Essential Selection by Oliver Clasper
Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound)
It’s strange to think that eighteen years have passed since the British-Swedish singer’s last full-length album, Man. But as Cherry herself has said, she didn’t go anywhere. For many artists the medium itself doesn’t have to be all consuming, and raising her children become her priority (although the music projects didn’t completely disappear. Over the ten years she has collaborated with CirKus and The Thing). That said, this is a comeback that deserves special attention: Cherry is nearing 50, which in the vacuous pop world means something, and her new LP has been produced by one of contemporary music’s best artists: Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet). It’s percussive, sample-laden, deeply personal, and well worth checking out.
The last few years have seen a significant rise in the number and quality of new hip-hop artists, from Earl Sweatshirt and Danny Brown to Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. The latest is 22-year-old Isaiah Rashad, who, based on his debut EP at least, may well be the most enticing of the lot. Hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rashad has described his official first release as ‘real peaceful, real calm’, and by the time the third track rolls around you’re inclined to agree. The title track is one of the most beautiful of any genre for some time, replete with powerful lyrics (at one point he references Emmet Till, the black teenager murdered by white separatists in 1955) and a woozy melody. So he also talks about getting high and getting his jammy sucked, but he’s still young. Smart lyrics, and on point production: Watch this space.
Hands down, this is an early contender for album of the year. It’s steeped in the bounce and crunch of great, modern electronica, while remaining resolutely tied to organic, mesmerizing funk from days gone by. Moodymann is a master sampler, and here you get everything from Taana Gardner and Muddy Waters to Lana Del Rey (with a re-edit of her smash hit ‘Born 2 Die’). But Detroit native Kenny Dixon Jr is something of an anomaly in the music world: he is a committed member of the Vinyl Preservation Society, yet often treats live sets with an air of arrogance and flippancy. But when he goes, he really goes. And alongside fellow Detroiters Theo Parrish and Marcellus Pittmann there’s nobody quite like him working today. And the house, disco, and funk tracks on this new LP are testament to that all of that: it’s sex, it’s history, and it’s soul.
Sun Kil Moon
Who would have thought that an entire album about death would make for such a wonderful listen. This is the sixth studio release from the indie-folk band from San Francisco, which consists of Mark Kozelek as the only full-time member with alternating musicians filling in for the other parts (sparse bass and drums in particular). With their debut album Ghosts of the Great Highway making serious waves just over a decade ago, the band have tightened up and gone deeper and more melancholy than ever before. On their latest release there are songs about funerals, suicide, and child death, all wrapped up in a lilting and rolling slice of Americana that is as universal as it is personal. Kozelek has admitted that amongst all the doom and gloom he simply wanted to “find some poetry to make some sense of this and give some deeper meaning.”
As one reviewer recently put it: “lacking any hidden alleys or tricky variations, the opening track ensures that anyone who hears the remainder of Ghettoville really wants to hear it.” This is about an apt a description as possible of Darryl Cunningham’s fourth LP. In the run-up to its release Cunningham talked about the over-saturation of machines, essentially sending a warning to other producers and effectively saying that there was little point in trying. But where his earlier LPs (Splaszh and Hazyville in particular) deconstructed dubstep, Chicago house, drone, and Detroit Techno with adroitness and panache, his new LP wallows in a certain negativity and resignation. It’s not an easy listen, and for large parts seems to go through the motions without much care for its listeners. Like many of his releases they grow with repeat listens. Sadly, you may not care how this particular enfant terrible grows up.
Arguably it was this record that marked the birth of Detroit Techno in 1983. Despite not being a Techno album per se, it was the brainchild of Juan Atkins who would go on to record classic Techno records, and coin the term well before anyone else – under both his own name and his Model 500 moniker (among others). On the surface Enter is a pop record with deep underground sensibilities. It is synth-based, with barely much in the way of 4/4 kick drum patterns, but what it does have is guitar samples and vocals with the majority of the songs fitting neatly into the traditional pop structure. The influences, as fellow Detroit Techno pioneer Derrick May once famously claimed, were essentially two-fold: the proto-electronica of German band Kraftwerk and the funk of George Clinton. Young listeners may balk at its cheesy-sounding elements, but this shit was so far ahead of its time this reissue couldn’t be more relevant.
