Five albums you may have missed in July 2016
July 2016. The month where Pokémon brought out the hidden geek in a good portion of society and Donald Trump invited Russia to have some fun with our election.
Music-wise we finally received a long overdue follow-up album from The Avalanches, and for those listening we found out that Canada has seriously upped its Jazz game. That means we might want to get to work in the hockey rink. Along with that, some seriously narcotic music came out of Peru and the UK gave us one of the best post-punk albums of the year.
As with our previous recaps, the albums below aren’t the relases you’ll find promoted on the cover of the most well known glossy music mags. The choices below are are from around the world, and span multiple genres.
It’s all below in our monthly wrap up.
Aleem Khan seems like a journeyman, or at least his music would indicate as much. When he sings, his voice is a smooth tenor that compliments the dense musical arrangements he’s constructed from just about any genre he seems to fancy. You could call this album jazz-influenced but it’s more jazz at its fringes, ready to collapse and shape shift into folk, soul, or more modern indie rock any moment. The lean sound of the production also helps to give the album a mercurial quality.
At only seven songs, just barely getting this album out of EP territory, it’s densely packed with enough layers to keep coming back to explore. The opening song “Cameo” has echoes of dimly lit clubs before exploding into an indie rock crescendo that would perk up the ears of Bon Iver fans. “Dark Chocolate” features an accordion as the lead instrument and makes one wonder if Khan has taken a few notes from Tom Waits. It’s a gloomy and cool track.
There are some challenging moments. At the midway point of “Marzipan” the song breaks down into what sounds like a long lost jug band warming up their instruments. Cello bows and a haunted piano clash with hissing saxophones to nearly bring the listener to the edge, but if you hang on, it eventually turns into a sunny stroll through a sepia-toned park.
Very little is known about this artist aside from the fact that he hails from Calgary. Perhaps he’d rather just let his music do the talking. That’s fine, since there seems to be a lot of different ways in which he prefers to express himself on a promising debut.
With every passing year from adding to their sixteen-year hiatus, chances decreased that The Avalanches would ever return with a follow-up to their now classic album, Since I Left You. And maybe that would’ve been fine. It’s hard to top an album reportedly composed of over 900 samples that seemed to grow more legendary as the years rolled on. Thankfully, we live in a world where we no longer have to wonder what a follow-up to that record would sound like. It’s here, it’s great, and it sounds like mad crate-digging geniuses raided your grandmother’s record collection and turned it into something you’d bump at a house party.
Wildflower is The Avalanches doing what they do best – sampling with abandon and having a lot of fun doing it. Hell, this time around they even got clearance to sample The Beatles in a song called “Noisy Eater,”which also features Biz Markie rapping about cereal. They’ve gone from being cheeky Melbourne sound collagists to a group that seems to have the support of the entire world (Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney reportedly cleared the Beatles sample themselves).
The reward for the listener is an extremely fun album that manages to be both an easy listening experience, but also one with incredible depth. This time around the group added some big tent guest appearances with the likes of the previously mentioned Biz Markie as well as Ariel Pink, Danny Brown, MF Doom, Jennifer Herrema (Royal Trux), and Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi) among others who all lend their own color over the course of twenty-one songs without bogging them down or elevating any single track (unless you can’t seem to get ‘Frankie Sinatra‘ out of your head).
It’s hard to tell how long the wait might be for another Avalanches album, but let’s not get too greedy. Let’s just read the killer liner notes and spend as much time with this one as we did with their debut.
For a jazz band from Toronto, BadBadNotGood have followed a pretty unique trajectory. What began as a collaboration to interpret songs by Gucci Mane and Odd Future, has given way to being Frank Ocean’s backing band at Coachella 2012 and collaborating with Ghostface Killah on last year’s excellent Sour Soul album. In the course of all this, they’ve also released four albums.
The aptly titled IV starts out subdued and relaxed. The first two tracks really don’t cry too much for your attention, but it’s just the sound of a band who have the experience to be comfortable enough to play exactly what they want. “Time Moves Slow,” featuring Samuel T Herring, is a somber and memorable ballad that brilliantly puts the smoky voice of the Future Islands frontman exactly in a context where he excels.
Song “Structure No. 3” sounds like an instrumental Madlib procured from a dusty record crate. When the bubbly synth plucks come in we’re suddenly transported into a parallel 70s universe, until the track speeds up its tempo and nearly trips over itself. By the end, the listener has experienced a kind of audio slide show before the song quietly plays itself out.
