The Groove Seeker: Slugabed’s Sun Too Bright Turn it Off

On a biweekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Slugabed: Sun Too Bright Turn it Off EP (Ninja Tune, 11/8/11)

Slugabed: “Sun Too Bright Turn it Off”

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It’s appropriate to say that London is a breeding ground of zeitgeist-changing musical talent when it comes to the instrumental beat scene. In the city, you’ll find dubstep, grime, and drum-‘n’-bass nights every day of the week. And like many other UK cities, including Brighton and Bristol, London is on the forefront of current styles and approaches to beat-making. It’s also the residence of DJ and producer Slugabed, whose new EP, Sun Too Bright Turn it Off, sounds like the East London and Los Angeles beat scenes coming into one.

The new release marks back-to-back EPs for Slugabed, a.k.a. Greg Feldwick, as he makes a strong and steady buildup to his debut album for Ninja Tune. Parallel to the Moonbeam Rider EP, Sun Too Bright Turn it Off builds a spacey, multi-dimensional soundscape filled with chopped-and-screwed break beats, wobbly bass drops, and wild 8-bit synths. But the two releases are unquestionably different in terms of spacing and pacing. Sun Too Bright is a substantially more down-tempo affair, which in fact better establishes Feldwick’s ability as a composer.

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The Groove Seeker: Freestyle Fellowship’s The Promise

On a biweekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Freestyle Fellowship: The Promise Freestyle Fellowship: The Promise (Decon, 10/18/11)

Freestyle Fellowship: “Step 2 the Side”

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After two decades and three LPs under its belt, the Freestyle Fellowship has turned into one of the longest-running hip-hop crews with the release of its latest record, The Promise. Previously the vision of innovative new-school rhyming in what seems like the old Wild West of hip hop, the Fellowship embodies the progressive early-’90s West Coast movement when hip-hop culture wasn’t an international trend, and when nation-conscious raps imbibed a certain sense of freedom and lyrical style reigned supreme.

But it’s been quite some time since those open-mic nights at the Good Life Café in South Central Los Angeles, where the Freestyle Fellowship, like many others (Chali 2na, Cut Chemist), got their start. Comprised of Aceyalone, Myka 9, PEACE, Self Jupiter, and producer J Sumbi, the Fellowship maintains a relevant influence as one of the initiators of jazz-rooted hip hop, aimed to challenge the art form with new approaches to rhyme, rhythm, and meter. Along with East Coast counterparts such as A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and Gang Starr, the Freestyle Fellowship filled a niche between commercialized radio rap and hardcore gangster rap, elevating the game with highly intellectual and esoteric prose.

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The Groove Seeker: Mayer Hawthorne’s How Do You Do?

On a biweekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Mayer Hawthorne: How Do You Do? (Universal Republic, 10/11/11)

Mayer Hawthorne: “A Long Time”

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As the soul revival sound goes, Mayer Hawthorne is in a league of singers who strike the proper balance between old school and new school. Yes, the singer’s act takes greatest influence from the early Northern soul era, but there’s more to Hawthorne’s music than a game of name-that-classic-45.

In exception to the Impressions EP and the New Holidays cover on his 2009 debut, A Strange Arrangement, Hawthorne’s music is wholly original. He shows his appreciation for the throwback song-craft by mirroring its fundamentals: carefully placed horn sections, sweet harmonies, tight group-vocal backing melodies, and exceptionally smooth and polished arrangements.

For his sophomore effort, Hawthorne reaches deeper into the late-’60s, early-’70s reference bag to make a no-frills record packed with tolerantly addictive soul hooks. How Do You Do? covers a lot of ground and shows some new sides to Hawthorne’s musical palette with cleaner and more robust production and instrument arrangements. Whether or not his jump to Universal Republic from Stones Throw has anything to do with it is arguable, but Hawthorne finds a way to use time-honored soul maxims to forge an individual sound.

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The Groove Seeker: True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, Volume 1

On a biweekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax Vol. 1V/A: True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, Volume 1 (Now-Again, 5/17/11)

The Leaders: “(It’s a) Rat Race”

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In the American soul and roots tradition, there are few stories more recognizable than the legend of Stax Records.  From the Staple Singers to Otis Redding and Sam and Dave to Wilson Pickett, and all the artists who pioneered and championed that “Stax” sound, the small Memphis, Tennessee record-shop-turned-record-label introduced the world to the irresistible funkiness of Southern soul music.

But from that golden era of soul and funk, there were and are always hardworking owners, musicians, and even whole scenes that go unnoticed.  This is the story of Mr. Lee Anthony and True Soul Records, the label that he started in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1968.  Waiting to be rediscovered on a new anthology released by Now-Again titled True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, the two-volume CD/DVD set is an enlightening journey offering a 28-track survey of the label’s rarest grooves.

