Saturday, September 28, 2013

Various "African Scream Contest" (2008)

This is a rebuttal to everyone who thinks that all African music in the 1970s sounded like Fela Kuti.  While certainly there are some similarities, this compilation is a reminder that there were many many sounds at the time.  And many that were just as exciting and vital as Egypt 70. 

Various "1970s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground"

Like so many of Sublime Frequencies' releases, this one is problematic in the way that it allows for a certain amount of noncontextual tourism.  Just look at the cover image:  guns, girls, exoticism... it's a heady blend ripe for appropriation. 

Hush Arbors "Hush Arbors" (2008)

A project of former (?) Six Organs of Admittance sideman Keith Wood, Hush Arbors plays a sort of dreamy hazy psychedelica very similar to some of the output of 6OA.  Perhaps too dreamy for some, I would recommend this.

Barbara Manning "Super Scissors" (2007)

This is a remastered reissue of Manning's long out of print early releases.  These recordings have an unmistakably 90s indie sound.  Take that for what it is, because "Super Scissors" exemplifies both the best & the worst of the time.

Ry Cooder "Into the Purple Valley" (1971)

Why isn't this album entered into the conversation when people talk about the early predecessors of Americana?  You hear about the Band, Dylan, Byrds, etc, but this album should be in the conversation as well.  Filled with interpretations of standards and country hits, this is an early conceptual look at the Great Depression and Dust Bowl.

The Bug "London Zoo" (2008)

This sounds like nothing more than the soundtrack to the gritty dystopian future that we were promised so many years ago.  Rough, paranoid, new and unfamiliar even as it sounded obviously like things you've heard before. 

Espers "Espers" (2004)

Does the cover really say it all?  While "The Weed Tree" was so loaded with covers that it put their influences out where they couldn't be missed, this initial release keeps those influences implied.  While probably not as strong as some subsequent releases, "Espers" is a strong effort right out of gate.  Highly recommended for those interested in this variety of folk rock.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

DJ Babu "Duck Season vol. 2" (2003)

Exactly what it says on the tin:  a world class DJ creating beats for an assortment of star MCs.  Really fun stuff.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings "Naturally" (2005)

This is an absolute scorcher.  If you don't have it.  Stop & get it.  Now.  Really.  It is that damn good.

Damon Aaron "Highlands" (2008)

For the most part, you know what you're going to get from a record on Ubiquity.  And that's exactly what you get with this one.  It's weakness are those of the label, at times it just becomes a rather bland homogenous mess.  It's not that anything is bad, rather it just doesn't hold a candle to any of the influences that it proudly wears on its sleeve.

Mavis Staples "Live Hope at the Hideout" (2008)

One problem with recording by artists once they hit "legend" status is that that recordings are just too polite.  An easy way around that is to do a live album.  The energy should prevent things from getting too staid, and the touring band isn't quite as awed as a bunch of studio musicians. 

This live album does a good job of showcasing Staples at this latter point in her career.  While she doesn't quite have the range that she did as a younger woman, she can still do a fantastic job.

Plants and Animals "Parc Avenue" (2008)

Remember when Plants and Animals were the buzz band for a month or so?  Was it all just Montreal hype?  Some years later, this album doesn't seem significant at all.  There are some interesting groove based elements, but they don't really stick with any of that long enough to be great.  There's just too much eclecticism, and it translates into a lack of focus.

Common "Resurrection" (1994)

This is worth your time if only for "I used to love H.E.R." -- a post-golden age song lamenting the state of hiphop (in 1994!!).  If there were any doubt about hiphop being a mature art form, the fact that by the early 90s artists were reflective enough to record "it ain't like it used to be" tracks should remove that doubt.

Atmosphere "Seven's Travels" (2003)

Rhymesayers represented yet another strain of alternative hiphop.  In the case of Atmosphere, the divergence from the dominant strain is best represented by much of the subject matter.  Forgoing the usual braggadocio, Atmosphere could almost be called emo.  There's a sense of someone who is more than well aware of their faults, and perhaps ready to wallow in them.  There's a big too much focus on his junk for my taste.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Orchestra Baobab "Made in Dakar" (2007)

Now this isn't something that happens very often.  Recorded 30+ years after their heyday, Orchestra Baobab rerecord some of their classic material, & it sounds great!

