Greetings! Welcome to another highly irregular review of music for those that like to cross borders and venture beyond the outer limits. A lot has happened since the last instalment. Bowie returned, Blackman left and many new artists announced their arrival with highly impressive debuts (Lion Babe, Rhosyn and Moire … take a bow). One postscript: check out new albums from two great young female artists, Tawiah and Fatima, just in time for the inevitable British summer.
Until next month hopefully… Although I do like the challenge of condensing half a year's worth of quality into a two-hour journey, I am beginning to feel the strain. Also it would be nice to have a few guest interviews and live versions of tracks. Any stations looking to fill a gap in their studio schedule, please drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like, comment, share but above all … enjoy.
SNC Radio – April 2013
Compiled and blended by AmAr Patel
1. Since You've Been Away – Don Blackman [Arista]
It was upsetting to hear about the passing of Don Blackman this week, another lost to cancer. For many of us that fell under the spell of rare groove and fusion, either in the seventies or during the hip hop renaissance a few decades later, Don was a master exponent. A revered songwriter, arranger and musician. His iconic debut album in 1982, which included the soul standards Holding You, Loving You and Heart's Desire, was his greatest achievement but he also made telling contributions to records by influential musicians including Weldon Irvine (Sinbad), Lenny White (Twennynine and The Adventures of the Astral Pirates), Tom Browne (Love Approach) and Bernard Wright ('Nard). Years later you could find his name among the credits on a Tupac or Janet Jackson album, such was the high esteem in which he continued to be held by his peers. From Don's voice and music I will always get two things: a sincerity and a real sense of fun. Let's keep those close as he passes into the next life. This tune is one of the often overlooked ones from Blackman, sampled by Madlib for his Beat Konducta series (For My Mans). And it is…
2. In Linistea Nopti – Rodion GA [Strut]
Just when you think there is precious little mystery left in music out pops a maverick by the name of Rodion Rosca. A compilation of the mercurial bandleader's raw prog-like compositions is being released by Strut in association with Ambassador's Reception and Future Nuggets collective. Click on the link below to read some interesting facts about the weird and wonderful things he did with his Tesla machine, among other toys, in his quest for new sounds under the radar in Ceausescu's Romania. Then press play and lose yourself in one of the more reflective tracks on an album of otherwise tough rhythms, brain-frazzling synths and sci-fi FX. Think KPM cranked up to 11. Dilla would have lost his mind over this stuff.
3. Love is Lost – David Bowie [Sony]
So much has been written and said about Bowie's triumphant return over the past four months that I actually fooled myself into thinking I'd listened to his new album when in fact … I hadn't. Yes yes, he's getting old – in other words safe and comfortable – and yes this new stuff isn't as good as the best of Ziggy, the Thin White Duke and the countless other facets of Davey Jones but make no mistake, he can still write a lyric and deliver it with drama like few others. (I almost opted for the weary nostalgia of Where Are We Now but the riff on this one got its hooks into me.) Bowie's restless spirit of creative mischief, his knack for cultural appropriation and mutation throughout his career, is what sets him apart as our greatest living pop star. He made art for the masses. He reached the top and then continued to evolve. Seriously, who could claim to do the same today? Still trying to get into the V&A for that retrospective. Ah well, I will always have the music on tap…
4. Birds – Rhosyn [Blessing Force]
In a similar vein to Elan Tamara, another of my favourite emerging female artists, Rose Dagul (performing as Rhosyn in tribute to writing place of Rhoscolyn, Anglesey) makes baroque and mildly melodramatic chamber pop with lyrical tales that seep into your head and make themselves at home. Real atmosphere and an aesthetic all of its own. This is my standout track from her debut EP Elbow of Capture, which Oxford label Blessing Force is offering as a limited run of 250 hand-numbered slabs of clear vinyl with screen-printed sleeves by Limited to just 250 hand-numbered copies on clear vinyl with screen-printed sleeves by Double Suns and a free digital download. Warning: they may have all gone by now.
