Quarterly Report!

…Because no true music geek can resist making lists before the end of the year…


For the last couple of months I’ve had this on-again-off-again argument with some guy on youtube who insists that there’s no music to equal that of the “great classic” artists like Meat Loaf [no lie!], Journey and other assorted greybeard-y nonsense. Now the Meat Loaf part would have been bad enough, but the one “contemporary artist” he had any respect for was….LENNY KRAVITZ! You know, the one who’s been around since the 80s? This guy’s idea of a hot new act is a 50 year old. Seriously? Anyway, while this guy was living out 2014 with his head in the sand, so much amazing music appeared that nobody listening could agree what the most amazing music was. This very blogger came up with a list of 16 albums that most people didn’t even have on their lists [because I’m cool like that]. It looked for all intents and purposes like an annis mirablis for music lovers everywhere. It couldn’t get any better than this could it? Well…we’ll just have to see about that. It’s only the beginning of April and 2015 already has some jaw-dropping releases to it’s name. While it’s waaaayyy too early in the race to declare anything as the “best” anything, here are a handful of albums that have a good chance of making it to the winner’s podium come year’s end:

Rhiannon Giddens – Tomorrow Is My Turn [Elektra/Nonesuch] The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ pure-bred string band sound, while lovely, always seem a frail and small vessel to hold Rhiannon Giddens’ gleaming voice. Her T-Bone Burnett-produced debut is less of a breakout than an unveiling. Giddens sings with the assurance of someone who’s studied and prepared for this exact moment. Burnett’s expertise places Giddens’ voice squarely in a no-time existence, allowing her to take what she wants from the source material, while retaining her own personal palate. Watch as she tempers the sly optimism of Dolly Parton’s “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind” while cracking open Sister Rosetta’s “Up Above My Head” to find the rock and roll heart that lives in the best gospel music. Giddens has set the bar at a scary height her first time out, but shows no sign that she won’t easily reach it next time we meet her.

Bettye Lavette – Worthy [Cherry Red] Bettye Lavette may be the most complicated singer in all soul music, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply impossible to separate what we know about her from what she sings. When she turns her weather-sanded, defiant, no-bs-taken voice on a song like “Just Between You and Me and the Wall” what would be a basic blues becomes something ominous, Olympian even. It’s hard to imagine someone who’s lived what Lavette has wasting much breath or effort on some silly unfaithful lover. It sounds more like the “fool” she’s scolding is much bigger. It’s not clear if it’s god, the devil or something in between she’s angry at, but they’d sure better listen up, because she’s not planning on telling them twice.
Gang of Four – What Happens Next [Metropolis] The fact that we’re even discussing a new GOF album half past the second decade of the 21st century is it’s own discussion [and boy are people having it]. 59-year old Andy Gill is the sole member from the post-punk legends’ glory days, but time doesn’t seem to have made him any more comfortable or sanguine, which is directly reflected in the sounds of What Happens Next. The GOF-patented take on funk is still there, but shrinkwrapped in a high relief glaze of electronica and found noise. Gill’s own guitar, once a unpredictable, acidic thrill, has evolved into disembodied morse code from a dimension similar to ours, but still chillingly other. With the departure of original vocalist Jon King, Gill has taken pages from fellow agit-funkers like Bill Laswell and Was [Not Was], deploying a rotating cast of vocalists to narrate his messages: The Kills’ Allison Mosshart, Robbie Furze of Big Pink, German actor Herbert Gronemeyer and regular vocalist John “Gaoler” Sterry all take strong leads, giving What Happens Next the feel of a soundtrack to a film yet lensed. Is it a Gang of Four album? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s definitely what happens next.
LoneLady – Hinterland [Warp] There’s some kind of strange poetry in Gang of Four releasing their ninth album the same month that Julie Ann Campbell aka LoneLady releases her second. Hinterland continues the Manchester-born Campbell’s quest to reclaim the base elements that gave rise to post punk, which flowered briefly in the mid-80s before being swept aside by MTV-friendlier synth-pop. Campbell’s affection for the Sound of the Industrial North is easy to see: From the stark, standardized, found-art look of the graphics to the brittle, matte-finish sound she give to her records. HInterland is far more than a nostalgia effort, though; Campbell never fails to imbue her tight melodies and staccato beats with blood and breath. Post punk was supposed to be the rock of the future, and for LoneLady, the future is now.
Ibeyi – Ibeyi [XL Recordings] Ready for a genius attack? Well here it is. Like the cover photo of fraternal twins Lisa-Kanide Diaz and Naomi Diaz, Ibeyi haunts, shocks and intrigues all at once. The Paris-raised daughters of famed Cuban percussionist Anga Diaz and Venezuelan singer Maya Dagnino claim never to have tried music until their father’s death. Normally this would sound like hooey, but Ibeyi truly sounds like the songs and sounds people are born hearing rather than learn to make. The dark rhythms are all earth and sweat and blood while the twin voices rise and fall like a thousand years of prayers and chants and jungle calls. Piano and random electronics waft past like candle smoke from a secret ceremony we’re not sure we’re allowed to see. Ibeyi is the kind of sound that reminds you that no matter how much you think you’ve heard, you still don’t know anything.
NEXT:  The Lord’s Prayer….


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