Album:Harmony of Difference
Artist: Kamasi Washington
Release Date: September 29, 2017
I don’t listen much to jazz, especially contemporary jazz, but a streaming music account means there’s no excuse to not try new things. The new EP by the hot saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington brings together 6 pieces in about 30 minutes of running time. There’s a lot of retro feeling to this music, with nods to Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” 60’s Brazilian bossanova, and 70s funk fusion. The EP culminates with the 15-minute piece “Truth” which brings back and mixes together themes from the other five pieces. Washington’s music has a sound that would be suited to scoring films although it’s also a bit too “smooth jazz” for my taste.
Album: The Wild
Artist: Kris Delmhorst
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Thoughts: I’ve been following Delmhort’s career for years (decades, actually!) and while she’s no stranger to the ballad, her albums usually have a fair share of raucous, upbeat tunes as well. The Wild finds her in a more contemplative mood as every track slow, emphasizing her voice and introspective lyrics, with a touch of a country twang. It may not be up there with my favorite Delmhorst recordings, but it’s still pretty darn good.
Album: Cost of Living
Artist: Downtown Boys
Release Date: August 11, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Wall,” “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), “Lips that Bite” and “Clara Rancia.”
Thoughts: The Providence-based, bilingual punk band is back with an energetic new album filled with hard riffs and pointed lyrics. I particularly like it when the horns kick in. This is the music for our fraught political times, filled with anger but leavened with hope.
Album: Prophets of Rage
Artist: Prophets of Rage
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Unfuck the World”
Thoughts: Back in the 80s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D said “rap is CNN for black people,” reflecting on the urgency of rap music to spread the word through the community. The idea of message spreading is central to the new album from Prophets of Rage, the rock rap supergroup Chuck D formed with Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and DJ Lord of Public Enemy. And yet message seems to be all they’ve got, while the nearly 30-year-old It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still stands up musically. At it’s best, Prophets of Rage reminds me of great collaborations of rap and hard rock like Public Enemy with Anthrax or Rage Against the Machine at their best, but unfortunately most of the album reminds me of the dreck that was late-90s rap-metal, and not worthy of the talent involved in its creation.
Album: The Underside of Power
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Walk Like a Panther,” “Cry of the Martyrs,” “The Underside of Power,” “Death March,” and “Cleveland”
This may be the most important album of 2017, and one that will certainly be on my year end best of ’17 list. The politically-charged lyrics of the Atlanta-based band offer hope in times of chaos and despair. Algiers sound is remarkable as it is indescribable, kind of a mix of gospel, with psychedelic soul (such as late-60s Temptations or Funkadelic at their most political), and punk rock all echoed in a wall of sound. This is definitely an album you should put on your list to check out.
Artists: Fleet Foxes
Release Date: 16 June 2017
Favorite Tracks: “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” and “Fool’s Errand”
Thoughts: After a six-year absence, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes return with this brilliant collection of new tunes. The gorgeous harmonies expected from Fleet Foxes are still here. There’s also a lot of experimentation in crafting the songs, many of which are suites of songs that shift dramatically in tone, but not only enough to be disarming not to to annoy. The lyrics are dense and full of allusions, so much so that songwriter Robin Pecknold annotated the songs on Genius, but I find myself content letting the music wash over me. Crack-Up may not be everyone, but I find it the lovely end product of pushing folk rock to its limits.