Monday, December 27, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - December 23/10

We're barely past the solstice and already we're deep into the Cold Weather. For most of North America, that signals the end of the reggae season.

Reggae as we all know is skankin' on the beach music with a bottle of Red Stripe in each hand.

Never mind the reality that reggae and dancehall are more entrenched, discussed and distributed than ever before, and that quality releases in long and short form varieties continue to be issued throughout the year.

However, as I have of late dwelt on the perception of music as much as the expression of music, mass media and even prominent blogs continue to ignore reggae unless the weather is right. Year end lists of pop music seem to be more narrow than ever. Hip hop rightly graduated to such lists many years ago (and Kanye has demonstrated that a hip hop album can actually epitomize a year - take that, Arcade Fire!), but for all the promise contained in the breezy aphorism "I don't care where it comes from, good music is good music", rock-based music from the United States, Britain, and here of course, Canada continues to represent the vast majority of pop year-end lists. Where is Gyptian's "Hold You", or for that matter the soca hit of the decade JW & Blaze's "Palance", both of which moved millions of bodies this year? Getting deeper, it's not as though tropically-derived music isn't massively popular in North America, it's just that we fail to paint a true picture of ourselves in terms of musical activity (maybe social activity too, Toronto?) when the ends of years/decades necessitate one. For the umpteenth year, music lags far behind food, movies, and cuisine in terms of critical endorsement of widespread popularity.

Jahdan's new album Babylon Nightmare isn't going to change that - especially with a December 2010 release all but guaranteeing it will be forgotten by December 2011. Too bad. This is a fine record which combines hip hop with upfull reggae in a way that a wider swath of North Americans should get with. Babylon Nightmare is no simple grafting of hip hop beats onto reggae basslines, it's a virtuous circle in which reggae hooks and hip hop rhythms combine in ways that make them difficult to tease them apart. Discreet acoustic guitars, string flourishes and bits of reggae's past (Ras Michael, Eek A Mouse) add variety. In short, it's a reggae album that should play well with all kinds of hip hop influenced music of these sub-arctic climes.

Perhaps the lyrics, which dwell on traditional Rasta concerns of living right and denouncing the ways and means of Babylon, may not be as accessible as the music (so few reggae artists on this continent have found ways to address cold weather themes of urban isolation and working against natural elements to survive. Jahdan had a great song on his last album which hit some of these nerves) but in terms of delivery, Jahdan is always a wonder. Switching off easily between singing and chanting, his dexterity in bending a phrase around several bars is his primary appeal. This is no criticism of the substance of the lyrics; just that cultural reggae lyrics tend not to appeal to the unconverted.

Thanks to Jahdan's association with Major Lazer, Dutty Artz et al, this should go further than a typical reggae release, but I can only hope that someone like Jody Rosen at Rolling Stone (writing about Busy Signal's "fearsome flow and great taste in beats" on D.O.B.) will take notice and consider this album as an important, memorable album regardless of genre.

Of course, I'm still here running my mouth, bringing today's crucial rhythms and textures to a mass audience FWIW. I may not be on the front lines of every style, but I'll always strive to build and reinforce the big tent. Que Viva CIUT!


a wah dat - junior dread (trojan)
christmas day pt 1 - les kilimambogo (nairobi)
arbolito - willie colon & hector lavoe (fania)
christmas in jamaica - brent dowe (studio one)
let's try - heptones (studio one/heartbeat)
cocody rock (dub) - alpha blondy (shanachie/vp)
rewind - jahdan blakkamoore (lustre kings)
humano - lido pimienta rmx by sonora (no label)
si hecho palante - ticklah (easy star)
blast off - sonnymoon (plug research)
to care (like you) - james blake (a&m)
underground (fat freddy's drop vs. celeda) - le freak selector (no label)
zuluairlines - bert on beats (man)
nahoda - damily (unknown)
what do you think happens when you get too far from your house? - peripheral vision (no label)
space jungle funk - oneness of juju (strut)
no matter what - nicole mitchell black earth strings (delmark)
crime in the pale moonlight - flanger rmx by rashad becker (nonplace)
ruff way - rhythm & sound feat. tikiman (burial mix)
lakeviews - resoe (echochord)
bearcat dreads - john hornak (no label)
rubadub anthem - high tone rmx by twelve (jarring effects)
tired of fighting - menahan street band (dunham)
funky in here - dayton sidewinders (funkadelphia)
get down santa - the jive turkeys (colemine)
christmas tree - king stitt (studio one)

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - December 16/10

I was all set to write about how this funny little project takes the hatchet to a wide range of pop songs past and present, but then Lonely Island's "I Just Had Sex" dropped and arguably did an even better job of lampooning today's hottest hits. Its silly, positive spirit is more evocative of what sex is actually like than Katy's limp double-entendres and Xtina's bionic coochie music.

