Just because I like it Volume II: Desert Blues

I recently read The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that some artists that I’ve featured on The Fortnightly Playlist made some appearances in the book, and some of the musicians were even interviewed for it. The story is of archivist Abdel Kader Haidara. First his journeys to gather ancient manuscripts from around the Niger River, then his efforts to construct libraries and museums to house the beautiful ancient texts, then, as jihadi extremists stormed in from the North, there was the desperate smuggling missions to save the priceless historical texts to safety in Southern Mali. The author describes how, before the invasion by Al Queda and the subsequent war, Mali was going through a stage of massive cultural growth. Reading this book, and seeing some of these artists included, I decided that I would put together this little collection.

Often mentioned by Hammer, is a figure of massive influence for modern music in the area: Ali Farka Toure. He pioneered the electric guitar stylings that became signatures of Malian music in the decades since. Ali Farka Toure passed away in 2006, but not before grooming many students to become significant artists as well. It seemed fitting to bookend this collection.

Next is a band that sprang from the upheaval and civil war that took hold of Northern Mali in 2012-13. Some extremist groups were particularly threatening to musicians, and claimed that innovation itself was a form of heresy. Musicians caught playing in cities held by groups like Ansar Dine could have their hands chopped off. Songhoy Blues formed in Bamako, by musicians who had fled from the North. Their music was embraced by other displaced Songhoy and Tuareg people, and has garnered international acclaim as well.

Hailing from Niger, Bombino has worked with some modern blues-rock and indie musicians from North America on his more recent albums. Nomad was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, and 2016’s Azel was produced by David Longstreth of The Dirty Projectors. It is artists like Bombino that reinvigorated my love for the guitar.

Tinariwen is a very famous group in Mali. The band’s roots are intertwined with an earlier conflict in the country’s history. The revolt in 1990 saw future members of the band participating as rebels fighting for Tuareg independence. After the peace agreement in January of 1991, the band left the military and devoted themselves to music. They first garnered international attention playing The Festival in the Desert, and later headlined the festival multiple times.  They played the festival in 2012 just a matter of days before war broke out. In 2013, Tinariwen were part of a tour in North America called The Festival au Desert – Caravan For Peace.

The Tuareg push for autonomy has had many different incarnations. The nomadic Tuaregs find their home throughout the Saharan region of Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Algeria. During riots in 2006, the members of Tamikrest decided not to take up arms, but instead to call attention to the Tuareg cause through music rather than weapons. They mix their traditional music with many modern styles in a similar vein to Tinariwen.

Khaira Arby is a living legend in Mali. Through her music she has made herself an advocate for women, and she has opened the door for many artistic women to follow in her footsteps. In a region that has seen invasion by the strictest and most brutal extremism, her voice could not be more important. Powerful vocals, a tight electric-guitar-driven groove, and a voice of social justice… that’s Khaira Arby.

Rokia Traore traveled widely in her youth owing to her father being a Malian diplomat. Rokia started perfoming publicly as a student in Bamako, and her influences from other parts of the world get blended in with traditional Malian styles. It is often noted that she incorporated vocal harmonies that are rarely used in other Malian music.

Mariem Hassan was born in what is today known as Western Sahara. The Sahrawi singer was often seen as an advocate for her people, but also was someone who had her own health issues to contend with. When her first solo album was being made, she was fighting breast cancer. Additionally, Baba Salema, the producer and lead guitarist on the record died from leukemia before the record was released. Mariem would beat breast cancer, but was lost to bone cancer in 2015.

Terakaft are fronted by a former member of Tinariwen and his two nephews. They were formed amid the tumult of the jihadi invasion of 2012. As with Songhoy Blues, members fled the region, and their music is heavily influenced by the upheaval that they and their people have suffered through.

Following in the footsteps of his grammy-winning father, Vieux Farka Toure took up the guitar and attended Institut National des Arts in Bamako. His debut album was released in 2007, and featured guest spots by his father who had passed away the year before. Vieux has developed his fingerstyle guitar techniques, and at times melded them with other styles as well.

Finally, we close with a beautiful duet. The song Ai Du is from a collection of duets called Talking Timbuktu by Ali Farka Toure and one of my favorite American musicians of all time… Ry Cooder. Cooder and Toure made an amazing pairing that bridged American and African guitar styles so perfectly. The entire record is well worth the time.

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Next week is back to The Fortnightly Playlist. Enjoy!

