Reaching for My Third Mind (My 25 Favorite Releases from 2020)

 

It’s a good bet lately that when I initially scoff at the news of a new release, you should place your bets against me. Cases in point:

Me, scoffing: “Dave Alvin’s doing a psych-rock album? Smells desperate. Reality: I can’t believe I’ve played this five times in three days. (Note: it’s also a covers album, which is something that always both intrigues me and smells funny, but Alvin and his Campers knock all but the 13th Floor Elevators tune out of the box.)

Me, scoffing: “A Moses Sumney double-album? I couldn’t get through one last time–too sensitive for me. Reality: He’s on some serious new shit.

Me, scoffing: “Two Princess Nokia albums at once? She couldn’t quite sell an EP last time, and who does she think she is, Axl Rose? Bruce Springsteen? Reality: Dude, do you even remember 1992?

Me, scoffing: “Do we really need another complaining grrrrl punk outfit that didn’t check that other acts are called Mr. Wrong? Reality: YES.

I could end up having been correct on my first impulse, but I doubt it. Nothing below’s been FULLY road-tested but the top seven.

  1. Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven: We’re New Again–A Reimagining
  2. Kesha: High Road
  3. Grimes: Miss Anthropocene
  4. Fat Tony and Taydex:Wake Up
  5. Various Artists: New Improvised Music from Buenos Aires
  6. Princess Nokia: Everything Sucks
  7. The Good Ones: RWANDA, you should be loved
  8. K Michelle: All Monsters are Human
  9. The Third Mind: The Third Mind
  10. Mr. Wrong: Create a Place
  11. Princess Nokia: Everything is Beautiful
  12. Moses Sumney: grae
  13. Mythic Sunshine: Changing Shapes–Live at Roadburn
  14. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats: UNLOCKED
  15. Jennifer Curtis & Tyshawn Sorey: Invisible Ritual
  16. Shopping: All for Nothing
  17. Natural Child: California Hotel
  18. Etran de L’Air: Music from Saharan WhatsApp, Volume 1 (EP)
  19. MONO: Before The Past
  20. Swamp Dogg: Sorry You Couldn’t Make It
  21. Colin Stetson: Color Out of Space (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  22. Various Artists: Soul Jazz Records Presents Black Riot—Early Jungle, Rave, and Hardcore
  23. Wayne Phoenix: Soaring Wayne Phoenix Story The Earth
  24. Moses Boyd: Dark Matter
  25. Oumou Diabate et Kara Show Koumba Frifri: Music from Saharan WhatsApp, Volume 2 (EP)

 

An Embarrassment of Riches (April 18th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

A narrative-free day, but it was stuffed with very, very good music.

Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquist–I’ve loved Meshell since her shy and smoldering live rendition of “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” in the film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, but haven’t been held fast by any of her albums. That just changed. Cool and smart.

Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg–A labor of love for Lewis, who’s certainly a kind of son of the sorely-missed Fugs legend. I’m a Tuli nut myself, but the interpreter does some expert excavation here; the Beatles’ tweak “I Wanna Hold Your Foot” is new to me, and perfect. I will have to dream of what wonders he could’ve worked on “Nothing,” a classic begging to be updated, but I’ll settle. A great introduction to a genius who loved language, liberation, laughter–and (especially) fucking. Kupferbergian advice: “Try to be joyful.”

Shopping: The Official Body–Bratty offspring of a knee-trembler engaged in by Pylon and Gang of Four.

Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red–Complaints about her singing are nitpicking, and claims that this is “emo” (whatever that really is) are bogus. I hear someone’s even convened a panel to test it’s emo-ness. Such efforts strike me as artistic policing, which is exactly what this fascinating young artist doesn’t need. Me? I dig it. It’s definitely her, lane change be damned.

Ebo Taylor: Love and Death–I cannot get enough of this diligent, multitalented Ghanaian’s music, but I have struggled to helpfully describe it. It’s brighter, busier Afrobeat–imagine a very happy Fela.

One afternoon several years ago, I converted Nicole to The Grateful Dead (circa ’68-’73, just like me). She jammed on ’em today on the way home from work, mentioned how much she liked this song when she walked in the door, and it played on a loop in my head the rest of the day.

