Israeli DJ/Producer Kutiman appears to have a full-length record, Space Cassava, on the way, but of late I’ve been intrigued by his most recent collaborative music project “Inner Galactic Lovers.” Similar to his “Thru You” projects, which culled music from youtube videos, “Inner Galactic Lovers” mixes the contributions of 24 individual musicians Kutiman gathered through the online community Fiverr. In some ways this project is even more impressive, because it appears that none of the musicians communicated with each other, they only communicated with Kutiman, so he essentially individually orchestrated this piece with each musician and then brought together all of the disparate parts into the song you hear above. Quite a feat, and proof positive that Kutiman continues to be one of the most creative cats around.
Today marks one year since the death of Charlie Haden, the extaordinary bassist and composer. Haden’s music is rarely far from my turntables, but that has been especially the case since I learned of the vinyl issue of the soundtrack to Jodowrosky’s The Holy Mountain, one of my favorite films of all-time and a soundtrack that was long rumored to have been lost, until it turned up in digital form a few years ago on a box set of the director’s work. Finders Keepers have recently reissued music from all of Jodo’s films, but this soundtrack, reproduced on two pieces of vinyl with packaging worthy of the original film, is the one I was most interested in. When I first saw the film during college, a period of time where I was DEEP into avant-garde jazz, I don’t think I recognized that Don Cherry & the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra were responsible for most of the music. It wasn’t until I tracked down Don Cherry’s Relativity Suite, and then re-saw the movie a few years ago that I realized how the two were linked. Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t have any extended solos from Haden, and in fact it’s difficult accurately place his bass in many of the songs, but it’s clear when you listen to “Isla” that that is Haden, with his distinctive tender sound. Though I understand and appreciate the hard right turn the music makes from “Isla” to “Psychedelic Weapons” I almost wish there was more of what appears to be a longer take for the first song, because it’s just as it starts to settle into something truly beautiful that it switches (it almost sounds as if someone stopped a reel-to-reel playing “Isla,” or, to post-hip-hop ears, it almost sounds like a sloppy cross fade of a DJ) into the rocking “Weapons,” but this is a minor complaint. There is so much beauty in these two discs, music that many of us thought would never see the light of day, but we have it now and it gives us more to treasure from Haden, Cherry and all of the other master musicians associated with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra at that time.
Part of what is great about doing a “Best So Far” show in the middle of the year is that it forces me to dig even deeper and see what new releases and reissues have come out that I might have missed in the preceding months. One of the ones that I was most excited to discover that had been reissued is this legendary album, lovingly reproduced on a 3-LP set by Now-Again. Ostensibly, The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop is a kids record. The music produced on the album was used for a PBS special featuring Hoagy Carmichael sharing songs and teaching kids about music. This period of time was especially kind of children, with all of those amazing Schoolhouse Rock albums, Sesame Street and the like, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest, just for it’s overall sonic insanity. Original copies of the album, even after earlier reissues from Stones Throw, regularly fetch prices in the $1,000s. For a lot of crate diggers, this is a real badge of honor to have tracked one down in the wild (I’m pretty sure Matthew Africa had at least two copies of this). Just last year this album landed at the top spot of Soul Strut‘s list of albums voted on by members of the forum (interestingly “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” ended up at #2). There are lots of records that are rarer than this album, but few are as enjoyable or as much of an experience to listen to. It’s a novelty record for sure, and you have to be in the right mindset to give it a listen, but when that fuzz and those drums and all of those chants, like “the first seven letters of the alphabet is all you need…to make music…A, B, C, D, E, F, G!” come out of your speakers, there’s just no way possible to keep your head from nodding and a smile from spreading across your face.
As a bonus, especially if, like me, you never saw or heard any of this until some beat miners put it on your radar, here’s a bit of the PBS show, with all of the charms you remember (or have discovered) of 1970s kids programming:
Generally I use this category for newer releases, but after working for quite some time getting that Dale Warren special together, I haven’t listened to much newer music in the last couple of weeks. Instead, pretty much from the moment I discovered it, I’ve been obsessed with this track Dale Warren recorded with the Detroit group The Precisions. Like so many of the tracks that have a bit of Warren’s feel, there’s a dark, almost bittersweet element to the way the strings roll out at the start, along with that single note playing of the piano throughout the first verses. Lyrically the song is just about perfect, both as a declaration of the kind of love we all desire and a recognition that often when we fall, we don’t always get what we want or expect.
