Skye will always be associated with her original group, Morcheeba, even if she is on her third solo record, Back To Now. When she originally broke out on her own, Skye embarked on the singer/songwriter path with her voice as the central focus and guitars and piano playing background roles. On her latest, Skye returns to the Morcheeba style of doing things with beats and manufactured loops backing her instantly recognizable honeyed vocals. No matter what accompanies her, it is Skye’s distinct silky voice that is her calling card. Back To Now is driven by dark electronics, which in turn bring out a moodiness to Skye’s normally sweet tones. The dance-lite “Featherlight” broaches pop territory and the spitting chorus of “Every Little Lie” helps make it stickable. Despite these effort, Back To Now is missing the immediate trip-hop pop that the Morcheeba combination brought so easily out of Skye. After a six-year break from Morcheeba, Skye is back to her day job with that group, so those hits are impending.
Ben Drew’s emotions are always on the extreme end of the intensity scale. The sole powerhouse behind the entity Plan B, the 28-year-old Drew displays forceful passion no matter what the situation. Speaking non-stop about large-scale ideas, Drew’s ambitions sound like the kind of big talk people spout when they have nothing going on. Except that Drew has a lot going on. Anything he ever said he was going to do, Drew did it. Singing his raps with just a guitar? He did that. Number one album? Did it. Acting? Done. Writing and directing a feature film? Done and done.
No matter what the vehicle, Drew’s intensity is relayed potently. Initially introduced to the world as a musician, his 2006 debut album, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words is the kind of album the Parental Advisory sticker was created for. Putting no filter on Actions’ language, Drew lets forth with a flow similar to Eminem. With a distinct British undercurrent of urban street rhythm, Drew paints a stark picture of growing up in England. Four years later, he restyled himself as a Motown crooner with The Defamation Of Strickland Banks.
John Cage, A Dip in the Lake, 1978.
John Cage has been an important figure on the landscape of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago since literally the beginning: he performed at the opening of the institution’s first-ever exhibition in 1967. In the decades that followed, Cage and the MCA enjoyed a fruitful working relationship, with the artist creating and performing scores on-site and the museum hosting performances of his works over the decades, continuing after his death in 1992 and into the present day.
If only just for those performances, MCA would be a precious keeper of Cage’s legacy. But the museum has more: the material results of its long association with the artist can be seen in MCA DNA: John Cage, a multimedia exhibition opening September 1st of photographs, letters, performance, video, and Cage’s idiosyncratic scores, the most famous of which is created on a large map of Chicago. The exhibit seeks to make Cage’s scores come alive again, with displays and materials that demonstrate how to interpret them. Elsewhere the artist’s influences, such as books he kept, sit next to notes he wrote and archival papers documenting his time at MCA. The exhibit mixes art with archive and creative with strictly professional, and keeps the close link to the MCA as a central element throughout. As site-specific as a Cage performance and equally unpredictable, MCA DNA: John Cage is a snapshot of an extraordinary artist’s process.
England is churning out the youthful soul singers like its economy depends on it. Latest in this assembly line is 22-year-old Lianne La Havas. Likened to Corrine Bailey Rae from that side and Erykah Badu from this side, La Havas is heralded by both Bon Iver and Prince. Plus, her debut, Is Your Love Big Enough? is produced by Aqualung’s master songcrafter, Matt Hales. With her voice alternating between soft and thin to throaty and husky, La Havas’ lyricism has a familiarity to it that lets you correctly guess what the next words are going to be before you hear them. The likeable youngster plays a mean guitar, which effortlessly complements her breezy soul-pop. Going from the stripped back “Lost And Found,” which counts heavily on La Havas’ delivery–that she doesn’t quite present, Big Enough moves to the light mood of “Au Cinema” and the playfulness of “Forget.” Love song and after love song, Big Enough isn’t as big as it could be—but it is growing and La Havas is going to get there in the end.
Photo Credit: Sam Butt
To what extent does your environment define who you end up becoming? In the case of Michael Kiwanuka, this extent would be large. The British folk-soul-jazz singer/songwriter, who is in his mid-twenties, is a product of the affluent Muswell Hill neighborhood in North London, by way of Ugandan parents. He sounds, however, like he’s a senior citizen who grew up in the bowels of Middle America. Terry Callier, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, these are some of the names being thrown around when speaking about Kiwanuka’s debut full-length Home Again
Brushed drums, super-crisp strings, and immaculate woodwinds are the ingredients in the concoction that is Home Again. Over-polished to perfection under the Band Of Bees’ Paul Butler’s production chops Kiwanuka’s vintage tones deliver primarily neutral sentiments far away from the pain and suffering of his main vocal idol, Otis Redding. But then, Muswell Hill doesn’t give you a lot to worry about. It does, however, give you a lot of rope to experience different kinds of music.
“Muswell Hill is a middle class, predominantly white area,” says the ever-affable Kiwanuka. “What I would listen to would be different if I grew up somewhere else. I don’t know if I would ever listen to Dylan or the Beatles if I grew up in Hackney in East London.
