[You can check in with Ralph here.]
Beak>, >>>: I’m a ride or die Geoff Barrow fan. His body of work is a veritable cornucopia of resonant analog bleakness that hits me in all the right spots. I’m talking back to back bangers! From the iconic Portishead to his Stones Throw Records hip hop project Quakers, to his work with droll german/britt singer Anika. The dude has been dropping nonstop flames for a solid 2 decades, not to mention his soundtrack work with Ben Salisbury. In 2018 him and fellow shredders Will Young & Billy Fuller (who apparently plays with Robert Plant) hit us with the Beak> album>>> (not to be confused with their 2012 release:>>) and guess what? IT FUCKING SLAPS! It’s a moody 10 song hypnotic black hole that could work as the soundtrack to a late 70’s sci-fi art film about the end of the world. Think Vangelis’s Bladerunner soundtrack, Can, John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, Dr. Who, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop with maybe a splash of Joy Division. It’s a great rainy day album. It’s been in heavy rotation in my lab & is proving to be a prescient soundtrack to this slow-moving apocalypse. Thanks, Geoff.
Rocket Juice & The Moon, s/t: I’m also a diehard Damon Albarn fan. The guy is just full of killer ideas and has this ability to pull together these wicked collaborations. Back In 2008 someone played a song for me called “Hey Shooter.” The song featured Albarn on keys Tony Allen on drums, The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, Flea on bass, and Erykah Badu on vocals. I mean goddamn! The project was called Rocket Juice and The Moon. The nucleus of this one-shot supergroup was Albarn, Allen, & Flea and it features a revolving cast of collaborators. After hearing “Hey Shooter” I was hyped on the IDEA of the group but for whatever reasons, I hadn’t heard much else. I didn’t see the record on shelves anywhere, I didn’t hear anyone talk about it. It was akin to seeing a shooting star that no one else saw. But then sometime last year on a random trip to the record store with Damon Locks, we happened across a copy of the full length. A beautiful gatefold album featuring killer cover art by Ogunajo Ademola. It’s been in my steady rotation ever since. It’s a great record chock full of ill grooves & It has a fantastic looseness to it. It feels as if Albarn, Allen, and Flea went into a studio, hit the record button & just jammed then went back & added collaborators. This album also introduced me to the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. I love her voice. I’d be remiss not to mention that the album has one major shortcoming. The fucking rapping. M.anifest is the Ghanaian emcee featured on a good portion of this record, he’s not a bad rapper by any means, but every song he’s featured on is GREAT until he barges in and starts unnecessarily rapping all over it. Imagine you’re on a road trip, vibing to your favorite tune, the best part of the song is about to drop, heerrrre it comes in 1…2..thr. NOPE the voice of google maps disrupts your whole shit like “IN 500 FEET TAKE EXIT 3B” That’s what the rapping does on this otherwise beautiful album. Fortunately, there are enough great ideas on the Rocket Juice & The Moon record to keep me on board. The song “Benko” is by far my favorite. It’s a short melancholy masterpiece.
Little Dragon, New Me, Same Us: Speaking of melancholy masterpieces, this new Little Dragon record has been a great counterweight to the times. While the Beak> album feels like a soundtrack to the downfall of our dystopia, the new Little Dragon record feels more like a colorful lush reimagining of the world. Not so much subject-wise but sonically. Of all the newer records I’ve been listening to lately, New Me, Same Us is definitely the most lyrically personal and most polished production-wise. Yukimi Nagano has a voice like chocolate: it’s sweet, it’s rich, it’s comforting and if you had no idea what she looked like you’d ask yourself “Is this a Black lady?” Also, I don’t want to get so hung up on her voice that I ignore the rest of the band because these cats can write some beautifully textured songs. Little Dragon was also one of the first bands I saw do an online concert back in the early stages of the pandemic and they’ve really managed to keep doing cool things online since they were unable to tour in support of their new record. I love this band and this album. They’ve been kind of a beacon in this mess. Now here’s some word association: Swedish, alternative, r&b, synths, dance, trip hop-ish.A.K. Paul, Landcrusin: This one’s a bit of a cheat because it’s not actually a full-length album. It’s only a single. But I have to insist on including it in my Day’s Plays because I’ve been bumping it HARD for about almost a year now nonstop. Here’s how it started. Fact magazine is a UK publication that focuses on electronic music, hip hop, and experimental music. They started a series on their youtube channel called Re:cover where they feature an artist or band and have them cover a song. One of these videos was a band I’d never heard of called The Okumu, Herbert, Skinner trio covering A.K. Paul’s Landcruisn which I’d also never heard. But I thought the dudes looked cool & I knew Fact usually had some pretty interesting content so I figured I’d give it a shot. I absolutely LOVED IT! I don’t know what it is, that catchy-ass riff, the killer tone of each instrument, the clear technical acumen of the players, the trio’s cool aesthetic vibes. the song just “got me.” But it didn’ stop there, I HAD to hear the original and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint. Imagine if Prince and D’angelo decided they wanted to produce a Devo song. Yes it is absolutely as cool as it sounds.