That video was a fitting way to end a year in which I spent more time listening to Top 30 pop music I don't like than ever before. Sure, I enjoy and play my fair share of pop music (if not usually chartbusters - except from Jamaica...), but it's part of my job to keep in touch with what's going on outside of the music I tend to write about. How can any self-respecting World Music 2.0 journalist write about the brave new sounds around the world without familiarity with how North American hip hop, dance and power pop influences travel throughout the globe? How can I write about jazz without acknowledging what the Bad Plus, Jamie Cullum and Vijay Iyer have done with contemporary pop songs as an update of the Miles and Trane transformations of Broadway standards in the 50s? More tellingly, how can I be taken seriously as a music critic if I high-handedly dismiss this era's "in da club" generation while lionizing previous ones?

I only wish that some of my professional peers would have the same courtesy to explore beyond their comfort zones as I have been trying to do for years since "poptimism" legitimized the scholarly analysis of pop music half a decade ago. But since there's no easy money writing about world music and experimental traditions around the world, I shouldn't be surprised. It still bugs me when the musical territory to which I gravitate most is dismissed out of hand as irrelevant (not enough hype, clicks n' cash behind it), when such criticism is coming from a fundamental lack of curiosity of what's going on in the wide world beyond pop and rock being produced in North America and the UK (to be fair, the editors I work with most frequently do not think this way). With the music industry in tremendous flux, sudden popularity can come from the most unlikely sources, and to dismiss genres and continents as irrelevant is simply bad journalism.

Anyways, I'm happy to have received Pop Massacre: a Christmas gift which combines freeform electronic exploration with hits from yesterday and today: I've always been Hooked On Plunderphonics. Last week's track "La Bamba" was once a radical reinvention of a world music classic, and this version by Mexicans With Guns accomplishes much the same thing more than 50 years later. Starting with a creaky, slowed down representation of the main guitar riff, it quickly collapses into a burbling mess of electronics and reconfigures itself into the Low End Theory glitch-shuffle that Friends of Friends have done such a great job of showcasing to the world this past year. By song's end, it's gone double time, getting into modern day nuevo-tropical beats at the cutting edge of 'global South' dance music. And so it goes elsewhere: the many, many hooks and cultural signposts of these songs are pureed into tongue and cheek remixes which nonetheless hold up for repeated listening. The best parts of Pop Massacre go several steps beyond Girl Talk's serial money-shot shtick, while still tickling those pop music taste buds. Here are empty calories and expert cuisine folded together then cooked until well done.

Save some room for Lonely Island's affectionate satire as dessert.


kifo - remmy ongala & orchestre super matimala (real world)
dr. j abuya - daniel owino misiani & shirati band (earthworks)
gborei adesai - psychedelic aliens (voodoo funk)
threeball jazz - yelram selectah (no label)
moon pupils - boxcutter (kinnego)
hot gyal - tnt rmx by bassanova (t & a)
get on downz - switch rmx by le freak selector (no label)
mountains to climb - jahdan blakkamoore (lustre kings)
let it up - empresarios (fort knox)
gusto a nada - les reyes del milanga rmx by teswuino & dj linterna (cabeza)
fulaninha - luisa maita rmx by maga bo (cumbancha)
silbando - los riberios rmx by grc (barbes)
herencia rumbera - roberto roena y su apollo sound (fania)
mr. freedom x - miles davis (columbia)
latin power - eero koivisitoinen (porter)
treehouse - peripheral vision (no label)
no rest for the wicked - a hawk and a hacksaw (lm duplication)
snakes at the euxine - rembetika hipsters (no label)
track 3 - french kiss orchestra (no label)
la bamba - richie valens rmx by mexicans with guns (friends of friends)
bandwagon - kotchy (done right)

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - December 9/10

As I'm mostly through end of year lists it's pretty obvious to me that no one trend in music has influenced my programming more this year than the abstract electronics coming from the west coast of the United States. As epitomised by Flying Lotus, the Dilla inspired beats of last decade have been folded into new generations. There's too much talent coming from California to reduce to one subgenre or a movement. Teebs makes beautifully melodic, crystalline beats whereas Ras G pursues Arkestral ir-rythmia. Still, a creative DJ should have no problems playing both back to back to an open minded audience (seem to be more of those around these days?).

Salva is the latest bright light from out west. Proprietor of San Francisco's Frite Nite label, he tends towards the funkier end of these abstract beats. If you're into Dam Funk but wished he'd wake the fuck up with a handful of caffeine pills, Salva's your man. Dubstep can't help but be an influence on these beats as it explores similar frequency ranges and tempos, and Complex Housing mixes well with the angular head nodding required by the form, though with less obsession with bass sculpture: Salva keeps things predominantly funky. He's like a futuristic Lakeside; always searching for a more epic synth riff.

