The James Hunter Six – Whatever It Takes

TheJamesHunterI don’t give a fuck who you are, but when a good soul record comes on, something inside you melts like butter inside a heaping pile of hot mashed potatoes. There’s an unspeakable satisfaction to soul music. I would willingly give up a leg, or any appendage, to sing like Sam Cooke. I wouldn’t give up my left pinky toe, let alone let someone take a look at it, to sing like Steven Tyler or AC/DC. There’s a very obvious reason for this. The problem with making a soul album now of days is that it’s incredibly difficult to do. You either have to make a whole new sound or you’re competing with the likes of Ray Charles, Issac Hayes, James Brown, Al Green, and Aretha Franklin. And honestly … good fucking luck.

Thank God that James Hunter isn’t competing. He’s carved out his own sound and he’s been unapologetically carving since the ’80s. He’s got this craft so honed that, from the first snare shot, the first single sound on the album, I know it’s a soul record. That’s fucking impressive. But I can’t blame this on James Hunter: that’s Bosco Mann’s (the producer) handiwork. This shit was recorded on an eight-track audiotape and transferred onto a disk. That’s some old school motherfucking shit. And the sound pays off in spades. Back in the day, James Hunter’s sound drew in the ear of Van Morrison. So now Van the man is on this motherfucker’s first album “Believe What I say”. They toured together in the ’90s as well. And, in 2006, James Hunter won a Grammy from best traditional Blues album. He’s opened for Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Willie Nelson. This dude has nothing to prove. Arguably, he’s the UK’s greatest soul singer. 

On this album, James deals with the subject of love, as any Soul record should. Difference here is that James met a gall named Jesse a little while ago and got hitched. She’s the inspiration for most of these songs. I don’t know why, but when an album is personal there’s some type of air that you just can’t fake. There’s something in James’s dirty and cracky falsetto that has a tenderness to it. But, on top of this, James is just a fucking pro. The interplay between the instruments can only be made from years of practice and knowhow; the horns, organ, guitar, percussion, are all placed perfectly. 

There’s a new span of modern soul records coming from people like Charles Bradley, Michael Kiwanuka, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and Curtis Harding. The difference here is the authenticity of James’s message, the complete professionalism and understanding of instrumentation and arrangements for soul, and this motherfucking production work. It just throws this album on top of so many other attempts at making a soul album. It’s honest, it’s real, and an ear can pick up that shit. There’s no con here, it’s just authentic soul being sung by a man in love. And in days such as these, it’s exactly what I wanted to hear. 



 

A.A.L. (Against All Logic): 2012 – 2017

AALThere’s a bizarre part of myself that loves Drum and Bass and House. I’m ashamed of it sometimes. Not because I think the genre is lame or something like that, but because I can lip sync “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” with an eerie precision. I remember drifting off while listening to the Chemical Brothers in the backseat of a car. I wasn’t “of age” yet. And my daydreams were filled with the thought of fantastic clubs full of bubbles and strobing lights and beautiful people. I remember feeling so free. When the bass dropped, it was as if the entire world was exploding and wouldn’t stop. Instead of being scared, everyone danced and laughed like they we were new gods claiming dominion over mount Olympus. It was fucking awesome. 

By the time I could go to clubs filled with bubbles, strobing lights, and beautiful people, I was incredibly disappointed. Nobody told me it would smell so weird. That miasma of fruity perfume, bad Cologne, cheap hairspray and cigarettes, and most of all thick body odour. These weren’t Greek gods: they were walking erections. Peppered throughout were silk shirted gentleman wearing tight white pants trying to grind on something resembling a human female. I returned home and threw on some good electronic, closed my eyes, and returned to the domination over mount Olympus. 

Gone are the days of the Electronic era. There’s still electronica, in fact, it’s fucking everywhere. But now if it’s a good beat there’s most likely a rap on top (just listen to Big Fish Theory and try and convince me that’s not House). But this is a rare example of a House record in the modern world. There are a couple of vocal licks, but there’s no rapper on here. 

So the name behind the name is Nicolas Jaar. He had a big release in 2016 with the album “Sirens”. This motherfucker runs a label called Other People that releases music from people like William Basinkski and Lydia Lunch. He releases this new album under the alias A.A.L. I understand, as it’s a totally different style. This is more like a J Dilla release than it is a Nicolas Jaar release. 

