November 2017 ~ Hitting a Wall

This month I hit a major wall in my life as a grassroots political organizer, a career that began shortly after last year's election and has been devoted to Indivisible. I'm still unraveling what happened, but the short version is that I got burned out. There's just so much bad news all of the time. Back when I was leading meetings of our neighborhood Indivisible group, I got in the habit of encouraging everyone to find some time in their week to do something joyful that has nothing to do with politics. I guess that's what I've been trying to do this month. This music has been a major part of that recharging.

Los Destellos - La Pastorcita This infectious example of "chicha" or Peruvian Cumbia led off a recent edition of Radio M, Tony Sarabia's stellar Friday night show on WBEZ. Wikipedia explains how in the 1960's Peruvian bands (including Los Destellos) created the sub-genre by employing psychedelic rock instrumentation and production to modify traditional cumbia. This hits my sweet spot, and definitely introduced me to some new favorite music. In an email, Tony Sarabia also recommended Chicha Libre, a contemporary group out of NYC. You can hear Radio M on WBEZ (91.5 in Chicago or on the web) every Friday night 9pm-11pm. I'm trying to get Tony to do a Guest List for Faux Sounds. Tony? What do you think? 

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Deserted Dunes Welcome Weary Feet I've heard the All Songs Considered guys talk about this band several times, but only just now got around to checking them out. Hooooooooly cow! Despite their jokey name, the Australian psychedelic rock collective (7 people, including 3 guitarists and 2 drummers) is clearly very serious about making music - releasing 12 full-length studio albums since 2012. Their music lopes blithely among genres - incorporating folk, heavy metal, jazz, and more. The only thing that seems to hold them back is their imaginations, and these guys have some very active imaginations. I'm looking forward to digging more into their dense catalogue. 

Val Xalino - Dança Dança T'Manche Continuing the theme of transforming traditional sounds with modern instruments, this comes from a compilation of music from Cape Verdean musicians working in Europe and the U.S. in the 70's and 80's - wielding synthesizers in place of accordions to bring funaná and other traditional forms into the digital age. I love how so much of this song - the production, the disco beat, the synthesizers - conspire to make it sound like something from Talking Heads or Devo. But, for all its 80's trappings, it's still very much ethnic music from Cape Verde. The liner notes (which you can read on the album's Bandcamp page) do an excellent job of contextualizing this music in light of Cape Verde winning independence from Portugal in 1975, and the resulting political upheaval and exodus to Europe. 

Miguel - Told You So Following last month's intriguing "Shockandawe," Miguel puts out another single, presumably from his forthcoming full-length. There's a grittiness present in this music that subverts its pop sheen in interesting ways. Things are fuzzy where comparable songs from today are digitally sharpened like a razor. There's also an openness to the sound that is over-produced out of a lot of contemporary pop. I also like that there's just a guitar doing guitar things at the center of the song. 

Mexican Institute of Sound - Temblando New music from the Mexico City provocateur, featuring Calexico and Argentine singer La Yegros. 

Gorillaz (feat. Little Simz) - Garage Palace A Humanz outtake that shows up on the deluxe vinyl version of the album. 

Sampa the Great - Rhymes To The East I have a fantasy where Sampa the Great becomes the new member of A Tribe Called Quest. I think her voice and style would fit right in. Anyway! From Zambia and Botswana, via Australia, she describes herself as "a poet and a singer-songwriter." Definitely poetic, but way more rhythmic in her verbal attack than I would typically expect a mere "poet." I think she's got the makings of a major talent, able to hang with any contemporary American rapper. Oh, she's also a great singer and visual artist. 

Alessandro Cortini - Perdere I met Alessandro years ago when he came to visit my bro Surachai. A gentle presence, like all of Surachai's friends he was clearly filled with art and creativity. This music is spiritually distant from the music he makes as part of Nine Inch Nails' live band, gentle and open. I wrote to Surachai after stumbling on this album, and he had this to say about it: "His live show is all home footage he found from his grandparents chronicling their life in Italy." "Goddamn. I bet that's magical." "Yesssir. Makes people cry! Even Germans. I saw it with my own eyes."

