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This Week's Free Download

Bicep - DarwinBicep
Darwin (Original Mix)
Throne of Blood
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This week's free download is taken from Bicep's forthcoming EP1 and comes courtesy of New York's Throne of Blood, a label run by James F!@#$%^ Friedman and members of the Rapture. Bicep is the imprint's first UK signing, the Belfast duo having described their music as "house infused 80s analog inspiration." Indeed, "Darwin" is a solid late-night thumper, with soulful vocal samples floating over old-school piano repetitions and ominous synth swells and Italo arpeggiations. EP1 is out on Monday, December 6, and features two more killer tracks: "Drippin" and a Retro/Grade edit of "Darwin" from Serge Santiago and Tom Neville.

This Week's Featured Downloads

Phil Cohran and Legacy - African Skies Phil Cohran and Legacy
African Skies
Captcha Records (HBSP-2X)
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Twenty-four years separate the recording dates of Phil Cohran's Malcolm X Suite, and 1993's African Skies, but you'd hardly know it. Perfectly conceived and executed as a tribute to the then recently deceased Sun Ra, in whose ensembles Cohran originally got his start, this is quite possibly one of the greatest jazz records of the '90s, and an album which stands head to head with Cohran's most famous work. Composed as a suite, and deeply elegiac in tone, there's a newfound level of reflection throughout that stands in sharp contrast to the often fiery rhythms and playing of his earlier work. That change was no doubt occasioned by the recent loss of his comrade, and many of the pieces here gently interweave soft melodic lines through intricate patterns created by mbira's and harps or koras. While somber and melancholy, the mood never becomes dreary nor maudlin as Cohran and his ensemble respectfully accompany Sun Ra on his final cosmic voyage. The more I listen the more I feel this might actually be Cohran's defining work, an absolutely essential listen that's simply beautiful on every level.

-Michael Klausman

Date Palms - Of Psalms Date Palms
Of Psalms
Root Strata
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A wonderful debut from Bay Area duo Date Palms. Comprised of violinists Marielle Jakobsons and Gregg Kowalsky, who also play various dulcimers and electronics, and featuring tamboura player Michael Elrod (who also appears on the Alps' recent Le Voyage) and guitarist Noah Phillips, the group has made what is to these ears a high-water mark for the fine Root Strata label. Though Of Psalms defies an overly simplified soundbite, a description of album opener "Psalm 7" will offer some idea of the waters that Date Palms wades in. Featuring tamboura, violin, bass, Rhodes piano and electronics, the track recalls the late night stillness one encounters on the Cluster & Eno album. The bass playing -- miraculously Jakobsons' first time on the instrument -- suggests Willie Carathurs from Spacemen 3 on the nod or perhaps the spongy desert dub of Dadawah's Peace and Love, and lends a deep, throbbing, narcotic quality to the proceedings. (The dub connection is again highlighted by song titles recalling Prince Far I's all-time classic Psalms for I.) Meanwhile, the sprinkling of shimmering Rhodes piano calls to mind Roedelius and even Brightblack Morninglight while the plucked and strummed dulcimers that appear in latter stages evoke the sparkling stillness of new age travelers William Eaton and Edward Larry Gordon.

The dotted electronic pattern of "Psalm 4" is reminiscent of the minimalist work of JD Emmanuel, David Behrman and Laurie Spiegel. In time, the brocade-like pattern is overtaken by squalling electronics, as if Robert Fripp, Sonny Sharrock and J Spaceman were all wrestling with 10 Marshall stacks. The album's epic centerpiece, however, is "Psalm 3," which goes into deep, deep drone territory. Over what sounds like an electronic tamboura tone, Jakobsons proposes what LaMonte Young might've sounded like were Tony Conrad or John Cale playing expressively in the Carnatic mode. Jakobsons, like Kowalsky who is a Mills College graduate, has clearly done her homework, taking influence from this South Indian mode (think Pandit Pran Nath) and does so in a lovely, evocative fashion. Over the course of the track's 13-plus minutes, "Psalm 3" builds into a shoegaze drone of epic proportions, with the Rhodes again appearing like a distant cousin of Dr. John's Gris-Gris or even early Air.

So, to conclude? If Vibracathedral Orchestra mellowed out, if Taj Mahal Travelers got a bit more tuneful, if LaMonte Young and Dadawah did an album with Conny Plank, perhaps you'd get something like Of Psalms. As it stands, it's one of the loveliest, most welcome records I've heard this year.

-Alexis Georgopoulos

Slim Smith - Just a Dream Slim Smith
Just a Dream
Cobraside/Abraham/Clock Tower
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A heartbreakingly beautiful solo album recorded in 1972 by one of the greatest voices in the history of reggae, Slim Smith. Smith broke out into public consciousness during Jamaican music's ska and rocksteady era, as part of the vocal harmony act the Techniques. He subsequently fronted another absolutely classic group, the Uniques, before striking out as a solo artist. Just a Dream was cut the year before his untimely death; produced by Bunny Lee and originally released by the Bronx based Clocktower Records, it finds Smith at the top of his game, placing an indelible stamp on a handful of soul covers, including a completely mesmerizing version of Curtis Mayfield's classic "Gypsy Woman." God, what a voice this man possessed; sort of high and sweet, just this side of fragile, it's as prone to floating off into the aether as it is to manifesting a tangible, emotionally resonant sense of power and pathos. Gorgeous stuff, and it's a complete travesty that he'd soon bleed to death after smashing his arm through a window at his parents' home.

