Indie Weirdo Round Up: Reviews of African Scream Contest, Animal Collective micromixes, Colin Meloy, Yeti, v. 5, John Zorn
African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s – v/a (Analog Africa)
Another season, another teeming subgenre presented with some angle that makes it feel vital. The latest comes from Analog Africa, whose African Scream Contest gives up over a dozen supremely sultry cuts. The screamers are here, yes — plenty sound like James Brown, as the title suggests, like Gabo’s croon on ‘It’s A Vanity’ — but the varieties are even deeper. Tidia Kone and his Orchestre Poly-Rythmo feature a Fela-like call-and-response that lands between the soulful pleadings of R&B and the mystic ghost-choruses of reggae (I have no idea what the lyrics mean), and a nearly 10-minute groove that swings along on an insistent marimba pattern and stereo-panned sax blowing. Most tracks keep it airy and funky, like Napo De Mi Armor Et Ses Black Devils’ ‘Leki Santchi,’ which sounds like what the Talking Heads might’ve gotten into if they weren’t so damn tense.
Micromix – Avey Tare
Mohito Micromix – Geologist
Bookie Pad Micromix – Panda Bear
Apparently, Thin Lizzy is the new band to dig, at least if the fresh mixes made by Animal Collective for Deerhunter pal Bradford Cox are any indication. The Liz turn up four times in the sequences by the band of record geeks (and former record shop employees). While it’s little use in pinning down any of them, all three Animals feature the usual psychedelic obscurities (13th Floor Elevators, The Zombies) but also a surprisingly large dab of pop — Joe Jackson (on Geologist), Amy Winehouse, Erykuh Badu, and Sugababes (for Panda Bear). Surprises abound, including ‘It’s A Kid’s World,’ the final single by British post-punkers Disco Inferno. Nothing should surely read too deeply, but it’s always interesting to see what open-eared musicians are really open to. In the case of Animal Collective, quite a lot.
Sings Sam Cooke EP – Colin Meloy (self-released)
I sort of thought I was gonna hate this, and I still might, but the actual practice of the dude from the Decemberists singing bloody Sam Cooke didn’t cue some kind of bile-inducing brown note the second I hit "play." In fact, in a limited sort of way, it makes sense. Meloy is pleasant, and it’s an inventive — even, dare I say it, ironic — choice for his whiter-than-white voice, assuming one treats Cooke as a singer of popular songs as opposed to thinking about him as a figure in the civil rights movement, in which case it gets a little more problematic. This only becomes a real issue on "Bring It On Home," when the line "I’ll always be a slave ‘til I’m dead, buried in my grave" has a slightly different resonance. Throughout, Meloy’s strategy of choice is out and out cuddliness, often helped by Laura Gibson’s harmonies, but it only really gets insufferable on the disc-closing "Cupid." Strangely, though, he doesn’t get in the way of such perfectly languid melodies as "Summertime," where the music drifts pleasantly, but he probably shouldn’t get much credit for ‘em either.
Yeti, v. 5 – v/a (Yeti Publishing)
The paperback-bound semi-regular magazine Yeti, published by Portland writer Mike McGonnigal, would be a must-read even without the 25-song companion CD. This time out, the disc includes live cuts from Akron/Family (a vintage ‘Small Shape,’ recorded at Tonic) and Deerhoof, outtakes from Alan Bishop’s Sublime Frequencies label, handpicked roots obscurities from McGonnigal (including Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’), some post-Fahey acoustic guitar work (Shawn McMillen’s ‘Texarkana 1971,’ also included on the recent Imaginational Anthem, vol. 3 compilation), the obligatory Iron and Wine track (Sam Beam featured in Yeti #1, before his Sub Pop debut), and — most impressively — a handful of cuts hand-picked from the 78 collection of Neutral Milk Hotel’s elusive Jeff Mangum. Endless pleasures, really.
The Dreamers – John Zorn (Tzadik)
There are places on The Dreamers, the 53,212nd release by veteran New York composer/saxophonist John Zorn that one spends waiting for the freak-out. Occasionally it comes. Not as often as one might guess. Mostly, The Dreamers is a delightful trip into consonance for the 54-year old composer, who once — in the liner notes to 1993’s Kristallnacht — warned listeners that one train ‘contains high frequency extremes at the limits of human hearing & beyond, which may cause nausea, headaches & ringing in the ears.’ Played by the cream of the aging young lions — including guitarist Marc Ribot, percussionist Cyro Baptista, drummers Kenny Wolleson (playing vibes here) and Joey Baron, and organist Jamie Saft — The Dreamers is an exotica tinged holiday, filled with burbling grooves (‘Mystic Cycle’), vibrato-enhanced blue skies (‘Mow Mow’), and languid summer days with the occasional sudden thunderstorm (‘Anulikwutsayl’).