The Thomas Top Five: 6/6/16
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?
Andy Stott – LUXURY PROBLEMS
Genre: Dub Techno
Favorite Tracks: “Numb,” “Sleepless,” “Luxury Problems”
From the opening vocal volleys of “Numb,” the listener will know that they’re in for a treat. Andy Stott is a master of subtly pervasive mood, never bludgeoning his audience with obvious production antics and consistently making sure that he toes the line between that which is gorgeous and that which is frightening. Layers take their time to develop themselves, almost always obscured behind layers of fuzz, distortion, and washed out keyboard effects. Although bass is constantly present, necessitating the “dub” modifier, what’s most impressive about Andy Stott is his ability to mine from the general aesthetics of industrial but inject his work with the quiet, nocturnal beauty of future garage. As such, we’re left with a fundamentally dark record that never becomes depressive or downtrodden, ensuring we’re always on edge but ever eager to see what dark shape will emerge out of the shadows next.
Hailu Mergia – HAILU MERGIA & HIS CLASSICAL INSTRUMENT: SHEMONMUANAYE
Favorite Tracks: “Sewnetuwa,” “Wegene,” “Hari Meru Meru,” “Ambassel”
One of the Awesome Tapes From Africa staples, HAILU MERGIA & HIS CLASSICAL INSTRUMENT is a delightful blend of Casio drumbeat hypnosis, Mergia’s skillful synthesizer accompaniment and soloing, and plenty of accordion virtuosity lending the pieces a distinct Ethiopian flair. As is the case with many of these releases, the listener will have to give themselves over to the groove, but as always, those willing to embrace the cyclical nature of the rhythmic backing (itself a trait carrying over from traditional African drum circles) will find themselves entirely won over by Mergia’s earnest compositions. And that itself hits upon an interesting nerve; it would appear as if Hailu’s handling everything himself, lending the project an intriguing sense approaching that of Outsider Music: a man, his keyboard, and the world carrying on unfettered outside. Of course, that’s not a knock on the music, and if anything, it carries across a sense of intimacy. Featuring the odd keyboard tone that seems to almost reference the Space Age Pop of Mort Garson, HAILU MERGIA & HIS CLASSICAL INSTRUMENT is an oddity, but an enjoyable one at that.
Little Richard – HERE’S LITTLE RICHARD
Genre: Rock & Roll
Favorite Tracks: “Tutti Frutti,” “Ready Teddy,” “Long Tall Sally,” “She’s Got It”
An impressive feat in record preservation if nothing else (this sounds as if it were recorded yesterday as opposed to 60 years previously), HERE’S LITTLE RICHARD is a fun, unassuming little record that sounds surprisingly comprehensive for a pre-Beatles album considering that the single was king of the era. Although Richard’s charisma as a leader and the tight precision of the backing musicians ensure that no track notably drags, the record’s at its best when Richard is allowed to cut loose with his own frantic brand of hip-swinging rock & roll, as opposed to when it’s clear that Specialty Records wanted a Ray Charles competitor. That being said, it’s hard to not at least bob your head thanks to the slew of driving shuffles presented here, augmented all the more by the flurries of honky tonk piano and the lecherous tones of the regular saxophone solos. Things might start to sound a little recyclable, but at a scant 28 minutes, this piece of musical history is more than conventionally enjoyable.
On the Might of Princes – WHERE YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU WANT TO BE
Genre: Emo, Post-Hardcore
Favorite Tracks: “The Water vs. the Anchor,” “13 Cheers for Beer and Bullshit,,” “You Can Only Be So Careful,” “For Meg”
C’mon, kids, summer’s here — It’s far past time we broke out the emo records! Here we have the seminal record from late New York group On the Might of Princes. Indebted to emo’s roots in post-hardcore, the three (!!!) vocalists that On the Might of Princes employs aren’t afraid to go to ear-shattering peaks of vocal parameters, contributing to a desperate and pleading atmosphere that nicely juxtaposes the more melodic harmonics that are a direct descendant of acts such as Mineral. The two sides of On the Might of Princes are nicely balanced; although I personally prefer the elements referencing the punk heritage of the East Coast, the bursts of pent-up rage and aggression wouldn’t have the same impact if not allowed to progress from the communal cry-fests of tracks such as “13 Cheers for Beer and Bullshit.” Largely avoiding the twinkling guitar tones of the Midwest and similarly unafraid to work in the patient tension manipulations of post-rock, WHERE YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU WANT TO BE can be challenging, but making it to album highlight “For Meg” is worth the effort.
Zhou Xuan – THE LEGENDARY CHINESE HITS VOLUME ONE
Favorite Tracks: “永遠的微笑 (Eternal Smile),” “小小洞房 (Our Little Bridal Chamber),” “月圓花好 (Full Moon, Beautiful Flowers),” “知音何處尋 (Seeking a Boon Companion),” “高崗上 (On the Hill)”
A masterful collection of the best work from Zhou Xuan’s extensive discography, THE LEGENDARY CHINESE HITS VOLUME ONE is haunting, both in the sense of great beauty and a slightly uneasy sense of ephemeral mortality. One of China’s most famous performers in the era following the introduction of jazz into traditional Chinese popular music, musically, THE LEGENDARY CHINESE HITS is a fascinating artifact perfectly exemplifying that tumultuous period of cross-cultural reterritorialization. Featuring traditional Chinese instruments vying for focus with Western strings, brass, and occasional snippets of big band arrangements, each and every track is designed to fully highlight Zhou Xuan’s lilting soprano reveries in what can be seen as a precursor to Mando- and Cantopop. However, whether it be through the considerable Vinyl hiss of the recordings or Zhou Xuan’s flighty singing style, this feels like music from beyond the grave, a soundtrack to a time and place somewhere far beyond our means of comprehension. Outlawed by the communist government and experiencing significant mental breakdowns that cut her life short, one of China’s great performers is given a melancholic look before her downfall in THE LEGENDARY CHINESE HITS VOLUME ONE, a smoky, subdued slice of life that is highly transportive.