Updated: Jul 23, 2020
So this quarantine thing had us thinking about the state of music in general: how do we move forward with so much uncertainty, what are things going to look like in the future, and how did we end up here in the first place. And with all the live-streams and in-home concerts going on, it has left us thirsty for a little more than just an iPhone camera and tripod. So instead of looking forward, we decided to take a look back at the path that led us here. Some monumental names in music passed recently; Bill Withers, John Prine, and Tony Allen stick out the most, and it’s nearly impossible to describe the hole that they’ve left behind. They’re all visionaries and founding fathers to their own genre, true revolutionaries, but instead of diving into their work in memorandum, we decided to honor them by going down a rabbit hole of their impact. Bill Withers bridged the gap between soul, blues, funk and created his own mainstream thread, Tony Allen reinvented the indigenous music of Africa as Fela Kuti’s drummer, and John Prine, well, the name says enough, right? All three of these cats didn’t invent the wheel: they turned it on it’s head, stamped their name on it, and planted the seeds that would eventually blossom into something else entirely. Fela Kuti and his right hand man, Tony Allen, took the primitive sounds of Nigeria and west Africa and swapped hand drums and single string guitars for those that made the ‘60s and ‘70s famous. Like John Prine and Bill Withers, they started a movement that couldn’t be stopped. All across Africa there are hotbeds of musical ingenuity that are completely different from the neighboring county. From the Tuareg desert blues with acts like Bombino, Tinariwen, and the young prodigy Mdou Moctar to the Zamrock Hendrix-like scene in the ‘70s with Chrissy Zebby Tembo and Ofege, they made some fine lemonade with the lemons they had. We’ve included a handful of these names in our monthly playlist along with a few others your ears might enjoy. We hope you dig.
CARIBOU - SUDDENLY Dan Snaith of Caribou has been quietly whittling away and honing a signature sound for years. It may seem as if his recent release of Suddenly is possibly one of the most eclectic and wide ranging albums of the year, but in reality it’s just Snaith finding his groove (pun intended). Like connecting the dots between a common thread, Snaith finds himself in a corner of the musicverse that he can finally call his own after decades of releasing music under Caribou and Daphni. But no matter how wandering and winding Suddenly may seem with all the meandering of tracks within songs, the precise calculation and placement of each note odes to a theme with a perfectly titled album. Dabbling in synth-pop, UK garage, disco-funk, and straight house, Suddenly is a detailed release that doesn’t leave a stone unturned in a vast sonic expanse and grapples with personal strife through lyrics. It’s masterfully crafted, perfectly imperfect, and takes chunks of Snaith’s previous work to create a jumbled mess of true art. Take a song like “Home” for example. Like a trick straight out of The Avalanches playbook, Snaith takes a straightforward hip-hop beat and sprinkles nodes of soul and funk before seamlessly diving head first into a spacey electronic ether. Think of him as a mad scientist tinkering and fine tuning his concoctions before the final big bang where everything comes together in uniformity.
ANDY SHAUF - THE NEON SKYLINE Much like John Prine, Harry Nilsson, and Paul Simon before him, Andy Shauf released a concept album, The Neon Skyline, earlier this year that surrounds a narrative seen through the eyes of different characters. Each song has a separate vantage point perceived through friends who meet up at a bar where the narrator connects with his recently separated ex-girlfriend. Conflict ensues and spirals into despair, regret, and hopes of reuniting before the two go their separate ways. Sound like a songwriting feat of humanity? Well, he did it on 2016’s The Party, so Andy’s been around the block with this idea. And sure, it’s an incredible accomplishment to achieve this concept more than once, but it’s another to bring it full circle with some of the best low-key ‘70s folk-pop released this year. It’s another feat entirely to play and record every lick of noise heard on the record as well. Drums, keys, vocals, guitar. All of it. It makes you sit back and wonder how this is possible. Listen to John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”, you may be thinking the same thing.