong and mistakenly thought they had put the entire 30-minute farewell-to-his-brother (whatever it's called) piece on one track. I hope it's still there. Here, the Aria Variata is appealing, and there's a sonata with a jokey fugal finale; the F-minor suite (BWV 823) is like a miniature version of his big ones, and the ever-shifting G-major adagio (BWV 968) is lovely. Basically this is such a potpourri that if you don't like what you're hearing right now, wait two minutes. I'm slowly building a Hewitt collection; for some reason Hyperion discs are cheap at the record store but they cost an arm and a leg on Amazon).
J.S. Bach - Die Kunst der Fuge (Delmé Quartet): Bach's last work and, fittingly, the last of his major works I had yet to hear. You really need to be in the right headspace to enjoy it, and it's a hard headspace to stay in: sixty-six minutes straight of fugues can be hard to take, especially on the same basic theme. I'll admit that it takes much more technical knowledge than I have to fully appreciate the work, besides just knowing how a fugue works and augmentation/diminution and inversions and whatnot. The liner notes are typically excellent of Hyperion, and it gives the non-huge-Baroque fan a music lesson (complete with musical examples).
J.S. Bach - The Art of Fugue (Emerson String Quartet): Forgot I had this one -- part of a box set, so I didn't need to buy the Delmé, although the liner notes on that one are invaluable (as part of a box set there are none here, naturally). If you thought the Delmés' 66 straight minutes of fugues all on one basic theme were bad, try 81 straight minutes of the Emersons' fugues and canons, which flies by if you're into it but is like a jackhammer if you're not. (The Delmé quartet includes Donald Tovey's completion of the Contrapunctus XIV, which is omitted here and given just as a fragment, I guess for time constraints as well as reasons of authenticity; I guess for time constraints also is that many of the fugues are much faster here than on the Delmé recording, and not always for the better). For all this I prefer the Emersons' recording to the Delmés': the sound quality is much better on this one, with much better separation of and air around the instruments compared to the muddy Delmé sound quality. You can actually hear all four of the instruments clearly all the time, and isn't that important to a fugue? The more you play this work the more you get out of it.
Britten - War Requiem (soloists; Prague Philharmonic Choir; Kühn Children's Chorus; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl): Technically a twofer with the below, but the works are so different that it wouldn't make sense to put them together, plus they're on separate discs. The dynamic range is such that you can't play this on speakers without pissing off the neighbors, yet paradoxically the overall sound quality is pretty rough, even for 1966. It would help a lot if they broke down the sections of the mass on the tracklist, like they do on just the other ####ing disc in the package. As for the composition: it's unrelentingly lugubrious and there's no beauty in it; these things aren't bad in themselves but they are when you're talking about eighty minutes. Yes, the length and gravity are appropriate for what he was going for, but I don't have to sit through it.
Britten - Spring Symphony, Young Person's Guide (as above): Technically a twofer with the above, but the works are so different that it wouldn't make sense to put them together, plus they're on separate discs. Sung in Czech. Sung in Czech. I didn't know such a thing existed. Thankfully I have a vinyl copy in its proper language, with Peter Pears; and the composer at the podium. I guess I may as well listen to it some, but this two-disc set is a spectacular failure.
Oscar Peterson - Night Train: Peterson has been a blind spot for me: I have just this trio recording and the later Lester Young ("going"? Really, autocorrect?). He was nearing middle age on this 1962 album, for the most part an unadventurous collection of standards, but apparently Peterson was still playing at a high level. The only track I really *dislike* is "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)". I must have restarted it a dozen times, tuning out and losing track of the (rather long-breathed and, in this recording, highly ornamented) melody within the first two (of five) minutes. Every. Single. Time. Very frustrating, and eventually I just let the song go by. We all have tracks like that, right? I imagine this would have been much easier for the original audience, who would have been familiar with the song. (Isn't it weird how sometimes, independent of mood or fatigue, you hear a track's structure and it just clicks? "I Got It Bad" just did that.)
