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This Week's Featured Downloads
Drums Over London
FREE SONG: Drums Over London
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NYC's Dan Selzer is responsible for getting a good number of us into post-punk disco back in the early '00s through his Transmission party at the late, lamented Plant Bar, and further through his Acute imprint. Selzer has given us a spate of crucial reissues right when we needed them, and has balanced the viciousness of releases by the Fire Engines, Metal Urbain and Glenn Branca against a more buttoned-up, but no less vital class of artists from here and abroad -- the Method Actors, the Lines, and now the Disco Zombies. This London-via-Leicester group of college lads had a go at it from '77 through '80, releasing a total of three singles and carving out a tiny space for themselves in post/punk history. The title track, from their second single (and available this week as a free download on Other Music Digital), was a favorite of John Peel's, and surfaced on the Killed By Death Vol. 1: Swingalongamuck comp of DIY singles. Here's the rest of the story, a restless slog through the birthings of punk and new wave as collected by a shifting group of young men, eager to make their fortune and finding confusion and chaos instead. Truthfully, they get better as they go on, with "Here Comes the Buts" -- their last single, and the only one to include the drum machine that would stay with the band in the stead of a live human until their demise -- fitting nicely into the brooding young man style of the day, as mastered by Graham Parker and Joe Jackson. History did not favor the Disco Zombies, but this career retrospective may make you wonder why. Their sound was poppy and upbeat, their stance inquisitive and joking in equal measures, their outlook adventurous (as evidenced by the 1980 live set appended here, finding the band covering Eno and Faust alongside their own material). There's a wealth of unreleased tracks here from singles that never materialized, and the concert tracks cap this one off as another winner from a label that doesn't know how to lose.
This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM 1957-1982
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Download version exclusive to Other Music Digital! If you are reading this, and you are a fan of rare gospel, soul and funk records, you are likely familiar with Tomkins Square's stunning 2009 triple-disc set Fire in My Bones: Raw + Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007). That collection (along with Dust-to-Digital's Goodbye Babylon) was a literal godsend for music fans, making a treasure-trove of self-released, obscure gospel records widely available for the first time. Lovingly curated by Mike McGonigal, best known as the founder and editor of Yeti magazine (and before that Chemical Imbalance), Fire in My Bones distilled years of McGonigal's obsessive crate-digging into a sprawling set that was so rich with soul, passion and raw emotion, it could put the fear of God even in a sad sinner like me -- and that's saying something! If you have read his magazines, you know that McGonigal's tastes are varied and deep, but he gravitates to the unvarnished, d.i.y. aesthetic, and his collection of gospel records showed a fierce, street-level approach to music making that could appeal to fans of punk or ethnographic field recordings as much as they could fans of traditional religious music.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to see this new collection arrive in my inbox a few weeks back, essentially a second volume of raw African-American gospel that McGonigal has assembled for Tompkins Square, this time with a narrower timeline ('57-'82), and the further restriction of being plucked entirely from seven-inch 45 vinyl releases. McGonigal chose to focus on the 45 for what he sees as the egalitarian nature of the format -- inexpensive to produce in limited runs, these singles were cut by storefront preachers and basement gospel groups from coast to coast, usually for sale only to their own congregations, and, though the quality of the musicianship and singing is startlingly high, the homespun, self-motivated approach gives the set a grit and grace that is undeniable.
This is religious music, for sure, but most all of these groups were clearly in the sway of the "modern" soul sounds that ruled the black community (and really, much of the world) in the '60s and '70s, so Fender guitars, Hammond organs and tight, popping drum kits define the collection. It is the sound of an era and of a community that was, to some degree, insular and self-contained, yet pushing at the boundaries of music and culture; it is music by and for the people, and oftentimes, you can hear those people singing and swaying and clapping along to tracks cut live in front of the congregation. With close to 75 songs spread across three full-length discs, there are too many amazing moments to even begin name-checking the favorites; I think you know you need this. Hours of great, inspirational music make this a must-have; for the love of God -- and music -- check this one out!
