Baden Powell & Vinícius de Moraes- Os Afro Sambas (1966)


Against my better judgment, I'm going to share with you a record that I searched five years for. But let first explain.

I used to be crazy into a fringe hip-hop/keyboard/j-pop/sci-fi duo called Cibo Matto. They rapped about sending pet chickens to college, comparing your ass to a that of a horse, and eating white pepper ice cream, but would make them sound weirdly aggressive or sexual.

When that band split up, one half did her own strange jazz/dance cd and a collaboration with Yoshimi from the Boredoms/OOIOO that they recorded on a mountain in Nara. That's Yuka Honda, and she's as awesome as she is hard to totally "get." She was maybe the brains of the outfit (she is also on again off again with Sean Lennon). The other half (the soul?) of Cibo Matto was Miho Hatori, who went on to make her own equally strange jazz/pop cd that was a concept album about insects in the future carrying secrets between machines and humans. (This is getting way off topic... are you still with me?) Before that, though, Hatori teamed up with Smokey Hormel (who played with Beck and Tom Waits) to release a collection of Brazillian songs (some covers, some self-penned). They followed up with a cd of Baden Powell covers, which really blew me out of the water. Hatori said they were songs that she listened to as a kid so many times that her tape melted in her tape player. Who was this Baden Powell, and what were the Afro Sambas?

Smokey and Miho live, 2005.
I ended up purchasing THIS cd of Os Afros Sambas, which Powell re-recorded in the '90s. Just how bad is the re-recording? Think of how awful Brian Wilson's version of SMiLE feels compared to the original 1967 Beach Boys bootlegs. Now multiply it by 5. Blech. At the time, cds and LPs of the original recording of Os Afro Sambas were selling on eBay for upwards of $100. Way too much for me to spend, and before people like me were "sharing" files like this.

So years later, i was in Tower Records in Japan when I saw this cd. The best part-- in a store where the average cd costs $35 (!!! and Americans think our cds are expensive!!!), this one was selling for 800yen (US $8). After i cleaned up my pants (after sh*tting in them), I promptly purchased it.
Powell and de Moraes

The original Afro Sambas was recorded (apparently) on a TWO track, and it definitely shows in parts. It's rough in spots, not completely balanced. But it has so much soul, the sexiest saxes you've ever heard, enough percussion to light a church on fire, at least four people singing at all times, and this total pagan jubilation. It's absolutely amazing. It contrasts Vinicius' deeper, aged voice with Baden's youthful eagerness, and the playing is dead-on.

Unlike a lot of Samba and Bossa Nova music being churned out in 1966, Os Afro Sambas had lyrics and music that connected to the Afro religion and beats in Brazil. It was very much out of Africa, very pagan, very sensual, and deeply spiritual to listen to (Apparently, Powell changed some of the words on a later recording to be less Afro as he became more of a devout Catholic, which seems like another nail in the coffin for the re-recording). At times, it is jubilant, funky, and dance-able. At others, it is slow, meditative, and pulsating. It still stands as being truly special in a sea of Jobim/Gilberto clones.

Powell had an upbringing in classical guitar training, and he liked to crank out the Bach. This cd is amazing since it combines that reverence for the musical with a reverence for the spiritual, which is much easier said than done.

Easily in my top 10 of all time.

Ho Lan- Echo From Deep Valley


Okay, so picture this: a female singer-songwriter from Taiwan in the 1970s who has a penchant to classic Spanish and Mariachi songs, a "thing" for yodeling, and a super-husky voice (one that she strengthened by learning to sing over the roar of a waterfall in her native hometown).

Meet Ho Lan:
part Zhou Xuan, part Nina Simone, and part Lucha Reyes.

The songs are split into solo guitar accompaniment (with multi-tracked vocal harmonies) and big band orchestrations, but Lan's voice always stands out. In addition to some really striking tunes, she sings some songs that could normally strike a very cheesy note with many listeners-- "Palmoa," "Hawaiian Wedding Song," and even {ick} "Home On the Range"-- but I can nearly guarantee that you won't mind.

This is my idea of folk music at its most bare and most satisfying: pure talent, no pretense, engaging voice, wonderful simplicity, versatility of styles, and MASSIVE TALENT. My friend Eric, who has immaculate taste in music, said that this is his favorite recording I have shared with him. That might mean something?

Here is Ms. Lan yodeling on YouTube:


Rachel's- Systems/Layers

Rachel's has to be one of my favorite bands ever, and Systems/Layers is probably their finest record. Most of their albums could be classified as concept albums, but this one works the best. Start to finish, it has an uncanny cohesion, and it bounces between classical, ambient, trip-hop, spoken word, indie rock, found recordings, and low budget movie soundtrack.

It works well as active and passive listening, and as a result, Rachel's proudly boasted of being as popular with grandparents as they were to young hipsters. If that sounds at all weird, please listen to this and see what I mean.

