Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 111)


William Onyeabor, World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who Is William Onyeabor?     (Luaka Bop)

This reclusive Nigerian isn’t a complete unknown among afrobeat enthusiasts - his 1978 shame-of-nations hit “Better Change Your Mind” was anthologized for both Strut and Luaka Bop, and the thick funk of 1980’s “Deep Soul” received a 2002 12” reissue from hipster groove label Afrodisiac. Yet these nine tracks, cherrypicked from eight albums released between 1977-1985, are still revelations. “Psychedelic” isn’t the proper descriptor, unless like me your definition of psychedelic encompasses Parliament and Kraftwerk, and the Fela Kuti-inspired horns plus farfisa on tracks like “Something You Will Never Forget” serve as helpful reminders that Onyeabor wasn’t creating his music in a vacuum. But “Good Name” and “Let’s Fall In Love” are stunning assemblages of electro-robotic primitivism, as rinky-dink as they are unsettling and insistent. And while Onyeabor and his tireless female chorus trade verses in typical Nigerian afrobeat fashion, the leader rarely rises above a murmur so calm it brings to mind the palm wine cool of Jùjú, even when posing such legitimate post-Biafran queries as “Why go to war”? No denying these tracks meander at length. But the beat never wavers. 

Latyrx, The Second Album     (Quannum)

That title is practically sheepish- in hip-hop, sixteen years is a lifetime. But aside from one overwrought evils-of-social-media PSA gunking up the middle, Lateef the Truth Speaker and Lyrics Born pick up right where their 1997 underground game-changer left off. The intervening years have instilled a greater devotion to musicality, a musicality rarely aiming beyond immediate accessibility, hence big hooks: the New Romantic chorus of “Every Man For Himself,” the smooth flow of a Decemberists-helmed “Sometimes Why?,” or Corey Glover going full-on Living Colour throughout “Electric Chair”. But the two Merrill Garbus tracks are as compositionally complex as any hip-hop cut this year. And their East Bay politics remain on-point, whether Lateef is demanding gun control or Lyrics Born is attacking minimum payments. So if “Rebuild / until your destiny has been fulfilled” scans too vague for your tastes, consider the pragmatism behind “I feel like I’m wakin’ up again / I’m the cause of all my sufferin’”.


Death Grips, Government Plates     (self-released)

Before the pink cocks and the skipped shows and the handcuffs placed upon drum heads, these creeps conjured paranoiac bliss over surprisingly hooky plug-ugly noise blasts that rivaled 1978 DNA. These days, they just sound paranoid, staging conniptions over bad drugs and government plots even as they rhythmically press full-court prog. Lyrically, this approaches Cannibal Corpse territory - “sub under gaze of sadistic dom / suck the skin off my teeth / automaton embalmed”. Life is often as ugly as they make it out to be, and no doubt “lick it up you stupid bitch” will prove cathartic to certain law-abiding males. But somebody should tell these guys about GG Allin. He seemed real scary there for a while, too.