<i>Mail & Guardian</i> reviewers look at the albums that could make the festive season more memorable.
Hip-Hop and kwaito
Back 2 Kasi (Gallo)
Brown Dash is in danger of being just another musician long fallen from the heights of his popularity when he worked with Mzekzeke, DJ Cleo and Mdu. But two tracks, Back 2 Kasi and Mgugulucious, from his new CD could save his career from free fall. They are both fresh, energetic, fast kwaito songs that should entertain and provide life to bashes and celebrations in the festive season.
Teaming up with the Kalawa Jazzmee and Mandla Spikiri has allowed Brown Dash a last lease on life. But my fear is that kwaito as a genre is fast losing popularity. If the likes of Brown Dash do not find a way to remain relevant to a youth now embracing hip-hop, rap and poetry, they could soon be singing “in my time” while still so young. I remain a kwaito lover, but we are an endangered species. — Rapule Tabane
We Want In (The Street LP) (Kurse)
This is gangster rap revisited — and guess what? Nothing much has changed. Outlawz, most remembered for their role on Tupac’s 1996 street anthem Hit’em Up, are somewhat reinventing the wheel on We Want In. A track such as Thugging till I Die gives truthful testimony to that. This 12-track album features the same old elements of street-level gang rap — robust, noisy and vulgar.
The verses, spat with so much vigour and passion, still don’t make sense. But apart from that the beat sounds great. The opening track, We Want In, featuring Stormey, is the most popular track by radio playlist standards. My personal favourites are Growing Pains and the optimistic Failure Ain’t an Option. In a nutshell, the album did not stimulate an enthusiastic “Wow”; not that I was expecting more from these old boys. But if you are still into gangster rap, here’s an early Christmas prezzie. — Monako Dibetle
Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip
Who, you may ask. Well, if you haven’t heard of Dan le Sac and his cohort Scroobius Pip by now, chances are you are not a regular on YouTube. Their hilarious song, Thou Shalt Always Kill, was a cult hit in 2007, sprouting great lines such as “Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girl’s pants / Use it to get into their heads” and “Thou shall give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English-speaking countries / As those that occur in English-speaking countries”. So who are they? Two Essex hip-hop-loving lads, Dan Stephens and David Meads, and their smash hit has secured them an album deal.
So are they one-hit wonders or is there more to this hip-hop duo? Well, one listen to their album, Angles, and you will realise that these guys are cutting loose. Letter from God to Man, which features a sample from Radiohead song Planet Telex, is a hilarious interpretation of God abdicating responsibility for what people have done with religion, while Development sees Scroobius Pip rapping the periodic table. If bizarre hip-hop with a wicked sense of humour sounds like your thing then this is your album. — Lloyd Gedye
One Sock Thief
Tell Them Now (Sovereign)
It is always awesome when a South African band makes good and One Sock Thief’s debut album, Tell Them Now, is good. But it is not the kind of good that puts musicians away in that realm of likeable, inoffensive mediocrity. This is the kind of good that warms the soul. It is strong, it heaps melody upon melody, it’s anthemic. No surprise there, as one of the band’s listed influences is Arcade Fire.
It’s a sound that keeps surfacing through the album, and if you’ve heard The Kissaway Trail – constantly compared to Arcade Fire — you’ll recognise those elements in One Sock Thief. Songs start quietly, sometimes quirkily, almost always delicately, and build up until they become a swell of sound. The first track, Never Land, is a perfect example, as is the slow-starting Honey, both incorporating soaring guitars, piano and vocals. Watch out for the extraordinary track Wires, with some awesome guitar work by Felipe Torres Holmes and some beautifully placed guest brass. Although all the guys are excellent, beautifully complimenting one another, the work of Johan Malherbe, resident classical pianist, is worth a special mention. It gives One Sock Thief their texture and direction, raising the band out of the ordinary. — Lynley Donnelly
Electric Arguments (Just)
This is one of the bravest albums I have heard all year. The Fireman is Paul McCartney and producer Youth (the bassist from Killing Joke) who have combined to create one of the most eclectic releases of the year. When I first heard Nothing Too Much Just Out of Sight, the opening track, my jaw dropped. Since when was McCartney, the polite fuddy-duddy Beatle, who referred to joints as jazz cigarettes, a raging blues singer. He is now it seems. This is the third instalment in The Fireman series. The first was unleashed in 1993 and the second followed in 1998, but this is the finest.
