October 15, 2010

Rokia Traoré Bowmboï
African folk music, singer-songwriter

Malian Rokia Traoré’s self-produced third album, the lovely Bowmboï, is a collection of African folk songs delivered via classical acoustic guitar, traditional African instrumentation and Traoré’s remarkable voice. Singing in her native Bamana language, she delivers a ten track set that is calm, relaxing and beautiful in its simplicity. The Rokia Traoré - Bowmboïmusic is fleshed out through some earthy percussion and fine string augmentation (courtesy on two tracks of The Kronos Quartet) which gives the album a bustling, spritely sound, which feels quite active and vibrant, but never steps over the line into any degree of tense urgency. The percussion in particular is highly impressive – dynamic, multi-layered and very nimbly performed, it is nonetheless carefully tempered such that it never overshadows any other element of the music. Most importantly, it doesn’t overshadow Traoré’s incredibly beguiling vocal, one of the most gorgeous and transfixing I’ve heard all decade. There’s something undeniably transportative about the music, such that I find myself swept up and totally immersed in Traoré’s world every time I press play. As far as highlights go, the album is bookended remarkably well. The opening four tracks provide a feast of brilliant material, with “M’Bifo”, “Sara” and “Köte Don” making for a lively trio and the exquisite “Mariama” featuring a lovely guest vocal from Malian legend Ousmane Sacko as a counterpart to Traoré, while the title-track closes the album with exceptional grace.




October 13, 2010

Greg Ashley Medicine Fuck Dream
folk, singer-songwriter, psychedelic-rock

Greg Ashley, the talented young Oakland-based singer/songwriter and leader of critically acclaimed side project The Gris Gris, was just twenty-one years old when Medicine Fuck Dream, his debut album of sleepy psychedelic folk, was first released. I usually try to exercise a bit of caution when it comes to praising debuts by young artists, as there’s a culture of “next big thingism” in online music criticism that, as far as I’m concerned, tends to do more harm than good, burning out promising groups with unneccessary hyperbole and unreasonable expectations for followups that’ll never measure up. Having given Medicine Fuck Dream plenty of time and attention, however, I can honestly say this is one of the best debuts of the decade, and Ashley really deserves to be getting a lot more attention than he currently receives. Combining stripped-back, acoustic instrumentation with authentic vintage recording equipment, Ashley has achieved a very well-realised tone on this album, creating a warm, gauzy sound that’s immediately reminiscent of first-wave psychedelic acts of the mid-1960s, such as Skip Spence and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. What’s important to note, though, is that this approach doesn’t completely tie the record down to a particular time-period. There’s a lot of personality and creativity in this music, and the result is an album that actually sounds quite displaced and timeless. Medicine Fuck Dream commences with the quartet of “Karen Loves Candy”, “Medicine Fuck Dream”, “Mona Rider” Greg Ashley - Medicine Fuck Dreamand “Deep Deep Down”, all drowsy numbers that sound very contemplative in their lysergic slumber and combine beautifully to establish a desolate, late-night atmosphere. The remainder is divided between comfortable psych-folk cuts (the breezy “She” and “Legs Coca Cola” both sound like long-lost classics), a detour into dusty country balladeering with a lovely cover of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway” and the contrasting levity of “I Said, ‘These Are Lonely Days'” and “Apple Pie and Genocide”. Worthy of special mention is the title-track, which includes a memorable arpeggiated guitar riff and some nice ghostly harmonica touches floating in the background. It’s definitely my favourite track on the album and one of the decade’s finest psych-folk songs.



October 8, 2010

Ned Collette Future Suture
folk, singer-songwriter

Ned Collette - Future SutureFuture Suture feels like a logical progression from Collette’s debut, Jokes and Trials. Retaining that first album’s sense of intimacy and warmth, Collette expands his sonic palate, fleshing out his guitar-based sound with extra instrumentation – not merely touches of strings, woodwind, brass, etc, though these are present, but also with full-band arrangements that give these songs a really broad, vivid sound, pushing the album in a more outward-reaching direction that makes for an interesting variation from the more insular approach of his debut. The recording is also significantly more crisp and professional, and this complements the fuller sound well. As with Jokes and Trials, Collette’s Cohenesque lyricism is a major selling point, and lines like the slightly sinister “Until you show your cards we’ll sing your praises” (“Show Your Hand”) and the weary resignation in “I’ll swap with you right now a good plan for a fling” (“Sell Your Life”, also my favourite track) are really sharply affecting. With just nine tracks – perfectly sequenced and without the slightest dip in quality – Future Suture is very pleasingly economical, and with its poetic lyrics and the fine musical details littered generously throughout, it’s one of the most highly replayable albums of the decade. I’ve had a lot of time for Collette’s work over the last five years, and Future Suture is further evidence that he stands out as one of Australia’s finest musicians, and a leading light in the singer-songwriter genre.



October 7, 2010

David Thomas Broughton The Complete Guide to Insufficiency
singer-songwriter, folk

There aren’t many albums which sound like The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, for a few reasons. To start with, the entire forty minute set – consisting of 5 lengthy tracks – was recorded in a continuous single take, which allows for a very smooth and consistent flow that makes single-sitting listenings very rewarding. Secondly, the recording was done inside an empty church, meaning that there’s a very spacious quality about the sound, allowing Broughton’s vocal to really echo through the recording space in a way that’s quite haunting, David Thomas Broughton - The Complete Guide to Insufficiencylending the album something of a gothic, chamber-folk angle. It beautifully augments his soft, acoustic guitar playing, the vast expansiveness perfectly enveloping the very sparse play-style, spotlighting Broughton’s aptitude for crafting highly delicate, memorable guitar lines – structured around the use of loops and slight variations on repeating themes – that really manipulate the listener into a particular emotional state. Really, though, the main reason that there aren’t many album’s like David Thomas Broughton’s debut, is because absolutely nobody sounds like David Thomas Broughton. The man’s singing is simply a marvel to behold – soulful and deep, yet blessed with impressive range, he delivers his songs in a near-operatic style which is melancholy and beautiful and utterly absorbing, making use of cryptic, repeated phrasings that fascinate you and get stuck in your head, tempting you to dissect and interpret them at every turn. From the first moments of “Ambiguity” – which opens the album and stands as its finest track and one of the best songs of the decade – I find myself absolutely hypnotised by this wonderful, idiosyncratic artist.