Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou, Volume Three---The Skeletal Essences of Afro-Funk 1969-1980 is
Analog Africa's third collection of tracks from Benin's primo movers of "traditional Voudon rhythms to funk, sato, Latin, sakpata, psychedelia, and Afro-beat" includes reel-to-reel, one-or-two mic recordings in houses, and even outdoors: conditions which might have suggested the "Skeletal Essences" advisory. Still, the reel-to-reel was a Nagra, the outdoors settings were gardens, the sessions often nocturnal; the results are fully charged. They seem like a response to late-night Bay Area FM and UK pirate stations, who maybe turned on those trendy Voice of America and BBC World Service headz to Hendrix, Santana, Meters, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, then dialing in electric Miles, P-Funk, Stevie Wonder, the expanding Talking Heads: trace elements, as filtered/reduced by these gray rockhead American ears, of Cotonou's ricochet path around the encrusted periphery of textbook popular music history. Peripheral visions, flickering lightning, skeletal filaments: like Miles slipping in, stealing the scene on his own records, as the background becomes the foreground---not in a New Age sense, or anything rarefied; more like oops upside the head, as the searchlight and spotlight merge. Back in the day, these guys are still re-writing the books, the future----as now, Daddy-o. Keep 'em coming, Analog Africa! (Cotonou's founder passed in 2012, but think there have been some reunion shows in the fairly recent past?)
I'm also feeling evangelical about There's A Dream I've Been Saving: Lee Hazlewood Industries 1966-1971. Thee creative and destructive arc of those years shapes and is re-shaped in a context I've never experienced before. Oh sure. the monster book shrewdly navigates the LHI label's tempest-in-a-dizzy Disney teapot history, but, unlike a number of other such projects, the music actually lives up to and surpasses the backstory for interest. If I stop and think about it, the 60s had a lot geezer power--not just LBJ, but Kesey, Leary, Ginsberg--even Dylan, that pre-Boomer, snarling, "How can I be a leader of their generation? I'm not in their generation?. Yeah, but here we really get music's power of association, in more ways than one: generations, genres, even genders raising the roof. Hazlewood didn't write, arrange or produce all this stuff, he just gave a lot of colorful people a shot, knowing that after "Like A Rolling Stone" got to the top of the charts, all the rules were broke. (LHI wasn't ESP-Disk; it was trolling for wilder shades of radio-bait, pref Top 40). Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's major-label mega-hit,"These Boots Were Made For Walking," was his signal achievement, indie impetus and clarion call, for more beats, boots, zingers, twists of stereotypes and plots--thought-play, even more than wordplay. So sure, we get more country 'n' urban leathah, in restless folk-rock, paisley punk, country rock, rock country, to seething acid vision testimonials and challenges (incl from Ann-Margret). Plus, bruised Deeetroit refuge rhythm & blues siren sagas, perfect solo demos, brickhouse combos and sample-worthy input from A-list sessioneers (incl. on their own singles). Speaking of Detroit women we also get the kaleidoscopic bullseye focus of harmonizing, own-songwriting girl group Honey Ltd ( always sounding fresh off the bus from Wayne State and sessions like Bob Seger's pivotal "Ramblin' Gamblin Man", ever ready to shake up Hollywood Blvd., Laurel Canyon and Vegas---really wanted to Top Ten HL's Complete Recordings too, but it's devastatingly well-represented here; ditto their country-pop reincarnation, Eve). Maybe the central female LHI artist ( there are quite a few on these discs) is Suzi Jane Hokom, Hazlewood's much younger protege and girlfriend, who apparently became L.A.'s first female rock etc producer, as well as a canny, at times uncanny, singer, writer, and arranger. She produced Gram Parsons' International Submarine Band, and tried to negotiate a link between LHI and the biz big leagues, when Parsons joined Columbia's Byrds---also when Lennon and McCartney wanted her to do some work for Apple---but Hazlewood freaked, The subsequent tumult inspired a self-therapy-times-revenge album, which he had hand-delivered to her. It's well-preserved in this box: just one (unusually sick, yet house-rules succinct) example of how the historical drama always drops a musical payoff. We also get a few hicks who should've stayed in the sticks, inevitably broody, though watchful singer-songwriters, flanked by once-rising Sunset Strip voyagers like The Kitchen Cinq and Hamilton Streetcar, in various phases and stages, driven by the spirit of the times as much as cogent notes on trends, or so it seems.
Chico Mann's Magical Thinking blends 70s and 80s cable club beat reveries like nothing else I've heard, and though it starts off with a bit of mere nostalgia, soon slips bittersweets to the pretties, who become beauties, like the title promises: Chico, things will get better, I know they will for P, Didion und der Mann.
