Kool A.D., 51 (Greedhead / Mishka / Veehead download)
Maybe January’s erratic The Palm Wine Drinkard counts, but this mixtape seems our first recorded proof that Das Racist is as much informed by the Bay Area as by Queens. And even if Heems remains my MC of choice from that outfit - and even if both benefit from each other’s company - these fifty nine minutes of laid-back density from NorCal native Victor Vazquez capture the specific charms that have made his supposedly jokey daytime gig the apotheosis of an alternative hip-hop twenty-five years in the making. Recorded in Oakland and featuring cameos from such notable locals as Boots Riley and the Main Attraktionz, 51 is hardly streamlined, not with a nearly five minute instrumental funk jam lazily opening proceedings or with numerous short interludes that highlight a Jim Morrison scream, Bob Dylan making his producer giggle, and several minutes of Huey Newton speaking from a jail cell. But as tsuch gags and non-gags suggest, Vazquez’s interest in a vibrant counterculture still signifies, even if sonically these tracks backpedal from the noisescape of Relax - handclap/drum machine minimalism (“Ticky Tacky”), soul-drenched G-funk (“Oooh”), old school party jams (“Town Business”). And just like Miles Davis, Vazquez chooses to honor those he admires by simply naming songs after them, as witness “Al Green,” “Damien Hirst,” and, most notably, “Manny Pacquiao,” which turns on the memorable refrain “soak it up / marinate”. So while choosing a favorite couplet from this “habitual script-flipper” who’s been “known to say a lot with a little / like a haiku” is tough, how about, “fuck with short cuts like I’m Robert Altman / fuck with long shots like I’m Robert Altman / fuck with actresses like I’m Robert Altman / recycle like half a verse, but that’s art, man”.
De La Soul’s Plug 1 & Plug 2 Present….First Serve (Duckdown)
Confounding expectations since 1991’s D.A.I.S.Y. age-rebuking De La Soul Is Dead, these most cheerful of eccentrics have cultivated a devoted following even while their maturation never translated into following the rules. Having shrugged off an unfinished trilogy, Posdnous and Dave proudly offer a skit-laden and unapologetically narrative-driven rock opera, Maseo’s absence guaranteeing the unwieldily title even as all three promise more music on the way from a unit still very much together. Whatever - that’s what I mean about confounding expectations. This remains a de facto De La Soul joint, and with all respect to Maseo, it’s Prince Paul one misses the most, even if French producers Chokolate and Khalid do just fine delivering the mosaic thump. Besides, any inspiration Posdonous and Dave have taken from Paul’s seminal A Prince Among Thieves has been transposed to their specific middle-class reality, meaning instead of drug dealing and sidearms we follow the struggles of aspiring microphone fiends whose major problems involve nagging parents and two-timing French lovers. Their mild revolt against the 9 to 5 tinged with humility (standout single “Made It” continually undercuts that refrain with the lead-in “looks like”), they employ tennis metaphors, warn about breaking the china while doing the dishes, and pose the philosophical query “friends / how many have ‘em?” By the time they bring their simple story to a close with the infectious anthem “Move ‘Em in, Move ‘Em Out,” they’ve earned the right to take an extended series of closing credit bows and shout-outs. Which is exactly what these cheerful eccentrics proceed to do for three minutes.
Waco Brothers & Paul Burch, Great Chicago Fire (Bloodshot)
Billed as the first new Waco Brothers record in seven years, this meetup is actually a Paul Burch record with Waco backing and several strong numbers courtesy of Dean Schlabowske and Jon Langford. Despite Burch’s tenure with arch ironists Lambchop, his love for old country & western would seem to be unwaveringly sincere, and this ragged backdrop suits him, from the Keef-meets-“Absolutely Sweet Marie” of “Wrong Side Of Love” to the weirdly lovely waltz that is “Flight To Spain”. Still, the three best tunes on this minor yet worthy exercise are credited to Langford/Burch (a stomping title track that asks “Didja ever get the feeling that you’ve been cheated?”), Langford (the “Pennies From Heaven”-nodding 50s shuffle “Cannonball”), and Bob Dylan (“Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” as blues whomp).
Screaming Females, Ugly (Don Giovanni)
Any number of descriptors apply to this power trio of Jersey basement punk rockers - fiery, visceral, brutal, muscular, edgy - but don’t forget self-indulgent. This indulgence is pronounced in the machinations of a rhythm section confident enough of its power to spend 25 long seconds milking a pedestrian rock beat, and during the nonstop guitar shredding of an ax-wielding frontwoman who plays plenty well yet never taps into the skronky noise that has delivered many a punk rocker from the tedium that is the minor pentatonic scale. But most self-indulgent of all are Marissa Paternoster’s vocals, which embrace an absurdity other singers would never dare court. For this, she’s both notable and brave. Yet she’s also obnoxious, and not always in interesting ways. So trio dynamics, guitar solos, and darkly-shaded lyrics aside, the band rises and falls based upon one’s patience with Paternoster’s holy racket. If the vocalist of your dreams combines Corin Tucker’s vibrato at her showiest with John Lydon’s mugging at its most shameless, you might as well dive in now.
Fun., Some Nights (Fueled By Ramen Records)
Discount any critical review of this record leaning heavily on comparisons to Queen or ELO - one’s ignorance of rock history would need to be staggering to miss the aesthetic similarities with those two dinosaurs, even though the biggest hook here is lifted wholesale from P. Simon’s “Cecilia”. Distrust any review that excuses the nonsense coming out of Nate Reuss as anything other than wretched, unless “It’s hard to lay a golden egg with everyone around” was a joke I missed. But most of all, declaim loudly against any review citing this album’s “hip-hop influence,” unless your lack of hip-hop awareness exceeds that of an indie nation getting more clueless by the day. Or did somebody think that repetitive horn figure opening “One Foot” might make Kanye West look over his shoulder?
Lil’ Keke, A.B.A. II (Music Access)
Don’t tell this peripheral Houston, TX rapper that gangsta is passé, because despite his consistent references to pure-as-the-driven-snow Colombian, stale gangsta tropes are all he’s pushing. He notes “ain’t nothin’ like thug love”. He boasts “I hustle with the mind of a G”. He warns “this here a thug thing”. He hoists “money over bitches”. He rhymes “I’m a hustler” with “I got the heart of a hustler”. He tells mama not to cry because he “Grew Up To Be A G”.