Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - White Man's World I was driving down Lake Shore Drive one night, going home after seeing friends, and popped this in the stereo for a second listen. Feeling emotionally open and raw about the utter bullshit situation we find ourselves in politically and culturally, my first real listen to these lyrics had me in a waterfall of tears. Especially the chorus, which transcends the specifics and makes the kind of progressive exhortation that can't be very plentiful in country music these days. Until this moment, Isbell had always been for me a kind of second-rate Ryan Adams. My god, this is the kind of music we need right now, especially in the country music world. I know there are so so many people who identify with this sound, who maybe speak with a twang and drive a pick-up truck, but who understand that they are members of a community with people very different from them - who are compassionate, intelligent, progressive. I'm so grateful to Isbell for giving them a voice.
"There's no such thing as someone else's war
Your creature comforts aren't the only things worth fighting for
Still breathing, it's not too late
We're all carrying one big burden, sharing one fate"
Kevin Abstract - Miserable America And now for something completely different. Yup, this is America too.
William Onyeabor - Fantastic Man I remember when Onyeabor broke into the collective American music consciousness a couple years back, but his music just never made it into my bubble. This month I found myself obsessed with the music in the new iPhone commercial, thinking about it on the train on my way to work and stuff like that. Finally, I broke down and looked it up. Oh! William Onyeabor! The guy everyone was saying was so good is really good. James Lee and I were talking recently about "African disco" and agreed that this fit the description perfectly.
SZA (w/Chance the Rapper) - Childs Play Perfection. I can't think of a song I've heard recently that so masterfully creates its very own bubble of aural and lyrical reality. The sparse instrumentation has all the digital warmth you could ever ask for - it's instantly like being a baby floating happily in the grooviest womb ever. SZA's multi-layered vocals are butter, and the lyrics are spiky, unexpected, funny, and relatable all at the same time - traveling blithely from Mortal Combat to Othello in the space of two lines. Who else would do that? Then there's Chance. Jesus, when he hits it lands mighty hard. His lyrical playfulness plays on hers, taking it a step further. ("Yar, see." Is he doing a Jimmy Cagney impression? Is there another rapper who would do that?) Back in poetry school we call what he's doing changing registers. So acrobatic. And the interplay between their voices - the way the song is structured - subtly subverts the most intractable of rap conventions, namely: "The singer sings, then the rapper raps, then the singer sings..." Never the twain shall meet. Here, the bold line between is totally smeared. Chance starts singing/rapping over SZA's lines, then she stops while he continues rapping, then he himself starts singing, after a few lines of which she joins - and their voices sound like they were designed in a lab to complement each other. Melancholy. Full of subtle humor and anger. A break-up song that sounds like nothing but seduction. I love this song!!!
Martina Topley-Bird - Too Tough to Die I was reminded of my love of Topley-Bird by SZA. She sings on so many great records by other people (seriously, lots of great stuff), but has a very sparse solo career. This is probably my favorite from that oeuvre, and one of my favorite songs ever.
Prince - Sing 'O' The Times This month marks the first anniversary of Prince's sudden death. While it doesn't have any of Prince's giant hits, I've always thought Sign 'O' The Times was the best showcase of his songwriting range and skill. This title track is a rare example of Prince's social commentary - projected, of course, through his own metaphysical/sensual lens.
Arcade Fire - Signs of Life From their forthcoming new album. A diminished version of the band's original tidal wave of emotional power, but still mighty groovy.
Anita Ward - Ring My Bell Well, if we're going to get disco, let's get disco. This song recently got stuck in my head because at work we have a bell we ring whenever new money comes in. Ward is not the strongest singer, especially compared to some of her contemporary belters, but who can resist the hookiness of the chorus?
Com Truise - Isostasy Speaking of seduction. Obviously, everyone has their own idea of what kind of music is right for setting the mood. This is mine.
Sex Bob-Omb - Threshold Staring at the truth till I'm blind. Yeah, no kidding - with the absolute absurdity of our political situation, and the lengths some people seem to be going to deny the truth. Is this song (one of several penned by Beck for the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) even remotely meant to be political? No, I don't think so. But it fits soooo well right now.
Amara Touré - Temedy Stumbled on this one day over at 606 Records and was drawn to the cover art. It's still crazy to me how musical culture made it's way from Africa to Cuba, got all blended up, and then miraculously came back to Africa whole cloth. The Senegalese Touré even sings in Spanish on this album. “Latin music, is it really foreign to us Africans? I don’t think so. Listen to the drums, to the rhythm. It all seems very close to us—it feels like it’s our own culture.”
Kevin Morby - City Music An early single from the new album by Morby, who I instinctively want to dislike, but just can't find a way to.
Broken Social Scene - Stay Happy What can I say? I'm a sucker for BBS. That bass playing!!!
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - Andromeda Faux Sounds "Mixtape Salon" regular Joe Germuska brought this to the most recent edition. A group of South African expat jazz musicians in England in the early '70's. To me, this sounds like the night the entire Count Basie orchestra took acid for the first time. If you listen closely, it seems like instead of taking turns soloing, the musicians are just taking turns freaking out.