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Columbiafrica - The Mystic Orchestra

Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land

(Riverboat; US: 11 Sep 2007; UK: 10 Sep 2007)

Review [24.Oct.2007]

40


This Colombian love letter to classic African guitar pop is a grand mélange of two continents, everything coming together in a fizzed-up dizzy multicountry crash of instruments, singers, chants, and shout-outs. Styles several decades old emerge invigorated and champeta‘s South American reinvention of the musicians’ African ancestry comes close to a modern apotheosis. It took them three years of work to sound this spontaneous. Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land is at its best when you listen to it all the way through. The album is a rapid and rich tapestry. Single tracks don’t do it justice. Deanne Sole


Colombiafrica: The Mystic Orchestra - Kumina





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Okkervil River

The Stage Names

(Jagjaguwar; US: 7 Aug 2007; UK: 24 Sep 2007)

Review [7.Aug.2007]

39


The Stage Names recalls the best attributes of those self-important rock-star-blues albums of the ‘70s (think: Neil Young’s On the Beach, Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty, or Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses) while avoiding the pitfalls. No matter how much you love those records—and, boy, do we ever—it can still be tough to identify with their woe-is-me whining about demanding tour schedules and unlimited impersonal sex with groupies. But whereas those records were predicated on the idea of massive fame as an isolating device, and of “the road” as a catch-22 of community and loneliness, The Stage Names is born of the more accessible frustrations of “some mid-level band” who’s “been driving too long”. Austin’s Okkervil River have, with their fourth full-length, crafted a road record that manages to be unreserved in its confessionalism without being trapped by the irony of what Neil Young mournfully called the “love art blues”. And, part of the fun here is that frontman Will Sheff knows it: he playfully spies a “blonde in the bleachers” at one point, and even recalls Joni’s old fear about the dangers of holding “the hand of a rock ‘n’ roll man” for too long. Great songwriting, gorgeous melodies (“A Girl in Port” is arrestingly beautiful), clever allusions, and dedicated performances define this among the best rock ‘n’ roll records of the year. Stuart Henderson


MP3: Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe


Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe





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Battles

Mirrored

(Warp; US: 22 May 2007; UK: 14 May 2007)

Review [29.May.2007]

38


It should have come as a surprise to no one when Battles went and released a debut full-length that completely trumped its impressive preceding EPs. Conjured of a bag of tricks befitting of band of multi-instrumentalists, Mirrored is an irresistible, spasmodic carousel of human virtuosity and technological mastery. The album saw the addition of vocals, but in reality Tyondai Braxton’s incomprehensible warbles are just another instrument to add to the colourful maelstrom. The real progress is in the structuring: Mirrored, both as an album and its individual tracks, just seems to flow, and this brings a degree of satisfaction previously just out of reach of the band’s prior work. Crafting a noisy, edgy, messy, but always intricately arranged record, Battles achieve the admirable feat of making indie kids dance while exhibiting technical brilliance in all quarters. Chris Baynes


Battles - Tonto





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Terence Blanchard

A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina)

(Blue Note; US: 14 Aug 2007; UK: 13 Aug 2007)

37


Amazingly talented musicians abound in the jazz world, but only a precious few possess the cultural resources, political consciousness, and emotional depth to create a work of art as moving as Terence Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina).  Expanding on the hauntingly beautiful music he scored for Spike Lee’s HBO documentary When the Levees Broke, Blanchard captures the sound of sorrow distilled into mournful poetry. Ever present in his introspective blue notes are the people of New Orleans, those who survived the roaring waters, those the storm returned to the ancestral realm, and the yet unborn whose lives will be indelibly marked by this great disaster. Listen to the elegiac “Wading Through” or “Ashe” and you hear a New Orleans-born musician moved by a profound love for humanity and a deep understanding of the jazz spirit. Claudrena N. Harold


Terence Blanchard & Metropole Orchestra - Funeral Dirge





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El-P

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

(Definitive Jux; US: 20 Mar 2007; UK: 19 Mar 2007)

36


There are bigger things than hip-hop, something few hip-hop artists realize. What they forget is hip-hop’s birth as a movement in and around suffering. You could hear that suffering in Woody Guthrie’s talking-blues depression, the Bronx’s squalid open-air parties, the shots emanating from a white Cadillac on 7 September 1996, Eminem and MTV, and, if you ask me, the solo output and entrepreneurship of one Jaime Meline. No one has done more this decade to change the face and sound of hip-hop and to bring it back to its long-suffering roots than him. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is one of the most powerful records, hip-hop or otherwise, this year. It’s steeped in El-P’s usual post 9/11 dread, but it goes to emotional lengths that Fantastic Damage only played with. It’s a political record in that it reflects the times, but it doesn’t take sides. It may be bleak, but only because, as El-P says, he so badly wants happy – “We deserve that / Dream collapsing”. Gentry Boeckel


