1. BLACK MAN
For Love & Hate, Kiwanuka linked with producer Danger Mouse, bringing him out of his shell, encouraging build songs from scratch in the studio, composing robust tracks that feel equally large and nostalgic. ‘Cold Little Heart’ track, the album’s 10-minute opener, is easily the record’s best song, landing somewhere between Pink Floyd’s soul-rock hybrid and Isaac Hayes’ orchestral arrangements. Throughout Love & Hate, Kiwanuka is backed by a full choir, which adds richness not heard on his previous album. He doesn’t sound so isolated here, and the music itself feels grand and triumphant. On ‘Black Man in a White World’, Kiwanuka rides a jaunty Afrobeat instrumental to convey his inner racial strife. Love & Hate is a bittersweet offering, pulling from ’60s and ’70s soul, growing more melancholy as it plays. And while it’s a creative step forward for Kiwanuka, it’s still tough to get a sense of just who he is at times. Names like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield immediately come to mind. Kiwanuka takes pieces from these icons, resulting in a nice effort with occasional tedium, somewhat stalling the momentum. Its clear Kiwanuka is still working through his angst. He’ll need time to find inner tranquility.
2. PURE FUNK
The Bamboos’s 4 is one of the most exciting, original, vibrant and downright addictive albums of the coming year. The Bamboos delight in infusing the tight, instrumental dance floor style they have so expertly nailed with Motown, Mod and Northern soul to straight up, ballsy, vocal funk sass and whatever is rocking Ferguson’s musical sensibility. And `4′ brings to the table elements of rock, pop, psychedelia and hip-hop, heralding another twist in their sonic path. It is soul and funk music for today, not mired in over-the-top adherence to simply copying what has been done many times before.
3. STEEL SOUND
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band is a fabulous Funk band first and foremost. The steel pan groove just adds some well-devised differentiation, and acts as a sensational foundation for their one-of-a kind compositions. 55 is awesome, and like nothing else you’ll ever find! When you listen to this record, it’s like transporting yourself to a funky, underground bar in a tropical paradise. It will keep you warm in winter, and be your new favourite summer party music. It makes the perfect addition to any vinyl record collection. Buy it on vinyl here.
The debut album by Brooklyn’s El Michels Affair, led by organist/drummer Leon Michels, created a near-perfect simulacrum of late-60s/early-70s deep funk, jazz-funk, and soul-jazz, right down to the dub-like lo-fi quality of the sound, as if it were recorded quickly in a cheap studio. If that were all Sounding out the City was, however, it would be an impressive technical achievement but not a particularly interesting album. As it happens, however, Michels and crew have created an album that has as much melodic content and soul as any of the albums it’s an homage to. All 11 songs (ending with an excellent cover of Isaac Hayes’ ‘Hung Up on My Baby’) are between two and four minutes long, which avoids the unfortunate tendency some similar bands have to run a good groove into the ground through static repetition. That’s what the repeat button is for, folks, and it should get quite a workout on this hugely enjoyable album. Also available at The Barbershop Music.
With both artists active at least a decade prior to its release, Madvillainy is now a bit of mid-career hallmark for Madlib and MF DOOM. Released on March 23, 2004, Madvillainy was the debut for the duo and remains their only original full-length album to date. The album, which clocks in at twenty-two tracks long, was entirely produced by Madlib, with DOOM claiming a co-production credit on the first track alone. Engineered by the duo themselves, executive produced by label boss Peanut Butter Wolf. Madvillainy is inexhaustibly brilliant, with layer-upon-layer of carefully considered yet immediate hip-hop, forward thinking but always close to its roots. Madlib and DOOM are individually at their most refined here, and together, they’ve created one of the most exciting blockbuster alliances in the underground to date. Check out The Barbershop Music‘s wide range of Madvillain records.