Jazz didn't make the list this year, in terms of obvious titles, but as usual (always?), it was a crucial ingredient of several selections---made a difference with Cotonou, the way I hear 'em, and Guerilla Toss even, as we shall see--but right now should mention the inclusively, still inadequately-titled Underground Sounds of Modern Brasil: Hip-Hop, Beats, Afro & Dub. The excursions that first swept me up were the penultimate-to-ultimate grooves cruising off Disc 1, both very reliably informed by kosmic Krauts and Miles Davis (most likely). And all of Disc 2 has something to do with various kinds of jazz, as only the Brasilians/Brazilians can iterate ( yes, getting essentalist with it, but there's your classy 2013 buzzword or meme or whatever it is, too).
Key point in the p.r. pitch for Rough Guide To African Disco: "Creative scenesters put their own spin on the disco sound, mashing together the rhythmic pulse of funk, soul and Latin with African grooves; soukous, Afrobeat, township jive and more." Yes! There are a few let-downs, like the very first track, I think, but mostly amazing. Some of my faves are ones I wouldn't have thought to tag as disco, but no prob.
O come all ye hipsters, unheralded angels and ground round flipsters, to chill and thaw raw with "dance music", which also may work as dance music, although I haven't yet attempted any steps---I'm totally infatuated with deep winter baby Gay Disco, by Boston's finest, Guerrilla Toss. Again, I wouldn't have thought to call it disco, but it's certainly festive (gulp whatevah's in your coffee cup before taking its hand): expanding contracting cellular phonetics, spread by young people who evidently have absorbed no wave, maybe Magic Band, surely Prime Time, Tin Huey, James/Contortions, a bit of Last Exit, Don Cabellero; could see them on the same bill with Battles and/or Death Grips, for that matter (Mynd u, they're some kind of pop, but also apparently known for shows that can incl. nudity and acid tests, claims press sheet)(gosh, to think that "banned in Boston" was once the thrilling seal of disapproval). Tempted to invoke Made Out Of Babies, but the female vocalist here is not out front as a given: she drops well-timed punctuation bombs, spinning and spilling capillary siren sounds between big (or anyway taller) sweaty men. The sounds sound more and more like lyrics, stories she wants to tell, if we could only manage to sit still; on "Pink Elephant" she does clearly say, "Pink Elephant." If you get lost, get with the drummer---but I got into most of it on first listening, and the rest on second, which immediately followed. Carry on, my wayward ones---don't you cry no more (unless you want too, of course---lots of things turn out to be fun while you listen to this).
On Government Plates, Death Grips hold (most of?) the sexizm, may even be taking some cues from a calm female timekeeper/flight attendant, occasionally chiming in. DG have been out careering, in the American and British senses (incl. "careening"). Will they go the way of Pil? Maybe, but Lydon never could could cop to "I got power/Power is cheap." They can slow down a little now, to roll such lines when need be, but always got the bits of punkoid hip-hop, dub and whatever else is ready for the slingshot; now more than ever, actually. "Hold My Liquor" (the scenario-shaping of which learned from Atmosphere like some of KW's sparkier production moves learned from DG, I'll say) and some other West tracks are good, but I'll go with those who raise this over Yeezus.
(Cos you just haven't heard enough about this:)
Lorde's "Royals" may be playing to the demographic of teenage girls who (as our fellow ILXor, the Hon. Geoffrey Schweppes speculates) think they're intellectually superior to other teenage girls, which is surely common teenage practice, say I, but the ones who really are intellectually superior, like yrs. truly, know she's actually being ironic and wry-me, cos her own fantasy is about ruling u and being the Queen B (not that she's entirely self-mocking, because she's Queen of Her *Own* Thing, she's DIY not your Princess Di next door)The mixed feelings about you and me and our scene and their scene and all scenes is teenagers of all ages, a pretty huge demographic if she plays it right. Hip-hop as the music of her childhood, now meshing with the xx influence, very appealing so far. Rare gratification: When she says "we," it's not the righteous rhetorical we-meaning-you.
"Royals" is not really up to the other tracks on Pure Heroine: though ironic and kinky and "provocative", it sounds simpler and so its repetition (as written, even before all the intended radio play) detaches me, rather than drawing me me into her usual mumblecore narratives. But for obligatory radio bait, not bad! And she's always got her own sound, or anyway it's distinctive enough to satisfy in a way no other 2013 release I've heard, quite does (the only rule for my P&J).
