New Music | Friday Roll Out: Zulu, Xiu Xiu, Sunmundi & Āthmaan, AJ Suede and Televangel

When we listen to Xiu Xiu, there are expectations, always expectations. The funny thing is though, Xiu Xiu never lets anyone down. Not because it caters to anyone’s expectations but because it always remains true to its own identity. I’ve come to grips years ago with the fact that Jamie Stewart is an absolute fucking genius, and no one can tell me differently. Now over 20 years in and with its 13th album Ignore Grief (Polyvinyl Records), Xiu Xiu returns and there’s no doubt about it. Stewart has remained the one constant member throughout those years, with Angela Seo an integral part of the musical output for over a decade. This time around they’ve included percussionist David Kendrick and yes, the experimental fuckery abounds throughout the anti-pop constructs. “Esquerita, Little Richard” is rhythmically enchanting while allowing a barrage of percussion, noise, and synth-play to coexist among the sparse vocals while the delicate nature of “Pahrump” is far from being so too graceful. It turns into a maniacal orchestral piece as Stewart’s voice gets lost somewhere among the din of horns and string but it’s emotionally stirring. But it’s the macabre “Maybae Baeby” that’s intriguing. The darkness surrounding it pulls you in, whether you want it or not and Seo’s voice is hypnotic. Is Ignore Grief one of the greatest albums of our time? It just might be.


Like skateboarding, Hardcore punk has always been the odd genre out, the fringe sport people never took very seriously. People being: Parents, Boomers, and the like. That is if it was actually a sport, but depending on who you question, it really is if you take into consideration the hyper-active pits that have morphed to now include spinning back kicks. Yes, I digress. The style, and the genre still remain an anomaly to most who’ve never attended a show, but we won’t hold that against them.

It isn’t often we find a group releasing its first album that’s on the precipice of greatness but sometimes we do. The 5-piece L.A. outfit Zulu dropped A New Tomorrow (Flatspot Records) and while it does follow a formula many are familiar with, it also takes well-placed risks and chances, incorporating other aspects of music into the group’s sound. Throughout the release there are soulful and reggae samples but they don’t dominate the release but lay the foundation for those other aspects I mentioned. The album’s opening “Africa” is filled with piano keys and strings and leaves us all surprised at Zulu’s explosiveness directly into the meaty riffs of the 1-minute and 20-second lifespan of “For Sista Humphrey.” It’s thick, it’s meaty, with walls of guitars swallowing it whole as a guttural growl lies somewhere within. The song itself doesn’t prepare us for what’s to follow; speedy riffs, quick-tongued lyricism, and a heavy backend. But there’s more! Oh, so much more.

The band comes across like a double-edged sword on “Where I’m From” tapping into Soul Glo’s Pierce Jordan and Playtime’s Obioma Ugonna. The song, obviously heavy-handed, leaves space for the band’s dueling voices as well as allowing Jordan and Ugonna to compete for dominance. It ends instead in unity, each offering well-placed verses within. Zulu includes more than just a few surprises, with its “Shine Eternally” instrumental being one of them. It sprawls across the landscape here, like a Younge/Muhammad composition, delicately strumming and plucking at instruments, soulfully etching images on brick walls in urban communities. Yeah, Zulu is far from being a one-trick pony, which is also offered in the 30-second “Must I Only Share My Pain,” as piano notes are nimbly pressed across a sea of strings and multiple voices asking repeatedly “must I only share my pain?” But it’s on the multi-dimensional “Lyfe Az A Shorty Shun B So Ruff” where the band paints that musical canvas with an array of colors matching the abrasions the instruments leave. Whether it’s the fiery quick-triggering or the slow-sludgy effectiveness, it’s, well, effective. Zulu closes it with a quote by writer/activist James Weldon Johnson set to music. “You are young, gifted, and Black. We must begin to tell our young, There’s a world waiting for you, Yours is the quest that’s just begun…” (Note: a number of artists have quoted Johnson, including 70s Jamaican vocal duo Bob & Marcia)

At almost a minute and a half, the quick-paced “From Tha Gods To Earth” hits with double kick drums freneticism which morphs into a more subdued piece as piano chords become prominent and effectively change its landscape. Although, it’s “Créme De Cassis by Aleisia Miller & Precious Tucker” that takes things further down the rabbit hole. A spoken word piece set to piano, tracing the black experience with metaphors surrounding the textured soul of blackness. When it closes with the final words, “Why is black discourse always about precipitation while ignoring the sweet scent of petrichor after rain?” you feel as if you’re hit by a freight train. Nothing else needs to be uttered. The band moves seamlessly, genre-hopping but it all makes sense. “We’re More Than This” is territorially Hip-Hop, as rhymes drop over a jazzy backdrop. It’s eloquent in its delivery, both musically and vocally. And then it’s back to the grind!

“52 Fatal Shots” features Truth Cult’s Paris Roberts and is an intense look at Zulu, bludgeoning everything in its path and doing it with style & finesse. Guitar notes ring out but allow the sludge-like rhythms to dominate. But it’s “Divine Intervention” that probably has the most poignant lyricism, expressing an obvious distaste for cultural appropriation and the lyrics, “…everyone wants to take our shit, look like us, sound like us, move like us, everybody wanna say ‘nigga’ but nobody wanna be a nigga, everybody wanna to be a nigga but no one wants to look like me, but we’re not here for it. Fuck ya’ll. Bitch” are direct and to the motherfucking point!

