Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The Black Swans latest album Occasion For Song leaves the question...what's the occasion? Because despite the title, I can't really find the reason/occasion for these songs. This is a countrified album of songs that are quietly intense, slow paced, and sound like Jason Molina lent his identity to yet another band. It's not terribly bad in any way shape or form, it just lacks a certain energy that makes me want to listen to this record again and again.
In a way this kind of makes sense as The Black Swans seems to be going through the process of healing throughout Occasion For Song. Having lost a founding member during the whole process it's commendable that this album even exists, that they even want to hear this album again much less still exist as a band. So there's a strong reason for this record almost sounding to difficult to listen to and if you can make it all the way through I commend you. The emotion that is contained within the songs here borderlines on being too much to handle but who can blame the band after losing a friend? Want to talk about emotional weight just ask these guys.
With a rustic feel, minimal instrumentation, talkative singing, and a sense of despair and healing The Black Swans have seemingly created a cathartic experience with Occasion For Song. The feel good hit of the year this is not, but it's been therapeutic for the band and if you've been through anything rough it kind of can work for you as well. Cleansing, heavy, and done with a heavy heart Occasion For Song is an album that's about as genuine as genuine gets.
Holy blues rock Batman, Redgrave have just had a blues explosion all over their latest record National Act. This five track EP of heavy chords, churning drums and bass, and vocals that sound like Grace Slick at her finest is one stormy rock and roll record. National Act is a power chord feast that chugs along slowly but devastatingly so; crushing all who stand in it's way. Redgrave know how to tune down, turn up, and kick out the jams and they do just that through the five tracks that blew up here.
Not terribly catchy but overwhelmingly heavy National Act makes it's impact by simply forcing itself upon you. This is a surge of unstoppable willpower that's going to have it's way with you whether you like it or not. My suggestion is to let it do just that because otherwise you'll suffer a broken skull and ruptured ear drums and that's going to hurt far more than their amps turned up to 11. National Act is rock and roll that's pure, simple, powerful, and the sort of thing that would make Jack White think about retirement. If you like raw unfiltered rock and roll then Redgrave are the National Act you've been searching for.
Producer and trumpeter Wil Magid has deep roots in jazz, dance music, and traditional music from around the globe. He fuses these influences into a heady blend of grooves, sass, and coolness that's partly chilled and partly hyper active. His latest EP reflects this not only in its name, Midnight High, but also the music that is contained within it. From Latin vibes to deep house grooves Midnight High takes us on a six song whirlwind trip around the globe
Magid is a diverse and open minded musician and you hear this throughout the record. With samba's colliding with electronic elements and dubbed out vocals mixing with funeral dirges and just about everything in between this record is quite literally all over the place; globally and musically. While trumpet obviously plays a role here he doesn't grant the instrument total billing and allows the albums atmospherics and grooves to carry us away rather than the horn. He's constructed a gorgeous record that's a stroke of jazzy crossover brilliance. Chilled to perfection and as diverse as the world itself Midnight High is a busy but fun listen that will have you reaching for your passport!
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The latest Stronghold Sound compilation, Sembeh Ma Fa Fe, offers a bevy of sounds that thrill and amaze and come straight out of West Africa with passion, heart, and soul. The San Francisco based musical collective traveled to Guinea Conakry to record music in what was once the Mandeng Empire and to find Mandeng roots music and then revisit sounds from Guinea Conakry. This is the second volume of those explorations and shows the region, despite it's isolation, embracing reggae, hip hop, and r&b and coming up with something rather unique.
Sembeh Ma Fa Fe is filled with modern production techniques and sounds but still sounds raw, traditional and rustic enough to make it feel pure. You'll have no idea what any of the artists are singing about, but one guesses that it's about the isolation and struggles that each of these artists have faced in their homeland. The passion that's here is genuine and the tunes teem with enthusiasm and authenticity. Each of the artists on Sembeh Ma Fa Fe are impressive and much better than I would have expected. The songs are very good and even with the language barrier could and should be heard everywhere. From reggae and dancehall call and response, to hip hop beats and minimal production Sembeh Ma Fa Fe is truly a fascinating exploration of culture and sound and how one influences the other.
