Thursday, May 30, 2013

Vieux Farka Toure Offers Hope on Mon Pays

With his native Mali in crisis Vieux Farka Toure responded the way he knows best; through music. “I wanted to pay homage to our musical heritage,” said Toure with regards to everything going on in his homeland His new album, Mon Pays, is a living tribute and reminder about the beauty and culture of his homeland.

With gorgeous almost classical guitar work and arrangements that are simply stunning Mon Pays is a record that will leave you breathless and filled with hope. A mixture of traditional vocal works and almost ambient guitar textures Mon Pays is a stunning reminder of how awesome Malian music can be. The instrumentals on this record are as amazing as the sunsets on the cover and as inspiring as Toure himself. Vieux Farka Toure is obviously a gifted musician and Mon Pays is a feast for your ears as his fingers construct and play works of pure genius.

Mon Pays isn't political, isn't controversial, or trying to make a statement. It's a point of reference for what can be and a love letter to the land that Vieux Farka Toure loves. It's filled with optimism, beauty, and hope. Yet, despite the intimate and personal attachment that Toure creates here this is Malian music anyone can enjoy. In a sea of struggle Mon Pays is a positive voice that can never be silenced.

Cas Haley Brings Reggae To Texas

Singer songwriter Cas Haley comes from a long line of non-Caribbean based folk who find themselves playing that most Caribbean of music...reggae. While that's not quite as unique as it was say 20 years ago it's still something that places a little doubt in your brain. "Is it going to be any good?" is the question I always end up asking myself. Because honestly, what could a guy from Paris, TX possibly know about reggae?

Haley's latest album La Si Dah isn't exactly a pure reggae album and that's probably a smart thing as it's almost impossible for a guy from Texas to even compete with pure roots rock reggae from down south. Instead La Si Dah is an almost jam-bandish take on the genre with dub influences mixed in to give the whole thing a feel of authenticity. While the record does hark back to traditional sounds and the legacy of artists who laid the groundwork for Haley, the album is still a modern interpretation of the genre. It's proof positive that the work Marley and his peers did decades ago to spread their music far and wide has worked.

Despite my misgivings and doubt, the whole thing isn't bad at all and La Si Dah comes off like a Sublime meets Marley soundclash. It's worth a listen for sure and their cover of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now," is worth the price of the disc alone. Cas Haley proves that no matter where you are, no matter how far from the Caribbean you might be the soul of reggae can be found anywhere. It's pretty cool to think that reggae has found itself deep in the heart of Texas and that Cas Haley is leading the way.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gaudi Is In Between Times

Gaudi is an interesting artist who has spent his career expanding his horizons. He's a producer who has always been one step of the ball game and as a result over the course of his relatively short career has become a go to guy in high demand. "Why," you say? Well he's one of a handful of artists who easily blend a variety of worldly sounds into something that sounds fresh, innovative, and ahead of the curve. In Gaudi's case he's taken reggae, dub, chill out, and house music and seamlessly mixed them into something that's far beyond all of them.

His latest album, In Between Times may seem like a reggae album on first glance but it really isn't. Rather, In Between Times is a dubbed out journey into the great beyond that pushes the genre and everything along with it forward. Gaudi has created an extremely dance friendly record that's so well thought out and produced it's just about unforgettable. In Between Times is huge, it's far reaching, and crosses over genres and sounds as if it were a normal thing to do. Need an example? Just look at the guest list, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, The Orb, Jahmai, it's truly all over the place. It's the sort of record that brings to mind the old idea of a Soundsystem. It's big, massive, vast, amazing, clashes with sounds and at times reminds me of a more chilled out version of Leftfield.

Synths sit next to reggae guitar riffs, vocals wash in and out, songs soar and glide and the whole thing is wonderfully out of this world. With brilliant bassline peaks and valleys and hints of all kinds of instruments from strings to horns the whole thing takes on this vibe about being in a constant state of movement; the songs just lift you up and carry you away. Gaudi has created a post-reggae dubbed out excursion that's inescapably brilliant. Having spent some time with In Between Times I can see why Gaudi has developed such a fantastic reputation and such a crammed calendar. Gaudi may be in between times...but they are times so far ahead of the rest of humanity we may never catch up.