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The Groove Seeker: Blink’s The Architects

The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Blink: The Architects (Whistler, 4/19/11)

Blink: “Protect From Light (I)”

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If there’s one collective that typifies the spirit of modern jazz and the next step into its “post” era, it’s Chicago-based experimental-jazz quartet Blink.  And though that might sound bogus given the fact that its new album comes only in cassette and digital-download formats, the quartet’s lo-fi approach doesn’t mean that it’s not legit.  Since its 2008 debut, The Epidemic of Ideas — a record that imparts heavy emphasis on jazz experimentation and improvisation — the quartet has toured the world, received awards from the Illinois Arts Council, and had its compositions commissioned and performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble and the Peoria Ballet Company.

On its sophomore effort, The Architects, the quartet builds on its mishmash of free jazz, rock, and electronics, this time with a new approach for structured compositions.  The beauty of it all? You can’t really tell the difference.  In jazz, it’s said that the best improvised music sounds composed and the best composed music sounds improvised.  As circular as that sounds, the adage holds a lot of wisdom in understanding the merits of Blink and its overall sound.

Listeners will find the nine-song set, entirely composed by bassist Jeff Greene, to have a distinct balance.  Greene’s compositions build on one another, creating a musical dialogue that revisits melodies and textures to create intricate forms of theme and variation.  But the songs still feel open-ended, with solid foundations for drummer Quin Kirchner, guitarist Dave Miller, and saxophonist Greg Ward to instill in them a loose musical chemistry that is spontaneous and artful.

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The Groove Seeker: Tune-Yards’ Whokill

The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Tune-Yards: Whokill (4AD, 4/19/11)

Tune-Yards: “Bizness”

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If you’ve ever seen Merill GarbusTune-Yards play live, you understand how resourceful and creative a musician she is. With a ragtag set of drums and ukulele close at hand, Garbus builds her songs from scratch by live-looping repetitive drum and vocal patterns. Crafty to say the least, her performances are a multitasking puzzle of pedal stepping and vocal-scat arranging, revealing compositions and melodies that are spontaneous but clearly logical.

As Tune-Yards, Garbus surprised many with a gem of a debut in 2009. That record, Bird-Brains, thrives on the same weirdness and DIY attitude that make Garbus’ live shows so enjoyable. Not only were the songs recorded using a freeware program, but the folk-inspired experiments are packed with field recordings, Dictaphone samples, and intermittent elements of R&B and hip hop, all loosely fastened down by Garbus’ versatile Afro-pop-influenced vocals.

Whokill, Garbus’ second album under the case-sensitive moniker (generally stylized as tUnE-yArDs), sees her trading in the Dictaphone for some full-blown studio time. Tracked and mixed by Eli Crews (producer for Deerhoof and Why?), with co-writing credits going to bassist Nate Brenner (Beep), the record shows definite growth from those lo-fi-recording days. Thankfully, a bit of studio polish doesn’t take away her charm and musical wit.  If anything, the new approach gives her avant-garde pop the right venue in which to be properly heard.

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The Groove Seeker: The Dead Kenny Gs’ Operation Long Leash

The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

The Dead Kenny Gs: Operation Long Leash (The Royal Potato Family, 3/15/11)

The Dead Kenny Gs: “Black Truman (Harry the Hottentot)”

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Smooth-jazz lovers beware.  As an antidote to the polished alto saxophones and rarely improvised easy-listening jams of adult contemporary music, eccentric jazz trio The Dead Kenny Gs has released its second album, Operation Long Leash.  Given its play-on-words moniker that simultaneously drives a sock down the mouth of smooth-jazz king Kenny G and recalls the early ’80s hardcore-punk band The Dead Kennedys, the powerhouse trio taps into a sound that fuses jazz and punk.  It’s a crazy mix that works surprisingly well, played intensely by a group that has the skill and knowledge to pull it off.

Composed of three of the members of legendary Seattle-based Critters Buggin — bassist Brad Houser, drummer and vibraphonist Mike Dillon, and saxophonist Skerik — the band uses its genre-mashing experience to anchor it all down.  The trio has played in countless projects together, including all three in The Black Frames, and Dillon and Skerik comprise half of Garage a Trois.  Needless to say, the three have run in the same circles for more than two decades, playing hybrid styles that are everything but conservative.

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The Groove Seeker: J Rocc’s Some Cold Rock Stuf

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

J Rocc: Some Cold Rock StufJ Rocc: Some Cold Rock Stuf (Stones Throw, 3/8/11)

J Rocc: “Play This (Also)”

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One of the most important figures in DJing and turntablism over the past two decades, J Rocc is finally releasing his debut effort of original cuts titled Some Cold Rock Stuf.  Original in all senses of the word, J Rocc has amazed audiences from Los Angeles to Tokyo with a distinct style that began by co-founding the landmark DJ crew the Beat Junkies in the early ’90s with Melo-D and Rhettmatic.

