Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Drone Zone: Congrotronics!

I think it's important to make forays outside of one's standard listening habits by trying new genres and styles of music. But it's one thing to say, "I need to find more good jazz", or "I wonder what the ten best dub albums are"; it's another thing entirely when the genre that interests you is not a genre but an entire continent. Other than the mighty, mighty Fela Kuti, Ali Farka Touré, and a couple of the popular Éthiopiques compilations, I know almost nothing about the countless varieties of African music. So, shame on me, and my apologies to Asia, the other continent I have yet to explore musically (does Antarctica count?).

This brilliant compilation has gotten me all worked up about Congolose street music. I will admit that the participation of Animal Collective was the thing that piqued my attention, but each and every track brings this wild, rolling, rhythmic, distorted, pulsing, joyous style of music to life. Featuring Western indie/electronic covers, remixes, and adaptations of Congrotronics vanguard artists like Konono Nº 1 and the Kasai Allstars, Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers shows just how much the West has already absorbed from this style of music; it seems that the Animal Collective discovered these artists years ago and have been trying to recreate their electric street hootenanny ever since.

This track, a reinterpretation of Konono Nº 1's "Kule Kule" by Bear Bones, Lay Low, spends a few minutes in deep, distorted bass grime before morphing into a shifting, insistent polyrhythmic space drone. It sounds utterly modern and as primal as Pangaea at the same time. Play it loud!

Bear Bones, Lay Low, "Kuletronics":

West Coast Psych: Tame Impala

This album is on super heavy rotation here at Medium Rotation, where anything with anvil-heavy riffs and strong melodies moves to the front of the class. The 70s-style art looks like a Can cover gone pastoral, but inside is a platter which takes the image of clouds vanishing into infinity and translates it into wispy tunes which float over the much, much heavier guitar riffage. Which is a neat trick: it rocks, and sometimes rocks hard, but the vocal lines, in a type of stoner rock counterpoint, float above and give the heavy a creamy frosting.

Tame Impala are from Perth, Australia, which is not quite the West Coast implied in the title of this post. But these guys don't really sound much like 60s/70s California psych-rock too much; there's much less noodling. Instead, they channel the best melodic heavy rock of the last four decades: the Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Ride, Dinosaur Jr., Black Mountain, Queens of the Stone Age, Dungen. If you like any of theses bands, give Tame Impala a listen, and turn it up.

The whole album is great, though it's pretty hard to find a physical copy at present. Here's one of their lighter tracks.

Tame Impala, "Alter Ego":

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Neon Indian: "Deadbeat Summer"

Things are starting to warm up here in LA, so that means it's time to kick out the summer jams. This track is by Neon Indian, a.k.a. Texan Alan Palomo. Part of the current artistic trend of squeezing 80s radio sounds through a laptop and transforming them into bubbly electropop, Neon Indian could share a bill with Washed Out or Ariel Pink, but secretly I bet he would rather be reincarnated as a lo-fi Prince circa 1981 or 1982. Synth squiggles abound, and if the lyrical content is on the hazy side (sample song titles: "Laughing Gas", "Should Have Taken Acid With You"), the beeps and funky blips keep the music fun, and I especially like the way this guy makes a laptop sound like an old boombox. This track is from the highly enjoyable Psychic Chasms. Look out for Neon Indian's recent collaboration with the Flaming Lips as well.

Neon Indian, "Deadbeat Summer":