-Michael Klausman

Rubens Bassini y Los Latinos - Latino Fantastico Rubens Bassini y Los Latinos
Latino Fantastico
Far Out Recordings
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Rubens Bassini was a percussionist and perhaps best known as a member of Brasil '66 during their world-dominance period. This was only the most visible chapter of his career, however, as his accomplishments before and after are too many to list here. This record at hand is the second reissue of one of his earlier works following Whatmusic's re-release of the brilliant Ritmo Fantástico album a few years back. Whereas Ritmo had a real Cal-Tjader-and-Mongo-Santamaria-on-vacation-in-Rio feel to it, Latino Fantástico is more stripped down, a series of short rhythmic vignettes again heavily imbued with Latin as opposed to Brazilian ethos and sound. One can easily imagine this LP being used in 1963 as an in-store test record for new "stereophonic" hi-fi purchasers. As such, it's highly recommended to Esquivel fans and, needless to say, it's absolutely primordial sampling material as well.

-Greg Caz

Rolf Julius - Music for the Ears Rolf Julius
Music for the Ears
Wesern Vinyl
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A very, very welcome disc here, being that I believe this is the first ever domestic release of recordings from the remarkable German sound/installation artist Rolf Julius. In the late '90s Editions RZ issued a fantastic series of discs by this important figure, but they've been long out of print, and Western Vinyl has now thankfully stepped in and plan on doing a slew of releases on this incredibly interesting man and his completely unique approach to music and art making. Starting in the late '70s, and with a disparate array of influences spanning minimalism and the Fluxus movement, to John Cage and Morton Feldman, Julius began planning site-specific installations in outdoor environments and discrete locations in galleries, using analog tapes, speaker wire, small speakers, stones, clay pots, dust, wind instruments, and other diverse and unlikely sculptural elements to create what he dubbed "Small Music" -- an at times almost Zen-like exploration of sound in relation to silence and the ways in which they alter our sense of perception.

This inaugural release, Music for the Ears, is the aural document of two of Julius' early installations, entitled "Song from the Past" and "Music on Two High Poles," the playing time of each running over twenty-five minutes. The first piece is the quieter of the two, with some sort of wind instrument, perhaps a flute, or maybe even simply a bottle, providing a hushed and sustained tone interspersed with a fleeting sense of melody that alternates with long gaps of silence. Musically, the effect is almost akin to the sounds of loons you'd hear on some mist-covered lake in the morning, being extremely intimate yet nevertheless faintly distant. The silence between each sustained breath of sound creates an interesting sensation in the listener born of the tension that those moments of reflection and anticipation create. The second piece, "Music on Two High Poles," more forcefully enters the listener's consciousness, with long, droning sustained patterns of sound created with a harmonium or bagpipes, perhaps. For a work that was realized in the open air, it's a remarkably great headphone listen, as brittle and slightly astringent pieces of the whole crackle into and out of the main flow of sound. Both are brilliantly realized and engrossing pieces of music, and we can't wait to see what Western Vinyl comes out with from Julius next.

-Michael Klausman

Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto - Vrioon Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto
KAB America
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We were thrilled when Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto's Vrioon was recently delivered to our download store. Long a staff favorite, this is an album that anyone with even the slightest passing interest in ambient and minimal electronic music should own. Equal parts Noto's cold and dry minimalism and the simple yet lyrical romanticism of Sakamoto's piano work, Vrioon is a carefully crafted series of miniatures. Though each track consists of a different combination of the same basic ingredients the duo let each idea unwind so gradually that it never feels confining. Sakamoto's piano slowly phrases its way through brittle framework of Noto's static and pulse, letting each note linger just long enough to let us anticipate the next one. While Noto and Sakamoto complement each other well on these six tracks, it's when the rhythms subside and the piano is left to flutter alone that the album's true beauty shines through. An elegant release, this is one of Noto's most rewarding collaborative projects.

-Koen Holtkamp

The Flying Lizards - The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards The Flying Lizads
The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards
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In 1978, Flying Lizards mastermind David Cunningham (producer of This Heat, amongst many others) received a mono master tape cut by legendary Jamaican producer Jah Lloyd (with a top notch, although anonymous band) for Virgin's reggae division Frontline (U-Brown, Burning Spear, LKJ). Told to do whatever he wanted to with it, and with great sympathy towards the material, Cunningham proceeded to conjure every trick he could come up with to rework the rhythm tracks. And it's to his credit that a record that has as many sounds happening in any given song as this doesn't come off sounding cluttered or kitschy. The explanation for that could possibly be because of Cunningham's interest in the music of Philip Glass, Terry Riley, et al. Secret Dub Life... is most likely one of the first (if not only) dub records ever made with post-minimal strategies. He throws in loops, strips rhythms, and adds effects (in pre-sampler days) to create a dub masterpiece that holds its own against those giants of the genre Lee Perry and King Tubby. Awesome.

-Michael Klausman

Orange Juice - Rip It Up Orange Juice
Rip It Up
Domino Recording Co
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Coinciding with the release of the anticipated Orange Juice CD/DVD Coals to Newcastle box set (reviewed in this past Wednesday evening's Update and available on Other Music's mail order site), Domino Recording Co. has reissued all of this legendary Scottish band's studio albums as downloads. We're thrilled to see these releases available in a digital format, for both the old fans whose vinyl is probably well-worn, as well as a new generation of listeners, who have never heard the group's infectious, soulful and funky post-punk songs.


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Girls - Broken Dreams Club

The Fun Years - God Was Like, No
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Simian Mobile Disco - Delicacies
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