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Picks 11/18/2012

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Not a whole lot caught my ear this week. These two picks are strong though. Stay up.

Pulled from a trip to Fingerprints.


Lukid – Lonely At the Top (Werk, 2012)

I’ll admit it, I’m fairly new to electronic music, any genre. I grew up with the close-minded American punk rock mentality that electronic music sucked. Things change, and in 2010, it was Lukid’s Chord, along with works by Fourtet, Teebs, Flying Lotus and Floating Points that were my gateway drug. Chord is a rough and raw mishmash of hip-hop by way of Dabrye, with dabs of electro and the imminent “bass music” scene. While the album featured fragile, pretty tracks like “Makes,” it was the bass heavy, thorny, filtered floor-shakers and head-nodders that prevailed. Since then, Lukid has excelled on a handful of remixes and truly found a voice across two excellent and defining singles for his own Glum record label. On Lonely At the Top, Lukid furthers his compressed tape-visions, but adds vibrant color and softer edges to both thoughtful beat productions, as well as his dance-influenced tracks.

The guy has shown a lot of growth in his music, and I can see the parallel in my own growth as a listener along with it. Where Lukid’s sound was more “aggro,” he’s now moved into a mode that is just as moody, but more centered and at peace. His sentimental downtempo songs are no longer brittle or cluttered, they now breathe and have life, as heard on “The Life of the Mind.” The atmosphere is thick and his love for shoegaze and post-rock is firmly evident, but what is most striking is that Lukid has managed to make synthesized music feel extremely emotive. The chords dip, the vocal sample coos, the atmosphere has a cloudy bounce to it – a wonderful moment that is over way too soon.

This growth is mirrored on the abstract hip hop track “Laroche,” where he builds a sweet pop melody, a summery type of beat, then brings in crunchy 808’s and skittering high hats for just a few short bars before returning back to his summery daydream. Whether a pastiche of the current taste for “trap” or perhaps a more innocent nod to the style, Lukid demonstrates a restraint that few other producers care to employ. He has moved away from his unrelenting raucous tracks, and shows that the idea of “keep them wanting more” is sometimes the best strategy.

As was the case on Chord, Lonely At the Top’s excellent cover art mirrors both the sound and vibe of the music. The foggy synth tones bleed into percussion stabs to create a soupy industrial funk. There is somewhat of a Detroit low-fi brightness to the chords as heard on “Manchester“, but met with an equal fascination for the poppy pink fog of My Bloody Valentine – as heard on the Dilla influenced “Bless My Heart.” It’s all soupy goodness that is a real delight for the ears, especially if experienced with quality headphones. However, the layers of haze do make it a little difficult to play out, as I played out the electro jam “Southpaw” the other night and it just sounded a bit too muddy.

Lukid is really moving forward and getting closer to the masterpiece that he is capable of. To date this is his strongest work yet, as well as his most complex. He may not yet be as popular or revered as Flying Lotus or Fourtet, but in due time he will be regarded as a formidable peer who explored the same rich influences and crafted his own unique take on experimental electronic music.

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Various Artists – Glücklich II (Compost, 1996)

Maybe it’s the nature of DJ culture in Southern California, or perhaps the key lies in the endless time capsule crates of Fingerprints, but I often turn up great rare groove/latin compilations issued 10-15 years ago still in the shrink. I’ll pull the record, turn it over and try to decide if this going to be some culture caricature or real deal grooves. In regards to hunting “world music,” there’s a couple of easy warning signs to help you spot a whack imitator: 1) If the main artist/songwriter/producer is named something like “Steve Johnson,” it will be so lame 2) If there are elegantly dressed white people dancing on the cover, it will be lame 3) If the record label is American, it’s probably lame –  although changing, historically, most of the good reissue labels tend to be European 4) If the performer is presented as a caricature of either his/her/American culture, it’s definitely lame 5) If there is a write-up on the back by a journalist/musician/musicman, read it, this is the final step and usually the determining factor of lameness.

Glucklich II easily passed all my criteria, and really, with a subtitle of “A collection of European fusion tunes with a Brazilian flavour,” it’s hard to pass up. The banner lives up to its summation, all the tracks were performed by German based musicians, some with latinoamericano lineage, some not. Jazz fusion can very quickly cross the line into unlistenable cheese, but all the groups here take the samba/batacunda vibe seriously and keep the tracks focused and funky. I’m not too knowledgeable about the European jazz scene, so none of these names sounded familiar, but a shout out to both Gilles Peterson and Ubiquity gave the nod that these would be real tracks.