This cd has a tenuous beauty and sadness to it-- both frail and rough. Probably one of my top 10 records of all time. I played the hell out of this the year it came out.

Also great by Rachel's: Selenography, Music for Egon Schiele, and The Sea and the Bells.


Broadcast and the Focus Group- Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age


This starts off sounding like Os Mutantes in the 1960s, but by the time you reach the end of this cd, you'll feel like you're listening to Cut Chemist's paranoid doppleganger on acid. 

This entire cd was probably made without touching a musical instrument, and as always, sounds best through a pair of headphones. The first track will make your mom happy, and the last track will make your mom want to send you to a therapist.


Grouper- Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill


Grouper is apparently the work of one woman, Liz Harris, who has made a few other albums. This is my introduction to her. The songs are disarmingly quiet, reverb-y, and slow. But they don't necessarily feel sad or disdainful as you might expect. They tend to feel warmer, maybe even indifferent, and always pretty far off. It's a great soundtrack for feeling a bit introspective or kind of "off."

Recommended for a good mid day nap with the windows open and a good breeze. 

Clogs- The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walden (2009)


Clogs is a "new classical" group that takes a very weird approach to making music. They are a little like Rachel's, where you feel that you could show the cd to the sweet metalhead who lives down the lane, your traffic cop, or your grandma, and all would be equally enthused.

I just realized that this is actually members of The National (Bryce Dressner, at least), who tend to dip in a lot of chamber music. Also featuring Sharon Worden of My Brightest Diamond, who sounds much better here than on her own music. Sorry, Sharon.

This cd has really grown on me-- haunting, minimal, strange, quiet, and beautiful.

Especially recommended if you've ever been interested in acoustic instruments, vocal harmonies, choral music, jazz, weird pop stuff (like St. Vincent or Deerhoof), and feeling as if you're very cultured.

Definitely recommended for fans of Colleen, Bjork, your local Byzantine choir, and renaissance music.

Bob Marley, Pete Tosh, and Bunny Wailer- Trenchtown Days: Birth of a Legend


Okay, now before you go lighting that 7am "cigarette," I am going to cut you off and say that Bob Marley, Tosh, and Bunny started their career as a vocal trio singing what was between ska and doo wop. And for all the haters--You might think you hate reggae, but I still invite you to give this a listen.

And also-- 7am "cigarette"? Shame on you.

The sound here is closer to the American 45, and Bob is one of three voices. I prefer that. The songs are about breakups, partying, dancing, and of course the classic "One Heart." Though here, it sounds more like a song the Flamingos would sing. Here, Marley sounds more like Sam Cooke than the he did on Exodus or Burnin'. All the songs are also really solid-- sweet and a little bit pungent.

You'll notice that I give album credit to all three boys and not just megalomaniac Marley. Tosh and Wailer should get some credit for making this sound so nice, before they were sidelined by Bob's ego.

The Golden Fleece


Of all the albums I have posted so far, this is probably the most mysterious. 
The Golden Fleece is songs from two Georgian ethnic enclaves, Abkhazia and Muslim Adzharia. The music is difficult to describe, oscillating between major and minor keys, instrumentation, and vocal styling. Some of it is an all out Vocal Belt-Fest (a'la American gospel music), and then dips into harmonic and drone-based fiddling. Some of it sounds like it could be guitar tracks from Animal Collective or Devandra Barnhart songs. 


Bang on a Can All Stars- Music for Airports


Unless you have lived (quite successfully) under a log for the past several decades, you've gone through a period of really liking Brian Eno's Music for Airports. The story is that while he was hospitalized, he became fascinated with sounds that blended into the environment. That is apparently an amazing idea, though Eric Satie had a very similar idea a good hundred years before...

I digress. So there is a "New Chamber Group" or however they describe themselves, named Bang On a Can All Stars (i won't judge you for judging the name. Yuck.) who likes to cover music by people who will never appreciate their efforts (e.g. Brian Eno and Richard D. James). They turned this extremely discreet music into something sort of dynamic, to be played live by 8 or 9 musicians.

I sound pessimistic, but the actual recording is pretty nice. If you are at all familiar with Eno's original, this is an interesting listen.

(Please, BOACAS: new name, or at least new album art. Yuck.)


Tame Impala- Innerspeaker


Whenever there is a lot of hype around an album, it certainly falls into the "Hipper-than-thou" category, and therefore makes me exercise extreme caution. This is multiplied 10x when Pitchfork gives it a raving review (which for Pitchfork, means more than 6 out of 10. Bastards).

I looked into Innerspeaker based on the recommendation of a good friend, and i have to say: Pretty-Damn-Awesome.

The thing that made me really excited was a line that eMusic used to describe it: "It sounds like what the Beatles would have sounded like if they were around long enough to hear Yes." When the cd starts up rightaway, i thought, "Holy crap, they got John Lennon to sing on it!"

