Spoek Mathambo, Father Creeper (Sub Pop)
Gotta wonder if the global enthusiasts scooping up every third rate chunk of ‘70s Ghanian funk are springing for this living breathing African pop. Or maybe they’re also signing on with the perplexingly common charge that this young South African rapper/crooner/rocker covers too many stylistic bases, his vivid tales of a nightmarish Johannesburg rubbing up against kwaito beats, video game farts, post-punk guitar, electro-cheese bass, and staggered rhythms that groove only if you pay close attention. Hardly blessed with a voice for the ages, Mathambo nonetheless is perfectly equipped to showcase his catholic tastes, restrainedly reaching for notes just outside his range on the soulful “Stuck Together,” bowing to Nicolaas Van Reemen’s fuzzed-out guitar and guest vocalist Yolanda on notable single “Let Them Talk,” detachedly outlining atrocities throughout “Put Some Red On It,” wordlessly emoting during epic closer “Grave”. And don’t let details like those deceptively lovely guitar lines snaking through “Dog To Bone” fool you, not with “bullets rainin’ on your head” and the torturing of “kids from yesterday” and learning “the split tongue trick from the mission school”. When he asks somebody if they “wanna bawl” or promises to drive someone else to their grave, he’s such a master of understatement, they almost sound like pick-up lines.
Spoek Mathambo, Nombolo One (Motel 11 Roadtrip Tapes)
You’re most likely as unfamiliar as I am with the twelve South African pop smashes remade here, on a mixtape from late 2011 offered as a pay-what-you-like download or a limited edition woodbox cd. Adept YouTube users can search recorded history to see just how far afield Mathambo roams from the source material, and roam he does. Mahlithini & Mahotella Queens get refashioned as reggae-informed indie rock (“Melodi”), Caiphus Semenaya’s lovely “Matswale” becomes a buoyantly boastful rap bedecked with blurting synth, and Brenda Fassie’s 1983 breakthrough club hit “Weekend Special” revels in a quasi-Caribbean lilt retaining the primary hook while making room for guests Okmalumkoolkat, Bra Solomon & Ayobah. Elsewhere, the kwaito hits that inspired young Spoek get taken for a hip-hop spin, guitar muscle overtakes the deep groove of “Jacknife,” and Sankomoto’s sacred power ballad “Papa” (aka, “Waiting For Your Name To Be Called”) gets treated with the loving respect it deserves, nods to Chicago’s “Colour My World” definitely included. Worthy enough as a love letter to the pop of Mathambo’s homeland, this artifact also serves as a starting point - track down the originals and make yourself a killer playlist.
Coleman, Sounds Of Al-Mashriq: The Land Where The Sun Rises (Mochilla)
This hour-long mixtape of Coleman and company’s vinyl-scouting trip to the Middle East has been floating around the blogosphere for the past year or so, and with a physical release now supplanting that online presence, it’s important to note one major drawback to this otherwise stunning compendium drawn from the eastern counterpart to the far better known maghreb. With only cursory references to the fifty or so performers or even genres sampled in one long undivided track, the stylistic variety on display from the popular and traditional music scenes of Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt take on the free-flowing atmosphere of jet-lagged cultural confusion, and my archival tendencies wish Mochilla had taken the time or spent the extra dime to help ignoramuses like me understand when the fidjeri-singing Bahraini pearl divers show up, if that’s really a farfisa organ enlivening some klezmer, and what genre, if any, the accordion and horn-laden sounds-like-reggae-to-me excerpt at 22.40 belongs to. So, yes, this is a mess, as if stateside crate diggers were to assemble Chicago blues, NYC anti-folk, western swing, hardcore, violin recitals, and Moondog into one dense slab. But there’s nothing wrong with the music at all. Cosmopolitan except when it sounds practically medieval, it brings sacred polyphony and solo troubadours squarely in line with jazz, electronica, and the sample Timbaland lifted from Abdel Halim Hafez. And kudos to Coleman for his mature decision to let these unfamiliar yet approachable songs work their magic minus post-production gimmickry.
K-Holes, Dismania (Hardly Art)
There’s a welcome Cramps vibe going on here, compete with echoplex and squawling saxophone, as if some Lynchian vision of 60s frug decided to surface for air from a Lower East Side sewer grate. But since this crew originally hails from Hot ‘Lanta, I reserve the right to be suspicious of any new millennial transplants waxing nostalgic for the good old days of Alphabet City. Watch out for the “roaches and rats,” they warn during “Nightshifter,” not to be confused with “Rats,” the second of ten songs. Come on, folks, it’s just vermin - you’ve seen one rodent in the subway, you’ve seen them all.
Dave Aju, Heirlooms (Circus Company)
There’s supposedly an undercurrent of jazz running through this tribute to a departed trumpet-playing father, but perhaps only tech house specialists will be thrilled by the distant horns on opener “Rise”. The rest of us will strain heavily to uncover anything more than the faintest hints of fusion amid the deep house of “Away Away” or “Until Then”. True, a decent three song run midway through the album does suggest the kind of fun, dumb, old school post-disco street anthems that helped propel many a block party. But that mindless fun is bookended by the merely mindless, including a long finale and ten minutes of the mock-grandiose profundity “freedom is free of the need to be free” repeated dozens of time over throbbing keyboards.
Brian Jonestown Massacre, Aufheben (A. Recordings)
“The kids keep coming, they keep crowding you up,” John Updike allowed his aging protagonist to muse in the opening lines of Rabbit, Run, but long-running vanity projects like this suggest it’s the old farts clogging up the path. Perhaps it’s unfair to continually harp on the 40-odd members passing through this band’s lineup in a five-year period of splenetic activity, but those dismal statistics signify. Having exhausted the lode that is Satanic Majesties-era Stones while giving shoegaze a stab in the dark, Anton Newcombe tries on krautrock and “India-influenced” psychedelia with the same competent yet sterile approach that’s marred all of his interchangeable albums. At least the sitar flourishes and flute lines are employed with little trace of irony - Newcombe as always reserves his master comedic eye for titles, ie, “I Want To Hold Your Other Hand”. That track placidly kicks off with the line “hey, hey, hey, hey, hey / I heard that your true love, he’s run away”. Yup, keeping that rock and roll flame burning bright.