By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Who says a laptop can't make rock music? Nearly everybody, actually, and they're pretty much right. But give Kristian Craig Robinson, a.k.a. Capitol K, credit for trying. On the new Island Row (XL), "God Ohm" and "Monster" shift squalling guitar and trashcan beats around bit by bit until everything turns upside down. That's how Robinson handles everything else as well, from the rippling jazztronica of "Anon" to the twee pop of "Pillow." The results are as close to indie rock as they are to a more traditional laptop disc. Or is "traditional laptop disc" an oxymoron?
Well, here's another: There's a newly recorded Fela record. Or more to the point, with Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, it's a new-Fela record, the way something by Jesse Colin Young would be a "new-Dylan" record. As you'd guess from their name, the 17-piece Brooklyn funk mob is devoted to their hero's style, and on their second album, Talkatif (Ninja Tune), they extend Fela's legacy some. Not his music, though, which they compact: Every song here is under ten minutes; three are under five. If you like cop-show-theme horn fanfares, shaken percussion, and chattering guitars drawing circles around themselves, this is for you.
Antibalas guitarist Gabriel Roth is also a guiding force behind another, similar project. Having gotten the funk-revival party started with the defunct mid-Nineties label Desco, he's the producer of Dap-Dippin' With...Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, which was released on Daptone. The Dap-Kings' roots are planted firmly in 1968 James Brown, and there's great fun in pseudo-dance-craze pastiches like "The Dap Dip." But the killer here is a cover of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" that sounds like a lost classic that somehow got left off the James Brown's Original Funky Divas compilation.
When Elizabeth Elmore was in Sarge, she sang about bad relationships so unflinchingly it was hard not to feel sorry for her--but only up to a point, since it was obvious she was smart enough not to let those affairs last too long. The self-titled debut of Elmore's new band, The Reputation (Initial), marks that point in stone: "Darling, you underestimated me," she sings in "Alaskan." "Don't worry/I've done plenty of practicing/These days I say goodbye more than anything." The way she kisses off relationships isn't all that different from the way that she used to dissect them: Her girly voice hasn't deepened much, and aside from some newly prominent horns and pianos, her chosen template is still the medium-fast punk-pop song. Reportedly, Elmore dropped out of Northwestern law school to make this record. U.S. judicial system: 0. The rest of us: 1.
Anna Padgett of the Naysayer expresses her alienation more slowly and quietly--very slowly and quietly. And no, Heaven, Hell or Houston (Carrot Top) does not sound like Mazzy Star: It's just a stripped-down and incredibly droll little country-folk album that opens with "My pretty little dead-end road/They made you then they broke the mold," and then ambles down the same path from there. Melancholy and regret peek in through the cracks sometimes, but when Padgett and Cynthia Nelson (formerly of Retsin) sing "I'm ashamed to convey what my face already told on me" on "My Bad Blood," you're completely permitted not to believe them.
It's also perfectly okay to doubt that the songs on the great German label Trikont's new double-CD jazz compilation Dope and Glory: Reefer Songs of the '30s and '40s are actually about such yummy foodstuffs as tea and spinach. Even though a friend and I once covered an entire paper tablecloth at Little Tijuana with nicknames for the green stuff (in crayon, true, but still), I'm still somewhat surprised to see songs like Louis Armstrong's "Sweet Sue, Just You" and the Nat King Cole Trio's "Hit That Jive, Jack" in this company; guess I'm just not NORML enough. My favorite obscurity here is Harlan Lattimore & His Connie's Inn Orchestra's "Reefer Man": "You never met the reefer man?/Yet you say you swam to China/And you wanted to sell me South Carolina?/I believe you know the reefer man." If it all sounds too silly for you, light(en) up.
We can at long last accuse the French of being falsely modest, because when Virgin France put together My House in Montmartre, released by Astralwerks in America, they didn't call it The Best Parisian Disco Album in the World...Ever! That's pretty much what it is, though. The French being the French, some of the cheese is a little too runny: Étienne de Crécy's "Stein House Remix Edit" demolishes Air's perfect original "Modulor Mix," and the pernicious impact of John "St. Elmo's Fire" Parr on the singers of my generation is duly noted. But any disc containing Stardust's "Music Sounds Better With You," Daft Punk's remix of I Cube's "Disco Cubism," DJ Falcon's version of Cassius's "La Mouche" and Alex Gopher's "Party People" will, for a while, make even me shut up and dance.