Josh

 

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The Fortnightly Playlist, February 11th, 2018

Things are picking up in 2018 releases now, and we’ve got a very full list of great new music this edition. New singles from PJ Harvey, Dessa, Loma, Jack White, and The Moondoggies, and new full length records from The Oh Hellos, Field Music, HC McEntire, Hookworms, and Kyle Craft have given me a lot of music to go through this time in order to select the music for this one.

Dagadana’s Meridian 68 has actually been out for some time, but they recently released in in several more countries following their signing onto a new label in Germany. I felt the need to share it again after I found myself listening to it on repeat about a week and a half ago. Dagadana blend their Ukrainian and Polish folk roots with modern styles, and on Meridian 68 they work with some musicians from China and Mongolia to bring in folk style from across all of Asia. The result is an incredibly beautiful blend of folk traditions along with modern jazz and electronica. Yes, it’s original release date was 2 years ago, but I make the rules and I get to break them. I strongly recommend this one.

As I’ve already mentioned on this blog, Dessa’s new album, Chime, is the one I’m most excited for in 2018. She released a new single this past week. From the material released so far, this seems like a more aggressive and edgy side of Dessa. It’s something I’d expect more of her work alongside fellow Doomtree members like P.O.S., but it is definitely a side of her that I’m happy to see more of. Chime is out February 23rd, and is available for pre-order at Doomtree’s website.

Field Music, Loma and Wye Oak are some of my other favorites this time around. I have to question whether next edition will include Chime in its entirety, but I can’t let myself plan too far ahead.

Enjoy!

Josh

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PJ Harvey – An Acre of Land
Calexico – Voices in the Field
Glen Hansard – Wheels on Fire
Jack White – Corporation
MGMT – Little Dark Age
Dagadana – I Shall Never Fear At All
Wye Oak – The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
Jen Cloher – Strong Woman
Hookworms – Static Resistance
The Oh Hellos – Grow
First Aid Kit – Rebel Heart
Calexico – Eyes Wide Awake
Kyle Craft – Bridge City Rose
HC McEntire – A Lamb, A Dove
The Moondoggies – Easy Coming
Field Music – Time In Joy
Maryam Saleh; Maurice Louca; Tamer Abu Ghazaleh – Ekaa Maksour
Dessa – 5 out of 6
The Low Anthem – Give My Body Back
Lord Huron – Ancient Names (Part I)
Lord Huron – Ancient Names (Part II)
Loma – Joy
Porches – Goodbye
Dagadana – In That Orchad

The Fortnightly Playlist, January 28th, 2018

We’re getting into more of 2018’s music now as we push toward the end of January. Some attention-grabbers are big singles from The Decemberists, David Byrne (The Talking Heads), Parliament, and Smokey Brights. Also, brand new albums from Calexico, Umphrey’s McGee, Walking Papers, Tune-yards, and Porches.

I really am loving the new single from Smokey Brights; Come to Terms. They had a great album 2 yrs ago, Hot Candy, which first put them on my radar. Come to Terms is the title track from their new 4-song EP, and hopefully it’s a sign that there is another full-length not too far away because this is, in my opinion, the best material from them so far.

Calexico is a band that I just sort of knew until around 2010… when I saw them open for Arcade Fire. It was The Suburbs tour, and Arcade Fire were just exploding into a true mainstream success. Calexico had been a band for twice as long, and had built a solid run of success within the indie world, but this was a little different. On tour with a skyrocketing headliner, the Arizona-based indie band now found themselves playing far bigger venues than ever before, but they managed to focus the energy on stage so well that in my head I remember it being a raucous small room with great sound (it was Key Arena). Calexico’s new record, The Thread That Keeps Us, is my favorite release this month. They’ve got a warmth and charm in their storytelling that makes this (and other albums in their catalog) very rewarding. There’s also a lot on offer in terms of musical style. They’ve always woven in Latin styles in their sound, sharp trumpet stabs and flamenco guitars, but they also incorporate country, blues, rock’n’roll, and modern rock. I think I’ll be sharing more from this one in 2 weeks because there is so much here.

Other favorites this edition include Walking Papers, Bette Smith, and Porches. Thanks for listening.