This album is strange and all over the place, but it is constantly challenging and there are some fine, fine songs here. Apparently McCartney and Youth set themselves a challenge of writing 13 songs in 13 days, which explains the lack of synchronicity on the album. But the songs just line up – there is the bluesy rock’n’roll of Highway, the beautiful percussion and string-led Dance ’til We’re High and the rootsy Arabic-influenced Lifelong Passion. Finally McCartney has made an album that will defy preconceptions and now he can hold his head high. He has earned my respect. — Lloyd Gedye
Death Magnetic (Universal)
Rockers often skate close to death with their sex, drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle and it is this theme that Metallica have taken up in their new album. They explore the magnetism of mortality and how people try to push the thought of dying to the outer edge of their mind but can never escape it. Metallica fans will revel in the long instrumentals in songs that never seem to end (the shortest song on the album is five minutes long) and enjoy the larger-than-life guitar riffs that have defined the band since 1981. But a new generation of hard-rock fans who might like their music a bit more immediate might become bored with the drawn-out songs. Still, death is a larger-than-life topic and it takes time to explore what it can do to a rocker’s psyche.
The Unforgiven makes an entrance again, for the third time, while the first single on the album, The Day that Never Comes, is sure to become one of the rock anthems of the summer. It is also the most radio-friendly song on the album, despite clocking in at seven minutes. Death Magnetic is definitely a step up from St Anger, and the genius of Metallica shines through. There is a reason these guys are still around after 28 years and on Death Magnetic they show that they still have some kick in them before the band finally kicks the bucket. — Yolandi Groenewald
Dig Out Your Soul (Sony/BMG)
I’ve often wondered whether Oasis shouldn’t have stopped making music after the release of their freakishly scintillating 1995 album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory. How do you improve on an album that’s right up there with the best rock’n’roll of our time, such as U2’s Joshua Tree or Radiohead’s The Bends? Only brave men would continue. And although some of them went the popular route and brought in synthesisers and other sexy technology, the brothers Gallagher stuck to what they knew best: rock’n’roll the hard way.
To be honest, their past few releases after What’s the Story were a bit of a yawn. One feared the writing was on the (wonder) wall for the naughty boys who kicked up such a fantastic storm in 1995. But truth be told, they’re neither down nor out. Dig Out Your Soul might well be their second-best album. The music is harder than before, the production flawless and, although the album takes a slight dip in the middle, there are at least five tracks that are potential classics. Through their lyrics Oasis make it clear that they are back in business. “Someone tell me I’m dreaming / The freaks are rising up through the floor / But everything I believe in / Is telling me that I want more — more — more.”
Noel Gallagher shouts out loud on Bag it Up. In the melancholic I’m Outta Time Gallagher gets sentimental about the early years (remember all the broken TVs and trashed hotel rooms?): “Here’s a song / It reminds me of when we were young / Looking back at all the things we’ve done / You gotta keep on keeping on.” On Waiting for the Rapture he warns that the rapture is still to come — they’re only on the merry-go-round for now. Watch this space. — Adriaan Basson
All or Nothing (EMI)
One of the best traits a lead vocalist in an alternative rock band (or any band for that matter) can have is versatility — it would be his or her ability to sound equally good whether they’re shouting or whispering — and Prime Circle’s lead vocalist Ross Learmonth seems to have honed his voice sufficiently enough to pull off a wide range of vocals on this CD.
I’m not terribly keen on alternative rock bands these days because they seem to blend into an amorphous mass of noise, with only one or two standing out as something you might want to pay attention to. But the first time I listened to this CD I was impressed, not just by Learmonth but also by Prime Circle’s ability to sound as good as, if not better than, the international bands we hold in such high regard.
