First Aid Kit - You Are the Problem Here Originally released for International Women's Day last March, this song could not sound more like a direct response to the Harvey Weinstein revelations this month. In incredibly unvarnished language, it seems to speak literally to Weinstein. In fact, the only way this song could be more about Harvey Weinstein is if it contained the words "Harvey Weinstein." But, it's probably not literally about him. Which illustrates just how pervasive the problem of sexual assault and misconduct is, how it's repeated over and over with the same pattern, same details, same damage. Seeing basically every woman I'm friends with on Facebook write "#metoo" (and sometimes much more detail) really breaks my heart. And, even though I feel generally confident that I'm on the positive end of the spectrum of male behavior, hearing so many stories has me revising my take on some things in my past and thinking deeply about the way I move through the world, connecting some dots that needed connecting. My personal take-away: Keep learning, keep listening, keep striving to be better.
Tanzania Albinism Collective - I Am A Human Being Continuing the journey of perspective, this album of recordings from a colony of people with albinism. Surely among the most vulnerable in the world, they are subject not only to the poverty and challenges endemic to the area, and not only to the myriad health problems that come with their condition, but, most tragically, to a culture that has developed a host of superstitions and fears about them - leading to ostracism, maiming, rape, and murder. The project was recorded by American producer Ian Brennan on Ukerewe, the largest island in Lake Victoria. Traditionally a place where parents left their kids with the condition, it has become a place where adults also flee to for refuge. An article on Bandcamp (where you can also buy the album) describes the particular challenges to making music with this group of novices:
"When Brennan arrived on the island with his wife, the photographer and filmmaker Marilena Delli, he was shocked by the extent to which the albino community had been ostracized. In partnership with Tanzania-based NGO Standing Voice, Brennan and Delli put out a call for volunteers to participate in a music project. Eighteen people responded, and only one of them had played music before. 'What we didn’t know is that they were also discouraged—or even forbidden—from singing and dancing in church, the one place that has traditionally offered sanctuary to oppressed communities,' Brennan says. Initially, the members of Tanzania Albinism Collective were too afraid to pick up instruments or sing. 'There was such a lack of confidence—almost a total shut down of creativity,' Brennan claims.
To combat this, Brennan handed out instruments and encouraged the volunteers to take them home, on condition that they try and compose a song each night. With each new effort, their songs improved and slowly, themes of loneliness and alienation began to emerge in their writing. The lyrics are written in Swahili—Tanzania’s official language—as well as Kikirewe and Jeeta, two dialects which have been discouraged and repressed since unification in 1964."
I'm conscious of the danger of exoticizing the people making this music, but goddamn it's impossible not to fall under the spell of the incredibly raw and heartfelt sounds here. It's really, truly unlike anything else you'll hear - fully contemporary 21st-century music, filled with artless emotion, and seemingly untethered from any imperative other than self expression. As Brennan explains: “I don’t think you can listen to the vocals on this record and draw similarities with any other singers. They just sound like individuals expressing themselves in a way that has not been influenced by capitalism.”
Since the tracks are so short (most around a minute) I've sprinkled a few throughout this playlist. I highly encourage you to check out the whole thing in one go. Honestly, just reading the song titles will break your heart.
Jane Weaver - Did You See the Butterflies I wrote about discovering and falling in love with Jane Weaver last month. The truth is, I couldn't bring myself to choose just one of these superb songs to include, to here she is again. Man this music speaks to me.
Kaki King - The Fire Eater After falling back in love with her last month, I've been on a Kaki King kick. During multiple non-stop listens to her entire Spotify catalog, this song grabbed my attention with it's disconcerting orchestration. I pulled it into this months playlist, thinking "This is great spooky Halloween music."
Florist - Blue Mountain Road I hit a kind of emotional brick wall late this month, a lot it relating to all of the attention I've been paying to the news for the last year, and all of the organizing work I've been doing to respond to these insanely messed up times. I'm still unraveling what this brick wall is about, why it's happening now, and what I should do about it. The truth is, I've felt a strong imperative to check out from the news, check out from organizing, and just live my life. The way most of my communication is mediated by a computer screen has a lot to do with this malaise, I think. Meaning that it's started to be difficult to tell who's on my team and just what exactly we're achieving. There's a lack of connection. I suspect I'm not the only one feeling this way.
This song was a late addition to the playlist, but it so perfectly captures the sentiment and spirit of this melancholy burn-out, with a kind of hopefulness in human companionship.
