Welcome to summer with a small selection of tunes you can rock out and/or dance to.
Bee Bee Sea :: “Daily Jobs”
Bee Bee Sea, described as a garage-psych band, are a trio originating from Castel Goffredo, Italy. They sound, though, as if they came straight from London in the late 70s.
Haim :: “Los Angeles”
This is the opening track from the new album Women in Music Pt. III, by the trio of sisters from – you guessed it – Los Angeles.
Baronhawk Poitier :: “Temperado Tornado”
Baronhawk Poitier, a producer/DJ from Washington, DC, provides the beats to get you out onto the (socially distanced) dance floor.
Public Enemy :: “State of the Union” (featuring DJ Premier)
The legendary hip hop group from Long Island, NY are joined by DJ Premier to take a direct shot at Donald Trump and his campaign of hatred and violence against the people of our country.
Zebra Katz :: “IN IN IN”
Zebra Katz, stage name of rapper Ojay Morgan, explores “social issues surrounding race, sexuality, and the black experience” through fast rhymes and a dense sonic environment.
Album: Put the Shine On
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Label: Marathon Artists
- High Road
- Lamb and the Wolf
- Slow Down Sun Down
- Ruby Red
Sisters Bianca “Coco” Casady and Sierra “Rosie” Casady have been creating weird and eclectic music for nearly twenty years. Their style is basically Americana with electronic instruments and has been classified as New Weird America. This is their first album in five years. I find it hit or miss, or maybe it’s just that CocoRosie is better in small doses. Listening to the entire album all the way through and their weirdness starts to feel like an act. I particularly don’t like it much when the Casady sisters rap, but I do like their punk rock vocals. Nevertheless there are some good moments on this album when they achieve their peak fun and creativity.
Artist: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Release Date: May 15, 2020
Label: Ribbon Music
- Pure Cinema
- How Could I
- I’ve Got Something
I’m a long-time fan of the work of fellow William & Mary alum Thao Nguyen, so I was excited when Thao & The Get Down Stay Down released their newest album in May. Doubly so when I saw that Thao Nguyen and her many collaborators put together the first great pandemic music video, filmed on Zoom, for the lead single “Phenom.”
Lyrically, the album explores Nguyen’s recently outed queer identity and reconciles it with her Vietnamese-American heritage. Musically, the songs sound different from the band’s earlier works. The sound draws on a variety of influences from blues rock to 80s post-punk to jazz to indie pop with some tracks incorporating hip-hop elements. It’s creative and original, and a little bit quirky but also very catchy. It’s a great grab bag that rewards multiple listens.
Artist: Run the Jewels
Release Date: June 3, 2020
Label: Jewel Runners | BMG
- ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier)
- walking in the snow
- JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams and Zach de la Rocha)
- a few words for the firing squad (radiation)
This album hits like a ton of bricks. Killer Mike and El-P rap on a variety of issues including police brutality, mass incarceration, capitalism, the legacy of slavery, and the school-to-prison pipeline. These tracks seem so relevant to the current Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police protests that they may have been written a couple of weeks ago. But of course, these issues have deep roots. Lest you think this album is all social consciousness, Run the Jewels find room for some party tracks, as well. The album reflects the confidence Run the Jewels have built up over four albums, as well as the personal friendship of El-P and Killer Mike.
My favorite podcasts are increasingly becoming so focused on current events that I wonder if they’ll still be relevant on Saturday, but I’m pretty sure that all of these podcasts are still “fresh.”
All Songs Considered :: New Music Friday: Run The Jewels
A deep dive into the terrific new album, RTJF, and album that speaks to a current moment of reckoning with racial discrimination and policing.
Fresh Air :: Poet Eve Ewing Connects 1919 Chicago Riots To Today
Eve Ewing found poetry in the report analyzing Chicago’s “Red Summer” and uses it to draw parallels to systemic racism that persists 100 years later.