Some of my favourite tunes include the exceedingly catchy She Always Gets What She Wants (two weeks after listening to this song it’s still bouncing around inside my head), the powerful Out of This Place and the poignant Consider Me. All or Nothing isn’t just about crazy guitar riffs that take on their own identity or overwhelming percussion or powerful lead vocals, but it’s a good enough blend of all those elements to create songs that are sufficiently different from one another and definitely worth listening to. — Sukasha Singh
Welcome to the world of Santogold, arguably the most interesting pop star to break on to the scene in 2008. A lot has been made of her picking up the mantle from MIA, which would make sense if MIA was a long and distant memory, but she released one of the best albums of 2007, so it’s hardly time to be looking for the new MIA. Anyway, Santogold is a star in her own right and her debut album confirms that. The opening track, L.E.S Artistes, is the song that has garnered all the attention, and although its Blondie-meets-Yeah Yeah Yeahs stylings are attention-grabbing, there are many more gems on the album. You’ll Find a Way is a little reggae-infused post-punk pop song, Shove It is a Specials-esque number and the down-tempo My Superman, which sounds like a Tricky mix of a Blondie song. But my favourite track has to be the swinging Say Aha, a dance-floor anthem for the summer. — Lloyd Gedye
Legend’s third CD, Evolver, only reinforces his legendary status among his fans. It is a great CD, levelled at the same standard as his first CD, Get Lifted. Its sound appeals to older fans who hanker for the old days of soul music as sung by the great Marvin Gaye, but it will also be loved by younger R&B fans. No Other Love featuring Estelle is a beautiful reggae-infused track in which you feel Legend’s soul and heart. Can’t Be My Lover has a Caribbean sound and features ragga artist Buju Banton and some impressive lyrics. Take Me Away and Everybody Knows are ballads to take you out to the dance floor and slowly twitch your fingers and nod your head in appreciation. This Time is a classic in the making and Revolver should also be a big seller. — Rapule Tabane
Jim (Sheer Music)
Some reviewers claim this album is “dazzlingly brilliant”; others say “Lidell makes retro sound futuristic without changing a note”. Well, I couldn’t agree more. Jamie is a new British import whose singing talent is obvious from the songs on this album. The album, Jim, consists of 10 beautiful soul songs sung with great passion and love. He inevitably awakens the spirit of old-time American soul and succeeds in giving it a youthful appeal. I found the music fresh and it offered a lot of sing-a-longs suitable for a sunny, car-cleaning Saturday morning. Tracks to listen to include the sweet Little Bit of Feel Good, Out of My System and the opening track, Another Day. One reviewer suggests Jim is “the best album Prince never made” — and here too I couldn’t agree more. — Monako Dibetle
The Collection (Just)
At the tender age of 24 and with less than a decade in the music industry, Melua has confidently released a collection of the best tunes from her albums and it is no doubt worth it if you haven’t collected all three of them. The Katie Melua Collection is a CD and DVD pack boasting 17 of Melua’s best songs. Ironically, the two Melua songs I knew best follow each other at the beginning of the album — the first being The Closest Thing to Crazy from her debut album, Call Off the Search, and Nine Million Bicycles. The tracks follow one another in a rather scattered way, if you have listened to the albums from which they come, but that peculiar sequence changes after track nine, where all her gentle songs such as Spider’s Web and I Cried for You remind the listener that this is indeed her collection. Apart from the 90 minutes of her Rotterdam concert there are behind-the-scenes features on the DVD. — Thembelihle Tshabalala
Noah and the Whale
Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down (Universal)
There is a distinct charm about this album. Billed as “romantic folk with an epic scope”, a melancholic tone pervades, yet at first listen it feels light and frivolous and insubstantial. Make no mistake, it’s no work of musical genius, but in places it’s lyrically interesting, especially the last three tracks, which have quite a bit of replay value. Influences such as the likes of Belle & Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel and Death Cab for Cutie can be easily noted, and harmonising is used to good effect in places. But the sound fits right in with what the cool kids will latch on to, which might well see the band develop more of a following than perhaps they deserve. Bar a few resonating changes and lines there is little to keep the ear engaged, but the jarring tone and content — the jaded but still optimistic feel – makes it a worthwhile endeavour. — Ricky Hunt
Songs for the Road (Sheer)
Songs for the Road, British-born David Ford’s second album, is an accomplished, articulate work. Imagine a good whisky, sipped slowly — it’s a little mellow, a little wry, a little maudlin and carries a kick. Ford counts greats such as Tom Waits among his influences and his songs build up on the back of swelling piano chords, cellos, bluesy guitars and the odd harmonica. There is also some amazing brass tucked away in wonderful tracks such as the title number, Song for the Road. Ford can be relentlessly melancholic and there is at least one low point — the rather discordant Requiem. But a few songs such as the sunny, almost anthemic Decimate serve to lighten the mood, and if his slow numbers are sad, they are beautiful. According to his website Ford loves the odd cover and the surprising highlight of the album is indeed a startling rendition of The Smith’s There Is a Light that Never Goes Out. It’s one of the hidden tracks but well worth waiting for and, simply put, is damn fine. — Lynley Donnelly
Ziggy Marley in Jamaica (Kurse)
If you ever had to wander to Ziggy Marley’s home you might find him listening to the songs on this compilation. Ziggy Marley in Jamaica mostly features the music Ziggy would have grown up listening to — music his father would have liked. So, in a way, this CD gives us an almost voyeuristic glance into the Marley household.