More than anything this is just fun fucking music. It will help you move and groove throughout the day. It brings me back to those days of listening to electronic in the backseat of a car and drifting off in la-la land. It’s great atmospheric music. In fact, you could totally throw this on at a party. Get some lights, a bubble machine, and most of all a bunch of booze, and potentially have a pretty good dance party. You may not have dominion over the cosmos anymore, but for a minute or two, you may forget the pains and aches of a day. And isn’t that worth it? Echo the moments throughout history when humans stopped to dance: Block parties during blackouts, swaying during a protest song, or cavemen smacking sticks onto logs and dancing around an open fire. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be intellectual, it just needs to feel human.


 

 

Armand Hammer – Rome

romeThis shit makes Shakespeare look like a Hallmark Card. But, don’t let this turn you away. There’s a reason for it. Hold up, I’ll explain in a bit. If someone tells you they casually listened to this album and understood what the fuck was going on, you need to punch that motherfucker straight in the face. Like, hard enough so you hear their nose crack. Lots of rap albums will not have allusions to Theology and History or have thick metaphors running throughout their lyrics. Everything you need to know is right there in the tracks. The fancy school poetry way of calling this style is, “New Criticism” (That’s right, universities love to piss on fun). Then there’s shit like this. Where you need some serious research skills, a good internet connection, and a good amount of determination to even begin understanding what the fuck is going on. (Postmodernism, New Historicism and a thick helping of Critical race theory.)

Obvious question. Why the fuck would anyone want to do this? Who would want to take all this time deconstructing a fucking rap song? I’ll tell you why. First, it’s one of the most entertaining and effective ways to learn something. I’ve had rap songs explain to me the inner workings of Nietzsche, Marxism, and obviously a few have perused the subject of racism. None of these songs or artists were dicks about teaching me this shit either. They didn’t try to look down on me while trying to lift me up. Secondly, if you deconstruct your own shit, it sharpens your mind. Instead of just lazily chewing on whatever is shoved down your throat (“All you need is love!” The Beatles taught me that!) you get to make up your own mind. Also, you can pack way more information into this kinda format. These songs are like a bunch of dehydrated encyclopedias but for your ears. And, last but not least, even though you might think I’m full of shit, it does become fun to break down this shit once you get the hang of it.

 

Just look at the some of the names referenced to on track two called “Dead Money”: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels (German philosopher that helped found Marxism with his buddy Karl), Charles Rangel (US Representative for New York from 1971–2017), Bobby Jindal (55th Governor of Louisiana from 2008–2016), Mr. Wendal (reference to the song “Mr. Wendal” by Arrested Development), Mangosuthu Buthelezi (South African politician who founded the Inkatha Freedom Party, was Chief Minister of the KwaZulu bantustan, and was Minister of Home Affairs of South Africa) Nelson Mandela (the man himself), Herman Blount (musician Sun Ra). Holy fucking shit, right? 

This isn’t even getting into what the song is about. But, just look at that. Look how much information in packed into 3 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s denser than a black hole in a baseball bat. 

I’m not going to bore you down with more of this shit. I’m just saying there is so much to see on this album. These lessons are said in easy to understand language and behind bad ass beat. So, I feel like the obvious question is why wouldn’t someone wanna learn shit this way? 



 

 

The Heliocentrics – A World of Masks

theheliocentricsPicture driving down a piece of unswerving and forgotten highway that cuts through a flat desert terrain. You’re in an old white convertible mustang that purrs like it’s fresh off the press. The sun is bright. You’re wearing sunglasses. And in your one hand burns a perfectly rolled joint. The wind blows dry as silk and as warm as a tepid bath. You feel fucking fantastic. Can you guess what’s playing on the car stereo? You’re goddamn right. 

With one listen, it makes sense that The Heliocentrics made the soundtrack for the documentary, “The Sunshine Makers”. The real story of two friends in the ’60s on a mission to save the planet by manufacturing massive amounts of LSD called “Orange Sunshine” and then trying to educate the world with their LSD evangelism. There are no bad trips on this album. Is it interesting? You bet your ass it is. But the interest doesn’t take away from the album’s creamy smoothness and lavender bubble bath comfiness. Just when it feels like it’s about too much, that bass kicks in nice and slow and keeps your feet on the floor. In short, this shit gets you fucked the right up and high as a fucking kite. Daaamn right. Sink in a puffy chair and contemplate if time travel and universal consciousness can coexist. 