Carmen Souza's Kachupada

Singer Song writer and multi-instrumentalist Carmen Souza has emerged from the Cape Verde area with an interesting approach to music. Breezily mixing jazz and Cape Verdean music she's established herself as part of a new generation of artists seeking to expand their horizons beyond there homeland. Her latest album Kachupada is an intriguing prospect that I'm not too sure of.

While Souza undoubtedly is talented and I really wanted to like Kachupada because of it's jazzy overtones I'm just not sure I can. The problem lies with Carmen's vocals; they're just a little to weird for me. What do I mean by that? Well Carmen seemingly talks her way through the songs here in an almost mousy and kind of creaky voice that's just a bit unsettling. It was just a bit too much for me to deal with and it kind of ruined the breezy feel of the record.

While musically Kachupada was a nice record it was just a bit to difficult to overlook Souza's vocal presence. Sometimes it just works out that way and while I have no doubt that she's hugely talented Kachupada just was a little to unusual for me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

King's Koncepts

I think we can all admit that dubstep has gone mainstream. It's the new hip-hop. No longer underground, it's become the soundtrack of fratboys and Jersey Shore wannabees at this point. So if you're an artist within this genre and you're trying to keep it "real," you've really got to stand out. I mean, honestly, Skrillex is a nu-metal kid gone wrong and for every 50 of artists like him there's only one like King.

King is far from your usual dubstep artist and his album Koncepts is anything but a bog standard dubstep record. Where King differs from most is that he manages to take hip-hop production techniques and fuses them with dubstep flavors. The result is a sound that sounds like DJ Shadow trying to escape a prison of bassbins a mile high. King creates crisp instrumentals and tight beats and then layers that on top of minimal production that is almost reminiscent of someone like techno legend Joey Beltram. Koncepts as a result of this deadly combination is a very good and very different record.

Unlike most dubstep, Koncepts is anything but harsh; it's sparse and attacking and chooses it's approaches carefully without bashing you over the head. It's a fascinating record that given a touch of vocals here or there could be downright lethal. As it stands though Koncepts is a unique sounding record than most in the genre and it even feels different than most. Lost between worlds and stuck in the Matrix King has created an album that's almost like an audio map of his attempted escape route. It's a fun ride filled with thrills and drama and King's own unique way of bursting out from the underground.

CSC Funk Band Lights The Funkincense

CSC Funk Band's latest release Funkincense was released back on Record Store Day in April and apparently was an exclusive release. Seeing as though we're well over a month past that day whether or not this record is actually available or not could be in doubt. That being said, Funkincense is well worth hunting down as CSC have easily dodged the sophomore slump here and released a doozy of a record.

As its name might imply, Funkincense is extremely funky. Packed with extremely deep grooves, awesome horns and loaded with all kinds of subversive drug references the band plays up it's psych, rock, funk roots. This record moves and jerks and dances it's way all over the place and it all comes off as a barrage of psychedelic funk jams from the70's. It's awesome stuff that's just about impossible to not move to. The saying, "If this don't make your booty move your booty must be dead," easily applies to every song here as CSC fuses rock, psych, funk, and even jazz into a hypnotizing blend of never ending jams.

In listening to Funkincense you almost get the sense that the guys who make up the CSC Funk Band could go on forever. Songs seems to blend altogether and Funkincense is like a one hour long trip into the doors of funky perception. CSC are amazing at what they do and Funkincense is proof of that. With top notch musicianship, a desire to never stop jamming, grooves that are deep and songs that transport you Funkincense is an epic release that anyone who breathes needs in their life.