There is the sing-a-long 54-56 That’s My Number by Toots & The Maytals, Book of Rules by The Heptones and the groovy Dennis Brown on a lover’s rock tip. Then there is Black Uhuru asking “who’s coming to dinner” and The Wailing Souls, backed by the distinctive Nyabingi drum, telling people to live the life that Jah has given us. The Wailers, Delroy Wilson and Gregory Isaacs are also featured on the CD. Of course, no reggae compilation is definitive without someone demanding the legalising of marijuana and this CD is no different. Peter Tosh sings the old classic Legalise It. This is a must-have for fans of roots reggae. — Percy Zvomuya
Road to Reparation: The Very Best of (Gallo)
Does anyone out there still remember Eddy Grant? He is the Guyanese-born British singer who sang the iconic Give Me Hope Jo’Anna, a song that decried apartheid, and I Don’t Wanna Dance, that chart-topping single that helped mainstream reggae music. This 18-track CD contains many of the tracks that won him fame around the world. Tracks such as War Party, Baby Come Back Home and Hello Africa light up the album. But culled as it is from nearly 20 albums, this CD can’t be called definitive. — Percy Zvomuya
Sorry for the Delay (Sheer)
Sorry for the Delay has been four years in the making. It follows the release of Moving in 2004, an album that established the group as a formidable eclectic ensemble. Although the album they put out had a slight feel of the outsider, it still found a wildly receptive audience ready to sing along. (My housemate played the song Midnight over and over again so much that I thought 340ml would pay us a surprise midnight visit). But I have to say 340ml’s latest release has lost a bit of what Moving had.
The debut lent itself to songfests in a way this new offering doesn’t. Yet the CD has something to recommend itself; at its best the sound of Sorry for the Delay has a distinct reggae feel, the reverb and echo effects bouncing off the jazzy sound to result in danceable music; this works especially well on the track Kubrick. It also features the clear, soaring voice of Thandiswa Mazwai on Make it Happen, but I felt their generally downbeat, echoey vocals didn’t merge very well with Mazwai. In fact, the collaborations don’t particularly work for me, especially the track Saint-Leu, featuring Levi Pon the Mic. Their styles seems to collide, resulting in a tad troubled, more dissonant beat. But I must say the collaboration with Tidal Waves was well managed and more rounded; the beat that results is a more user-friendly dub sound. Sorry for the Delay is an album only for the fans. — Percy Zvomuya
TV on the Radio
Dear Science (Just)
These Brooklynites have done it again. Their previous album, 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, was easily the best album of that year and don’t be surprised if TV on the Radio walk off with 2008’s gong too, because Dear Science is a masterpiece. As any self-respecting band should, they have reinvented themselves on their third album. The most significant change is that everything is clean. You can actually peer right through the multiple audio textures that layered together produce that TV on the Radio sound. Before it was the overwhelming density of the sound that fascinated, but Dear Science is still as layered, just with a lot more clarity.