Wayne Shorter - Native Dancer: This one is amazing high, just mostly chilled-out fusion groove following mostly chilled-out fusion groove. You can kick back in your chair and just groove on through to paradise. It reminds me nothing so much as If I Could Only Remember My Name -- ethereal, with often wordless vocals: but this one's got nice grooves, too. I don't know what language the words are (basically vocalise or Hopelandic: in other words, voice-as-instrument). In the decades since, largely through the efforts of one Kenneth Gorelick, the soprano sax has gotten a certain notoriety, and Wayne on this album plays that instrument at least half the time. The sound itself is kind of cringey, but the music speaks for itself here. I think this record sold a zillion copies, too: it deserves it.
John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette - In the Moment: This album has a neighbor-hating dynamic range (to realize "Cinuçen" is awesome you have to blast it, position-of-speaker-knob-wise). The disc starts with the Indian-inflected title track -- Eastern influences are all over the record -- which isn't bad. Abercrombie either plays the sitar like a guitar or is playing a guitar with sitar effects. Probably the latter. Following is "The Enchanted Forest"; by its title I'm inclined to like it but it's actually just nine-and-a-half minutes of arco bass with guitar textures over it. The song grinds the album to a halt, and the next track is... yet another quiet understated groove. I can't vouch for Abercrombie, but Holland and DeJohnette obviously are better than this. There's some creative musicianship but all in all the album (side two is only somewhat better) is either pretentious douchebag music or just bad jazz. It's a really quiet record except for tape hiss (in 1996!). Really very boring.
L.T.C. Rolt - Sleep No More: Just started this collection of ghost stories. It's been shilled all over a Facebook group I'm in and I decided to pick it up. The three I've read so far, and another story here I already had in another collection, are traditional English ghost stories set in "modern" industrial Britain ("modern" as in 100 years ago -- we really need a new descriptor) which means that in the very first story you have to read it over once you've made out at deciphering some of the turn-of-the-century mining jargon. The stories are all very short so far, shorter than I'd prefer (about 10 pages).
WWF: Huge LOL at the endless XFL shilling. Vince put a lot into making that league, and it all blew up in his face. In late 2000, and I remember some of this stuff and don't remember a ton of what happened, including the Kurt Angle/Triple H/Stephanie McMahon love triangle that dominated the entire middle third of the year and which just kind of quietly fizzled out when Triple H turned heel. People have been misinterpreting the first amendment probably as long as it's been around, but the Right to Censor faction -- a heavy-handed take on the various pressure groups at the time trying to get WWF programming taken off television -- was brilliant. It let them write off their two most controversial characters (the Godfather and Val Venis, plus the Mr. Ass character that the network executives didn't like) and let their opponents' views be heard (in character) with surprisingly little pushback beyond "muh rahts". It also gave a bunch of lower-midcarders who would otherwise be jobbing or off television entirely something to do. I thought at the time that Rikishi's big heel turn (running over Austin) was a disaster but watching it again it's actually not awful. Gimmicks and storylines that took place over months seemed to go on forever, but semi-binge-watching the WWE Network they go by in only a few days. SmackDown! play-by-play guy Michael Cole is the biggest idiot in the universe: I'm not exaggerating when I say his work is basically like: (wrestler) "Rock, I'm going to kick your ass!" (Cole) "OMG HE SAYS HE'S GOING TO KICK THE ROCK'S ASS!". Also he had frosted tips and a goatee, and 20 years later, he's still the SmackDown! play-by-play guy. Lita was unbelievably hot, I think all the more so for her cargo pants, bare midriff, and whale tail; she had a nipple slip later but her titties are nasty because implants. The "Albert" ring name is up there with Bastion Booger. The characters could be so effortlessly good back then: they took the lower-midcard tag team Too Much, whose big thing was that they were ambiguously gay, and made them into buffoonish wiggers called Too Cool, with "Too Sexy" Brian Christopher and Scott "Too Hot" Taylor becoming Grandmaster Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty, respectively: Scotty did the worm, and the 423-pound former "Makin' a Difference" Fatu was brought back to wear a thong to show off his giant ass, and to dance with Too Cool after their matches. Ratings gold. Where's shit like this nowadays? Creative needs to do more coke. So there was a time not long ago when "wazzuuuup?" was current and clever.