May 2017 ~ Impeach the President

Algiers - The Underside of Power I saw Algiers put on an exhilarating show at Schuba's back in 2015, when their debut album was getting a lot of attention (read about that here). This single is a shot across the bow from their second album, making good on their potent stew of righteous angst that includes major ingredients from gospel, noise rock, and dark 80's synth pop. I'm not sure there's another band making music with this particular recipe. I love the way it modulates between darkness and light, never abandoning the central vibe. And lyrically so appropriate to this time, giving coherence and intelligence to the music's anger. 

Gorillaz (feat. Anthony Hamilton) - Carnival Just when I thought maybe Damon Albarn was done with the Gorillaz thing, he puts out this monster of an album, powered like nuclear fission by a small army of collaborators. Anthony Hamilton is new to my ears, but damn does this setting do him justice. 

Jorge Ben Jor - Errare Humanum Est My new friend Devin Mawdsley played this at our third "Mixtape Salon," an intimate listening party meant to recreate in real time the Faux Sounds experience. Absolutely new to me, this song put a smile on my face and I think took the whole group on a journey. Like Joni Mitchell's "The Jungle Line" from last month's playlist, it sounds simultaneously rooted in the '70's and right at home in 2017. Masterfully recorded and mixed, I think the assertive rhythm section has something to do with that currency - it almost sounds like an old song that has been remixed with a breakbeat over it. What kills me about it is the way it's fundamentally just Jorge Ben strumming on a nylon string guitar. 

Hear In Now - Leaving Livorno Another tremendous album from International Anthem, built on the kind of serendipity that avant-garde music makes possible. Featuring Chicago hero Tomeka Reid on cello, violinist Mazz Swift, and Italian bassist Silvia Bolognesi - a string trio going places one simply does not expect a string trio to go. Virtuosic, inventive, courageous music, marrying mindful composition with spirited improvisation. 

Teebs - Verbena Tea with Rebekah Raff Stumbled upon during a listen to the Jon Hopkins-curated Late Night Tales, a sort of mixtape in its own right. I dig the dialogue between live harp and electronics. 

Broken Social Scene - Hug of Thunder After a few years absence, Feist is on a roll right now - releasing her understated, slyly daring solo album Pleasure (which I wrote about last month), and fronting this new single from the forthcoming Broken Social Scene album. I always thought that the Feist songs were the best of the BSS bunch. I've also realized over the years that one of the things I usually love about BSS songs is Brendan Canning's bass playing, consistently humble, but always providing the spine of the song. That's no different here, with the bass often the only harmonic instrument playing. 

Big Thief - Shark Smile Bursting on the scene with their debut album just a year ago, this unit features the heartfelt songs and singing of Adrianne Lenker. Buck Meek's jagged, feral guitar playing provides an edgy counterpoint to the band's natural sentimentality. Pulsing, evocative. Looking forward to seeing them live this summer at Millennium Park (July 17th!). 

Amber Coffman - Nobody Knows Finally, a full album from one of my favorite band's secret weapons - making good on all of the indy/R&B promise of "Stillness is the Move." 

Mac DeMarco - For the First Time Slacker vocals with plenty of 80's synth references, but with a kind of wet-noodle vibe. It occurs to me that this description applies equally to War on Drugs (which irritates the hell out of me) and this music - which I find charming. What's the difference? There's such a thick vein of humor in DeMarco's music and presentation, a lack of pretension - it goes a long way towards likability. 

JLin - Enigma New full-length from one of Chicago's footwork luminaries. Adding more texture and rhythmic diversity to footwork's template. Inseparable from the dance style that shares its name, the music really does recapitulate the mix of ferocity and playfulness that characterizes the dancing. Just try to figure out how the hell to dance to this, then look up some footwork videos on YouTube. "Oooooh, that's how you dance to this." Good luck. 

Yazz Ahmed - Jamil Jamal A tremendous middle eastern/azz hybrid from the British/Bahraini trumpeter. Stumbled on her music following the Spotify breadcrumbs from Jaimie Branch, another accomplished later trumpeter. This is one of those lovely genre mashups that feel natural, like all musicians involved have a very firm grasp on both musical traditions going into the mix. 

Gorillaz (feat. Kelela & Danny Brown) I just can't get enough of this Gorillaz album. Plus, Danny Brown is just so startlingly unique as a rapper. 

The Honey Drippers - Impeach the President Between the political echo between Nixon and Trump and the revival of '60's soul sound (courtesy of Daptone Records and similar units), it was actually hard to suss if this song was contemporary or from the '60's. Of course, any serious hip-hop fan knows this song as the bedrock of literally hundreds of songs. No joke - lists 717 songs that have used it! Blog friend Seth Bacon even wrote about it in his guest list. So, that's settled - it's about Nixon. But, damn could it just as easily be about the current crook in chief. 

Soundgarden - Jesus Christ Pose 16-year old Josh was crushed this month hearing that Cornell killed himself. The grunge moment synced up pretty completely with the perfect phase of my musical appreciation, and Soundgarden were always my favorite of the bunch. Tuff as hell and equally smart, with playing that far surpassed that of their peers, but never seemed like mere technical wankery. I remembered hearing a Fresh Air interview years ago with Melissa Cross, a vocal coach who specialized in teaching hard rock/metal singers how to scream without injuring themselves. Toward the end of the interview, unprompted, she confesses that Chris Cornell is her favorite singer (go to around 16:40). It's so easy to hear why - he's got an enormous range and mountain of style. There's no one like him.