Music I Should’ve Grown Up With (2010-2013)
by Parker Ziegler on July 30, 2014
Posted in: Album Review, Eclectic, Electronic, Folk, Jazz, Music, R&B / Soul, Rock
So we have reached it. The final post. What follows are four of the most innovative and exciting albums I’ve heard, period. They bode well for a future that is sure to hold its share of incredible music yet to come, music that I will likely be raising my own children on. That being said, 30 years from now it probably won’t hurt to look back on my past, feel a little nostalgic, throw these ol’ tunes on and remember what it was like to grow up. I owe much of who I am–as a listener, as a musician, as a person–to these albums. I owe them all the memories I have.
If you’ve missed the whole sappy, nostalgic ride we’ve been on you can catch up using the links below:
Music I Should’ve Grown Up With: 1994-1997
Music I Should’ve Grown Up With: 1998-2000
Music I Should’ve Grown Up With: 2001-2003
Music I Should’ve Grown Up With: 2004-2006
Music I Should’ve Grown Up With: 2007-2009
2010—The Morning Benders, Big Echo
If the Impressionist cover art doesn’t already do it for you, Big Echo has plenty of artistic savvy to finish the job. As the 2nd full length from Berkeley, CA’s The Morning Benders, the album is a growing-up effort for a band that showed plenty of angst on 2008’s Talking Through Tin Cans. Certainly, the music here is more developed and mature, as is the lyricism of frontman Chris Chu. But it is also lamenting of this ebb into adulthood, see in lines like “But I can’t help thinkin’ we grew up too fast” from the punk-funk track “Promises”. There’s more nostalgia here than regret, a realization I began to make in my own life right around the time Big Echo came out.
The quartet roles through a plethora of phase changes on this album, all of which reflect the nuance of their songwriting. Opener “Excuses” drips with romance and passion, as an orchestra of timbalis and violins confirms the band’s ‘chamber pop’ tendencies. Ballads “Wet Cement” and “Mason Jar” sway slowly as ambiguous collisions of bitterness and hope (see lines “Stuck in the Mason Jar / Where I sealed up my old heart. / I take it out once a week / To donate to charity” off “Mason Jar”). And finally, the sinister, mysterious reverb of “Hand Me Downs” and “Stitches” shows off the band’s affinity for the spooky and the affected. There’s a lot of dimension to Big Echo, both stylistically and sonically, and it shows in the grandiose climaxes that decorate the album.
I saw the Morning Benders before their end (the band has since changed its name to Pop Etc. and entered the world of R&B) on a dreary night in November 2010. I remember how remarkably quiet they could get on stage, how contemplative and sparse and quiet. But I also remember how they could wail, could give, could come to the paper thin divide between screaming and crying. They were in that bizarre time warp between being a child and an adult, crying out of nostalgia and screaming out of joy. Finding an album more musically impressive than Big Echo is difficult; finding an album that more embodies coming of age is impossible.
2011—Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx, We’re New Here
Typically, I’m not one to go for remixes, mash-ups, or things with “X”s. But when it comes to Jamie xx’s recreation of the bluesy baritone poetry of Gil Scott-Heron, I’m willing to make an exception. Here, past and present truly fuse into an aesthetic masterpiece spanning the Atlantic, from 1970s south Bronx to 2000s inner London. But geography aside, there is also a subtle and innovative communication between these two artists that perhaps is somewhat unexpected; I mean, what does a 60-year-old soul legend have in common with a young, subdued London DJ? Turns out, a whole lot more than one might expect.
Jamie xx puts Scott-Heron first and foremost on this album, building above, below, and on either side of him. The poet’s verses hit the ears raspy and cool, especially on tracks “I’m New Here” and “Running”. The repetition of “Ur soul and mine / Ur soul and mine” on “Ur Soul and Mine” adds an element of hypnosis amid wacky key changes and a sparse breakbeat. And one would behard-pressed to malign the trippy bounce of favorite “NY is Killing Me”. Taken together, one realizes that We’re New Here is not simply another remix album—it is more a renaissance for the two artists together, as they bend and blend together in ways unimaginable.
The best of the album is saved for the end, with the heavily-reverbed guitar on “I’ll Take Care of U” reminiscent of Jamie xx’s production with his compatriots in The xx. It’s almost a statement of sorts to Gil Scott, telling the poet that his art is in very, very good hands (or turntables, if you prefer). Sadly, Scott-Heron did pass away just two months after the album’s release, making We’re New Here the last piece of music he is formally credited with. For me, however, it has been only an introduction. Because in the world of music created by these two, I think we’re all new.
