Music Briefs: John Maus, The Old 97’s, Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic, Death

Music Briefs are provided by DJs from KXUA 88.3 FM, a student-run radio station broadcasting out of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. KXUA is a non-profit station dedicated to serving the NWA community with the most eclectic blend of music possible. Listen online at

John Maus – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves

Label: Upset the Rhythm (2011)
Genres: Synthpop, Weird Pop
Sounds Like: Depeche Mode, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Joy Division

Review by TG Keas, KXUA Music Director

For a release that’s getting a healthy dose of critical praise, I don’t really know what’s going on with this album. Imagine a Depeche Mode cover band manned by the sole inhabitant of an otherwise-abandoned asylum. We’ve got some nice, eighties-ish synth work (cool!), a healthy dose of hi-reverb, lo-fidelity vocals that would, if not for sonic burial, upstage Ian Curtis’s voice (eh…), and a hell of a lot of weird things bubbling below the surface. It’s difficult to tell whether the final product is entertaining because it is good or because the sound is a novelty. I suppose the fact that it’s entertaining in either regard must count for something.

The Old 97’s – The Grand Theatre Volume 2

Label: New West (2011)
Genre: Alt-country, Folk Rock
Sounds Like: Traveling Wilburys, Blitzen Trapper, New Pornographers

Review by Ginny Garber

This record could fit comfortably in any of the last three decades, channeling vibes of the Wilburys in the ’80s, the Dandy Warhols in the ’90s, and the New Pornographers in the ’00s — it even features an Irish drinking song, “White Port.” Their fifteenth record to date, The Old 97’s have put out a good record from start to finish, with rich lyrics, instrumentation, and danceability.

Wadada Leo Smith’s Organic – Heart’s Reflections

Label: Cuneiform (2011)
Genres: Jazz
Sound Like: Jazz

Review by Zeek Martin

Wadada Leo Smith has opened a portal into a funky, yet decidedly spiritual dimension of jazz that continues to redefine and create the feel of jazz with every new album and band. This is his fifth release on Cuneiform, one of my absolute favorite labels, and as each one has felt like he must have peaked, we find that his vision is capable of pushing further yet into unknown, but somehow familiar soundscapes. The almost two hours of funk-driven avant garde jazz is fueled by a strangely intransigent mix of players, using a bona fide cornucopia of instrumentation. These include Smith on both electric and acoustic trumpet, FOUR guitars (wielded by Josh Gerowitz, Micheal Gregory, Brandon Ross & Lamar Smith), two basses (slapped and massaged by John Lindberg and Skuli Sverrisson), a violin lovingly pushed to it’s limits by Stephanie Smith, both electric and acoustic piano (Angelica Sanchez on the keys), tenor and alto saxophones with two Casey’s (Casey Butler and Casey Anderson respectively), percussion by Pheenon akLaff and laptops manned by Charlie Burgin and Mark Trayle. The sheer amount of instruments is almost as impressive as the crew behind them. The album moves through ranges almost seamlessly, leaving you in a much different place than where you started – with, unbelievably, an ode to Leroy Jenkins. Amazing stuff, simply beautiful.

Death – Human (Reissue)

Label: Relapse (2011)
Genres: Death Metal
Sound Like: Origin, The Black Dhalia Murder, Opeth

Review by Grant Bain

Even a decade after breaking up, Death remains the world’s best-known death metal band. Human, widely considered their strongest album, is a powerful mix of straight death metal with some progressive elements that still set the band apart twenty years later. The late Chuck Schuldiner’s vocals are primal and raw, but unlike the standard death metal growl, are intelligible. Human is a more introspective album than much of Death’s catalog, but still offers the genre’s trademark speed and brutality. For added fun, check out the cover of KISS’s “God of Thunder,” originally only available on Japanese import. This reissue is a great introduction to the band and a must-have for aficionados.