Friday, December 24, 2004

Best of 2004 Music Recommendations (a long post).

The following were some of my favorite albums and singles of 2004. The styles range from acoustic folk to reggae, soul and indie rock. I hope you get to hear some of what made my year listenable...

1.Joseé–Lost Souls Dancing (Inertia) Joseé’s debut album, Lost Souls Dancing, is also her first on the venerable British label Inertia. Inertia emerged around 1997 as a label pushing its own brand of downtempo music, with flagship producer Hefner being a favorite on Radio 1 host Giles Peterson’s “Worldwide” broadcast. Hefner (Lee Jones) co-produced most of Joseé’s album, and the songs are somewhere between Norah Jones’s plaintive songwriting and DJ Shadow’s sample trickery. Joseé’s voice is perfectly understated and consistent. She’s not over-singing like many vocalists these days. Also, one of the achievements of electronic music recently has been to blur the lines between live instrumentation and samples. Throughout Joseé’s album its difficult to figure out where the real instruments stop and the programming begins–and that’s the point.

2. Kaki King–Legs To Make Us Longer (Epic) I rue the fact that I missed every one of the three shows that Atlanta-by-way-of-Brooklyn native and fingerpicking acoustic guitar sensation Kaki King played in the Bay Area in 2004. The real treat was probably her solo performance at Berkeley coffee house Freight & Salvage; I doubt she’ll play anything that intimate for a while (actually, I just found out she's returning to this venue Friday Jan 28, 2005). King's been featured on NPR, signed to Epic and receiving critical acclaim all over the damn place. But what is a former subway busker and devotee of guitarists like Michael Hedges and John Fahey doing on a electronic music editor’s top-of-the-year list? Well, for one, I’m a music fan first, with tastes as diverse as the Jam, Comets On Fire and Augustus Pablo. But regardless, this album is flawlessly constructed and the work of a guitar prodigy. It’s a poignant display of acoustic prowess taking in classic, flamenco and American/British folk guitar traditions. Like an instrumental Nick Drake with a few twists thrown in, King will bow you over.

3. Murcof–Utopia (Leaf) Murcof is Fernando Corona, a former member of Tijuana’s Nortec Collective, one of the first groups of Mexican producers to explore minimal techno as well as indigenous sounds. Corona’s music is a somber mix of classical instrumental samples and clicky, digitized rhythms. Apparently, 21 Grams director Alejandro González Iñárritu has tapped Corona to score an upcoming movie. You can read more about Murcof at the excellent posteverything

4. Midnite (any recordings) (Rastafaria) Midnite are an amazing reggae band from St. Croix, US Virgin Islands. The band is fronted by two brothers who spent five years living and gigging in Washington DC (which has a sizeable Caribbean ex-pat population) and have recorded an astounding 10 albums since 1999, often releasing two or more a year, all on tiny independent labels. They recall reggae’s early-80s roots era of post-Marley vocal trios such as Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration, Mighty Diamonds, Gladiators etc. But there’s something different about Midnite that can only really be understood at their live shows, often two-hour marathons of uninterrupted music where they slow down, dub out and extend tracks from their various recordings. It’s a seriously meditative experience. Much of their fan base has grown via word of mouth, which, in combination with the live show might classify them as a “jam band”. But I’d rather just say that they’re the best reggae act I’ve heard in about a decade.

5. Various–Bombay Beats (Water Music) You might hear a bhangra artist like Shi GC on a visit to SF Pakistani/Indian food spot Naan & Curry (O'Farrell at Jones). His music is from the Punjab region, a slice of land on the Indian/Pakistan border near the disputed Kashmir territory. Originally farmer’s work music, this form of bhangra soon became the party soundtrack for many Indians and Pakistanis abroad. The music was mixed with many forms of British breakbeat and American hip-hop, and the tune, “Beware of the Boys,” by Panjabi MC and Jay Z, spent a short while on the US charts last year. Bombay Beats is one of the better collections of Punjabi bhangra that I’ve heard, although if you want the authentic stuff, buy some CDs at an Indian corner store in the Tenderloin. And make sure you try the Tandori Prawn at Naan & Curry on O’Farrell!

6. GB–Simply So feat Spacek-SA-RA Remix (Sound In Color) GB has a new album, Soundtrack For Sunrise, out on So Cal label Sound In Color. “Simply So” appears on it, but you should really check for the 12” single remix by SA-RA Creative Partners, a trio from New York/LA that are considered a “group to watch” in 2005. On their remix, SA-RA applies a bit of classic Stax soul, a bit of Outkast sass and a loose, laid-back attitude to GB’s original track, which features UK vocalist Steve Spacek. Global soul, baby–ya heard?

7. Platinum Pied Pipers–Stay Withy Me (Ubiquity Records) Platinum Pied Pipers are a production duo from Detroit (now based in Brooklyn), made up of Waajeed–known for his gritty hip-hop style (and work with Slum Village)–and his partner Saadiq, a master keyboard and guitar player, brought up under the tutelage of world-renowned songwriter Barrett Strong (arranger for Marvin Gaye), who brings the element of improvisational live instrumentation to PPP’s sound. Vocalists Tiombe Lockhart and Georgia Ann are featured on “Stay With Me.” Check Waajeed's site Bling 47.

