Funk isn't exactly a high priority in contemporary music — spiritually, conceptually, or in the music itself. But 7 Days of Funk, a collaboration between two extravagantly funky Angelenos — producer Dâm-Funk and rap icon Snoop Dogg, billed here as Snoopzilla — celebrates this hard-to-pin down, yet unmistakable quality.
In comparison to Dâm-Funk's masterful debut album, Toeachizown — which, at points, bore some New Wave influences à la Prince — the primary point of reference here is George Clinton's cosmic slop, a rich vein of funk that Snoopzilla has been feeding on throughout his career. 7 Days of Funk reestablishes the mothership connection between the hyperhuman sprawl of Los Angeles and a higher self zooming around in interstellar space. Dâm-Funk clearly enjoys the ungainly wallop of vintage rhythm boxes, which clomp along with all their human-aping imprecisions, while stargazing synthesizer pads smear petroleum jelly on the lens.
Few rappers can pull off the ridiculous without clowning themselves in the process. Snoopzilla is a natural at doing retro with the kind of conviction required to bring chunky boogie into the present. Both he and Dâm-Funk are funk lifers who understand that supremely chilled-out, anxiety-free grooves are an excellent conduit for boasts and love songs alike. Even though the video for "Faden Away" portrays the duo goofing around, the album is notable for moments of subtlety.
"Let It Go" is a breezy love jam and complex bit of self-talk from Snoopzilla at the same time. Snoop's trying to persuade a girl that they can get back on track with full knowledge that the only thing to do is what's indicated in the title. On "Do My Thang," he's meditating on some extraterrestrials' advice — "Only you can do you," they offer, presumably while hanging out the window of their flying saucer — suggesting that, for these two as much as for the listener, funk is just as good for self-actualization as it is for house parties.
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Back in the winter of 2010, in one of the earliest interviews Ron Morelli gave about his upstart record label Long Island Electrical Systems (or L.I.E.S. for short), he summed up his opinion about being social in New York City: "It just makes more sense to stay home and try to work on music than go play records at a bar." In three short years, L.I.E.S. has gone on to garner both critical accolades and a ravenous fanbase (snatching up their limited edition 12" singles the moment they hit the web), and it finds Morelli regularly DJing club dates throughout Europe and overseeing a roster that expands well beyond the borough of Brooklyn.
For all of its expanded worldview though, Music for Shut-Ins - a two-disc compilation of this year's vinyl-only releases - shows how that hermetic spirit still informs the music. The beats are undeniable, but they are also decidedly lo-fi and interior. Chicago's Svegalisghost re-imagines his hometown's acid sound on "High Heel Sleaze" but makes its beats and keyboards sound like they're suffering from an upper-respiratory infection. Brooklyn producer Marcos Cabral's 12-minute epic "Dancing on Manhattan" juxtaposes the track title with a sound decidedly more introspective; while its jacking rhythms will no doubt inspire movement, Cabral also allows for an industrial haze of synths to slowly overtake the track and give it this forlorn feel.
While both of these producers appeared on L.I.E.S. American Noise compilation from last year, Shut-Ins shows off a bumper crop of talent, ranging from new acts like Greg Beato and Beau Wanzer to North Carolina noisemaker Samantha's Vacation. But the comp also gets some help from allies like the Netherlands' analog synth legend Legowelt (see his bubbling track "Teen Romance") and Washington D.C. duo Beautiful Swimmers, who takes the gated snare sound of early '90s hip-hop and inverts it for "The Zoo."
One of the label's bigger "hits" this year comes courtesy of previously unheard producer Florian Kupfer. On his track "Feelin," he uses the simplest of tools: distorted hi-hat with kick, and a female voice singing "I can't stop this feeling." And Terekke's "Amaze" sounds like it's echoing out of a cave, using fragments of an old soul song for an uncanny effect not unlike the dreamlike productions of dubstep master Burial.
While electronic dance music remains best experienced in public and out on a dance floor, Morelli and his roster of "outsider house" producers still sound most comfortable holed-up in their studios, hunched over analog gear, trapped in their own heads. But it's a space you won't soon want to escape.
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Nashboro was born in a record store, the best possible cradle for this great gospel label. Ernie's Record Mart owner Ernie Young had previously worked as a jukebox stocker in Nashville, and by 1952 he knew what sounds moved buyers. He sponsored an hour-long gospel show on 50,000 watt Southern radio station WLAC, which played lots of Nashboro records. Young's business skills made his Nashville-based label a gospel powerhouse that ultimately bankrolled raw rhythm and blues label Excello. Young knew enough about Jesus and enough about themoneychangers, too, to broker an arrangement between the often-feuding parties.