5. Angel Puke – J's Bee [Far Out]
High-altitude jazz music, sophisticated in the right way, from seasoned collective J's Bee. Not much is known about this band except that they've been together for more than 10 years, played at various major festivals in Japan including Fuji Rock and held fast in their pursuit of a deeper conception of jazz, fusing electronic elements with more traditional instrumentation such as alto saxaphone, bass and acoustic guitar. The mood on this one is quite sombre and reflective, a strong indication that they're playing for more than themselves. As the press release explains: "Isotope was forged in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear catastrophe of 2011. A poignant depiction of our shared future hanging in the balance."
6. Brotherhood – Kamal Abdul Alim [BBE]
Besides influential selectors such as Gilles Peterson, Bob Jones, Chris Bangs, Paul Murphy and Patrick Forge, Kev Beadle was also instrumental in unearthing forgotten jazz and fusion tracks to the dancers and diggers in London's fabled eighties and nineties era. Reminiscing about the legendary Sunday afternoon session Dingwalls, he says: "It became a ‘one-stop’ to hear exciting and up until then undiscovered gems. Tunes like The Pharoahs' Freedom Road and Roy Porter’s Jessica became ‘Camden anthems’ mainly because of the open-mindedness of both the DJs and the Sunday afternoon regulars as well as the hunger to hear new music." Another one that he mentions is this track by Kamal Adbul Alim (who's played with everyone from Manu DiBango to Frank Foster) and boy does it swing hard. Take a look at the personnel on the trumpeter's 1983 album Dance and you'll understand why: Idris Muhammed (drums), Ron Burton (piano), Bobby Watson (alto and soprano sax), James Spaulding (alto and flute) among others. It goes without saying, surely: Kev's compilation is amazing. A very personal selection of the fierce and free, soulful and spiritual.
7. Jimi & Faye (Part One) – Romare [Black Acre]
Blogs are going crazy about Romare right now and the hype is justified. For all the phases of development that electronic music and sampling have gone through over the past thirty-plus years there is always something – a new technology, a chance meeting, a happy accident – to alter the trajectory of experimental music. Inspired by the artist Romare Bearden, who explored African American heritage through collage, producer Romare has adopted a similar approach to music with his "meditations on Afrocentrism", the lofty name of his first EP. This involves collecting samples from around the world – delta blues from his father's record collection, field recordings from west Africa, old documentary clips about sixties' America – and weaving these into more contemporary elements of black culture such as juke. “I wanted to make a sort of musical essay where the samples would act like footnotes and convey a particular theme to the listener," he explains. This all sounds very academic but fear not, this is music for body and mind. Interesting fact: on this loping, bluesy track the Jimi and Faye in question are Mr Hendrix and his Harlemite scenester acquaintance Faye Pridgeon who reminisces about her time with the young Jimi, lamenting how others wrote him off, misunderstood him or tried to hold him back.
8. Treat Me Like Fire – Lion Babe [DL]
I doubt that I'm the only one who feels a warm glow inside each time they hear this track. New York does soul duos very well: Heavy and J*Davey immediately spring to mind. You can add Lion Babe to that list, a fierce combination of vocalist Jillian Hervey (daughter of Vanessa Williams, no less) and producer Lucas Goodman (aka Astro Raw). Badu is obviously an influence on the phrasing of Hervey who has said, "I really respect her, she is a rhythm goddess. There’s never a time where I listen to her and I’m like, 'oh, she’s off, I’m not feeling it.' You feel it. You feel that inner rhythm within her." From a songwriting standpoint, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is also mentioned in several interviews. Meanwhile Goodman recalls his love of Hendrix and Tribe. Not a bad couple of reference points. The mark of a great soul track is how effortless it sounds, from the crackle of the opening to the tone of the vocal and sentiment behind the words of want. Lion Babe have achieved that on their first release and I'm really excited to hear where they go from here.
