The Man Who
Just what you never knew you didn't need--a Third Way between Blur and Oasis. Not as snooty as the first, not as snotty as the last--just another depressingly faceless example of "But they write their own songs." Give me Red Ken and Norman Cook any day. (Harris)
This Holiday Season, Give a Gift to the Record Industry
DON'T EVEN THINK the biz has fully cannibalized itself. Best-ofs continue to spring forth from the corporate loins, though these collections are often for specialists, extreme fans, or all-day suckers. So while you'll find a few standard greatest-hits selections in this rundown of compilations, reissues, and other odds and ends, most are more wide-ranging, and intended for the discerning dilettante.
Art Ensemble of Chicago
Les Stances àSophie
"Your head is like a yo-yo/Your neck is like a spring," declares "Rescue Me" soul survivor Fontella Bass. Then the horns (including those of hubby Lester Bowie) grow more ragged and the groove shifts in ways that would have James Brown fining his players. A glimpse into what jazz-funk could have been, and a moment lost.
Dancehall 101 Volumes 1 & 2
Thirty-four tracks in all--or, I should say, thirty-four cuts, since certain trademark tracks are repeated with different voices rhyming, chattering, or otherwise making joyful noise atop them. But far from redundant, this repetition adds to the distinct illusion of a boisterous culture providing a running commentary on its own evolution in a way that no single-artist dancehall disc can.
Norman Cook's new album proper, Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars, is more fun than you've heard, but I still prefer this hour-plus DJ mix, finally released stateside this year, which proves Cook a master of the arcane ability to know which record to play after which other record. Linear? Progressive? Hell, his mix is dang near teleological--the closing "Rockafeller Skank" sounds like the culmination of centuries of rhythmic evolution.
Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Volume 4
Record collectors gripe that the selections here aren't obscure enough: Any dabbler in Americana has met up with John Henry and Casey Jones, the Carter Family and Robert Johnson. But as no greater a fan of country music's first family than propriety demands, I insist that any record collector who pairs the all-too-accepting Christian passivity of "No Depression in Heaven" alongside the worldly and disgruntled Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" has a wiser historical perspective than most preservationists.
Hip Hop 101
Tommy Boy Black Label
"No need to R&B it," declares Self Scientific on the lead cut. "Dedicated to the real hip hop," Jigmastas declare one cut thereafter. But that doesn't mean any of the acts here (compiled by De La Soul's Maseo) are fool enough to think hooks are for chicks and dumb white kids. While the MCs on Hip Hop 101 are often concerned with dick size, props denied, and other matters of interest only to a select few in their own area codes, there are also unexpected quips such as this, from Royce the 5'9":"My mom's got Alzheimer's/My dad's an alcoholic/So last night I forgot to drive drunk and hit you."
The Best Best of Fela Kuti
Like Fela's egomania and his appetite for women, the monstrous MCA reissue process--13 discs in all--was both wildly excessive and yet still proportionate to the artist's genius. You can really only appreciate Afrobeat's deceptive synthesis of African and American funk when you experience the music's dip into ordinariness--dull spots so transcendentally uneventful you know no mere hack would allow them to pass. But I'll forgo such enlightened masochism, thanks, and settle for the hits.
Kwaito: South African
More techno than hip hop, and more mbaquanga than either, this is electrodance for a party that's really out of bounds. With BPMs slowed past the expectations of Western clublife, the languorous bump can sound awkward at first. But who ever said the brand-new beat needed to be breakneck?
Unlike their compadres in Havana, San Juan musicians can accrue U.S. dollars, and enjoy plenty of interaction with family on the mainland. Can you hear that, as a result, many of these musicians are caught between a dialectic of folkloric homeland pride and commercially driven urban innovation? Maybe not, but I suspect that dialectic keeps them honest, inuring them to salsa hyperactivity and traditionalist thumbsucking alike.
Solesides Greatest Bumps
Still no sign of another DJ Shadow full-length, but sampledelia's loss has been a boon for hip hop, which Shadow claimed to be representing even while looping Tangerine Dream bites. Here's proof he meant it--the sharpest MCs on the West Coast matched to an electrominimal beat harder than the opposite coast's standard thumpa-thump. With the incomparable duo Latyrx's debut LP out of print, this is your only place to hear "Balcony Beach," the deepest 5:13 of MC contemplation on the planet. Don't miss out.