Since the release of his last LP, 2014’s Adrian Thaws, Tricky has lived his life abroad, writing his latest album, Ununiform, in Moscow before recording it in Berlin. Album number 11 shows the 49-year old musician taking a new approach, giving his work a mature, orchestral feel while adding a new stable of vocalists (including Kazakhstan rapper Scriptonite, British vocalist Mina Rose and Italian actress/singer Asia Argento).
Adding modest piano and steady bass lines, Tricky keeps the 13 tracks on Ununiform uncomplicated and easy to digest, even when he’s melding together Eastern European melodies and North London beats (“It’s Your Day,” “Bang Boogie”). But despite Ununiform containing a few standout tracks, including the dark duet “Dark Days” (with Rose) and moody album closer “When We Die” (reuniting with longtime collaborator Martina Topley-Bird), too many songs on Ununiform simple come off sounding unfinished, with the cover of Hole’s “Doll Parts” (renamed “Doll”), featuring vocals from L.A. socialite Avalon Lurks, seeming especially uninspired and pointless.
Ununiform is an uneven album at best, showing that Tricky isn’t bereft of ideas but was lacking the fire to properly flesh them out. (False Idols)
Since Black Dice released their last LP, 2012’s Mr. Impossible, Eric Copeland, one third of the New York experimentalists, has released a series of solo albums that featured a more playful and rubbery feel than his band’s brand of drone-based electronics. On his new LP, Copeland has re-dubbed his music ‘goofstep’ — hence the album’s title, Goofballs.
Although much of this eight-track album leans heavily on straightforward polyrhythms and bushy, gooey melodies, Copeland is clearly still dedicated to delivering dense, unconventional dance music. Opener “Boogieman” revolves around a hauntingly slow chopped and screwed vocal sample, but tracks like “Neckbone,” “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” and “Mixer Shredder” are built around some terrific and captivating bass lines that pull you into his hypnotic four-minute symphonies.
Copeland keeps things fresh (and odd) by ending off the album with a trio of songs — “Close Encounters,” “Smearjob” and “Doo Whatcha Wah Wah” — that feature left-field vocals that come off surprisingly melodic and re-listenable. Although there’s no real drop-dead, standout tracks across the short 35-minute LP, and Copeland plays it a bit safe on Goofballs, there’s a real clarity and craft present on this bizarrely uncharacteristic album. (DFA)
For many musicians, it’s a dream to record in the famed Shoals region with members of the legendary Muscle Shoals recording crew. But Jon Langford was invited to do just that, completely sight-unseen. After producing artwork for an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015, the Welsh musician was invited to come out to Alabama to record by Elvis’s former bassist and member of Muscle Shoals rhythm section, Norbert Putnam.
Joined by fellow Shoals musicians David Hood, Randy McCormack and Will McFarlane, along with Chicago musician John Szymanski and backup singers Tomi Lunsford, Bethany Thomas and Tawney Newsome (also an up-and-coming comedian), Four Lost Souls shows Langford moving further away from his punk rock roots with the Mekons and transitioning his brand of alt-country into NPR adult contemporary territory.
But, nonetheless, Langford’s eighth LP is an accomplished piece of music, beautifully executed and written, giving his musicians a ton of room to stretch out and expose the soul of each song. Langford lends his voice and acoustic guitar playing as an accent to Four Lost Souls, as his backup singers take the lead on the majority of the album’s 13 tracks, including “In Oxford Mississippi” and “Masterpiece.”
Although many songs lack the fire and passion that defined his earlier work, with the exception of the race-relation lyrical content of “What’s My Name?” and the growling “Snake Behind Glass,” Four Lost Souls is simply unlike anything else in Jon Langford’s sprawling discography. (Bloodshot)
Returning for the first time since his popular run of shows in 2015, Gilbert Gottfried helped pack Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa with a raucous and eager-to-laugh crowd. As Thursday marked the first of his four nights in the nation’s capital, the Brooklyn comedian was greeted with deafening chants of “Gilbert! Gilbert!” long before the first comic hit the stage.
Opening the show was the evening’s host, Toronto comic Jeff Paul, who jumped upon the penetrating energy already present, bulldozing his way through a set that highlighted his self-deprecating humour. Up next was Ottawa’s Michael Lifshitz, who cleverly gave the engrossed crowd a bevy of twists regarding his customary jokes about his disability. Local comic Chris Borris followed up with a laidback (but well-written) delivery that unfortunately lost a portion of the room, while his compatriot Dave McConnell absolutely slayed the audience with his acerbic one-liners.
When Paul returned to the stage to introduce the evening’s headliner, the crowd leaped up to give Gottfried a rare standing ovation as the diminutive 62-year-old hobbled to the stage. Although looking frail and unassuming, Gottfried authoritatively greeted the crowd with his iconic voice, perhaps revealing the intention of many of those in the audience, “You came to see me, you saw me, now get out!”
As he segued into an absurd stream-of-conscious rant about losing his pet turtle behind the radiator before describing a scenario where little people would be jumping on top of a rusty crowbar jammed into his eye, Gilbert was met by much confusion and a bit of revulsion from the now-tempered crowd. But being the veteran comic that he is, Gottfried got the house roaring again when he delved into a bit about Canada and our insistence to cover perfectly tasty foods with maple syrup.
