Incomplete Reactions To Interesting Records

Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger

This was one of those satisfying BANG! events — second time through, almost a different record. How could I not have noticed the bristling musical ideas? This time they were absolutely in the Simon/Halee idiom, not attempts to be trendy. The biggest a-ha is “Wristband” — this time Simon is more pissed-off, responding to a world he sees as increasingly mean and unequal. Always a fertile mood for him and he’s gotten so much more articulate about it over the decades. Almost certainly a Top 10.

Various Day of the Dead

Hordes of performers cover the Grateful Dead and solo Garcia, overseen by the guys from the National. I’ll start with the all-too-predictable gripe: five CDs of stuff is waaaay too much. Even as a fairly serious fan I’d be happier with three discs and the penetrating performances could be included on two. That said, the finest takes here make an essential move too often neglected before: the vocals don’t sound anything like the Dead’s. Some goodies live up to expectations and then some — Lucius’s cover of “Uncle John’s Band” — some are gratifying but not that surprising if you know the cover performer — Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks doing “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider” — some are a treat because they are variants that equal the original — The Lone Bellow and Friends enjoying how much “Me and My Uncle” is a rotten-scoundrel anthem.

Gojira, Magma

I haven’t heard all their stuff, but this is the standout I know by these French prog-metal thoughtfuls. Brilliant: “Silvera,” “Pray,” “Low Lands,” title track. But what do I know? I’m only one of those ignorant, humorless, timid Olde Pharts who works for NPR. We’re all the same, you know.

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