June 2018 ~ Sorrow and Defiance

Thelonious Monk Septet - Abide With Me I happened upon this serene, soulful prelude one day on the classical music station in the car. I love that it's a Monk song with zero piano. Take it in and breath deep, because this playlist is about to take off like a rocket.

Sons of Kemet - My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu There's something strange about being at a live concert that involves a tuba, saxophone, and two drummers and thinking "This is the greatest rock band I've seen all year." Sons of Kemet is decidedly not rock music, but this London quartet blew me away - first at Millennium Park on a gorgeous Thursday evening, and then the following Sunday at an in-store concert at the Apple Store. I keep finding myself at a loss for how to describe this music. On its face, it's jazz. But, it doesn't feel like jazz. There's no rock instruments, no rock rhythms - they're really not rock songs. But, it makes me feel the tension and excitement that a great rock band does. What I can say is that they play their fucking hearts out. After over an hour-and-a-half at Millennium Park, they seemed like they were just warming up. And this music cannot be physically easy to play, especially for tuba player Theon Cross, who must have lungs of steel. I'm in love with this band, and the sly revolutionary naming of the album and songs only makes me love them more. Check this album out when you want to get hyped up, and got see them live any time you can. 

Shye Ben Tzur, Johnny Greenwood, and Rajasthan Express - Julus The name Johnny Greenwood led me to this album, but man is his presence minor - in the best way. This is such a fun twisted gift. A collaboration between the Israeli singer Shye Ben Tzur, who specializes in Qawwali, the musical tradition of South Asian Sufis (that's already pretty unusual) and an ad hoc group of northern Indian musicians from three distinct traditions: "the Qawwali, Sufi musicians from Southeast Asia; Muslim Roma; and the brass section, who play in weddings and parades, a tradition brought to India by the British." (per Wikipedia) And, oh yeah, Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, who deserves credit for getting the hell out of the way of this rolling beast. All produced by Nigel Godrich and filmed for a 1-hour documentary by P.T. Anderson. That's a lot of Western weight, which could sink this - but the music is easily buoyant enough to carry it.

Negro WadPro - Diáspora One of many great tracks from a compilation of contemporary Cuban music, spearheaded by Giles Peterson and some key Cuban producers. This is the kind of stuff I wish I could have seen when we were in Cuba in 2016, but oh well. It's a good reason to go back. 

Tshegue - Muanapoto I stumbled completely accidentally on this group while looking at Pongo videos on YouTube, and it's been the happy accident of the month. This Paris-based duo — of singer Faty Sy Savanet (originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo) and producer Nicolas Dacunha (a.k.a. Dakou) — has only released one 4-song EP, but it packs a mighty wallop. Variously described as afropunk (NPR) and "tribal sounds meets garage rock" (Vice), this is true-blue fusion music, music of the future. If you're not dancing to this, then, well, you're doing it wrong. The video for the song is great, too, taking us deep into the life of a young deaf woman, I assume in Kinshasa.  

Pongo - Kuzola I really loved Pongo's previous single "Tambulaya," a dance floor banger. But gotdamn I love this follow-up, which opens like a flower to reveal her incredible voice. Something about this production — the slow groove, that UFO trill that comes and goes, the mix of effortless sorrow and unforced defiance in her voice — that just slays me. It feels to me like the embodiment of a global cultural moment. Or maybe it's just how I'm feeling these days... I don't know. I love it to death. 

Julieta Venegas - Dos Soledades I visited a bunch of record shops when we were in Mexico City last December, but stayed pretty selective about what I bought. Honestly, I was expecting records to be significantly cheaper there than they are here, but overall that wasn't the case. I think in every store I went it, though, I saw this Julieta Venegas album. I vaguely remembered my friends Ashley and Jonah recommending her to me, and finally (in, like, the fifth store) scooped it up for cheap. About a week ago I was rearranging our records after we got new shelves and realized I'd never even opened this up! I instantly loved it. It fills a kind of mood and niche that we don't have much of in our collection - non-English and solidly non-American, but still very contemporary. It's also mild without being limp. Venegas has a great voice. The perfect cooking dinner while the kids do homework music. 

