New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: dance music

Pure Escapism From Cuushe

Isn’t it really weird that there was so much happy, upbeat music released in 2020, the worst year in human history? That’s because it was all made in 2019…or at least before the lockdown. Case in point: Cuushe, AKA Mayuko Hitotsuyanagi and her twinkly, pillowy new album Waken, streaming at Bandcamp. Most of this one could have been made before 9/11, before Facebook, youtube, Myspace or even the Y2K scam. You want escapism, this is your jam.

The opening number comes across as late 90s Missy Elliott in a particularly lighthearted interlude, taking a stab at trip-hop electro from five years earlier. The second track, Magic looks back ten years before then to glossy new wave pop, synthesized strings gusting and shimmering over a techy bounce.

Cuushe’s airy voice sails over blippy dancefloor beats and icy, playfully layered layers of upper-register keyb multitracks in Emergence. Not to Blame is all melting-plastic neosoul, while Nobody sounds like somebody’s sampler went on the blink during the mixing process.

Drip is aptly titled: burying those autotuned vocals behind all the keys was a good idea. Cuushe winds up the album with Beautiful, a slow jam with what sounds like an out-of-tune koto riff popping up here and there, and then Spread, a glistening, rainswept summer evening trip-hop tune.

Smart, Politically Woke Party Music From Los Mocosos

Old ska bands never die: the party never stops. Look at the Skatalites. They invented ska, and even as they lost some members along the way – starting early, with Don Drummond – they had a fifty-year career. Los Mocosos have a long, long way to go before they get that far, but don’t rule them out. And they play a lot more than just ska. Their latest album, wryly titled All Grown Up, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the record, the band switch between English and Spanish, typically in the same song. They start out with the party songs and get more political as the album goes along. They open with the title cut, a catchy minor-key mashup of rocksteady, salsa and ska. “‘I’m just here to play my tunes, get your body to move and get all the ladies,” frontman Juan Ele sings in a resonant croon with a strong resemblance to Steel Pulse’s David Hinds.

Speaking of classic reggae, the second track, United We Stand, immediately brings to mind Bob Marley’s Exodus, right down to Steve Carter’s slinky organ, Happy Sanchez’s tightly clustering bassline and the punchy brass section. It’s a reminder that we’re one big nation of immigrants who need to stick together and fight, or else we’re all in trouble.

Mirala is a psychedelic cumbia party tune with balmy horns and a little reggaeton. Ready for the Weekend shifts back and forth between a turbocharged oldschool disco groove and a ska bounce. Then the band hit a simmering roots reggae pulse and make their way into a Sympathy For the Devil-style sway in Caminos, an anthem for hardworking strugglers everywhere.

They slow things down even further with the twinkling retro rock ballad Memories of Love and then give themselves a shout-out with the salsa-ska theme Viva Los Mocosos. Ele contemplates how an immigrant fits into a neighborhood and its history with It’s All Good, a brooding mashup of lowrider funk, oldschool soul and hip-hop.

The album’s most defiant track is Libre, a big, soaring rocksteady anthem. They close with Brothers & Sisters, a call for unity. It’s been a brutal year, and it’s been a long time since there’s been any party music on this page. Feels good to know bands like this still exist.

Revisiting One of the Zeros’ Defining Bedroom Albums

Today is all about zeros nostalgia. Since nostalgia is the enemy of history, let’s put this in historical context. Goldfrapp’s third album Supernature came out in 2005. There wasn’t much to celebrate that year, globally speaking. The Bush regime was dropping thousands of tons of depleted uranium on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and dooming generations to a plague of birth defects. Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg was scheming up ways to turn his campus photoblogging service into the world’s most dangerous surveillance system. But at least Napster was still going strong, opening up a world of music that millions around the world never would have discovered otherwise.

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the album’s initial release, it’s been remastered and reissued on green gatefold vinyl, and you can hear it at Spotify. Throughout the record, singer Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy vocals have been left as sultry as they were on the original release, although Will Gregory’s many layers of simple, catchy, playfully psychedelic keys seem more balanced, less dancefloor-oriented than on the cd.

Revisiting the album, the influence of early 80s new wave acts like Missing Persons, Yaz and early Madonna is more vivid than ever. And the songs are a trip, from Ride a White Horse, the duo’s thinly veiled ecstasy anthem, to Number 1, the motorik New Order ripoff that closes the record. In between, the duo’s frontwoman shows off her upper registers in You Never Know (a song that would be autotuned if it was released by a corporate label in 2020), descends to a seductive whisper in the loopy Let It Take You and purrs over the catchy synth bass in Fly Me Away.

