New Music: Friday Roll Out! Damn Selene, Jeff Parker, Xetas, Kay The Aquanaut & Maki, Wire

When you’re struggling with your body feeling…not normal, everything turns upside down. Whether it’s a cold, the flu or a doctor telling you there’s an ungodly problem with your spine,  everything throws a monkey wrench in your plans. I’m not being facetious but direct, the same as how I’ve always been. I don’t try to bore anyone with anything going on in my own life because that’s not what everyone comes here for. It’s for the music of course, not my own but what everyone else has to offer up.

Seminal post-punk band Wire just dropped a new album Mind Hive (Pink Flag Records), the band’s 17th studio album in its illustrious career. Of course, it’s what we all my expect from the band led by Colin Newman: abrasive at moments, tense guitar work, at times mechanical (both vocally and musically on “Be Like Them”), but there are moments where the band is surprisingly angular & melodic (“Cactused”). I’d like to say the band is offering up why they’ve remained influential to a number of artists across a myriad of genres. The band has over 40 years of experience and it seems Wire has no intention of slowing down. The 3-year break since 2017’s Silver/Lead seems to have reinvigorated the band with an album that includes some semi-acoustic numbers (“Unrepentant”) along with quieter storms (“Shadows,” “Humming”), as well as dynamic shifting tracks (“Oklahoma”). Wire never ceases to amaze.

Some things usually come full circle where we find ourselves back entwined with those we never intended on conversing about so soon. Happenstance. That’s what I normally chalk things up to because sometimes I tend to follow Sarah Connor’s way of thinking: No Fate. Reading a post on a social media group, this is the last place I’d look to come across any material from an artist.

Again though, happenstance. Kay The Aquanaut dropped a new album The Nautical Blue (Hello L.A.), his thirteenth full-length release and fourth completely produced by Maki. This album follows up Earth Station 7 by Kay x Maki released a year ago, but this go-around, there’s something that’s corrupted these two with so much more intensity. There’s obviously a nautical theme running rampantly around the new release, and the fact that this album was inspired by the Jules Verne novel 10000 Leagues Under The Sea, yes it becomes clearer. Alone, the songs separated from one another may not spark such intensity but together, this is a beast of a collection.

The Nautical Blue opens softly, with “Coral Cemetery” as xylophone notes are wrapped in a blanket of the ethereal before that beat drops and Kay dropping his lyrics, melodically concurrently riding that wave of sound with his imagery fitting within the theme. Maki keeps things upbeat but there’s a somber tone from track to track that’s felt deep within the murky waters.  But it’s Kay’s delivery here that gets the necessary attention. The tension in his delivery is heard here, much like on “Sunken Freight,” where he doubles up on his vocals for the harmony in the backdrop. “Unkle” is draped in melancholy and it’s obviously juxtaposed against Kay’s vocals over the mechanical beat that’s drawn out here. He comes across with words that are conveyed with semblances of anger that builds and then dissipates. But we eventually get more of it as the release progresses.

There’s more to Kay that meets to eye here, with terse vocal lines filled with a vehemence for corporate consumption & governmental destruction of lives and the planet in general. “The New Flowers Have No Souls” indeed, with “I Wanna Jump In A Lake” expounding on a world of corruption and death of humanity. But everything seems to come to a head with “Saltwater Stone Soup” as he gives a direct ‘fuck you’ to hellish governments bent on destructions with “We’re shutting down everything/I don’t wanna hear criticism of this analysis/I walk around this city with your flag draped on my dick,” and “Fuck this analysis, just know that we are pissed off/Float around the planet, what’s on land just makes me sick.” It’s obviously a “call to arms,” and while Kay offers much hyperbole and truth, he’s stating everything many of us are thinking and all the while keeping to the nautical theme. It’s fucking brilliant.

There’s a lot to be said about The Nautical Bible but even more so for Kay The Aquanaut. Throughout his career as an emcee, his artistry has seen an exponential growth and a force to be reckoned with. This is that moment.

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I’m not beating around the bush or even trying to dick across this band with clever wording about it’s new album. Ok, I’m probably just going directly into this XETAS release, The Cypher (12XU), completely biased because the Austin, TX band is literally the shit nightmares are made of. For parents. But not this parent here.

James McNew (Yo La Tengo) describes the new album “as a one-minded beast”  and while I’m inclined to agree with them, the XETAS creates a cacophony of a racket that’s hypnotic and exciting. Utilizing dissonance and harmonics, opener “The Doctor” is remarkably reminiscent of scalpels scraping against guitar strings, bone saws waging war against kick drums, all with bloody results! Howling vocals accentuate the track which doesn’t let up from beginning to end. Is it wrong to continuously hit the repeat button? I think not. “The Bystander” is pretty straight forward as the band harmonizes lead male/female vocals over this melodic punk-enthused number and I dare anyone to not like or enjoy it.

But “The Martyr” will not be denied. A full-frontal assault right out of the gate, it’s no-holds-barred that not only shifts its dynamics but seemingly, its rhythm. The sly dogs here, it remains the same, only leaving space to give that illusion. There are still things that can be accomplished within the trio format of guitar-bass-drums instrumentation which “The Witness” is proof of. This airy number shifts dynamics as well but allows open space to sometimes revolve around sparse instrumentation on this instrumental.

