This past year marked a transition for me. My 17th trip around the sun here at The Buffalo News was the first where I didn’t write album reviews on a weekly basis. Few daily newspapers are dedicating space and manpower to these anymore, record labels have largely stopped sending out review copies, and very few of them bother to send links to stream new releases. I’ve had to seek out new music more aggressively - primarily because I need to know what’s happening out there, whether I’ll be doing a straight review of an album or not, but also because I feel my soul starting to wither whenever I go too long without discovering new music. So, despite my ethical (and aesthetic) issues with streaming platforms, I've relied on Spotify to discover new music.. Here a few things I found and took sustenance from over recent weeks.
Though my son has been beating me over the head with the music of Chicago-born-and-raised rapper/poet NoName for the better part of a year, for some reason, I resisted. I immediately loved the music – funky, soulful, hip, futuristic as it is – but found NoName’s sometimes flat, emotionless, text-heavy delivery to be off-putting. Then I happened to catch her performing “Ace” on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and had a bit of an epiphany. NoName – born Fatima Nyeema Warner in 1991 – was displaying her roots in spoken word and slam poetry, and her phrasing was so complex, fresh and imaginative that I suddenly got it. Now, I’m hooked. Her “Room 25” album is now one of my favorites from last year.
On the dorkier side of the tracks, where the nerds wear their Rush and Primus T-shirts with unabashed pride, I came across a tribe of San Francisco musos who have dubbed themselves Illogistical Resource Dept. The band’s “Catharsis” album came out in 2017, but no matter, the tip I’d received – through a Twitter group of Rush fans – assured me that I’d probably dig them, and “new to me” is still new, after all. That predication proved to be spot-on. The first tune I streamed, “When Frogs Attack,” sounded like Primus jamming with King Crimson and Stick-Men. Ka-ching. Sold.
A savvy and persistent publicist turned me on to genre-annihilating British outfit Ibibio Sound Machine, whose sophomore album, “Doko Mien,” quickly sucked me into its delightfully curious orbit. If you are already a fan of Fela Kuti, Talking Heads, and the deepest, most primal American funk, you’ll have no trouble acclimating to the Ibibio climate. In Nigerian singer Eno Williams, we have one of the most gifted, ebullient and charismatic front-women in popular music. I’ve already relied on Williams and her bandmates to chase away the black dog of depression on numerous occasions. It’s not possible to be unhappy when this music plays.
Though I’ve been a devout fan of heavy progressive-soul-funk-rock-gospel trio King’s X for decades, I’d failed to take the bait when the supergroup KXM – featuring King’s X bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick, Korn drummer Ray Luzier and Lynch Mobb guitarist George Lynch - snuck out its debut album a few years back. I’ll admit to a bias against Korn, the band that treated me to a few of the sloppiest, most soul-less and dynamics-free live shows I’ve ever witnessed. I wasn’t interested, I told myself. Pinnick is above playing with these guys, I told myself. Then I heard the band’s sophomore album, “Scatterbrain,” and it was all over. It’s metal, yes, but it’s also eminently tuneful, bathed in gorgeous vocal harmonies, smartly composed and arranged and, thanks to Pinnick’s incredible singing, washed in a lambent, funky soulfulness.
So - hip-hop, avant-garde prog, Anglo-Nigerian dance music, and forward-looking metal? That’s my idea of a good mix. 2019 is looking up already.