Keb Darge and Little Edith’s Legendary Rockin’ R&B
is like the best jukebox ever. Not because it has your favorite songs in it, but because no matter which combination of buttons you push, something great is going to play. This should not come as a surprise as compiler Keb Darge (with the assistance of Little Edith) — one of the original purveyors of Northern Soul in the UK — is highly knowledgeable about music from the middle of the last century. Scratchy, lo-fidelity, and grounded, Rockin’ R&B
is obviously what the Beatles were listening to and trying to emulate, at least originally. Teddy (Mr. Bear) McRae & His Orchestra rollick away on “Hi’ Fi’ Baby” while Marie Knight with Teacho Wiltshire Orchestra sasses her way through the saucy “I Thought I Told You Not To Tell Them” and the Mariners turn playful on “Zindy Lou”. Lonesome Lee closes out this collection with the creeping tones of “Lonely Travelin’”. By selecting these 20 tracks, Keb Darge and Little Edith have done all the crate digging for you, and narrowed down the best.
Buy this at iTunes.
Honest Jon's Records
Martina Topley-Bird — brought to attention by Tricky and presently wowing audiences as Massive Attack’s featured vocalist, reworks her first two albums, Anything
and The Blue God
, on Some Place Simple
. Functioning as an unplugged and/or live album of sorts, Some Place Simple
strips Topley-Bird’s songs to their bare bones, much like her supporting performances on the current Massive Attack tour. Topley-Bird’s voice is accompanied by the odd piano plinks, drum taps, and tinkling chimes. “Baby Blue” is lullaby-like with the hoarse plucks of a ukulele tugging at Topley-Bird’s easy croon. Percussion on “Lying” thumps organically, pulsating with Topley-Bird’s sugary delivery. On “Ilya” Topley-Bird carries the minimal sounds with only layers of vocals and no instrumentation other than the odd finger-snap or tongue cluck. On “Sandpaper Kisses” Topley-Bird’s voice whispers softly and chillingly on its own. It is then pushed to the side as a grinding guitar takes over. Pulling back, it leaves her voice as the main focus. The four new tracks on Some Place Simple
follow this unadorned formula — a hopeful direction for her next album.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes. After the jump, check out Massive Attack’s video for “Psyche”, featuring Topley-Bird.
“Electronic avant-garde” is what Germany’s Hauschka is lazily dubbed. This may have been an appropriate tag for his first solo album, 2007’s Room To Expand
, but on his second, 2008’s Ferndorf
, he stuck strictly to his piano, pushing his music into classical territory. With the accompaniment of orchestral elements, the pianist/composer’s latest full-length, Foreign Landscapes
, falls squarely into the classical world. “Madeira” relies heavily on a low, thrumming cello and high-strung violins, leaving the piano out of the mix entirely. “Early In The Park” brings the piano back to the center, giving the tune a melancholy air. “Kamogawa” is a blend of the two, in which the piano-driven melodies are intercut with sharp stabs of violins and a muted flute. Far more than Hauschka’s instrument, the piano, it is these powerful strings and emotive winds — provided by San Francisco’s Magik Magik Orchestra — that define Landscapes
. In fact, Hauschka’s cool trick of using what is not much more than trash (i.e. bottle tops, felt wedges, foil, tape) to modify the sounds of his piano doesn’t figure largely into the urgent and driving tone of the album.
After the jump, check out a video of Hauschka in performance, courtesy of BeatCast. Buy this at Other Music
This is a remix album of the largest caliber. Wrongtom, after voluntarily coming up with a dub version of Roots Manuva’s “Buff Nuff,” was commissioned to remix anything and everything from that standout British MC’s entire catalog of four albums. The result is Duppy Writer
— whose Tom McDermott-created cover brings to mind classic albums from the likes of Mad Professor. Wrongtom does justice to the originals by maintaining Roots Manuva’s stellar rhyming skills and singular delivery. What he brings to Roots is a re-imagining of his tracks: it’s as if they were created in another time on an island in the Caribbean. As such, we don’t receive a bunch of vague rehashing, but some fresh, authentic dub and reggae beats and vibes. In keeping with this, Wrongtom renames the tracks, giving them more reggae-ish titles. One of the only original tracks, featuring toaster Ricky Ranking, is “Jah Warriors”, which is a particular standout, as is the militant “Rebuff” — which was the first track Wrongtom re-did voluntarily. Roots’s lyrics and style have never been paid this much respect.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes.
Kill Rock Stars
Original twee-pop from the ’90s seems like a cursed genre — with good bands damned to obscurity and, perhaps, better known for their influence than their actual musical output. (We can argue about this later.) Nirvana put the entire genre on the map by covering a bunch of Vaselines songs. Kurt Cobain got the logo of Calvin Jonson’s (of Beat Happening) record label, K Records, tattooed on his arm, and now we’ve got a bunch of bands sounding just like Black Tambourine and Tiger Trap. All those are really great, but so are many of the ones they’ve influenced.
An all-girl trio from San Francisco, Grass Widow play a bouncy and meticulously interwoven kind of post-punk, as frenetic guitar-picking and bass-plucking create a tumultuous backdrop for their sweet harmonized vocals. And though there isn’t much variety among the songs on the 26-minute Past Time
, Grass Widow’s ability to write complex arrangements with such addictive melodies is the missing link between discord and melodious twee pop.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes.