This is an album of artists paying their dues and who are honest, positive, vibrant, and good. Sembeh Ma Fa Fe is a fierce listen of pure, raw, genuine music from a region of the world that may have limited resources but has artists who have desire and never ending drive to overcome. If you have any interest in traditional African sounds clashing with modern ones you'll find this record an absolutely gripping experience. Stronghold Sound are rapidly becoming the African music equivalent of Numero Records; finding and unearthing the coolest sounds no one has ever heard but totally need to.
The oddly named band Shmu play odd music for slightly odd people. Their album Discipline/Communication is a Spinal Tap-like odyssey into realms of rock and roll few bands ever reach for much less get there. Combining post shoegazing, post rock, jazz, prog rock and just about everything else these guys create their own little world which they've hesitantly invited us into.
Sounding like a stranger version of Aloha, Shmu have technical skills that put most indie rock bands to shame. These guys can play and I suspect that's half the reason why they write such challenging and intricate music in their own little world. They're ability to shift between genre's and write complex music while in each one is truly a tribute to their ability as musicians and songwriters. Discipline/Communication is an awesome record of musical prowess and complex construction. Utilizing all the usual instrumentation but layering in electronics, beats, backwards sounds, and lots of other fun stuff this is one record that never ceases to peak your curiosity and make you ask, “How'd they do that?”
From jazzy interludes to electronic space jams and primitive percussion gone awry these guys experiment with everything and find musical inspiration in unlikely places. It's not necessarily the poppiest or catchiest thing you'll hear in 2012, but it's easily one of the more intriguing records to come out this year. Whether it sounds like a washed out My Bloody Valentine tune or a Pat Metheney jam Discipline/Communication has something for everyone.
Nickodemus has been bringing global dance grooves to the floor since he started spinning at the Giant Step parties that rocked New York in the mid-90's. Since then he's founded additional parties and mixed all kinds of sets with live musicians. Of course that's never enough, so aside from DJing around the world Nick has also managed to produce records that are worthy of their own right and stand on their own two feet (or sides I suppose). Of course, that's what brings us here today is Nick's latest album Moon People.
With enough world music influences to fill the globe, and enough global grooves to last a lifetime Nickodemus spares no expense when it comes to constructing his songs. With chilled out beats, accordions, jazzy influences, dubbed basslines and just about anything else he can find Nickodemus builds songs that come at your from every corner of the planet. No stone is left unturned and as a result his tunes are open minded, expansive, and thoroughly listenable. Most of Moon People hovers between chill out and downtempo house like jams and the jazzy, dubbed out, gypsified influences create this otherworldly feeling that's hard to beat. This is atmospheric and brilliant stuff that's in touch with it's global surroundings and only too happy to show it.
Moon People is a fantastic journey around the globe that you can take from the luxury of your own living room. He's awesome and with so much experience under his belt it's no wonder that Moon People is so blindingly brilliant.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Jaill is one of Sub Pop's best kept secrets. Quietly this indie rock band has put together quite the little discography of proper good old fashioned American style indie rock. And while their last album was shambolic, chaotic and noisy it's quite apparent about five minutes into Traps that their new album is nothing of the sort. Somewhere in between their last album and this one the band discovered their Apples In Stereo, Elf Power, and Olivia Tremor Control records and decided to head down that path. This was a good decision.
Traps is packed to the rafters with jangly, frivolous, melodic, and fun indie rock that at times you'd swear was a long lost Apples In Stereo record. The songs are all sugary sweet, instantly memorable, and shuffly enough to stir any indie club dance floor. The melodies are sharp, the guitars are jangly and fun, and the whole thing sounds like the best thing that should have come out in 1998 but didn't. Traps is really that good and it's awesome how the band totally slammed on the breaks, switched directions and cranked out something that's as good, if not better, than their previous efforts. Put it this way there are a few melodies on this record that will have you swearing they were removed from Pet Sounds and pasted in the middle of this album. No, really.