Josh

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Tracklist:
Smokey Brights – Come to Terms
Umphrey’s McGee – The Silent Type
The Breeders – All Nerve
Calexico – Under the Wheels
David Byrne – Everybody’s Coming to My House
Parliament – I’m Gon Make You Sick O’Me
Tune-Yards – Now As Then
Sylvan Esso – Parad(w/m)e
August Green – Pictures
Sun, Moon & Talia – Beautiful Last Word
The Decemberists – Severed
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – King of Bones
Walking Papers – Hard to Look Away
Hot Snakes – Six Wave Hold-Down
Porches – By My Side
Anna Burch – Tea-Soaked Letter
Naked Giants – TV
Calexico – End of the World With You
Cafe Preto, Ceu – Agua, Fogo, Terramar
Bette Smith – Shackles & Chain
Titus Andronicus – Number One (In New York)

Just Because I Like It. Volume 1

With this blog generally going 2 weeks between posts, I sometimes think of doing other things in between. I’ve been toying with the idea for awhile. Also, since I’ve typically focused on newly released music, I’ve thought of maybe writing and curating something that features songs and artists without putting that constraint on myself. I don’t know yet how regular this will be, and I think I’ll just do it without any rules this time. So, just because I like these songs, just because I feel like doing it, just because these are absolute gems (some more hidden than others)… here we go. This list features some of my favorite blues, soul, and hip hop artists and songs.

So, I’ll briefly write track-by-track here.

Ball of Confusion by The Temptations is real tone-setter for this little collection of songs. I love this song. It’s pretty unique among other soul songs of the time, and it’s something of a touchstone for more recent soul artists like Charles Bradley (who we’ll get to later).

One of my favorite days of radio programming (KEXP Seattle), is Martin Luther King Jr Day. The curate an amazing collection of Blues, Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop and Rock every year. This year, I was introduced to gospel-singer, Marion Williams. I was not previously familiar with her, but when I heard Heaven Help Us All I was absolutely sold.

N.A.S.A. was an interesting project back in 2009 that brought in an incredible collection of guests. I don’t know why Spirit of Apollo became a one-off, or if they will one day follow it up. It is a really fun listen though, and features appearances by David Byrne, Karen O, Santigold, M.I.A., Method Man, Chuck D, Tom Waits and George Clinton.

As Chuck D appears on the N.A.S.A. song, I decided to go straight into Public Enemy. Not much to say here… this song holds up so well after nearly 30 yrs.

One of my personal favorite current artists, and someone I have enormous respect for is Akala. I first became aware of Akala through a comedy special by Scottish comedian, Frankie Boyle, called Frankie Boyle’s Election Autopsy 2015. Akala came on to discuss race relations in the UK, and I was impressed with his presentation of history and politics. His music (as well as his other projects), show a real love of learning and growing that I find inspirational. I’ll put a quick disclaimer on this video due to explicit language: Frankie Boyle, Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan and Akala discuss race issues in the UK.

Following up Akala’s Mr. Fire In The Booth is the song that he samples heavily from: Sharon Jones & the Dap King’s The Game Gets Old. When it comes to modern soul singers, few can compare to Sharon Jones.

As it was members of the Dap Kings that founded Daptone Records and discovered Charles Bradley, that’s who we go to next. People often draw the comparison to James Brown, and Bradley did indeed work as a James Brown impersonator at times before getting his break. I think Charles Bradley draws from a lot of influences. Thematically, you can draw a lot of connections to the Temptation track at the start of this list.

We close with one of my favorite duet pairs. John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison have a few duets out there, and each one has taken its turn as my favorite song ever. Their voices are so complimentary to each other, and I love hearing them sing together.

-Josh

The Fortnightly Playlist, January 14th, 2018

It’s the first Playlist of the year, and already there is a lot of new music to look forward to in 2018. We start the list with some slide guitar and gospel from The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band off of last year’s Front Porch Sessions. We’ve also got some brand new singles from Young Fathers, Xenia Rubinos, Seun Kuti, Sunflower Bean and Tara Beier. The first few albums of 2018 are out from Typhoon, The Academic, and Kyle Craft, and by next edition we’ll also have new records from Jack White and First Aid Kit as well.

Seun Kuti has been making music from a very early age, and now it shows now that he already has a career over 20 yrs. His father, Fela Kuti, is considered a pioneer of Afrobeat music, and Seun was opening for his father’s shows by age 9! I’ve included Seun’s new single in full rather than the radio edit. It’s 9 and a half minutes, and included a guest spot from Carlos Santana.

One of the funnest tracks in this edition for me is Damascus Market Dub by The Spy From Cairo. If you enjoy it, then I strongly recommend giving the whole album a listen. The album came out late 2017, and is a great blend of electronica, dub and middle eastern sounds. It’s definitely one that you can listen to straight through. It’s also something of a multi-purpose album. It flows so well, and has enough of a chill vibe to it that you can listen to it while reading without it being obtrusive, but you can also dance to it. Not often you find an album like that.