Reggae Anthology: Niney Observer – Roots With Quality: This 40 song, double LP is full of bangers. A collection of tunes by various artists produced by criminally underrated reggae pioneer Winston Holness aka Niney Observer. It explodes out the gate with the tune voiced by Niney himself, “Blood & Fire.” 70‘s roots reggae was rife with “fire and brimstone end times”-type songs. I consider “Blood & Fire” to be a flagship example of this sort of tune, lyrically evoking the wrath of Old Testament God but juxtaposing it against a tonally pleasant tapestry. It feels very appropriate and on brand with the times we’re currently living in which is probably why it’s been getting a lot of play from me as of late. The album also features a few singers I had never heard before. My favorite has to be Sang Hugh & The Lionaires. If you’re a person who is interested in early roots & dub reggae but don’t know a lot about it i’d definitely suggest this album.
Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble, Where future Unfolds: Where do I begin with this one? I spend a lot of time with Damon Locks so I’ve been fortunate enough to watch BME grow from an idea to a full blown experience. Like the last song on the album “From A Spark to a Fire.” If you have no context whatsoever, imagine the general vibe of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, nods to Eddy Gale’s Black Rhythm Happening album, a black choir, & elements of the early Rza or Madlib -style production. This record is phenomenal.
[You can hear Mark’s latest music here and here.]These are some records I’ve been listening pretty heavy to. Truly some of my absolute favorites. Some old and new. They’ve been regular features in my monthly DJ sets and, now due to the pandemic, my livestreamed Blues and the Abstract Truth. Some have been with me for 25 years, and a couple are new releases that I am so excited about and very grateful for. Instead of adding my own commentary for each selection, I think it’s best to let them speak for themselves. I’ve included lyrics and text from these incredible documents. They uplift and speak to a greater consciousness than I could ever communicate.Selection #1: Archie Shepp, Attica Blues (1972): “Attica Blues / Invocation: Attica Blues”
“I got a feeling that something ain’t going right, and I’m worried about the human soul. I got a feeling…”
“If I would have had the chance to make a decision, every man could walk this earth on equal condition. Every child could do more than just dream of a star. All the death and strife would cease, and I would put an end to war.”
“Only when nature doesn’t take it’s natural toll, am I worried for the human soul. Some people think that they are in their rights when on command they take a black man’s life. But let me give a rundown on how I feel… If it ain’t natural, than it ain’t real. I wish I were better.”
Members, don’t get weary Members, don’t get weary Members, don’t get weary For the work’s ‘mos’done.
O’keep your lamp trimmed and burning O’keep your lamp trimmed and burning O’keep your lamp trimmed and burning For the work’s ‘mos’done.
We’ll go down to the river Jordan We’ll go down to the river Jordan We’ll go down to the river Jordan When our work is done.
We’re going to sit at the welcome table We’re going to sit at the welcome table We’re going to sit at the welcome table When our work is done.
We’re going to feast on the milk and honey We’re going to feast on the milk and honey We’re going to feast on the milk and honey When our work is done.
We’re going to march with the tallest angel We’re going to march with the tallest angel We’re going to march with the tallest angel When our work is done.
Members, don’t get weary Members, don’t get weary Members, don’t get weary For the work’s ‘mos’done.