The album drops in February, though you can get the advance single "Blue" here.


pek - sally nyolo & la voix du cenacle (riverboat)
african do round - zuzuku rmx by mexican dubwiser (no label)
ananas tornillo - frente cumbiero (names you can trust)
afrodesia - afro soultet (luv n haight)
playing with stones - bunky green/rudresh mahanthappa (pi)
229 - gordon grdina trio feat mats gustafsson (drip audio)
cut form crush: be human pt 1 - mophono (cb)
icey - salva (friends of friends)
full disk - man made hill (inyrdisk)
sin gas - la ola criminal (dutty artz)
garabato - ku bo (man recordings)
el rockers - augustus pablo (pressure sounds)
music dub - horace andy/prince jammy (blood and fire)
page one - carlton patterson (hot pot)
trod natty - odel (ohm grown)
the phantom (om unit dub) - computer jay (no label)
dubliners - nicolas jaar (wolf and lamb)
tonight - elgato (hessle audio)
dubcuttin' - resoe (echochord)
push am - banana clips (bersa discos)
maybe a dream - amenta (no label)
lam tung wai - chaweewan dumnern (soundway)

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Monday, December 06, 2010

Abstract Index Playlist - December 2/10

I'd like to see mbalax get its due by the deejay-reissue industrial complex.

Since the Buena Vista narrative has recently been retold with the release of the Afrocubism project, it's an opportune time to point out the Senegalese similarities. Barthelemy Atisso is guitarist for Afrocubism and more importantly Orchestra Baobab. Baobab's Cuban style was submerged/swept away by the Senegalese new wave of mbalax, at whose forefront was Youssou N'Dour and his Etoile De Dakar. Over the past decade and a half, it was quite the turn of events to see Baobab and Buena Vista experience great success with outdated (though lovely) styles instead of the more contemporary, urban, complex forms of timba in Cuba and mbalax and its descendents in Senegal.

Mbalax at this point is both popular and historical music. Even with the growth of rap in Senegal, there are many stars in this style. Contemporary mbalax retains the shape shifting sabar drumming rhythms of the music, smoothing the impact only with stock synth pads.

Super Diamono
's glory years came before digital synths swept Africa (and African productions in Paris and London), but electronics were common tools nonetheless . It sounds like a Prophet 5 winding its way through "Diallo Dieri" this week which ties the whirlwind drumming, electric piano and incantatory singing together. It's undeniably funky, but you have to work a little bit to catch the groove. It's a song for dancing, not bouncing. If James Brown had just kept going further out after "I Got The Feeling" he might have hit these Senegalese shores.

Despite Youssou N'Dour's global stature, it's unlikely mbalax will cross over further. It's just not easy to mix this groove into today's more rigidly metered dancefloor requirements. If dance music is just starting to come to grips with the syncopations of soca, cumbia and kuduro, mbalax represents a whole new level of rhythmic information to process. Nonetheless, as speed metal proves, it's possible for complex, less accessible music to find a global audience. Super Diamono's sound can be seen/marketed as an extension of the psychedelic Africa reissue movement, or RIYL tradi-moderne Congotronics. Well known labels like Sterns have kept this music in circulation but even the recent Etoile De Dakar re-evaluation never really made it out of the world music 1.0 media.

Then again, I live in Ontario, not Quebec, where Senegalese music enjoys a much higher profile and maybe has the same kind of DJ ubiquity as Nigerian and Congolese music have in Toronto. Maybe our friends at Masalacism Records are busy grooming Montreal nu-mbalax artists and waiting for just the right moment to strike!


people suite - sweet maya (riverman)
crystals - ron forella (luv n haight)
mr. clean - richard groove holmes (blue note)
whitehouse - aeroplane trio (drip audio)
fuma - dimba diangula (analog africa)
diallo dieri - super diamono (dakar audio diffusion)
cumbia invasiva - monareta rmx by huracan (nacional)
coupe cumbia - banana clips (bersa discos)
seven chirp - kingdom (night slugs)
bobo (dub) - hunee (rush hour)
beautiful dreamer - justine & the victorian punks (dfa)
jurame - helado negro (no label)
pegwee power - maylee todd (do right)
rain horses - szilard mezsei ensemble (red toucan)
fax shadow - toro y moi rmx by shlomo (no label)
brown eyed girl - shigeto (brainfeeder)
saativaa - kenlo craqnuques (no label)
mainne kaun koi kya jane - anuradha paudwal (nascente)
brimstone & fire version - atarra (pressure sounds)
you don't have to know me - milton henry (wackies)

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