The Thomas Top Five: 4/18/16
Our Editor-in-Chief listens to upwards of 50 albums per week, so why not let him share the five, presented alphabetically by artist, he thinks are the best for you to hear on this week’s installment of the Thomas Top Five?
UMM KULTHUM – انت عمري
Genre: Traditional Arabic Pop
Favorite Tracks: N/A
An artist who has come to mean more to the Egyptian people than can be summarized in several volumes of literature, much less a 100-word blurb, suffice it to say that Umm Kulthum is one of those artists that has achieved a larger than life persona that will never, ever be forgotten. A female pop star in a time and place where being neither was fashionable, Kulthum is blessed with one of the most melancholic, expressive voices in musical history. Her most famous piece, انت عمري (ENTA OMRI), is an epic, nearly hourlong track detailing the pain and beauty of love’s passionate longing. Structured in such a way to give several lengthy, technically impressive instrumental passages their proper attention in between Kulthum’s heartwrenching verses, عمريانت is perfectly situated between the mournful and the gorgeous, easily bringing the listener to tears regardless of comprehension of the Egyptian language. Largely unfettered by studio manipulation, the occasional cracks in Kulthum’s voice make things feel all the more raw and human. This is music that is fundamentally alive.
James Brown – SEX MACHINE
Genre: Funk, Soul
Favorite Tracks: “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine,” “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing,” “There Was a Time,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Mother Popcorn”
Although perhaps a little muddled in concept (this is mostly a live album, but also features studio tracks tricked out to sound comparable), for my money, this is the album that most perfectly captures the unique energy and presence of the Godfather of Soul. Featuring the legendary contributions of those such as Bootsy Collins, Melvin Parker, and Maceo Parker, JB’s rhythm section here is a force to be reckoned with, managing to somehow stay together with machine-like precision while also morphing and stretching when the need be in order to accommodate every ounce of Brown’s dripping swagger. And my God, what swagger he has! Through the maximization of both restrained sensuality and raw, animalistic passion, practically every syllable uttered by Brown impregnates an audience member. Although naysayers aren’t necessarily incorrect in pointing out that Brown is better situated away from ballads, the mild disappointment of tracks such as “If I Ruled the World” can’t detract from behemoths such as “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine” and “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” both of which are unequivocally the best recordings of those songs ever committed to tape. The ideal (mostly) live album that reinterprets beloved hits from the canon, SEX MACHINE is a blazing force to be reckoned with.
AIR – MOON SAFARI
Genre: Ambient Pop, Downtempo
Favorite Tracks: “La femme d’argent,” “Sexy Boy,” “Kelly Watch the Stars,” “Remember”
Extensive Moog worship from two French studio nerds, if you’re willing to embrace a certain amount of schmaltz, MOON SAFARI is sure to leave you satisfied. As many have pointed out, the most striking feature of MOON SAFARI is its constant evocation of warmth and comfort. This carefully cultivated atmosphere of relaxation almost situates AIR’s debut within the parameters of lounge, but what places this release above its contemporaries throwing their hat in the easy listening ring is the fact that character is never sacrificed for accessible pleasantness. The musicianship of Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel is given ample time to shine, and several complex solos are present that wouldn’t be amiss on an organ-heavy jazz release. Sprinkled with much-needed vocal features to keep things from becoming too myopically tied to its methods of production and offering up two memorable vocoder jams (“Sexy Boy” and “Remember”), MOON SAFARI predates much of the downtempo house and “chillout” music that would become all the rage and is still memorable nearly 20 years later.
C L E A N E R S – REAL RAGA SHIT VOL. 1
Genre: Sound Collage
Favorite Tracks: “Slumtown Symfunny”
One of those “post-” releases that stretch the dreamy nostalgia of vaporwave to evermore Ambien-influenced realms, REAL RAGA SHIT VOL. 1 is psychedelic, hypnotic, and like all the best examples of music in this vein, just the tiniest bit unsettling. A bizarre mish-mash of everything from the sacred sounds of a street in India to lo-fi renditions of jungle percussion to extended piano vamps to soul samples hidden under layers of noise, the impressive thing about C L E A N E R S’ talent as a musical act is how they’re able to mix and blow out such disparate audio components, many of which originated as atonal, into something with such a clearly defined and cohesive atmosphere. Although the album moves into progressively less accessible territory as time goes on, REAL RAGA SHIT VOL. 1 is the perfect representation of a dream, often free-associative and seemingly random, but tied together by something undeniably personal. Making it to the end of this record feels like emerging from a sensory-deprivation tank, blinking and wondering what in the Hell just happened, feeling out of time and out of place.
Horsehunter – CAGED IN FLESH
Genre: Doom Metal, Sludge Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Stoned to Death,” “Caged in Flesh”
The only release from this Australian quartet as of now, CAGED IN FLESH manages to exude the appropriate amount of ever-lurking menace and plodding intensity of the best doom acts without being stretched thin across inaccessible track lengths. What I particularly appreciate about Horsehunter’s debut is the consistent layering of additional musical elements and refusal to rely on solely one aesthetic framework. Songs regularly shift in tone, from torture-chamber feedback walls to meaty Black Sabbath worship to soaring guitar solos to headbanging riffs, and there and back again, a welcome breath of fresh air from the glacial pacing of many similar genre peers. Although the raw-throated vocal screams aren’t typical for doom honing in on melody, this hearkening to the more misanthropic variations of sludge adds an engaging sense of intensity and aggression. Virtually unheard of, CAGED IN FLESH deserves to have its gates opened.