Popcaan, Where We Come From (Mixpak)
One of the finer full-lengths to come out of Jamaica in recent memory arrives just in time for crisis point dancehall, still reeling from the life sentence handed down to Vybz Kartel and sagging under the bullying swagger of Aidonia and eyeball-tattooed Alkaline. Not that Andre Jay Sutherland didn’t come up through the Saint Thomas / Portmore ghetto or doesn’t boast an "Unruly Boss" chest tattoo himself - he’s no doubt seen more than you or me. But he channels social unease into party anthems rather than sufferation slogs, and his love for stateside hip-hop carries over into every Dre Skull-aided Auto-Tune hook and dubstep inflection (the latter surfacing on a Pusha-T-starring “Hustle”). So while his patois may prove too thick for Jamaican non-adepts, that fresh-faced melodiousness goes down smooth. When's the last time a dancehall star talked about "Waiting So Long" to put a ring on their beloved's finger? Or sold a sentiment like "Everything [Is] Nice" as if they really believed it, in between cautioning the U-Tech kids not to stress too much during finals week? In the pre-dancehall days, they used to have a name for this kind of thing: Lovers Rock.
Kasai Allstars, Beware The Fetish (Crammed Discs)
Congotronics fellas do like to stretch out, and 12 tracks / 100 minutes worth of, say, Konono Nº1’s DIY rattle doesn’t sound especially appealing. But while label mates and fellow Kinshasans Kasai Allstars may assemble performances upon familiar Konono foundations - xylophones, slit drums, thumb pianos fed through buzzing amplifiers - it’s the everloving electric guitar that establishes welcome melodic content while also anchoring the beat(s). Still pretty sparse stuff, vocal polyphony and all. Yet it proudly showcases the Kasai region in all its multiethnic Tetela/Luba/Lulua/Luntu 21st century glory, lissome guitars gently warning of "Yangye, The Evil Leopard" (lilting afropop) while also chiming "In Praise of Homeboys” (marimba fuzz-punk) and cheerily contextualizing “Down And Out” (murky Congolese dub crawl). And sometimes the guitars aren’t lissome at all, ie, concluding Congotronics vs. Rockers cut “The Ploughman,” which churns along in fuzzy indifference to questions of key.
Gilles Peterson Presents Sonzeira, Brasil Bam Bam Bam (Talkin’ Loud / Virgin EMI)
There are plenty of warning signs: French-born/South London-dwelling Radio 1 DJ assembles Brazilian notables, which in his mind includes the Wes Anderson-approved Seu Jorge, for a traipse across a continent-encompassing nation in quest of “Buena Vista meets club culture”. But don’t let that scare you off. True, one could do without the hushed wood flutes of the Mart’nália-aided “The Mystery Of Man,” while disco hounds won’t be the only ones disappointed by Marcos Valle’s update to ’83 smash “Estrelar”. Even the frosty “Southern Freeez” glogs along like a too-heavy-on-the-ice-cubes caipirinha. But Sonzeira the afro-Brazilian assemblage mostly honors the complexity of their nation’s musical and ethnic heritage by venturing far from familiar Rio into the realm of batucada, baile funk, and Bahian samba de roda, where the bossa nova is speedy, the accordions cook, and Elza Soares growls with old-world elegance. Best hook, delivered by Seu Jorge himself: “bam bam bam / bam bam bam / bam bam bam / bam-bam bam bam”.