Malcolm Catto, drummer and producer, makes a fantastic sound for this album. For the first time, Heliocentrics includes a vocalist. And Barbora Patkova, the Slovakian Amy Winehouse, brings a whole new element and focus to an already wide sound. Some albums, ones similar in style, can get bogged down by one singular sound which becomes weighty quite quickly. With all the new elements and sounds this album throws your way it’s hard not to be refreshed, comfortable, and engaged. 

As far as a genre is concerned, I’m going to shoot for: opium space desert funk/jazz prog rock with electronics that happens to chill you the fuck out. It plays like a ’70s soundtrack to a murder mystery, then like Portishead, then some improvised jazz/funk. It has no simple genre. But I know, without a hint or breath of doubt in my mind, that Hunter S. Thompson would have been on this like a fat kid on a candybar. It’s good in the background for a chill mood or solo on a pair of headphones. I suggest keeping this away from large parties. Save it for those few chill friends or a Sunday spent to yourself. Or, better yet, save it for a drive on a desert highway while smoking that perfectly rolled joint. It’s one groovy ass motherfucker.



 

 

Rostam – Half-Light

rostamBehind every pop album there is an unsung hero. The person who made that sound or that beat: For “Be My Baby” it was Phil Spector. Abbey Road? George Martin. Thriller? Quincy Jones. Heroes? Tony Visconti. Joshua Tree? Daniel Lanois. Johnny Cash, the man in black himself. It was Rick Rubin, his producer, that convinced Johnny to sing NIN’s “Hurt”. Do you know that raw feeling in Nevermind? That’s Butch Vig, not Kurt Cobain. What about jazz? “Kind of Blue,” “Bitches Brew” and “Time out” were all made by Teo Macero. Radiohead is basically Nigel Godrich wearing a bunch of different hats. It’s also why Beck’s “The Information” sounded so good and was somehow similar to Radiohead cause, yep, that’s his shit stains all over that bitch. Those pure-hearted and authentic records like “Heartbreaker” from Ryan Adams, “Youth and Young Manhood” and “Aha Shake Heartbreak” from Kings of Leon, and those Ray LaMontagne and Laura Marling albums? That’s all done by Ethan Johns.

So, if you ever find yourself bouncing your head to a Britney Spear’s song like “Toxic”, don’t fret that’s Bloodshy & Avant you like, not the blonde pop star. Those songs that you can’t get out of your head like “We Can’t Stop” from Miley Cyrus, or “Humble” from Kendrick Lamar, or “Formation” from Beyonce? That’s all Michael Williams who calls himself “Mike Will Made It”. He calls himself this cause, well, he makes those sticky ass fucking songs.

There are singers, musicians, songwriters, and producers. All of these are completely different industries. It’s rare that one person does them all.

In fact, a lot of people who think that they’re in love with an artist are really in love with a producer. I remember years ago, when I thought I was some kind of musical wizard and savant and I thought my collection was the best of the best. One fateful day, my music teacher told me to turn over my favourite albums, read the back, to check out who the real artists were. All my favourite albums, every single one, boiled down to fewer than ten producers. Ten stinky and sweaty dudes sitting behind soundboards. These were my heroes, not the cool-looking rock stars on the cover.

What does this have to do with Rostam? Fucking everything.

In 2013, Vampire Weekend came out with a hit album called “Modern Vampires of the City”. There are two men behind the mask. One is Rostam. This is his solo record. The other half of this duo is named Ariel Rechtshaid. If you were to turn on a radio at this second, you’d most likely hear his work. This album from Vampire Weekend had a distinct sound and idea that people fucking loved. Listening over to Rostam’s “Half-light”, it’s surprising to hear how much of that sound was him. It’s this thick and sweet and intellectual sound. It’s all on this album. It’s because of albums like these that the real unsung heroes finally get to sing and be heard. Though, it’s too bad that most of us are too dazzled by the pretty lights and stardom to recognize true talent when we see it.



 

 

METZ – Strange Peace

metzHold your onto those butts cause things are about to get really, really, loud. 