8. Estelle–1980 (V2). I don’t know too much about her other than she was a pop star in Britain this year. I can see why based on the MP3 of her nostalgic hit "1980" that my friend, music journalist Dave Stelfox emailed me one day. I love technology.

9. Mark de-Clive-Lowe–Tides Arising (Antipodean) Mark de-Clive-Lowe is a multi-instrumentalist and producer from New Zealand. He is known for flying to London and crashing on peoples couches, then playing wicked keyboard solos on British dance tracks. A song like "Traveling" is a good example of an offshoot of UK underground electronic music called broken beat. Broken beat takes elements of jazz, funk, fusion (think Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters), house and a stutter-step rhythm pattern. This track features S.F. MC Capital A and London vocalist Bembe Segue. I play a lot of music in this vein when I DJ.

10. Double Identity–Can't Explain-Titonton remix (Voltage Music) Self-promotion warning! Double Identity is my production alias. I’ve been making tracks for about five or six years now, and released three previous singles on my own Voltage Music label. "Can't Explain" is from my next single (out Feb 05) and a cornerstone of an album I’ve nearly finished. Titonton Duvante runs Residual Records in Colombus, Ohio and is an accomplished techno and broken beat producer, as well symphonic composer for modern dance companies.

11. Mu–Out Of Breach (Output Recordings) Once upon a time, there was a producer from Detroit named Maurice Fulton. He decided he would program drum machines and play keyboards…as wrong as he possibly could. What resulted was a string of groundbreaking dance music albums for labels like Nuphonic and Warp. He’s lived in New York, Australia and now Sheffield, UK with his Japanese-born wife Mutsumi, or Mu. Mu is in the Yoko Ono school of experimental vocalists. She likes to scream and caterwaul–a perfect compliment to her husband’s mentally unfit and dead funky tracks.

12. Rhythm King & Her Friends–I Am Disco (Kitty Yo) Rhythm King & Her Friends are a trio of girls from France, now residing in Berlin. They take riot grrrl politics and cheap drum machines and make groovy punk dance music. Like Le Tigre or Chicks On Speed, RK bring punk back to the garage–-the same one that Silicon Valley computer businesses are dreamed up in.

13. Mission of Burma–On Off On (Matador) Mission of Burma is a cult post-punk band in the ‘80s that reformed in 2001 and then released one of 2004’s best rock albums on Matador. I’ve chosen a ballad track from their album On Off On (the group’s first new studio recordings in 22 years), but trust me, the rest of the record kicks butt. (True fact: lead singer Roger Miller has severe tinnitus and must play live wearing firing-range headphones).

14. The Six Parts Seven-[Everywhere] [And Right Here] (Suicide Squeeze) For you Tortoise fans out there: I don’t know too much about Kent, Ohio’s The Six Parts Seven except for, wow, based on their album, Ithink they’d be amazing to see live. I missed their last show at SF venue Bottom of the Hill, but I won’t miss their next one, guaranteed.

15. Ulrich Schnauss–A Strangely Isolated Place (Domino) Berlin’s Ulrich Schnauss is one guy, but he sounds like a full band. Using some special programming tricks, he’s able to make his synths sound like shimmering guitars (a-la Cocteau Twins). His album represented an unprecedented retro-music trend–-the return of shoegazer! That’s right, the music popularized by Lush, Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive is back with a vengeance. But back to Schnauss–-his production techniques are flawless, flowing and sound a bit like the last Air album, Talkie Walkie (sans the corney neo-70s futurism). Schnauss is daydream music.

16. The Boats–Songs By The Sea (Moteer) The Boats are from Scandinavia, I think. Barcode zine said this about their album: “Dulcet tones, wandering, distant female vocals, sine waves, and gritty, scratched layers of sound envelope this collection of songs in a intricately dreamily nostalgic haze. However, the often ghostly music, comparable to IDM artists, Mum, is also lit up by gently melodic keyboard tones that bring a whole new perspective to the album.” And then said, “The faces behind the project have a history of performing in many bands, Hood and The Remote Viewer being but two fine examples. There’s Craig and Andrew delicately weaving together these exceptionally moving pieces, while Elaine sings along in a fluttering, beautifully broken manner.” So I guess they’re Brits after all, cause Hood are from ‘tea-bag land’ (as my friend, musician Sid Griffin, lovingly refers to Blighty).

17. Studio One Dub (Soul Jazz) There would be no reggae with out Studio One producer, label owner and Downbeat sound system founder Sir Clement “Coxsone” Dodd. He died summer of 2004 of a heart ailment, stunning the reggae fraternity worldwide. Studio One was Coxsone and vice-versa. In the ‘60s, he assembled the best musicians Jamaica has ever seen, including The Skatalites, Leroy “Heptones” Sibbles and Jackie Mitoo and created the most everlasting cannon of Jamaican music the world has known. UK label Soul Jazz (of the 100 Dynamite compilation series) befriended Dodd and began reissuing his best loved tracks and rare music from his vaults that had never before been issued. You can also find great Studio One collections on the US Heartbeat label, in addition to Soul Jazz’s many Studio One releases (including Studio One Funk, Studio One Soul, etc.). My pick track off this album is the instrumental of “Hooligan", recorded by the Paragons (featuring John Holt), famous for their hit “The Tide Is High” covered by Blondie.

A CD featuring tracks by the above listed artists is available for readers of this blog for the cost of postage and a blank CDr Email me for details.