9. Goodnight – Philip Owusu [DL]
One-time collaborator Robin Hannibal (Quadron, Boom Clap Bachelors) is currently riding high with his Rhye project but let's not forget the talents of singer songwriter Philip Owusu, who finally releases his debut album this year. Goodnight premiered on Peterson's Worldwide show to rapturous applause, whetting our appetite for more delicately crafted textures and exquisite harmonies. He's fought through adversity (low-to-no budget, losing his voice) and debut solo album SUBS, his "tribute to society's underdogs" is almost ready to share. Owusu has written, performed, arranged and produced the whole project by himself, which was quite a challenge for an artist that's used to collaborating and having someone else who can help to make decisions and 'bring it on home'. So what or who this track all about? Over to the man himself: "The song is sort of like the story of Don Quixote, the knight that’s basically schizophrenic or whatever. It’s kind of about an anti-hero; it’s a guy who comes home and is received by his mum or girlfriend – his daughter or whatever – after a night of being drunk. In his delusion he’s fought a great battle but in real life he’s not so important. Maybe it’s autobiographical to some extent. It’s from a sketch for a song I did around the time of Owusu & Hannibal that I never finished but I always wanted to do. I was thinking about adding it to Owusu & Hannibal at that time, but for some reason I didn’t. I decided to keep it."
10. Wakin on a Pretty Daze – Kurt Vile [Matador]
You may have heard that I am three volumes into a special podcast series called Singers, Songs & Strings, which celebrates "the forgotten art of bare and beautiful song". Acoustic tracks and slow-burning ditties basically. One artist that is definitely in the running for future installments is Philadelphian Kurt Vile, whose album Smoke Ring For My Halo blew me away last year. It's not the poetry of his lyrics or the ingenuity of his production, more the "guitar composer-y" lightness of his touch. Six of the tracks on his new album Walkin' on a Pretty Daze (the product of more than 300 nights spent in hotel rooms on the road) clock in at more than six minutes including the title track, an apt summation of the mood he seems to conjure at will. I wager that wouldn't mind if he continued for a few minutes more. "Waking in the dawn of day, now I gotta think about what I wanna say," he begins. Some find him depressing. I think he's refreshing.
11. My Love is So Strong for You – Geater Davis [Ubiquity]
Davis was a gruff-voiced R'n'B singer from Texas with all the tools – emotionally resonant voice, gutsy songwriting and dextrous guitar playing – but precious few breaks. He who found himself a few years too late to party as listeners rushed towards a more funk-driven brand of soul in the seventies before jumping of the disco cliff. Producer Allen Orange brought the best out of him, no doubt, and scored a hit with debut 45 Sweet Woman's Love but his House of Orange label (and Seventy-Seven imprint) lacked the clout to propel Davis into the big time and he remained nothing more than a cult hero in the south-west. Ubiquity has compiled this strong representation of the man, who died from heart failure at the criminally young age of 38.
12. Houzou Houzou Wa – Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou [Analog Africa]
How good is this record? Presenting the third volume of grooves from the tightest band in West Africa and their "skeletal essences of afro funk". In 2005 Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb began the first of several trips to Benin, the birthplace of Vodoun or voodoo, and collected hundreds of releases from the orchestra recorded between 1969 and 1983. That takes a while to get through so it's understandable that it's been three years since we last heard from them. This collection is the toughest of the bunch to date. Houzou Houzou Wa really packs a punch – think James' Give it up, Turn it Loose or Fela's Shakara. It's a call to arms judging by the translated lyrics in the photo-packed booklet ("The revolution that has come to this country is good/You have to hit the enemy that are against it/And put them in prison to teach them a lesson"). It's also a great example of the killer rhythm section at work (Gustave Bentho on bass and Leopold Yehouessi on drums) and the astounding sound quality that holds up against anything recorded today (thanks to a Swiss Nagra reel-to-reel recorder and a few microphones). This transports you to the front-of-stage melee where earthen bodies gyrate and drip with sweat in a ritual with rhythm.
