World

VIDEO PREMIERE: Gillian Grogan - Home for Supper

Raquel Dalarossa

Gillian Grogan defines her music as "full-bodied folk." On paper, one might wonder at that label, given the singer-songwriter often performs with just a guitar (as she did in our own Blue Room), but listening to just a few seconds of any one of her songs makes the depth and richness of her work immediately clear. Her vocals are full of life like fresh soil and thickly sweet like molasses, infusing her Appalachian Americana with both spirit and soul.

In a new song and video, "Home for Supper," those same vocals take the spotlight completely as Grogan ditches her guitar for an a cappella piece of traditional folk. Shot in New Hampshire by filmmaker Alex Morelli, the video is all muted tones and wide expanses, a perfect backdrop for the haunting song, though the melody itself would just as easily be at home in the Scottish Highlands. In the video, we watch a wistful but still whimsical Grogan, in a bright red coat like some kind of Little Red Riding Hood, recalling a lonesome walk through snowy, pitch pine forests; the whispers of a storm are the only accompaniment to her resonant voice. The song seems to slow down time just enough to allow us a moment for our own grainy memories to surface. 

REVIEW: Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo

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Phillipe Roberts

For two records now, Khruangbin have delved deep into a brand of cosmic funk whose proudly professed global influences have stuck them with the loaded, woefully illogical “world music” label. Digressions on the validity of the term aside (why does the “world” start where the English speaking world ends?) the Houston-to-London trio is perhaps one of the few to actually embrace its universalist implications. Their Spotify account shouts their influences from the rooftops, touting “certified Persian bangers” and “heat from Nigeria, Ghana and more” in carefully curated playlists that connect the dots right back to their own work.

First album The Universe Smiles Upon You leaned heavily on '60s and '70s Thai funk and rock records, but on Con Todo El Mundo they absorb new influences, collecting musical passport stamps, mostly from Iran and Nigeria, with abandon. Some tracks highlight specific influences more than others, but overall, the blend is an unrecognizable and immensely satisfying hybrid. If a revamp of the Voyager Golden Record is ever in the works, with only enough room for a split single, Con Todo El Mundo will be a fitting starting point for extraterrestrials building an “Earth” mix.

No matter how you slice it, the Frankensound assembled by Khruangbin on Con Todo El Mundo is primarily funk. Bassist Laura Lee brings a radiant, chunky tone that clings loosely to the backbeat, powering the punchy shuffles of drummer Donald Johnson through the seemingly endless web of rhythmic scrapes and psychedelic slides dreamed up by guitarist Mark Speer. The three are a magnificent working band, and many of these tracks feel like they could go on forever, squeezing in and out of tight grooves like it’s nothing. Small instrumental flourishes and occasionally vocals enter the mix, particularly on “Evan Finds the Third Room,” but the focus never drifts away from the smooth cohesion they build into the jams. Over the course of the record, the effect is that of a perfectly sequenced funk DJ set.

While this tendency towards impeccable roundness may leave those hungry for the jagged edges of psychedelia a bit out in the cold, the trio do produce some standout moments that linger heavy on the mind long after the set comes to a close. The rapidfire acceleration into the initial pirouetting guitar riff on “Maria También” is mirrored brilliantly by the bass. Enough cannot be said about Laura Lee’s playing on this record; song after song, her warm melodies are a highlight, particularly on penultimate track “Rules,” where her weeping lines surge to the front with invigorating confidence, and “Evan Finds the Third Room,” a proper disco sendup with a bit of Donna Summer call-and-response thrown in. On the whole, however, Con Todo El Mundo is perfectly happy to hang back, playing to the room and allowing you to provide your own context—if instrumental doesn’t quite cut it, you might call it post-funk.

On the aforementioned “Shades of Man,” Khruangbin turns a field recording of two Iranian women working out how to pronounce their name into a skit, played out over ocean sounds. “You say that’s a K-H-R-U,” one woman’s voice cautiously begins. She shoots. “Crewangbin?” Light chuckles around the room. “Crungbin,” a voice corrects. Bless a band with a pronunciation guide.

Dead air. A long silence.

“No…”

And back into that effortless groove, punctuated by a repetitive, chanting “YES.”

REVIEW: KOKOKO! - Tokoliana / L.O.V.E. // Tongos'a / Likolo

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Phillipe Roberts

Go ahead and drop those thoughts of trying to tie KOKOKO! down by boxing them into any lineage of influences. These Congolese DIY revolutionaries are their own heroes, positioning themselves at the forefront of a groundswell of artistic radicalism currently seizing their native Kinshasa. A loosely organized collective of musicians, their relentless grooves are quite literally designed from the ground up; without a speaker in sight, the crew assembled a small hoard of junk instruments using readily available metal and plastic scraps. KOKOKO! are purpose-built, recycling and refining yesterday’s rubbish into “the sound of Kinshasa’s tomorrow.” For now, that sound is distilled into a scant four tracks that manage to cover a tremendous amount of emotional and musical territory without skipping a beat.

On the two EPs that make up their current discography, the band is produced by French artist Débruit, an enthusiastic musical excavator whose last album, Débruit & Istanbul, fused his modern electronic and hip-hop sensibilities to collaborations with local musicians. Débruit took an even more active role here, playing in live incarnations of the band at clubs and street parties until those freeform jams crystallized into discrete songs. On the recordings, however, his influence is felt to varying degrees, and comes through more clearly on the earlier Tokoliana EP, where his thick slabs of synth lend some familiar tone and take a more commanding role in dictating chordal structure.