Tunng - Stories I recently started compiling a list of my "most essential" albums. Basically albums that I became fixated on at a certain point in time and listened to over and over enough for them to get lodged permanently in my body. Tunng's Comments of the Inner Chorus earned its spot on that list. To this day, I haven't heard anything that comes close to synthesizing electronic music and acoustic folk the way the music on this album does.  

The Velvet Underground & Nico - Sunday Morning In many ways, the record collection in our house is a kind of metaphorical embodiment of aspects of my relationship with my partner. Containing contributions from both of us (in different measures), it has taken on a kind of life of its own - resisting our attempts to bring order to it. Mainly, this is because we both have very different ideas about what order would look like, how it should function. For her, the primary directive is to help understand what's there (a task that I personally think can't be accomplished with order). For me, it's about being able to quickly find things. Another difference came up recently when she observed, critically, that there was a lot of music missing from our collection. "For example," she said, "why don't we have any Lou Reed?" I thought about it for a minute and then answered, truthfully "Because I don't really like Lou Reed." I have, however, learned to like a lot of Velvet Underground, and this song spontaneously popped into my head one morning, maybe as my subconsciousness' way of calling bullshit on my earlier proclamation. Every time I hear this I think about the band's reputation for being the loudest music anybody ever heard. There's nothing loud about this, in spirit or execution, which is part of what makes the Velvet Underground a great band. Also, I love Nico's voice, even if it is buried way in the back. Needless to say, I'm on the hunt for a vinyl version of The Velvet Underground.

Ric Ocasek - Emotion in Motion This song was featured on an episode of the Amazon show Red Oaks, a droll New Jersey coming of age story set in the '80s. I learned to love The Cars several years ago, surprised by how weird the non-singles on their albums are, and surrendering completely to the expert pop sheen on everything else. Ocasek is an interesting figure in pop, especially when you consider that he produced the first Bad Brains album, an assault of lightning speed hardcore punk and Rastafarian attitude. Pure cheese, this song, but it got stuck so far in my head I almost had to go see a doctor. Don't ever let people say 80's music is bad. There's so so so much music to make that a lie. 

Khruangbin - Maria También Just keep in mind, this band is from Texas. 

Rev. Gary Davis - Twelve Gates To The City A force of nature. Rev. Gary Davis' music was a major strand in the aural tapestry of my childhood. I don't know if he got played more than others, or if he just made a deeper impression because of how idiosyncratic and powerful the music is. Everything about this music is purely Davis and no one else - the crazy guitar playing, that voice. I'm starting to work on a recording project with my parents, who performed as a duo when I was a kid, and I'm hoping to convince them to put their wonderful rendition of this down on tape. 

Tèwèldè Rèdda - Ab teqay qerebi This one called for some research! From the fifth volume of the Ethiopiques compilation, this music is a far cry from the Ethio-jazz of Mulatu Astatke that most people would associate with the series. This is music from the Tigray, or Tigragna-speaking ethnic group in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. Confusingly, it sounds a lot like some music from the Sahara. I just love hearing music that reveals the ghost of blues music, but confounds all expectations of Western ears. That loping beat! So cool. 

Lonnie Johnson - Tomorrow Night Lonnie mother******g Johnson. That voice. The phrasing. The guitar playing. Read about Johnson and your ideas about the boundaries between blues and jazz dissolve like a sugarcube in boiling water. From Wikipedia:

"Alonzo "Lonnie" Johnson (February 8, 1899 – June 16, 1970) was an American blues and jazz singer, guitarist, violinist and songwriter. He was a pioneer of jazz guitar and jazz violin and is recognized as the first to play an electrically amplified violin."

Yeah, this kind of singing and playing is only one of many things this incredible musician could do. Do yourself a favor and go on a journey with Lonnie Johnson. 

Peggy Lee - Similau (See-Me-Lo) This song is featured prominently in a cell phone commercial. I try not to let that kind of thing get in my way. Clearly, some intrepid music supervisor had a lightning strike of inspiration. I'm sure there's a whole these that could be written about the uncomfortable cultural stuff going on in this song, with the lily-white Peggy Lee getting "exotic," but taken on its own merits it's so charming - even (or especially) when, around 1:45, Lee does her best "savage yell" - something that is clearly not her forté.   

Natalia Lafourcade - Tú Sí Sabes Quererme Got turned on to Lafourcade in a recent Tiny Desk Concert. Very romantic, and a nice warm-up for our trip to Mexico City next month!