13. Damballah – Mop Mop [Agogo]
Believe it or not, this exotic confection of tribal drums, ghostly brass, wind and vibes is produced by a group of Italian musicians led by producer/player Andrea Benini. Isle Of Magic is an imaginary land populated by musicians who spend their time fishing, cooking, playing and practicing Voodoo rites at night. The soundtrack is loose and effortlessly beguiling with guests such as Fred Wesley and Trinidad-born poet Anthony Joseph featuring on Mop Mop's analogue-recorded fourth album. This instrumental is by far the most stripped down and sinister track. It's trance-inducing, creating a feeling of expectation, bordering on trepidation.
14. Dooyo – Dur-Dur Band [ATFA]
Awesome Tapes from Africa is one of my essential music blogs, owning its territory and excavating sounds from the far corners of the continent. The first time I heard Dur-Dur Band I flipped out. It didn't matter that the cassette-tape hiss was clouding the groove. (Upon reflection, I think that's what they call charm.) It's a closing of the circle, a call from the Motherland, the point where music from 25 years ago sounds completely of the moment. Dur-Dur Band came up during a golden period of music in Mogadishu between the late sixties and the early nineties before civil war stifled artistic expression, a time where traditional qaraami Somalian music was being fused with western pop, Middle Eastern influences and jazz. Dur-Dur was considered to be a "private band" free from government pressure to sing about politics and instead preach a gospel of love and culture. Dooyo is a type of traditional Somali dance, here reimagined as a guitar-licked disco cut. The lady is singing: " I am warning you guys, I hear drums playing for me and it's healing me and I won't resist. It's my medicine. Dooyo has taken me over and I won't stop dancing." You go girl!
15. Boosted – Letherette [Ninja Tune]
Wolverhampton's answer to Daft Punk. That's how I tend to think of Richard Roberts and Andy Harber on account of their love of filtered house, flickering vocal samples and feel-good soul. To be fair though, they work with other tempos as this beat collage demonstrates. The hip hop aesthetic is in their blood. In fact, I first heard of them through Andrew Meza's excellent BTS Radio show, teasing me with a playlist of almost exclusively CDR beats and trax. After a couple of well-received EPs it's time for the debut album, released on Ninja Tune.
16. You're Gonna Make Me Love Someone Else (M+M mix) – Jones Girls [BBE]
"M + M" stands for Morales and Munzibai, a partnership whose output from 1982 till 1990 exceeded more than 650 carefully tweaked mixes. A staggering achievement before you even consider the quality of the material (Inner Life's I'm Caught Up in a One Night Love Affair, Universal Robot Band's BBE and Jean Carne's Was That All There Was). Munzibai passed away in 1991 but John Morales continues to work his magic and preach the art of the mix, an art that he started to explore in the late seventies when he began to make his own edits using the pause button of a Teac cassette deck. The aim was to make the most of the records in the box and get people dancing. The Sony reel-to-reel followed and the rest is history. Tom Moulton, a man who knows a thing or two about an edit and is credited with giving us the 12" version, says: "John always adds that sparkle in a mix that seems to bring out the energy and excitement when he works on something." This party starter is taken from the third volume, which features M's take on Marvin Gaye's I Want You and Teddy P's Only You among others.
17. Flotsam (Oriol remix) – Sonarpilot [Sonarpilot Audio]
Oriol's debut album on Planet Mu in 2011 was a real highlight for me amid a rapid fire of otherwise sub-bass-drenched mediocrity. His use of vocal textures and space stay with you long after the track fades out. These tricks are employed to great effect on this remix for Sonarpilot (producer Michael Moppert), who has released his second album of electronic meanderings backed by bunch of remixes by luminaries such as Ramadanman and Aybee as well as Oriol of course. Working checking out.
