The Thomas Top Five: 7/4/16
Once again trying to keep up with what the kids are listening to, this installment of the Thomas Top Five features albums from 2016.
case / lang / veirs – S/T
Genre: Chamber Folk
Favorite Tracks: “Atomic Number,” “Honey and Smoke,” “Best Kept Secret,” “Georgia Stars”
With three of the matrons of folky adult contemporary pop coming together for a record (Neko Case, k.d. Lang, and Laura Veirs), it was easy to expect that the arrangements would be smooth, the harmonies would be lush, and the vocal tapestries intricate. S/T assures the listener that their expectations were correct, and while overtly NPR’s All Songs Considered-core, the album makes enough interesting maneuvers with its use of its three musical icons to stay genuinely fresh and engaging throughout. The timbres of the ladies’ respective vocals are juxtaposed nicely with each other, and a stellar lineup of studio musicians keep the instrumental backing concise and down-to-earth, occasionally opening up for soaring licks of stringed instrumentation that add a sense of grandiosity and gravitas. The whole thing’s a little precocious, but there is great pop songwriting here on display, calling back to everyone from Burt Bacharach to Joni Mitchell, and with the names attached, it would be regrettable to not give it a shot.
Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – WE BE ALL AFRICANS
Genre: Spiritual Jazz
Favorite Tracks: “We Be All Africans,” “Rhapsody in Berlin,” “Traponga”
Seeing as both spiritual jazz and Afrobeat alike aren’t pulling much weight with music fans in 2016, WE BE ALL AFRICANS is a fresh breath of warm Sahara air. A deft balance of both the jiving communal aspects of Afrobeat and hefty doses of innovative saxophone solos bordering on the avant-garde, WE BE ALL AFRICANS has something for fans of both of its chief influences while still managing to stand its own ground with a singular touch of Sun Ra-esque weirdness. Reminiscent of Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra high on hallucinogens and floating through space, WE BE ALL AFRICANS seamlessly shifts between quiet vocal passages complemented by arrangements that almost seem to stem from exotica, crisp horn passages that bleat with a vicious punch, and bizarre, ethereal backing on the part of both keyboard and marimba. From Herbie Hancock to mbaqanga to Pharoah Sanders, there’s something in WE BE ALL AFRICANS for everyone.
Jute Gyte – PERDURANCE
Genre: Avant-Garde Metal
Favorite Tracks: “At the Limit of Fertile Land,” “Consciousness Is Nature’s Nightmare”
I’m going to cut to the chase: You have to be a huge fucking douche to appreciate Jute Gyte’s PERDURANCE to its fullest extent, but for those of you to whom that criteria applies, I can promise you beyond a shadow of a doubt that you will fall in love. On a musical theory level, there is absolutely no other metal that comes to mind that is as complex and structured as what Jute Gyte has done on this tape. I can’t do justice to the extensive liner notes that he’s provided on the Bandcamp page, but if phrases such as “hemiola,” “four simultaneous tempi,” “hypermeter,” and “microtonal extension of the opening theme of Brahms’ first piano quartet” get your heart racing, PERDURANCE is sure to be amongst your top albums of the year. Even if you’ve never heard the words music theory before, this is still a captivating and innovative metal release, as it blends everything from noise to orchestral music to black metal to electronic beat tapes into an effort that’s more fresh than anything that has come out of modern metal in some time. Proving that intellect is not lost on things that are harsh and abrasive, PERDURANCE will need a few listens to unpack, but is more than worth the effort.
YG – STILL BRAZY
Genre: West Coast Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Dont Come to LA (featuring Sad Boy, A.D., and Bricc Baby Shitro),” “Twist My Fingaz,” “Still Brazy”
Despite a hot radio single or two, 2014’s MY KRAZY LIFE seemed to suggest that YG would always be a pop rap flash in the pan, only bolstered by his affiliation with DJ Mustard at the right time and right place. Despite my nearly nonexistent expectations, STILL BRAZY reinvents YG as a hip hop artist to pay attention to against all odds, keeping the funk-influenced, bouncy LA sound while injecting a bona fide sense of danger and menace that hearkens back to a time when “rappers was scared to come into town.” YG doesn’t always make a case for himself as California’s most esteemed wordsmith, but he knows how to work his way around a hook and his delivery exists in an interesting middle-ground between the highly rhythmic barks and brays of party rap and longer, more conscious passages delving into the environment he calls home. Despite the somewhat questionable inclusion of the meme-riddled “Fuck Donald Trump,” STILL BRAZY rarely falters, and reminds that there are still vital rap releases coming from the West Coast from people that aren’t named Kendrick Lamar.
Yumi Zouma – YONCALLA
Favorite Tracks: “Barricade (Matter of Fact),” “Yesterday,” “Short Truth”
I typically don’t ever give music like this the time of day since it seems clearly catered to festivals that people buy tickets to before they even know who’s performing, but YONCALLA differentiates itself in just the right way and scratches my itch for waify, vaguely sad synthpop. What I’ve pinpointed as the key difference is the fact that Yumi Zouma never makes obvious and abrasive attempts at a “festival hook,” avoiding shout-along choruses, blindingly bright synthesizer blats, and the ever-increasingly prevalent presence of tropical house influences. In fact, things are nearly skeletal, with small splashes of guitar weaving in and out of the solid but non-invasive synth beds, the rhythmic backing often being favored in the mix. As such, we still have recognizable and delightful pop outings (“Yesterday”), but the fact that it subtly sounds like the better outings of the original wave of indietronica as opposed to beating us over the head with its intentions make it all the more enjoyable.