Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 71) -- NEAR PICK EDITION

[note: in deference to year-end list making, consider this week’s entry a bit of clean-up — a buncha B+’s or 7/10s worth the time for those so inclined]


Nylo, Memories Speak     (self-released)

This 13-minute set of DIY r&b has been drifting semi-anonymously around SoundCloud since early spring, and although a bit of social media detective work reveals Nylo herself to be a white Chicagoan, persona isn’t her strong point. That would be her simultaneous devotion to vocal restraint and the enduring legacy of Aaliyah, although it’s hard to imagine the latter disgustedly pouting “I want you to fuckin’ have your way” as Nylo does throughout the percolating “Attention”. That song suggests a lover’s deference is more desirous than any physical coupling, although the carnal is hardly relegated to the background - “come on and sleep with me,” she begs elsewhere. It’s all over too soon, and it’s anybody’s guess if there will be any more.  

Busy Signal, Reggae Music Again     (VP)

A sizable star in Jamaica, Reanno Gordon’s more modest stateside following stems largely from his BET-endorsed dancehall single “Tic Toc,” which hit urban radio in 2008. But as suggested by the album’s title, Mr. Busy here moves decidedly away from glitchy beats towards a roots/lovers rock program that manages to fold Auto-Tune into contemporary digital dub while remaining defiantly old-fashioned. Self-consciously recorded at Tuff Gong studios, and with a release date keyed to his native land’s fiftieth anniversary of independence, this lengthy set demonstrates an artistic facility and historical grasp, even if things stumble badly in the final movements with a painfully mawkish “acoustic remix” of previous hit ballad “Comfort Zone”. But he’s super sweet on “Come Over (Missing You),” preaches familiar thematic touchstones on “Kingston Town” and “Modern Day Slavery,” and strays contemporary to memorable effect on killer single “Running From The Law”. Then he mines Tenor Saw’s “Ring The Alarm” on “119” as if there was still something fresh to be gleaned from that twenty seven year old beat. Turns out there is

Ke$ha, Warrior     (RCA)

Although it’s lazy and worse to compare this electropop dynamo exclusively to her immediate female competition, it’s also silly to pretend there are men in the pop universe fighting the same battles. And the unfortunate truth is that for all her sugar-coated vulgarity and partytime bonhomie, Ke$ha rarely rises to the level of her world class peers, and not simply because her voice remains  an instrument of modesty. Her bombast lacks the international suavity of Lady Gaga’s, her rhymes are clever while Nicki Minaj’s are genius, and her not-inconsiderable pop instincts are color-by-numbers compared to Pink’s hook-writing acumen. When Ke$ha’s really on, she briefly neutralizes such concerns - Iggy Pop yowling about Santorum’s v-neck sweater over an arena-sized blues rock riff suggests he’s been waiting to be her dog since 1969, and there’s great pleasure to be had in the realization that every kiss-off tune is really a fuck-off PSA for the cads who couldn’t keep up. But for all her of-the-moment trendiness (“I wanna live right now”) and millennial savvy, she’s old-fashioned at heart, from the cheerfully adopted heavy metal imagery to her claims she spotted a potential love interest “leaning against that record machine” to the wholesale plunder of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” on a country ballad that even gets the mellotron flute touch just right. Long before she half-buries a shout-out to an “electric warrior,” careful listeners will have concluded that for all her supposed unclassifiability, she’s glam rock straight up, with all the glory and inconsistency always promised by that genre.

Blanketship, Pleated Shorts     (Gigante Sound)

Cheery avant-garde from pilferers of the past who mine thrift store bins for the same kinds of cultural detritus that warms the heart of Ariel Pink, except this outfit has zero interest in crafting pop junk from the results. AM radio, ye-ye girls, hi-fi demonstrations, exotica, motorik, shibuya-kei, and radio soap operas - all get tossed into a jumbled mix of mostly under-two-minute sloppy edits, nutso juxtapositions, tempo fluctuations, and fidelity nightmares, with barely familiar chord progressions and melody snippets periodically surfacing to remind one of the world of order lying just beyond. By positing that nothing is less approachable or more unfamiliar than the once ubiquitous, Blanketship traffic in subversion as surely as Negativland. But when the only verbal content that registers is Paul McCartney counting to four, the subversive possibilities remain mostly ornamental.    

Jukebox Mambo: Rumba And Afro Latin Accented Rhythm & Blues 1949-1960     (Jazzman)

Twenty-two tracks of 1950’s nonsense serving as a helpful reminder of how jumping aboard vaguely “exotic” trends to squeeze modest profit from the results has been a mainstay of Western popular culture from the days of the schottische through ersatz tropicalia to this year’s “Gangnam Style”. What exactly the majority of these tracks have to do with the musical conversation with the gods that nimbly hopped from Cuba to Mexico to New York might best be left to those on more familiar ground with the intricacies of the ritmo nuevo, but what they lack in authenticity they often make up for in sheer spirit - or gall, in the case of Dr. Demento rejects like Mad Man Jones’ “Snake Charmer”. But worthies Cozy Cole, Faye Adams, Percy Mayfield, and Dave Bartholomew sidle alongside the likes of Gerald Wilson, Mable Scott, the Red Callender Sextet, the mush-mouthed Charles Brown stylings of Marvin Phillips, and a piano-pounding Larry Dale, all on tunes short and varied enough to keep the program moving. Plus, honest-to-god Latinos like Lala Guererro, Joe Loco, and Alfredito play things straight even while Elena Madera chews the scenery throughout “Pu-Chun-Ga” until the stage is down to nubbins and sawdust.

Grass Roots: Sean Conly, Alex Harding, Darius Jones, Chad Taylor, Grass Roots     (AUM Fidelity)

Ever since a young Anthony Braxton worked a series of breathing exercises into 1969’s formal statement of purpose For Alto, followers have mistakenly concluded that rhythm sections should take a breather while the reed players fart and slobber their way around a mouthpiece. At least, that’s how a useless eight-minute conclusion to an otherwise grooving and soulful ensemble album feels, especially after Darius Jones and Alex Harding have demonstrated their abilities to synthesize post-Ayler screams with the blues and field hollers on alto and baritone sax, and especially after bassist Sean Conly and Chicago Underground Duo drummer Chad Taylor have powered proceedings with their loping and funky swing. All of which is to say, if you’re going to devote an entire track to filling up your spit valve, don’t lose the beat.