Album Reviews

As a blogger my email inbox gets inundated with requests to cover an ever-widening variety of artists, and I really can’t complain about that because I wind up getting introduced to a bunch of new artists. Of course, there are countless occasions where it becomes quite difficult to balance the responsibilities of a legitimate and serious day job with that of a music blogger, and as you can imagine some things can kind of fall through the cracks. But with the end of the year coming up within the next few days, I wanted to quickly round off the year with these albums before my end of the year review. (Admittedly, I think the end of the year review will be late yet again but expect it sometime in January …)

 

Metz

Metz

Sub Pop Records

Release Date: October 9, 2012

 

With their debut full-length effort dropping in October, the Toronto, ON-based trio of Metz have released an album of post punk that will probably remind some listeners of Bleach and In Utereo-era Nirvana, A Place to Bury Strangers and even Japandroids. “Wet Blanket,” and “Wasted” sound a lot like “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” with it’s rolling, undulating feedback and total lack of subtlety. In other words, this is true moshing music, meant to be played loudly. We’re talking sludgy power chords, thunderous drumming and vocals that are yelled – often to the point where it sounds like the lead singer is about to burst a blood vessel or two. Although, it’s not a terribly original formula or sound, man does it ever kick ass. And in an age when fey, super sensitive indie rock has become popular, Metz’s sound is not only a breath of fresh air, it brings the rock sound back to the small, dingy, sweaty clubs of my youth.

 

Dirty Ghosts

Metal Moon

Last Gang Records

Release Date: February 21, 2012

 

In the 90s Dirty Ghosts’ Allyson Baker was the sort who snuck into Dwarves shows and frequented the mosh pits of those shows when she was barely out of junior high school; by the time she was 17 she was playing guitar in several of Toronto’s punk and hardcore bands. But by 2000, she had left for San Francisco, and once there she was a member of sludge blues outfit Parchman Farm. Dirty Ghosts were originally formed as a stripped down outfit based around Aesop Rock’s drum loops – and the result is a bluesy, at times psychedelic rock that manages to be funky and perhaps unexpectedly danceable, while kicking ass. And although it’s the first time that Baker is behind the mic singing, her voice works for the material – it’s smoky, confident and utterly fearless. She sounds like she knows she can kick your ass and anyone else who dares to challenge her. As a debut, Metal Moon is one of the more likeable, original and memorable albums I’ve heard this year.

 

 

Boys Noize

Out of the Black

Boys Noize Records

Release Date: October 16, 2012

 

Out of the Black is Boys Noize’s third release, and the album is in some way reveals that the German DJ otherwise known as Alexandra Ridha has been expanding his sound and adding new tricks up his sleeves. Although full of gigantic, in your face club banging beats, the material on the album manages to make a connection to old school techno and electronica – not just with its emphasis on chanting robotic vocals, and other bloops, blips and bleeps but in the fact that it’s actually one of the funkiest techno albums you’ll hear in some time. In some way, you can tell that Kraftwerk was a rather large influence on Ridha’s work but where Kraftwerk’s robotic future was one of cool, detached efficiency, and of a future where everything seemingly worked perfectly, on Out of the Black the vocals sound as though someone had fallen asleep while typing – or as the computer were crashing. The material is at times raw and because of that it has a sweatier, almost anxious feel. “Concord” builds up, faster and faster before a thundering release. Interestingly “Touch It” reminds me of the old school funk of All Good Funk Alliance – on steroids. But the two stand out tracks are the incredible “Ich R U,” which has one of the album’s insane hooks and Ridha’s collaboration with Snoop Dogg, “Got It.” Simply put, it’s one of the most impressive techno albums of the year, as well as one of the most fun albums to listen to this year.

 

Nickodemus

Moon People

ESL Music

Release Date: June 19, 2012

 

As a DJ, Nickodemus first found fame as the resident DJ for the Giant Step and Organic Groove night, and as the founder of the Turntables on the Hudson party – both were known for Nickodemus collaborating and DJ’ing with live, guest musicians. As a producer, Nickodemus has continued and expanded upon his reputation for breaking convention, as he’s meshed world music with electronic dance music, but he also continues his reputation for collaboration with a bunch of varied artists on his third album, Moon People. The material, which is largely rooted in slickly produced house music, is absolutely globe trotting – “Alkebulan,” Nickodemus’ collaboration with Afrika Bambaataa brings house music to the griot tradition of Western Africa, as Bambaataa talks about the days of the ancient Moors. “The Nuyorican Express” and “Conmigo” adds the Latin big band flavor. One of my favorite songs on the album, “Alruccabah” has tribal chants backed by buzzing synths – it’s a track that has a dreamy, yet icy feel. “Mirage,” brings things back to America with some club-based R&B. Throughout, the album Nickodemus manages to find the universal thread between several varieties of world music– funk.  And man this album is funky as hell.