Playing with dynamite isn’t for everyone, but this music-video collective from Colombia’s Caribbean coast harnesses the blaze into an impressive debut. With backgrounds as DJs, producers, dancers, and rappers, the ambitious bunch gathered in 2006 to connect disparate styles with a reverence for electronic music and the jubilation of rave culture. They share a deep love for the verbena, which is the carefree and footloose spirit of revelers along the coastline. “Bienvenidos” aptly welcomes everyone to the party with Afro-Latin percussion and dizzying claps and raps. Like the mobile pikos sound systems, Systema Solar
is a sprightly jaunt zipping through the airwaves. It’s not all partying, however. Systema Solar tackles Colombia’s stigma as a land overrun by drug dealers on “Quien es el Patron?” and the inequities between north and south. No one is left untouched and the old-school hip-hop flavor of “El Amarillo” gives voice to a populace coerced into upholding the status quo.
photography by Kevin Cummins, courtesy of Kevin Cummings, Joy Division, Rizzoli, 2010. (Click images to enlarge)
I came to Joy Division through Nine Inch Nails, after hearing their brilliant cover of “Dead Souls” on The Crow
soundtrack. I was immediately attracted by the emotional energy that bubbled up under Curtis’s somber, meditative voice. His introspection was way more attractive than the screams of the Sex Pistols. This lack of ostentation was what put the “post“ in “post-punk” for me.
Much has been said about Curtis’s suicide thirty years ago. Sometimes it seemed inevitable — his lyrics were permeated with existential crisis. I am writing this as drums cascade on “Heart and Soul”, and Curtis sings, “Existence, well, what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can”. But to write another eulogy seems pointless. Sometimes images do more by allowing us to simply absorb, without interpreting and analyzing.
Joy Division never made it big during its short life, and so the band was rarely photographed. A new book, Joy Division
), by the band’s photographer, Kevin Cummins, aims to fill this void. For the truly obsessive, the book begins with shots of various Joy Division paraphernalia, including the original instruments and Curtis’s notebooks. But the book really unravels in the following photo session that depicts the band walking through dreary Manchester, including the famous shot of the band standing on a snowy overpass. Other photo sessions (they function like small stories) depict the band rehearsing and performing. The black and white images look raw and vivid, harking back to the pre-digital photography world, and they make the band come alive again.
Andreya Triana has gainfully been trying to make her voice heard as guest vocalist on records by Flying Lotus
, Theo Parrish, and Mr. Scruff. It is Bonobo’s Simon Green, however, who decided to shine the spotlight on this soul torch singer by producing her debut, Lost Where I Belong
. Green brings modern day trippy touches to Belong
, but it is Triana’s beleaguered character and expert songwriting that is its draw. Husky delivery and bearing lyrics set Triana apart from soul artists who keep their innermost feelings hidden. Triana takes cues from some greats: Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. But rather than imitating, she allows their styles inform hers by developing something all her own that owes as much to jazz as it does to soul. Triana’s songs have a haven’t-I-heard-this-song-before quality to them — the sign of a hit. Front-loading Belong
are a couple of stellar tracks, the painful ripper “Draw The Stars” and the revealing title track. Shuffling beats and Portishead-esque cracking tones keep Triana — and the listener — on the brink of tears on “Daydreamers”. The only drawback of Belong
may be that it doesn’t explore Triana’s varied vocal styles as much as it could.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes. After the jump, check out the video for “A Town Called Obsolete”.
Images courtesy of Abram's Publishing
With much of the music shared online today, and the recording industry in crisis, artists increasingly turn to new means of distributing their work. Antony Hegarty, the transgender singer, whose ironically (or unfortunately, depending on one’s point of view) named band, the Johnsons, is no exception. For his new album, Swanlights
, Antony produced a book by the same title, (Abrams Image
, $35), which includes the CD.
Antony is a famously tender and sensitive artist who aches in our rough world. His self-declared creed is seeing the world from a feminine perspective (presumably, it’s the males who are solely responsible for messing everything up, because they are too aggressive). In the short essay accompanying the book, Antony calls out, “Circles of mothers, please usher in an era of profoundly feminine governance.” But what if one of those mothers is Margaret Thatcher?
Swanlights is reflective of Antony’s soft longing for escape from our male-induced filth, whether by dieing or by ushering in matriarchy. The music on the CD is gentle and full of feeling, especially the piano that is by turn forlorn and passionate. But it is Antony’s voice, powerful and yearning, that leaves the most lasting impression on the listener.
The art in the book is another matter. Its content is mostly made up of collages or old newspaper cutouts drawn over with haphazard pencil lines (Antony calls them “unconscious lines or spirit lines”).
True Panther Sounds
is the intimate debut from Cameron Mesirow. Known by her stage name, Glasser, Mesirow’s atmospheric musings blend the styles of Florence and the Machine lead singer Florence Welch with Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes. While her former tour-mates, the xx, Jonsi of Sigur Ros, and Delorean reflect her sound’s wide appeal, Mesirow is quite the wandering spirit. Shoe stores and airplanes were unlikely places in which she recorded her 2009 EP Apply
. Meanwhile, Ring
manifests these drifting tendencies by diverging in different directions and withholding both a definite beginning and ending. “Apply” marches in with tribal drums and reverb, giving way to hypnotic chanting on “Plane Temp” and “Mirrorage” as well as tambourines and mighty bass on “Clamour”. But Ring
is a complicated record and beneath the tender vocals and graceful movement from one track to the next, there is a hint of darkness.
Buy this at Other Music or iTunes. After the jump, check out the video for “Apply”.