Other favorites this time include the debut EP from local band CCFX, a beautiful new single from The Black Pine, and Cuban rapper El Cepe MC.

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Tracklist:
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Let Your Light Shine
Seun Kuti – Black Times
Xenia Rubinos – Levitating
The Spy From Cairo – Damascus Market Dub
Kehlani – Already Won
Young Fathers – Lord
The Black Pine – And The Sea
CCFX – The One to Wait
The Academic – Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Sunflower Bean – Crisis Fest
Spirit Award – Fields
Jack White – Connected by Love
Kyle Craft – Something on Your Mind
First Aid Kit – Ruins
Helga Arvesten – Don’t Speak
Fenne Lily – For A While
Ages and Ages – How it Feels
Tara Beier – Forgiveness
Kris Delmhorst – All the Way Around
Typhoon – Rorschach
Fadoul, Sharhabeel Ahmend – Argos Farfish
El Cepe MC – Mi Aire
Joe Henry – Dark is Light Enough

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 31st, 2017

Well, here’s to another year. Last edition featured my favorites for the year, and this edition will include some goodbyes to musical heroes, a couple albums I slept on this year, and a look forward to a few albums coming out in early 2018. As such, there will be more of a mix between some old and new music this time around.

The Goodbyes
I know there were a lot of big losses this year, and so I just wanted to share the ones that were big for me personally. Otherwise this playlist will get very long. I’m sorry if there’s someone you were hoping would be here that isn’t.

Kevin Garcia (Grandaddy) – Back in January, Grandaddy came out with their first album in 11 years. They announced a tour, and were a few days from playing here in Seattle. Then their bassist and co-founder, Kevin Garcia, had a sudden stroke, and passed away at age 41. The return just suddenly wasn’t. Included this week is a track from the new record, Last Place, and a track from 2003’s Sumday.
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Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) – He’s one of the greatest rock singers of all time. I remember turning on the radio that morning while making breakfast. Soundgarden was playing, and then back-to-back Soundgarden… then the DJ came on to say that Chris Cornell was gone. I listen to the radio most of the day most days, so that day, and I listened that day to Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell, Johnny Cash’s cover of Rusty Cage, Chris with Mad Season. It felt like the world changed for me that day. I don’t know what more to say, so here’s a letter to Chris on his birthday from Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam.
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Charles Bradley – Charles had a difficult time fighting for his break. He worked odd jobs, and performed as a James Brown impersonator. Finally, he got the opportunity to perform his own original material, and at age 62 his debut album, No Time For Dreaming, was released. It was a long buildup to a what became a short career, and Charles sadly passed away from stomach cancer in September. He did give us 3 amazing albums in the last 6 yrs of his life. I’ve included in this edition of the Playlist, one song from each record.
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Gord Downie (The Tragically Hip) – The rockstar without the ego. The poet without the self-importance. Hip fans hung on every word. Gord will always be one of my favorite lyricists. The Hip’s second-to-last album, Now For Plan A, featured songs about his own journey as his wife fought and beat breast cancer. Then 4 yrs later along with the official announcement of their final tour and album, Man, Machine, Poem, it was announced that Gord had Glioblastoma. Gord would give us 2 more solo records before he passed away in October. The last, Introduce Yerself, was released posthumously.
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Also included this edition are albums from Craig Finn (The Hold Steady), Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), and 45th St Brass that I missed earlier on this year. Looking forward to 2018, there are new singles from Dessa, Kyle Craft, First Aid Kit, Thunderpussy, and The Hold Steady. The new single from Dessa, Fire Drills, has me particularly excited. Her album comes out February 23.

Happy New Year!

Josh

Tracklist:
Gord Downie – The East Wind
Grandaddy – Way We Won’t
Kele Okereke – Grounds for Resentment
Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
Kyle Craft – Heartbreak Junky
Chris Cornell – Seasons
The Tragically Hip – It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken
Soundgarden – Fresh Tendrils
The Hold Steady – Entitlement Crew
Thunderpussy – Velvet Noose
The Tragically Hip – At the Hundredth Meridian
Audioslave – Cochise
First Aid Kit – Fireworks
Grandaddy – Lost On Yer Merry Way
Gord Downie – Faith Faith
Chris Cornell – Bend in the Road
The Tragically Hip – The Lookahead
Craig Finn – Birds Trapped in the Airport
Dessa – Fire Drills
Charles Bradley – Through the Storm
45th St Brass – P.B.M.J.
Charles Bradley – Change for the World

