Artist: Mulatu Astatke
Album: Mulatu Steps Ahead
It’s great to hear Mulatu himself stretching out, soloing on “Ethio Blues” and creatively filling out the chords elsewhere. Anyone who’s liked his music in the past is very likely to enjoy this, but I think Mulatu Steps Ahead will broaden Astatke’s jazz following as well, and frankly, it’s a much more coherent record than a lot of heavily improvisational modern jazz albums. It’s a very easy album to access for listeners who aren’t particularly schooled in either jazz or the Ethiopiques series as well, moving an old, appealing sound forward and outward. It’s a pleasure to hear a man of Mulatu’s age and past accomplishments push himself artistically like this, and it will be interesting to see where his music goes next. Time to step ahead and listen to Mulatu Astatke.
Artist: Elvis Costello & The Roots
Album: Wise Up: Thought Remix
At their best, both artists are great listeners, capable of soaking up something they can use from new collaborators. On the slower, quieter tracks, you can hear Wise Up shade into something that sounds genuinely like a product of both sensibilities: “Tripwire” is a delicate 6/8 shuffle that Costello sings in his lovely high head voice, the only time his voice sounds conventionally beautiful. “If I Could Believe” is one of those stunning, rafter-reaching ballads Costello unfurls out of his dry, unsentimental soul every few albums, to remind us he can. On the left-field “Cinco Minutos Con Vos”, a series of disparate parts click together: Questlove’s patient, freakishly exact snare snaps, horns punch soft notes, strings churn, Costello trades vocals with La Marisoul of La Santa Cecilia, and boo, Elvis Costello and the Roots. It’s not the kind of moment that will knock the long-since-formed careers of either out their deep, geologic grooves, but it’s a minor revelation nonetheless. This 10′ vinyl available online and at The Barbershop Music store.
Artist: Mac DeMarco
Album: Rock and Roll Nightclub
Rock and Roll Night Club is a confusing record, but not a mess. On the contrary, it’s so deeply calculated that the intentions and possible motivations of its songs are likely to be lost on most. I’m happy to hear him purr on over one never-ending, laconic surf riff, though, because when ‘Rock And Roll Nightclub’ is at its least cavalier, it’s also at its most oddly exotic. All grandiose interpretations aside, this is an album of solid, endearing catchy songs, and as a result it becomes one of the most pleasant listens that this year has yet to offer. The cheeky nature of Rock and Roll Night Club inadvertently elevates its reputation, falling somewhere between classic pop and performance art, DeMarco’s talent for writing hooks should spurn any attempt to call it novelty. Mac DeMarco is one of the fast sellers here at The Barbershop Music.
Artist: R.A. The Rugged Man
Album: Legends Never Die
Legends Never Die isn’t a perfect album. The sequencing is a bit off at times, as it inexplicably jumps from aggressive, lyrical tracks to more subdued conscious records. Also, some of the production feels dated even for an “underground record.” But overall, it’s an album embedded with enough humor, knowledge, and obscure Hip Hop references that will force listeners to keep this one in rotation. R.A. the Rugged Man might not care about an industry exec or releasing music on a consistent basis, but his love for the art is undeniable because he’s only getting better. The champ is here, see available Rugged Man’s record at The Barbershop Music.
Album: Plus Minus
The range allows +- to be Mew’s most consistently engaging record, even if it’s also the longest on both a cumulative and per-song basis. Unlike with No More Stories… and Glass Handed Kites, there’s no delineation between what they perceive as an interlude, exposition or proper song. You’re still guaranteed stretches where everything becomes a gorgeous mirage and Mew conveniently packages almost all of these lulls into the 11-minute “Rows”. Still, in light of the theatrics and grand gestures that precede it, “Rows” feels like a necessary comedown before the closing prom theme “Cross the River on Your Own”. It’s also perhaps the best proof of Mew’s aesthetic singularity: “Cross the River” accidentally and unmistakably evokes the chorus of N.W.A.’s “Automobile” and still could be used by Baz Luhrmann to soundtrack a slow dance in the Sistine Chapel. So despite maintaining just about every quality that got them plugged as prog, +- argues for the reframing of Mew as a dream-pop act.