Recommended Listening: The National, Sylvan Esso (sort of), Golden Retriever (but not really), and a guy named Dent May (really)

A selection of what I’ve enjoyed listening to this week. Similar to my Recommended Reading, this doesn’t mean these albums were released this week, or recently at all. That said, in addition to being a fickle and capricious musical omnivore, I’m also easily bored, so there is a bias toward the new.

Capablanca by Golden Retriever

I am a bit confused by this one, I’ll be honest. There is a band called Golden Retriever, a modular synth and bass clarinet duo from Portland, Oregon, but this album does not seem to be by them. The other interesting, or maybe just odd, thing is that this album was recorded solely on an iPhone, according to the Bandcamp page. It’s simple, catchy, and captivating is all I know, and I can listen to it anytime day or night. It never fails to bring a smile on my face and get my head bobbing. What else could you want?


Across the Universe by Dent May

If you like Harry Nilsson, you’ll like Dent May. He’s not as weird, and his sound more modern, but his songs are just as quirky and well constructed. Upbeat and bright, this is a good mid-morning to mid-afternoon pick-me-up album. Have some friends over, pour some rosé, have a seat on the back porch, put this on, and I guarantee at least one of them will ask, “Who is this? I really like it.” It’s friendly and easy to like like that.


Sleep Well Beast by The National

The National are my heroin, they just make everything melt away. As with all things beloved, approaching newness produces anxiety. And since I don’t universally love their back catalog (Cherry Tree is lost on me), and it had been nearly five years since their last album, the prospect of not liking Sleep Well Beast wasn’t out of the question but would represent a new music well that I didn’t want to stare down longingly for another number of years. Luckily, the well is now full, and I’ve had this album on repeat since it came out. The same tribal drumming is there, as are the clever, brooding lyrics, but there are more catchy guitar licks, where before they might have settled for cacophony. Overall it has a more electronic feel. And just look at that album cover. I’m not sure anything The National offer will ever top Trouble Will Find me, but Sleep Well Beast shows it’s not entirely out of the question. More than anything, as a fan, that this album is a progression keeps things interesting and, if not heroin, at least comforting. If you’re similarly obsessed, you’ll want to listen to the band perform Sleep Well Beast in its entirety, courtesy of NPR.


Echo Mountain Sessions (EP) by Sylvan Esso

If regular Sylvan Esso are a bit too programmed for you, or you’ve never heard of them, then take a hike up Echo Mountain with me. The duo gathered a bunch of their friends, which include the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger among others, and recorded five songs from their latest album in a more acoustic style. The result, as producer-half of the duo Nick Sanborn says, is that “the songs breathe in this totally different way.” The only problem is that, at barely over fourteen minutes long, it’s over before it begins. To make you feel better about listening to this over and over, you can watch it all go down on video, again courtesy of NPR.


Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, Featuring Steely Dan

RIP Walter Becker.

Dave Brubeck Trio & Gerry Mulligan - Live at The Berlin Philharmonie

Reviews of Old Albums: Dave Brubeck Trio & Gerry Mulligan – Live at The Berlin Philharmonie


If it’s quiet, relaxing jazz to read by you’re after, keep moving. These guys are ripping and noisy on most of these tracks. I can practically see my neighbors’ anger through the walls when I play this, Gerry Mulligan’s sax just slices through, I’m sure. At times, Dave Brubeck is literally banging on the keys. It can be brutal at times, but it’s fun.

The first two tracks, “Out of Nowhere” and “Mexican Jumping Bean,” are just that.

Two back-to-back numbers, “The Duke” and “New Orleans,” appear in the middle to substantially cool things off. The latter stretches out to just beyond the 16-minute mark and contains sparkling, swinging, patient solos from the headliners and support alike that would make Paul Gonsalves proud.*

It might sound obvious, but if you’re a fan of drum solos, make sure to check out “Indian Song.” Drummer Alan Dawson goes it alone for over three minutes on this second set number.

Come to think of it, this is a good album to put on at a party. Gets it moving at the beginning, then settles in for dinner and conversation before livening back up and sending people out the door with a sweet Lullaby of a goodnight.

Just make sure your guests are pretty sophisticated jazz heads. I suppose with the right mixture it could work, but an all-night college dance partay this is not.

Fans of the band Phish should likewise give this set a hard listen, as it contains many of the attributes, ups and downs, and just as much inspiration and improvisation, as any Phish concert (I’ve been to dozens).

How to listen to this album:

More info on this album:


*Saxophonist Paul Gonsalves played a 27-chorus solo during “Diminuendo in Blue” with Duke Ellington at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. It is arguably the most famous solo in live jazz history, and part of an overall concert performance that many credit as reviving Ellington’s career.