Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 119)



Neneh Cherry, Blank Project     (Smalltown Supersound)

The Swedish phenom’s first solo album proper in sixteen years opens pretty sparse - too sparse for some, no doubt. But those cavernous echoes suit the kaddish for her mother, and although the entire album favors minimalism, her punk/jazz/electronica roots soon take over. “Weightless” in particular slams into place courtesy of a primal bass riff so distorted and low-down it brings to mind Red Mecca-era Cabaret Voltaire, if that gloomy outfit had ever laid claim to a drummer half so skilled with syncopation. That would be Tom Page of synth/drums duo RocketNumberNine, who seesaws between rat-a-tat-tat machine gun blasts (“Everything”) and churning dance funk (“Cynical”). Thank Four Tet mastermind Kieren Hebden for Blank Project’s expert balance between the ugly synth blats of Yeezus and the irrepressible worldbeat of, well, “Buffalo Stance”. But all collaborators ultimately genuflect in front of a singer bravely placing her unique jazz rasp front and close-miked center, dry and soulful until she briefly channels Yoko Ono in the final moments. Like the unfussy Nordic feminist who once crashed Top Of The Pops eight months pregnant, she celebrates the body electric, fondly referencing her own menstrual cycle on the sly title track. World citizen that she equally is, her politics are both personal (“my fear is for my daughters”) and global (“recycle trash / and minimize all my carbon ash”). Bank loans, glaucoma, how her new trousers fit, all that too.     

Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo     (Top Dawg)

Chattanooga rapper bum-rushes the SoCal-centric Black Hippy collective, all while offering praise unto Master P and OutKast. Figure the former signifies more for business acumen than No Limit artistry, because Rashad’s wavelength seems more attuned with the ATLiens of old - “West Savannah” tips the hat broadly. But Rashad’s also the kind of rhyme scholar who can’t help but drop names, as witness song titles “Brad Jordan” (you know him as Scarface), “R.I.P. Kevin Miller” (Master P’s dearly departed brother), and “Webbie Flow” (the hip-hop pride of Baton Rouge). Yet for all his Dirty South bonafides, Rashad favors a dreamy production mindful of circa 1999 Soulquarians, ie, distant piano, neo-soul funk patterns, some scratching. Like many a Soulquarians joint, hooks aren’t really his thing, and despite inter-album talk of how much he’s grown as a man, he sure does seem to know a lot of strippers. But he’s remarkably clear-eyed when it comes to weightier topics. Like his father, who taught him “how to drink my pain away” and up and left sometime in ‘97: “he was lazy”. Or the quagmire of the marketplace: “ain’t no gettin’ money on that conscious shit”. Or Amerikkka: “came a long way from a boat and an auction / gotta keep both hands in the cart / know you stealin’ shit”. But he’s not mad, not really, even in the face of privilege, white and otherwise: “they don’t know my issues as a child”. 


Big Ups, Eighteen Hours Of Static     (Tough Love / Dead Labour)

You can tell these Brooklyn post-hardcore boyos love their old Fugazi records, what with all the snappy drums, nubile bass runs, plink/scratch/supersnazz guitar, and vaguely formulated choruses of white guy mutter and whelp. And just like Ian MacKaye, they’re preachy little dickwads when they want to be - on “T.M.I.,” Joe Galarraga sneers “do you feel anything?” at somebody more prone to “self-medication” than himself, as if our hero’s never popped an aspirin after bumbling a stage-dive. But those guitar/bass riffs do drone expertly alongside the over-caffeinated drummer for an admirably lean twenty-eight minute outing. And when they want it, they can be quite wry: “I feel like I’ve lived a pretty happy life / I think what I’m trying to say is / I don’t want to live a life like this”.