Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some recent highlights

Ultramagnetic MCs – “Nottz” (Fat Beats, New York)
The ’88 LP, “Critical Beatdown”, introduced the world to the unique talents and twisted imagination of former psychiatric patient Kool Keith who you may know better as Dr. Ogtagon or Mr. Gerbik, Rhythm X, Dr. Dooom… It was the first of three LPs the group recorded before splitting in the mid-nineties when Keith’s solo LP, “Dr Octagonecologyst”, was brought to the world’s attention by UK label Mo Wax. “Nottz” is the first release of the reformed Bronx crew with the album “The Best Kept Secret” apparently due soon, although no UK release details have emerged yet. “Knots” finds Kool Keith rhyming with more conviction and focus than on last year’s Dr Octagon follow-up.

Duke Spirit – A House Is Not A Motel (Pure Groove, London)
Released on a limited 7” – all long gone now but still available digitally – Duke Spirit recorded this tribute to the recently departed Arthur Lee, of 60s west coast psychedelic giants Love, as a prelude to their forthcoming second album. Unlike the flipside’s droney, Mazzy Star-esque take on Desmond Dekker’s “007”, “A House Is Not A Motel” is surprisingly deferential and succeeds not by reconfiguring the original but reinvigorating the familiarity with plenty of passion.

Clipse – Wamp Wamp (Reckless, Chicago)
It’s not every day that Chicago indie temple Reckless Records champions hip hop, so when they do you know that the act in question has made that rare leap into US hipster territory. At the end of 2006, Virginia brothers Clipse were the crack rap name on every Pitchfork reader’s lips as they finally unleashed the much-delayed follow up to their excellent 2002 debut, “Lord Willin’”. Once again produced in full by childhood friends The Neptunes, “Hell Hath No Fury” was even better and proved that the super producers hadn’t lost it after all. Or at least, they’d unlocked some vintage beats from their vaults.

Samim – Hardma (Unfinished Sympathy Mix) (Hard Wax, Berlin)
Few people make reduced club music as poised and groove-laden as Swiss-born, Berlin-based producer Samim, known for releases on Tuning Spork and Get Physical. Last year’s remix of Magnetic Base’s “Mad Racket” was a favourite here and this latest selection from Hard Wax hits similar buttons with an irresistible combination of shuffling yet tight programming and an innate understanding of club dynamics.

Dr. Victor Olaiya - Omelebele (Crocodisc, Paris)
Taken from a reissued compilation on the Damon Albarn-backed Honest Jon’s label this track from Nigerian trumpet player, Dr. Victor Olaiya, owes a huge debt to the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti. Best-known for 50s releases in the Nigerian and Ghanaian style of Highlife, the doctor’s take on Afrobeat just keeps on grooving on the spot until the players sound like they’re in danger of wearing a hole in the ground beneath their feet.

A Hawk And A Hacksaw - In The River (Missing Link, Melbourne)
From Albuquerque, AHAAH are the brainchild of Jeremy Barnes – one-time drummer with alt. favourites Neutral Milk Hotel. Taken from the album “The Way The Wind Blows”, released late last year, “In The River”, delivers on Barnes’ increasing immersion in Balkan folk, with “In The River” awash with gypsy elements, accordion and marching drums. As well as mariachi trumpets, thrown in for good measure. If you enjoyed the feted “Gulag Orkestar” album by Beirut which topped so many of last year’s polls, this’ll keep you fixed up… and not simply because Beirut’s Zach Condon plays on the album.

Entrance - Grim Reaper Blues (Missing Link, Melbourne)
From Chicago but fitting in perfectly amongst the glut of electrified psych rock currently flooding from various Californian bands - all operating within six degrees of separation from the peerless Comets On Fire - Guy Blakeslee channels the Blues into seriously wigged-out territory. It all adds up to the closest thing we have to Led Zeppelin in 2007 and for that we’re grateful.

Ray Darwin - People’s Choice (Aquarius, Kingston)
From Aquarius Records in Jamaica, this 7” from Ray Darwin is a huge smash in Kingston’s dancehalls and we love it. A simple, honest roots tune.

Len Faki – Rainbow Delta (Hard Wax, Berlin)
Something from Hard Wax that should appeal to both the techno camp as well as anyone that appreciates the art of beautifully crafted house music. Len Faki is a resident at Berlin’s clubbing temple, Panorama Bar, and this has the sound of dancing in daylight written all over it. “Rainbow Delta” fits easily into the warm, deep sounds mined by Dixon and the Innervision crew, currently introducing deep house to German dancefloors.

Pas/Cal – The Lot We Came Home With (Reckless, Chicago)
An irresistibly melodic blast of US indie to close our pick of January’s highlights, from Detroit’s Pas/Cal. This sounds like Belle & Sebastian playing Beach Boys covers, a bit wet perhaps, but so what?

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