The Thomas Top Five: 5/16/16
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?
Basic Channel – QUADRANT DUB
Genre: Dub Techno
Favorite Tracks: “Quadrant Dub II”
A release as comforting as it is metallic and detached, QUADRANT DUB is one of the exemplary releases of the muddled and esoteric dub techno subgenre. Picture, if you will, a radio station stranded in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, broadcasting the most tinny of signals from a warm place far, far away; that is the feeling that Basic Channel has managed to achieve with this record. It certainly is minimalistic, but the lack of ornamentation is better appreciated as an act of economy, as QUADRANT DUB’s scant two tracks only offer what is absolutely necessary in their construction, achieving a hyper-hypnotic atmosphere as a result. In many respects, QUADRANT DUB feels like a work of art dedicated to memory, as the constant hiss that permeates both tracks creates a quagmire for each additional element to struggle through, almost as if the record is struggling to recall a snippet of melody they heard once very long ago. But when the fog finally parts and they’re allowed to shine, the results are all the more triumphant for it. Music of this nature is hard to write about, as it instantly creates entirely subjective realms of memory and imagination for each respective listener. Tune in, drop out, and achieve your own.
Billy Joel – THE STRANGER
Genre: Pop Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Get It Right the First Time”
I never gave Billy Joel the time of day because my mother likes him, but as it turns out, my mother was goddamned right. Obviously his brand of light, suburb-friendly piano rock may turn off some, but those people are close-minded and don’t know how to appreciate a bitchin’ pop hook when they hear one. Surprisingly enough (at least for me my first time through it), Billy Joel isn’t quite the sap he’s been made out to be. Opening with the rollicking “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” Billy Joel occasionally indulges in a lovesick ballad, but more often than not, Billy isn’t afraid to bare his teeth. Of course, as anyone who’s heard “Piano Man” can attest to, Joel’s signature talent lays in his storytelling capabilities, and the sultry, genre-shifting album highlight “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” is a truly staggering achievement. Working in snippets of jazz orchestration and never afraid to let some hips loose and shuffle, THE STRANGER proves that maybe, just maybe, the piano got the short end of the stick in terms of its place in popular music history.
Cheb Khaled – KHALED
Favorite Tracks: “Didi,” “El Arbi,” “Mauvis Sang”
The most renowned practitioner of the Algerian musical tradition known as raï, Cheb Khaled’s 1992 album is a rich and varied effort that serves as an essential sample platter for the possibilities of the genre. A fascinating multicultural artifact in its own right, raï demonstrates its origins in the port city of Oran through its deft balancing of both Spanish, French, and traditional Arabic influences. Now having been filtered through nearly two decades of disco and its stylistic predecessors, KHALED expertly fields multiple styles, sometimes all at once, over each of its tracks, offering the listener endless volleys of tender ballads (“Wahrane”), hard grooving lite funk (“Mauvis Sang”), or bona fide anthems that refuse to turn down at any cost (“Didi”). All complimented by Ched Khaled’s mournful, captivating melismatic technique, influenced by a legacy of Arabic vocal music, KHALED is a breezy sort of fun that is highly underheard and underrated.
Friendly Sneakerz – FLOWERS FROM ABOVE
Genre: Purple Sound, Bubblegum Bass
Favorite Tracks: “Classroom,” “Luvly,” “Falling,” “Strawberry Bliss”
Having become quite a vocal fanboy of PC Music this past year, I’ll spare you yet another explanation of why they’re genius and if you don’t like them you’re wrong. However, if you still insist on being wrong, I may have the answer for you. FLOWERS FROM ABOVE takes the same sugar-coated, pink-colored pop maximalism of PC Music, but does away with the collective’s uncomfortable, offputting futurism. Manipulating samples from exclusively angelic J-pop, adding in the expected transcendentally optimistic synth pads, and being sure to blow out the low-end with bass that is comfortable in any club blasting trap, FLOWERS FROM ABOVE may lose some of the intellectual foppery associated with its more lofty peers, but may just be all the more recreationally enjoyable because of it. Shimmering, glistening, and the aural equivalent of every indie movie sunflare you’ve seen, FLOWERS FROM ABOVE also knows when to hit the sweet spot of staggering melancholy (“Strawberry Bliss”). The result is sure to be one that dem internet electronic bois will be sorry they slept on.
Prince Khonjo 99 with Midzi Heritage Sound – BINADAMU HATOSHEKI
Genre: Bongo Flava
Favorite Tracks: “Binadamu,” “Mtaliani”
An undeniable oddity, BINADAMU HATOSHEKI is delightfully bizarre and endearingly naive. The most primitive of consumer grade keyboards hash out skeletal Fisher Price beats (even containing the occasional kind of artificial animal sound that is prevalent on such children’s toys), oftentimes simply consisting of a repetitive rhythmic loop. However, that makes the masterful melodic capabilities of Prince Khonjo 99 all the more impressive, as his sensual, lilting voice acts as a much larger presence than any instrumentation could ever hope to. What we’re left with is if the earliest of hip hop producers transported to Kenya in the late 90s, found the most impressive singer in a local bar, and ran with it, creating a release as inexplicable as it is enjoyable. If one steps back enough, it concurrently stands as an inspirational reminder that anyone, anywhere can make music, and the joyful exuberance of Prince Khonjo 99 is hard to resist smiling at.