August 2014: Tracks of the month – soul and madness, reggae and bass

By Martin Smith | 3 August 2014

Soul and madness, reggae and bass: this pretty much sums up my favourite tracks this month.

But before we move onto them, I just wanted to say it was another sad month for music: the world of jazz lost Charlie Haden and Idris Muhammad and punk said goodbye to the last Ramone – Tommy. I’ve written obituaries for Charlie and Tommy, so in tribute to Idris I have included one of his albums on this month’s list of tracks.

For me personally it has been a month of great festivals and gigs – Theo Parish was my highlight – and to top it all I have finally got my hands on an original Japanese psychedelic monster, but more about that next month.

I hope you enjoy this month’s list. Please feel free to send in your suggestions.

1. Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty (Sub Pop 2014) CD

Lèse-majesté is a capital crime in strict monarchic societies. It loosely translates as “the offending of royalty”. It’s an appropriate title for an album that taunts the kings of modern rap for their lack of originality.

The 18 songs on the album are grouped into seven or eight suites. The music is a fusion of dark electronic slabs of sound combined with a lyrical dexterity seldom heard these days. I love this album – it’s deep, original and declares war on its elders. This really is my album of the month.

2. Hyperdub: 10.2 (Hyperdub 2014) CD/vinyl

If you enjoyed Hyperdub’s first compilation of 10th anniversary dancefloor madness, then 10.2 will be right up your street. It features some of the label’s best songs of the last five years. Hyperdub is often associated with dark and brooding instrumental music. However, this mid-summer collection is laced with melancholic soul, footwork, garage and funk. There are cuts from Kode9, Cooly G, Morgan Zarate feauring Eska and Ghostface Killah, Jessy Lanza, Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland. What more could you ask for? Burial? Well he is on there too!

The video is a track by Jessy Lanza. It’s more Dirty Dancing than Footwork!

3. Idris Muhammad: House of the Rising Sun (Kudu 1976 reissue) CD/vinyl

Another musical legend has passed away – this time it’s the soul-jazz drummer and bandleader Idris Muhammad. If you haven’t heard any of his stuff, then this slice of fusion is a great place to start.

This is a legendary album, and for good reason. First there’s the fact that Idris is easily the greatest of all soul-jazz drummers. Next, it reveals the label boss and producer, Creed Taylor, at his most inspired, unafraid to push the soul funk button. Finally, this is the single greatest lineup in Kudu’s history, and features the talents of Don Grolnick, Eric Gale, Will Lee, Roland Hanna, Joe Beck, David Sanborn, Michael Brecker, Hugh McCracken, Bob Berg, Fred Wesley, and Patti Austin who are killing it.

“Allah Yarhamak”, brother Idris.

This is his version of Baia.

4. Augustus Pablo: Born to dub you (VP 2014) vinyl

I know I say everything is un-missable, but this really is. Rare and unreleased Augustus Pablo from the vaults of Gussie Clarke. Includes full 12″ versions of the mind-bending “No Entry” and “Classical Illusion” (complete with King Jammy dub). Also included are impossible to find 45s like “Believe A Dub”. This is classic Augustus Pablo and you need it in your life.

This is a great little track (it’s not on the album):

5. Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s ghost (Island Records 1975/76) CD/vinyl

There wasn’t a punky/reggae party in the late 1970s or early 1980s that didn’t play a track or two from these classic roots reggae albums. Named in honour of the Jamaican national hero and proto Black Nationalist, these LPs contains some truly sublime works, most notably the title track, “Old Marcus Garvey”, “Dread River” and “The Invasion”.

The CD version contains both albums and a couple of excellent dub versions. Vinyl collectors will have to splash out and buy the albums separately. I bought my copies from Woolworths for 99p each back in the day.

6. Common: Nobody’s Smiling (Def Jam 2014) CD

In a career that has spanned 20 years this is Common’s 10th album studio album and it really is as good as anything he has ever recorded. Great breaks, conscious lyrics and amazing collaborations. Some say he is back – I never thought he went away.

7. Daniel Avery: Drone Logic (Phantasy Sound 2013) CD/vinyl

I’ve only just got hold of this album and it hasn’t left my turntable since. Rather than me droning on about it (sorry) the review in Resident Advisor sums up this great album.

An album of throbbing club tunes could easily get tedious, but Avery’s productions are lithe enough that it flies by in a flurry of twangy synths and pounding drums. And just when it begins to feel like you’ve spent too long in his sweaty basement (somewhere around track nine), Avery throws us a bone. The closing three tunes are luminescent anthems that take a page out of The Field’s playbook.

He closes with “Knowing We’ll Be Here,” which is chock full of shoegaze textures and guitar. It’s an emotive finale you might not have predicted from his past releases or even the first half of the LP, leaving Drone Logic as a nicely well-rounded debut album from an artist who’s only been releasing music for a couple of years.

Look out for his new 12″ its a killer.

8. Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Interscope/Polydor 2014) CD

It was Moodymann’s track “Born to die” (a cut from her previous album) that first introduced me to the music of Lana Del Ray. Gone are the sugary sweet tunes – they have been replaced primarily by slower, atmospheric tunes that are filled with theatrical melancholy. Her lyrics about violence against women have divided critics: some say they are brutal and honest; others say she is dishonest and insincere. What I think is indisputable is that this is challenging pop music of a very high calibre.

This is Lana performing the title track of her album at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.

9. The Mole: Lockdown Party (Perlon) 12” record

This 12 is setting dance floors ablaze – it’s not the A-side that is doing all the rotations, it’s the B-side, which is remixed by none other than DJ Sprinkles. If you love deep house and you still play vinyl this is essential.

10. Taj Mahal Travellers: On Tour (Sogosha 1972) DVD

For my last selection I always like to try and throw a curve ball and this selection is about as curved as you can get. The Taj Mahal Travellers were a unique group of Japanese experimental and improvisational musicians, prepared to smash any musical barriers they hit. Influenced by traditional Japanese music, electronica and jazz, this courageous band produced extended musical pieces, which utilised all manner of instruments and objects.

On Tour is literally a musical road movie and follows the band as they travel from Japan and tour around Europe. On their travels they meet up with the legendary Don Cherry.

After the tour of Europe the band buy a VW camper van and drive to India in order to visit the palace they named themselves after. On the way they drive through Greece, Turkey, Iran and on into Afghanistan – their deep haunting music acts as the backdrop to their trip. Finally they reach the Taj Mahal and perform in the car park. The musical journey ends with them back in Japan.

The film both shows the musical development of the band and their own physical transformation. You will either love the music or hate it, but it’s hard not to fall in love with musical revolutionary intensity and optimistic zeal to overcome all the natural and human-made problems that get in their way.

If you look hard enough you can find the DVD. But you can watch the whole film here – please stick with it: it’s slow but its beauty grows.


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