Along with fellow beat junkie Babu, and the likes of Mix Master Mike and Q-Bert of the Invisible Skratch Piklz, J Rocc was a part of the pioneering scene that brought respect back to the DJ, establishing the turntable as instrument while forging a new path towards instrumental hip hop.

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The Groove Seeker: Seefeel’s Seefeel

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Seefeel: Seefeel (Warp Records, 1/31/11)

Seefeel: “Dead Guitars”

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A largely forgotten mid-’90s band that was always ahead of its time, Seefeel has released its first album in 14 years. The self-titled record feels like a debut, and it is to a certain extent, considering the band’s lineup changes. Seefeel explores the territory of electronic outfits such Battles and Emeralds, bands that were influenced by Seefeel’s 1993 debut Quique. It feels like some sort of weird déjà vu.  If anything, it’s an impressive rebirth, one that has the group deconstructing the sample-based post-rock style it pioneered before MIDI sequencers were even looked at as viable forms of instruments.

Formed in 1992 in London, Seefeel’s music was once stylistically situated between shoegaze pop and what people were calling “ambient techno.”  It had a smooth nonchalance to its music, with ambient electro-pop symphonies strung together by Sarah Peacock‘s sparse, dream-like vocals.

Noise pop is perhaps the best way to describe its music retrospectively — or IDM before IDM was IDM.  Though we must not forget those  higher on the electronic family tree (Kraftwerk comes to mind), Seefeel’s importance to the scene lies in fending off the “dance” label.  What’s more, as the first “guitar” band signed to Warp in 1994, its use of live instruments also speaks to its groundbreaking artistry.

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The Groove Seeker: Mophono’s Cut Form Crush

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Mophono: Cut Form Crush 12″ (CB Records, 2/15/2011)

Mophono: “Be Human Part One”

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San Francisco-based DJ/producer Mophono is releasing his debut Cut Form Crunch on his own CB Records, featuring guest spots by Flying Lotus and MC Subverse.  Keeping good company, Mophono builds an instrumental soundscape inhabited by dusty glitch samples and old-school beats under the direction of dub-like bass lines.  It’s a heavy sound where Moog bleeps meet hard hip-hop beats, jazzy fills, heavy funk cuts, and fanatical synth hooks.

Advancing a style crafted by luminaries such DJ Shadow and DJ Krush, Mophono’s highly textured instrumental compositions encompass a wide range of dense atmospherics.  But whereas Krush stays inherently nocturnal making soundtracks for the midnight marauder, Mophono steps to a completely different vibe.  From dirty club stompers and wild synthetic experiments to classic break-out-the-cardboard B-boy tracks, Mophono keeps a variety that is disparate, noisy, and always funky.

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The Groove Seeker: Basil Kirchin’s Primitive London

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Basil Kirchin: Primitive London (Trunk Records, 12/6/10)

Basil Kirchin: “Primitive London 3”

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As one of the most under-appreciated artists of his time (roughly from the late 1950s to the mid-’70s), Basil Kirchin’s music has been shrouded in obscurity.  But thanks to Jonny Trunk and the folks at Trunk Records, who’ve reissued titles such as Particles and Abstractions of the Industrial North, Kirchin has not only been realized as one of jazz’s most eccentric characters, but as a musician ahead of his time in terms of experiments in sound and fusion.

Trunk Records’ latest release, Primitive London, reveals some of the grooviest music Kirchin ever made, bringing together two never-before-released film scores.  The first is the strange cult-classic Primitive London, the 1965 Arnold Louis Miller shock-doc that explores the dark side of London during its birth of cool.  Accompanying Primitive London is an even more obscure unreleased gem, The Freelance, a 1971 gangster film shot in London featuring a score by Kirchin.

Trunk Records’ decision to release them together is a fantastic idea: each film reflects two distinct periods in Kirchin’s musical career and development.  Primitive London listens like a double feature; Kirchin’s swinging ’60s jazz turns into something entirely different by the 1970s, as he delves deeper into the spontaneity of free jazz and the nuances of the experimental.

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The Groove Seeker: The Go! Team’s Rolling Blackouts

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

The Go! Team: Rolling Blackouts (Memphis Industries, 2/1/11)

The Go! Team: “The Running Range”

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Originally Ian Parton’s solo home-brewed music project, The Go! Team became a six-member band upon the release of its debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, in 2004. As Parton put together a group to perform the music live, the pieces fell into place, and the band quickly became the highlight of international music festivals.

After running into copyright issues surrounding TLS’ samples, The Go! Team released Proof of Youth in 2007 — a sophomore-slump-dodging record that proved that Parton’s distinct patchwork funk pop was not a fluke. Four years later, the Brighton, England-based sextet is back with Rolling Blackouts, a rambunctious effort that leans toward ’60s-inspired pop. Building off its trusted template with a slew of guest vocals, including Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino and Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, the team’s upbeat blend of garage rock, hip hop, and noise pop sounds as refreshing at it did when Parton began.

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