The nine songs can be characterized into being either more jazz based or more samba based, and they split fairly equally, with just the right amount of balance amongst and within the compositions. Joe Haider Trio’s “Tante Nelly” sounds like a lost Sambalanço Trio track, moody and deep while retaining an organic streetwise groove. On the flip we have the incredible “Otão E Eu” by Nicos Jaritz, a rough batacunda track that sets itself apart by deep rolling bass – I can’t wait to play this out every chance I get. It’s an absolutely killer track that is mesmerizing when played loud, as the sound of so much clanging live percussion is truly uplifting. Livening things up with a tropicalia inspired vocal jam, Ximo & Judy’s “Vou Vencer” is equal parts “tristeza” and romance, a track that lingers after it’s gone.

Surprisingly, the track that has stuck most with me is the moonlit vocal number, “Go For the Others” by Sail-Joia. At first listen, the vocal just didn’t do it for me – I thought the English ruined some of the mystery of the music, but I realize now the intended audience didn’t speak English, thus their vision captures the romance of this Tropicalia ode to the pampas. The lightly galloping rhythm and smoky arrangement recalls the cinematic psychedelic work of Marcos Valle. The vocal is haunting, emotive, and cool, but with a sense of knowing. Most interesting is the incredible soprano sax solo by Shawn Bergin, who taps into Coltrane spirituality, but with a mood that would have been at home in Mulatu’s band. A big success.

Categories: 2012, brazil, fusion, hip hop, tropicalia

Negro É Lindo

January 13, 2010 2 comments

Jorge Ben – Negro É Lindo (Phillips, 1971)

Today I find myself in a Starbucks somewhere in Downtown San Francisco. They ran out of bagels, it looks like rain, I have a fifty pound backpack with me and I’m not sure where I’m staying tonight. So obviously, I only need the best feel-good music right now.

I’m posting another Tropicalia album by one of the more discreet figures of the scene. Like Jards Macalé he is also a native of Rio de Janeiro and was somewhat of an outcast of the movement. He did not fit into Macalé’s group either as Ben’s focus was a bit more light-hearted and reminiscent of street samba of the favelas. What distinguishes and makes Jorge Ben a lasting figure is his heavy use of samba, as well as soul – two styles which were born in and dominate black neighborhoods – and incorporating them with the rock and bossa-nova music his contemporaries were playing. Jorge Ben’s music will often fuse samba drumming and whistles, bossa nova piano, and powerful soul singing to create a song that is both soothing and beautiful, but upbeat and danceable.

Negro É Lindo is a great record, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of Ben’s releases from this time period. The main reason why I posted this record versus any of his others is for the song “Cigana.” It opens so sweetly and serenely with a very clean bell and acoustic guitar, Jorge Ben’s smooth voice seeps into your ears like honey and dreamy violins ease away all tension. Overall, this is a fantastic album with a perfect blend of oneiric bossa-soul songs and lively samba-soul tracks. Interest in Jorge Ben’s music has resurfaced in the US as most of his early stuff has been reissued recently and he is more and more widely appreciated. Get going on this already!

1. Rita Jeep
2. Porque é Proibido Pisar Na Grama
3. Cassius Marcelo Clay
4. Cigana
5. Zula
6. Nego é Lindo
7. Comanche
8. Que Maravilha
9. Maria Domingas
10. Palomaris

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Categories: 1971, brazil, tropicalia

Aprendar a Nadar

January 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Jards Macalé – Aprender a Nadar (Phillips, 1974)

Macalé is an interesting character in the Brazilian music scene of the late ’60s and ’70s. He was involved in the developing Tropicalia movement by writing music for such musicians as Gal Costa, but due to strict censorship by the military dictatorship at the time he was exiled before recording his first album. He returned to Brazil in ’72 and immediately became a big player of the art community in Rio, hanging out and collaborating with artists, poets and other musicians. Macalé was never really a part of the Tropicalia movement and as his music never was poppy or commercial enough, he always stayed under the radar of the fame.

