As we enter into the seasonal limbo that is somewhere between the summer and fall, we reflect on the space between changes. The summer opens its arms to anthems of good times and the fall embraces the cozier fireplace fare. For us Phoenicians, the heat may linger for a few months, leaving us with only our anticipation, but we are ready for what’s to come.
Here are five picks that also exist in the in between. These albums all walk between worlds, experiences, times and maybe even seasons, making for the perfect listening for the times we spend waiting for some well needed change.
Nathan Bowles – Whole & Cloven [Paradise of Bachelors]
On the surface, Nathan Bowles is a folk musician. He plays the banjo, often keeping with traditional techniques and picking styles. The only other instruments on this album are piano and some very sparse percussion. But, under the surface, these are more compositions than “songs.” They are folky in nature, but they dive a bit deeper, often freeing themselves of the typical affectations of more traditional tunes. One can get lost in the swirling patterns, dissonant chords and strange percussive sounds that often sound more like subtle EDM beats, rather than tambourines, spoons or whatever else Bowles is using to create these sounds. The leaves haven’t started to change yet; Whole & Cloven is the sound of the chemical reactions happening deep in the roots and branches of the tree.
BadBadNotGood is a social media success story that didn’t involve memes, autotuned parodies or jokes at anyone’s expense. BBNG is a group of young, jazz trained musicians who all share a love for hip hop. They posted videos of hip hop jazz covers that gained a lot of attention from the general public, but also from well known hip hop artists, like Tyler the Creator and Ghostface Killah. They went on to collaborate with these artists and many more, but instead of limiting themselves to hip hop producers, they went on to record their own music. On this, their fourth album, they feature their range of styles and abilities with a bag full of chops and tricks that can easily move between hip hop, jazz, soul, electro-pop and downtempo. It’s as much a resume for any future collaborators as it is a killer album, well suited for parties, long drives or even just a good solid listen.
We have been fans of Okkervil River, as well as Will Sheff’s early work with Shearwater, for as long as we’ve been aware. His music has always been a perfect blend of deeply rooted americana, soulful rock and just enough angst to appeal to our more “punked” out side. However, it seems that Sheff is at a bit of a creative crossroads with Away. The album is very candid in sharing its opinions on the relationship of Will Sheff and the “band” as well as the industry and personal growth, in general. It seems the future of Okkervil River is somewhat unknown, at this point. Although I’ve never been a fan of any artist repeating what they’ve always done throughout their entire career, there is sometimes a little anxiety with these transitions. Sometimes, these “awakenings” can lead to brilliant paths that are closer to the core of an artist’s purest intentions. Sometimes…they don’t. But if Away is an introduction to a new path for Sheff, it’s a great indicator of fantastic things to come. So, like the first 80 degree day of fall, I will be waiting with bated breath for what’s to come.
Cass McCombs has always occupied a space that defies stark comparisons or clear definition. He’s as much “Neil Young” as he is “Hall & Oates.” His music is as psychedelic as it is sober. There’s a ambivalence to his delivery that almost disguises how complex his songs are. It seems the rise of “norm core,” with the resurgence of styles like yacht rock and and 70s smooth jazz/pop, might serve Cass McCombs well. He’s been putting out music since the early 2000s, and might have been well ahead of the curve or perhaps served to influence a lot of newer artists writing mellow pop tunes and emulating the late 70s. I’ve never been one for carbon copy remakes of the old ways; it takes an artist like McCombs for me to forgive dated synths, chorused out guitars and (the hardest to forgive) sultry saxophones solos. It takes new ideas and songs that can hold their own without all the antiquated production. On this, McCombs delivers.
Ok, there is one exception to the “carbon copy” rule. That exception is anything on the Daptone label. As I’m sure we’re all familiar with by now, bands like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Charles Bradley or Budos Band have what it takes to absolutely OWN styles that have long since been claimed by great artists and labels like James Brown, Fela Kuti, Big Mama Thorton and the early Stax Records recordings. The Frightnrs are another great addition to their stellar lineup, and one that reaches into some new territory for the Daptone Label. Nothing More To Say pays tribute to the 60s rocksteady and ska of Jamaica, emulating the sounds of Jamaican label Studio One artists like Desmond Dekker, the Ethiopians and the Heptones. And, like these artists, the music on Nothing More to Say speaks to a time when Jamaican artists were exploring the spaces between American doowop, rock and soul, and the rhythms of their own traditional music. This is the music that went on to form the more popular reggae of the 70s, which has a number of artists carrying the torch, but barring any second or third wave ska movements, “rocksteady” remains the lesser appreciated Jamaican roots music. For those who prefer the early 60s over the 70s, it’s a real treat to hear a new band paying tribute to this often overlooked style.
As a side note, we would like to congratulate Phoenix artist, woodworker, banjo player, and Stinkweeds’ personal shirt designer and sign maker extraordinaire Matt Minjares for catching the attention of Daptone and being hired to create the lettering for this stellar album! Like much of the music on the Daptone label, his talent is rare, timeless and full of soul.