This album got on my radar courtesy of former KALX DJ Kitty, who moved from the Bay Area to Bahia a while ago and mentioned this album as one of her favorite recent releases from Brasil. The busy-ness of the end of the semester distracting me from singing it’s praises and playing it more often on the radio show, but I’ll be making up for it now. I don’t know very much about Russo Passopusso, other than he has a fantastic name and he blends together the last 40 years of Brazilian music seamlessly, with shades of Samba Funk, Tropicalia, Soul Negro and more. Paraíso Da Miragem, sounds like a Brazilian version of my show, from song to song, many different styles but all soulful. “Flor De Plastico” might be my favorite song, with it’s late 1970s slower funk, reminiscent of Tim Maia’s later material. If you’re like me and you’re coming in a little late on this fabulous album, don’t fret…you can download the whole thing from Russo Passopusso’s website!
I’ve raved and raved about my love for The Sandwitches in the past, their session back in 2011 remains one of my favorites that we’ve done in the five years I’ve been on the air at KPFK. With the release of their third full-length release, Our Toast, we also learned that the band is calling it quits and this will be the final record for the group. This is especially saddening as Our Toast represents the best recorded work from a band that has just gotten better and better and better with each successive album. The girls will continue to play music, in each of their respective projects, Grace Sings Sludge, Pruno Truman and Roxanne Roxanne, but the sound they made together was really something special. “Play It Again Dick” might stand as a signature tune from the group, featuring all the elements that endeared them to all who heard them and listened, slight country feel to Roxanne’s drumming, the twin harmonies where, in this case, Heidi sings in a lower register in between Grace’s lines and those mountains of lovely reverb on those twin guitars. Every time Grace belts out that “Honey aren’t you glad like me,” at the end it sends shivers up and down my spine. I can all but guarantee that this will be one of my favorite songs of 2015, and definitely one of the best records of the year.
As it should have been clear when they first showed up on my radar, Cardiff’s Joanna Gruesome was one of my favorite musical crushes of last year. When I found out they had another full-length record in the pipe I was over-joyed, but that joy came with the bittersweet news that singer Alanna McArdle would be leaving the band. Alanna, along with Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves, emerged over the last couple years as a real strident voice for issues of gender equity and so her loss is a major one, not just for the band, but for all of indie-rockdom. But the reasons are the right ones. As Alanna described in her statement:
“Lately, my mental health problems have become a lot worse and I’ve gone through a pretty shitty time. I’ve realised I need to actually take some time out to focus on some kind of ‘recovery’, so I won’t be singing in Joanna Gruesome anymore. I hate to sound cheesy but the time I had in jgro was life-changing. I made friends with so many amazing people, had the chance to play with some of my favourite bands, went to places I’d never been before (metaphysically and geographically) and pissed off a lot of men in the process. I am really proud of everything I’ve done with the band, especially Peanut Butter, and I think we’ve made some really great records. Thanks to everyone who ever put up with me on tour, and anyone who stopped any assholes from hurting other people at our shows xo”
So, Peanut Butter acts as (perhaps) a swan song for the short, brilliant career of Alanna McArdle, but it’s nice that she goes out with a blaze of glory and that Joanna Gruesome has already re-grouped added new members and will continue to burn brightly in their own way.
It’s rare that “back-up” singers are given the chance to shine in the spotlight, but Saun & Starr are able to do that here on their debut “Look Closer.” The duo have been Sharon Jones’ singing partners for many years and set, with the legendary Dap-Kings in tow, shows that both women have a style all their own and the singing chops to make a whole lot of more prominent singers jealous.
A lot of times by this time of the year my brain is more or less mush. The last several weeks of the semester are a mad rush of classes, papers, exams and long nights hard at work. Most of the time releases will slip under my radar and sometimes I might not catch up to them until mid-Summer. Thankfully I’m not too too late on this release, which might have been the best new album ever released on Record Store Day, a marvelous and moody piece of work by a duo calling themselves Annabel (Lee). From the name, to the title of the record and songs, to the imagery on the cover, there’s a clear inspiration gained from the work of Edgar Allen Poe. The music reminds my ears of the glory days of trip hop, and while I don’t have nearly enough information on the artists behind this music (Annabel & Richard E), I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they had lent their talents to some of the UK bands of that period of time.
As you can tell from “(1849),” Annabel’s vocals don’t quite sound of this world, and the production work behind her, sparse, dark and at times downright ghostly, keeps the sound floating into the kind of space you’d think a dream-time collaboration between Billie Holiday and Geoff Barrow, both at their most melancholy, would produce. As best I can tell both artists now call Los Angeles home and so if all goes well we’ll all get to know much more about this music in the summer when I have the time to track them down and bring them into the KPFK studios. Until then, we have this music, some of the best I’ve heard all year, to tide us over.