Julian Lynch---Lines: Cracked chamber music, with vines and sunshine further texturing and filtering the mellow hairy tightness of a multi-instrumentalist who's always got a way with the bass and drums (incl little percussion x what sounds like toms, tympani, maybe frame drums, never bombastic). Most tracks are about 3 minutes, though the closer, "Shadows", earns its 8:22 sandbox Stonehenge, with bassoons, wah-wah, them drums. Notes mention Michael Hurley fanship, and spiritually that's apt, but stylistically more like Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Robert Wyatt on a primetime play date--or maybe if the Dave Holland Quartet did a whole album like the mellowest tracks on Conference of the Birds, except this is more pop or something. Most of the tracks are interchangeable, but keep me listening. Good way to start a windswept early spring day.
On Night Time, My Time, Sky Ferreira valiantly strives to express herself, and maybe succeeds, every time; but I hope not, because I keep hearing electronics that might work dressing up better pop tunes----until "I Blame MySelf" and "Osanka" divide and conquer. The former pops just right, fortified by soulful class: she takes responsibility, without fear or too much show. "Osanka" mines amazing electronics, turning up sonic anime porny but ungarish, in unsimpery celebration, as F. aims for Japanese Yeezus---or something like that; anyway, "Gonna have a Japanese Christmas."
Avicii ft. Linnea Henricksson---"Hope There's Someone" is written by Antony Hegarty, and totally fits that credit, though Spin's Philip Sherburne says she (talent show winner) "affects a Bjork-like hush", but does B. hold-extend-bend notes like this? Anyway, works like Hegarty's usual aural curves, which she rides with her own sense of dynamics ( she'd fall off otherwise: the usual blaring talent show fallacy).
Neko Case----"Nearly Midnight, Honolulu": "I don't want to make you free, I want to make you wild" is the most striking line on The Worst Things Get, The Harder I Fight, before entering "Late Night, Honolulu." She witnesses something that she doesn't want the child involved to ever, ever forget, in whatever later circumstances---and if it's been forgotten, this song is here, ringing out, a capella, the described incident and the admonition continuing on in negative space, just briefly, with whatever result(s). (Otherwise, the most striking line is elsewhere: "You always do it at/The wrong angle," with a curly note followed by a twang. Yeah, she usually goes for the oblique stroke [just so]).
Laura Mvula's Sing To The Moon is mostly art-pop ballads, with a few peppy exceptions, though it's slower sometimes than I usually like, and some of this took a while, but each track has elements which engaged me right away (and enough others quickly enough), instrumentally and lyrically, winning me over long before the first spin was over. Early on, she mentions "Tried to write the perfect song/Then I realized/It wasn't mine", just at the right time--it is hers, but a little reminiscent of something or other---maybe just a breezy moment that feels too easy, not quite earned yet. So, on with the show, which risks seeming too absorbed in contemplation of the love object and lessons learned, but hey. She's always got another good line, like "take my heart, but not my soul", and another trace of springtime lightning spilling out of her sleeve. Not quite like anything else I've heard---maybe if Joan Armatrading--oh never mind--just check it out. It sounds like my favorite picture of her looks: straight ahead, just not at us. "Flying By Myself" sails by, with an invitation I can't deny: despite the already-stylistically repetitive moments, and some murk, she's got a bright future, which tracks like this will still reflect, even if she moves on out of sight.
Another deep winter baby: Holy moly, just listened to Patrick Cowley's School Daze. Some of its reviewers seem to be projecting from the press sheet: the music doesn't seem freaky in the let's-fist-again sense, although in the gen. sense that freaks=all us seekers, incl. hippies--yeah: especially the one that gets me up on my feet, dancing way past the point that the headphones come unplugged, and the volume somehow goes to max, and even the laptop speakers know how to sing it, and I'm dancing through beads and chimes with the love goddesses (and Andy Kaufman)---that would be "Seven Sacred Pools." At first, it seems like it's gonna be some filigree brushing by the ever-reliable textures of pulsation (as may happen too much on some tracks: like, just give me that beat cluster and hold the nerfy tweets). But it is 15 minutes and change, most of which seems so so necessary, in a laidback but fully involving way. Also the way he holds a keyboard whirlpool in place, presses, extends the shades---that would be "Tides of Man." (elsewhere, he can gradually meld the keys into really good jazz woodwinds, etc.) "School Daze" is quite the neon compact; guess I could see this as theme for porn, or a really sharp 70s science show.