To the Queens (February 2nd, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Jazz has produced few spousal tributes as delicate, as deep, or as powerful as vibraphonist Walt Dickerson’s To My Queen, recorded on September 21, 1962, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey–Rudy Van Gelder behind the glass, of course.

Dickerson’s playing is concentrated and clear, conjuring a warm state of love that is varied, and constant. The 17-and-a-half minute title piece (above) gives the music a compositional framework that will stick to your ear’s (and mind’s) ribs, but allows plenty improvisational space–which with this unit is crucial. Besides Dickerson, the great Andrew Hill is on piano, and the young Andrew Cyrille (just before participating in a very different session with Cecil Taylor) and George Tucker, on drums and bass respectively, nearly steal the show from the leader. Keep your head inclined toward the speakers during the quieter passages, and you’ll be rewarded by Cyrille’s magically startling transitions out of them, and Tucker’s telepathic conversations with the leader during them. Keep this record in mind for Valentine’s Day.

Short-shrift Division:

In case you haven’t got the message already and are in search of albums that, end-to-end, won’t let you down, please trust me on these, each of which I have test-driven several times for y’all:

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart–You may not think you need to hear Hendryx singing Beefheart but you do: she transforms them. She’s playing his music so all the girls will come meet the monster tonight. And believe it or not, along with Lucas’ knife-point slide scraping aural graffiti onto the songs, you’ll get some stellar r&b/soul/doo-wop-styles ballads. You knew Van Vliet wrote those, right?*

Princess Nokia: 1992–Why rob yourself of the inspiring experience of listening to this young woman of color defiantly stepping to our current national ugliness–which she really never explicitly acknowledges–and backing it up several steps? After two listens, you’ll be chanting along with her, whether she’s repping for the streets of New York, vaunting her unconventional physique, abjuring recipes as she takes to the kitchen, coming right back at ’em after missing a layup, or pointedly taking her place with her fellow brujas.**

*Shrift not-so-short, doncha see?

**Which should tell you something.

 

January Top 10: Best of 2018 So Far

I realize that many of the choices below are actually releases from 2017, but they are fresh enough and so hard to have gotten one’s hands on that I’m-a have to count them. Happy hunting, and enjoy the above playlist of highlight tracks (excluding the Dawkins album, as no video was available.

  1. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  2. Princess Nokia: 1992
  3. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  4. CupcaKe: Ephora
  5. Ernest Dawkins: Transient Takes
  6. Rahim Alhaj: Letters from Iraq
  7. Moor Mother: Fetish the Bones
  8. Joey Badass: All-Amerikkkan Badass
  9. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  10. Ty Segall: Freedom’s Goblin

“That Girl’s a Tomboy!” (January 8, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I spent the first half of the day rearranging and alphabetizing about one-fourth of my CD collection–you don’t want to know how many that is. I was on the verge of despair, as I’d just lost the organizing thread about two years ago and had been having trouble finding things. It had started as a “new acquisitions” section, then turned into a Chinese dragon that wound out of the living room into the family room and back to the guest bedroom. I can hear you whispering, “This guy’s in trouble.” I did get the project finished, though, thanks to a big boost by Princess Nokia out of NYC, and the deluxe version of her new 1992 mixtape. Best new stuff I’ve heard in MONTHS; the kid’s got spunk, nips (which she actually praises in a verse), sass, brains, and talent. I was already in love with it when this came on and fixed the hook deep in my lip:

Sports, fast food, fashion, sex, school: she’s interesting about it all. She even convincingly brags about her physique, winningly, too, because by her own account she’s not BeyoncĂ© and could care less. I was actually hurt when the thing was over! I’d listened to Charli XCX’s Pop 2 just prior*–that youngster’s pretty good herself (very much assisted by sensational production), but the Princess knocked her out the box. I strongly suggest you download 1992 like now! This shit even motivated me to alphabetize my New Orleans shelf!

Short-shrift Division:

That wise old man Mose Allison dropped a killer-diller before he died, packed with his typical eye-twinkling wisdom: The Way of the World.

Makaya McCraven’s Highly Rare is even better, I think, than its predecessor. He’s got a thing: a cut ‘n’ paste jazz percussion jam style with a bewitching groove. No surprise this is out of Chicago.

Now I’m listening to Smithsonian’s Letters from Iraq, which is quieting and beautiful.

*The reader will notice I ate my veggies today (see yesterday’s entry) and am better for it.