Solange, True (Terrible Records)
Pay attention, indie brats. This is how one channels the 1980s without falling victim to tech-geek worship or limp irony - by remembering that the geniuses of that decade were Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, not whatever French electropop import is making the rounds over at Hipster Runoff. Solange Knowles and producer Dev Hynes understand that contemporaneous art draws equally from the retro and the futuristic, which is one reason luminous single “Losing You” sounds like nothing else on the radio even as it highlights the way so much recently overpraised r&b has fallen victim to gimmicky and overwrought production aesthetics. Hynes deserves credit for the grooves, the musical sophistication, the expertly rendered electric bass lines and soft synth of time capsule “Bad Girls”. But these world class joints would be mere stagecraft without Solange’s restrained yet deeply affecting vocals, her expert timing (the way she rides the rhythm of “Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work” is a delight), the way she arranges that first kiss beneath the Jimmy John’s sign, how she’s seen you with both the lights and your hat off and how you’re no longer the shit, her melancholy and her maturity and her soul. So go ahead, The Weeknd, wrap all of last year’s spooky mixtapes into one big fat 159-minute box and call it a trilogy. Meanwhile, Solange and fellow boat-against-the-current Azealia Banks have offered a blueprint for anybody brave enough to chance it via their respective 28- and 16-minute incendiary devices. EP of the year? Sounds like character assassination to me. 28 minutes isn’t really all that brief. I’ll call it an album if you will.
Tunji Oyelana, A Nigerian Retrospective 1966-79 (Soundway)
The liner notes for this welcome overview of a Nigerian bandleader poorly represented by Western compilations stumble almost immediately by positing the Abeokuta native as the sole visionary among a sea of hit-seeking compatriots, an artist amid salesmen and escapists. The high praise isn’t entirely inaccurate - Oyelana, like none other than Fela Kuti himself, saw chart success as merely one positive side effect of bringing his blend of the traditional and popular to the marketplace. And as befits an ethnomusicologist who accurately dubbed his long-running band The Benders, as in bending the lines of genre, these twenty-four tracks from the late sixties through mid-seventies dabble in afrobeat (“Aduke”), deep funk (Omoba D’eru Ri”), doo-wop/soul (“Irawo Mi”), highlife (“Omonike”), prog (“Ogua Adubi”), and incantatory prayer (“Ifa”). Along with better organ solos than Fela normally managed, these tracks of moderate length detail matters both cultural and historical, from the 1918 Adubi War to praise of Egba leader Lisabi Agbongbo Akala and a legendary Lagos magician. Yet “Panbolanbola” memorializes a dance inspired by that magician, not village ritual, warning those failing to join in on the craze that they shall be “left behind”. If that isn’t enough to remind you that Oyelana is hardly the stodgy archivist, consider the loping ode to being lazy, the songs about unfaithful wives, the descriptive praise of a lover’s velvet ass, the upbeat tale of an infirm man missing a bus, and opening groover “Ojo,” in which a village bully clogs toilets with his enormous turds.
Peter Zak, Nordic Noon (Steeplechase)
An Ohio pianist with what the professionals call a light touch hooks up with rhythm section Peter Washington and Billy Drummond for a trio outing of three smart originals and eight well-chosen and hardly obvious covers. Of those covers, Zak streamlines Woody Shaw’s 1980 “Joshua C” into a soul-jazz groove, tenderly recreates the funky hard bop of prime Cannonball Adderley on Joe Zawinul’s early number “Scotch & Water,” and rescues the bluesy “Out Of The Night” from the Joe Henderson debut album it’s long been buried inside (somewhere beneath “Recorda Me” and “Blue Bossa”). My favorite moment comes when Zak and crew manage to put a new and slightly tougher spin on Bobby Hutcherson’s 1968 “Herzog,” with the sour/sweet combo of Harold Land’s original saxophone plus Hutcherson’s vibes replaced with the leader’s fleet piano runs and Drummond’s rhythmic push. Anybody else covering these songs? The canon is deep, the canon is wide.
Anthony David, Love Out Loud (eOne)
David’s hardly the most exciting r&b practitioner on the scene, which needn’t be a fatal flaw - Terry Callier wasn’t all that visceral, either. But to the best of my knowledge, Callier never laid NASA control booth chatter over the top of any of his ballads in the way David rather bafflingly does on opening laze “Aspiracy Theory,” perhaps under the misguided notion that bedding a lust interest requires technical sophistication akin to the Mars Curiosity rover landing. So it’s perhaps best to proceed immediately to the album’s three standout tracks: the hurts-so-damn-good smolder of “Sweet Pain,” the sexy back-and-forth with Algebra on horn-laced duet “Official,” and pulsing piano ballad “Can’t Look Down,” in which the loveman details how he can’t look into the eyes of his obsession.
Poolside, Pacific Standard Time (Poolside Music)
If ever a band boasted a name (and album title) tailor-made for yacht rock, this is that band. Only this isn’t that band, because this band claims to represent something dubbed Daytime Disco, which I guess explains the silly shirts. Or perhaps it just explains the preponderance of exhaustion, unless that’s what the kids mean by being “laid back” these days. Enjoy the cute recasting of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” as plucky groove, and wait for the remixes, which are no doubt being assembled as we speak. As for naming sub-sub-genres, I offer this improvement upon Daytime Disco, with apologies to Mr. Oizo - Flat Beat.
Mogwai, A Wrenched Virile Lore (Sub Pop)
Change “wrenched” to “wretched” and you’ve got yourself a readymade title for a career-spanning overview of these mopey Glaswegian tossers. Unfortunately, this is a remix album. What’s worse, it’s a Mogwai remix album not involving Kevin Shields, who single-handedly justified the band’s existence with his 1998 take on “Mogwai Fear Satan”. Minus such a visionary, the Soft Moon, Zombi, and Cylob do what they can do.