Producer and guitarist Dave Sitek has obviously been listening to a lot of funk and disco, because he has reproduced numerous production tricks from those two genres here. The second most noticeable change is Kyp Malone’s influence — the guitarist and songwriter has come into his own on Dear Science. His songs are among the album highlights and he has left us in no doubt that this is a two-man show. In fact, the way Tunde Adebimpe and Malone co-front the band at the moment is probably its greatest strength. Musically Dear Science reminds me of David Bowie’s Station to Station, the album in which the Thin White Duke was caught half way between the American soul of Young Americans and the krautrock-influenced Berlin era of Low. I am not going to single out favourite tracks, because to be quite honest every track has been a favourite at some point or another. Go buy it — this record is essential. — Lloyd Gedye
Rabbit Habits (Soul Candi)
This five-piece from Philadelphia is one of the most exciting US bands around at the moment and their multi-instrumental style that centres on the piano playing of lead singer Honus Honus is a crazy blend of Frank Zappa, Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart influences. So if a funky rock hybrid created using piano, clavinet, microKORG, sousaphone, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, flute, euphonium, xylophone, marimba and melodica sounds like your thing, then this is probably the album for you. The standout track is Big Trouble, a rich blend of Twenties jazz and Tom Waits’s later material. “You make me feel like a zombie,” screams Honus as the horns career off in multiple directions, underpinned by some delightful marimba. This band is like a pit bull — once they’ve bitten, they never let go. — Lloyd Gedye
Microcastle (Just Music)
Deerhunter are a five-piece rock band from Atlanta, Georgia, that describe their sound as “ambient punk”. Microcastle is their third full-length release and it is a great little slab of rock that fans of Brian Eno, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sonic Youth, The Breeders and My Bloody Valentine should love. There are no real stand-out tracks, because the album is consistently great across all of its 40 minutes, which is a very rare thing nowadays.
It is also the kind of album that will gently unlock its beautiful secrets as you spend more time with it. At first you will think “Not bad, I kind of like that”, but months down the line you will find it hasn’t left your CD player since you first bought it. If I was pushed to select a favourite track it would have to be a choice between the Sonic Youthesque rocker Nothing Ever Happened and the album closer Twilight at Carbon Lake, with its murky underwater sound that is reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s psychedelic beauty, before it explodes at about the three-minute mark into a driving wall of feedback and pounding drums. Ending an album in style, Deerhunter are on top of their game. — Lloyd Gedye
Los Angeles (Sheer)
Ok, it’s confirmed: Flying Lotus is just about the most interesting thing happening in the world of hip-hop/electronica right now. His Reset EP on Warp was hot, but his full-length Los Angeles is just smokin! Layers of fuzz, sci-fi bleeps, metallic percussion and hiss populate these great tracks. The album closes with two of the finest tracks on offer in Testament, a bluesy jazz number featuring Gonja Sufi and Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum, and an ambient closer featuring Laura Darlington. But my favourites have to include the amazing Riot, a sinister trip-hop number that takes me smack bang into mid-1990s Bristol, Roberta Flack, which sounds like it’s straight off of Tricky’s debut Maxinequaye, and GNG BNG, an absolute killer. If albums by DJ Shadow, Portishead, DJ Cam, Massive Attack, J Dilla, Burial, Tricky or Madlib have ever touched you deep, then this is an album for you. Make sure you don’t miss this one. — Lloyd Gedye
Bomb the bass
Future Chaos (Kurse)
Tim Simenon, aka Bomb the Bass, has been making beats since the late Eighties, but his Bomb the Bass moniker has remained dormant for more than a decade. But maybe that break was well needed, because Future Chaos is a killer album, like a long-lost brother to Leftfield’s two records or a contemporary of Thom Yorke’s solo electronica. This album is awash with progressive beats and deep, throbbing bass. Songs meander off into unexpected tangents, something French outfit Air used to achieve quite well. I was already sold hook, line and sinker by track six, but then Mark Lanegan kicked down the door swaggering in on Black Rain, with his gravelly Johnny Cashesque croon. This is one of the best electronic albums you will hear this year. — Lloyd Gedye
Slain musician Gito Baloi continues to strum the guitar from yonder. Beyond is a collection of 10 of his previously unreleased songs that have been reworked by musicians who knew him. Using Baloi’s guitar sound and his structure, Steve Newman, Paul Hanmer, Ian Herman, Pedro da Silva and a few others were involved in the studio reworking of this CD. It is the kind of album on which McCoy Mrubata, Harman and the other musicians involved on the project could have stamped their own distinctive sound, but Baloi’s vocals and insistent bass claim the sound as his own.