Who can forget the cheery, completely deadpan Slide In? If you were around back then, maybe you slid in or smoked up to the woozy, P-Funkesque textures of Coco, the pogo-sticking Satin Chic or the drifty, oscillating Time Out From the World. In the time since, the two have stayed together – and why wouldn’t they? Their New York shows over the past several years have gotten more and more stratospherically expensive.

The album gets extra points for its effectiveness as a weapon to get noisy neighbors to shut up. Played on a sufficiently powerful system, those icy, bassy electronic beats really cut through the the walls and ceiling.

Amazing, Surreal, Psychedelic Sounds From the Brazilian Amazon

The new compilation Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia – streaming at Bandcamp – is a collection of surreal, psychedelic dance music from northern Brazil in the 70s. Its epicenter was Belem, at the mouth of the Guamá river, which connects the area deeper in the Amazon with the Atlantic. There’s a lot of similarity between what the Peruvians and Brazilians were doing at the time, a cross-pollination facilitated by the airwaves.Yet it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before unless you were around at the time it was popular, or know someone who’s obsessed with it. Where the Peruvians namechecked their local spirits and psychedelic plants, these Brazilians are more likely to reference the Yoruban gods along with their own indigenous flora.

This is a vast playlist of rare records, nineteen tracks in all. The first one, Pinduca’s Vamos Farrear is pretty primitive: just tinny minor-key rhythm guitar, boomy bass, percussion, bizarrely oompahing trombone and a sax solo out. The percussionist/bandleader’s second number, Pai Xangô, is a diptych and much closer to chicha, with spare, trippy wah-wah leads. Yet neither song hints at the jazz influences in his third track here, Coco Da Bahia.

Os Muiraquitãns’ A Misturada could be a mashup of vallenato and salsa….or simply a carimbo dance tune with muted electric guitar grafted on. Praia Do Algodoal, by Os Quentes de Terra Alta is the most rustically thumping, acoustic number here, a lusciously chromatic trumpet solo at the center.

Janjão’s bouncy sailor song Meu Barquinho begins with one of the album’s trippiest interludes, a strangely dissociative women’s choir. Messias Holanda’s wedhead anthem O Galo Canta, O Macaco Assovia and Vieira e Seu Conjunto’s Lambada Da Baleia could be Peruvian legends Juaneco y Su Combo with Portuguese lyrics. The question is who stole what from whom?

Verequete e O Conjunto Uirapurú are represented by the brisk, smoky sax-driven Mambo Assanhado and Da Garrafa Uma Pinga. O Conjunto De Orlando Pereira also have two tracks here, the spooky organ-driven Maruda and Carimbó Para Yemanjá.

A second Messias Holanda number, Carimbó Da Pimenta has distant echoes of reggae. Track number two by Vieira e Seu Conjunto, Melô Do Bode, has the most gorgeously spiky guitar here and is arguably the highlight of the record.

There are two Grupo da Pesada tune here: Võa Andorinha sounds like a scampering, electrified Veracruz folk tune, while the woefully out-of-tune Lundun Da Yaya is more of a salsa tune. There’s also the biting, chicha-tinged Xangô, by Magalhães e Sua Guitarra and Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo’s tumbling, darkly careening Despedida. What an incredible service Analog Africa have done to help rescue these amazing sounds from obscurity.

Surreal, Entertaining, Strangely Cinematic Themes on Curtis Hasselbring’s New Album

Curtis Hasselbring may be best known as one of the mostly highly sought-after trombonists in the New York jazz scene, but he also plays a lot of other instruments. As a guitarist, he has a very distinctive, jagged style and impeccable taste in late 70s/early 80s postpunk and new wave. He’s been involved with innumerable projects over the years, but his most psychedelic one is Curha, his mostly one-man band. Hasselbring’s music has always been defined by his sense of humor, but this is where you’ll find some of his funniest songs. The brand-new Curha II album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Casa Grande is a tongue-in-cheek surf tune with neatly intertwining guitars and keening funeral organ, Dan Reiser supplying a low-key beach-party beat. He sticks around for the second track, Togar, an outer-space Motown theme, guest guitarist Brandon Seabrook mimicking the squiggle of the keys.

Hasselbring keeps the sci-fi sonics going in Sick of Ants!: listen closely to the watery guitar and you’ll catch his appreciation for the late, great John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees and PiL. How airy is Blimp Enthusiast, a rare vocal number? Not particularly, but this quasi trip-hop song is very funny.

The blippy Blaster comes across as a motorik tv theme on whippits. With its loopy low-register piano and clip-clop beats, Soap makes even less sense until Peter Hess’ bass clarinet ushers in a somber mood for a second. Hasselbring’s trombone appears distinctly for the first time in Murgatroid, a clever mashup of 70s disco, outer-space theme and early new wave.