Fans of either George Harrison or John Lennon might get really wistful to hear this MetaBeatles band, and Innerspeaker does sound like it could have come out of that time period. It's really weird in that way.

Highly, highly recommended. Listen with earphones!!


Oumou Sangare- Moussolou


I don't know how to pronounce Oumou Sangare's name. I don't know where she's from, I don't know what she's singing about, I have no idea how old she is, and I have no idea who is on this record.

But let me say this: Holy cow. What a voice.

Listen to this cd if you want to hear one of warmest, most infectious, powerful, most passionate voices you have ever listened to. Whatever she is singing, she really means. The music is amazing, but she could sing against the clanging of 14 dish washers and I'd still listen. Her voice stands out against anything.

My friend Isaac passed this on to me, and is probably somewhat sad that I am not passing on a better bio. Sorry, Oumou. But damn, do i love your cd!

Animal Collective & Vashti Bunyan: Prospect Hummer


Okay, Animal Collective? Now, they're cool, but can we be honest and say they're pretty overrated?

Vashti Bunyan, on the other hand, is SOOO legit that she eats Panda Bears and Avey Tares for breakfast on her farm out in the woods where she gathers mushrooms and smokes wild "ragweed" and howls at the moon while shearing her own sheep with a razor that she sharpened on her own teeth. She's the real deal-- put out one kick ass album in the '60s titled "Just Another Diamond Day" and called it quits.

So, let's all give almighty thanks to AC for bringing Bunyan out of retirement, but shame on them for not extending credit to her and naming the album after themselves. No worries-- i will correct their arrogance by co-crediting this short EP, which is a real gem. It's pretty stripped down by AC standards, but still holds a kernel of their weirdness. And Bunyan's voice blends really well, and actually fares well against all this. Not all singers could be featured on an AC album and still shine through with a lot of personality. Kudos, Vashti.

Think: ethereal, strummy, reverb, delicate, kind. This is a fantastic cd for a summer day at your table, eating a vegan meatloaf with a tall wheat beer. 


Dirty Projectors & Bjork- Mt. Wittenburg Orca


I grew up with this guy who ended up wearing polyester suits to school every day his Junior year of high school, right around when he started sporting some bleached hair and very angular sideburns. Part of this new persona consisted of listening to music that his sister handed down to him, which he tried to like, but then became disinterested in. He passed them along to me. I wish i could say that i had a revelation, but it was years until i fully appreciated The Beach Boys- "Pet Sounds" and Bjork- "Debut," which were two of the cds he gave me.

Fast forward a few years, and a friend played Bjork's "Homogenic" at her house. That WAS a revelation, and Bjork was the bee's knees for a few solid years. I loved how she destroyed her voice on every song and sounded ready to fall apart. I enjoyed her a bit less as Drawing Restraint came out, and it was downhill from there.

BUT! A few years later, I discover the amazing and incredibly weird Dirty Projectors, who somehow cradle chamber music, art rock, and 80s R&B. Oh yeah, they're weird. Then, they make a cd with Bjork about whale sighting off a mountain in California, and luckily for us all, it's absolutely beautiful. Weird, wobbly, perfectly delivered, and full of idiosyncratic sounds. To me, it sounds like whales swimming, which is about perfect.

I feel a little guilty for putting it up here, since the proceeds from the album go to support National Geographic. It's like robbing from Ghandi. Eh. What are you gonna do...?

A rather shoddy live recording:

*As a side note, my two year old son LOVES this cd. Take that, all you lame-ass library folk singers.

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions- Through the Devil Softly

A friend of mine from Ohio introduced me to Brit-pop, shoegazer, and noise rock at the same time, and I can safely say that I was the only kid in Tuolumne County who knew of Blur, the Catchers, Mazzy Star, the Vaselines, Belly, the Breeders, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Elastica. That was a special time when i could hear Nirvana, Mazzy Star, Green Day, and the Flaming Lips on commercial radio. Commercial radio!!!

Nothing Mazzy Star recorded ever touched the magic of "Fade Into You," which is okay, since that is still an unworldly single. But years later, when Hope Sandoval made a solo album with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig, I paid attention. "Bavarian Fruit Bread" is still one of my favorite records, that sounds as fresh now as it did ten years ago.

Through The Devil Softly is perhaps one small step below BFB, but it's still an uncanny and eerie record. Her "Is-she-singing-on-key-or-not" delivery still makes me weak in the knees, and the reverb-y instruments (from autoharp to twangy western guitar) makes such a weird juxtaposition that somehow works perfectly. It's a perfect cd for the dead of winter when it's dark and murky out. It's an album full of doubts, questions, and hauntings. And that makes it awesome.

This album will still sound amazing ten years from now.

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Another musician, interested in and inspired by music from different times, different cultures, and different intentions.