It feels quite complete and solid and has a touch of Baloi’s Mozambican background. Beyond is slow and reflective — the sound seems to be crawling from beyond with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. The seventh track, Protecao Deste Mundo, is especially moving. It is electrified by Tony Cox’s sinuous play of the acoustic guitar that methodically seems to stand out of the main arrangement. But it is on Over the Seas that Baloi’s bass guitar stands out. It sets the pace and the sombre mood; Baloi’s guitar is the sound around which Deepak Ram’s soaring play of the Indian flute, Frank Paco’s drums and Dave Reynolds’s Jew’s harp are arranged. The CD’s sleeve notes say there is still a significant collection of unreleased songs that Baloi left uncompleted, so this is certainly not the last time we will savour the magic from beyond. — Percy Zvomuya
Putamayo’s Women of Jazz (Putamayo)
Putamayo’s Women of Jazz illustrates the mainstream direction this champion of world music is heading in producing top-notch compilations for listeners of all persuasions. In presenting the album the label sticks to tradition with Nicola Heindl’s quaint, naive illustration– somewhat undermining given the calibre of women on the disc itself. Indeed, with one or two exceptions, these are the stars. The album kicks off with Melody Gardot doing a dash of French à la Helen Merrill on Goodnite (she launched her career from a hospital bed) and moves on to a Billie Holidayesque version of Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love by Madeleine Peyroux. Queen Cassandra Wilson does a thoroughly masculine Lover Come Back to Me (from her most recent album of standards) and Russian/Israeli/Canadian Sophie Milman does Lonely in New York with a dash of Gypsy violin à la Stephane Grappelli.
Although the appearance of Stacey Kent (Shall We Dance?) is welcome it makes one wonder where Lisa Ekdahl got to, but it is no use decrying the absence of names such as Carmen Lundy, Keiko Matsui or Diana Krall given the presence of major seniors such as Della Griffin and Etta Jones. This is almost as good as it gets. — Matthew Krouse
Beethoven and Mozart Violin Concertos (EMI)
Violinist Nigel Kennedy has always been unafraid to build his career by exploring the sidelines of classical music, offering a fresh perspective on works that have become dull through repetition. He takes the same approach on this new album, finding fresh and unconventional approaches to two warhorses of the violin’s repertoire, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 4. Conducting the Polish Chamber Orchestra himself, Kennedy takes a brisker pace in the opening movement of the Beethoven than we are used to, but at the same time is his solo parts feel unhurried and relaxed, as Kennedy is happy to let the piece unfold organically. The second movement is still, with Kennedy’s long solo lines floating timelessly.
He has opted to include his own cadenzas, the long formerly improvised solos instead of the standard ones. The wisdom of this choice is particularly clear in the Mozart, where Kennedy’s cadenzas wander off from classicism into more experimental, jazz-like meanderings. The result is unexpected, even startling, but it works. Having brought jazz to meet the classical masters, Kennedy opts for an interesting end piece to this opus: his own arrangement of Creepin’ In by bebop composer Horace Silver, minimally scored for double bass and Kennedy’s violin. — Dillon Davie
40 Degrees North (EMI)
The classical guitar has a new standard bearer in the form of Chinese virtuoso Xuefei Yang, whose album, 40 Degrees North, explores links between China and Spain, the guitar’s ancestral home, as well as links between the past and present of the guitar. That link is reflected in the album’s title, as 40 degrees north is the line of latitude that rough connects the capital cities of both Spain and China.
Appropriately, Yang has included established pieces by Spanish nationalists Albeniz, Granados and Tarrega, all of whom are stalwarts of the guitar repertoire, as well as gems by Chinese composers. Perhaps the most well known of these is the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, of which Yang has arranged the first movement. The Chinese Garden, a three-movement piece by English composer Stephen Goss, sparkles with the sights and sounds of the garden it aurally describes.