With its intricately dancing web of guitar multitracks, the rather disquieting MMS has echoes of early 80s Robert Fripp; then Hasselbring takes it further toward acid jazz. He goes back to lo-fi motorik minimalism with Totally Hired, then shifts toward spare, 90s electro-lounge with History of Vistas.

He closes the album with the coyly tiptoeing Her Pebble Fusion and then Blown Bubble Blues, which is kind of obvious but irresistibly fun. Hip-hop artists in need of far-out samples need look no further. You don’t have to be high to enjoy this, but it couldn’t hurt.

Edgy, Trippy, Dubwise Middle Eastern Grooves From Taichmania

Israeli group Taichmania take edgy Middle Eastern themes and mash them up with synthesizers, occasional rock instrumentation and trippy electronics that often descend into woozy dub. Their album Seventh Heaven is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Arabesk has a gracefully sweeping, poignantly microtonal Egyptian orchestral theme teleported to the digital age with techy trip-hop textures and a searching ney flute solo from Itzhak Ventura. Yaniv Taichman’s bitingly tasty chromatic saz lute ripples over Yoni Meltzer’s bass synth and wry portamento textures in the dubby See Ya at Six or Seven. By contrast, there isn’t any discernible Middle Eastern melody in the slowly waltzing squiggles and pulses of Hashual Manar.

The album’s title track is a trickily rhythmic blend of jaggedly bubbly saz and sweeping synth orchestration, Lior Ozeri’s bass looping a Mission Impossible theme riff; they take it out with a lingering saz solo as the rhythm drops out. In Saba, the group run Taichman’s clangy Turkish axe through a mixer for wafting echoes, then through a wah as Sharon Petrover’s drums shift to a slower, syncopated martial beat.

A lively pizzicato violin loop joins the circling morass of Rumorizit, then this special guest picks up his bow for plaintive swoops, dives and shivers. Gorgeously bittersweet saz rings out over spare, syncopated bass in Samai as warpy atmospherics pass through the sonic picture.

Tribe has echoes of electric Balkan Romany jazz, a booming bass solo and an unexpected qawwali beat emerging from the shadows. Martian Party is the album’s funniest track, with a New Order quote and a strutting disco beat. The band close with a lickety-split circle dance, Caprice. Fans of the New York Gypsy All-Stars and other acts who electronicize haunting Middle Eastern sounds, like the Spy From Cairo, will dig this album.

Irresistibly Edgy, Catchy, Psychedelic Tropical Dance Sounds From Superfonicos

Texaas-Colombian band Superfonicos play slinky tropical psychedelia. They’re part cumbia, part skaragga, part Afrobeat and part classic descarga too: there’s no other band on the planet who sound like them. Their debut album Suelta is streaming at Soundcloud. There haven’t been a lot of albums released lately, but this has got to be one of the best short albums of the year. It’s got a million textures to tickle the synapses – and you can dance to all of it.

It’s hard to figure out what that trebly, reverbtoned instrument that opens the first track is: turns out it’s reverb guitar, sax and gaita flute all at the same time. With wry reggaeton-infuenced lyrics, gracefully syncopated bass and hypnotically shuffling drums and percussion, it’s as catchy as it is hypnotic. That seems to be the point of the record.

The second track, Ethiopian Dust is a dusky gem, with an undulating clave beat, bracingly chromatic sax over trippy wah-wah guitar effects blipping through the mix, a brief guitar solo leaving a trail of sparks. Merecumbe is a straight-up oldschool disco groove with jagged merengue accents, biting Afrobeat brass and an even more searing guitar break.

With its chugging organ, shuffling drums and spare, dubwise bass, Rio Negro is closer to straight-up Afrobeat – until the instruments build an echoy web and the band make a cumbia out of it. The swaying, riff-driven Sigo Palante is the loudest track here. They close the album with the title cut, rising from a toxic cloud of noise to a a funky wah guitar groove with a couple of reggaeton breaks, a metalish guitar solo and punchy minor-key horns all around. Let’s hope we get an even longer album from these guys – singer/gaitero Jaime Ospina, guitarists Erick Bohorquez and Andres Villegas, bassist Nico Sanchez and percussionist Daniel Sanchez – next time around.

Three New Singles For Tough Times

Every Friday night at 8, Charming Disaster’s web series airs at their youtube channel. Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris and Sweet Soubrette‘s Ellia Bisker started the project as a murder ballad duo and branched out to include both Kotorino’s latin noir and Sweet Soubrette’s dark folk and soul, among an increasing number of styles. Their latest single, I Am a Librarian is an elegantly waltzing throwback to their creepy early days. Are you awaiting the moment you make your escape? Charming Disaster feel your pain.

Smoota – the boudoir soul crooner alter ago of trombonist Dave Smith – also has a new single, Catch It! (The Coronavirus Boogie). It’s a great oldschool funk tune, but if you’re 65 or older, or immunocompromised, you, um, might want to think twice about this particular path to herd immunity.