Interdisciplinary cooperation was a major point of Macalé’s artistic philosophy and Aprendar a Nadar is his first major example of collaboration. The album is a concept album based on the “morbeza romantica,” which translates to the romantic morbid-beauty, a phrase developed by Macalé and poet Waly Salomão. The term meant to represent a sentiment of “ill health and beauty,” a state which represented the Rio artists of the ’70s as they struggled to be creative under the dictatorship. Unlike other artists, the Rio group refused to flee to Europe as ex-patriots, instead choosing to produce art that would get Salomão arrested and tortured and lead poet/journalist Torquato Neto to suicide.

The album itself is a piece of collaborative art in every sense, as the lyrics are put together by Macalé, Salomão, Neto as well as a few other poets and the music is a combination is a mixture of bossa nova, tropicalia, mambo, folk and jazz. The theme of “morbeza romantica” is fully present throughout the album as it is moody, sexy, dark, but just slightly off and uncomfortable. Macalé’s vocals are scotch-smooth, tinged with a bit of fire and irony, but trust me this cat can sing! Gotta love this record, it’s a bit haunting. If it doesn’t grab you on the first lesson, give it a second shot and listen to the way Macalé sings, the way the piano echos and how ironic the strings sound, maybe read some Baudelaire or Marquis de Sade or some Neto.

The following poem by Neto fully illustrates what Macalé and his group were attempting to achieve, it was used in 1982 as a song off Macalé’s album Os Últimos Dias de Paupéria:

Let’s Play That

when I was born
a crazy, very crazy angel
came to read my palm
it wasn’t a baroque angel
it was a crazy, crooked angel
with wings like a plane
and behold, this angel told me,
pressing my hand
with a clenched smile:
go on, pal, sing off key
in the happy people’s choir
go on, pal, sing off key
in the happy people’s choir
let’s play that


1. Jards Anet A Vida
2.
Corações/No Meio do Mato/O Faquir da Dor/Rua Real Grandeza/Pam Pam Pam
3. Imagenes
4. Anjo Exterminado
5. Dona de Castelano
6. Mambo da Cantareira
7. E Dai…
8. Orora Analfabeta
9. Senhor Dos Sabados
10. Boneca Semiotica

For more information about Jards Macalé and his involvement in Rio counter-culture read this article by Marcelo Ballve that appeared in Waxpoetics over the summer. If anyone has links to Tropicalia poetry online, please let me know!

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Categories: 1974, brazil, tropicalia

Los Sueños de América

January 7, 2010 2 comments

Manduka/Los Jaivas – Los Sueños de América (Movieplay, 1974)

A great lazy day album by Brazilian folk singer Manduka and the Chilean psychedelic group Los Jaivas. There is not much information available in English about Manduka at all, but from what I gather he was a folk musician from Brazil who was born into a family of poets and writers. He lived the bohemian lifestyle as he traveled throughout Latin America playing with different groups and incorporating different influences into his music. According to one account he actually lived in a house with Pablo Neruda at one point – very interesting. On his travels in Argentina he joined up with Chilean psychedelic group Los Jaivas and their meeting resulted in this fantastic album.

Los Jaivas, originally from Chile, were ousted after the coup that overthrew Allende in ’73. A Pinochet dictatorship obviously could not handle the rocking political grooves of Los Jaivas so the group moved to Argentina then later relocated again to France. As the first recording since the groups exile, this album must be seen as a reaction to the unjust Pinochet regime. Simply enough in the title, “Los Sueños de América,” we find a sense of hope, and as the album has a drifting dream-like quality, we listen as Manduka and Los Jaivas explain the current state of a Latin America struggling for its identity and for hope in the future.

This record is beautiful, epic and very groovy. Manduka said that this album attempts to explain “the wisdom of the mountains, the intoxication of the sea and the hermetic jungle.” This geographic dialogue is heard through the extensive use of flute, chanting and percussion. A great record to sip coffee to as you start your day, or perfect for tucking you in at night. Favorite track on here is “Date Una Vuelta en el Aire,” absolutely beautiful.

1. Don Juan de la Suerte
2. La Centinela
3. Date Una Vuelta en el Aire
4. Tá Bom Tá Que Tá
5. Traguito de Ron
6. Los Sueños de América
7. Primero Encuentro Latino Americano de la Soledad

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Categories: 1974, brazil, chile, psych-folk