Curated for each issue of Content by Needle to the Groove, Album Picks highlight the work of a variety of musical artists.
Con Todo El Mundo
(Night Time Stories)
Release Date: January 26, 2018
A few years ago, I picked up The Universe Smiles Upon You, the debut LP from Khruangbin, off of a recommendation from a friend. All I can say is: buy it and file it. This unique Texas psych band layers sparse, airy vocals over gorgeous arrangements of head-nodding, cinematic instrumentals. On their newest LP, Con Todo El Mundo, they continue that lovable, walking-tempo, slow-burner vibe that sparks and soothes the ears every listen. They understand creativity and songwriting like few other bands. The fusion of psych, soul, Thai pop, funk, kosmische musik, and blues creates transcendent, colorful grooves, emulating a dream-like state of rhythm and melodic genius.
It takes a special ensemble of songwriters and musicians to thrive without a lead singer, and there is no doubt that instrumental music gets play. The instruments are the voice. The guitarist is absolutely sublime and plays so many styles so beautifully, it is difficult to describe it in words. There are so many amazing moments on this record that every time I listen to it, I have a new favorite track.
Currently, I’m drawn to the slow groovers, like “Rules,” “A Hymn,” “Lady and Man,” but “Maria También” is also great, with an upbeat in the pocket rhythm section, subtle percussions, and a funky Eastern-influenced guitar riff. Front to back, this is hands down a record you must own if you give a damn about collecting vinyl in 2018. It will be difficult for another band to top this LP this year, but don’t take my word for it. Buy it.
Rerelease Date: January 29, 2017
Of all the many, many records the prolific artist Mark E. Smith made with dozens of members of the always-revolving and devolving Fall family over the last 30 years, Slates was the one that first bewitched me. Just a six-song EP—originally released in 1981, full of booze-fueled tongue darts and speed-head genius—this is music like no other. Halfway through “Prole Art Threat,” I was transfixed. What were these adverse, uncompromising, slanted, and slagged sounds searing through my speakers? The words spat and drawled like some unique code to be deciphered. I must crack it. I must crack the code. “Get out the pink-press threat file.” Repetitious dagger riffs punctured by the bark and bite of a Manchester language detective—the boy is like a tape loop.
Take “An Older Lover,” a brutal and brilliant piss-take, anti-romance warble. “Dr. Annabel lieeeeeeeeees.” Simple yet confusing, bleak yet loose, I hear the hum at 3am. I must crack the code. All six songs are their own distinct and extinct universe, shackled and ramshackled. “Leave the Capitol! Exit this Roman shell!” The Fall was John Peel’s favorite band. “Always different, always the same,” he famously said. This code, it must be cracked. Recently re-issued by the peerless Superior Viaduct label out of Oakland, this slate of tracks is aural hypnotism buzz sawing into your brain. “The evil is not in extremes / It’s in the aftermath.”
Orchids & Corpses
Release Date: June 2, 2017
Third Sight, rap trio from the South Bay area, have always been rather casual with promoting their releases. It’s as if by design that their work sells out in Germany and Japan, yet local heads aren’t familiar with them. Their catalogue goes back to the later ’90s, where rap—especially indie hip-hop—was in the midst of a second renaissance, veering toward wild experimentations of style and expansive deliveries.
These guys were in the pocket of that emergence, with a rotating cast of characters contributing to their projects. The core, however, has always been three: Jihad the Roughneck MC, D-Styles, and Dufunk. The troupe has local roots, meeting at De Anza College in the early ’90s, and have made four albums—Golden Shower Hour, Symbionese Liberation Album, Chillin’ with Dead Bodies in a B-Boy Stance, and IV—to critical acclaim but paltry local fanfare. This latest release, Orchids & Corpses, is a prequel of sorts, recordings that either didn’t make the final cut for their debut or others that were recorded around ’96 to ’97. But Orchids & Corpses succeeds because it relies on a proven formula, one that has been unchanged since the group’s inception: lucid manifesto rhymes with macabre imagery, peppered with references to literature, body parts, math, and car chases.
The production is fitting, both dark and minimal. D-Styles, arguably the group’s most well-known component and who’s also considered one of the most precise, DJs and adds layer and mood to the entire palette with technical turntablism and incredible scratch routines. It’s always great hearing young artists find their stride, but Orchids & Corpses is the opposite. The members of Third Sight were the few lucky ones who found themselves, and their sound, early on.
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Every artist has had moments of regret after releasing his or her work. Every writer wishes they could fine-tune a sentence here or there. Even a musician of the caliber and reach of Kanye West couldn’t resist editing songs on The Life of Pablo. West is also likely the first modern artist to do so in real time, letting listeners see omissions and tweaks deemed better than previous versions. For Prince Paul, one of hip-hop’s most respected and longtime producers, revising one of his most criminally slept-on albums wasn’t a difficult decision. “I’ve always felt that critics, as well as fans, sort of dismissed this, so I wanted to redo the whole damn thing,” says Paul in an interview on San Jose’s own emergent podcast, Dad Bod Rap Pod, adding: “I like being the first artist who does things.”
Paul’s credentials run deep, from groundbreaking work with De La Soul as far back as the late ’80s to genre-defining work with Gravediggaz, which also featured RZA of Wu-Tang Clan. Paul has been a visionary that tackles projects with grace, technicality, and—perhaps most pronounced and refreshing of all—humor.
Originally released in 2003, Politics of the Business, like most of Paul’s work, features a who’s who of rap royalty. This latest renovated version not only carries additions and lost tracks to the original, but is a complete redo of beats and arrangements. You have legends that we’ve since lost, such as Guru of Gang Starr, as well as colorful creatives like DOOM. Comedians Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle are also a part of the cast, ushering along the album’s skits and narrative.
Prince Paul is the clown prince of rap and certainly has always been a bit too forward thinking for the masses. With this release, he proves he was too forward thinking even for himself. This redux is proof that it’s never too late to put your best foot forward.