Reviews of cool new electronic (for the most part) releases from Peru, Cambodia, Nigeria, and Canada.
I hoped that in Peru Boom: Bass, Bleeps and Bumps from Peru’s Electronic Underground, I’d found a Peruvian equivalent to bounce. On first listen, it was clear that I did and didn’t. The compilation presents a current, club-oriented, electronic expression of local culture, but it lacks the specific details we associate with bounce: emcees, crazy energy, and neighborhood focus. Still, Peru Boom offers hope that music communities around the world are finding ways to make contemporary iterations of their native sounds. Little on this compilation moves with the slamming energy of dubstep, but we live in an electronic world and DJs and producers in Lima have found ways to respond to their surroundings with music that filters Peru’s musical history through DJ culture. Cumbia rhythms are at the heart of many of the tracks here, but some including “Luto” by Animal Chuki have prog overtones, while Chakruna lays fuzzy synth textures and videogame sounds over what sounds like looped acoustic percussion and a fat, traditional synth bass line on “Cumbia Achorada.”
El Trilbin, similarly, works with sampled or looped live percussion, and accordions show up along with a host of sounds not found in nature, but most of it is used to create cool grooves. Because they’re electronic, the grooves don’t breathe like they might if they were played live, but Peru Boom is a reminder that other cultures’ music isn’t necessarily fodder for folklife exhibitions, and that young people in Lima—and all over the world, it’s safe to assume—are negotiating their own relationships to traditional sounds, just as people do here.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll is the soundtrack to a documentary by the same name, and it presents an interaction between youth culture and native culture in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The soundtrack presents a healthy sampling of rock ’n’ roll that reflects native notions of melody as well as the French influence, international traces, and the massive, revolutionary impact of American rock. Some of the songs are garagey by design, some sound that way because of the primitive recording studios they were cut in. It’s an exotic sound that has been filtering into the marketplace for a decade or so, but much of what is already out leans toward fuzz-heavy, psychedelic rock.
The musical breadth of the album makes it valuable as it reaches beyond twang and distortion and includes a version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” Everything is likable, but the songs are derivative by nature. Still, their familiarity can’t obscure the very real drama taking place outside of the studio. In these tracks, you can the musicians’ efforts to define themselves as cultural outlaws and the rock ’n’ roll hope that maybe they’ll “be somebody”—whatever that means. These songs live as a very specific flavor of ear candy, but they also serve as a musical mirror, reflecting back to us what others heard as the immutable components of rock ’n’ roll.
A Tribe Called Red has the distinction of being the group that brought EDM to Jazz Fest. The trio of Canadian First Nations DJs incorporate tribal drums and culturally significant sounds into their music, which began as the soundtrack for “Electric Pow Wow” nights at a club in Ottawa. Their new EP, Suplex, includes a tribestep title track that is Tribe Called Red at its best—heavy and musically distinctive with chants and wailing voices giving the track distinction. On the other hand, “Bodyslam”—presented as a track and aa remix by Smalltown DJs—is fine but workmanlike electro disco, and could come from anybody. “The People’s Champ” uses tribal drums as part of a spare beat behind rapper Hellnback, whose boasting vocal is rooted in aboriginal concerns. Hellnback works a little too hard for my tastes, but I’ve never been one for blustery emcees.
Each track on Suplex interests me, “Suplex” and “The People’s Champ” more than the “Bodyslam” versions. Because the latter two end the EP, I feel a flat on it when it ends, but I wonder if taking the sequence into account is fair in 2015, particularly when thinking about EDM. That’s not the way fans listen to it. Bottom line: “Suplex” is as good a starting place as any for A Tribe Called Red, who bring some much-needed sonic variation to dubstep, and it’s nice to hear them broadening their reach, even if I’ll return to the more conventional tracks less often.
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 recently released Higher Consciousness Remixes, and while most remixes make the known track new and exotic, these rein in his Afrobeat. The EP includes four remixes of “Higher Consciousness” and two of “IMF,” both from last year’s A Long Way to the Beginning, and perhaps because the it presents six versions of two songs, there’s no sense that it’s meant to be heard in one sitting. It isn’t designed as an artistic whole but as a vehicle to get songs to market.
The versions on Higher Consciousness Remixes show how pliable Kuti’s Afrobeat can be. Christian Scott and Robert Glasper (who’ll be in New Orleans this Sunday to play a Superlounge during the Essence Music Festival) create an intriguingly tense version of “IMF,” one that largely obscures the way the song’s title acronym stands for “International Motherfuckers,” not “International Monetary Fund.” Scott’s trumpet and Glasper’s piano keep threatening to mellow the mood, but dark notes shade the song, and the Egypt 80 horns periodically jut into the song to reassert its feisty energy. Producer John Reynolds, on the other hand, streamlines his remix to foreground Kuti, rapper M-1 of Dead Prez, and further sharpen the song’s political point.
Most of the versions of “Higher Consciousness” get to the point more quickly than Kuti does in the original, though by doing so, the producers lose some if the funky drama as Egypt 80’s arrangement wanders into the song. Simbad’s dub remix preserves the introductory section, as does In Flagranti’s, whose chillout take is the most transformed on the EP as he disposes of Kuti’s vocals and the horns entirely. Chicken-scratched guitar and congas dominate the track, along with a slowly phased hiss and synth burbles that emerge and recede spontaneously. Since dub speaks to me, those are the remixes I’ll return to, but I won’t be surprised if others find QMillion’s dancehall remix and DJ Logic and Adam Deitch’s funky remix more their speed.