As the world finally catches up with the hardcore punk bands like Zulu deliver, it’s probably going to fall behind again with the release of A New Tomorrow because that’s exactly what the band gives us here, the dawning of a new age. That and the hearty politicism many won’t catch will only add to the band’s mystique. Do you know what time it is? Well, Zulu will tell you. It’s their time.

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Very little is known about both Sunmundi & Āthmaan, who share the titles of emcee and beatmaker respectively, and so Midnight Oil (Damn That Noise) is their debut collaborative effort. We can all understand differences, the melding of art and pop, and when art is the operative word that overtakes any semblance of forcing something into popular culture. The question needs to be asked though, will Midnight Oil fit neatly within pop culture? Things aren’t so simple and clear.

From beginning to end, Midnight Oil is on the brink of collapsing over the weight of Sunmundi’s prose and Āthmaan dreary, yet inviting musical backdrop. This isn’t an easy listen. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The songs are perfectly tracked together but one shouldn’t expect to find sunshine and butterflies throughout the release, instead what you’ll find is a downward spiral, sinking deep into a depressive state. You won’t know who to blame, whether it’s Sunmundi’s ever-shifting prose or Āthmaan’s stormy hues of greyish clouds that always linger around the worst part of one’s psyche. Or is it both? Yeah, let’s just go with that. It may take you a second before realizing Āthmaan’s compositions are free of any real beats or percussion, but it won’t make a difference considering the songs have no need for it. Āthmaan pulls from rare and unfamiliar sources to weave together timbred instrumentals that wallow in sorrow. Add into the mix Sunmundi’s lyricism, we’re in for something unexpected. I keep referring back to the album’s closing track with his words, “…sometimes even to this day I melt when heat’s felt/you can see I’m made out of clay/thinking ‘through the thorns no one grows straight’/a long time spent time laying prostrate /postulate long and all I can’t take are the breaks…” Sunmundi sounds on the brink adding, “My mother used too pray to St. Anthony so that lost things be found/even when I’m alone with myself I feel lost in a crowd,” creating a perception of vulnerability through his expressiveness.

The eerie “Inertia” creeps slowly with Sunmundi’s hypnotic wording moving around the track’s own passivity, altering it making mention of musician Archie Shepp, shifting briefly with a description of his horn. Who does that????? Apparently, Sunmundi. It’s clever. To be clear, Midnight Oil isn’t an easy listen, and it isn’t something that should be turned on as background noise, it needs your full attention. If it doesn’t receive it, you might miss “Heaven Metal,” which sounds like an open prayer living through a post-apocalyptic dystopian society. This is heavy in a completely different way.

It’s clear that Sunmundi and Āthmaan both complement one another and with Midnight Oil they’ve touched on something both dark and endearing. It’s heady as well as emotional but make note, this fiery release isn’t for the faint of heart, you don’t want to find yourself spiraling downward as well.

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In the desert now we have the rain so all I was waiting on is for someone to bring the thunder. does anyone actually bring that heat anymore? Well, I’m glad you asked because I can answer that with an emphatic “Hell yes!” Last year we all witnessed the AJ Suede and Televangel‘s Metatron’s Cube although some of us were latecomers…but that’s beside the point! The fact is, the album made a number of Best Of lists and didn’t disappoint in any way whatsoever. We always have to wonder though if lighting can strike twice.

The duo returns with the new Parthian Shots (Fake Four, Inc.), AJ Suede’s 2nd album this year (following Indica Music). Within the confines of this 16-track release, rest a slew of catchy melodies & rhythms that never stray from their path. Televangel lays the groundwork allowing Suede to add layers of vocals over his beats. It doesn’t take more than one go of this to understand the swaying sonic sculptures is perfectly nestled against Suede’s words/lyricism. The album’s title itself isn’t missed as a reflection of what the duo has created here. The release is unassuming but they’re going to hit you with that fire at every turn even if you believe they’re falling off. They don’t fall, they ascend.

Parthian Shots takes from jazz and soul and is never apologetic for it. Nor should it be. If you’re anything like me, you might keep referring back to “Mount Doom,” with 70s-era-like loops which could probably fit in Marvin Gaye just as easily as it does AJ Suede. And Suede does make it his own as he multi-tracks vocals allowing it to sound like more than one person. Yeah, this is a personal favorite track, not because of any studio tricks but because Suede’s delivery isn’t forced at any point and fits it well within Televangel’s beats. There’s no room for error on the album although I doubt the duo even had that in mind as the pace and style begin to vary from one track to another but resoundingly remains AJ Suede and Televangel. The upbeat “Groundwork” takes a different approach, brighter and much more colorful as piano notes slide around an odd wash of guitar notes and thick bass end as Suede offers, “Laid the groundwork trying to take it around the world / Just because the people know my name around the world” and “Me and Televangel cracked the code like game sharp.” He’s put in the work and just lets us know.

“No Fly Zone” is intriguing though as it attempts to throw us all off with the accent on the beat but catching onto it is easier than it seems. The guitar handful of guitar notes is what’s intriguing – no, captivating – as Suede delivers sharp lyrics. This is the odd joint out that shouldn’t hit with such fervor but it does and you’ll just hope it never stops.

All doubts should be tossed to the wayside because Parthian Shots delivers at just about every turn. The album hits without being forceful although it strikes hard. The

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