 

 

 

All Good Funk Alliance

Jacks of All Trades

Fort Knox Recordings

Release Date: May 1, 2012

 

The duo of Frank Cueto and Rusty Belicek, also known as All Good Funk Alliance (AGFA) have developed a reputation among electronic dance music fans for their signature sound, a sound that has won over fans globally. Jacks of All Trades is full-length the follow-up to their Rhythm and FX EP, which Fort Knox Recordings released back in March, and on Jacks Cueto and Belicek use a much wider palette of sounds – disco, funk, hip hop, old school techno with super slick production values. Enlisting a cast of emcees from across the globe, the album manages to bridge both old school and new school in a way that’s both funky and kind of playful. Album opener “Motivate” reminded me quite a bit of Tweekend-era Crystal Method; while “Throwdown” reminded me quite a bit of a buzzing, space-age version of EU’s “Doing the Butt.” “I Don’t Care If It’s Your Birthday” sounds like the Crystal Method, if they had been out in about 1985 – in other words it has break beats that I could have sworn I heard someone playing on a ghetto blaster.  “Time To Get Loose” which has the most memorable sample on the album, a sample of several people saying, “I pledge allegiance to the groove,” strangely enough, reminded me quite a bit of a slicker version of C&C Music Factory. As far as catchy dance tunes, that isn’t a bad thing to want to emulate. All of the tracks here are certified club bangers, and the material manages to swagger and stomp it’s way into your brain.

 

Analog Players Society

Hurricane Season in Brooklyn

Studio Brooklyn

Release Date: September 25, 2012

 

Anon, the primary composer and founder of the Analog Players Society has quite an impressive background and resume – in college he had studied Turkish, West African, and Middle Eastern music, including spending time in Guinea learning the djembe from its modern masters, Famadou Konate, Mamady Keita and M’Bemba Bangora. He has jammed with Tool’s drummer, Danny Carey, backed the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry, and has even been instrumental in the Turntables on the Hudson project, playing alongside Nickodemus and others. As a partner in Brooklyn’s Hook Studios and a renown session musician, Anon enlisted a bunch of local musicians to form the Analog Players Society as a way to bring his artistic vision to life – and the result from the sessions became the well-received singles that comprised Hurricane Season in Brooklyn. Sonically, Analog Players Society’s debut effort is part of a larger neo-disco movement of acts like Escort, and Jazzanova. And much like Jazzanova, their sound owes a great debt to jazz and soul, although unlike even Jazzanova the material on Hurricane Season in Brooklyn sounds much looser, as though the material came from the jam session of a bunch of folks in total simpatico. Certainly, Anon shows himself to be an impressive composer. A track like “The Hippie Don Know” sounds like it could have easily been heard on Soul Train circa 1972 or so. Album closer “Moments Combine” reminds me of a jazzier version of the cool funk of an act like the Funk Ark. “Free” is a jazzy bit of deep funk – and to be honest, APS has an impressive horn section. But perhaps most impressive is Anon’s skill as an arranger – the Analog Players rendition of Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” turns the song into a bit of a funky shuffle while their rendition of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days” adds dancehall riddims, giving familiar 80s tracks brand new lives, as well as new interpretations. It’s an impressive effort of straight up, old school funk with a band that can really fucking play.

 

 

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

Out of Frequency

BMG Rights

Release Date: January 31, 2012

 

Over the last five or six years or so, soul music has seen an incredible resurgence – just think of acts such as Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Derobert and the Half-Truths, the Right Now, and Danish act, the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, among a long list of others. But whereas many of their contemporaries are for the most part strictly working with the old school soul sound, the Asteroids Galaxy Tour deftly mixes funk and disco to the mix – as easily as the material could have been placed on the soundtrack of a 60s spy movie, you can also imagine it being played on an episode of Soul Train circa 1974 or at a disco. Expect swaggering seemingly old school funk with great arrangements but with a healthy dose of psychedelica, incredibly catchy hooks, and super slick production. Pay attention to how well the songs are put together – it’s impressive. Unlike some of their contemporaries, there are some socially conscious songs such as “Major,” “Suburban Space Invaders,” and others, and in some way that may be considered an attempt to break away from the Heineken ad campaign that broke them globally. Admittedly, they may have a hard time breaking away from the Heineken campaign – after all, it was pretty memorable – but as long as lead vocalist Mette Lindberg can strut and vamp her way through Lars Iverson’s catchy hooks they’ll continue on their way to being one of the funkiest acts in the world.

 

Rush Midnight

+1

Cascine Records

Release Date: October 30, 2012

 

During a demanding touring schedule with countless nights on the road, Twin Shadow’s Russ Manning recorded a series of demos in hotel rooms and random stories over the course of two years. Performing under the moniker Rush Midnight, Manning’s debut solo effort is slickly produced funky synth pop and R&B reminiscent of the early 80s – with the same sensual, late night feel.  And much like those great R&B tracks, the EP’s tracks have some of the best bass lines I’ve heard in years – check out the funky reggae riddim of “You and I,” and you’ll see what I mean. “The Night Was Young Enough” is some funky pop reminiscent of Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Love Come Down” and of Patrice Rushen’s “Feels So Real. For those listeners who remember and grew up with 80s synth pop and R&B, Manning’s debut effort should feel familiar and kind of time-worn – after all, it’s a fairly familiar and winning formula. But to many listeners, the album may well be like a revelation and a great introduction to some forgotten pop music.