Jaill have created a indie pop work of art here. With joyous melodies, jolly guitars, and a overwhelming sense of happiness Traps is an enjoyable listen. Whether it's Apples in Stereo, early Of Montreal or the whole host of old Athens bands, Jaill has taken pages from their books and written their own story with them. Traps will win you over without the use of any such devices...just really good songs and a lot of fun.
Cadence Weapon is back with another intelligent rhyme fest that takes things from the club to the library back to the club then a spin around current events and seemingly everything in between. His latest album Hope In Dirt City is a fantastic return to form and sees Cadence rapidly securing his place as one of independent hip hop's most dignified stars. From jazzy tunes to electro pop, club bangers to straight forward hip hop it's all here and Cadence Weapon uses words to pepper each of those songs to create missives, rants, and raves. It's all very good and very different from what litters the airwaves and clogs the charts under the guise of “hip hop.”
Hope In Dirt City is a raw and powerful record but that should be expected because with a title like that it almost has to be. And yet despite the powerful nature of the rhymes and beats herein the hope pulsating through the title lends a positive aspect to it all and drives the thing forward. These may be dark times but there are glimmers of positivity and this album proves it. As if to make like of that, Cadence has a dark sense of humor and a quick wit which allows him to shove quirky lines here and there and make you ask yourself, "Did he really just say that?" Chances are he did indeed.
If all that wasn't enough it's not every day you hear a hip hop artist (or any artist) reference Tesla, but here's Cadence Weapon dropping the scientist as if it were no big deal. While the guy clearly has a head on his shoulders he also knows how to have fun and he does throughout the record. Whether it's his sense of humor, chilled jams or all out club bangers Cadence Weapon realizes variety is the spice of life; check "Hype Man," for a clear example of his ability to make Outkast blush.
Hope In Dirt City is a varied and exciting record that proves that this Cadence Weapon is deadly. The guy can wrap rhymes around any beat and make them work and sound like they were meant to be. He can sound like he's rapping a term paper one second and then drop something that's bound to fill a dance floor the next. How could that not be impressive? He's good, he's really good and it's only further proof that the independent hip hop movement does things that commercial hip hop is too afraid to try. Needless to say there is Hope In Dirt City.
Best Coast's new album The Only Place is a smiley happy record for smiley happy people. It's the sort of record that has no idea how to be sad, downtrodden, or depressed. As a result of this The Only Place is just about as close to a perfect indie pop record as one can get today.
Best Coast have constructed a giddy, fizzy, spunky record that sounds like Little Red Car Wreck with the occasional detour into swoon-some girl group pop straight out of 1961. It's a gorgeous and endearing record that sounds like the coolest crush you've ever had. It's sweet, touching, and fun to be around. If there's something to be "ga ga" over, it would be this record. There's only guitars, drums, and super saccharine-ish vocals all played by two people. The Only Place's charms are simple and sweet and this is a record to fall deeply in love with; it's worth because it will love you back. This is the sort of record that tugs at your heart strings and makes you yearn for spring days, long walks, and long embraces.
After spending time on the Best Coast there really is only one place to be and that's The Only Place. This is an exceptionally melodic, tuneful, and upbeat record that's an absolute joy to listen to repeatedly. The Best Coast are awesome and The Only Place is a good place to be. If you like heartfelt music with a grin and a hug you'll love this album. Happiness doesn't come much funner than this. Seriously.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Holy Alt Country Batman, Beachwood Sparks have returned. Their latest album Tarnished Gold is anything but a departure for these country rockers who love to twang things out. Essentially perfecting the formula that they've been using for ever and a day, Beachwood Sparks have honed their dusty songwriting to a fine point and it's practically lethal. These guys get their sound and understand it so well that despite being named Tarnished Gold fans of the band and genre will see this as a shining, glistening, nugget of alt-country.
