December 2016 ~ Holiday in Cuba

Weaves - Candy A band I'd never heard of before scanning some 2016 "best of" lists. The perfect amount of chaos, punch, and bratty humor. 

Funkadelic - If You Don't Like the Effects Don't Produce the Cause I was planning to include a track from Childish Gambino's new Awaken, My Love - a surprising and enjoyable new sound from D. Glover. But, the album is so overwhelmingly reminiscent of vintage Funkadelic, I found myself just listening to that instead. Which is kind of great, because, although I know about Funkadelic, and have definitely listened to them plenty, there's a lot that I've never heard - including this gem whose lyrics just resonate all over the place. At first, I imagined it being a cautionary tale/future admonition for Trump voters. But, if you keep listening, it's clearly way deeper than that. This song is really aimed at liberals!! Don't be complacent in your "semi-first class seat." I love it. Get involved! Check your privilege.

John Legend & Brittany Howard - Darkness and Light I can't hear the beginning of this song without getting chills. Then, as if the buttery playing, sparkling production, and Legend's voice aren't enough, Brittany Howard shows up. Jesus, pairing these two voices together is genius. And that guitar playing. BLAKE MILLS!!!!! 

Bola De Nieve - Si Me Pudieras Querer (Bolero) We went to Cuba for six days this month, the first time I've been out of the country for at least 15 years. (I know! I know.) One of the things that is so striking is how close Cuba is to the US geographically, and how distant it is in so many other ways. As usual when we vacation, searching for vinyl was a central activity. Like most things in Havana, this isn't as simple as it is here in the States. Here, commercialism rules. If enough people want to buy something, there's going to be a store for it. Cubans have definitely figured out how to pair demand with supply, but everything takes place on a much more personal level. There just simply aren't a lot of stores everywhere. As this fun Thump article demonstrates, a lot of the time it's about meeting the right person who knows someone. We didn't get anywhere near as deep into the search as the guy in the Thump piece, but did find records in the Plaza de Armas market and at Seriosha's. Advertised as Havana's only record store, upon arrival Seriosha's actually seemed to be about 3/4 weird hardware store (with counters lining two sides of the shop selling hoses and other gadgets) and stacks of vinyl in the back corner of the place. Whatever you're imagining, remove about 80% of the "stuff" populating the scene. From what I saw, stores in Cuba just don't have the volume of "stuff" that you see here. Well, despite the shoddy look of the shop and the product, after getting the records home and cleaning them up we found that we'd brought home some treasures. Including a great album of Bola De Nieve ("Snowball" in Spanish, an ironic nickname for this rotund dark-skinned troubadour) playing solo, just that unmistakable voice and piano. I swear, aside from language, if you played Bola and Nina Simone back to back most people wouldn't notice the difference.

Tinariwen - Sastanàqqàm Brand new jam from Tinariwen, who are now elders in a thriving Tuareg rock scene. Afropop Worldwide just rereleased, as a podcast, Hip Deep In Mali: The Tuareg Predicamenttheir hour long dive into the politics and culture of the Tuareg in Mali, with really interesting insights into 2013's uprising and and that movement's subsequent takeover by Islamic militants. 

At The Drive-In - Governed by Contagions The release of new music from this cult band got me thinking about watching a concert film of Coachella, and being blown away by the Mars Volta segment. The contrast of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's mild-mannered, anti-rock star attitude in the interview ("That's my dad. I'm not going to send someone else to get my family.") and the absolutely bonkers performance. Sharing 1/2 the members with Mars Volta, At The Drive-In makes a similarly pleasing noise. Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar playing remains the secret ingredient in both bands. He is insanely prolific, and the last year has been a crazy one for music from him, with Ipecac Records releasing a previously unheard album by him at least once a month - twelve in all. Some people just don't stop. 

Orishas - Qué Pasa?  My main regrets about our short time in Cuba is that we didn't really get outside of the tourist-friendly music being played on the streets in the area where we stayed. We did hear some guys rapping in Callejon de Hamel, but it was honestly hard for me to assess how serious they were (that whole non-Spanish speaking thing). Orishas are now grandfathers in the Cuban rap scene, but I wanted to include some Cuban rap here. This Slate article from 2015 gives a fascinating look into the politics of rap in Cuba, and the way the government has tried to co-opt and control an artform that is inherently at odds with government control. Punchline - the popularity of apolitical reggaeton seems to have solved a lot of that problem for the government, although I bet there's plenty of underground stuff happening. As with most things Cuban, it's hard to find out anything from afar.   

Psalm One - Plenty of Wins In the wake of November's election, I started casting about for ways to get involved, both in politics and in the community around me. On my mind was an organization called Intonation, which is basically a school for rock on Chicago's south side. Doing some research before a meeting with the founder Mike Simons, I saw that Psalm One teaches for them and is on their board. Fairly well-known in Chicago, I'd never really listened to her. This song just slays me, especially the rapid fire rapping near the beginning. 

D.D Dumbo - Walrus Another find from perusing 2016 "best of" lists, this time on the website Album of the Year (which, ironically, has a lot more music coverage than just about albums of the year). This list is the only place I've ever heard of D.D Dumbo, and D.D Dumbo was one of the only things on the list I'd never heard of. I do like this song a lot, but I fear the similarity of his voice to Sting's may keep me from listening over and over. 

Benny Moré - Bonito y Sabroso A giant of Cuban music that I only learned about while doing research to go to Cuba. Known as "El Bárbaro del Ritmo," he was initially discovered by a member of the Trio Matamoros (see below) and later replaced that group's founder as lead vocalist. A versatile singer who mastered most of Cuba's popular styles. 

20/20 - Yellow Pills This month we hosted the first ever Faux Sounds Mixtape Salon, a kind of live manifestation of the blog that I've been thinking about for years. A group joined us in our home and six people presented a song that the group listened to. I was elated that among the group was Mike Bennett, one of the leaders at CHIRP radio, a lawyer, and all around cool guy. Mike closed the evening with this new wave gem from a band I'd never even heard of. You can check out all of the songs from the evening here, and hear Mike on CHIRP radio most Saturday mornings from 9am-noon (right after another Salon presenter, Helean Lee.)

The Royal Teens - Short Shorts Over the holidays I was in Milwaukee with the folks, and managed to convince them to play Trivial Pursuit. Full of hubris, I agreed to play the "Baby Boomer" edition, and got my butt walloped by my dad. One of the questions referenced this song, and I'm just amazed/tickled that it exists. 

Evitan - P.T.I. (Occupy Wall Street) Fell down a Native Tongues rabbit hole one night recently and stumbled on this collab between Black Sheep's Drez and Tribe's Jarobi White. I just couldn't resist this track. In this time, when there's so much to fight against and so much at stake, it feels important to remember that the fight has been ongoing. Maybe our tactics differ, but we can draw strength from a movement like Occupy. 

Run the Jewels - Hey Kids (Bumaye) Speaking of rap music that relates to the fight against reactionary ideas and policies. These guys are just on fire, wielding all of the rage and defiance that rap has to offer to against the bullshit politics that have bubbled to the surface. Killer Mike, in particular, has been a powerful voice, even offstage. They dropped this album a few weeks early, I suspect just to be a thorn in the side of Trump and his ilk. 

Trio Matamoros - Son De La Loma Another classic Cuban group. Sophisticated and down home all at the same time, like so much great Cuban music. 

Benny Thomasson - Midnight On The Water During my short time in Milwaukee, my dad herded me into the living room and shared his new fascination, this master of the Texas fiddle. I encourage you to check out more on this compilation, and absorb the tremendous technique and (most of all) deep, deep, emotion of this American treasure.