Alice Cooper - Dirty Diamonds: The disc is more musically diverse than the ones that came before it (I'm getting a vaguely '60s vibe in "Perfect", and some stuff recalls the new-wave period, and "Your Own Worst Enemy" channels f'n Green Day -- not that any of this is a bad thing), and there are hooks all over the place on a lighter, and better, Cooper album. More impressive is that the album, with its socially conscious title track, actually predates the Blood Diamond film by about a year. Why they picked that song for the title track, who knows. I actually enjoy this album more than The Eyes of Alice Cooper and, on a good day, Dragontown. "Zombie Dance" is definitely the last song on the album and there's nothing further, is there?
Alice Cooper - Along Came a Spider: Lighter still, just a collection of pretty good songs. It's kind of surprising, actually, that this album owes much to the hair-metal period, with big muscular riffs, over-the-top shock lyrics, anthemic choruses (see "Vengeance is Mine" for a prime example). I'm really, really ready for this discography run to end. Just three more albums (including a double that would fit on one CD).
The Jazz Butcher - The Gift of Music: A disc I had overlooked: this covers some early stuff and some live stuff from the period. It's not essential listening even for a Jazz Butcher fan although it does have a radically different version of "Southern Mark Smith". This early in his career Pat Fish was doing lightweight cerebro-pop indie and that's what you get here.
The Smiths - The Queen is Dead: (heard -- and detest -- "How Soon is Now?"): I don't care if Morrissey is a douche in real life; he's a douche on this album. Whether I like this or not depends on my mindset: if "Frankly, Mr. Shankly" is meant ironically it's a good listen, and if it's in earnest it's most definitely not. I think this is more of a you-had-to-be-there disc: I probably would have loved in high school, when I thought even more histrionic singers à la Bryan Ferry were, if not cool, were just not as dorky. Listening to it at the first time at age 35 isn't the same. There is a lot to like, with moody atmospherics and a pop sensibility, and maybe if I listened to the Smiths more I'd come to appreciate their lyrics being part of their charm, like with Depeche Mode. Considering how I dislike this album (of a piece with "How Soon is Now", down to the cheesy mopefest crowding out my appreciation the guitar parts and all) that probably will be no time soon. This "Cemetery Gates" is very different from Pantera's.
Television - Marquee Moon: (totally unfamiliar): It defies comprehension how this album ended up as Babble's favorite in 2009, doubtless succeeding the Beatles or some prog favorite in 2005 (the top album escapes me) and the most predictable of some-prog-favorite in 2014. At first I thought this album was overrated but it eventually got its hooks in me, and after three or four listens it's great. Its exact genre probably has been debated to death but it reminds me of nothing so much as Ultravox, with a similar-sounding debut (which also antedated Never Mind the Bollocks and was also basically a new wave or post-punk album), and Systems of Romance (haven't heard Ha! Ha! Ha! yet). For all this it sounds like nothing else. The singer has the charisma of a goldfish -- uncharacteristic of this kind of music -- but hey, it works. Getting into individual tracks would be a waste of time. I just have to give an "at'll do, pig" to Television and to the 2009 Babblers.
Mendelssohn - Octet, Quintet No. 2 (Academy Chamber Ensemble): The octet is one major (not major-major) work I'd never heard (I have a recording by the Emerson String Quartet) and damn, it lives up to the hype. Two string quartets stuck together to form a little string orchestra (I think it's roughly contemporary with the string symphonies? Which BTW are generally more satisfying than his mature symphonies). Whatever the case, the work is one of those where attentive listening actually hurts things: not that it ruins it, but you're staying bogged down when you should just let it rain over you. As for the Quintet, I've heard it a few times now and can't remember much about it. It's obviously a much later work without the octet's breezy charm, but it's worth hearing. It's in a similar mood. Not bad fill-up.
Prokofiev - String Quartets 1 & 2 (Chilingarian Quartet): Prokofiev continues to impress. Until recently I had very little of his music but I like everything except for the symphonies. Modern harmonies and jagged yet lyrical melodies, yet popular-sounding. You need only a rudimentary, if any, grasp of form to enjoy it. I want to give it a few more spins just because it's enjoyable music, pleasant on the surface with a bit more going on underneath. This would be a good choice for beginning classical listeners: what's more, it would free up two more works you don't ruin early on through overplay, so you'll eventually be able to enjoy some Rasumovsky quartets or whatever as they're meant to be enjoyed, not as works to cut your teeth on.
Shostakovich - String Quartets 1-15 (Fitzwilliam Quartet)
Shostakovich - String Quartets 1-15 (Emerson String Quartet): This will take a while, like the complete Mahler symphonies, but more so. I like what Shostakovich I've heard, but from what I understand he was a very inconsistent composer (third symphony, I'm looking at you), and that's bound to come out in the course of the fifteen quartets. We'll see.
Max Roach - Beijing Trio: Together with Jon Jang (piano) and Jiebing Chen (erhu, a kind of bowed string instrument). This is a jazz-Chinese crossover but not in a bad way at all. The first four or five tracks can be considered as one composition in four or five movements. Towards the end there are tributes to Michelle Kwan and Bruce Lee. These aren't as good as the rest of the album. Roach is a standout, naturally, and the group was built around him. He really had a knack for melodic drumming, no? There's a pulsing drumbeat in the first track that sounds almost gamelan in its colors. I've got another Roach album in the next HAUL. If you see this cheap pick it up -- it's at least interesting, no matter what you think of the contents, and it's terrific background music. Turn up the bass on this one.
Wayne Shorter - Adam's Apple: Worth a listen just to hear Shorter and Herbie Hancock play together in 1966, with even an early, slower (like "Help Me R(h)onda"), pre-Miles version of "Footprints" that's... okay, I guess. Shorter's dark, warm tone meshes well with Hancock's unmistakable playing; it hardly needs to be said that the two have a near-telepathic rapport. The title track is all sorts of excellent. However, I get one of those vibes when the fifth track I'm ready for the album to be over, yet there's a seven-minute sixth track to close it out that I fidget through. I don't know why. Maybe my favorite Shorter-led album. I don't have any idea how to evaluate bassists, but I enjoyed Reggie Workman's not-workmanlike work on this album. Anyway the disc is highly recommended -- one of the better albums in my collection.