What would it sound like if a band from another planet somehow heard early ’50s and ’60s rock and roll and covered it? This half-serious anecdote is how Animal Collective keyboardist Brian Weitz, better known as his stage name Geologist, frames his band’s ninth studio album, Centipede Hz. For as amusing as it is to imagine extraterrestrials clattering to The Hollies, Weitz’s rhetorical scenario points to the band’s creative motors at work, and how they manage to obscure influences beyond recognition.
LA-based crate-digger Logan Melissa is a minority within a minority — a female among diehard vinyl collectors. An MF Doom and Madlib super-fan, she chronicles her impressive hip-hop, soul, jazz, and funk finds at HeightFiveSeven.com while showing off a personal style that includes two-piece bikinis and sundresses.
It’s true that breakups can be a catalyst to endearing music. Much like it sounds, Dark Dark Dark’s Who Needs Who carries a heavy heart, written during the parting of singer/pianist Nona Marie Invie and bandmate/multi-instrumentalist Marshall LaCount. And though challenging under the circumstances, each member manages to translate mixed emotions into a musical synergy that’s deeply private and revealing. Who Needs Who shows the group not only maturing as a band, but also as long-time friends rediscovering common ground with one another.
Having come back into fashion a decade ago, afrobeat isn’t so much resurgent as it is enduring. These days it might even more popular than it was in the 1970s — setting off dance parties, blasting over café speakers, occupying whole sections at record stores, and even influencing indie-rock records. Its immersion into the global mainstream is in large part due to the revived interest in Fela Kuti, the Nigerian afrobeat rebel whose life is chronicled as equal parts musical innovator and controversial social activist. Over the years protégés of Kuti’s Africa ’70 band have exploded everywhere from San Francisco to London, but none may have been more instrumental to afrobeat’s second coming in the States than the Brooklyn-based ensemble Antibalas.
Following its 2007 debut, Floratone was established as a highly collaborative and innovative musical force with no lack of original ideas. Comprised of guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Matt Chamberlain (Critters Buggin), and producers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine, the collective concerns itself with the art of “spontaneous compositions,” an approach that crosses from improvised jam sessions to cut-up production work and back again.
Floratone II was recorded over a two-year period, molded from a collaborative process of Frisell and Chamberlain laying down improvised musical motifs that were finished by accompaniments and tweaks from Townsend and Martine. For the second go-round, the members seem to have settled into a stronger dynamism, carving out vibrant layers of well-spaced grooves, rhythms, electronic ambience, and synth bursts.
And if the project wasn’t virtuosic enough, guest spots from Ron Miles, Eyvind Kang, Mike Elizondo, and distinguished soundtrack composer and producer Jon Brion make sure that all grounds are covered. We caught up with Martine to talk about the new record, Floratone’s collaborative process, and some of his favorite producers of all time.
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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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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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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.
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.
V/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.
Thrill Jockey continues its foray into the world-music scene with a collection of tunes from one of West Africa’s forgotten figures, Sorry Bamba. A father figure to the many musicians who came after him but somewhat unknown outside of Africa, Bamba’s music is another testament to the never-ending investigation of Mali’s rich musical history.
Born in Mopti, a city resting between Timbuktu and Ségou, Bamba plays a confluence of styles that stem from the region’s folk traditions. He’s best known for his powerful sing-talk vocals that can withstand the grittiest Afro-funk, electric instrumentation.
But this compilation, covering a mere decade of the artist’s half-century-long career, is more than ’70s Afro-funk. Bamba’s career in the ’70s was at a crossroads, a time characterized by Mali’s independence from France a decade earlier. While the country promoted modernization and celebration of Malian culture, Radio Mali sought for a push of musical heritage. Bamba was one of the artists at the forefront as the band leader for the Regional Orchestra of Mopti. In addition to funky fuzz, the collection shows hints of Malian blues, American soul, and Latin rhythms among Bamba’s take on regional sounds, most particularly the folkloric songs of the nearby Dogon people.
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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.
When Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill admitting Hawaii into statehood in 1959, Americans were living in a post-WWII United States, ready to forget and eagerly optimistic to start anew. Though a standard history book will tell you that everyone was consumer-crazy and making a lot of babies, it won’t tell you that a large percentage of the populace was listening to exotica.
Borne out of Hawaii’s post-war music scene, exotica is marked by its lounge-like feel, a tropical summation of Pacific, Caribbean, and Latin sounds fused with American pop and jazz. As a precursor to the modern world-music movement, artists like Martin Denny and Les Baxter introduced stateside audiences to new sounds and rhythms. By the 1970s, exotica was snooze-worthy, stock-heavy pop, but a listen to the golden-era recordings exposes some groove-heavy material with plenty of progressive rhythms and dreamy, vibraphone-drenched melodies.
Fortunately, Oahu-based The Waitiki 7 has managed to steer clear from contrived kitsch to bring modern sensibility to exotica’s late-’50s to mid-’60s pinnacle sound. As heard on its 2009 debut, Adventures in Paradise, and on the 2010 follow-up, New Sounds of Exotica, the septet builds on Latin-jazz foundations with an ear for vintage and retro qualities. Now the band is releasing a set of alternative studio takes from both records with Waitiki in Hi-Fi, a vinyl-only release that will have you dusting off that vintage Crosley record player.