This is in contrast to pieces such as Albeniz’s exuberant Sevilla, which opens the album. It would be easy for an upcoming guitar soloist to re-record the warhorses, which have served her predecessors well. But Yang has opted instead to strike out afresh; with new pieces and sounds mixing with new arrangements of the more established ones. Yang’s sound is masterfully recorded — the classical guitar has been difficult to record in the past, either overly dry and harsh when close-miked or faint and distant when not. But 40 Degrees North showcases instead a strong, crisp sound, bright but not top-heavy, which producer John Taylor has coaxed out of Yang’s range of guitars. — Dillon Davie
Debussy: Preludes pour Piano (Paraty)
Musical impressionism, like its painting equivalent, aimed to create sound pictures that captured the feeling and impression of natural scenes: the spray of the fountain or the glistening of the sunset across ocean waves. The unquestioned master of this style is the Frenchman Claude Debussy, the “quiet revolutionary” who introduced bright splashes of harmonic colour and ambiguous floating melodies to more straightforward Romantic piano music.
His aural explorations gave rise to two of his most important works, the two books of piano preludes that are the subject of the new album by young pianist Ivan Ilic. Ilic, an American based in Paris, has a deftness of touch that allows him control over both Debussy’s exuberant climaxes and his quiet, subtle moments. The sound is rich and clear, with a broad range of dynamics but a solid rhythmic pulse, without which Debussy’s misty soundscapes would descend into mush.
Ilic is still a relatively unknown pianist, although he is gaining exposure, winning a laureate at the Nadia Boulanger Foundation in Paris and performing across Europe and the United States. This album might be the ideal introduction for listeners who are just beginning to discover the charms of the greatest exponents of French quirkiness and colour. — Dillon Davie
Calypsoul 70: Caribbean Soul and Calypso Crossover 1969-1979 (Kurse)
With a title like that, expectations were high. This compilation aims to tell the story of how US soul and funk culture was appropriated and fused with a whole host of influences from across the Caribbean Sea. It is a user-friendly compilation that takes in music influences from Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad, the Bahamas, Guyana and the French Antilles.
There are dance anthems such as The Little You Say by the The Revolution of St Vincent and swing numbers such as the title track Calypsoul by Clarence Curvan and His Mod Sounds. Political anthems like Yo Tink it Sorf? by Lancelot Layne, which condemns the romanticising of the ghetto (much in the spirit of Linton Kwezi Johnson) and great cowbell-driven funk tracks like Negril by Boris Gardiner. But my favourite was the soulful, horn-driven instrumental cover of Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me by Gemini Brass. For the uninitiated listener this is a great trip through new musical worlds and a fine party soundtrack too. It’s not all great, but there is enough to make you grateful you shelled out your hard-earned rand. — Lloyd Gedye
Funky Nassau: The Compass Point story 1980-1986 (Kurse)
This great compilation tells the story of Compass Point studios in the Bahamas, which were set up by Island Records bigwig Chris Blackwell in 1980. Built around the axis of reggae and dub legends, Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Blackwell built up a roster of top-notch studio musicians that became a huge drawcard for a diverse range of musicians. Compass Point is responsible for birthing such classic albums as AC/DC’s Back in Black and Talking Heads’s Remain in Light. This compilation collects 13 sterling recordings from the studios on one disc. From the 12-inch version of Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love to Ian Dury and the Seven Seas Players’s disco track Spasticus Autisticus. Other highlights include Cristina’s You Rented a Space, Talking Heads’s Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) and Sly Dunbar’s River Niger. Get this for a great audio history lesson. — Lloyd Gedye
The Skinny (Universal)
If you think Death Cab for Cutie is the title of a new teenage horror film or Young Knives the name of a Cape Flats gang, this CD is probably not for you. The Skinny is a compilation of the hottest indie sounds around that includes not only the big names in the genre (Muse, Primal Scream, Paramore), but also some unknown bands such as Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Billy Clyro and The Cab. If you’re into rock’n’roll but still prefer the glam and fun to Minora blades and cat blood, give this one a try. The album kicks of with the funky That’s What You Get by Paramore followed by Panic at the Disco’s Nine in the Afternoon. I Will Possess Your Heart by Death Cab for Cutie is a must for any summer dance party and who’s got anything more to say about the sheer brilliance of Muse (Knights of Cydonia)? Other highlights include The Cab’s One of Those Nights and Semi Mental by Biffy Clyro. The Skinny will definitely be one of the better compilations for sale this summer. — Adriaan Basson