In the spirit of World Music Day, or because I just happened to stumble across this release in the KCRW Spotify App on World Music Day, I’ve got to journey to the highest mountain and spread the word about Curumin’s Arrocha. And by journey, I mean take a break from work for a moment. And by highest mountain, I mean my bl-g, which is more of a glorified mole hill. The Brazilian artist Curumin combines jazz, samba, bossa nova, hip-hop and bleeps and blips into something entirely unique and essential. World Music rarely excites me. In fact, the term seems like a misnomer and reeks of American ethnocentrism. It’s not worldly, it’s just “other.” You speak the anglo or you don’t. True World Music, it seems, should bridge cultures and musical genres. Thus, in the spirit of true Wordly Music, I give you São Paulo’s Curumin.
Some bands thrive, while others, inexplicably disappear. The glory days of 80’s minimalist synth comprised roughly the years from 1982 until 1985 with fits and spurts every since. This trend has often been called Minimal Wave. For the sake of brevity, I’ll consider it a legitimate micro-genre and not enter into any broader discussions about whether it deserves its own classification outside of the more common but equally maddening delineations of Synthpop, Electropop, Synthpunk and Coldwave. Well known bands like Kraftwerk or Front 242 that fit the profile transcended micro-genre classification because they simply gained popular appeal. Staples of the genre included elementary musical structure, relatively unpolished production (part and parcel with the “I’m-trying-so-hard-I’m-not-really-trying facade) and the use of analog synthesizers and drum machines. Minimal Wave sounds mechanical and often repetitious to the point of numbness. Let it be said that this is not a nostalgia post. 97.9% of this style of music proved disposable, but from within these Dogme-like constraints, a few artists recorded brilliant lo-fi sounds of 80’s-era emptiness and disillusionment. It should come as no surprise to any fan of 80s music that Germany became an epicenter for this style of music. And it is from Germany that today’s forgotten band of the 80’s hails. Jyl (pronounced: Jill), named after lead singer Jyl Porch, deserved a better fate than a one-record catalog and total anonymity by the turn of the decade, particularly since Klaus Schulze, electronic-music legend and one-time member of Tangerine Dream, produced the record. Jyl shares a vocal kinship with notable front-women like Annie Lennox and Siouxsie, but her more even-tempered crooning fit the electronic bleeps and blips perfectly. This album really is a gem and if you happen across it in any secondhand record shop or flea market, buy it immediately. You won’t regret it. And I will be jealous because I am still searching for my copy.
I’d love to offer more information on the band or their subsequent projects but I’m finding very little information of note. Okay, I’m finding nothing at all. The part about being German doesn’t help my cause. They just seem less prone to the frivolous sharing of information. No sales numbers, no singles charts. I’ve got nothing other than a few blogs out there on the Interwebs that have dedicated pages, not entirely unlike this one, to the cause of bringing Jyl back to some music fans that might indeed like to discover something old and fresh.
My daughter turns three years old today. Unbelievable, really. I find this particularly unnerving because my first concrete memory comes from my third birthday party. Up until now I’ve been living under the assumption that if I screwed something up, she wouldn’t remember it anyway. Now, I’m in danger of going on record… and while I’m sad that another year has passed and she’s developing that whole free will thing, I’m excited to finally, hopefully, start to make some lasting memories that she’ll remember when she’s 33 and reflecting upon her own childhood. Hopefully, she’ll remember this summer and maybe even the summer jams of 2012 (with some fondness), just as I remember the summer of 1981 and the timeless Hall & Oates track “Kiss On My List.” This track sticks with me and immediately recalls those early memories. Anyway, my memory, if you’re curious, is of finding a massive and wrapped box on the lawn and subsequently opening this beautiful beast:
…and now for the jams…
The Walkmen – Heaven
No recent album requires an open window and a cold beverage more than this one. You’re outside on the patio sipping a margarita? Pump the Walkmen through to the outside. Maybe it’s evening. You’re inside with the windows thrown open with an uncoastered mojito leaving a sweat ring on the end table? The Walkmen, on simmer in the background on repeat. More understated than prior albums, Heaven might underwhelm at first, but give it another chance to creep in under your skin and induce instant mellow. This isn’t a sad sack record for sad sack indie worshippers. This is a laid-back record with something for anyone. It’s good enough to force a pause, to take a moment so that you might listen more closely to the music.
