I'm a little late to this train but I just got hooked on this afro-beat group from Munich (?!) Karl Hector and the Malcouns. Their record, which came out during the summer, is called Sahara Swing out on Stones Throw and it's a fierce, lean piece of funk. It's not only that a group like this would survive in Munich, which probably isn't that surprising, I'm sure Kraut funk has been around at least since Can has copped to it, but that the record manages to sound both totally authentic and new. The authenticity is there in the breakbeats, wah-wahs, beefy bari sax solos, the overall tautness of the rhythm section, and the tubed up fuzz of the whole production aesthetic. But the newness, and really the real interest of this record is all in the details. Hear the organs far too fuzzed up and dissonant than funk would normally elicit (especially in "Nyx" and the title track "Sahara Swing"), way more Chick Corea than Art Neville. Hear the clave out in orbit on "Mystical Brotherhood", the polytonal wanderings of the organ in "Debere", trumpet runs fed through the psyche blender (also "Nyx"), or the 4 against 3 slow motion of "Sahara Swing" which seriously sounds like the whole rhythm section is trying so hard to slow down it's nearly reversing time. You get the sense they're much more into Bitches Brew era Miles or Brown Rice era Don Cherry than they are Africa 70 and I sincerely hope that they'll worry less in their next record about being the next Fela party band (cause we've already got Antibalas for that) and that they'll hire Danger Mouse or whoever produced the Battles record to make some truly weird afro-beat. But for now I'll settle for some subtlety in my funk.
Amazing video from the No-Neck Blues Band who are out with a new cd called Clomeim released on Locust Music. It's pretty extreme noise folk and I've always felt previously that NNCK are a bit too indulgent for my tastes, especially when they went off the drum circle deep end, but this material is more thoughtful, harsher, and a lot more interesting with the addition of video. The video artist is Tom Thayer.
I spent a huge amount of time growing up singing in choirs. My dad was a minister so I sang in his church's choirs and then my grade school had a professional boy's choir which I sang in for 4 years. I spent high school and college singing too, although in college I was in an a cappella group and couldn't stomach any more liturgical music. Now, though, I find myself really only interested in pre-renaissance christian church music (which was all choral) and madrigals; Monteverdi, Mauchaut, Josquin, Gesualdo made some of most gorgeous, hypnotic, outre music in history. I think it's great that so many new great bands (Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver) are getting interested in group singing and vocal harmony. But with one notable exception - Panda Bear's Person Pitch, all of this singing has had little to do with this christian choral music and chant that I'm talking about. Most bands who sing in groups are much more immediately indebted to other pop, motown, and rock groups from the 60's. This absence is caused, I think, by the stigma against church music in general from a largely agnostic, or broadly ambivalent taste making youth culture that associates classical (e.g. stuffy) with liturgical (which are two very different things despite classical having been born of the former). Church music can absolutely be stuffy, but this older, mysterious, ecstatic type is quite the opposite. It's as unbridled, tortured, immense a music you'll find. There's also a general fear in popular music of all varieties that singing in tune without forced inflection or affectation (which is the goal of choral singing) is plaintive at best, but really just boring.
Person Pitch had cultural signifiers from other lands in there to be sure and despite one track ("I'm Not"), it would be stretching to say that the choral influence for Person Pitch was western european christian. It could just as easily been african tribal, or south american tribal or christian. Julianna Barwick now adds one more name to this short list of exceptions who have embraced the christain choral tradition. Her album Sanguine, which came out this time last year but got buried, takes the premise of Panda Bear and places it squarely in the choir boy canon. The record is pretty poorly produced, and there are some tuning issues particularly in her highest range, which is a shame not a virtue (even though I get the sense she hopes it gives her indie cred). But it's still gorgeous and worth listening to not least of all for its expansiveness and innocence. There's a danger of course in emulating boy choirs that the thing will become precious or faux innocent, the way Bjork can sometimes get a little drippy, or worse the way Enya creates anything at all. In general, the record avoids this with the exception of the track that ended up garnering the most attention called "Dancing with Friends" which sounds like an all girl a capella group at Wellesley doing a warm up. There are things to be desired, I wish her voice had some more depth, that she didn't push so hard in her throat and let her chest do the work, and I wish she developed her pieces more instead of letting the initial loop be the whole story. This is why her remix for Radiohead's Reckoner is probably the best thing she's done, because the structure of the song was already there and all she had to do was beautify it, stretch it out. Even chant based music needs to move forward and develop. A procession has an important function other than being ritualistic, it gets you from one end of the church to the other.