Negro Spiritual. Sung by Andy BeySelection #3: Joe Henderson featuring Alice Coltrane, The Elements(1973): “Earth”
Time Time Time Time the suffocator of the moment now dreams of tomorrow where we will find the missing pieces and on a new journey to wholeness Time Time Time Peace Love Hope moving on the wings of the moment now Time Time Time children of the soil rejoice yesterday was tomorrow never is Time is now Time Time is only love
Again comes the rising of the sun Another day when we’ve begun The unfinished chores of yesterday We set about to find our way We always finish and begin We go through life until the end And here are the things we do
We build it up, and tear it down We start all over, and make it round We can make it short, make it long Before we know it, our time is gone But tomorrow is always another day Yes we’ll keep going the same old way
But again comes the rising of the sun Another day when our work has begun We look for the better things in life Seeking to find an answer day and night Always studying and planning to make a profit And in the end we sometimes wonder if it’s worth it
And here are the things we do We build it up, and tear it down We start all over, and make it round We can make it short, make it long Before we know it, our time is gone But tomorrow is always another day Yes we’ll keep going the same old way
“Stay on it.” “At what point do we stand up? At what point do we stand up? At the breaking point? At the point of no return? At what point? At what point do we pull each other up out of the void… up out of the hell… at one point? At what point do we give a shit – do we stand up and say something? When we go off script… and step out of the daze. Dumbfounded daze… when we step out of the daze… dumbfounded daze… return back to the now. At what point?”
“Safety is in question. As the future unfolds in rapid succession. We walk in a rhythmic procession. The morning has transformed. Regression. Built up heights of depression. How can it stand? Declarations, demonstrations. Statement of intent. I will tell you what we want. What is the thing that makes you feel like your heart is growing? We want to see light touching surfaces. We want to see light touching surfaces. We want to see light touching surfaces. So we chose our next move. The time is now, it has always been. Respond anew. Pass the guard and get through. Because somethings never change. Black Monument.”
[You can listen to Damon’s latest music here and here.]
Keep your mind free is a phrase that stays ringing in my head. I orchestrated an evening of online performance and an image promoting decarceration with the same phrase. Thinking not only of those late nights when the weight of the new alternate pandemic lockdown dimension we found ourselves in pressed heavy but thinking of the people without my options. My students at Stateville Correctional Center remain in my brain while structuring correspondence classes as creative outlets, as escape, with the theme of liberation in the time of covid-19, inside of prisons, hoping to help them keep their minds free as the virus spreads. I purchased one new album in the first 2 months of the pandemic which served as a beautiful dream state inside a state of shock before the deaths of more Black people caused us to realize we never left our same racist dimension that we have always been in. Pandemic or no, the time is way overdue for structural change. Here are some records that are relevant to me some right now and some always. Thank you for reading. Love, Damon
Little Dragon’s new record is called, New Me, Same Us. This record just sat on my stereo getting flipped over and over. I am not sure where the magic of this record comes from, it just is. I paid for this record online and biked to the shop and picked it up curbside. It was a thrill to buy a record after a couple months.
Jeff Parker’s Suite For Max Brown is great. A sonic companion to his last record. Jeff’s concert was the last show I saw before the pandemic became the reality. It was a great show and it is a great record.
The Black Fairy is a record I have been looking for for a long time. I bought it a couple months ago after a long irl search. It is the songs from a theater piece done in the early 70s in Chicago about a Black fairy who loses her confidence because a little boy tells her fairies never help Black people and she has no power to make change. This is the story of how she regains herself.
Sit-In Songs w/ booklet. An instruction guide for sit-ins. See how the notes on the staff are stools? Come on!
Bernice Johnson Reagon is one of my inspirations. She was a member of The Freedom Singers who would perform at SNCC events in the height of the Civil Rights Era. The Freedom Singers set the template for how many singers I wanted in Black Monument. She later formed Sweet Honey In The Rock. This solo record uses the voice and her gospel training to address political issues. It’s a great record, very past, present, and future.
I’m very excited to have received my copy of The Eternals’ latest release, Approaching the Energy Field. If you’re not familar with their music, here’s the scoop: there are all manner of things cooking in their pot (dub, punk, jazz, soul, hip-hop, etc.) but what they serve up is far greater than its ingredients. This is first-rate music, amenable to any listener who cares as much about music as s/he does the broader state of things.
Damon Locks and Wayne Montana have been playing together for over two decades, and though they’ve occasionally performed and recorded in groups extending beyond their current duo lineup, this new set of tunes strikes me as their finest work to date, not only for its performances, arrangements, and guest players, but further because they’ve hit their stride as a directorial unit, equally adept and focused at every stage of this record’s development, from writing to arranging to recording to mixing. Provocative, thoughtful, driving, ambitious, urgent – this record is an event.