Once and future HUMANWINE frontwoman Holly Brewer continues to release singles at a breakneck pace. The latest one is Good Ole Fashioned Protest Song, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Brewer has been a big-picture person for a long time: follow the money and you’ll find the perp, whether you’re talking about petty crime, or the nonsense coming out of the Oval Office.

Ferocious Oldschool Protest Soul and Funk From Soul Scratch

Soul Scratch play fearlessly woke, searingly political funk and soul with a spot-on early 70s vibe and more than a hint of Afrobeat in places. The production really nails a vintage analog feel: trebly, organic guitar and bass, shuffling percussion with drums and congas, and blazing, incisive horns. Their album Pushing Fire is streaming at Bandcamp.

The brass punches in, Joel Givertz’s wah-wah guitar scatters and the rhythm section – Johnny Chou on bass and Adam Greenberg on drums – slinks along with an emphatic 70s latin soul groove on the confrontational opening track, Pacified. “Where’s that outrage now, where’s my people on the streets? Corporations got a voice while we sit silent in defeat!” frontman Dale Spollett reminds. “We’ve got that same old addiction, a different kind of coke.”

Look How Far We’ve Come is an impassioned noir soul ballad in 6/8 time, referencing the murder of Eric Garner, “Just another life lost to the beast.” The horns soar and punch in over a strutting, swinging minor-key vamp in The Road Looks Long, a message of strength and resilience for dark times.

The bass scampers underneath the summery horns of the instrumental Odessa Heat, capturing that magic late 60s moment when American soul bands started to catch what was coming out of Ethopia, and vice versa. The group go back to a warmly soulful sway in It’s Not Over, a bittersweet look at the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the work still left for us to do. “Don’t cry now, it’s not over,” Spollett encourages. “Ir’s hard to change a system, there’s no fellowship, only greed.”

Kiss Me in the Morning is a one-chord jam and a launching pad for his soaring voice. They pick up the pace with more of a vintage JB’s feel in Be Kind and then keep that going, reaching escape velocity in Empty Cup, smoky baritone sax underneath the brass.

The album’s catchiest instrumental is the simmering Fireside Lounge, which could be a vintage Isaac Hayes jam with a tight, purposeful Matt Reale trumpet solo over the rippling wah-wah backdrop. They close the album with Thank You, a slow vintage Memphis style gospel/blues ballad. This is a great party record and a great dance record – and it’s also inspiration to keep up the fight.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Bring Cuba to New Orleans, and Vice Versa

Listening to a gargantuan five-album set of New Orleans music (see yesterday’s piece here) makes a person hungry for more. So today’s album is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s latest release, the soundtrack to the documentary film A Tuba to Cuba, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a throwback to the days of Machito and the first wave of Afro-Cuban music making its way to these shores, tracing bassist Ben Jaffe’s trip with the band to Cuba for some deep roots immersion. If you like your salsa on the organic side, this is for you.

Being on the gulf, New Orleans played an enormous role in helping spread American jazz, blues, soul, country and gospel sounds to Mexico and points further south. And that pollintation worked both ways. So it only makes sense that the revered, multi-generational band – who’ve always played a lot more than just New Orleans jazz – would look to Cuba for inspiration.

With its smoky sax, echoey Rhodes piano and slinky salsa percussion section, the album’s first track, Timba, comes across as a mashup of the Meters, Morphine and slinky Afro-Cuban traditions. The second cut, simply titled Descarga (which makes sense since it’s a hypnotic one-chord jam) has spiky cuatro and energetic call-and-response vocals from the group’s Cuban collaborators in lieu of the band’s legendary brass. They bring all that back in I Am, a jubilant soprano sax-driven cha-cha, then take it down again with the balmy, vamping sax-and-Rhodes ballad Corazon.

With Keep Your Head Up, they take a cheery mambo and make a second-line march out of it. Then they invoke the ancient Yoruba spirits with stirring vocal harmonies in a shout-out to the god of good times, Ellegua. The album’s best track is Kreyol, part biting minor-key cha-cha, part New Orleans shuffle, with more than a hint of dub reggae. Another standout is Paloma, a brief, rustic bolero for just cuatro and vocals.

The band return to summery sax-and-Rhodes ambience in Solitude, picking up the pace with the careening, shuffling Manicero, a slightly out-of-tune tres adding to the haphazard energy. They wind up the record with Malecon, a starry mambo.

Although the group tour from time to time, they typically hang close to their home base. So it was a rare treat to be able to catch them live, early one afternoon in downtown Brooklyn in the summer of 2017. Even at that early hour, they were even more adrenalizing than they are on this record, with a fiery, solo-centric mix of marches, funk, expansively brassy jazz and brooding soul themes.