Have you ever skimmed through those Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Jesus Lizard records and wondered, “What happened to bands like this?” Well, I’ll tell you what happened. METZ tied them up, set them afire inside their homes, and made snow angels from the fallen ashes. This is music you play before getting into a fight with a room full of coked out, and ironically strong, muppets. The sound waves will give you enough adrenaline to chase down drunken kangaroos and superman punch venomous snakes in the face. In their stupid snake faces! As soon as this record starts, you’ll find yourself fist pumping the air like a frat boy and you’ll continue to do so through the entire album.

Is it loud? Huh? Sorry, I can’t hear you that well. Damn right it is. Is this loudness pleasurable? As pleasurable as an evening spent betwixt the sheets with Eros where you just pound the shit out of each other.

Steve Albini, the man who gave In Utero and Ty Segall’s self-titled album its sound, adds his finesse to a band that has already proven they’re a force to be reckoned with. Look, if it was just loud, I wouldn’t give a shit. Sure, these guys can play their instruments like a monster truck rally taking place in town square; a lot of bands can. But, there is way, way, more to METZ than this. Don’t kid yourself, these guys are the future of rock and roll. I first heard them while driving down the highway, sometime around 2012, and my reactions went as thus: “Whoa. Wait, what? No fucking way. Is this real? Damn right. Finally.” To be honest, I can’t understand much of what these guys say. But that’s never been the point of this kind of music. Yet, when you look at these lyrics they have a craft to back up the jams. Unlike some of my favourite rock bands that seem to jumble lyrics together inside a hat and pull them out at random, “‘I’ll take all blame. Aqua seafoam shame. Sunburn with freezer burn.’ (Some of the deeply thought out lyrics from the wise mystic Kurt Cobain on ‘All apologies’). But when you listen to what these guys have to say they speak of existential crisis, nihilism, and a general wandering that fits so perfectly with the style you wonder why anyone does it differently. It’s like if someone took rock, boiled it down to its essence, and made it into a Molotov cocktail. This is an album that will make you forget about the good ol’ days of rock and roll and look into the future, while staring off into a setting sun, as you say, “Rock the fuck on, motherfuckers.”

 

 

Samuel Hällkvist – Variety of Rhythm

3000x3000Have you ever had a layered shot, where all these seemingly incompatible alcohols, all at different densities, sit one on top of the other in a single shot glass? Well, have you ever had that shit poured into you ear? That’s the music of Samuel Hällkvist. The idea? Build music layer upon layer to see what develops, watch and see how these flavours morph and change, and eventually, develop it into something you never dreamed could exist. This is the Bloody Mary, Long Island Iced Tea, and B-52 of instrumental music. Don’t worry, you can trust Hällkvist as your barman and chemist folks, he understands the craft. Others may blow off their hands, but this dude is making fucking fireworks.

There’s a mess of great musicians included in on this jam like David Torn on guitar (who worked with the likes of Bowie, Tori Amos, John Legend), Yasuhiro Yoshigaki (Zorn and Otomo Yoshihide), not to mention the man himself worked on one of my favourite jazz albums of 2017 in Yazz Ahmed’s La Saboteuse. There are twelve very distinguished musicians all throwing their hands in together on this shit. It’s the top brass of the brass throwing their paint onto a canvas. Sometimes it’s out there but, most of all, it’s beautiful and cerebral as balls. 

Hällkvist plays guitar as if Zappa, Roky Erickson (The 13th Floor Elevators), Sun Ra and Hendrix made a lovechild and gave that child a brand new loop machine for its birthday. Sweet mother Mary and Joseph, it can be out there at times. But Hällkvist keep things grounded. He gives you enough light to venture through this cave. And, quick hint, if you close your eyes while listening to this album, you’ll end up standing in an issue of Heavy Metal magazine. And honestly, who hasn’t wanted that at least once?

This album runs 45 minutes long and is broken up into, what I’m reluctant to call, sections. If you follow along, you can tell when one theme ends and the other begins because it’s broken up by a hubbubaloo of improvisation. As far as other mapping is concerned, Hällkvist will introduce one simple theme then add another on top, and then another, and another. Until, in the end, you are sitting back to enjoy a very bizarre, but extremely satisfying, experience. It’s the same give and take of tension that so many jazz and post-rock albums are known for, just turned way the fuck up. There’s more tension, ergo, more release. So, sit back, relax, and let the chemist mix you this succulent bitches brew.