Cheick Hamala Diabate's Prudence

With world music becoming more and more mainstream and genre's like indie rock stealing ideas from it, it only seems logical that the dance music community would follow suit. And they have, from chilled out remixes to dubsteppy takes on global grooves producers worldwide have found a whole new world in which to get lost in. Cheick Hamala Diabate is just the latest artist to have his work reinterpreted by a host of electronic artists on an album. Prudence is a joyous mix of old and new that's intimate and yet dance floor friendly.

Mixing classic music from Africa and modern electronic music Prudence illustrates what can happen when traditional meets bleeding edge. This is a genre defying excursion across the continents complete with jazzy chilled vibes, big beats, tight grooves, and African influences. The record is composed of six energetic remixes of varying paces and approaches but all are a unique take on Cheick Hamala Diabate's already unusual sound. It's a fascinating and dizzying record that is constantly in a state of movement and it's energy throughout is infectious.

From funky guitars to blown out drum sounds it's all hear living in harmony with all sorts of overtones and global influences steering the way. This is an album that shows anything is possible and that modern and time-honored sounds can work together to create a new sound collage that's respectful and limitless. Prudence is the sort of record that opens peoples minds to what's out there and what's possible and one suspects that's the idea.

Made In Iceland

Iceland is obviously known musically for Bjork (and The Sugarcubes) and to a lesser degree Gus Gus but did you know there's far more than just those two artists on that tiny island? It's true. Really. In fact, there is a thriving music scene there and the Made In Iceland series is out to serve as the Rough Guide to this burgeoning scene. Now up to it's sixth installment, the series has brought many artists out of the ice and into the spotlight to thaw out.

About half way through this compilation and one thing is for sure Iceland is way more than just Bjork. Made In Iceland features nineteen artists playing artpop, chilled house, hip hop and even alt-country. Who knew that such a small island could be home to such a diverse scene? Well kiddo, they do and although several of the artists have unpronounceable names their songs are anything but unapproachable. In fact, a vast majority of Made In Iceland VI is excellent stuff and the fact that there are six volumes of this series should speak to how large and successful the scene up there really is.

While Made In Iceland highlights the diversity of talent in Iceland from one corner to the next it becomes glaringly obvious throughout this compilation that they are truly the masters of cool electronica. They just get it, they know how to write it and they create songs that are chilled to beaty perfection. Perhaps it's a reflection of their environment or their isolation but these guys are the masters of icy cool and I don't mean that in a bad way. Retro Stefson, Hjaltalin, Bloodgroup and Asonat all make impressive appearances here and they left me wanting to hear more...or at least book a flight to Reykjavik.

Made In Iceland is an awesome exploration of an island not often thought of as a musical hotbed. This is a brilliant introduction to a thriving music scene that's diverse, intriguing, cool, and far from ordinary. This little tourist guide to the island is well worth hunting down and spending some time with even if it isn't in the land of ice and snow.

The Idan Raichel Project Waits For Quarter To Six

Israeli keyboardist and composer Idan Raichel is a busy guy. From touring to releasing a live album, working with India Arie and even performing at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony Idan has done more in the last four years than most artists get to do in their lives. And yet amongst all that he managed to put together his latest album Quarter To Six as part of his newly launched Idan Raichel Project.

Reflecting a quote from the famed Israeli witer/actor/singer Yossi Banai who was referring to the end of life, Quarter To Six moved Idan Raichel. As he notes, "People learn to accept this time of the day, to come to terms with their life, in peace." It's an interesting idea that quarter to six is a time that nears dark and in a sense the end of the day (or life as it may be). While this might not sound like the most uplifting inspiration for an album Raichel explores the positive aspects of reflecting on life throughout. As a result most of Quarter To Six is a mellow, introspective, near folk-like record that's quietly makes an impact. At times Quarter To Six actually sounds more like French Chanson than a reflective work from Israel and that's a tribute to Raichel's ability to create songs that are universal. It's very intimate and subtle stuff that features both male and female singers who seemingly play off of each others thoughts. Lush and beautiful while being introspective the album utilizes strings and textures and the aforementioned male/female voices to build drama and make an impact while remaining inherently beautiful. It might all sound depressing on paper but in reality it's anything but.