Alley-oops, David First's ELECTRONIC WORKS 1976-1977 isn't out 'til 1-21-14, I just now realized---but P&J wisely counsels us to list works by their year of impact, and "Moody" certainly was forward with me, in the shadows of '13. My old buddy Dave*, whose original inspirations were John Fahey and the Yardbirds, a decade before he had a rave-up with Cecil Taylor and friends at Carnegie Hall---which was just a cupful of years before recording incisive cage-rattler "The Zipper" with the Notekillers, who have dug rock up and killed it again over the years, in a good way---went back to school in the mid-70s, and fed his guitar to a reportedly lonely, positively Don Buchla-sired Series 100 synthesizer, which just chirps and burps and savors every molecule in its modules, then absorbs it all, for quite a while. As stated at the beginning, mine are gray rockhead ears, but how far I may ever get in this set, this track is the unmistakable, all-weather gateway.
*a man of many talents and interests: an avant-rock big band might turn up on a solo track; Dave's Waves
is a dronefest; my fave Dave orchestral track is "Thought You Said Sherbert," based on a theme by Schubert. Yum!
A Few More
Metacritic number grades can be misleading: I'll say something non-asskissy but overall pretty favorable--if I had to come up with a number, like 90--and they tack a 75 on there--or sometimes vice-versa. This is true in general on here, although at least it's not like the sites where The Favored always get at least 3 Stars, etc., no matter what the reviewer says.
Deafheaven's Sunbather really did get an amaaazing tongue bath (grade: 92, which Metacritc considers "universal acclaim," matching its own basking in aural pastels)---though I barely made it through those long-ass sugar-coated shoegaze arpeggiations,waving at toy tiger growls in the middle distance---shorter, more varied tracks were mostly okay, but jeez.
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba---Jama ko: Language proved not nearly as much of a barrier as it might have, mainly cos I can tell all the tracks apart right off, not a given to this non-ethnomusicologist, even w that Mali vibe. So, so far this is my guitar album of the year, even though it's generated by little ol' electrified lutes (which also provide sufficient bass), looking like something from the local produce market. Sharp-edged and fluid as wine, elegant yet never pissy, drawing rough-edged male and bold female vocals into further focus, landing and spinning on a dime, at times, but nothing too showy. Wonder if they ever work with drummers? Sneaky grooves anyway.
National Wake---Walk In Africa 1979-1980: Music made by young South Africans, of various RSA racial classifications: punk-funk-reggae-dub, reminding me of Australia's Us Mob, No Fixed Address, Coloured Stone, early live Police, some of Tom Robinson's combos, Bad Brains kinda. The finale, a dub workout, is over 17 min long, like over three times as long as any other, but despite my habitual editorial fantasies, wouldn't part with a particle so far. Would have Top Tenned this set, but already got all those reissues on there already….
Bombino---Nomad: None of Tinariwen's occasional late-night campfire acoustic ruminations, which is okay by me. Electric and maybe acoustic guitars, always plural, over and around bass, drums (usually a full kit), an organ, which is sometimes almost subliminal, but always at least flickering; I'd miss it. First few tracks have a distractingly buzzy, grainy midrange squeeze; whether it's the quality of the source, the stream, my usually okay headphones showing their limitations, I dunno. But then the mix of desert harshness times deftly. sometimes boldly applied fluidity kicks in, the latter taking over quickly enough, but never complacently. Some tracks seem a little, brief, ending abruptly; I'll have to check his concert links from this page too. Closes with maybe a little mellotron on the Garcia/Costello-ish voice, def hand drums and steel guitar, at times like uh T.Rex jamming on "Lively Up Yourself", ha comparisons. Wild set still here: http://www.npr.org/event/music/204500938/bombino-live-in-concert-newport-folk-2013
Shuggie Otis---Inspiration Information/Wings of Love: Don't know how the sound quality of this Sony Legacy twofer compares with the 2001 Luaka Bop edition of II, but the fabled '74 LP tracks tend to have a dull gloss here, which also applies to the monotonous imagery and medium tempos(I've seen better scenes on Hawaiian shirts [at Goodwill, even]). Most of it's still okay thrift shop car music, though "Ot Uv Mi Hed", or however he spells it, is a lot better--but several promising tracks end too quickly. The previously unreleased Wings of Love is so much better: vocals now gracefully ride guitar and keyboards, as they earn all the room they need to thrive; tempos are still medium, but with a lot more push and flex. Mostly a late 70s/early 80s radio vibe, but the drums are not too loud, the synths aren't reeking cheese, and "Fawn" even makes use of 60s-imfamous phasing: "psychedelic Bromo-Seltzer", as Beefheart called it. But it's perfectly applied, and in passing, on the fantastic voyage of cosmic yacht rock r&b. "Black Belt Sheriff" adds good variety: just voice and acoustic guitar (gutty low E string gravitation), then "Destination You!"---with the early 70s funk-rock punch Inspiration Information could've used a lot more of. Don Allred