December 2017 ~ Navidad Psicodélico

Cumbia All Stars - La Cumbia del Parisino After getting turned on to Peruvian "chicha" (aka psychedelic cumbia) last month via Radio M, I went down a little bit of a rabbit hole. There's something about this sub-genre that gets right inside my sweetspot. This is a group that Tony Sarabia recommended I check out to feed my chicha thirst. According to the bio on their website, the group is a kind of supergroup made up of many of the musicians who were involved in inventing modern Peruvian cumbia in the '70s. Great grooves, delicious guitar playing... ah! I love it. 

Sonido Gallo Negro - Serenata Güajira The lady and I took our now traditional pre-yuletide vacation, this year to the exquisite and dizzying Mexico City. My personal mission on the way-too-short trip was to do some serious record shopping - really aiming to find something like this superb music from Mexico City's own Sonido Gallo Negro, or Black Rooster Sound. In short, I went to Mexico City in search of this sound, manifest in any way possible. On my one afternoon dedicated solely to record shopping, I headed to the Roma Norte neighborhood, where there are 5-6 record stores clustered together. I started at Revancha D.F., a small, but very well-curated shop, full of great funk, jazz, r&b, and the like. The problem with the shop, and one I would encounter at most of the other shops that day, was that it was full of American imports, things I could easily buy in 10 different record stores in Chicago. Finally, seeing my relative disinterest, the owner asked what I was actually looking for. "Things I can't buy in the States. Especially psychedelic cumbia, stuff like that." He immediately named two shops I needed to check out. I never did get to either of those shops, but looking them up online (especially Dedos Sucios) it was clear that what I was looking for did exist. I'll be back...

Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta - Camino Infernal Super cool guy and Faux Sounds friend Scottie McNiece put together a great evening of music from his International Anthem label early this month at Thalia Hall. Playing "in the round" were Irreversible Entanglements, Makaya McCraven, and this band. The music IA puts out is pretty diverse, swinging from free-jazz to avant r&b, to clasical/jazz hybrids, to breakbeats. All of it has a certain rough edge to it, though. Dos Santos' forthcoming record will be on IA, and it's not hard to hear why.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - All Is Known Well, KGATLW feels like it may be my new obsession. Their album Gumboot Soup came out right at the end of 2017, making it 5 full-length recordings from them this year. Crazy. This has a great groove, and employs the micro-tonal instruments and scales they used on 2017's Flying Microtonal Banana. I keep waiting for Stevie Rocketship to fall in love with this band. If he doesn't, I'll eat my microtonal hat.

Irreversible Entanglements - Fireworks This ad hoc group of Philadelphia musicians and spoken word warrior Camae Ayewa (who releases her own stuff under the name Moor Mother) recorded this startling album in a single day, which also happened to be the first time all of played them together. The description of the record on the International Anthem website does a great job of capturing what they're about:

A "liberation-oriented free jazz collective" "who came together to perform at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event organized after the slaying of Akai Gurley by the NYPD." "...the tone of each piece is driven decisively by Ayewa’s searing poetic narrations of Black trauma, survival and power. The message is the undeniable essence of the music. Though free jazz with voice is an uncommon approach in the modern day landscape of the genre, the spirit and subject the band channels and explores represent a return to a central tenant of the sound as it was founded – to be a vehicle for Black liberation." 

Talking to Scottie after their searing set, I told him it kind of felt like I was being yelled at, personally, by Ayewa - but in a good way. Like, someone was finally telling me what I needed to hear. "Yep," he said, "She is absolutely talking directly to white people with no holding back." I'm probably not going to listen to this difficult music every day, but I'm so thankful it's in the world. 

Tune-Yards - ABC 123 A new single from Merrill Garbus, whose music keeps on maturing without losing any of its early rambunctiousness and joy.  

Adam & the Ants - Car Trouble This month UK label Cherry Red released the intimidating boxset To the Outside of Everything: A Story of UK Post-Punk 1977-1981I've only sampled bits on a playlist someone put together on Spotify, but it looks this is a very serious undertaking, complete with essays and everything. A lot of the more noise-oriented music in this era leaves me a little cold, but when it hits me it hits hard. It always feels like music I really should know but don't, and hearing it is like opening a box of photos in your parents' attic that you've never seen, but recognize everyone in them. 

Elton John - I'm Still Standing It turns out 7-year olds have musical taste, and the one I spend the most time with turned me on to this Elton John song, which I can confirm is totally his jam. I've seen the dance moves to prove it. I've asked him several times what it is about the song that he loves, but he can't, or won't, put it into words. But, man, the chorus to this thing sticks in your head. 

Ladyhawke Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Main Title The holidays are a time to watch your favorite movies, right? Ladyhawke was one of my absolute faves as a kid, and I still love it. Matthew Broderick doing his Ferris Bueller schtick in a magical medieval setting, with Rutger Hauer as a badass knight in black and Michelle Pfeiffer as an impossibly beautiful lady, who happens to turn into a hawk during the day? I'm in. Great stuff, and I dare you to find a more nakedly eighties soundtrack than this, with its patchwork of orchestra, rock band, and synthesizer - like some kind of wonderful eighties Frankenstein. Watch it!

Juan Gabriel - En Esta Primavera Before we headed off to Mexico City, my friend Ingrid recommended I try to find something by Juan Gabriel. I wrote about him after his death in 2016, but still didn't know much. I found this gem at my favorite record store (so far) in CDMX, Retroactivo. They had lots of what I was looking for - old Mexican stuff, disco - all kinds of things that weren't shiny and new and as expensive as anything in the U.S. I sent a picture of this to Ingrid and was informed that her parents approved. Thumbs up!

Juan Gabriel En Esta Primavera.jpg

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - 8 Days of Hannukah Man, I miss Sharon Jones every time I hear her sing. I stumbled on this fun holiday jam while putting together a holiday work party playlist. There's something about this song - the joy with which Jones (who I'm assuming was not Jewish) sings about latkes and dreidels - that seems like it could only happen in New York City, where almost everyone is fully fluent in multiculturalism. 

Margie Bermejo - Las Cosas Sencillas Another great Retroactivo find, which I bought solely on the basis of the cover and its low price tag. It reminds me a little of Cesaria Evora. Definitely a little florid/cheesy, but there's always those times when that's exactly what is called for. 

Celio Gonzalez - Humo Well, here I thought I had scooped up something authentically Mexican. But, obviously, this is Cuban music. It does seem like Gonzalez did spend a lot of his life living in Mexico City, so I kind of scratched the "local" itch. Either way, this music is fantastic. 

Jimi Hendrix - All Along the Watchtower I was watching the Rolling Stones documentary on HBO recently, and they talked about how Jimi would perform his version of Dylan songs the day after the album with the original version came out. The perfect convergence of geniuses. Listening to this now, I remember my dad pointing out how the song essentially has four guitar solos back to back - a standard solo, a slide solo, a wah-wah solo, and a chorded solo. I've always feared turning into one of those middle-aged white guys who raves about Jimi 25 years after discovering him, but sometimes you just have to be who you are. 

Khruangbin - Maria También A new single from the Austin (yes, Texas) based group. 

Constantines - Lizaveta Another one of those "why do I have this great song I haven't listened to in forever in my head" moments. The use of the horn section on this song is really brilliant, and adds an unexpected dimension to the song's sludginess. The lyrics have some gems, too. 

It's good we desire disorder
With this design, we're all born our own destroyer