Top 10 Favorites of 2017

This list was difficult, and I, of course, made it more difficult by second-guessing myself a lot. There are several other releases this year that I just can’t not mention because they are brilliant records that deserve to be part of the conversation. This edition of the Playlist includes a track from each of my top 10 as well as my honorable mentions. I tried to mostly go with songs that I haven’t shared previously. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
Lo Tom – Lo Tom
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko – Griot Blues
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Backlash
Akala – Visions EP (almost included this 5 song EP. It’s that good.)
Tinariwen – Elwan
Shredders – Dangerous Jumps
Filthy Friends – Invitation
Thievery Corporation – The Temple of I & I
Algiers – The Underside of Power
Sera Cahoone – From Where I Started
Nadia Reid – Preservation
Paper Tiger – In Other Words
Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself
Sampha – Process
Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (also, my favorite cover art of 2017)
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Now, on to my picks for top 10.

10. Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface
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In Early 2010, I got a free song from Amazon, and I liked it so much right away that I bought the album (genius sales ploy, that was… but to this day I still think I got a great deal). That album was the first Bad Books album (a project Manchester Orchestra did with Kevin Devine). At the time I was unfamiliar with either Kevin Devine or Manchester Orchestra, but both artists have really stuck with me since. A year later, Manchester Orchestra released Simple Math (2011), Cope (2013) and Hope (2014). As with each of those, A Black Mile to the Surface is a wonderful straight-through listen. The song flow beautifully and seamlessly, the vocals sore and then become soft and then sore again, there’s energy and angst and gentleness. This one certainly lives up to Manchester Orchestra’s already high standard.

9. U2 – Songs of Experience
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There were a lot of surprises this year. This record almost annoyed me… because I had my top 10 all sorted, and then it came along late in the year to throw things into question. Even more than that, I sort of thought I’d never be surprised by a U2 album again. It’s not that they’ve been bad in recent years, but they’ve been somewhat predictable. Underachieving maybe. You’d listen to new U2, and think “yep, that’s U2.” There’s something here though. There’s more energy than they’ve had in the last few records. There are curveballs. It’s still U2, but it’s also new and different. They may be late in their career, but U2 are unmistakably among the greats. This record is something special. I thought I had them figured out, and they threw me for a loop.

8. Making Movies – I Am Another You
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Mixing up some Afro-Latino rhythms and psychedelic rock’n’roll riffs, Making Movies came out of nowhere for me back toward the end of June. It is this sheer energy of all types of percussion topped with huge guitar riffs and they shift from dark and ominous to soft and intimate to light-hearted and fun like it’s nothing. This one has more rough edges than most of the others on this list, but it has undeniable energy and passion. It’s also plenty rewarding on repeated listens. The band, based in Kansas City, consists of two sets of brothers; Enrique and Diego Chi and Juan-Carlos and Andres Chaurand. A big theme for the band is beauty in diversity, and they do it really well. Locura Colectiva, Brave Enough, and Tell Me The Truth are highlights on this one for me.

7. ODESZA – A Moment Apart
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There’s something special about seeing a local band go from formation to headlining festivals in the space of about 5 yrs. Formed in 2012 (a little before graduating from Western Washington University), and this year headlining Bumbershoot back on Labor Day weekend. This release, ODESZA took things to new levels, and it was clear before the album even came out. The guest vocalists are perfect (Naomi Wild on Higher Ground and Ry X on Corners of the Earth in particular), and there’s not a misstep on the whole record.

6. Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister – Planetarium
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In many ways, this feels like a Sufjan album. A different host of collaborators, but a Sufjan album. His unmistakable voice and lyrics make it hard to think of it any other way for me. That said, Sufjan has never been one-note or predictable, and this is no exception.  The other 3 are certainly bringing their own touch to this record even though it feels like it fits so perfectly into the Sufjan catalog. Nico Muhly is responsible for most of the composition here. The contemporary classical composer has a huge catalog of arrangements and original compositions. He’s worked with a lot of popular alternative artists in the past such as Bjork, Grizzly Bear, Jonsi, and The National. This, of course, leads me to Bryce Dessner (The National). Bryce’s guitar work here is beautiful. It’s minimal for the most part, but it adds the perfect touches to Muhly’s compositions. James McAlister is the longtime drummer for Sufjan Stevens, and therefore very good at adapting to many styles of music. His ability on this album is clear. Best tracks for me are Moon, Neptune, Venus and Mercury.

5. Songhoy Blues – Resistance
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In 2012, northern Mali was taken over by a jihadist groups that banned music, alcohol, cigarettes as influences of western culture. Garba Toure, a guitarist from the north was forced to leave, and he moved to the nation’s capitol, Bamako. There, along with Aliou Toure and Oumar Toure (all unrelated from each other), they formed Songhoy Blues. The men were Songhoy (or Songhai) people that were among those targeted under the new regime. Music in Exile (2015) was a revelation that combined traditional Tuareg and Songhoy styles with modern influences. Now, with Resistance, they have continued their rise. Excellent guest appearances from Iggy Pop and Elf Kid make for some great collaborations with artists who have styles very different from their own. The modern Desert Blues sound has revived my love of the guitar in the last couple years, and Songhoy Blues is a big part of that.

4. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Soul of a Woman
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Sharon Jones was a beautiful person, and she never quit giving. During her final year of her life, while battling cancer, she recorded this amazing record. It was released on November 17th; exactly 1 year after her passing. One can’t help but admire the enormous strength of will that it must take continue creating with energy through the physical and emotional obstacles she had to overcome . This is the result. An absolutely beautiful record full of energy and emotion. Tracks like Searching For a New Day , Sail On and These Tears (No Longer For You) are Sharon & the Dap Kings at their best. The record ends perfectly with Call On God. Thank you Sharon, and thank you Dap Kings for one last record.

3. P.O.S. – Chill, Dummy
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A few weeks ago, I was asked by Roberto of Riffs & Rhymes to write a review of an album that hadn’t gotten much attention or had flown beneath the radar. He featured it in a series of posts each from different writers, and I recommend checking them all out. I chose to write about Chill, Dummy. You can read it here!. I’ll call myself a late-comer to the story here, but P.O.S. returns after a frustrating 5 year spell with a cancelled tour due to health troubles (and a kidney transplant in 2014). Chill, Dummy is as strong a comeback as you could ask for. In addition, his tour this year was bombastic enough to make up for the cancelled one after his previous effort, We Don’t Even Live Here. He’s stronger than ever here, trying new things, opening himself up to new styles and influences, and still retaining all the strengths that make him unique. Essential tracks on this one are Wearing a Bear, Faded, Thieves/Kings, Infinite Scroll,  and Sleepdrone/Superposition.
Additionally, somewhere amid his relentless tour schedule, he managed to write and record with some of his fellow Doomtree members and release the new Shredders release, Dangerous Jumps. In January, P.O.S., Sims, Paper Tiger, and Lazerbeak will be touring in support of that release.

2. Ibeyi – Ash
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Twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz released this absolutely haunting and entrancing album at the end of September, and there was a period in October when I could barely bring myself to listen to anything else. They fuse elements of electro, soul, R&B, and Afro-Cuban music, and come out with something totally their own. The real binding elements are their beautiful vocal work, and the prominent percussion. The guest appearances are perfect on this record, but perhaps none more than Kamasi Washington’s work on Deathless. The song is certainly one of my favorites this year, and throws the listener vividly into the experience of Lisa-Kainde when she was treated roughly by French police at age 16 who assumed by her race that she was dealing drugs. There are no weak songs on this album. It’s hard to even pick highlights, but I’ll offer a few: Deathless, I Wanna Be Like You, No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms, and When Will I Learn.

1. Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It
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How a record with these poppy, infectious hooks doesn’t make it into the charts is among the clearest evidence that the music industry is totally run by marketers and not music-lovers. Begun as the solo work of Ahmed Gallab (Born in London to Sudanese parents, who moved to the US when Ahmed was 5), Life & Livin’ It is perhaps the development of Sinkane into a more democratic band. The tour that followed the previous effort, Mean Love, built the project from a solo effort into a band. It’s still very much led by Gallab, whose musical resume would tell you he’s worked with many excellent musicians such as Yeasayer, of Montreal, Eleanor Friedburger, Born Ruffians, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Dev Hynes (Lightspeed Champion, Blood Orange), and Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip). The stylistic ground covered in this album ranges from Afro-beat to Shoegaze to Jazz to Synth-pop, yet it flows smoothly throughout to create a wonderfully cohesive whole. As with the Ibeyi album, there is no weak link here. It’s a strong album beginning to end.

So those are my picks this year. There are plenty of others I’ve enjoyed this year, and working things down to just these wasn’t easy. That said, I’m really happy with this list. It reflects my listening for the year very well. Feel free to share your own picks in the comments. Next edition will include some looks back on 2017, and some looks forward to 2018.

-Josh

Tracklist:
ODESZA – Line of Sight
U2 – Get Out of Your Own Way
Lo Tom – Covered Wagon
Shredders – Cult 45
Open Mike Eagle – Daydreaming in the Projects
Akala – Chapter 4
Sampha – (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano
Manchester Orchestra – The Alien
Filthy Friends – Faded Afternoon
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Lips of a Loser
Mighty Mo Rodgers & Baba Sissoko – Blues Went to Africa
Songhoy Blues – Bamako
Algiers – Cry of the Martyrs
Thievery Corporation – Strike the Root
Sinkane – Fire
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Rumors
Nadia Reid – Right On Time
Sera Cahoone – Taken Its Toll
Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister – Venus
Paper Tiger – Digging In Fire
Ibeyi – No Man Is Big Enough For My Arms
Tinariwen – Nannuflay
Making Movies – Spinning Out
P.O.S. – Sleepdrone/Superposition
Gord Downie – Introduce Yerself

The Fortnightly Playlist, December 3rd, 2017

This week I was caught off guard by the new U2 album. It has been a long time since I can honestly say that. This isn’t to say U2 hasn’t been good, but to say that they’ve not exactly been a band to throw curveballs in recent years. It just seems like you know what to expect with a U2 album, and they deliver exactly that. Songs of Experience is still very much a U2 record, but there’s something different about this one. The signature U2 sound is there, but they have a stronger, or more emphasized, groove to this record. It works, and I think they’ve piqued my interest more with this album than anything since Achtung Baby (1991).

Also in this edition are several local Seattle artists. Stereo Embers and Amy Denio both had new releases in the last couple weeks that are well worth checking out. I want to highlight Anacortes-based Karl Blau this time. Karl has quietly built up an impressively diverse catalog of music over the last 15 yrs or so, and his new release, Out Her Space, occupies a very different place stylistically than last year’s Introducing Karl Blau. Blau really has a good understanding of his own talents, and how to turn them toward very different goals. He seems to always meet a high standard.

Other high points for me this edition are Sufjan Stevens, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kweku Collins and Amy Denio, as well as more from the previously featured releases from Shredders and Ibeyi.

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Tracklist:
Ibeyi – I Carried This For Years
U2 – Lights of Home
Stereo Embers – It
Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Selfish Dreams
Karl Blau – Poor the War Away
Pierre Kwenders – Woods of Solitude
Shredders – Fly As I Dare
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Deadly Valentine
Lusine – The Lift
Amy Denio – L’Abbraccione
Django Django – In Your Beat
Kweku Collins – Lucky Ones
Saintseneca – Moon Barks at the Dog
Field Music – Count It Up
U2 – The Blackout
Curtis Harding – Till The End
Shredders – Heater Season (featuring Mike Mictlan)

The Fortnightly Playlist, November 19th, 2017

Some huge albums to cover this edition from Ibeyi, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Mavis Staples, Samantha Fish, Kamasi Washington and Alex Lahey. Also, we’ve got some great new singles from Drive-By Truckers, Neil Young, and The Breeders.

I’d been tentatively constructing my top 10 albums for the year, but a few late albums have really shaken it all up. One that absolutely captured me in the last couple weeks is Ash by Ibeyi. The duo comprised of twin sisters Lisa-Kainde & Naomi Diaz created something truly special here. I could hardly listen to anything else for several days. The musically sparse sound lends itself well to the intimacy of the album, the well articulated themes of social justice, and a few perfect guest appearances (in particular, Kamasi Washington on Deathless) make this an album worth listening straight through repeatedly. It has a lot to offer with repeated listening, and I see it being an album that will stick with me over time.

A lot of people seem to be noting that there are a lot more artists being overtly political in the past couple years. I would argue that music and art has always had political aspects. That said, in our current political climate, some artists respond with thoughtful and cutting critiques, and some respond with half-baked, angry, namecalling. No one does politics in music like Drive-By Truckers, and they are in fine form on their newest single, The Perilous Night. For those who have been familiar with the Truckers for a while, their views have always been a part of their music. However, it really came to the forefront of their music in last year’s American Band. This new single continues in that vein, and it does so very well.

