July 2017 ~ There Are Doubts Regarding Your Ability

fIREHOSE - Brave Captain This month I traveled to Nebraska for my now annual Fourth of July pilgrimage. Stevie Rocketship gave me a belated birthday present, a book of photos by bass guru and punk rock wise man Mike Watt. Naturally, he got it signed too! The message from Watt is classic ("Mike Watt for josh w/all four fat STRINGS. WORK IT!"), and provided Steve and me with plenty of fun telling each other to "WORK IT!" 

The book got me listening to old fIREHOSE records, especially their 1986 debut Ragin', Full-On. The lyrics to the lead track, "Brave Captain," struck me as particularly appropriate to our political situation - almost eerily so. 

Captain, there are doubts regarding your ability to lead them
The men - lead them
There are doubts in your ability
There's too many blanks in your analogies

Lieutenant there is talk pertaining interpretations
The problems - describe them

The enemy turns captain (Trump)
The captain turns civilian (Gen. Kelly)
The lieutenant becomes casualty (Preibus and Scaramucci)

Young MC - Know How Edgar Wright's new movie Baby Driver incorporates music so completely that for much of the time it's almost like watching an extended music video with interspersed dialogue. It's not so much that music is another character in the movie, as that music is an integral part of the main character - an essentially gentle young man who has been blackmailed into applying his supernatural driving skills as a getaway driver. The soundtrack is filled with gems from lots of different genres and times. Because of my age, I am very familiar with Young MC's "Bust a Move," but was surprised with his lyrical agility/speed on this track. I had a "Oh, he's not just a novelty rapper" moment. Very 1989, but also very good and likable. Also, for a bonus, I like the theme of "know how" as a counterpoint to the previous song's political currency. 

Dizzee Rascal - Space From the new (sixth) album from one of grime's founding fathers. I remember hearing Dizzee Rascal when his first album came out in the early 2000's, and it was like hearing rap diverge into a fully competitive evolutionary branch for the first time. Meaning, it was very very clear that the art form could be adapted into an entirely different cultural setting without the linguistic/cultural baggage of the US. Basically, Dizzee was a great rapper and sounded British AF. Reviews of the new album herald it as a return to form, and through neglect it seems I missed out on some pretty underwhelming pop detours. This sounds super tuff, and features all of the high-speed spitfire that makes Dizzee Rascal so special. He knows how to use space, too - leaving that gap in the chorus before he says "space." Space before space. Dude is crazy clever. 

Shabazz Palaces - Julian's Dream (ode to a bad) Speaking of rappers in space. Everything Ishmael Butler has a hand in sounds amazing, and the two new albums from Shabazz Palaces are no exception. I've said it before, but this music is leading the vanguard of hip-hop, pushing the outer edges of what it can be. This group has perfected the formula for blending spaced-out experimentalism with street attitude. Yup, this is rap music, but, damn, it's got very little to do with, say, Gucci Mane, or even Kendrick. I also love the way Butler curates voices that contrast with his, but are just as distinctive. Do yourself a favor and check out these two incredibly smart, groovetastic, and forward-thinking albums.

Sun-El Musician ft. Samthing Soweto - Akanamali In an exercise to suggest cool South African artists to try to bring to the Harris Theater next year, I remembered how great Samthing Soweto is. This is a new collaboration, setting his voice out of his typical a cappela setting. He sounds great no matter what the setting. 

Colin Stetson - Between water and wind Even with all the big name fireworks at Pitchfork Festival this year, one of my big highlights was finally getting to hear/see the insanely talented Colin Stetson work his magic live. Alone on stage with his giant bass saxophone, close-miced in multiple places, with a contact mic strapped around his throat, he makes a mountain of noise. Even understanding technically what he's doing, it's difficult to wrap your head around the fact that everything you're hearing is coming from one person, live, in the moment. What you hear here from the record is exactly what you hear live - no overdubbing, no samples, no pre-recorded tracks. This is the sound of one guy and a saxophone. It's so hard to believe that apparently music writers don't. Even the great Greg Kot got it wrong twice in reviews of Pitchfork, referring to "glitchy electronics" (nope, none) and "pre-recorded vocals" (no way, Jose).  

Fiona Apple and Maude Maggart - I'm In The Middle Of A Riddle I was chasing down my Blake Mills obsession when I came across this compilation of covers of love songs that Starbucks' label put out a few years ago. This features Fiona Apple and her sister Maude Maggart, a well known singer in her own right. Classic playing from Mills with their exquisitely blended voices over. 

Lal & Mike Waterson - To Make You Stay Man, this was like my own little accidental treasure find. Bright Phoebus is a classic of the British folk-rock movement in the early '70's, featuring siblings Lal & Mike Waterson, with appearances by their sister Norma Waterson, brother-in-law Martin Carthy, and a bunch of other luminaries. The main brain-exploding fact is that most of the album features double guitar work from Carthy and Richard Thompson, two of my most favorite forever guitarists. I think Thompson's in the right and Carthy in the left, but thrillingly it's hard to tell. 

Wolf Parade - Valley Boy New one from the band's first album in 7 years, with its own version of dueling guitars, and vocalists for that matter. 

Art Feynman - Slow Down A secret sneaky little release from Luke Temple, using a fake identity. Not as magical as his last solo outing (A Hand Through the Cellar Door), but very playful and groovy.  

Amadou & Mariam - Ce N'est Pas Bon Got to see the great Malian duo at Millennium Park's summer concert series, and they did not disappoint, especially Amadou with his sparkly gold Telecaster. This song is, again, just too appropriate. It makes me think about Trevor Noah's hilarious, but frighteningly accurate, observation that Trump is following the model of an African dictator much more closely than an American president.

Hypocrisy in politics,
It’s not good. It’s not good. We don’t want any.
Demagogy in politics,
It’s not good. It’s not good. We don’t want any.
Dictatorship in politics,
It’s not good. It’s not good. We don’t want any.
Happiness, happiness for the people,
Love, love for the people.

Corrupt men in politics...
Schemers in politics...
Dictators in politics...
Respect, respect for the people.

Peace, peace for the people
The politician betrays his fathers
The politician betrays his friends
He is also a machine of war
Without pity for his enemies
He’s working for himself while saying that he’s working for us.
He tells us thank you while thinking about the belongings he stole.

Madame Gandhi - The Future is Female Madame Gandhi opened the whole Pitchfork Festival this summer, with her high-energy pro-woman jams. She can drum her ass off, and has an all-woman band that brings it. 

Joey Purp - Phonebooth Joey Purp was my surprise treat at Pitchfork this year, and stood out from a very impressive lineup of rappers with high energy, powerful projection and diction, and a true connection to the crowd. Helean observed that she thinks acts on the smaller Blue Stage sometimes benefit from the smaller, more hemmed in crowd. It certainly seemed the case. Chicago is having a serious rap moment, largely due to Purp and others in the Chance orbit. 

The Damned - Neat Neat Neat Another barn burner from the Baby Driver soundtrack. 

Cornelius - Sometime/Someplace New album from the Japanese granddaddy of wonky pop collage. There's nothing Cornelius can't do. Seeing the live version of Sensuous is still one of the best concert moments of my life. 

Blake Mills - I Hope Oh Blake Mills. Beautiful playing, tasteful arrangements, soulful singing, warm production.