From 1951 until the early '90s, when Young sold it, Nashboro was one of the leading gospel labels, and its glory days are captured on the 4-CD set I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel From the Nashboro Label, 1951-1983, produced by Mike McGonigal, Kevin Nutt and Tompkins Square founder Josh Rosenthal. Nashboro's bread was buttered by vocal quartets that typically paired a gritty lead singer with sweet harmonies. The label helped bring the quartet sound back in the '50s, and songs like The Swanee Quintet's "It's Hard to Get Along" illustrates the form perfectly: Ruben Willingham's baritone puts sand in the karo syrup, and when the Swanees vamp on one chord you feel like you'd follow them on a march up any mountain.
Nashboro put out a huge amount of music, none of which has been licensed in years. I Heard the Angels Singing includes numerous fine women singers, like Lucille Barbee ("Let the Church Roll On") and Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke ("I Can't See Them Now"), both singers projecting a stately resolution against forces prepared to knock them down. There is much organ backing; there are also some fine later day performances from folks like Dorothy Love Coates ("Heaven, I've Heard So Much About It") and a tricked-out hair-singeing vocal by Willie Neal Johnson ("Bless Me").
Holding the music together across 4 CDs is the label's signature echo. Young liked tremolo in the guitar, slapback in the bass and reverb from the vocals, and he built a primitive studio in the attic of his record mart efficient at generating it. The Nashboro echo summons the woods that once nurtured many a church on the edge of small towns, and the road at night, the gospel highway that nurtured these artists. It's a gorgeously articulated sound space.
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Shearwater's new album, Fellow Travelers, is built around a neat gimmick: Each of its 10 songs pays tribute to an artist with whom the band has toured. Given that musicians tend to tour with like-minded peers, it's no surprise that Fellow Travelers provides a reasonably natural extension of Shearwater's stormy but hooky, prettily dramatic sound.
But a list of the artists covered sprawls in a surprising number of directions. It's tough to sketch a through-line that intersects with both the tortured artiness of Xiu Xiu ("I Luv the Valley OH!!") and the stridently soaring accessibility of Coldplay ("Hurts Like Heaven"), and yet there they are, back to back near the beginning of Fellow Travelers. Elsewhere, the album houses a faithfully propulsive cover of Folk Implosion's "Natural One" — a song that requires and receives precious little tinkering — as well as work by artists that fit more seamlessly alongside Shearwater, like Wye Oak ("Mary Is Mary") and St. Vincent ("Cheerleader").
It's telling, though, that Fellow Travelers' best song is one of the band's own: A beautifully brooding Shearwater original, "A Wake for the Minotaur" pairs singer Jonathan Meiburg with the great Sharon Van Etten for a languid, entrancing ballad. It's fascinating to hear Shearwater function as a skeleton key that opens up the works of Xiu Xiu and Coldplay and St. Vincent alike, but nothing sounds quite like Shearwater itself.
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In the early summer of 1954, Thelonious Monk traveled to Europe for the first time and played the Paris Jazz Festival. He was assigned a local rhythm section which was probably unfamiliar with his music; he was booked into the Salle Pleyel, an enormous 3,000-seat concert hall; he had almost no public profile in France apart from the most hardcore of modern jazz fans; he was nervous and probably drunk; and he followed an enormously popular Dixieland band on stage. Critics in attendance panned him, confused by his unique dissonances and agitated stage behavior. The gig was, as biographer Robin Kelley described it, a disaster.
Fifteen years later, Monk returned to Paris and the Salle Pleyel with his own band in a much different situation. He recorded for the mainstream label Columbia Records, was featured on the cover of Time magazine and generally reaped the public adulation that musicians and insiders had long held for his music. He was an international star, and the concert was televised. It's what you can preview here, before it's released to the public as an audio recording and DVD titled Paris 1969.
You'll find Monk in the quartet orientation with which he played for many years; it included long-time saxophonist Charlie Rouse. (Coincidentally, another worthwhile live recording emerged this year of a Thelonious Monk quartet at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival.) The rhythm section did feature two young musicians new to the band, Berklee student Nate Hygelund (bass) and 17-year-old Paris Wright (drums), though the Thelonious Monk quartet had had about a month on the road to get it together before this particular show. They take on a familiar program of Monk's music, and also make room for their leader to play some stride-inflected Tin Pan Alley tunes alone on stage. This isn't the tap-dancing, elbows-on-the-piano Monk of yore — perhaps a month in Europe ending with eight cities in eight nights will do that to you — but it's Monk doing Monk, swinging intensely through severe rhythmic crevasses.
Listen in particular for what happens in "Nutty." The American master drummer "Philly" Joe Jones had been expatriated in France at the time, and Monk had him come by and sit in for a tune. Now, Paris Wright is a strong player, and was even at 17, but Philly Joe was a legend — you can hear it in the massive applause before a note is even sounded. There's a kind of new communion between the piano and the snare and kick drums; it raises the overall intensity even before the impeccably organized drum solo. It's pretty much a clinic in jazz drumming, and when it wraps up, it's easy to imagine everyone on stage feeling quite pleased with how the moment — and the night as a whole — had unfolded.