The Quakers are a full-frontal assault. If you don’t dig the Quakers, you don’t dig hip-hop. And that’s cool, but goddamn you’re missing out on some exciting new music. The Quakers redefine the term supergroup. The collective consists of 35 different members, summoning powers and talents from artists as varied as Portishead, The Pharcyde, Aloe Blacc, Prince Po and Coin Locker Kid. These 35 artists turn 40 tracks into a brilliant and cohesive record. Impossible, you say? I thought so too. Rumor has it that the three producers of the record, Fuzzface (Portishead’s Geoff Barrow), 7-Stu-7 and Katalyst, had all grown disillusioned by the state of modern hip-hop so they set out to create a record they’d want to listen to. As it turns out, it’s a record we all want to listen to… with the windows down, hoping the kid in the back isn’t realllly paying attention to the lyrics.
My classic jams list could never be complete without a rediscovered classic sneaking into the countdown. I’d always been a fan of the Foxx-fronted Ultravox. “Reap the Wild Wind” is a timeless charmer. But rarely had I ever heard any solo work by John Foxx. During my regular record-crate diving, I came across a sealed copy of John Foxx’s Garden for $4. An easy purchase. A pristine, unheard solo LP from an 80’s (near) icon. I expected to enjoy it, but holy hell was I surprised. John Foxx deserves more respect. Garden is more smooth Ultravox than John Foxx’s prior release: Metamatic (a stiff, cold offering). If you don’t know John Foxx and/or Ultravox, there’s never been a better time to discover one of the 80’s forgotten gems.
Somehow, Hot Chip has merely skirted big-time recognition. In Our Heads represents their fifth full-length album, and if this doesn’t strike a chord this summer, I’m not sure there’s any hope for civilization. Hot Chip creates electro-lounge-pop with a beat. And if you get caught up in the bounce, it’s very danceable. My now 3-year old can attest. The album drops next week but after having heard the album stream online, I believe quite strongly that there are a few tracks on this record that are among their most infectious. Hot Chip just understand the groove. No more self-conscious use of the world jam regarding this record. It’s a legitimate jam at the intersection of dancehall, indie and electronic music. Indiepoptronica, perhaps.
Named after a specific moment in the Melvins’ “A History of Bad Men,” this sister-duo made a splash with the Scarlet LP and have carried that promise into their full-length, self-titled debut. They’ve been dubbed nu-gaze (a sub-genre of my favorite non-genre “shoe-gaze), but if you’re looking for a definition that means something they’re PJ Harvey and Warpaint with an extra dash of 90’s-era guitar fuzz. Frankly, I shouldn’t like this… but it works. And I can’t stop listening to their radio-friendly single “You’re Early.” Plus the band has still got that anonymous quality that makes you feel like you’re one of the first in on the ground floor of something big.
I didn’t know I needed another St. Etienne record but there it was and I had to listen after catching a few tracks on XM. Sure it’s vintage St. Etienne, bouncy, synth-laden electro-pop with pristine Sarah Cracknell vocals. Words and Music is a return of sorts. Though I’d never taken a moment to wonder: Saint Etienne where have you been for seven long years? That begs the question: did we even miss them? Yes. I guess. I dunno. I’m so conflicted. I always thought they were cheesy. Did I change or did they? Because I like this album. I like it in the way that I can leave it on and not notice it’s there. In and out of the house, here and there, pick up where I left off. Did I miss something? It’ll come back around. So if these albums are the soundtrack of my summer, Saint Etienne must therefore be the score because I don’t see Danny Elfman around anywhere.
If you listen to one new band this month, make it Dry the River. I’ve been plugging this band on Twitter and I just can’t help but give the UK quintet another chance to win over one, maybe two new fans. I have serious pull. What can I say? Think Mumford & Sons, but distinctly British. Though they have energy in their repertoire, Dry the River’s ballads display remarkably lush musicality (given depth by a pervasive violin) and restraint. There’s nary a pinch to be found on the entire record. And even though Shallow Bed has been out for awhile now I still keep going back to it. The sign of jams that aim to set the mood for the coming season.