With a global guest list of artists and a host of sweeping sounds the album is reflectively brilliant. Quarter To Six is the sound of the middle east at peace and illustration that no matter how grim things may be there's always a positive to be found. Whether it's traditional or modern Raichel is a master of bringing it all together with intimacy, personality, drama and thoughtfulness. Quarter To Six is a reflection of that and as a result it's excellent stuff that will make you think.

Analog Players Society Jet CKY To JFK

The latest record from the Analog Players Society is a three song EP that goes by the name CKY to JFK. Quite simply put this is music for globe trekking (hence the airport codes in the title: JFK = New York, CKY = Guinea). The three songs that make up this record features all sorts of sounds and vocal approaches and the result is a record that sees West African vibes colliding with chilled out grooves in a burst of color and vibrancy.

CKY to JFK as they proudly state was recorded with state of the art 70's technology and features tons of traditional and electronic instrumentation grooving together. As a result of this one love strategy you have an EP that's more diverse and yet more unified than some bands entire output. It's a short but sweet record that packs one heck of a global wallop in the span of 18 minutes and further proves that Analog Players Society will leave no stone unturned for a cool song or a new sound. These guys are globe trekkers and preservationists searching the planet for unique songs and CKY to JFK is just their latest stopover on a never ending journey into sound.

Still Corners Grant Us Strange Pleasures

Now on their third album, the perpetually mousey duo Still Corners continue their exploration of all things shadowy and seductive. Strange Pleasures is a haunting record that like previous efforts has a serious lack of urgency or frenetic pace about it. Rather, this is a record layered with ambient textures, disengaged vocals and a barely there or barely moving kind of approach. It's almost as if Still Corners are spirits who were sent back to haunt our dreams and lives with their beautiful sounds.

Strange Pleasures is gauzy, ethereal, and otherworldly. It's about as close to the Cocteau Twins as you can get without actually being them; in fact, if Robin Guthrie used synths instead of guitars Still Corners could very well be the Cocteaus. As if to prove the point Strange Pleasures washes over you in a wave of crystalline opulence that will leave you in awe. It's truly gorgeous stuff that's wispy, breezy, stirring, and haunting. Strange Pleasures is sound of stillness and shadows and it's as if the band follows you around whispering their songs into your ears. A more atmospheric, post shoegazing, and ghostlike band you are unlikely to find and a more fragile beauty than Strange Pleasures is just as unlikely to be heard.

This is a brilliant album in an ambient, chill out, post shoegazing, chillwave, ice queen kind of way. It's the soundtrack of The Sandman and the dreams you have at night. This is the sound of another time and another place outside of the realms of human comprehension and Still Corners are only too kind to allow us to be part of it. Strange Pleasures is a beautiful record that is easily one of my favorites this year and whenever I fall asleep I find I'm lost in Still Corners.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chance Wiesner's Takin' A Chance On Love

Chance Wiesner is pitched as a freak folk kinda guy. You know the kind of guy that plays strummy acoustic stuff but gets weird while doing it. But the truth is his album Takin' A Chance On Love is more along the lines of old 80's indie pop records than anything freaky much less folky. If you can imagine old TV Personalities songs being covered by Lawrence from Felt you kind of have an idea of where Chance Wiesner is coming from.

With twee-ish strums and boy/girl harmonies Chance Wiesner creates this intimate environment that sounds yearnful and earnest. The songs Wiesner creates are shy and shuffly and it's almost like Takin' A Chance On Love is a statement of his philosophy rather than a record he's listen to. It's all pretty good stuff and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by it all because the second I saw that it was labeled as freak folk I almost tuned it out.

As it stands though, Takin' A Chance On Love is a funny, quirky, lo-fi ride through the trials and tribulations of Chance Wiesner. It might not be a big production but Takin' A Chance On Love is packed with honesty and heartache and what more could you want from a record now days? Here's hoping that Chance's chance never pans out...I mean we want more records like this don't we?