Olivier St. Louis - Ship Is Going Down Lots of stumbling on music this month. Olivier St. Louis was a major payoff from Spotify's recommendations. I can't think of a more appropriate theme for this political moment.
Jesca Hoop - Memories Are Now Yup. It's official. Producer Blake Mills has broken a Faux Sounds record, appearing for a fourth month in a row so I can shake my fists at the heavens and yell BLAKE MILLS!!!!! The guy is either a genius or has the best luck in the music business. The new Jesca Hoop album is full of the lush, intimate sounds you would expect, with tremendous songwriting and singing in a variety of different styles. The spareness of this song, paired with Hoop's tremendous layered vocals. And I love the two tiny little sections of bassy keyboard toward the end, giving the song the subtlest of sonic peaks. Such guts. Get out of the way!!
Vince Staples - BagBak Goddamn, I cannot get enough of this song. A certain political undertone is obvious in the lines that pop out, but when I finally looked up the full lyrics I was so thrilled. I love it when great rappers get political, socially conscious, whatever you want to call it. Especially when they continue to sound like they're doing the same old rap braggadocio. Nope. This is a song about black power. Period. And Staples doesn't pull any punches. "We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office / Obama ain't enough for me, we only getting started." Yes!
Andrew Bird - Are You Serious Back in my Tucson days I fell hard in love with Bird's The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Since then, I've had trouble getting to into him. His 2012 Hands of Glory sounded like a welcome departure from his typical overthought, overwrought sound. This month I found myself really enjoying Are You Serious, an album with clear lines to Bird's earlier sound, but with a looseness that signals a new evolution. Stellar little jewelbox songwriting, naturally. Highly recommended.
Mariachi Flor de Toloache - Porque Te Fuiste Dulce Amor Ooooh, I love these ladies. They can do anything. New album coming soon.
The Cactus Blossoms - Mississippi My co-worker Mary turned me on to this brother duo. Very competent update of the classic brother close-harmony sound.
Smokey Brights - Desiree Another random stumble courtesy of Spotify. Smokey Brights are a collective from Portland, similar in model to Broken Social Scene, with multiple writers and singers contributing. Nothing on the record is Earth shattering, but taken all together it's a really solid record. The variety of multiple singers can do so much for a band. Also, I really like the cover art.
Las Cafeteras - If I Was President The second Faux Sounds appearance from this young East L.A. collective. Latin folk-rap? That's kind of how you would have to describe this, right?
Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains - Tendre Est l'Âme From the forthcoming new album.
Khalid - Location Stumble stumble. Texas youngster making great R&B. In addition to the music, I love the whole branding involved around Khalid. His recently released full album is called American Teen, a title that evokes a kind of retro Frankie Valli vibe. Which, when you listen to the music, is essentially what it is. Songs about girls, trouble with girls, being into girls. Yup, it's true, a black kid named Khalid from Texas is just as likely the typical American teen as anyone else.
Oddisee - You Grew Up I've dug Oddisee stuff before, but this whole album of his that just came out is some kind of giant evolutionary leap. Super personal, super political. I even feel like his skills on the mic are sharper. Coming with a perspective that is so important right now. I recommend a superb interview he did recently on NPR, where he explains how the hostility towards Muslims and people of color that is so in the news now is, for people like him, nothing new at all.
People ask me, "Amir, are you worried about what Trump's doing? Are you worried about the impact this can have on your life?" I don't know what else can be done that hasn't been done already. They say, "Well, are you worried about the Muslim ban?" You know how many white rooms I've been detained in since 9/11? You know how many times my passport has been looked at by an official and they look me in the eyes and ask me what country I'd been born in, as they're looking at my passport? These offenses have been happening to me for quite some time. I'm normally the one who takes the longest when I tour with my band — it's an ongoing joke, where we all get in separate lines, 'cause they know that if they get behind me, they're not gonna get out to the baggage carousel first, because I'm the one who's always detained.
Bottle Tree - Open Secret Superb weirdo soul from Chicago southsiders A.M. Frison and Ben Lamar Gay. Faux Sounds friend Scottie McNiece and co. started the International Anthem label a few years ago, and have consistently let the world in on lots of great stuff from Chicago's jazz and avant-garde scene.
Arcade Fire & Mavis Staples - I Give You Power A single that seems not to be connected to any album or any marketing plan - just a tremendous collaboration with a message that resonates like crazy for those of us involved in resisting our current political situation. Mavis Staples lends tremendous gravity, both through the fact of her voice and The Staples Singers' soundtracking of the civil rights movement.
Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco - Anarchy In need of a little soul sustenance this month, something to boost my morale and getting me back in the fighting spirit, I turned to this favorite of mine from my college days. Full of radical wisdom and humor, filtered through Utah Phillips' inimitable personality. Making connections to the past, to the future.