If Heaven is any indication, the members of Pomegranates play an average of eight instruments each. You can pick them out in a kind of parlor game for music geeks: there goes the razzy, feedback- heavy guitar solo, there go the bells, there go the rollicking drum lines and plinky cadenzas on piano. There goes a singer whose syrupy falsetto makes you wonder if he studied with Antony. There go three anthems – “Pass Away,” “Sister” and “Ezekiel” – whose brashness barely connects with the syrupy ballads that follow. Given this variety, you wonder if the band, which takes great pains to use every part of their buffalo, is eclectic or just indecisive. By cobbling together the hallmarks of a hundred different song structures, they managed to create an album that’s less a statement than a showcase. In that light, it’s best to look at Heaven as a kind of musical sample platter – one that, for better or worse, eschews the needs of a narrative.
Aren’t we fortunate that Adele has had such success to make music industry types want to find more like her? Enter Emeli Sande. This Scotswoman meets much of the criteria for the thick-throated female singer/songwriter. Having a hand in co-writing her own material, the requisite men issues to give her something to write about, and the strong personality to pull it off, Sande is all set. Her debut, Our Version Of Events kicks off with one of her standout numbers, “Heaven.” Lifting its beat pattern directly from Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy,” this trick doesn’t work against “Heaven.” Rather, it kicks it up to a familiar space in the listener’s mind, making it an instant hit. Breakbeats line most of Our Version Of Events giving it a British flavor. Sande, however, takes her vocal cues from classic, and contemporary, impassioned R&B singers. The soul-fused “My Kind Of Love” is such a powerhouse of emotion it crunches with intensity. Our Version Of Events is not wholly original—neither is Sande’s Salt ‘n’ Pepa hairdo—but don’t hold it against her, she more than makes up for it with her sincerity, plus, she sounds good.
Gnucci at Music Doc
While Cannes soaked up all the attention last month, a different kind of festival was making waves in Havana. The traveling Swedish festival Music Doc is the best weathervane around for what’s new and interesting in Nordic art, across all media. Though the centerpiece of any Music Doc event is a movie or documentary about music, the organization takes pride in making the experience a multifaceted one: live bands, dance shows, and even spirited lectures can precede a screening. Many independent film festivals now travel, but few do it as dexterously as Music Doc, which juggles DJs, visual artists, and musicians from every genre between continents. Though the festival features some of Sweden’s most fascinating acts, much of the work is still under the radar anywhere else in the US—this is a rare opportunity to step inside the culture.
Music Doc began its 2012 circuit in Chile; it completes a two-night event at the Hotel Americano in New York on Wednesday. Several artists, many of them Swedes transplanted to New York, will hold a discussion on YouTube before a screening of the documentary Stocktown X South Africa. A DJ set afterwards includes one of the men featured in the film.
Soulsavers The Light and the Dead See
Mellow beatmasters Soulsavers team up with Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan for their fourth long-player, The Light The Dead See
. The duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover has been featuring complementary vocalists on its last few albums. The contributors have ranged from Mark Lanegan and Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce to Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Hanes. This most recent collaboration with Gahan hits the jackpot. Soulsavers max out their soundtrack expertise to create an emotive bed of music over which Gahan lays bare his soul. There is something about the earthbound instrumentation billowing and crashing around Gahan’s overly familiar voice that is bringing out all the skeletons in his closet. He hails in a choir to back him on “Longest Day” and calls on a higher power on “Presence Of God” while dramatic washes sweep him away on “Take Me Back Home.” It starts sounding like the same song on repeat towards the last third of The Light The Dead Sea
, but that may be due to Gahan lamenting about similar topics. Nevertheless, the coupling, or rather, tripling, is made in heaven—or it is hell?
This New Zealand collective has Jamaican blood pumping through its veins. The fifth album from the Black Seeds, Dust And Dirt, maintains the group’s signature reggae-lite sound. Dust and Dirt moves at a leisurely pace that gives it a ready-to-use quality. The grown-up pop, soul touches, and funk sprinklings strung throughout the reggae structure make Dust and Dirt almost easy listening reggae for non-reggae aficionados. The title track with its familiar reggae-by-numbers rhythms exemplifies the Black Seeds’ ethos. This is punctuated by some non-island-accented vocals that bring an unexpected, but welcome, mainstream flavor to Dust and Dirt. This low-key mood persists for most of Dust and Dirt, hitting particularly relaxed tones on “Wide Open.” Just when you’re getting comfortable with the slow grooves, “Loose Cartilage” explodes with a raunchy guitar intro. This falsely works up the listener’s energy which it then drops to a relaxed ‘70s funk swing. “Rusted Story” works similarly with thrusting horns tempering the crunch of the guitars. The Black Seeds may not be breaking any barriers with Dust and Dirt, but they are providing an excellent excuse to lie around and do nothing all summer but listen to them soundtrack the season.