Ay, ay, Boston emcee Dagha returns with Blak Flowerz, released on Juneteenth in celebration of, well, life as a man strengthened by those around him, in particular, his family. The album follows last year’s D-A To The G, continuing on a path of heady lyricism with an assortment of Boom Bap beats. This time around it seems it’s a family affair, with his wife & children all contributing in some way artistically throughout. Make no mistake though, Dagha is a wordsmith. Listening to “POV,” he combines that old school magik with the contemporary. A classic in the making as horns blare over a thick beat as he waxes poetic. His flow is easily addictive, without pretension, and over the catchy rhythm of “InnerG,” the moment is captured. But it’s the power of the title track that burns with the fire of one hundred suns as he opens with “Half of me love my curry chicken roti, the other half of me don’t put up with no baloney” which gives insight to his own culture and mindset. All that over an oddly warped guitar line and heavy bottom end. It’s direct and to the point. There’s no fluff around the lyricist’s latest album, strong in delivery and fierce in attack.
You have to wonder if Ben Cook (ex-Fucked Up) is out to prove a point here. Just a few months ago he released his album III and now he drops IV (Run For Cover Records), his latest effort as Young Guv that obviously bookends his previous. But then again it shouldn’t come as a surprise because I and II bookended one another as well back in 2019, and like those two releases, III and IV share similar cover art. That’s not all though, the albums are similar in the strength of the songs. Young Guv’s folk-pop excursions masterly skirt around the obvious while also tossing in nods to a countrified Americana with “Maybe I Should Luv Somebody Else” as the slide-over-guitar makes that oh so obvious. His fascination for all things pop is clear-fully evident with “Nervous Around You” as syncopated rhythms transcend any era. But “Nowhere At All,” with its breathy vocal delivery and driving pop sensibility is sweet and subtle. Whatever point Cook is making here doesn’t matter, the only thing that does is IV’s catchy hooks and sweet melodies.
There’s no way anyone hasn’t at least heard of Damien Jurado, that singer/songwriter out of the great northwest. Last year saw the quiet release of The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania (Maraqopa) released on his own label. It was a stunning release, focusing mostly on his acoustic guitar and voice. This year Jurado releases his 21st album Reggae Film Star (Maraqopa), again on his label, although this time he seems to ebb and flow much more eloquently throughout the album. He opens with the tender “Roger,” the song revolves around Jurado’s guitar, accented by a string arrangement. His voice, hallowed and alluring, is hauntedly enchanting. This could be a mic drop moment but there’s more to the album like “Taped In Front Of A Live Studio Audience,” propelled by drums, bass & guitar, it obviously leaves room for Jurado’s vocal melodies that seem to run circles around the track. Jurado has always been a clever songwriter, incorporating unexpected melodies, and here it’s no different. But his compositions don’t always revolve around his guitar as “What Happened To The Class Of ’65?” attests, driven by piano and lazy summer afternoon drums. And of course, the strings come in – as well as backing vocals – and when they do, the song’s ascension is evident. Reggae Film Star is a beautiful recording and we should all feel blessed Damien Jurado continues to do things his own way.
Do we all tend to hedge a bit when we’re struck with something futuristic and retrograded, both at once? Maybe it’s the clear distinction that there isn’t a distinction in it being one particular thing, but the retro-futuristic sound combination by Izzy Glaudini (synths, lead vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals) , and Halle Saxon (bass, vocals) – all of whom make up L.A.’s Automatic – just dropped its sophomore release Excess (Stones Throw) and are onto something new. Or old.
What’s old is sometimes new, and music normally comes back around in cycles so it isn’t as if Automatic hopped into a Delorean, hitting 88 MPH. But if they were, I’m sure they’d triple-check that flux capacitor. But I digress. Automatic crafts electronic music through a new wave & psych-punk kaleidoscope. Or it’s probably one could find the stirrings of a post-punk drift riding through extenuating pop circumstances rattling around their brains. Whatever does that mean? No idea, but I guess we’ll figure something out here. The band’s instrumentation mostly runs around bottom-end rhythms, accented by Glaudini’s synths, and seems to owe as much to Simon Gallup and Kim Deal as it would Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. “Turn Away,” with its sparseness, Saxon’s deep bass input, and wispy cooing gives the Deal effect (Yes, comparisons are cheap, and I may be broke but bear with me.) This doesn’t mean Automatic should be classified as a carbon copy of anything or anyone, the band creates its own ambiance around the song itself. But it’s the propulsion of “NRG” that’s invigorating. The band fights its way through like early punk innovators, without relinquishing its identity.