The four-piece, all female indie-rockers from LA recently played in Hong Kong and produced a show full of such depth and passion we can count ourselves lucky to have savvy promoters working to bring these types of bands here. However, the same cannot be said for their second, self-titled album, which is a shame as it has all the right ingredients: production by the esteemed Flood, mixing by Nigel Goodrich, and cover art by the seminal British video artist Chris Cunningham (who also happens to be married to one of the band). Yet for all this, the album falls flat. As one reviewer put it, it spends too much time remembering what 1999 tried to forget. ‘Love is to Die’ is a particularly grating number, though ‘Biggy’ is wonderfully brooding, with swirling atmospherics and a tight drum track. It’s a decent effort, but nothing to write home about.
Asian Essential Selections by Charlie Tamoto
After releasing his directorial debut with horror flick ‘Rigor Mortis’, 29-year-old Juno Mak is diving deeper into the dark arts with his eerie and hair-raising thirteenth album ‘Paradoxically, Yours’. The album focuses on the beauty of flaws and imperfections while carrying a social rebellious element. Mak has been fearless in recent years by actually releasing an album that goes beyond the sounds of average karaoke-driven Cantopop and brings us something with substance – tackling serious topics like autism, gender identity and religion. Notable tracks on the album are ‘Take Your Breath Away’, a fresh re-arranged and Canto-mixed version of the original and ‘Collarbone’, a rhythmic warehouse-thrashing duet with songstress Shirley Kwan. Kudos to Mak for putting in the effort to experiment with new sounds that this industry desperately needs.
Truth or Date
After bursting into an orgasmic climax in her MV ‘Bloom’, Ga-In (born Son Ga-in) of the Brown Eyed Girls is back with her third solo project ‘Truth or Dare’ that’s pushing the boundaries of acceptable sexual proclivities in the K-pop industry. Her first title release on the album is a subtle piece… called ‘Fxxk’. The song as you might have guessed has a tantalisingly addicting chorus that goes, “Where do you think your hands are going…Fuck you, I don’t want it now, Fuck you… I don’t want to do it like this, it’s not how I feel. Fuck you, Fuck you.” She certainly makes Cee Lo and Lily Allen look a bit dated with her more adult and clever use of profanity over a spicy acoustic melody that ignites the loins. Another notable tracks is ‘Truth or Dare’, which plays around with Motown beats ala ‘Blurred Lines’. Ga-In’s smoky and airy voice breathes life and authenticity into this album and gives it legs to strut passed cutesy, mind numbing K-pop teenster groups.
Long Live the Lie
Hailing from NYC, indie electronic artist Big Phony aka Bobby Choy has just released his second album ‘Long Live the Lie’ that plays on 80s sensibilities layered on acoustic instrumentals. He’s upped his game with this project by incorporating a heavier, transfixing electronic sound that blends seamlessly with his disaffected vocals. The album is clear, focused and sounds like it belongs in a film like ‘Drive’. It’s like having an existential moment with Ryan Gosling. Choy now resides in Seoul, but releases songs that are in English for an expat-friendly listening experience. Be careful when you put on ‘All Bets Are Off,’ – you’re going to want to spend some time falling into it and zoning out.
Alone The Way
The previously underrated aboriginal singer Jia Jia has been making quite the headway since she was nominated for Best New Singer and Best Female Singer at last year’s Golden Melody Awards even though she isn’t actually new to the scene. Her career started back in 2007 when she was part of the duo Hao En Jia Jia, but for some reason she disappeared until signing onto popular folk rock band Mayday’s music label and releasing her debut album ‘Unforgettable’, which landed her a place back into the spotlight. Her second album ‘Alone The Way’ shows off the songstresses powerful, yet velvety and fluid sounding voice. She handles her jazz, ballads and funk tracks with full-bodied soul, layered with dulcet vocal textures that are tapered off with genuine emotion. Notable tracks are acoustic number ‘Singing for Your Lonliness’ and power ballad ‘I’m not qualified.’ Based on the trajectory of this album, Jia Jia has a good chance of actually winning Best Female Singer at this year’s Golden Melody Awards.