18. Red Hot – RP Boo [Planet Mu]
The footwork revolution continues. For those that aren't aware, footwork is a frenetic, scrambled and syncopated style of ghetto music that originates from Chicago. (This Resident Advisor article is a useful primer.) Hallowed names such as Spinn and Rashad are becoming well known in club circles outside the US but the true originator of this genre is apparently this man, RP Boo (Kavain Space), whose sample- and rap-laced R-70 throwdowns are among the most challenging in the cannon. Under the tutelage of early inspirations such as DJ Slugo, Deeon, Milton and the House-O-Matics dance clique, he set to work with his old equipment and began to knock out pre-millennium classics such as Baby Come On and 11-47-99. Planet Mu has been a loyal supporter of the footwork scene and will release Boo's album, Legacy in May. Red Hot is a proper workout of chopped horns, dizzying toms and hectic bleeps. Surprisingly easy to get used to. Dance to? That's another matter.
19. Voyeur – James Blake [1-800-Dinosaur]
I was more partial to James Blake's daring productions (particularly CMYK) than his fragile vocal meander on tracks such as Limit to your Love. However with his second album, Overgrown, he really has stepped up behind the mic. The calibre of his songwriting and phrasing is stunning in places, emulating the flutter of a Joni Mitchell or Prince by piano, simultaneously being awkward yet endearing in a very 'blue-eyed-soul' way. At times, particularly on Retrograde and Our Love Comes Back, his music reaches a sublime level of stimulation, inducing a state of splendid isolation where the world feels cold and yet visceral and inviting. For the most part, each track is a perfect marriage of vocal, probing synths and sympathetic programming. Occasionally you have songs like 'Voyeur' where the production steals the show. It's the most pulsating track on the album, and the most devastating because the BPMs blindside you. No one else is making emotionally raw experimental music like this for Radio 1.
20. Argo – JTC [Hoya Hoya]
James T Cotton, the house alias of producers' producer Dabrye, returns with another EP of winners, four shades of floor-filling trax. I have opted for the cosmic boogie of Argo – a rolling combination of arpeggios, 808s and claps. Everything Dabrye does is top-notch.
21. Straight & Narrow – Falty DL [Ninja Tune]
Falty DL, New York-based Drew Lustman, is consistently one of the strongest producers outside the UK at the moment, putting soul into the machine whenever he can. He draws on everything from hip hop and garage to jungle and Detroit techno. Perhaps it's his way of evading the dreaded pigeonhole as he explained to The Daily Swarm: "There’s a conscious part of me trying to develop a certain kind of sound. What gets released is such a small percentage of the music I make. I made a hip-hop track last weekend; I made a jungle track two weeks ago. Those may never come out, but if I decided to put those together with ten other ones then that would provide the next question from a journalist: 'Have you tried to move away from house music and make jungle again?' What ends up coming out is always a bit of a coin toss. A part of the problem has to do with the label and what they think is a little more hip. I like making so many different kinds of music that I can never really decide what I want to do until I start to compile the release; then it starts to take some sort of shape." With 'Hardcourage', during the making of which the artist fell in love – or lust as he put it – DL has succeeded in making another meaningful and thoughtful album, cinematic in scope but primal in its power to take hold on the floor. There's no better example of this than the seemingly straightforward yet richly textured Straight & Narrow. That vocal snippet is deadly. Look out for releases on his new label, Blueberry records.
22. Luminous View – Jorge Velez [Rush Hour]
Following on from those remarkable Burrell Brothers and Dream 2 Science releases, the crew at Rush Hour next shine a light on Jersey City's Jorge Velez and his ethereal analogue-to-tape productions from the early nineties. Velez subsequently released tracks under the name of Professor Genius (for Italians Do it Better, Thisisnotanexit and L.I.E.S.) – when not earning a living as a film editor for reality TV, that is – but these hissed recordings have a playfulness and eerie atmosphere that set them apart.
