Mbongwana Star - 1 million c'est quoi? Kinshasa's Mbongwana Star put out a tremendously groovy album in 2015, one that simultaneously demonstrated the group's fluency in the sounds commonly coming from their part of the world and a complete lack of dogma about it. Full of psychedelic filigree, electronic flirtations, and rock 'n' roll bluster, it's like nothing you've ever heard. (They appeared on Faux Sounds back in April 2015.) As luck would have it, the surprisingly eclectic summer series of free concerts at Millennium Park brought Mbongwana Star to the Pritzker stage. My buddy Mark Sorkin joined me for this too-little attended show, and we sat almost all the way at the front. Live Mbongwana Star was equally awesome, but very different than the record. Just the visual of the band itself is striking, with two of the three lead singers being older guys in wheelchairs, the guitarist and drummer super-cut younger guys, and the bass player a big tall dorky-looking white guy. I imagine there's a kind of weird wuzzle (two very different animals put together into one freaky thing) in your mind if I describe the music as one part African groove, one part punk rock. That is what the band was really doing, but they did it in a way that seemed completely organic and natural. It really was an extraordinary show, and likely the best in a summer jam packed with good music. I would love to see them at the Pitchfork Festival or something similar. Check out the video below, starting at about 1:21:00.
OCNotes - Unfinished Business I learned about OCNotes in an article about the Seattle Public Library's new "PlayBack" program, under which they allow library card holders to download local music for free. This track features Ishmael Butler (Shabazz Palaces) and Stas from THEESatisfaction, and channels the best of the Shabazz Palaces weirdness.
Heems - Jawn Cage (feat. Rafiq Bhatia) I've been a bit obsessed with this Heems album. Das Racist's Relax is a fantastic album, and this one really builds on everything good about it, with plenty of non-jokey real talk about living in the U.S. as a brown person after 9/11.
Latasha Alcindor - Headraps I got turned on to this one from a tweet from tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus. Alcindor was featured on the first episode of CLAW (Collaborative Legions of Artful Womxn), Garbus' new show on Red Bull Radio (yep, that's a thing), which focuses on female-identifying artists, and features a weekly collaboration between two musicians.
Rafiq Bhatia - Pickled! I've written before about jazz covers of rock tunes, but this one puts a neat little twist on that phenomenon. A cover of a Flying Lotus tune, which is ostensibly hip-hop, but leans way out into way out jazz. Bhatia paints all the colors on the Heems track earlier on the list, and here manhandles parts originally played by Thundercat on the bass.
Tobacco - Gods In Heat I first encountered Tobacco several years ago during a late night hang sesh at my buddy Colby Starck's place. Maddeningly prolific, Tobacco reliably creates the dirtiest, weirdest synth pop around, always seemingly dedicated to obliterating the ego typically central to the genre. Psych psych psych.
Empire of the Sun - High and Low I fell in love with Luke Steele's voice during his Sleepy Jackson days. The Empire of the Sun stuff is just toeing the alarm line of saccharine for me, but it is expertly produced - and of course features that great voice. An advance track from their second album, coming out in October.
Twenty One Pilots - Heathens Speaking of saccharine production... I can't help it though. I've only heard two songs by Twenty One Pilots, but there's something about both of them that speaks to my inner 13 year-old.
Toots & The Maytals - I Need Your Love I was lucky enough to get invited to the inaugural Reggae Fest Chicago, my second time this summer at a festival in Addams Medill Park in Pilsen (after Ruido Fest earlier this summer). After a bewildering and kind of underwhelming set by Lee Scratch Perry, it was a treat to hear Toots. Doing a little research before, I read his Wikipedia page and was astounded by several facts, including that he was injured onstage by a flying vodka bottle in 2013 and stopped performing for several years. With a career spanning 50 years, it shouldn't have been (but still was) a surprise that the Maytals' music ranges across a lot of different Jamaican and American genres, always with the same soulful voice at the center.
Juan Gabriel - No Tengo Dinero Shamefully, I had never heard of Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel until he died this month. Known for pushing the envelope in his performances and selling over 100 million records! I like the way the production on this is dated, and can definitely relate to the message.
Van Morrison - Wild Night Uh, just because.
The Avett Brothers - Smithsonian My friend Mike Klonsky mentioned this song during dinner one night, and I have to agree it's a good one.
Doug Benson - Dick-Skipper Helean and Robb and I caught Benson doing Doug Loves Movies at Thalia Hall. No matter how much I listen to the podcast, there's something special about seeing Doug and crew live. Doug's subtle Trump impersonation/mocking was a particular highlight. The phrase dick-skipper is likely forever stuck in my lexicon.
Las Cafeteras - El Zapateado A group of young musicians from East L.A. who met taking classes at a local community center. Breathing 21st century life into a whole bunch of range of styles. Political, musically deft, and full of personality. Great stuff.
Ought - Celebration One day at work my co-worker Sammi asked me if I ever listened to Ought. From somewhere deep in the worst part of my psyche I put together a connection with a basically unreasonable prejudice and launched an uncalled for attack. "Are they a punk band?," I asked, likely with barely disguised disgust. "Ah, yeah, I guess so," Sammi replied. "Oh, I don't like 'punk' music," I declared, using actual air quotes, and walked away. What. The. Hell? Within that grumpy old-man overreaction is an actual opinion about some bands - the kind of over-hyped immature music that Pitchfork sometimes pushes (see Iceage, yuck) - and a mostly defensible epiphany from a few years back that I grew up with lot of my peers using "punk rock" as an incontrovertably positive adjective (i.e. being punk rock was synonymous with being great), and that I personally did not agree with that idea - that for me, lot's of things that were undeniably punk rock were also undeniably bad. ANYWAY - the next morning I woke up and realized what an asshole I had been for no reason. When I got to work I apologized and quickly set to opening my grumpy old mind and listening to Ought, which, sure I guess, is punk rock, but is mostly just a jagged rock band with a singer that sounds like Jimmy Stewart drunk - which is far and away my favorite thing about them.