Punch Brothers - Three Dots and a Dash Advance song from the new Punch Brothers album. Is song the right word, even? Their music is more like chamber music, but for bluegrass instruments. I don't know when Chris Thile sleeps. 

Ry Cooder - Vigilante Man This month I finally got to see a Ry Cooder concert proper. I knew there was a chance it might never happen - he doesn't tour much these days. It was fantastic, and the highlight was his solo rendition of this Wood Guthrie song that he recorded early in his career. Besides his master slide guitar playing, which seems to just keep getting better as he gets older, Cooder connected Guthrie's Dust Bowl-era outrage to today's, with a verse about Trayvon Martin. God bless Ry Cooder.

Trayvon Martin was only 17 years-old
When he took a little trip down to the grocery store
He might have grown up to be president
But that's something we'll never know

Because he ran into a vigilante man

J.B. Lenoir - Down In Mississippi While attending my 20th reunion at Macalester College this month, I had the pleasure of doing a spot on the campus radio station, WMCN. I wanted to play something from decades back, when I had a show with Stevie Rocketship, but the only thing I could remember was the special blues show I did with my dad as guest DJ. In particular, I remember sitting in the DJ booth listening to this and being blown away. The unvarnished truthtelling of it, the swampy rhythm and droning backing vocals (by Willie Dixon, according to Dad). Somewhere between blues and the music that preceded it. 

Jay Rock - Broke +- All Songs Considered turned me on to this new album from the Black Hippy member and Top Dawg Entertainment labelmate to SZA and Kendrick Lamar. Solid rhymes. 

Screaming Females, Sammus, and Moor Mother - End of My Bloodline - Remix Sammus appears on Faux Sounds with a guest spot/collaboration for the third month in a row. This unorthodox remix finds three very different Don Giovanni labelmates collaborating to refashion a song from Screaming Females latest album. Sammus is fantastic (as usual) and Moor Mother's voice continues to embody tension and righteous anger. 

Canned Heat - Going Up the Country Honestly, it just popped into my head one day this month. Listening to this classic, one is confronted by just how weird it is. Flute solo? Really? But it totally works. I think this is a perfect example of how important context is. Put this song in the context of other blues happening in the mid-late 60s and it falls apart - the singing is really strange, the guitar playing completely amateurish... But, put it into the hippy context and it makes perfect sense. In short, as a blues song it fails, but as hippy music it succeeds winningly. 

Derya Yildirim and Grup Simsek - Davet Another great retro jam from the Turkish-German group, who was featured on April's playlist. Flute!

Melissa Laveaux - Kouzen Laveaux opened for Sons of Kemet at Millennium Park, and like many singer-songwriter trios I've seen there, just got totally swallowed by the stage. It feels almost cruel to me to book an act like this in that venue without beefing up their band and sound, but I guess any exposure doesn't hurt. Her recent album, mixing Haitian sounds and indie rock, is good. 

M. Ward - Bobby The final track on M. Ward's latest album, What A Wonderful Industry, which is full of snarky insight into the music biz. This is a sharp barb against a music critic, and kind of vicarious collective revenge fantasy, which makes me think of Dylan's great "Ballad of a Thin Man." 

Paul McCartney - Come On To Me This new one from McCartney is far (like, real far) from his best work, but it is an excuse to share this extended version of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke, in which he and McCartney take a driving tour around Liverpool. It's way more emotionally moving than it feels like it should be. McCartney's openness, his uncanny ability to wear the fullness of his legendariness and still somehow be a simple human being... it's really moving. There's so much nostalgia flooding this short film, but it's all filtered through McCartney's personal experience, which he let's us share without reserve. I know not everyone connects with the Beatles' music, but it feels fundamental to our collective experience in a way that comes close to religious. And if Beatles music is your religion, then this video is kind of like rolling around hanging out with Jesus as an old man.