May 2018 ~ Wonderful Confusion

Buck Meek - Joe By the Book This song knocked me out all month. At under two minutes long, it packs an incredible amount of narrative punch, summoning a whole short story's-worth of characters and situations with the barest amount of lyrical information. I imagine using this in a creative writing class as an example of how powerfully a work can be improved by decisive editing, whether it's a song, poem, story, etc. Meek plays guitar for the band Big Thief, who also excel at  evoking this kind of Southern working class milieu. Of course, the music is also beautiful, with that lush and ever-shifting chamber orchestra flying in formation with Buck Meek's vocal. Gold star.

The Shins - Name For You (Flipped) I haven't kept up with every Shins album over the last few years, and I'm not sure I was even aware of their latest, Heartworms, when it came out in 2017. Catching onto it this month, I can report that it fits in perfectly with any of their best stuff. What's really extraordinary about it, though, is the James Mercer and his crew created an entire alternate version, The Worm's Heart, featuring the same songs, but "flipped." And this isn't a standard remix album. All of the songs are completely reconfigured - different tempos, different instrumentations, sometimes different keys. It's essentially a completely different project, kind of like if a hole in the space-time continuum opened up and we got to meet the Shins from a parallel universe. Listening to the two versions interlaced, so you're hearing the versions of each song back to back, is like eavesdropping on a really deep debate between two very old friends. In several cases, like this song, I like the alternate version significantly more than the original. Mercer's oh so sweet melodies and vocal delivery, paired with the band's signature indy jangle, sometimes steer the music a little too far into twee/treacle territory.  The ice-cold synths and low vocal range of this version balance that perfectly. And man, those synths sound so good! 

Pongo Tambulaya.jpeg

Pongo - Tambulaya The debut single from Angolan singer Pongo. I'll admit that the image for the single (right) caught my attention (that blue color mixed with the gold!), but the music kept it. International music has so many examples right now of artists trying to translate folkloric rhythms (in Pongo's case, Angola's "Kuduro" music) into electronic music. This song is deep into the successful end of the spectrum. Afropop Worldwide has a nice short write up on the song, HERE. (They also have a "Hip-Deep" exploration of kuduro, HERE.) 

Natalie Prass - Oh My The All Songs Considered crew included Natalie Prass' new album (The Future and the Past) in a recent Friday new release roundup. Her second album, following 2015's Natalie Prass, is musically a total left turn, leaving behind well-crafted Americana for angular 80's-influenced lite-funk. Full of protest and social consciousness, paired with fun grooves. 

Xenia Rubinos, Sammus, and Olga Bell - Levitating Sammus shows up in a guest spot for the second month in a row. I love everything about this collaboration - the idea of these three very different artists hanging out making music (and having what sounds like a lot of fun), the way they've managed to stitch together three pretty different musical identities, and - of course - the message, so clear and incisive. Sammus is edging very close to being my current favorite rapper. 

Bishop Nehru - Rollercoasting A new find for me, Bishop Nehru is a young guy who's done a lot, including a collaborative album with MF Doom. Great stuff, with a little sprinkle of Del in his cadence

Lion - You've Got A Woman My good friend James Lee brought this to my birthday party, and put it on towards the end of the night at just the perfect time, when it sounded like scrumptious ice cream. Via Numero Group's "Eccentric Soul" series, this is a 1975 single out of the Netherlands. So groovy. "Woman, woman, woman..."

Tunng - Flatland An excellent return to form for Tunng, who's output has been spread out and spotty since Comments of the Inner Chorus (one of my "Essential Albums"). There's just no other band I've heard that can blend electronics and acoustic music so fluently - to the point where the two types of instruments (representing to very divergent technical approaches) start to cross each other. The electronics take on a certain tactility, and the guitar evinces an almost digital precision. Love it. 

Rafiq Bhatia - Before Our Eyes I first heard of Bhatia from his guest spot on Heems' Eat Pray Thug (see August 2016). A technically virtuosic guitarist who, on this new album, largely buries that technical flare in rich arrangements and experimentation. The chords on this just drip with Radiohead influence, almost comically so, but it does make me wonder how much we'll be able to hold that against artists in the coming decades, as Radiohead's influence continues to flower. I wonder if it'll be like when people accuse bands of being influenced by the Beatles, and it's just kind of like, "Well, yeah..." 

Mahmoud Guinia - Sadati Houma El Bouhala & Natural Information Society & Bitchin Bajas - Anemometer Scouring the recently-announced Pitchfork Festival line-up for this year produced a reaction of "Oh, come on, really?" backed with "Who the hell is that?" I'd read about Joshua Abrams' Natural Information Society over the last few years - how it's his attempt to build on gnawa music. But, I never really knew what the hell gnawa music was. Well, here it is. Highly trancelike music from the Hausa people of North Africa. This isn't music for all occasions, but  it's pretty easy to feel how perfect Guinia's singing and guembri playing would be for the all-night rituals at the heart of gnawa practice

Abrams, trained as a jazz bassist, transports the guembri (a kind of proto-bass) into a western "drone" context, exemplified by this 2015 collaboration with Chicago drone masters Bitchin' Bajas. This is going to be one trippy Pitchfork set, for sure - and I wager will be very different depending on what time of the day they get programmed. 

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley - The Simigwa A classic jam from the Ghanaian legend, which established a whole sub-genre of Ghanaian highlife music. 

The Shins - The Fear & Los Lobos - The Fear Complicating the already twisted relationship between the two versions of the Shins' most recent album, is Los Lobos' cover of those albums' "The Fear." Here are two versions of that song, neither the original. First, the Shins essentially covering their own song, taking an incredible amount of liberty - to the point where it's nearly unrecognizable. Then Los Lobos' quite faithful rendering of the original, which itself sounds like it could be a Los Lobos song. Wonderful confusion.

Ebo Taylor - Will You Promise Finally, an incredibly irresistable bite of sweets from another Ghanaian legend. Someone in the Daptone solar system needs to cover this. Would have been perfect for The Frightnrs.