Have You Heard :: Arrested Development: How Police Ended Up in Schools
One of the worst aspects of overpolicing in the USA is the use of police to address school discipline issues and the perpetuation of a school-to-prison pipeline. The podcast traces the history of police in schools back to the 1960s and includes some commentary from some brilliant Boston Public School students
Here & Now :: #SayHerName Campaign; The State Of The Coronavirus Pandemic
The #SayHerName Campaign brings awareness to Black women who have suffered from police killings and police brutality, who are overlooked even as the world is focused on Black Lives Matters issues.
Planet Money :: Police Unions And Police Violence
Police unions are not like other unions, as police already have powers that other workers do not, and the existence of police unions helps perpetuate police killings and police violence.
Radiolab :: Nina
The music of Nina Simone and why it resonates with our times.
What Next :: A Politician’s Brush with NYPD Abuse
New York state senator Zellnor Myrie offers his first-hand experience with police violence during protests in Brooklyn, and how it’s translating into dramatic legislative action.
Album: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Artist: Fiona Apple
Release Date: April 17, 2020
- Under the Table
- Rack of His
- For Her
I remember Fiona Apple as the tiny woman with the big, bold voice who had a hit with the song “Criminal” (and its unsettling video) back in the 1990s. I’ve heard whispers that Apple continued to have a great career, and I should’ve listened to them since this new album is absolutely brilliant. In a way, it’s surprising that Apple has returned to widespread acclaim with this album because it’s very experimental with a heavy emphasis on percussion, only holding onto vestiges of pop music around the edges. Apple sings repetitive lyrics in a variety of chants, using her voice like Yoko Ono to become another percussion instrument. As the title implies, this album is about release, and there’s anger there, but there’s also catharsis and humor. It has to be heard to be believed.
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves
Release Date: February 12, 2020
Label: Nettwerk Records
- Homme Run
- Begin Again
I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended. Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time. The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.
Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies. I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:
We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light
The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.
This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.
The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”
Artist: Tony Allen, Hugh Masekela
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Label: World Circuit
- Agbada Boudou
- Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same)
- We’ve Landed
Tony Allen was a drummer from Nigeria who was key in defining the genre of Afrobeat when working with Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 band. In 2010, he collaborated with the equally legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela on the sessions that would lead to this album. Masekela died in 2018. Allen completed the sessions with some of London’s top jazz artists.
Allen died on April 30, just a little over a month after this album’s release, so it stands as a memorial to him as well. Nevertheless, it is a joyous recording as the title proclaims. I don’t have the language and experience to adequately describe Afrobeat and jazz, but I like what I hear. Most of the album is instrumental, with exceptions like “Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same),” a tribute to Fela Kuti. In the music you can hear the freedom and friendship of two great artists pushing one another to greater heights. It’s also a very crisp recording where each instrument resonates richly and deeply.
This is a terrific album and makes me want to dive into the back catalog of both artists.
Coronavirus Daily :: Masks Are Even More Important Than We Thought
Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Repeat.
The Last Archive :: Unheard
The story of Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, and the erasure of Black voices in history.
Throughline :: American Police
The history of policing in the United States from its origins in slave patrols to the present, with control of Black Americans as its central purpose.
Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Copyrights & Wrongs
The curious and convoluted cases of copyright in popular music: are musicians stealing from other musicians or just drawing inspiration?
What Next :: The Antifa Myth
The Antifa Bus is coming / And everybody’s rioting / New York to San Fransisco / An antifacist disco.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a list of albums released in 2020 that had been recommended to me from various sources. I’ve listened to them all, and starting next week I will begin posting full album reviews. Today, though, I’m going to post a few songs I liked from albums that didn’t make the cut for an album review. Kind of like a Monthly Mixtape, but kind of not.
In the meantime, if you have any albums or songs or EPs or rock operas or anything else from 2020 you think I should listen to, let me know in the comments.
Selections from A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip by Sparks:
“Emotional Devotion Creator”
“It’s My Body”
Selection from Manic by Halsey:
“Finally // beautiful stranger”
Selections from Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa:
“Don’t Start Now”
“Break My Heart”
Selections from Walking Like We Do by The Big Moon:
“Take A Piece”
“It’s Easy Then”