April 2013: Touareg Music Makes a Leap

Bombino – Amidinine I've been interested in the incredibly diverse and all-around badass music coming from Mali for probably about 15 years, getting turned on to it initially by listening to Ali Farka Touré. A couple years after getting hooked on Touré I heard Tinariwen, which has been the primary ambassador of Touareg music outside of the Sahara. The Touareg sound (okay, and the mythology) really captured my imagination. Now that Tinariwen has been around for several years, a bunch of other Touareg musicians have been making waves over here, including Bombino -- who is actually from Niger not Mali (but I get the feeling those kind of distinctions are pretty meaningless in the middle of the desert).

Probably about 60 seconds into hearing Bombino's new album Nomad I thought to myself, "This is the next evolutionary step of Touareg music." Musicians like Tinariwen and their cohort have often referenced rock music, rhetorically and musically, but the connection to me has always seemed a bit thin, like a film director talking about the influence of another director by whom they've only seen one movie, and that was on a small b&w TV when they were a little kid. I don't mean that as a dis on Tinariwen, their music is amazing and unique, and says so much about where they come from -- I've just never thought of it as particularly rock-y, or even blues-y. Despite their electric guitars and avowed admiration for Jimi Hendrix, their music sounds very much like something from the middle of the Sahara. This album is the first time I've heard music that is still clearly in the Touareg tradition, but also very aware of modern rock music. And not as a tourist, as musicians who might be just as comfortable playing Rolling Stones covers.

Nomad was recorded in Nashville and produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, and you can hear it from the first note. It's a subtle difference, and I think has as much, if not more, to do with the sonic quality of the way the album's recorded than what is actually being played. There's an immediacy, a punch, a hotness to it that just doesn't happen even on the most scorching of the Tinariwen tracks. And Bombino doesn't get lost in the production, the way a lot of "world music" musicians do when they collaborate with Western musicians. He sounds like he has mastery over every thing that happens, and the album is very clearly Bombino.

I was sharing my theory about the album with Gabe, who's actually spent a lot of time in the Sahara and seen Touareg musicians performing in the desert. She was inclined to take slight umbrage with my analysis, saying that when she's seen these bands they do really "rock." After getting nowhere trying to describe what I was talking about, I finally just played a track from the previous Bombino album and then one from the new album. Everything that I had been describing was instantly clear. "Oh," she said. "I didn't realize how different they really sounded."

I think the most striking thing about the difference is that it sounds like the purpose of the music has shifted. Even though Tinariwen's music is rooted in struggle, the sound of it seems to be more about expressing the mood and ethos of the desert - which makes perfect sense. The new Bombino album, though, seems to be expressing the mood and ethos of someone who has the desert in their blood but is living in the city or someplace very different than the desert. Which, I guess, makes perfect sense, too. Ultimately, for me it feels like the fulfillment of a musical promise, and I love Bombino for that.

Maximum Balloon Feat. Aku – Tiger Just a great, funky song from the side project of Dave Sitek, the secret weapon behind TV On The Radio.

Blood Orange – Can We Go Inside Now Blood Orange's Dev Hynes is someone I remember reading about several times in past years, but never got around to hearing. Funny how the impression I got from those articles is so out of touch from the impression the actual music makes. In other words - They did not tell me it would be this good! Between this and the Lightspeed Champion (see below) album, I'm seriously impressed. Solange made the insightful decision to have him produce her recent album, and you can hear his influence all over it. Slinky, soulful, smart. Mm.

Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni ba – Sinaly There's just no end to the great music coming out of Mali. Like Bombino, this sounds like music at once firmly rooted in tradition and completely conversant in modernity. Plus, the playing just blazes.

Gravediggaz – 1-800 Suicide I was pumping this the other day in the apartment and Surachai asked what it was. After I told him how it was a project with Prince Paul and RZA (really, how could it be anything but great?) he said, "Well, it's good to know that there's still good music being made these days." "Yeah. Except, this was made in 1994." "Oh." Anyway, it seriously grooves, and the tongue-in-cheekiness of it mellows my usual distaste for the type of violence they're talking about.

Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy I started doing some work for my friend Joanna Klonsky this month, and couldn't understand why I kept wanting to tack on the word "beat" after her name. After digging through my brain, I thought "Isn't there something called Bronski Beat?" Yep. I think I'm too young/too from Milwaukee to have heard this back in the day, but when I played it for Gabe she immediately started shaking her hips, so I guess it was kind of a big deal. Funny how many contemporary bands are mining the exact same musical territory.

Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings Came on this song sideways while listening to the new Kid Cudi album, which has a track "featuring" Father John Misty. Not really sure what to make of the recent trend of rappers crediting contemporary artists they sample the same as they credit MCs guesting on the track. Either way, kind of cool to hear the song in two very different contexts. The original kind of stands out in texture from the rest of the stuff on the album, in a good way.

Bonobo – Cirrus Got turned on to this by the All Songs Considered guys. The whole album does double duty, working as both something in the background while I'm working or interesting music to listen to actively.

The Dead Milkmen – Punk Rock Girl A couple years back I got into a brief disagreement with Robb about who did this song. For some reason I thought it was the Violent Femmes, but Robb set me straight pretty quick. I though of it this month when Gabe and I were getting ready to go to a "prom" fundraiser for 826CHI. Our costumes were predicated on what we thought we would have looked like at our actual prom if we had been cool, rebellious kids. Anyway, the song is great and funny, even though it plucks my music-nerd nerve when they attribute California Dreamin' to the Beach Boys instead of the Mamas and the Papas.

Kurt Vile – Shame Chamber For some reason, until listening to this album I conflated Kurt Vile with Ty Segall. Most likely I heard both described as "garage rock" and immediately became disinterested. Clearly, Kurt Vile has nothing to do with the purposeful (needless?) sloppiness associated with that genre, and is actually a great songwriter and thoughtful arranger. The overall tone or gestalt of the album is somehow different than anything I can think of, at once sharp/exact and rambling/loose. Steve tried to get me to listen to the previous album a while back, and now I'll definitely be doing that.

Lightspeed Champion – Faculty Of Fears Another great, and totally different, song from Dev Hynes (see Blood Orange above). The song writing and arrangements on this album knock me out, and it was really difficult to pick just one track. I can't recommend the whole album enough.

Martin Rummel – 15 Leichte Etuden in der ersten Lage, Op. 76a: Etude No. 4 in F major Martin Rummel – 15 Leichte Etuden in der ersten Lage, Op. 76a: Etude No. 5 in C major I was messing around looking at the different apps available on Spotify and came upon one called "Classify." Recently, I've found myself wanting to listen to some classical music while I work, but tripped up by my very limited knowledge. This app allows you to search by composer, era, mood, instrument, or theme. I stumbled on this great cello music by searching with the "cello" filter. I suspect lots more great music will be coming at me through this method.