This following is a guest post by editorial assistant Will.
As a child, my household was a fairly musical one. All different kinds of genres were played in the house and there wasn’t a day when someone wasn’t playing a record nor was there a day that someone wasn’t humming or singing while doing chores. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear someone play Devo, the Police, Miles Davis, James Taylor, Prince, Yes, Michael Franks, and Chaka Khan – all in the same day. My mother still jokingly reminds me that as a toddler, one of my favorite songs was Miles Davis’ “You’re Under Arrest,” off of his You’re Under Arrest album. (I actually can say that I saw Miles Davis perform once – unfortunately because I was so young, I don’t remember much of it.) Being obsessed about music was something that was encouraged and applauded, and I think that it may have led me to do some level of music journalism. In any case, I’m exposed to all sorts of music – a great deal of things I’ll find myself listening to on my iPod as I’m editing manuscripts or working on those general administrative duties.
So with that in mind, here is some great music that I’ve been playing throughout the summer that I think will get you dancing and rocking through the sweltering dog days of summer:
Sugar Army – The Parallels Amongst Ourselves: I received an advanced press copy of the Perth, Australia-based quartet’s debut album some time ago and although I hadn’t heard of them at the time, the album quickly was on my rotation. Much to my girlfriend and mother’s consternation and frustration, I’ve been known to have periods where I’m obsessed with one particular genre, a particular band or a particular album for weeks and sometimes months at a time. The Parallels Amongst Ourselves is a buzzing and roaring, power guitar riff-filled album that owes a great debt to prog rock. The first few tracks on this album reminded me a lot of Rush’s 2112 album – especially with its complex mythology. In any case, be prepared for songs that have rapid time signature changes, eccentrically syncopated drumming, chord and key changes that come out of nowhere. It’s a head rush to listen to but it gets me going in the mornings and during that 3:00 post caffeine lull.
Cochemea Gastelum – The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow: The Brooklyn-based Daptone Records have developed a reputation across town and across the country for their lovingly made recreations of the Motown sound. Many of their artists record on incredibly obsolete analog equipment, copying some of the known studio techniques at the time. Listening to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, for example, reminds me of the old Motown songs I adored as a child. Daptone Records is also known for their lovingly done reissues of obscure funk and Afrobeat artists. Gastelum, the lead saxophonist for Sharon Jones’ backing band, the Dap Kings just recently released a solo effort that’s as much a departure from his full time gig’s sound, as it is a continuation of what Daptone Records is known for. What you’ll hear is a smooth mix of Latin rhythms, funk and Afrobeat that manages to sound fresh and like it could have been played on the streets of East Harlem in 1974. (In fact, several songs on the album reminded of the great but sadly obscure Latin funk band, Mandrill.) In any case, this album is perfect material for that backyard BBQ or pool party.
Fela Ransome Kuti and the Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker – Live! Fela Ransome Kuti and the Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker: Afrobeat is an often difficult genre to describe as it’s a genre that borrows heavily from American and Western forms of music such as rock, jazz, reggae and funk while managing to be distinctly African, and distinctly Nigerian – lyrics are often sung and chanted in a combination of Pidgin English, Yoruba and other indigenous dialects. Fela Kuti, one of the most controversial figures of modern music, is the genre’s godfather and legendary figure, creating and refining the genre in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Much like the Clash, Bob Marley, the folk singers of the 1960s, or even hip-hop groups like Public Enemy, Kuti’s music is politically informed, often viciously satirizing his country’s corrupt officials, warlords and power mongers. But despite the profundity of the music’s themes, this album and the rest of Fela’s work is incredibly funky and high octane. If this stuff can’t get you awake and have you dancing, you’re either dead – or there’s something truly wrong with you.
Live recordings can be a crap shoot. I’ve heard quite a few where the mastering and mixing were just awful to the point where the instrumentation or the vocals sounded distorted; there have been a few where the venue’s acoustics were terrible; or even worse, they captured the band a particular bad day. This live recording seems to capture Fela and his Africa ’70 at the prowess. As my mother said after listening to this album, “they make Parliament sound like amateur hour.” Ginger Baker, of Cream fame offers some guest drumming on many of this set’s songs, including a viscerally cathartic 15 minute drum solo to end the album.
LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening: James Murphy, the frontman and creative force behind LCD Soundsystem has recently been quoted as saying that This Is Happening may very well be the last as LCD Soundsystem – and in my eyes that’s a shame. I’ve been a fan of Murphy’s since his production work on the Rapture’s Echoes album as DFA. That album is probably some of the most danceable, funkiest and most off-kilter rock you’ll hear in some time. Between roughly 2003 and 2004, almost every bar in the Lower East Side and Chelsea had Echoes as part of their regular rotation. It was that sort of album. Under the LCD Soundsystem moniker, Murphy’s sound has seen an impressive expansion from being almost entirely electronic disco/techno to adding increasing levels of instrumentation such as electric guitar and bass with the prerequisite bleeps, boops and other noises. This album reminds me of some of David Bowie’s amazingly weird output of the late 70s and 80s – think of songs like “Fascination” and “Fame” off the Young Americans album. I love the album and have been playing it a lot lately. (Interestingly, I got my mom into LCD Soundsystem and she’s been playing all of their albums a lot.)
David Bowie – Young Americans: This album has a mid 70s R&B and soul sound that made the album a crossover hit, and was one of Bowie’s first hit records here in the States. In fact, Bowie was one of first white artists to ever appear on Soul Train. “Fame” and “Fascination” are probably two of the funkiest songs Bowie ever did and are personal favorites of mine. I’ve been playing this one a lot lately, as well as several other albums from the mid 1970s. (This really isn’t much of a surprise, my mother used to play Donna Summer so much that I know the songs forward and backwards!) There’s a pretty cool cover of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe.” He keeps it at roughly the same tempo but there’s much more flourish and polish to the song.
Wu Tang Clan – The Return of the Wu and Friends: I’m a huge fan of hip-hop, as I’ve been listening to the genre since the early 1980s. I have fond memories of running home from school to catch Ralph McDaniels on Video Music Box or Yo! MTV Raps – the daily show was hosted by Ed Lover and Dr. Dre while the weekend show was hosted by Fab Five Freddy – so I could catch videos by some of that decade’s artists. The Wu Tang’s output over the years, including the various members solo efforts, have been a bit of a mixed bag over the years but lately the 9 original and surviving members of the collective have been releasing stuff that sounds as inspired as their debut album Enter the 36 Chambers.
Jace Everett – Red Revelations: When it comes to Jace Everett, there are roughly three groups of people – those who are familiar with him through the song “Bad Things,” which is currently the theme song for the hit HBO series, True Blood; those who are familiar with his two previous efforts, Jace Everett and Old New Borrowed Blues; and those who are largely unfamiliar with him and his work. Red Revelations is a bit of a departure as the album seems to be inspired by T. Bone Burnett’s fantastic blues/rock album, The True False Identity. Both albums thematically are pretty dark as they focus on sin, depravity, salvation and so on – but the thematic heaviness is broken up a bit by the playful, bunch of dudes jamming together kind of vibe. Although I’ve never watched True Blood from what I’ve heard, Everett’s album fits the general mood of the show perfectly (which is probably why at least one song from the album has already been used as background music). The songs are extremely catchy and I’ve found this one on my rotation lately.
Thank you Will!