This album offers a broad stroke from everything to downtempo lounge for rainy afternoons to Weather Report-style fusion jazz from the late 70s and early 80s. It all shows just how much BadBadNotGood know their chops as well as many of the legends of the genre they playfully work within. The fact that we’re talking about Jazz in the 21st century is a good thing. That there are bands like this to push the dialog along and give a genre that was nearly lost is even better.
Dengue Dengue Dengue
I’ve never been to Lima, Peru, but if I were to base my impression of the city from the music of Dengue Dengue Dengue, I would imagine a tropical futuristic landscape populated by laptop-wielding shaman while DJs in dark clubs make music with glitchy black market software. Basically, a Shadowrun campaign.
Siete Raíces (Seven Roots) is the second album from the Peruvian duo (not including a few interesting EPs), and it’s a dark heady mix of native rhythms, modern sequencing, Dub, psychedelia, and traditional Latin American music styles like Cumbia. It’s clear that these guys are more interested in the bizarre and forward-looking release than being selected for the next Putumayo sampler at your local Starbucks. The two members also wear tribal masks – nothing really that unique these days, but it also doesn’t hurt their aesthetic either.
“Guaride,” the album’s second track, is a slow dubbed-out waltz that begins with vocalist Sara Van’s Spanish vocals pitched so low they sound almost inhuman. It’s a slow inebriated walk through unknown locales with no GPS and dim lighting. Middle album cuts like “Murdah” and “Badman” both hit the hardest beat-wise, but still take off kilter turns with dancehall-inspired interludes and sampled vocals that sound as if they came straight from field recordings in remote locations. Album closer, “Amazonia,” is the brightest cut with soft marimba and a relaxed beat that might be meant as kind of comedown after the previous eight trance-inducing tracks.
‘World Music’ is a term that’s become redundant. We live in a global culture where you can listen to anything from anywhere in seconds so the fact that something isn’t from the West shouldn’t necessarily throw it into a vague “World” pile that simply denotes that it’s from somewhere else. DDD is beyond global. Nothing seems to be off limits to them. If anything they take a global concept, melt it, and turn it into something that exhibits what’s coming out of parts of the world we might not always be thinking about.
Mono No Aware
Johnny Foreigner share a strain with some of their UK peers. Think early Bloc Party, Mclusky, and Los Campesinos – three other UK bands full of brash expressionism, driving sonic output. Like those bands they also make no effort to disguise their accents, which is cool if you’re from across the pond and dig being screamed at in one of the dozens of accents the UK colorfully has to offer (Birmingham, in Johnny Foreigner’s case). But one key difference is a sound that nods towards early American emo that would be right at home in a Top Shelf Records discography. Fans of bands like Braid, The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die, or Prawn might gravitate easily to Johnny Foreigner’s latest.
Mono No Aware is the band’s fifth album in ten years, so if this is your first time hearing the you’ll have an interesting ride through their back catalog ahead of you, but this is a fine place to start. Opener “Mounts Everest” is a bit of a mislead that sounds like something Belle and Sebastian might have done in their Tigermilk days. Then “Undevastator” comes on and the distinct sound of a guitar chord from a live amp being plugged in makes itself known right before the band ascends into a melodic, distortion crusted song about “all that shit you got done in your 20s.” A tension builds until vocalists Alexei Berrow and Kelly Parker scream “What were you waiting for!” to their protagonist. It’s one of many things on this album that should go down a treat with a sweaty crowd when played live.
“Our Lifestyles Incandescent” veers into skittering programming and light synths in between periodic moments of guitar stomp that seem to invade the song like a giant clearing a forest. It’s a standout song that also shows the four piece are capable of taking diverse instrumental roads outside of what people sometimes expect from a rock band.
A challenge for some albums is not overstaying their welcome. At eleven songs Mono No Aware keeps the ride interesting and injected with energy at all the right moments. And I haven’t even mentioned the occasional choruses of trumpets that make so much sense when they arrive. Album closer “Decants the Atlantic” bookend ends the album with “Mounts Everest,” offering varying degrees of velocity nicely with something quiet and beautiful. It’s a great touch and something to round out the experience, possibly right before you press play again and turn the volume a little higher.