Kimya DawsonAlphabutt(K Records)*8.2*
Goes well with: Ani DiFranco, Moldy Peaches, Feist's Sesame Street video
“A is for apple, B is for butt, C is for cat-butt, D is for dodo, E is for elephant doodoo….” With lyrics like that, it's impossible not to smile at Alphabutt. It's a delightful album, even for adults (a key point since your kids will inevitably play it over and over again). In fact, it's so endearing, it makes me want to knock up my girlfriend just so I have an excuse to play the album all the time.
You know from Dawson's work on the Juno soundtrack that her quirky singer/songwriter songs can easily translate into kiddy fare. But most children's albums don't have a song (“We're All Animals”) that tells kids that everyone has hair, “even down there.” Of course, like a lot of Dawson's songs, the primary joy is in discovering them for the first time, and repeated listens could grate on you after a while. But if Alphabutt doesn't make you giggle, you don't have a soul. —Eddie Shoebang
Richie HavensNobody Left to Crown(Verve Forecast)*7*
Goes well with: Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Ray LaMontagne
A highlight of the 1969 Woodstock music festival and subsequent concert film of the same name, Richie Havens has charted a unique and enigmatic creative career. Always better at new and soulful interpretations of other artists' songs (his covers of Dylan and The Beatles are classics, which gives some idea of the bar he sets for himself), Havens also seems to thrive more in performance than in the studio. With less than a dozen releases over a nearly four-decade span, the onetime folk wunderkind from the Bedford-Stuyvescent neighborhood in Brooklyn makes a bid for timeliness and relevance once again with Nobody Left to Crown.
As expected, the 13 tracks here are an even mix of covers and original material. When playing his own compositions, Havens is reserved, almost muted, in his declarations, preferring stark acoustic arrangements and simple lyrical approaches. Sometimes it's too low-key, almost forgettable, with broad lyrics that waver between trite and obtuse.
Like album opener, “The Key”: No escape, a tribal dance / Where no one breaks the common trance / A global glance at freedom's plea. But with the third track, the record's first cover, Havens and his sparse backup musicians weave some of the old magic into a locomotive, poignant, acoustic run-through of The Who's “Won't Get Fooled Again,” and the rest of the tracks take inspirational notes from there, with sophisticated, mature (in a good way) highlights that include the Havens-penned title track and a pensive cover of Jackson Browne's “Lives in the Balance.”—Will K. Shilling
Goes well with: Silver Apples, Spacemen 3, Can, psychedelics
The first in an ambitious triptych of albums, unofficially called the “Thank Your Parents” series, Preteen Weaponry bears all the hallmarks that fans have come to expect from Oneida, yet it's also an anomaly in their recorded output.
Wait, you haven't heard of them? That's funny. As one of Brooklyn's best bands and possibly one of the finest live acts in America, Oneida has yet to receive the widespread adoration they deserve, despite being active for 11 years.
Anchored by Kid Millions' superhuman drumming, the band specializes in layering distorted organ, guitar and bass over hypnotic grooves, and on Preteen Weaponry, the band foregoes vocals (except for a short spell on “Part 2”) in hopes of creating an immersive sonic experience. But whereas previous albums have been more song-based, the point here is to swim around in your imagination for awhile.
Basically one long track split up into three suites, the album is meant to be listened to all at once. As with the majority of Oneida's past experiments, the risks pay off, flipping your head inside out to examine undiscovered regions of your brain. The clipped cymbals of “Part 3” feel like signals sent from your cerebral cortex that never quite reach their destination, and the thick washes of distortion that bridge “Part 1” and “Part 2” are the sound of your deepest fears sending tidal waves through your skull. Oneida work on this subconscious level because they can, and while it may not always be the most pleasant experience, it makes for a compelling trip through your own headspace.—Todd Kroviak