Continuing with our effort to catch up on noteworthy releases from recent weeks, we have two strong dispatches from alien lands—one from a singer and songwriter’s dark night of the soul, the other from a band dedicated to putting a Brooklyn spin on the sounds of Nigeria.
Passion Pit debuted on the pop scene with one the most memorable back stories in pop music this century: The young singer and songwriter Michael Angelakos began crafting his music as a one-man band in an attempt to woo a woman at Boston’s Emerson College. He didn’t get the girl, but the song “Sleepyhead” took off when he floated it on the Web via MySpace, and soon enough he was signed to Columbia Records and playing in front of huge audiences with a full-blown band. Three years later, we have a follow-up, Gossamer, arriving amid Angelakos’ statements that he’s been dealing with manic-depression. The longing and intimacy of that heartsick bedroom artist remain, but they’re joined by much deeper existential soul-searching this time around. The contrast between these heavy thoughts and the uplifting nature of the irresistibly catch dance-pop are what make this album special, placing it side by side with two other recent and extraordinary examples of left-turn R&B/soul music, Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE and the Weeknd’s Echoes of Silence.
Passion Pit, Gossamer (Columbia)
Rating on the four-star scale: 4 stars.
Given their devotion to afrobeat, in particular the music of Fela Kuti (they arranged and performed the score of the Broadway musical Fela!), one easily could lob the charge of cultural imperialism at the long-running Brookyn band Antibalas, but for two considerations: Fela always intended his art as music to make the world dance, as well as to raise awareness of the unjust politics of Nigeria, and the sounds he crafted were inspired as much by those of his native country as by the American R&B, funk and rock that he heard on Armed Forces Radio. Just as important as Antibalas mastering the African rhythms and multi-layered big-band arrangements, though, is the fact that the group retains the political consciousness of their hero’s music, addressing the injustices they see in America today, and giving us one track, “Dirty Money,” that should be the anthem for all of those disgusted by the greed and corruption of the one-percent.
Antibalas, Antibalas (Daptone)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.
Still in Heavy Rotation
Frank Ocean, Channel ORANGE (Def Jam)
Mission of Burma, Unsound (Fire)
Redd Kross, Researching the Blues (Merge)
Neneh Cherry, The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Supersound)
Patti Smith, Banga (Columbia)
Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe (XL)
Ty Segall, Slaughterhouse (In The Red)
Best Coast, The Only Place (Wichita Recordings)
Spiritualized, Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)
Kelly Hogan, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain (Anti-)
EI-P, Cancer 4 Cure (Fat Possum)
The dB’s, Falling Off the Sky (Bar/None)
Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls (ATO)
Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)
Dr. John, Locked Down (Nonesuch)
Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory (Carpark)
Screaming Females, Ugly (101 Distribution)
Jack White, Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia)
Andre Williams & the Sadies, Night and Day (Yep Roc)
Andre Williams and the Goldstars, Nightclub (Pravda)
Neil Young, Americana (Reprise)
Japandroids, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Beach House, Bloom (Sub Pop)
The Shins, Port of Morrow (Columbia)
Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe (Atlantic)
Bassnectar, Vava Voom (Amorphous Music)
Willis Earl Beal, Acousmatic Sorcery (XL)
Sinead O’Connor, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? (One Little Indian)
WZRD, WZRD (Universal Republic)
Mark Lanegan, Blues Funeral (4AD)