With enough twangy guitar, dreary vocals, and a rustic feel Tarnished Gold is more country than about 90% of country music released today. This is pure honest dusty and dear stuff that's heartbroken, lost, and feeling down. And who can blame it for being that way when you name songs, "Talk About Lonesome," you're not exactly all sunshine and rainbows. But I suspect that's half of this record's charm; the loneliness and desolation that surrounds every guitar riff, pedal steel twang, and multipart harmony is inspired by those feelings. It's not really bad in anyway shape or form…and yes I said that. Beachwood Sparks are so good at what they do that they could probably write three or four albums like this in their sleep...they’ve mastered the formula that well.
With a seemingly broken heart and more rustic tuneage than the entire Nashville music complex combined Beachwood Sparks have meticulously created a record that's so authentic you can't help but wonder if these guys aren't all named Grizzly, live in a log cabin or farm, and drive a broken down 1973 Ford F-150 with a busted headlight. This is the sound of old country modernized and it's so pure you can almost feel it.
I've gone on and on about how Numero Records are awesome at what they do and how they lovingly search out, find, and restore records that need to be preserved. There's no one better at finding obscurities and bringing them to the light of day than Numero. And as per usual they've done it again. Their latest collection A Red Black Green Production is an astonishing array of classic quiet storm like tracks and stirring soul numbers that no one outside of the label has probably ever heard.
Taken from the District of Columbia the compilation focuses on the efforts of Robert Jose Williams and how he picked up the torch of the then defunct Shrine Records and made it all his own as A Red Black Green Production. The compilation is a beautiful array of passion, love, and heart and that's just the lyrics. Featuring 19 tracks or so, the compilation covers all its bases and includes artists as diverse as Father's Children, Skip Mahoney & The Casuals, East Coast Connection, and Promise. Artists that no one outside of the Beltway ever heard but nonetheless had the chops to make it big time they just never did. This is essentially the late 60's early 70's Motown sound found smack dab in the middle of the Capital an no one even knew.
While the quiet storm-like numbers tend to wear thin on fans of upbeat soul, like me, when the record finds its funky heart it truly excels. Check out the Summits, "Sleepwalking," for some funky love that Kool and the Gang would kill for 15 years later. This record has it all and as per usual has been painstakingly given the respect it deserves. Whether it's a night of passion or a slow dance at the club, A Red Black Green Production truly delivers it all in soulful fashion. This is the kind of record The Ladies Man would have playing in his boudoir with a glass of Courvoisier in hand to seduce his lady friends. And my guess is that it would work.
Someone has apparently forgotten to tell The Sufis that it is indeed the 21st century. This group of Nashvillians is so lost in the past I doubt they even know when or where they’re at. Their self-titled debut album is an epic masterpiece of tripped out psychedelic garage rock that sounds like it came straight from Haight & Ashbury circa 1967.
An awesome record throughout, you can almost see and feel the trip that this group is on. Songs gel together; run amok, shine, sparkle, and wind on and on into eternity. Guitars, sitars, drums, spacey vocals; it’s all here and here in droves. The Sufis is an amazing record of spaced out jams from the planet Mongo. It’s crazy stuff that’s so inspired by the vibes of the past you’ll half wonder if these guys don’t walk around in massive bell bottoms, smoke tons of dope, and just stare at oil dripping all day. This is crazy proggy psychedelia that kicks some serious butt. From instrumental jams, atmospheric wanderings, and actual pop songs The Sufis have it all in their tripped out psychedelic arsenal. As they themselves say, they don’t know why or how they create the music they do, the only know that they love doing it. You can tell after just one listen that these guys do love what they do and the sounds that they’re flying around in.
The Sufis is an awesome record that’s filled with guitar solos that go on for days, grooves that last even longer and trips that spin into infinity. If you weren’t alive in 1967 and wondered what the whole psychedelic movement was like back then, take a tip or a trip with the Sufis and you will be enlightened. Retro futurism as never sounded so far out…man.