“I’ll Take Care of U”
2012—EMEFE, Good Future
When EMEFE came to Middlebury late fall 2012, Iwasn’t sure what kind of night I’d be in for. I saw the advertisements for a night of supreme funk, but at the same time it was scheduled to be at the Bunker; needless to say, I assumed it would be a drunken affair of dubious prospects. Also needless to say, I was completely set on going. The reason was I had come across Good Future on the group’s Bandcamp site only a few weeks earlier. The wall of sound I found there so impressed me, especially as a horn player myself, that it immediately soared to the top of my listening sessions. Subsequently, these ‘listening’ sessions turned into loops of Good Future again, again, and again.
Part of the reason was the attractiveness of the album’s opener “Stutter”. Punctuated by one of the catchiest bari sax lines I’ve ever heard, the track is an immaculate delta of jazz, funk, hip-hop, and Latin influences (and the music video—see below—is a masterpiece to boot). “Good Future” allows the band to fly their true colors, amidst crisp horn melodies and an interlude of smooth Spanish choruses. And on “BBB” the energy of vocal frontman Gabriel Garzon-Montano breaks through to elevate the group to the level of forefathers Parliament and Funkadelic. Ultimately, Good Future is most intoxicating for its sense of purpose and intention. Despite the incredible technical and stylistic complexity here, you don’t ask “Do these guys know what they’re doing?”
The nearly 9-minute “Greed” at the end of the album is perhaps the best example of the chops EMEFE bring to Good Future. Garzon-Montano comes back evoking elements of R&B, classic funk, and spoken word with the irresistible line “This ain’t the time for bein’ polite, / Don’t think twice.” Nothing can be overlooked on this album which, in this writer’s opinion, pushes modern limits of Latin, jazz, andfunk at once. Again, needless to say, I had a great time that night at the Bunker. I ended up meeting EMEFE back at Brooker (where a friend had tipped me off they were staying) to chat and ask for some autographs; they acted incredulous that anyone would want them to sign anything. I was amazed more people weren’t drooling all over them. Because for all their talk about moving forward and expanding and the future, I had to say, Good Future was making for a pretty unbelievable present.
2013—Devendra Banhart, Mala
The best way to explain my opinion on Mala is to say this—after one listen, I christened this summer “The Summer of Devendra”. And aside from the subsequent live concert (with fellow WRMC DJs Lee Schlenker and David Ullmann), the discography torrenting, the constant listening, the foaming at the mouth, the obsession, the obsession, the obsession, aside from all of that—I realize I’ve made quite a wise decision. I was a new listener to the Venezuelan-American guitarist when Mala came out, and even from the first rasps of “Get on the dance floor” (from “Golden Girls”), I found myself hypnotized. I was ready to get on that dancefloor, evenwhen I was stuck in 3 hours of traffic trying to cross the George Washington Bridgeand Mala had been looping for hours.
Somehow I had missed everything when it came to Devendra—a musical career that had spanned over a decade, a long-a*s beard, crazy hair, his weirdness, his relationship with Natalie Portman (WHAT?), everything. But I wasn’t about to let Mala pass me by. The first 6 tracks are sheer gold—Banhart croons beautifully on “Daniel”, a Spanish-influenced waltz, and fuses introspective lyricism with pop sensibilities on “Never Seen Such Good Things”. “Your Fine Petting Duck” brings the album’s major theme—the difficulties and heartbreaks of love—to its front with the chorus “Come back, baby, / I never really loved him. / I’ll take you back, / I never really loved him.” There are few artists that deal so bitterly and beautifully with heartbreak like Devendra, and you feel the sarcasm and defeat just as much as the resolution. He somehow manages to make lines like “Love is gonna’ give me the worst day of my life” (off “A Gain”) feel cathartic.
The true gem off this album, however, is the Spanish ballad “Mi Negrita”. Devendra is nimble with his fingers on this track, the echoing call of “Mi amor no tiene esperanza (My love has no hope)” sounding like a lover’s lament from thestreets of Buenos Aires. He leaves with the track with cries of “Te amo (I love you)”, a fond farewell to whoever broke his heart (was it you, Natalie?). Seeing Devendra play early this summer, I realized how classical a performer he is. He’s goofy, he’s suave, he’s humble (he even let a random audience member have his 5 minutes of fame to play an original composition), and most of all, he’s still a child. He’s a child in the way that all of us still are, and will always be. At least for this writer, there’s still quite a bit of growing up to do, and plenty more music to do it with.