On Crooked Numbers, Unlikely Friends trades in being the “best hardly-known indie pop band in the Pacific northwest” for the title of “the indie pop band that everyone in the Pacific northwest will soon not be able to shut up about.” The Seattle-based group who, for some time now, have been quietly cultivating and refining their infectious brand of indie pop, have struck gold with Crooked Numbers. Over the span of an ambitious and sprawling 15-track record, the group wastes no time in effortlessly trying to get your feet to uncontrollably move. As instantaneous and as feverishly as they did on 2015’s Solid Gold Cowboys, they succeed in many attempts to do so throughout the new record.
Due to the very interesting grouping of players – guitarist Ralph Towner, who also performs on piano and French horn; trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, cellist David Darling, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Michael Di Pasqua – and six of Towner's better originals, this is one of the guitarist's best in a long string of ECM recordings. Wheeler adds fire to the music that is tempered a bit by Darling's mellow cello. An intriguing set well worth several listens.
The title of Many Bright Things' third album highlights the nature of the project: a large cast of friends coalescing around guitarist Stan Denski. After a seven-year gap, Denski – better known by now as the compiler for QDK Media's high-profile series of obscure psychedelia, Love, Peace & Poetry – delivers an entertaining disc of spaced-out jams. Many Bright Friends combines the folky side of Jefferson Airplane ("Minor Parade for 18 Strings," the title track, "There Will Be a Slight Delay") and the crudest grooves of the Krautrock school. The album is structured around two main tracks. The first one is "East West," a 21-minute cover of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's anthem to cross-pollination. Featured in this orgiastic jam are guitarists Denski, Nick Saloman, Daniel Noland, and Al Simones (trading solos); Vess Ruthenberg (bass); Steve Obenreder (drums); and harp player Byrd Birocco, who steals the show. "I Am Not a Collector Potato," the other key track here, is a feature for Jello Biafra, who tells listeners what collecting psychedelic records used to be like (with plenty of reverb in the voice), over a quiet groove improvised by Denski, Larry Demyer (guitar), David "Tufty" Clough (bass), and Lon Paul Elrich (percussion).
Friends of Extinction is basically an expanded two-CD reissue of Dinosaurs' sole album, 1988's Dinosaurs, with two outtakes and an entire disc of previously unreleased 1985-1989 live material. It's a little mean-spirited, perhaps, to criticize the recordings of a band that - as the liner notes make clear - approached music-making primarily as fun, with virtually no ambitions to make a steady professional career out of the group. Still, their album was no doubt not wholly what fans of the San Francisco bands that had spawned the players were expecting. The opening synth pop rhythms of "Lay Back Baby" seemed to indicate a band determined to get in tune with the sound of the mid-'80s, rather than one set on re-creating past psychedelic glories…