This band always reminds me of summer. Every year I seem to put Pylon on the speakers and let it ride. I have no reason to associate it with summer any more than the next fellow. But something about these post-punkers reeks of warm weather, beer and doing stupid shit that one might possibly do during the summer and regret during the winter. Is it just me or does Pylon not get a lot of buzz anymore for just being a great rock band? People think Athens, GA, they think R.E.M. Not me. I’d rather have a beat, some creative shredding and Vanessa Briscoe Hay. The albums have all been remastered with extra, previously unreleased tracks that are actually very good. Bonus bucks.
So my wife and I just had our second daughter this past week. Awesome. Yes. But it also means that any posts I had in the works are going to be a little delayed… also my music reviews for www.spillmagazine.com… and really anything that requires even a moderate amount of focus. So this morning while I take a few hours at a coffee shop to catch up on email, twitter, send out some short story submissions, I’ll make my obligatory 30Hz Recommended post for new music Tuesday. I say obligatory because this past Tuesday brought us some absolutely fantastic albums that deserve your attention.
The Jezabels, Prisoner
Critics call the Sydney quartet’s music everything from alt-rock to disco-pop. The band refers to themselves, with a hint of self-deprecation, as “intensindie.” However classified, Hayley May brings some infectious swagger, a la Pat Benatar, to her frontwoman style (particularly on the mid-tempo burner “Endless Summer” and “Long Highway”), and the band borrows a small slice of the Joy Formidable’s symphonic rock. They’re also not afraid to slow the pace to play, with plenty of confidence, some alt-rock power balladry. It might sound like a mishmash of uninhabitable musical genres and regrettable nostalgia but the whole thing comes together to create the best pure “driving record” of 2012. (Driving Record: an album without a clear pinch, containing varied song-styles with constant forward momentum. As in an album that can repeat on long drives without the immediate need to swap out upon conclusion. Previous “driving record” accolades belong to Sliversun Pickups and the aforementioned Joy Formidable). The band has been a relative to-do in Australia for a couple of years. (Pittsburgh folks need to get a ticket to their show with Imagine Dragons next week at Brillobox.) Here’s the band playing a fantastic version of “Hurt Me” at the Annandale Hotel, Sydney in 2009.
It’s time to jump in with the Great Lake Swimmers. Criminally underappreciated might begin to describe the lack of attention paid to this Canadian (oftentimes) quintet. I’m happy to see some buzz around this new release, but if it’s not on your mp3 player of choice, well, you need to fix that. The Great Lake Swimmers might be the flipside of the Jezabels. They won’t self deprecate and there’s nothing intense about anything they’ve ever done. Compare them favorably to the likes of Will Oldham and Iron & Wine. Earnest folk-rock made for being chill and contemplative. The title track from this new record might be the most raucous I’ve ever seen the Swimmers. It’s hard for me to believe that they’ve been around long enough to have released five albums (5!). Have they ever made a bad track? I’m not sure I can think of one. Ideal listening conditions: sitting outside, beer in hand, basking in cool evening temperatures and a setting sun. Here is “Quiet Your Mind,” a standout track on this album, backed by an ample string section. Just listen and get lost in the beautiful orchestration. You never knew simple, straightforward folk music could have so much depth.
Somehow global domination has alluded Delta Spirit. Today the band released their third record of feel good, kick back with a beer, boozy, whimsical and toe-tapping rock music with an garage-born soul. Early in their career the band got mislabeled with “root rock” and “Americana” labels. These guys would be just at home on a California beach as they would in a frat house in New England or a bar in Mississippi. Their rock is a universal variety and though I understand everyone’s tastes are different I dare you not to like this band. If you don’t, well, you might be wrong.
This is a fan made video of their new single California:
Three albums in, Delta Spirit hasn’t made a bad record. While this new one takes greater lengths to shed the “Americana” label, it doesn’t lose any of the fun.
Order the deluxe vinyl from the band’s website here and receive a limited edition signed poster. Too bad the super deluxe bundles with the signed piano key and t-shirt are sold out. I’d have been into some more tchotchke swag.
A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick