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On the Road with These Are Powers
Last week, Other Music's Karen Soskin hit the road with Brookyn/Chicago's These Are Powers for a 26-day tour that will take them across much of the US and Canada. In between selling band merch and long drives from one town to the next in the group's vegetable oil-powered passenger van, Karen's been sending us her tour diaries which we're posting on Other Music Digital. Much more than simple show recaps, her entries intimately capture the almost nomadic experience of a D.I.Y. tour -- from their first learning of the devastation of Hurricane Ike after going days without news, to encountering ghosts and a potty-mouthed, freedom loving bald dude in Memphis. So click on over to OM-D's News Page where you can read up on all their road tales with lots more to come in a new, aptly-titled category called Get in the Van. Godspeed Karen and look for a new These Are Powers EP as well as a reissue of their first album, out October 7th on Dead Oceans.
This Week's Free Song Download
Triple Chrome Dream
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Free song download of "Triple Chrome Dipped" off the debut album by Adrian Michna (out September 23, on Ghostly International). Magic Monday is a brilliant mix of hip-hop and electro -- and a sprinkle of dirty Miami bass for good measure -- with a rich and well-crafted musical element. Michna uses live horns and shows off his drum machine skills to create a kind of collaged funk, supposedly without samples. It shows that Michna grew up in both NYC and Miami, as the album has a gritty hip-hop side as well as a funky Floridian party vibe. As far as debut's go, they don't come much better.
This Week's Featured Downloads
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As far as we're concerned, 2007 was the year of Tinariwen. For a quarter of a century, the nomadic Touareg collective had been creating their distinctive brand of sprawling, North African "Desert Blues," borne from the pain of their tribe's existence. But their last album, Aman Iman, was their best album to date and was just too good to ignore. The record topped numerous year end "best of" lists, including ours, and we were absolutely floored by their soon-to-be-legendary in-store performance last fall, which we featured in our Live at Other Music film series. Heck, even Coldplay's Chris Martin claimed that they were the best band on the planet.
Ever since, we've been looking for a record that would match the innovation, depth and soul of Aman Iman, so I guess it's no surprise that the only album that we've found to meet that criteria is a band made up of former members of Tinariwen -- one of which happens to be the younger brother of a Tinariwen co-founder. Terakaft's debut continues down the same musical trajectory of their sister band, blending American blues rock with North African scales, but it's also a bit more stripped down. The guitar leads of Diara and Kedou are the highlights here and there's no real percussion to speak of, except for a lone foot tap here and there. And while the music is primarily upbeat, there's also a moodiness conveyed in Diara and Kedou's slightly mournful, weathered vocal melodies. All in all, a stunning listen, I wouldn't be surprised to see this album on many "best of" lists this year. (Currently only available as a download -- CD format will be released on October 14th.)
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Matthew Young's Recurring Dreams is a whirling masterpiece of new wave electronic music, manipulating an EMS synthesizer and a reel-to-reel for an entrancing, dreamy and triumphant result. Clearly inspired by the progressive electronic works by Brian Eno and the spacey grandiosity of Tangerine Dream, Recurring Dream was deemed one of the best albums of 1981 by Greg Sandow of Village Voice, and the record ended up on shelves of college radio stations around the country as alternative and experimental music hit the revitalizing boom of the early eighties.
So today, after the neglect of over twenty five years, the Yoga label presents Matthew Young to an entirely new audience who, despite being entrenched in electronic music their whole lives, will be forced to look at it from a new angle after encountering this recording. Recurring Dream is definitely up there with the new wave cinematic re-releases of the B-Music label, as it is a homemade electronic album of delicate construction, layered and constructed in a tactile and expressionistic manner. The outsider eccentricities of the recording and the orientation towards folk music make this a valuable link in the chain between Bruce Haack and Lucky Dragons. Maximalist, churning, echoing, Recurring Dreams is one of the best reissues this year.
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Five years after his all-instrumental, electronic album Recurring Dreams (1981), Matthew Young released a folk-oriented, hammer dulcimer recording, Traveler's Advisory. The dulcimer work is fantastic, delicate and sensual, seamlessly blending eastern and western traditions while incorporating the recording ingenuity that made Recurring Dreams so remarkable. Easily pinned into a psychedelic-folk category, this album gives so much more than that labeling can offer. Sometimes it conjures British folk and progressive rock of the early seventies (or like Soft Machine magically accompanied by John Fahey), while at other moments Young's work sounds like a precursor to James Blackshaw, Illyas Ahmed, or Jack Rose. Electrifying his traditionally acoustic instruments lends a lazy and provocative energy to the music, and separates it from an entirely acoustic medium. The folk foundation to the recording is vital and affirming, lending credibility to the virtuosity Young displays on the dulcimer. Above all, his cover of Michael Hurley's "Werewolf" was regarded by Hurley himself as one of the finest versions of the song recorded, and I am inclined to agree. Traveler's Advisory almost sounds like it could be a contemporary release off of Time-Lag or Digitalis, and the precision and consideration of each song makes for a spellbinding album.
Ala kysy kuolleilta, he sanoivat
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While it's become known for helping to define the freewheeling sound of Finn-folk over the past few years, the Fonal label has also played host to a diverse camp of pop experimentalists as well, groups that apply the same general air of experimentation towards slightly more straightforward structures. One of the more surprising recent entries into this arm of Fonal's catalogue was the debut by Eleanoora Rosenholm, a trio that quickly made a mark with a concept album's worth of beguiling strands of haunted pop songcraft from all corners of the spectrum. While they may not share some of their labelmates' anything goes attitudes and expansive conceptualizations of song and structure, Eleanoora Rosenholm still manage to craft some fine, forward-thinking tracks, pulling in a number of styles that never once sound forced or disjointed.
Though little has changed on their second album Ala kysy kuolleilta, he sanoivat, the group's gleeful genre-skipping guarantees that the aesthetic retreads are kept to a bare minimum. Beginning with album opener "Tammen varjossa," the band bounds ahead at a full clip, coursing through an urgent synth-pop number that glows with an icy resilience. As the album progresses, however, it becomes clear that Eleanoora Rosenholm's grasp of disparate forms has only increased since their debut, as songs like "Tai-Panin paholainen" effortlessly blend field recordings and sparse, ambient textures with whimsically psychedelic choruses. Later still, "Bolly palkkionmetsastaja" dabbles in the realm of purely anthemic rock, turning up the guitars to match the pounding drums while vocalist Noora Tommila commands the show. Capably showcasing a band quickly coming into their own, Ala kysy kuolleilta, he sanoivat is a fine example of modern, synth-driven, bizarro pop.
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Ed Ball, conspirator in Television Personalities, the Times, O Level and Teenage Filmstars, started off innocently enough in the twee/UK DIY punk-pop diaspora, building up a decent head of steam, but cutting off operations abruptly in the early '80s. Star represented Ball's comeback album, originally released on Creation mere months after My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. In many ways, Star serves as the sister album to Loveless, even though there's no official word of involvement by Kevin Shields or any other MBV members. Nevertheless, you'll hear it here, an album that bursts forth out of the shoegaze stocks with heavy psychedelic, sound art, and cosmic overtones. Enough ideas for three albums are stacked on top of one another, swirling together like melting ice cream, Ball trying feverishly to disorient the listener with waves of fuzz, phasered guitar, Eastern percussion loops, thick '70s guitar heroics, and more. A stunning album, seemingly lost to time, and reaching far beyond just about anyone else -- anyone but the obvious, it seems -- for that era. More albums followed, but the impact of Star remains difficult to shake. Reissue includes three unreleased bonus tracks. I'm still kicking myself that I let vinyl of this go! Don't be like me!
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It's rare these days that you find something new within a genre that seems so exhausted. Rudresh Mahanthappa, however, has succeeded in doing such a thing. With his newest release, Kinsmen, the saxophonist blends the meditative, lyrical aspects of Indian classical music with the improv and structured playing of jazz. Utilizing violin, guitar, bass, mridangam, royal hartigan, drums, and two alto saxophones, Mahanthappa constructs something that, at times, moves like a raga, and at other times it grooves and swings like an ethno jazz ensemble. His playing often feels like that of a sitar, moving endlessly in, between, and through the scales. Think of the cultural blending that fascinated Dizzy Gillespie or Joe Harriott, yet coming from the other end of the spectrum, someone of Indian descent laying the foundation for merging into a truly American music form. Along with Vijay Iyer, whom Mahanthappa has supported on occasion, they seem to be issuing in a new fusion and era in the jazz world, and gaining much acclaim for their efforts. Kinsmen is the type of jazz record the richly diverse landscape of New York should be producing, and I'm glad to hear that someone actually is still interested in bridging the gap between the East and West. Recommended for not only jazz enthusiasts but for world music aficionados as well.
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Over the course of a half-a-dozen years or so and maybe twice as many mix tapes, DJ/Rupture has established himself as a DJ and producer with a global scope and grimey aesthetic. As you may recall around the time he started out, there was an obsession with mash-ups going on. And while most of those mash-ups tended to be ironic fusions ('80s hair metal with country, early hip-hop with glam rock vocalists, etc.), Rupture was also fusing tracks on mix tapes. But his concoctions were more along the lines of dancehall and Arabic classical music, jungle and hip-hop, or breakneck electronic textures with African pop -- all sans the irony. His mixes also tended to have an abrasive overall quality to them. So for this compilation -- available as a mix (Uproot) or unmixed (Uproot: The Ingredients) -- many of the elements that we have come to expect from Rupture are here. Ruff-neck dancehall, wobbled bass grime and off-kilter hip-hop all seem to meld into one another with ease. DJ/Rupture also tends to have a keen ear for beautifully unique vocalists, such as the Homeboys featuring Max Normal on "Maga Bo." This also includes very good tracks from We(tm), Timeblind, Ekkehard Ehlers, Scuba and Ghislain Poirier. Honestly, I'm not sure if I have a preference between the two versions -- I like the mix CD because it always interesting to see how he will make such diverse music interlock, but I also like hearing the tracks in their entirety. It's a toss-up.
Pandit Pran Nath
The Raga Cycle, Palace Theatre, Paris 1972
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A great day it is when we see a welcome addition to our download store with one of twentieth century India's musical giants, Pandit Pran Nath. Seeing as how we literally sold hundreds of the Midnight Raga CD at the shop on La Monte Young's Just Dreams imprint, I'll forgo an in depth introduction; suffice it to say that the man honed his skills as a holy ascetic in the caves of Tapkeshwar, established a reputation in India as the foremost interpreter of the Kirana style by the 1940s, and eventually went on to heavily influence an entire generation of American, European, and Japanese minimalist composers in the early seventies. La Monte Young and Terry Riley entered a formal master/disciple relationship with Pandit Pran Nath that lasted until his death in 1996, and both composers accompany him as instrumentalists on these archival performances from 1972. Does music get any deeper than this? It's just as likely to fill your chest cavity as your mind, as Pandit Pran Nath's voice endlessly explores the long, meditative alap portion of the raga with grace, effortlessness, stamina, and the kind of sheer invention only born from decades of complete and total devotion. It is not often that we're able to say an album is unambiguously timeless, but have no doubt, this one is.
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Just in, Professor Genius' killer, limited-press CD-R is now available for download! If you loved the "La Grotta" and "Pegaso" tracks on Italians Do It Better's After Dark comp and you weren't one of the lucky 300 to get one of the homemade discs last year, here's your chance to get eight more Genius jams. Like the killer Italo DeRuggiero comps, Professor Genius is not making fly-by-night, ironic, trend-hopper, Italo-poseur stuff. There are plenty of producers that just borrow the kitsch of synth-disco and do NOTHING with it. Professor Genius' tracks, on the other hand, are filled with the spirit of Italo/synth-disco and he actually DOES SOMETHING with these influences. Songs like the aforementioned "Hot Dice" have the drive of Black Devil Disco (but from Detroit) with the Blade Runner dystopian sprawl of Vangelis. "Orange Coco" sounds like a warmer, slightly more tropical I-F style vocoder disco -- which is a perfect improvement when you think about it, isn't it? What's also worth mentioning is that all the elements seem inspired from original cats: The cosmic, roller-boogie funk reminds me of Peter Brown; the catchy synth-y stuff reminds me of Alexander Robotnick; and the expansive stuff reminds me of Vangelis. Any producer can quote from an extensive record collection, yet the thing that sets these songs apart in the end is an obvious love for the sound that inspires them. These tracks are super well-written and arranged in a way that pays tribute to the past while it uses hindsight to push and recombine the genre elements into something that sounds fresh NOW. It doesn't just remind you of something good, IT IS GOOD!
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Released in 1977, this is the last Sparks album in their dozens-deep catalogue to get a proper reissue. The black sheep in the group's first decade, Introducing Sparks tries to tamp down Russell and Ron Mael's daring arrangements for something more palatable to a pop audience. Despite becoming superstars in England years earlier, where such musical derring-do was lauded instead of ignored, Sparks were relatively anonymous in much of the U.S. Introducing might have won over that crucial teen fanbase, or perhaps it was made to prove a point -- that studio involvement in their career would hurt rather than help. All things considered, it's as strong as predecessor as fan favorite Big Beat in many ways; the songs are there (big booming anthem "Occupation" -- about work, obviously; and they rarely got as heavy as "Girls on the Brain"), but everything's been given the big, glossy studio treatment, complete with backup singers on every track. And while Sparks fans should be used to the band changing up its approach every five years or so, they shouldn't necessarily fear said changes. Up next for the duo, after all, was No. 1 in Heaven, where everything truly did turn over for the group, but this sunny, Beach Boys-esque effort is worth discovering, despite the bad reputation.
Hard Man to Please
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Led by a dynamic vocalist named Dionne "Baby" Charles, this UK-based eight-piece is another example of a group that is successfully revitalizing the sound of authentic hard funk by cleverly tweaking the formula, updating it for the young folks. Baby Charles' first acclaimed release was an awesome Afro-funk cover of the Arctic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" that got a ton of play by discerning DJs around the world. They implement the same formula a bit here with "Hard Man," borrowing riffs from the JBs' "Doin' It to Death" and the Beastie Boys' "Check Your Head" instrumental. The result is a brassy, dirty, funk workout boasting another amazing vocal performance from Charles. If you're still diggin' on the Sharon Jones, Nicole Willis and Breakestra, check this out.
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Great reissue of an excellent, rare as hen's teeth Panamanian soul 45 dating back to '69. "Funky Puggin" is a percussive, tropical funk tune in the vein of "Funky Nassau," propelled along by the raw, vocal shouts of Samuel Peters and a nasty fuzz-guitar solo to boot. The b-side, "Soul Train," is another burner in the same vein as "Puggin" complete with a heavy drum break and a riff borrowed from Sly Stone. My only complaint is that these songs are too damn
Short. More please!