But even on his most pronounced turn, the title track, Débruit is keen to highlight the harsh textures and mangled beauty of KOKOKO!’s organic instrumentation. The track has a post-punk strut to it, courtesy of an scratchy one-stringed bass line that croaks with just the right amount of distortion, light reverb on the drums, and dark, insistent vocals from singer Makara Bianco that deliver a hypnotic warning in Lingala: “We are devouring each other.” A sharp staccato rhythm from an impossible “guitar” (made of what I imagine to be steel pipe) blasts along, adding a funky edge that makes “Tokoliana” their strongest candidate for neon-lit success. The B-side, “L.O.V.E.,” winds down the pace for a smoother vibe without sacrificing any grit. Live or sampled, the brittle bent notes and unpredictable harmonics played on the wire harp are unnerving but mesmerizing, snapping you to attention if you get lost in the whirl of R&B vocals panning from right to left.

Tongos’a, arriving two months after Tokoliana, throws a similar one-two punch, but the closer, “Likolo,” may be the most intriguing track of the handful. Showing off the band’s frightening versatility, “Likolo” rounds off those edges for a slow-burn, bass-heavy disco track that piles on the anthemic chanting to elevate existential lyrics to a collective battle cry. “We are all naked bodies under the sky,” Bianco cries, heart tearing at the seams, “We all know how it’s going to end.” Given how thrillingly unpredictable KOKOKO!’s journey has been so far, here’s hoping they keep that particular spoiler to themselves. Four tracks in, they already sound limitless.

VIDEO PREMEIRE: Orouni - Kalimbalism (Instrumental)

Kelly Kirwan

Orouni had an itch for travel. It was a dizzying sense of wanderlust that propelled him across countries and continents for twelve months on the road, an ambling artist and rolling stone. Returning to Paris, Orouni had amassed an eclectic orchestra of instruments: cavaquinho, charango, balafon, and, of course, kalimbas, which inspired and served as the guiding heartbeat for his single "Kalimbalism."

Nicknamed the "thumb piano," the kalimba has a distinctive xylophone-ting. It's a lamellophone in its own right, comprised of a wooden base and thin plates for finger plucking and plucky beats. "Kalimbalism" has an upbeat, inviting melody, accompanied by a shimmying, sort of soft-maraca percussion and the occasional sweet, female croon. This instrumental version is plush and inviting, tapering off unexpectedly roughly three-quarters of the way in. There’s a pause, and then a twinkling resurgence—an acoustic, metallic arrangement of twangs, as if it were a moment of retrospection after a sensory-overload brought on by sightseeing.

The accompanying video is essentially a tour of Europe’s famed artistic mecca, Paris. It’s shot in a series of quirky stop-motion frames, highlighting pieces of architecture and cityscapes that are transplants of other cultures, now meshed into the modern identity of Paris—a crossroads of expression. We see elements of Russia, India, and China, an intersection of East and West whose slides reflect the nature of Orouni’s song and overarching album, Grand Tour. It’s a musical collage as much as it is a compilation, a global tapestry of indie-folk, whose varied composition leaves us, rooted listeners, with the feeling that we two have escaped our everyday.

THE BEST SONGS & MUSIC VIDEOS OF 2015

As a corollary to our Best Albums of 2015 list, we wanted to highlight some individual songs and music videos that caught our attention over the course of the year. Some of our absolute favorites already fell into the album roundup, but in order to avoid too much duplication we decided that any given band could only be present on one list.

What you see below are the singles, standout album tracks, videos (some of which honestly could stand as short films), and other sundries that we felt were deserving of your attention. So pop those headphones on and get to it.

SONGS

Roseau - "Kids and Drunks"

Goth Babe - "Sunshine"

Froyo Ma - "Think @bt"

Budo Kiba - "One For Charlie"

Slow Dakota - "I Saw Christ in Hermès"

Be Quiet - "Ichor"

Bairoa - "Sumersión"

Phèdre - "Tivoli"

Dadras - "Earth Don't Stop Here"

Alabama Shakes - "Future People"

Sebastian Paul - "Riptide"

Gilligan Moss - "It Felt Right"

Totally Mild - "When I'm Tired"

Silicon - "Dope"

Cool Uncle feat. Jessie Ware - "Break Away"

Car Seat Headrest - "Times to Die"

Purity Ring - "Flood On The Floor"

Florence and the Machine - "Various Storms & Saints"

Wild Ones - "Dim the Lights"

VIDEOS

Nosaj Thing - "Cold Stares ft. Chance The Rapper + The O'My's"

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "Necessary Evil"

Buscabulla - "Métele"

Lower Dens - "To Die in L.A."

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - "Sundry"

Dralms - "Crushed Pleats"

Dan Deacon - "When I Was Done Dying"

Fur Voice - "Fantasia"

Naytronix - "Back in Time"

The Staves - "Black & White"

Shlohmo - "Buried"

Bagarre - "Claque-le"

Total Makeover - "Self Destructive"

Ducktails - "Surreal Exposure"