After a typically strange run of prop comedy bits, Gottfried closed his 45-minute set off with traditional setup and punch line jokes that often straddled the lines of politically correctness, expertly demonstrating just how easily he can find a laugh no matter what his mode of delivery may be. As Yuk Yuk’s helped him close out the show with a second standing ovation, Gottfried disappeared to the back of the club, ignoring the crowd’s wild chants for an encore and showing the audience that, when it comes to his uncompromising persona, Gilbert Gottfried will always brilliantly be Gilbert Gottfried.
In the five years since Antibalas released their last album (2012’s self-titled affair), the Afrobeat collective have seen a significant number of their musicians leave for other projects, as members have joined Arcade Fire, the Roots, the Black Keys and Mark Ronson in supporting roles. But as their latest LP, Where the Gods Are in Peace, shows, the Brooklyn band have benefited from an influx of new players, too.
It seems as though the youth movement in this 12-piece band were weaned on early Antibalas, as this five-track LP resurrects everything that made the group such an important part of the New York funk scene in the early 2000s. Although the album clocks in at only 35 minutes in length, it’s separated into three lengthy suites, giving Antibalas a chance to see ideas through; “Hook & Crook” benefits greatly from an unbridled mid-track horn breakdown, while “Tombstone Pt. 2” gives guest vocalist Zap Mama room to get loose and emotional with her delivery.
With an album-long theme revolving around the ascent of an alien who joins forces with natives to save the world, Antibalas seem more than ready to push themselves to another musical level with Where the Gods Are in Peace. (Afrosound/Daptone Records)
Anyone familiar with Afrobeat knows that politics play a major role in the West African musical style. So it seems obvious that Afrobeat revivalists / activists Antibalas would have plenty to say about the planet’s biggest political foil, Donald Trump, on their latest LP, Where the Gods are in Peace.
Yet on this fifth LP, the Brooklyn 12-piece deliver five rubbery and vibrant tracks that seem to focus not on the much-maligned American president specifically, but rather the historical American West and an intergalactic being referred to as the “Cowboy.”
“I think people get what we’re going with, because the last thing we wanted to do was to make something that adds to the noise,” baritone saxophonist and founding member Martin Perna tells Exclaim! “And the term reactionary tends to describe the political right, but it could also describe the left, in that we’re just sitting waiting for bad things to happen and then get mad and indignant about them. Whether or not we’re right, that’s not a proactive way to be.
“Some of the best political songs might have been inspired by one particular historical incident,” he continues, “but they find ways that that struggle existed in the past to see how it’s going to exist in the future. The song by Fela Kuticalled ‘Water Get No Enemy’ — someone who lived in the United States in the ’70s might have seen it as quaint, like, ‘Ah, an African thing about water,’ and then 25 years later in California, people can’t water their lawns and there are crops that dry up. That why we want to focus on writing songs that the message lasts longer than just one political cycle.”
In the five years since their well-received self-titled LP, Antibalas not only find themselves dealing with a new political landscape on Where the Gods Are in Peace, but an internal strife as well; five members have left the band over the past half-decade.
“In 2012, we put the [self-titled] album out and it really broke us financially,” Perna explains. “The cost of taking 12 people on the road was really crushing. A couple things happened that put us over $50,000 in debt, like cancellation of festivals, weather-related stuff. It really slowed down the band as far as our creative output. At the same time, we established ourselves as competent musicians, and a bunch of guys got gigs with other bands: our tenor player, Stuart Bogie, is with Arcade Fire; our bass player on the last record, Nick Movshon, went on to the Black Keys and the Arcs; our keyboard player went on to do a bunch of stuff with Mark Ronson; and our guitar player [Luke O’Malley] is now part of the Roots.”
But the departure of key members has only opened the door for Antibalas’s current youth movement, which is evident on their latest LP. “It’s exciting to have new members who are really versed in the music and they’ve had the advantage of being able to learn our stuff when it’s already done, coming into the music instead of learning it altogether.”
With a lot of new blood infiltrating the band, and with a built-in fan base ready to see them hit the road, Perna feels the energy within Antibalas is high at the moment. “A lot of the heavy lifting has been done. It’s like, we can go out on the road and know that we’ll have a full house in this city or that city and that’s exciting to be a part of. This band that has momentum!”
Where the Gods are in Peace is out September 15 on Afrosound/Daptone Records.
Since their inception over 45 years ago, Sparks have always seemed more like an art project more than a proper band. And like any reputable artists, the Mael brothers have cycled through multiple periods, from British Invasion to glam rock, disco and even opera. But on Hippopotamus, their first proper album in eight years, the duo sound undeniably and perfectly like themselves.
With a whopping 15 tracks and a 55-minute runtime, the 68-year-old Russell and 72-year-old Ron sound remarkably punchy, quirky and cutting on album number 25. Although Sparks have always filled their records with idiosyncratic lyrics about the absurdities of modern life, it’s great to see them match great verses (in songs like “Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me),” “What the Hell Is it This Time?” and “So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play?”) with some of their sharpest arrangements and musicianship (courtesy of longtime guitarist Dean Menta and session drummer extraordinaire Steve Nistor).
The Mael brothers also manage to keep listeners enthralled by freely jumping between modes, moving between jaunty piano songs (“Missionary Position”), cascading layered guitar burners (“Unaware”) and clever melodies and bridges (“Giddy, Giddy”). It seems unlikely that a band this far into their career would make an album as career-defining as Hippopotamus, but then, Sparks have always done things on according to their own schedule. (BMG)