In the ‘70s, New Orleans native Mac Rebennack reinvented himself as Dr John Creux and immediately cornered the voodoo psychedelic jazz-rock swamp-boogie funk market once and for all. Over time his otherworldly outlook tamed into adult jazz with all its muzak implications and only the slightest hint of edge, but the flooding of his hometown in 2005 and the political response to Hurricane Katrina set something off in the Night Tripper. Focus made a welcome return.
With Locked Down the renaissance is well and truly complete. The album, a collaboration with The Black Keys’ Dan Auebach who also produced, is easily his best album in decades and an unequivocal career highlight for the 72-year-old. Every track oozes loose-limped jive as you’d expect, but Auebach’s piercing, scratchy and well-placed riffing adds a dimension and sense of purpose not seen since Dr John’s collaborations with The Meters (Right Place, Right Time). Instead of the keyboards being front and centre as is usually the case with Dr John records, they’re buried amongst horns, thumbing bass, occasional spurts of Fela Kuti (Ice Age) and street-band woozy (Big Shot). Hopefully the name recognition of Auebach will open Dr John to a wider and younger audience, because the veteran deserves as much attention as possible. There’s a sense of daring and accomplishment on Locked Down elevating it above the competition – of which there is none.
From their hasty sounding band name to their just post-teen ages to their wacky videos to their genre-busting sounds, BADBADNOTGOOD are making a name for themselves in the global music scene and scored Coachella band-in-residence. With the release of their second album, BBNG2, they seem to have a promising future ahead. The band consists of Matt Tavares (piano), Chester Stone Hansen (bass), and Alex Sowinski (drums), who found some common musical ground at college in Toronto, Canada. These three guys seem to enjoy smashing together hip hop and jazz in a way that sounds as fresh as the fact that no one over 21 was involved in the making of the record.
The album includes several original tracks, which are moody, bold and energetic, combining bluesy solos, progressions, brutal improvisation and some serious behind-the-beat swagger. In Vices, Sowinski drops his ambitious beats over some attitudinal bass lines from Hansen. Rotten Decay rolls from a slippery, sloth-like state to a kind of jazz-doped euphoria. It’s very, very good. CHSTR, UWM (with silvery sax from Leland Whitty) and DMZ signal the band’s contemporary influences such as producers J Dilla and Tyler, the Creator, but still feature BBNG’s unique, jazz-informed interjections. With success, BBNG reinvent the likes of Gucci Mane, Kanye West and My Bloody Valentine. BBNG-does-James-Blake-does-Feist is infectious and the fat synths on CMYK add a new groove to the track. BBNG2 is like no other.
Hilltop Hoods have this amazing ability to produce an album that relies less on the strength of singular tracks and more on the album as a whole. Their sixth album, Drinking From the Sun,is no exception. The 14-track epic is stitched together brilliantly with three interludes. As soon as the first track, The Thirst Part One, begins, you know you are in for an epic treat. A slow vocal introduction, building to an epic crescendo that finally erupts into the album's title track.
The album is the culmination of 18 months of blood sweet and tears on the Hoods’ behalf. Working with more session musicians and guests than ever before, the Hoods manage to create a sound that transcends the hip hop genre, making it a thoroughly enjoyable listen for anyone. Guest musicians, including Charlie Tuna, Sia, Black Thought, Classified, Lotek and Solo, give the album a diverse sound, complementing the infectious chorus lines and elaborate rhymes of Pressure and Suffa, all the while backed up by the incredibly tight production of DJ Debris. The album sounds huge. You can hear every tiny piece of hard work and effort that has gone into its creation. Drinking From the Sun is a beautifully balanced tour de force which already has the makings of a classic, best enjoyed in its entirety from start to finish.
There are many female artists who’ve made inroads into my playlists recently, most notably Sharon Van Etten, Feist and Julianna Barwick. Alabama Shakes are a four-piece band, three of whom are men, but their lead singer Brittany Howard is what counts them among that group.
Alabama Shakes have been touring in a van since they formed in high school, thumping out their crackling garage blues-rock along the way. Boys & Girls, their debut, is an earthy statement of purpose and has secured them the supporting slot on Jack White’s upcoming world tour. There are plenty of crashing cymbals and invigorating guitar riffs but Howard’s voice is the guiding light. Some bastard amalgam of Ella Fitzgerald’s soulful croon and Janis Joplin’s violent rasp, it takes this album’s brawling blues-rock and gives it the body and soul one in a thousand singers can.