XETAS is always a fun listen and the band is always doing shit everyone else seems to be afraid of. On The Cypher, the band continues to give no fucks and play what they feel. This is what punk music has always been about, and XETAS proudly wears their colors.

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As with a number of artists, Jeff Parker is much like a fine wine. As the years pass, his music gets better with age. And that’s with new material that’s recorded and released. As part of Tortoise, he was able to embellish on the band’s sound, giving a refreshing additive that was completely natural. With Isotope 217, it was yet another direction Parker went into. As part of the collective ILLTET, with Mike Ladd, High Priest, and Tyshawn Sorey, that was a beast of a different nature altogether.

Today Parker releases the solo effort named and dedicated to his mother, Suite For Max Brown (International Anthem/Nonsuch) which features original material as well as interpretations of songs by other notable artists. While Parker played a majority of the instruments, the album features an assortment of players he’s worked with in the past:  pianist-saxophonist Josh Johnson; bassist Paul Bryan, piccolo trumpet player Rob Mazurek, his frequent duo partner; trumpeter Nate Walcott, drummers Jamire Williams, Makaya McCraven, and Jay Bellerose,  cellist Katinka Kleijn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and his daughter Ruby Parker, who sings on the opening “Build A Nest.” The song is riveting, shifting from verse to verse, in between briefly pieced together by the drums, piano, and guitar interplay.

The brief “C’mon Now” interlude is a dope sample that repeats itself while “Fusion Swirl” is a non-stop motion of bass, drums, and guitar that adds in percussion and vocal interplay for over 2 and a half minutes before shifting in a varied direction. Parker tackles Coltrane’s “After The Rain” and instead of horns he uses his guitar for his interpretation. It’s a different feel altogether but sweetly conjuring semblances of the original through a different lens. Parker also delivers “Gnarciss,” where he interprets Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” in a completely different manner altogether. While the original is subtly throughout, here Parker gives the song a more boom-bap feel, akin to what Glasper might do, but firmly holding onto the jazz aspect of the original. But there are multiple sides to Parker’s compositions here as well. His softer touch is felt on “Del Rio” and “3 For L” while he cuts loose on “Go Away.” The ability to capture both aspects isn’t easily accomplished.

Parker’s work is both imaginative and inviting and as a composer, there’s no end to where the music he creates can end. Suite For Max Brown holds it down as he continues creating the magic through his vision. Through this release, we can all see through the kaleidoscope he’s utilizing.

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This is actually my introduction to Damn Selene, a rapper from Denver, CO who has been on the grind for since 2010, performing, writing, producing, etc. but it’s only now that we all finally see a full-length album in Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore. A self-professed trans alternative, nerdcore rapper, and producer I’m focused here on the nerdcore aspect of Damn Selene.

Damn Selene is a rapper. A rapper that eloquently enunciates words, refrains to allowing current standards of mumble-mouthed rapping to infect the music on the album and in all honesty, Damn Selene has skills and doesn’t follow any norms already paved. On the guitar-driven “Ghost Stories (ccampgground mix)” the words “to hell with your standards and norms” are uttered, so we should expect the unexpected.

The collection of songs here, 19 tracks in all, have been compiled from 2009 – 2019 and while they may stretch over a decade’s worth of time, it doesn’t remain uneven or out of balance. In fact, it’s quite cohesive. Selene’s baritone delivery, though deep AF, doesn’t sound aggressive but inviting on “The Other Chronic,” which includes voice sampled beat-boxing throughout it. It works to Selene’s benefit. But it’s the bass-driven “B A M F!” that I’m drawn to. Megabusive opens the track, along with F. Virtue and this joint brings the heat directly aimed with disjointed electro-beats that fit perfectly along with Damn Selene’s wordplay. And of course, the title alone shares Selene’s comic book culture enthusiasm.

If there’s anything flagrantly obvious about this release is that Damn Selene has beats for days! “Kill Your Friends” is held down by a distorted bass and drums as Selene wordy delivery takes over the track and requires multiple listens to get what’s being offered up with heady lyricism. “iQueue” has Damn Selene volleying lyrics with Joshua Coberly on this number and I can’t get past the hook which is simply “There should probably be a hook here/There should probably be a hook here.” You won’t care because the track is catchy AF. But it’s not all about a catchy hook, as “Buy Something” pieces together clever word interplay to showcase the skill that Selene has. It’s clean and concise, no stuttering or stops in between. The closing instrumental “Sostenido De Dios” is a tight and powerful track that showcases a ton of musicality from the nimble guitar work to the over the top percussion and drums.

Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore is tightly wound around Damn Selene’s lyrical dexterity, along with the friends that are brought along for the ride. Selene shows an insurmountable amount of skill with the production of each track. Every nuance is heard, and that’s not such an easily accomplishable feat. From here on in, Damn Selene is bound to make strides to let the world know there’s much more to come.

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