No really.

Normally  these type of projects are just sad.  The bands just don't have it any more.  But OB still are great.  Highly recommended.

Rodriguez "Cold Fact" (1970)

The first thing that you have to remember is that in hipster circles, knowledge is power.  As with so many nerdy pastimes, in part it was all about knowing more than the other people in your circle.  With the rise of the internet, there was a sudden devaluation in the currency of knowledge.  What was the point of knowing so much if that information was available to everyone in just a few seconds?

What we saw then was the rise of obscurities.  If everyone had access to the information, now it was about knowing what to look for.  So if you knew more strange corners of your nerdity of choice, then you got status.  Of course it didn't do you any good if the curiosities were terrible.  But if they were as good as, or better, than the stuff that everyone knew about, then so much better.  So there's a certain stake in championing various lost and forgotten records as "lost classics".

Let's be honest:  Cold Fact is not a classic.  It just isn't.  There are some really nice songs here, but it doesn't stack up against the stone cold classics from the same era.

And that's normally the deal with these lost classics.  Upon close listening, it's obvious why these records weren't as successful as whatever they're being compared to.  Usually, they just aren't as good.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Flying Lotus "Los Angeles" (2008)

And so we have another auteur producer.  One of the interesting things about the changes in recording technology is that now there's a greater ability for a single person to control all creative elements of a release. 

To my ears, Flying Lotus is clearly following in the footsteps of Madlib.  However, where Madlib tends to create more happy blissful stoned states, Flying Lotus veers more into the paranoid edgy soundscapes popularized by Radiohead et al.  Both are visions of their time and place, and both are valid.  That's one of the contradictions of California.

Raphael Saadiq "The Way I See It" (2008)

Who buys these records?  The sound and packaging is aggressively retro.  Saadiq doesn't have the advantage of being old enough to be "legendary" or "forgotten".  These two factors alone would seem to be enough to eliminate most of the young black & white audiences. 

It's a shame, really, because this is a wonderful record of 60s referencing R&B.  Unlike so many contemporary musicians, Saadiq really understands how to build a hook and create an effective pop song.  This should have been a massive release.

Po Girl "Deer In the Night" (2009)

This is a really nice record.  Your mom will like it.  You can take it to social events, and it will never embarrass you.  It's not too demanding, and will be happy just hanging out and watching a movie or some TV.  It's grades are good, not valedictorian quality, but solidly As & Bs.  It doesn't dress too conservatively, but not at all slutty.

Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit "The Very Best" (2008)

This is a record that I had totally forgotten.  In fact, after listening to a bit, it took me a while to even remember why I had it.  As I recall, this was a free mixtape that got quite a bit of hype back in 2008. Online sources were calling it one of the best world releases of the year.  The sound itself is much too influence by dance/club music to really be of much interest to me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Common "Like Water for Chocolate" (2000)

OK kids, before Common was an actor, he was a rapper!  Back in the 90s he was one of the guys who provided an alternative to the much higher profile gangsters dominating the music.

Like Water for Chocolate holds up pretty well, but perhaps that should be expected given that its sound was at least somewhat consciously retro at the time of its release.  In combination with the rest of his catalog, Common can make a case that he is the best of the rappers turned actors.

Chiwoniso "Rebel Woman" (2008)

This is contemporary African pop.  Straddling both the traditional & the modern camps, the album doesn't really feel satisfying in either vein.  Interesting, but not worth dwelling upon.

Madlib "Blunted in the Bomb Shelter" (2002)

The titular Bomb Shelter is Madlib's basement studio.  Here he mixes up elements from some insanely large collection of classic Trojan reggae tracks.  There are elements from what sounds like hundreds of classic songs.  While Madlib's cutup technique works against the hypnotic side of reggae, it's a surprisingly enjoyable listen.

Illa J "Yancey Boys" (2008)

J Dilla's brother put out this album after Dilla's death.  The beats are unused Dilla beats, the vocals are his brothers.  Unfortunately, Illa J is a bit too interested in R&B singing for my taste.  The real draw here is Dilla's work.  For the hard core fan only.