The songs cover familiar lyrical and sonic territory. Blessed souls, letting somebody love you and getting to the Promised Land all get mentions. Some of the songs are so familiar you could swear you’d heard them before on Seventies classics collections. What shines through is that you haven’t heard them done this well. Unfortunately, the best renditions of some tracks are actually the ones on YouTube. Watching Howard belt these songs out live is watching this thing done proper. You can only blame the studio for the occasionally lacklustre mixing—that and buy a ticket if they come to Oz.
Brisbanites the Casey brothers and their mates have hopped aboard the current pop craze with a summer vibe in this captivating debut. Rich and vibrant, the songs travelled all the way from pre-production on a Central Coast farm to being mixed at the famous Abbey Road studios. There’s a lot of deep and meaningful stuff behind the lyrics (why are we here and how do we want to be remembered?), but you have to listen hard as it’s swamped by the super catchy melodies that sweep all before them. These danceable beats are artfully constructed, showing an imagination that casts off common notions of pop as something clean and simple in its construction. The boys use a layered approach, where vocals and instruments come through with varying levels of clarity, adding pizzazz and depth to the sound. Zoom, the opening track and album single, is riddled with infectious riffage. It pays homage to past technology, with a beginning and end like the start and stop of a blurry cassette tape. The love of lo-fi comes across in all tracks, including I Can’t Help You, with its jumbled sounds and an inclination for fuzziness. Sunday Night is a tropical cocktail of a song with Hawaiian shirt overtones, while Andy is as bright as a Jamaican tin drum. You can be sure every gig is a dance party.
There are certainly very few bands currently operating who have a discography the size and depth of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s. This latest offering, Aufheben, represents the band's 15th studio album since forming in the early ‘90s in San Francisco. It's easily arguable that a band in this position doesn't really have anything left to prove, with this latest collection seeing TBJM frontman Anton Newcombe and his ever-shifting cast of musicians gliding along in seemingly effortless fashion. While there's apparently an underlying 2012 apocalyptic theme at play here, reflected in both the Voyager plate sleeve art and the title, a German word with multiple meanings including 'abolish', it isn't something that's immediately apparent in the lyrics. There's a noticeable Krautrock influence at play on tracks such as opener Panic In Babylon, which grafts Middle Eastern instrumentation onto a stiff rhythmic groove that calls to mind Can's Vitamin C. Viholliseni Maalla meanwhile calls to mind Stereolab's dreamy Euro-exotica. As Eliza Karmasalo's Finnish vocals glide against chiming guitars and shuffling jazz snares, massed background vocals bleed through the mix. And the propulsive Waking Up To Hand Grenades sees dance rhythms locking into place beneath a buoyant bass groove that's half punk-funk, half Happy Mondays-style rave-up. As is customary by now with The BJM, there's a sense of a band wandering through their extensive record collections and using the contents as a jumping off point for inspiration and real creativity rather than simple homage. If aliens ever actually find this album and trace it to the Voyager plate (see the next issue's accompanying interview), they're certainly going to be offered the perfect overview of the last 40 year's developments in rock/pop. Another characteristically strong album from The BJM; think of the 11 songs here as the perfect appetiser for the band's upcoming Australian tour.
The former Nightranger/Damn Yankees protagonist enjoys such a mighty renaissance it’s tempting to call him Da Vinci. Really, that’s not overstating the case. Despite reaching an age where most superannuated stadium rockers are happy to place their bony buttocks on some convenient laurels and reflect on glories long since evaporated into sepia-tinged memory, Blades has come up with something of a minor hard rock masterpiece with Back in the Game. The title track Rock ‘n’ Roll Ride and Back in the Game are good enough for starters, but by track three, the utterly gobsmacking arena rock of Born for This, Blades has worked up such a head of steam he makes the Flying Scotsman look like the little red engine that could.
This truly is a delirious return to the man’s mid-‘80s best, but he ain’t done there, topping even that piece of excellence with the lighters-in-the-air hysteria-stoker that is Hardest Word to Say. Throw in a bit of Beatles pastiche (Blades has always fancied himself as a bit fab, and Anything for You is one of his better Liverpudlian homages, albeit in a sort of Traveling Wilburys kinda way) and the Survivor-ish Love Life, and what you have truly is Blades back at his polished, stadium-levelling best, and if you love a bit of retro hard rock every now and then you will not – that’s NOT – hear better this year.