"I'm just keeping track of my mental state
Don't be afraid, is what I always say
But I am afraid, I've always been afraid
If you're terrified of living like me, I hope you'll be fine
'Cause we're terrified together in this terrifying time
Being alive is not singing along, or looking outside the window into the darkness of it all"
The Breeders - Wait in the Car I saw the Pixies this month for the first time. They put on a tremendous show, but there was a little part of me that yearned for the full Kim Deal experience. Well, she may not be back with the Pixies, but she is back with the other killer band she helped start. The Breeders don't sound like they've lost a step. Fully rambunctious and presided over by the unmistakable Kim Deal voice. I will say that I love the Breeders' first album, Pod, as much as I do any Pixies album.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Fault Lines For me, and I think a lot of Americans, Tom Petty's music is elemental - like air. It's always there. It doesn't ask you to think a whole lot about it, but if someone asked you if you like it, you'll probably answer "Of course." For me, the real genius of Petty's songs is that they almost feel authorless - meaning, it feels like if he hadn't written them someone else sure would have, because they absolutely need to be there for the fabric of the world to hold. Clearly, my age and cultural predilections are laid bare in this analysis, but I'd be willing to bet a high number of people who wouldn't recognize the name Tom Petty or pick his picture out of a line-up to save their life would nonetheless find themselves singing along to any number of Petty hits. And there are an astonishing number of them. The day news of his death broke (twice!) I found myself listening not to those hits, but to the later albums I'd never checked out, including Hypnotic Eye, where this song comes from. What hit me about the later music was the way it becomes so clear just how great a band The Heartbreakers are. Petty's songwriting and vocal delivery are kind of the headlines with the hits, but in this music it's really about the absolutely top-notch band. Of course, it's sad to lose someone whose music means so much, but damn - he sure made use of his time on this planet, and there's no tragedy there.
Sonny Smith - Wolf Like Howls From the Bathhouse (S.E. Land Otter Champs) This song popped up in a scene in the movie Sleeping With Other People, a totally passable rom-com that I recently rewatched. It really stood out, so after the movie I tracked it down. Turns out it's from a music/art project called 100 Records, which involved different artists creating album art for 100 singles under the guise of a variety of different made up artists, all written and performed by Sonny Smith. It's sounds like a crazy fun idea to execute. I just love the simplicity of this track, and the way you can really hear the physicality of the guitar.
Témé Tan - Ça Va Pas La Tête? A fortuitous Spotify recommendation. This is from the debut solo album from the Belgian-Congolese producer and multi-instrumentalist.
Blockhead - Ufomg Several months ago Spotify made one of their annoying unannounced changes, and started playing "Recommended Songs" as soon as a playlist ended. My inattention to Spotify one night led to this coming on, and I was knocked out. Aesop Rock remains stubbornly on my list of artists I need to check out harder, and apparently when I finally get around to that I'll also be digging into Blockhead, who served as primary beatmaker for Aesop Rock's early career.
Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Sounding Line 7 I ran across this project while going down a Tony Allen wormhole last month. Here he is in a wholly different context, working with German techno musician Moritz Von Oswald. Even with these cold electronic sounds, or maybe because of them, Allen stays human as hell - dancing around the line dividing precision and playfulness, juggling the beat like an expert. In their review of the album, Pitchfork talks about how good an engineer Von Oswald is, and I think the way he's recorded and mixed Allen's drums - supremely clean and right up front - really make this song what it is. It's almost like Allen is the lead singer on the song.
TLC Fam - Bridge Lase London Every time I hear something new from South Africa's electronic music scene it challenges my preconceptions about what that music is supposed to do and sound like. Although it has a totally different rhythm and tempo, the simplicity and repetition of this music reminds me of Chicago footwork. Like that music, I bet this makes more sense if you see people dancing to it. From TLC Fam's Soundcloud page:
"For those who are not familiar to the crew, TLC Fam are a crew from the township of Newlands West formed by 23 members. All the members have different roles in the crew and showcase different talents such as DJ’ing, Producing, Dancing, MCing, Promoting and taxi businesses. TLC fam was established in 2011 as a dance group until 2014 where they met distribution boys " they helps us with gqom tracks production since we were dancing with their gqom music."
Tanzania Albinism Collective - White African Power (We Live In Danger) Does this not sound perfectly like an articulation of fear and a declaration of defiant power? Yes!
Snoop Dogg - M.A.C.A. God, I love Snoop in the role of Trump antagonist. I'm not sure I'm down with making America "Crip" again, but almost everything else Snoop says here is spot on. "Don't shit look strange, having all that power, but you won't make change."
Tune-Yards - Look at Your Hands Super fun music from Tune-Yards. That's all!
Wilco and Billy Bragg - When The Roses Bloom Again I recently stumbled or re-stumbled on the third Mermaid Avenue album. I couldn't actually remember listening to it, or even realizing that there was a third one, but this song sounds so wonderfully familiar. If you haven't gotten into this project, which finds Wilco and Bragg putting music to Woody Guthrie lyrics that never were put to music, do yourself a favor and spend some time with it. It confirms time and time again the genius of Guthrie.