23. Am Fentser – Max Graef [Tartelet]
Max is 19 years old and already making a name for himself in Berlin with his deft compositions, which draw on many strands of contemporary bass music … and jazz if this Andy Bey-sampling roller is anything to go by. It's a collaboration with Muff Deep by the way, available on a very impressive three-track 12" being put out on Copenhagen label Tartlet.
24. Lose it (Actress mix) – Moiré [Werkdiscs]
Lose It is the debut EP from London-based producer Moiré, the result of "a lack of sleep, the obsessive expressions of a mind inspired by the city and the scene that has surrounded him for a long time". Okay. The lead track is a disorientating collaboration with Lessons and singer Heigi Vogel. It's a very minimal arrangement with an almighty thud propelling it through a sonorous, glitchy cloud. Werkdiscs label owner Actress somehow manages to make his mix even more dominant, looping spluttering fragments of Heidi's vocal over an intense techno pulse. A promising new talent with a healthy disregard for convention and a taste for the extreme.
25. Working (Marcellus Pittman mix) – Nina Kraviz [Rekids]
At the risk of objectifying the woman – although some claim that she does this to herself – every time I see Nina Kraviz she brings a smile to my face. Now that's not just because she is a beautiful woman. It's because she is a superb DJ, a true professional getting ahead in a man's world by playing consistently high-quality sets to expectant audiences around the world. The tension and energy level that Kraviz manages to maintain when she plays out is quite unique. Take a look at her recent appearance in the Boiler Room or at Secretsundaze and you will appreciate how a crowd is in thrall to her. Her productions follow a similar aesthetic, melding minimal techno, more peak-time trax and acid. Here Marcellus Pittman breaks off a piece of the original from Nina's debut album and, after a patient build up with a smattering of tribal drums, contorts it into a mind-bending acid trip. Kraviz is happy with the results: "This is so damn good. It's wild and goes nowhere but gets you right there."
26. Tangish – Virginia [Ostgut Ton]
Virginia was a DJ in Munich for several years before becoming a resident at the Panorana Bar in Berlin. She also provided the vocal on Steffi's Yours a while back. This is her first 12" for Ostgut Ton and it features a solid quartet of tech house tracks that each focus on a particular variation, from jackin' rhythms to arpeggiated synth lines. The yearning vocal on Tangish evokes a mood similar to My Love Turns to Liquid by Dream 2 Science – a favourite from my last podcast – as a jagged bassline cuts through the warm fog.
27. Sentimental Journey – Weird Guilders [Rush Hour]
Not so long ago Rush Hour records asked Gerd Janon to compile an album of ambient-not-ambient music to follow his Computer Incarnations for World Peace series. The result is a deliciously leftfield selection of proto-house, Kraftwerk-inspired techno and other electro excursions by contemporary favourites Ame, Move D, Tom Trago and Marco Passarani among others. The aim on this compilation was to explore the space between the industrial and new age without reverting to the usual post-punk and disco reference points. Yet one of my favourite tracks on here is the one funk groove on the album, a zany last-night-on-earth anthem with a touch of Talking Heads about it. I know nothing about Weird Guilders but with a name like that they should be huge.
28. If You Got to Believe in Something – Gemini [Strut]
I'm still getting a lot of pleasure from Only 4 U, the Cajual records compilation that Strut released last year. Started by Curtis Jones (Cajmere/Green Velvet) in 1992, amid the sea change to hip hop, Cajual was chiefly responsible for a second wave of Chicago house music following the golden age of Trax and DJ International. Tracks such as Brighter Days (Cajmere with Dajae), Day by Day (Dajae), Dream States (Derrick Carter) and this deep one by Gemini have become all-time classics. The label also helped to bring through new talent such as Chez Damier and Glenn Underground. Stripped down and raw house with gospel at the core. Amen.