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy & the Phantom Family Halo
The Mindeater -EP
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Keeping track of pseudo-folk hero and R. Kelly enthusiast Bonnie 'Prince' Will Oldham can be a fulltime job, and it's likely that Sophomore Lounge's limited 10" release of The Mindeater was just another album that escaped the attention of many listeners. To the rescue is Knitting Factory, who has a digital (and CD) edition ready just a scant four months later.
Brought together by former Slint bassist Todd Brashear, who contributes his voice to an Everly Brothers cover on side B, Oldham and Halo leader Dominic Cipolla don't mix in a particularly predictable way at all. The Phantom Family's predilection for skewered post-rock heaviness is toned down several notches throughout, and the Prince's fragile intonation is tuned to its strained, always-on-the-verge of-cracking effect from start to finish. Consequently, Will's bold and cocky side is submerged beneath Cipolla's aquatic organ sounds and sometimes-twangy guitars, which are only as folky as the Kosmische rhythms, ambient sounds, and electric solos allow. Though their cover of "I Wonder If I Care So Much" starts out with a stumbling guitar lick torn right from the pages of the drunken Palace Brothers playbook, it quickly transforms into a groove-heavy jam complete with time-keeping keyboards, a motorik rhythm, and a guitar solo as heavy on the noise as it is on the melody. Will Oldham's name might show up on the cover prominently, like he's the bandleader, but Cipolla is clearly in charge and its his sonic sensibility that guides Will's singing. Anyone unhappy with his track record over the past couple of years will be happy to find Oldham experimenting here. Except for the closing number, which might as well be an outtake from one of his last two records, each song puts Will in a place he's never quite been before, and the uncomfortable energy that generates makes me excited for where both bands could go next.
London Is the Place for Me: Trinidadian Calypso in London, 1950-1956
Honest Jon's Records
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I first discovered calypso music a number of years ago via a battered Folkways 10-inch recording by a man named Lord Invader. It was called "Sings Songs for Children," but what immediately struck me as strange was that the lyrics were full of thinly veiled sexual innuendo and digressions about Fidel Castro's influence on the West Indian islands. I remember wondering what the hell kind of kids were these songs meant for. But as I picked up more calypso albums in the coming months I discovered that themes such as those were just par for the course in this music. The songs could be bawdy, witty, political, deadly serious and incredibly sophisticated. The great Lord Invader himself (along with my other favorite calypso lord, the Lord Kitchener) shows up on this excellent compilation that documents the Trinidadian expatriate scene in 1950s London. During those years calypso was THE music of Black London, prefiguring the rise of rock steady, ska and reggae in the coming decades. It was compiled by the proprietors of my favorite London record store Honest Jon's (the same folks who've been behind most of the superb reggae compilations that everybody loves out on Soul Jazz). If all the calypso you've ever been exposed to are cheesy hotel records that infest every flea market across the country then you haven't really heard calypso as performed by the illustrious names that grace this exquisite document: Young Tiger, Mighty Terror, The Lion, and more.
London Is the Place for Me 2: Calypso & Kwela, Highlife & Jazz from Young Black London
Honest Jon's Records
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Covering the mid-'40s through to the '60s, the second volume of London Is the Place for Me chronicles an amazingly fertile period in which immigrants from Nigeria, South Africa, Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, Senegal and many other locals converged in London to create the new music of the day. This music was a fusion of styles that represented the players' homelands, with jazz saxophone solos mixing freely with calypso and highlife. And some of the songs really are hilarious. For example, Young Tiger's commentary on be-bop, "'Calypso Be," name checks Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker, and goes on to say how confusing this new "monstrosity" is. The American jazz players may be good musicians, but as far as Young Tiger was concerned, they could just keep this music. In contrast, Gwigwi Mrwebi's "Nyusamkhaya" sways at a relaxed pace, as horns and piano tickle the ear with some of the warmest melodies I've heard in a while. There are also plenty of jump-up jazz tunes and stark, rhythmically complex percussion songs. You can tell that many of these songs were aimed squarely at the dance floor and it's not hard to imagine that the atmosphere in some of the nightclubs at this time must have been electric. The music also served as an escape from the cold and often-dreary London landscape, a reminder of warmer places back home. I, myself, can't think of a better soundtrack for these early days of fall. (Also available: London Is the Place for Me 3 and London Is the Place for Me 4.)