Sharon Jones was someone who carried herself with the utmost grace and strength through her battle with cancer. Last year’s documentary, Miss Sharon Jones, told her story of struggling through cancer treatment while still keeping on recording and performing. I had the privelege of seeing her perform during that time (Every now and then, I go back and watch the video from that show). Now, on the one year anniversary of her passing, we get one final album from Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: Soul of a Woman. It is everything that any fan could ask from a Sharon Jones album. Her voice sounds as beautiful as ever, and the record exudes all the energy and soul and life that we’ve come to expect. There’s nothing missing from it. It is the perfect Sharon Jones record. For more on the record, this is a good review.

As mentioned, I’ve been considering my favorite albums of the year. The last Fortnightly Playlist of the year will be my top 10. There’s still a lot of shifting positions there, and quite a few more than 10 I’m considering. I’d love to hear from you on your favorites this year as well.

Until next time,

Josh

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Tracklist:
1. The Breeders – Wait in the Car
2. PINS – Serve the Rich
3. Neil Young – Already Great
4. Ibeyi – When Will I Learn
5. Daniele Luppi, Parquet Courts – Soul & Cigarette
6. Samantha Fish – American Dream
7. Philip Morgan Lewis – Six Foot Tambourine
8. Drive-By Truckers – The Perilous Night
9. Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy – Ain’t No Doubt About It
10. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Searching for a New Day
11. Kamasi Washington – Knowledge
12. Bootsy Collins – Come Back Bootsy
13. Teen Daze – On the Edge of a New Age
14. Ibeyi – Away Away
15. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Sail On!
16. Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending
17. Alex Lahey – I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself
18. They Might Be Giants – I Left My Body
19. POLICA, stargaze – How Is This Happening

 

The Fortnightly Playlist, November 5th, 2017

Plenty to cover again as usual with new singles from Mavis Staples, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Dessa, Tune-Yards, and Levee Walkers, and new full-length albums from Manchester Orchestra, Noah Gundersen, Shredders, Stars, Margo Price, Brian Wright, Iron & Wine, and EPs from Billy Bragg and Langhorne Slim.

Listen to the playlist here on spotify.

Levee Walkers are back again. This time Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Duff McKagan (Guns’n’Roses), and Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees) have collaborated with Seattle Singer-songwriter Ayron Jones. This is now the third vocalist the supergroup has worked with, and each one has brought something very different to the table. It seemed appropriate pair it with a song from Ayron’s album from June, Audio Paint Job. The band seems happy to swing the spotlight on a younger artist that has impressed them recently. Duff McKagan said recently of him, “Ayron is such a special and bad-ass new Seattle artist. I went to a show of his last year in Seattle, and it was one of those that just simply made me realize how glad I am that I chose music as a path.” I’ve enjoyed the Levee Walkers a lot so far, and their choices of different vocalists to work with has led me to some other great musicians. Last year’s single with Raquel Sofia was excellent as well.

The new Shredders release is one I’ve been excited for, and it didn’t let me down. Sims, P.O.S., Lazerbeak, and Paper Tiger of Doomtree have created a record that is a more stripped down and straightforward rap album than their previous records with the full Doomtree collective. Included this edition is a trio of Doomtree releases. Shredders, Style Boys, features fellow Doomtree member Mike Mictlan, then there’s Singer States from Paper Tiger’s solo release from earlier this year, and finally, the new Dessa single, Good Grief. There’s been a lot out this year from the Minneapolis collective. P.O.S.’s solo record from earlier this year is still one of my personal favorites.

Until next time,

Josh

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Tracklist:
1. Manchester Orchestra – The Maze
2. Bill Bragg – The Sleep of Reason
3. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – On Script
4. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Call on God
5. Mavis Staples – Little Bit
6. Ayron Jones – West Coast Feeling
7. Levee Walkers & Ayron Jones – All Things Fade Away
8. Open Mike Eagle – Legendary Iron Hood
9. Shredders & Mike Mictlan – Style Boys
10. Paper Tiger – Singer States
11. Dessa – Good Grief
12. Stars – Hope Avenue
13. Tune-Yards – Look at Your Hands
14. Saintseneca – Book of the Dead on Sale
15. False Advertising – Hey You
16. Julien Baker – Shadowboxing
17. Langhorne Slim – Life is Confusing
18. Margo Price – Pay Gap
19. Brian Wright – Goldmine
20. Bahamas – No Wrong
21. Tyminski – Southern Gothic
22. JD McPherson – Lucky Penny
23. Noah Gundersen – Fear & Loathing
24. Iron & Wine – Claim Your Ghost