MP3: Smithereens


El-P - Flyentology





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Caribou

Andorra

(Merge; US: 21 Aug 2007; UK: 20 Aug 2007)

Review [23.Aug.2007]

35


In Andorra, Daniel Snaith constructed an impressively ambitious album of sonic diversity, showcasing in equal measures his ability to explore broad horizons and his ear for a sublime melody—not to mention some enviable skills at the helm of a drum kit. A veritable kaleidoscope of sounds, at times rooted in ‘60’s influences, at others, clever aural manipulation that is very much contemporary, Andorra‘s main strength is that it is equally comfortably trading in pared-down electronica as it is sun-kissed pop. Snaith’s snowy soft tenor is given more room to breathe than ever before, playing Beach Boy on “Melody Day” and choir boy on “Sandy”.  But it is still deep within the mix of a compellingly complex and multi-layered array of sound—both organic and synthetic—that seems curiously befitting of a man with a PhD in Maths. Chris Baynes


MP3: Melody Day


Caribou - Andorra mini documentary [BBC Collective]





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Animal Collective

Strawberry Jam

(Domino; US: 11 Sep 2007; UK: 10 Sep 2007)

Review [12.Sep.2007]

34


The band previously known for its arch experimentalism made one of the year’s best, most inventive pop records. Strawberry Jam is not only Animal Collective’s most accessible record, it’s got to be in consideration for their best, as well. From the complex rhythmic interplay of “For Reverend Green” to the soft-eyed wonder of “Fireworks”, the Brooklyn group found over and over the perfect marriage of experimentation and pop explicitness. For this they may have taken over the reins of Radiohead in pushing and extending indie fans’ musical appreciation, making us all more sophisticated in the process. At its heart, Strawberry Jam is a carefree celebration, it delights in the strangeness and wonder of the world, and in this is remarkably optimistic. Don’t be deterred by Avey Tare’s occasionally-screechy vocals—both they and the music has been much toned down from the band’s earlier, tribal/ noise work. Instead, Animal Collective have entered the rarefied territory of pop, bringing a new meaning to the word in their own weird, wonderful way. Dan Raper


MP3: Peacebone


Animal Collective - Peacebone





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Wilco

Sky Blue Sky

(Nonesuch; US: 15 May 2007; UK: 14 May 2007)

Review [13.May.2007]

33


Go ahead and pile on Wilco, as some have done, for not extending the Midwestern Radiohead comparisons and making Sky Blue Sky their Amnesiac. Do so, however, and you might overlook the quiet soul present in Jeff Tweedy’s voice or the newfound, albeit guarded optimism in his songwriting (most notably realized on “Either Way” and “What Light”). Also not to be ignored is that Sky Blue Sky presents compelling evidence that this Wilco lineup is the most versatile and gifted incarnation of the band to date, able to stop on a dime and completely alter the mood, tone and tempo of a given track. Leading the instrumental charge is guitarist Nels Cline whose work throughout the album is nothing short of transcendent. When Wilco’s history is written, Sky Blue Sky is doubtful to achieve the reverence of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot but it’s a worthy addition to the excellent canon. Aarik Danielsen


MP3: What Light


Wilco - Sky Blue Sky





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Panda Bear

Person Pitch

(Paw Tracks; US: 20 Mar 2007; UK: Available as import)

Review [25.Mar.2007]

32


If ever there was an album that could, should we have to call on it, repel the forces of Satan from invading the warm, lush prairies of Earth, Person Pitch, the third solo effort by Animal Collective’s Panda Bear (nee Noah Lennox), would have to be it. Combining elements as disparate as dub, electronic, folk, and classic rock [insert Brian Wilson reference here], Person Pitch is a gorgeous, breathtaking record that works in effect to both uplift the spirit and transfigure it. From the cozy campfire singalong of “Comfy in Nautica”, to the sheer ambient majesty of “Search for Delicious”, Lennox has single-handedly crafted that rarest of creatures: a pop album that is both experimental and deeply moving. A masterpiece, pure and simple. Karl Birmelin


MP3: Comfy in Nautica


Panda Bear - Bros





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Shantel

Disko Partizani

(Crammed; US: 9 Oct 2007)

31


With Disko Partizani and Shantel’s ProTools genius, the crowd enjoying the folk music of Romania continues to grow. Not wanting to repeat himself with a third edition of Bucovina, Shantel accomplished the most daunting task imaginable in this genre: making an accessible pop record with tubas, trumpets and dumbeks. Once again he has succeeded. Describing the process of production to be “like a movie”, the entire album plays out like a soundtrack to a life lived well. His concern for the vanishing traditional music of the Balkans created an emotional response that hits the hips and heart hard. And our response remains among the greatest of human pleasures: to dance. Derek Beres


Shantel - Disko Partizani



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