Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obscure Music Spotlight: February 2009

Again, it seems that, while I started this blog to bring attention to slept-on artists and music from past and present, I've gotten sidetracked. Mainly by the greatess that is the sports scene in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Between the Steelers' Super Bowl win and Pitt's upset of No. 1 UConn (completed by DeJuan Blair's utter dismantling of Hasheem Thabeet, see below), I've been getting away from writing on music. So let's get to it:

Various Artists, Akom Ko: Ghana Highlife - Scratchy, old vinyl compilation of Ghanaian highlife music. Bouncy, folky, very traditional-sounding. You can find it at Likembe Blogspot, an awesome site for African tunes.

Harmonic 313, When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence - This is what what Wachowski brothers should have used for the Matrix soundtrack, instead of all that Propellerhead techno douchebaggery. He's an Australian-based producer who has also recorded as Harmonic 33, focusing more on organic instrumentals. When Machines... is his nod to the Detroit sound of producers like Black Milk, Zo! & Dilla, with a heavy dose of industrial glitchiness thrown in. Rough-edged, paranoid soundscapes, with a couple guest appearances by Motor City natives Phat Kat and Elzhi. Check Harmonic 313 out on MySpace.

Franziska, Action - I've heard Puerto Rican, Argentinian, Mexican, German and Japanese reggae music. I can now add Italian to the list, courtesy of Franziska's excellent blend of roots rock and modern dancehall. Action packs plenty of bounce while still staying close to the classic sounds that carried reggae to so many corners of the world in the first place. In the same way as German rockers Seeed (yup, that's three E's), Franziska, who hail from Milan, Italy, show a good ear for mixing the rocksteady reggae of Marley and Steel Pulse with the DJ-ing style of modern dancehall crooners like Sizzla and Alborosie.

Zo! & Asylum, Overdue Process - When last we heard from Detroit-based producer Zo!, he was rocking a 1982 jheri curl and recreating '80s tunes with Phonte from Little Brother - to great effect, in point of fact. His latest project, a collaboration with fellow Michigan native Asylum 7, melds the mellow jazz feel of Love the 80s with the electronic hip-hop sounds of his city's other producers, like J. Dilla and Black Milk. For anyone who heard the 80s EP, it should come as no surprise that Zo is no slouch on the keyboards. If there are any samples here, they're tough to spot. Angular lite-jazz guitar, lilting piano work and airy synthesizers wash against the crisp snap of the drums, as Asylum works the same nimble style that Zo noticed in the first place, when he heard the MC rhyming at a Michigan hip-hop club.

Tom Waits, Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) - I just discovered this record. I'm sure a lot of other people already know about it. But it's probably the best I've heard of Tom Waits. Growling, but still singing, in his prime, with a lazy loungy jazz combo backing his tunes of L.A.'s banality and freakishness. Easy to listen to, and hilarious to boot.

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