Karen Gwyer – Shit List With Kid
With record titles like “I’ve Been You Twice”, Gwyer crafts progressive techno epics with unparalleled emotional depth. In a genre as determinedly grey as techno this is no mean feat, but Gwyer manages to imbue her compositions with a sense of maturity and enigma. Where most techno artists invoke their own mythology to augment their mystery (try and find any allusion to the real world in Autechre’s back catalogue), Gwyer’s work ponders spirituality and transcendence in the everyday. It’s kind of ineffable, for me at least, but perhaps this is why I find her track titling so compelling (‘Shit List with Kid’, in particular, is inspired). In a time where titles for instrumentals feel largely arbitrary (or worse, pretentious), Gwyer’s selections interact thoughtfully with the music.
Where Actress’ brainy dissections of techno tropes could never light up a dancefloor, Gwyer manages to strike a unique balance between the cerebral and the danceable. As with Via App however, no dancefloor banger is ever far off dissolving into something disarmingly moving and, when that frenetic acid intro lands on the organ, ‘Shit List with Kid’ develops a sudden but convincing candour.
Marijata – No Condition Is Permanent
“This is Marijata”
Continuing a short but dedicated tour of African funk we have Marijata. The trio hail from Ghana, the home of highlife, though with that thundering rhythm section and varicose vocals they are recusant without playing the iconoclast. It’s a shame the group later transitioned to the far sleeker Pat Thomas on vocals because he’s not a shade on Kofi Electrick, whose Brownisms and earth-shattering howls sound even more forceful in shite fidelity. Here the lyrics suggest an optimistic outlook while Eletrick’s expression betrays more of a reproach for conditions past and present.
Lydia Lunch – Lady Scarface
“Queen Of Siam”
Sly singspeak delivery melds ingeniously with this big band dart as Lunch details being stood up before deputising some sixteen year old kid as a replacement. Lunch’s playful cadences sound innocent enough, but the boy is undoubtedly her prey: “I crept like a cat/Visions of seduction lurking under my hat”. She’s beyond recriminations though, because “you see, he had this walk, I mean, down pat”.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings “8 Days (of Hanukkah)”
“It’s a Holiday Soul Party”
In honour of the rare alignment of the first day of Hanukkah and Christmas day and in tribute to another massive loss this year, I offer you Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ “8 Days (of Hanukkah)”. Wham’s “Last Christmas” is undeniably the best holiday song ever recorded but I couldn’t say no to the soulful invocations of “I like it more than Pesach/Let’s leave the Manischewitz on the shelf”. The Pointer Sister’s-themed lyrical video, for its part, also makes for compulsory viewing.
“It’s a Holiday Soul Party” (yeah it is!) was Jones’ last release and although it may not have had the gravitas or prescience of 2016’s other curtain calls (‘Blackstar’ and ‘You Want it Darker’ spring to mind), it’s religious diversity reflects the cosmopolitan ethos of the Brooklyn-based band and the unwavering positivity and verve that defined Jones’ career and later her struggle with illness. An absolute talent and an inspiration.
This one’s for Pete Dutton.
Gillian Welch – Revelator
“Time (The Revelator)”
I could have gone with “Elvis Presley Blues” but I opted for one of Welch’s self-described “dark and pitiful numbers”. This is the exact dart you want to hear chiming faintly out of the adjacent room when you wake up after a big night at someone’s house. Welch and Rawlings make a marvellous pairing with both vocals and acoustic in perfect simpatico, bringing Welch’s bittersweet requiems to life with restraint and ease. The contours of Gillian’s voice drift like smoke rings in a seamless staging of activity and repose, while the agonies of modernity converse with the ghosts of retired Appalachian imagery.
Urban Tribe – Program 02
RA in their bullshit review of Urban Tribe’s latest record, self-titled, informs us that this is the product of four producers (DJ Stingray, Carl Craig, Moodymann and Anthony Shake Shakir no less) that are confident enough to mess around but “also scared enough that they only bring their freakiest material to the table”. This sounds more like the opinion of someone that is confident enough to be a dance music critic but too scared to endorse a track length of less than four minutes. It’s the kind of criticism that categorises any four minute song with a programmed beat outside of Dilla’s ‘Doughnuts’ as “a sketch”.
And don’t get me started on “something tells me they probably like the fact that you’re going to listen to this at home even more”. Because music made for anything less than the blundering ears of drug fucked dilettantes is an act of smug ostentation. And that freaky material is just a defence mechanism against the fact you can’t bless the ears of the musically enlightened in between their 2 hour conversation with the bartender and a failed attempt to score ketamine.
But where’s the Junior Boys remix?! Fuck off.
Laurel Halo – Light and Space
Oh Laurel, what sweet gift is this? That crisp modular cuts through the VHS pads and deep space reverb like a hot knife through butter in what must be one of the most serene aural baths in the book of. You think it couldn’t get more heavenly until the choir of Laurels breeze on in and when the nimble melodic phrasing lands on “again” you will feel like you’re climbing through some window portal into another world.
Arto Lindsay – Blue Eye Shadow
Arto cut his teeth in the New York no wave scene during the late seventies with the uncompromising DNA, but you’d never know from this sauntering bossa banger. The chorus is exquisite and the arrival of the horns in round 2 – mixed uncharacteristically low like an Arthur Russell tune – is inspired. At the end of the day, whether he’s cult droning in the red or cutting silky smooth bossa grooves, Arto’s a straight up axe enthusiast and further proof that the most enduring acts cut the most sick in the salad days.
The Sahara All Stars – Take Your Soul
“Sahara All Stars Of Jos”
While many funk bands in the States were still trying to capture the immortal fire of James Brown, the funk scene in Lagos and elsewhere in Nigeria was blazing its own trail. As a creature of the mid seventies this tune sits on the cusp of disco, but that rhythm section is more concerned with jamming that 8-bar to death than getting a rise off the dance floor. The shit hot Sahara All Stars take this dart for an absolute fucking walk and when the egregiously long wah-wah solo lands on the horns then back into the final bars of the groove – I can’t even tell you.
U.S. Girls – Navy and Cream
U.S. Girls’ GP set this year disappointed fans with patchy sound, and its a shame she wasn’t around at Meredith to embrace the shiny new sound system. Her first major release with 4AD ‘Half Free’ is a full deck of darts, championing the same genre fluidity and adventurous production that makes Jenny Hval’s songwriting such an exciting mixed bag. Ordinarily I think the term ‘nostalgic’ is a pointlessly vague descriptor, but something about the simmering ‘Navy and Cream’ induces a nostalgia in me without legitimate recollection, and its the best Evo-era 4AD tune Annie Lennox never made.