You’ll be left wondering who “Lucy” is as the band segways into distinctive electronic territory while allowing the music to remain completely organic. With just three instruments, there’s a richness within it, like many of the other songs on Excess as well. If we can be honest about anything here, it’s the band’s effortless delivery from song to song. Consider the opening “New Beginning” for example, it starts off innocently enough before shifting its rhythm altogether, moving at a runner’s pace, and again, effortless. The band offers up its early punk influences along the album from song to song, whether it’s on the quick-paced squeal of “Automation” or the brashness of the repetitive “Teen Beat.” We just can’t pretend the band isn’t onto something here because it is.
Excess is a great album and everything seems to fall into place almost all too well. Automatic seems to have outdone itself with its sophomore full-length release here. While others have done the same time and time again, they don’t flow with such ease as this one does.
Lines between Hip-Hop and jazz are sometimes blurred but that comes as no surprise considering jazz was the Hip-Hop of its day. But that’s neither here nor there and no longer matters. BUT, making transitions from one to the other isn’t usually common although trumpeter Leron Thomas has made it look all too easy. With much more than a dozen releases to his own credit showcasing his skill with his instrument, as Pan Amsterdam he’s amassed over a handful of albums, EPs, and singles under the assumed alter ego and has worked with the likes of Open Mike Eagle, Iggy Pop, and more. This time around, he’s pieced together an album with the assist of multi-instrumentalist, producer/rapper, DC’s Damu The Fudgemunk with the new album EAT (Def Pressé). This isn’t a history lesson though, just an introduction.
Throughout the release, we find the cultural renaissance man within Pan Am jumping across timelines, capturing moments throughout musical history, fitting splashes of the Golden Age, film culture, comparisons, as well as other memorable moments in time into his lyrical wordplay. From the get-go, we get a sense of the influences he wears so clearly on his sleeve. As an emcee, Pan Am’s clear abstract flows offer an assortment of content, and with ideas mixed in his rhymes like “Death Row” and “En Vogue” together in “Rigatoni,” it’s clever. This, over a beat that’s almost mechanical in its delivery, with an assortment of strings, horns, and bass wrapped around it. While on “Hungry Hippo,” its funky bassline slinks around Pan Am’s straight, direct and cold vocal play, which seems more like an ode to that girl named Medina. It’s fine and you know why? Because the track is a beast! It allows listeners to forget their worries and fall into that trance-inducing head nod.
We understand Pan Amsterdam was a child of the 90s, soaking everything, making its way to this point in time. Damu’s bounce of “BLT” fits around Pan Am’s words, which even finds him incorporating that Ason lyric “gonna make this money and rob you” around his own precocious sexualize wording. Although if there’s anything that anyone should listen to it’s “Duck Wok,” where Damu’s work is close to overshadowing Pan Am. Close but doesn’t. Here his rhymes are captivating, layered over the music which closes with a quick burst of trumpets. Yeah, it’s this right here. By the time we get to “H Bar,” Pan Amsterdam cleverly utilizes B-movie characterization, mingling “step on a toe of Paul Bunyan…angry middle-aged white man Charles Bronson/ I’m the sequel your Death Wish/ so many sequels cause I’m selfish…” and later including his disbelief of magic & what Harry Potter offers. Mind you, this is a LOT to take in and my own simplemindedness is having a hard time figuring it all out, creating a hodgepodge of lyricism that might be akin to a Basquiat painting. He also refers to himself later on the song, “Leron get ’em” as he seems to guest with trumpet in hand, on his own track. That’s one way of doing it.
“Stick Around” is interesting. Pan Am focuses on the complexities of relationships and how some don’t seem to figure it out while others do, with ease. There are correlations between sex and food throughout a number of tracks, which isn’t always easy to see, while sometimes Pan Amsterdam allows humor to encapsulate his ideas around food. Just take a listen to “Da Da Dim Sum.” Hah, he allows the hilarity to ensue with his label head & an eatery.
Literally, there’s a wide array of artistry surrounding EAT, which closes with the fiery instrumental “All Purpose Sauce.” Horns blare in and out as the rhythm section allows the dueling brass to find solace wherever it may want to flow. Yeah, this is a strong and steady release full of artistry and dope beats.