Tag Archives: Damon Albarn

Sound Round: The Rough Guide to Latin Rare Groove / Africa Express

Grooves from Latin America and Northwest Africa

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Rare Latin Groove (Volume 1) (World Music Network, 2014)

The Rough Guide to Rare Latin Grove, Volume 1Like any other Rough Guide release, this sampler fits too many morsels onto one plate. Even as most of these fiesta-starters clock in at a brisk 3:30, the 19-song tracklist diminishes the music’s overall potency and weakens what would otherwise be a parade of taut rhythmic brilliance. My preferred playlist would ixnay the corny Spanish Fly number, the two-part Temptations tribute and the flaccid strut of Los Charly’s Orchestra. That widdles things down to 15 tracks, each as slick, tuneful and propulsive as the next. As the majority of these songs are in Spanish, I can only parse their meaning through rough translations of vague titles: “This Woman,” and “Everyone” are examples. Regardless, the lyrics are secondary. I don’t need Rosetta Stone to recognize a good melody – of which there are many – and I don’t need to understand verb conjugation to feel each of the jubilant percussions in the pit of my belly. Each worthy nugget is heavy on the groove, and heavier of feeling. ¡Bailamos! GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Esa Mujer” / “Todo El Mundo” / “Pensamiento”

Africa Express – Presents… Terry Riley’s in C Mali (Trangressive, 2014)

Africa Express - In C MaliHere is a style of art house minimalism I can grasp and put on repeat: beat savvy, fluid, unpretentious and hooky in a roundabout way. Terry Riley’s original In C was composed in 1964 with a simplistic construction despite its avant premise: Roughly 35 musicians perform 53 numbered sequences which range in duration from half a beat to 32 beats. Some renditions last a mere 20 minutes while others slog on for 90. This take, recorded by African musicians and produced in part by Blur’s David Albarn, runs 40:45 and never lags. The first movement is comprised of jittery percussive flourishes – a series of counter-rhythms and syncopations stack on top of each other to create a patchwork of grooves that are topped off synth fills and droning flutes. The second movement is as arid as the Sahara. Lutes, electronic samples and sporadic guitar riffs take over the grooves in time for the spoken-word intermission. The final movement meshes beasts and strings alike, as an ngoni (a wooden instrument that is the African equivalent to the banjo) furiously tries to outpace cascading drums in a duel to the finish line. Though no segment peaks, the music largely remains consistent, rarely bores and no section overstays its welcome. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Africa Express Presents… Terry Riley’s In C Mali”

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Sound ‘Round: Blur

Main courses from a career of appetizers. 

Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish (SBK, 1993)

Blur - Modern Life is RubbishWhere they struggled with identity and structure on their debut , here they find themselves reflected in the characters they concoct, and the mundane situations they place them in. There is Colin Zeal a well-dressed “modern retard” who takes pleasure in the corporate world and being punctual, or that sad bloke Julian who can’t take the pressures of professional adulthood. Sure the lyrics aren’t quite as caught up as the hooks, but sometimes hooks alone will suffice – especially when they are this focused and caffeinated. Still, the first great Blur record suffers from the same deadly sin as every other great Blur record – it’s too top heavy. While the first eight tracks remain some of the strongest, brattiest, punchiest tunes the band ever cooked up, with “Advert” being the punchiest of all, the back half becomes comatose after consuming too many TV dinners. A holiday would have suited them well.  GRADE: A- 

Key Tracks: Advert” “For Tomorrow” “Sunday Sunday
Blur – Think Tank (Virgin, 2003)

Blur - think tankOf course Damon Albarn had “nuthin’ to be scared of,” as he declared in the opening struts of “Ambulance.” With guitarist Graham Coxon calling it quits during the album’s recording sessions, Albarn was liberated from the obligation of making a prototypical Blur record. So he traded his house in the country for a shack in Morocco and got funky with loops and synths on an album I’ve always considered Gorillaz 2.0 sans the hypnotic weirdness. These are dub songs meant for those who feed on apathy and ecstasy. The drug anthems may be the immediate quick fixes thanks to some of the more intricate musicianship found on a Blur record, but it’s Albarn’s ballads which have held up over the previous decade. The anti-war song “Out of Time” features a Moroccan symphony and adds a flavorful perspective to his Cockney point of view, while “Battery in Your Leg,” the only track which features Coxon’s guitar, finds Albarn sadly, yet peacefully, toasting the difficult friendship that helped define him. But the tenderest tribute comes on “Sweet Song,” the album’s centerpiece, where Albarn whispers “Come back again, I just believed in you.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Sweet Song” “Battery In Your Leg” “Out of Time