Micachu is a fresh face from east London, her first record called Jewellery comes out early February on Matthew Herbert's Accidental Records, produced by none other than the man himself. The last time (I can recall) he anointed a songstress with his skills, Moloko's Roisin Murphy came out with an unbelievable record (Ruby Blue) and Micachu's will no doubt enjoy the same fate despite being a much weirder, more raw, and in lots of ways more interesting project (maybe than some of Herbert's own. Anybody bored of the whole big band thing?). Micachu's voice is really what carries the thing although the brutal eclecticism of these pieces really takes them elsewhere. Her voice is at first listen airy and dreamy, then you notice how strident it becomes, hardened by something unknowably badass. Plus there are flashes of hip-hop call and response, sort of like a less evasive CocoRosie, that fit in seamlessly. The production has elements of Herbert's micro house style, some grime, electro, which is all well and good, but what's really interesting about it is that Herbert has mixed it so that it sounds like a dirty garage band with all the tubes and tiny tweeters maxed out and driven to hell, with another digitally inclined doppleganger laid on top of the first, analogue band. With all the instruments squashed like a cheap Nuggets revival, and all the blips coming in technicolor, there's so much space between these two extremes that it makes you wonder what Micachu and Herbert are getting at (cause he's always got a manifesto right?). Is this a band that's been remixed? Why spend so much time perfecting the compression on the bassline but let the guitars sound like they're on some forgotten bedroom b-side? Ultimately, the really good thing is that Herbert's really NOT pushing an agenda, Micachu just has a stratified style and it feels by turns jumbled and intensely focused in all the right places (just as her voice is). It's not tremendously likely that she'll be able to hit big with this release (with the exception of Golden Phone which is just too fucking catchy), but for those who want a taste of the next thing here you go. P.S. I've heard someone in her band The Shapes, or maybe her, plays the Hoover Vacuum during shows. I wonder if Fishman knows about this...
eR DoN (real name Robert Nelson) is a Seattle based glitch-hop dude with jazz tendencies on Fourthcity. Reminds me somewhat of the acoustic cutups of the Books, but with the boom bap programming of Anticon's back catalogue. In fact, Anticon shouldn't have invested so much in Son Lux who fizzled out in a minute, if they wanted cross genre instrumental weirdness they should have slapped this dude on their roster. Then again, they've got Dosh who gives jam bands a bad name and only sounds hip-hop if you think that hip-hop means hard down beats and shuffling snares. eR DoN is refreshing perhaps precisely because he's not really putting on a hip-hop face like everyone at Anticon is trying to do (except Why? who's past that and now is just the weirdest emo kid on the block). He's interested in clean jumps of timbre, a lean beat, and sudden formal left turns. It helps I think that his process is really putting a bunch of disparate ideas on an MPC and like a puzzle piecing them together. The album gets a little samey in all honesty partly because no section lasts longer than a handful of moments and you wish he'd change up the palette sometimes (no more melodica!!) or at least stick with one sound for a bit longer (sort of the same problem Girl Talk had with his early shit; just too ADD) but it's still a nice entry into improvisational hip-hop.
Lukid's new album Foma has had my head ringing (in a good way) since I heard it on sunday. It's a beat n' texture record, minimal in its musical elements but maximal in its admiration of spatiality. Everything has its right place in the mix, it's efficient, alluring, and totally evasive. Some of the record plays like a leaner, more vocally inclined Flying Lotus with his sense of a beat held back by a gluey gravity, and his penchant for soulful organ washes and disruptions of bleepy atari ejaculations (let's see how many posts I can mention semen in...on second thought let's not!) But Lukid is also playing around in sound design and modern classical electro-acoustic territory from much the same angle as Pole, or, in a different vein, Matmos (the synthy Matmos, not the concréte Matmos); weird tape hisses, Eno style drones, superannuated synth murmurs, and indecipherable voice samples. "Ice Nine" is a wintry, beatific thing, sort of like something of Kim Hiorthøy's. The piano is cavernous (and sometimes backwards), so are the high hats, but the casio congas are in the water closet, and somebody left the radio on, tuned to nothing, and every once in while there's an attempt to get a signal on Jupiter. In "Slow Hand Slap" a grimey bass is being tested out against a typewriter and eventually loses out to a flock of mermaids. They drown it, but it never really stops grindin. "Chord" comes from a more unanimous world, something out of Autechre's 90's playbook, an incessant, unnerving drone, insect wings, canisters, and relentlessness together with subtle shading. I hear 'Tri Repetae' but who knows... "Ski Fly" slinks closer to FlyLo or Hudson Mohawke than anything else on here - an EPMD beat pattern, Al Green guitars and backup singers, a horn section that got squashed into a synth or vice versa, and the feeling that if only D'Angelo could hook up with these dudes, we'd have an R&B we could be proud of. "Time Doing So Mean" is a summative anthem of the album which already feels like a critical release for beat heads and dreamers here in the first steps of '09.
Scarface is pushing 40, and Emeritus is supposed to be his final record (we'll see), and if that does turn out to be the case, he should be thrilled that he finished with a record this good. Raw and dark (near existential) as usual but also breezy and almost valedictory. The production is a lot less stark and heavy (not that there's anything wrong with that) than I've heard from his last few. I've been revisiting the Geto Boys with some regularity these days (and getting into to a lot of other H-town rap too) but it's just unreal how certain rappers are capable of putting out solid shit for such an incredibly long time (Ghostface comes to mind). "Can't Get Right" has a soulful hook, organ punches, hyped up break and a nice melody in the chorus from Bilal. In different hands (ahem...uh, Common, your electropop album can't hide your lameness) this song would be a tearjerkoffing bigup yourself jizz parade. Instead it's got bite, realism, and honest hardwon optimism. "High Powered" makes me nervous, something about that hollering in the back of the mix, and who out there thinks Scarface is boasting when he says "I copped a Chrome 45 under pressure/And then address ya, now ya froze on tha stretcher"? Who?