Tashi Dorji was born in Bhutan, but has spent considerable time in the South, Asheville, North Carolina, and produces acoustic guitar music that honors “traditional music” from both places. It’s hard not to hear echoes of John Fahey, but that’s only because of how steeped in these traditions Fahey was as well. Appa has been a godsend for me in the last month or so when I’ve been desperately in need of “Soul Music” that opens up my mind and allows my brain to recharge. Gorgeous, pastoral and pensive…Appa’s only drawback is that the album is over just as it seems to have begun, since all of the tracks are fairly short. But these days that’s a problem easily fixed by a repeat button, and I definitely recommend spending lots and lots of quality time with this one.
In the recent past, Portico was known as the Portico Quartet, and their sound was more closely aligned with the Cinematic Orchestra, though with a more of a classic jazz edge to it. Of late they dropped both the jazzier style and the “quartet” from their name and have been reimagined as a bit more ambient, more electronic, much darker in tone outfit. I’m not even sure exactly what to call music like this, increasingly I find I’ve grown tired of trying to box the music I enjoy, particularly newer artists, into neat genres. It is fascinating music, made all the more intriguing by the choice of vocalists, including Joe Newman of Alt-J, Jono McCleery and Jamie Woon, who can be heard on the track I’ve chosen to highlight for you, “Memory of Newness.”
Generally in this section I highlight brand new releases, but every so often there’s a n older release that gets stuck in my mind and gets played again and again. In this case it was this 1996 album from Epic Soundtracks. Perhaps it’s because there’s been so many changes going on in my life over the past year or so, but this album would occassionally come into my mind. I was shocked to find that I no longer had a copy of it, but thankfully I was able to find one at Amoeba (the album never came out on vinyl, if it had I would have thrown it up in “Dig Deep”). Epic Soundtracks had a career worthy of his chosen name, playing drums in the Swell Maps, Crime & the City Solution and These Immortal Souls, before striking out on his own as a solo artist. Change My Life would turn out to be his final studio album before he died suddenly in his sleep in 1997. There a few songs on the record that I could do without, but when it’s good, it’s really really good. “Sleepy City” is a song that’s often been in head since hearing first almost 20 years ago. Even though I don’t live in London, late night walks with my dog often bring this song to mind, especially here in the Spring when it really does feel good to be in the city.
LA’s Adrian Younge is really enjoying a charmed life right now. Most artists would have been happy to have done a project like Black Dynamite (both the film and cartoon soudntracks, put together by AY), but then to follow that with collaborations with William Hart of the Delfonics and Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang, all while having Jay-Z sample two of your songs! That’s the stuff of legend. The legend grows now with this project, PRhyme, which features Royce Da 5’9″ and DJ Premier and every single bit of music coming from samples built off of Younge’s music. If an upcoming gig featuring Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab is an indication, Younge might only be getting started here in 2015. Charmed life indeed. “To Me To You” also features Jay Electronica and uses my favorite song from There’s Something About April, “It’s Me” as the foundation. 2015 is really shaping up to be a GREAT year for Hip-Hop!
I’ve actually just left seeing Ibeyi perform here in Los Angeles, at the Masonic Lodge over at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. If you’ve had the chance to hear these twins perform, hearing them live is even better. Channeling not only the spirit of their personal family lineage (their father was a percussionist with the Buena Vista Social Club in Cuba), but even deeper ones associated with Yoruban culture in Cuba and Africa, and combining them with decidedly 21st century sounds and technology, they have created a unique style all their own. The EP they released in 2014 only gave us a taste, the full-length record feels like more of a main course, but the great pleasure is from seeing these two women perform together on stage. If you have the chance, make sure to do all you can to bear witness…absolutely one of the strongest contenders thus far for record of the year.
It’s no secret that one of my all-time favorite contemporary bands is the Swedish neo-psych group Dungen. In the same way that I’m always eager to hear new music from them (which hopefully will be coming sometime soon, since we haven’t had anything since 2010), I love hearing projects from some of the people associated with that sound. Picture You is now the third album from Sweden’s The Amazing, once again featuring Dungen guitarist Reine Fiske and also the magnificent drums of Moussa Fadera (whose style is eerily similar to Dungen’s drummer Johan Holmegrad). While the Amazing shares many qualities with Dungen, it’s frontman Christoffer Gunrup’s breezy vocals that separate the group, giving the band a sound that’s a bit more ethereal than it is psychedelic.
In addition to the lead track “Broken” posted above, here’s a video for the title track, one of the centerpieces for the album: