2016 REWIND: NEW DISCOVERIES

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Ordinarily, I might chalk up to having these many new artists coming from the same city as coincidence but it feels like Chicago’s music scene is the midst of some kind of glorious moment right now. Musically, the Jamila Woods, NoName and Chance projects share much in common but it’s also about collaboration since every artist above has worked with at least 1-2 other people.

Woods’s “HEAVN” is suitably sublime, given its name, and there’s so many layers of meaning at play here. It’s about love rising within and against violence, history, tragedy, resistance and liberation. All that and an amazing polyvocal hook plus a Cure shout-out for all the ‘80s kids.

The NoName album sounds like it was made with a roomful of children’s musical toys and I mean that as a compliment in the best possible way.

I didn’t love Chance’s Coloring Book as much as others but it had these moments of transcendent magic, especially the on “How Great” when the track shifts from the gospel choir to the sample crafted from their singing. Plus, it made sense to throw it into the mix here, paired with “Ultralight Beam.” I feel like I’ve said this elsewhere but I don’t think The Life of Pablo will improve with time (not to least of which is because of Kanye’s antics) but “Ultralight Beam” stays stunning.

I think we can all agree that 2016 could have used more Kendrick yet even between two tracks, he still managed to leave quite the impression. “Untitled 06” owes as much to Cee-lo as it does KL but together, they create a groove so good that it’s hard to believe this was left on a cutting room floor originally. Meanwhile, Kendrick’s verse on the “THat Part” remix mandolins your mind so thoroughly that you may need a guide to follow every rhyme he layers in there.

I don’t have much more to add that I haven’t already said except to repeat that the very existence of this album feels like a miracle and a gift. This track, in particular, will have me bouncing well into the new year and beyond.

Technically, “Might Be” should be listed as a “discovery” since it’s two years old but as much as I thought Malibu was a solid effort, no Paak song got more rotation from me this year than “Might Be,” after I heard it on Wynter Mitchell’s “Summer of Wynter” playlist earlier this year.

But in terms of current R&B jams, Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White” had me zoning out like practically no other song this year. Even if I agree that Blond felt form-less at times, sometimes, vibe > songs.

Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” goes in a completely opposite direction: a big big sound that wants to raise the roof, burn it down and then get everyone to pitch in to rebuild it. How this wasn’t a smash hit of the summer, I’ll never understand.

But let’s just be real: Beyonce managed to find some next level of dominance that I would never have guessed was possible unlike “Formation” blew in and up. I very much want to see how artists like her and Kendrick perform (literally and figuratively) over the next few years.

 It feels somehow wrong to laud 2016 as a great year for retro-soul considering we lost both Sharon Jones and the Frightnrs’ Dan Klein but the sheer quality of output from stalwart labels like Daptone, Big Crown and Timmion was undeniable.1
I’m sneaking the Jack Moves into the 2016 column even though the album came out in ’15 simply because I didn’t come upon it until this year. “Being With You” sounds like some kind of lost track from the Sylvers II album and in general, I loved the group’s take on a particular style of NY/NJ ’70s R&B.
Charles Bradley continues to emote anguish better than almost any other but “Things We Do For Love,” my favorite song off of Changes, was lighter in the tone. He almost sounds…happy here. 😉
The Frankie Reyes is an example of how the simplest of ideas can yield amazing results. Even in an age of digital patches for everything, there’s something to be said about the unique qualities of vintage synths.
Even if The Frightnrs’ album is haunted by the loss of Klein, the world needs more rocksteady grooves and I hope the group continues to deliver in that vein.
Who knew there was a Bolivian-Finnish tradition in music-making? Bobby Oroza is second-generation in that and I suspect we’ll be hearing more from him for the future. (BTW, am I the only one who thinks Oroza and Reyes should collabo?)
Hands-down, this new Lee Fields album is the best thing he’s released with The Expressions since their first collaboration on My World (maybe better) and “Never Be Another You,” is just one of a slew of incredible tracks off of there.
Had to end this with a nod to the late Sharon Jones with the sole new song off of the soundtrack for Miss Sharon Jones! I suppose the title feels bittersweet now but the spirit behind it is what matters and until the very end, Jones’s willpower and vibrancy stayed shining.
  1. I should also acknowledge that some of these imprints are branching into non-soul releases like The Shacks on Big Crown or The Mystery Lights on Daptone. Makes sense and I hope they continue to do so even if my first and forever love will be for their soul output.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC

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I’m prepping my list of songs from the past year but I’m curious to know what some of your favorite discoveries were (new or old) from 2016? 

OVER AT BEATTIPS…

Forgot to mention to folks that I’m now doing a test run on columns for BeatTips.com as part of their “Marquee Names” series, looking at key artists and recordings. The first one I wrote was about Curtis Mayfield and I have a shorter piece, up today, about the incredible Rhetta Hughes song, “You’re Doing With Her.” 

MY FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2016

It’s been a while since I voted in the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop poll but for whatever reason, I decided to do so this year even though I didn’t have a literal top 10 (just top 8). The way Pazz and Jop works is that your picks are weighted so this is what I turned in:

    Beyonce: Lemonade (20 points)
    Frank Ocean: Blond/e (20)
    A Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here (15)
    Noname: Telefone (15)
    Lee Fields: Special Night (10)
    Jamila Woods: HEAVN (10)
    Frankie Reyes: Boleros Valses y Mas (5)
    Kendrick Lamar: Untitled. Unmastered. (5)

These were, to be sure, kind of spur of the moment for me and if I had more time, I might have rejiggered some of the point values or what have you but overall, these were the albums that gave me the most pleasure in 2016 and/or the ones I felt that were important to be recognized.

A REVISIT TO MANU’S VOODOO (AND CRATE DIGGING POST-INTERNET)

A few weeks back, I was interview by The Ringer’s Justin Sayles for an article he just published about the last 20 years of crate-digging and sample-based production since the release of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. It is a sprawling long-form essay that covers a great deal of territory and I suspect it’d be of great interest to many of the readers of this site.

At the essay’s end, Sayles includes this section based around our convo:

Wang says that the internet has been both an “asset and a liability” for the world of crate digging. Yes, it’s had an effect of diluting hyperspecialized knowledge, making years’ worth of collecting accessible to anyone who can get online, but it has also brought together like-minded music aficionados to share knowledge, and has connected people with, for example, a rare LP a collector in the United Arab Emirates is selling.

That last line is specifically referring to an album I last wrote about in 2008: Manu Dibango’s African Voodoo (I re-upped the sound files for it today). I did, indeed, buy the album from a seller in the UAB that I was connected to via the old GEMM.com. For a long time, it was the closest I came to having anything approaching a “come up” story even though, in the grand scheme of things, “finding a record for cheap on the internet isn’t exactly the stuff of legend.1 In any case, what I had forgotten about was what I wrote in that 2008 post:

Why not post this earlier? I actually had planned to at one point but then noticed it had shown up, in full album form, on other blogs. That took the proverbial wind out of the sails, not just because I’ve been beaten from the punch (which I could care less about) but rather, once a $400 record becomes just another download, part of its unique magic dissipates. Under those circumstances, I’d rather post up something more meaningful to me, personally, than “check out this rare record I have” (especially when it’s not so rare once it becomes more mass available). Ah, but such is the reality of music going online.

Again, I wrote that in ’08 and I suspect many folks would have already begun feeling the same way back in ’98. My point here isn’t to rehash the debate but rather to point out that we’re still having it.

Sayles’s article doesn’t arrive at any clear conclusions and that seems exactly right: the internet is still transforming how we accumulate and disseminate both knowledge about music and the music itself. My own site embraces part of the irreconcilability of it all; it’s a digital space inspired by old analog ephemera and the existence of that site might be helping contribute to both/either the scarcity of that ephemera (as collector’s items) or its greater distribution (via comps, reissues, digital releases, etc.) The only thing I can say is that I should have posted African Voodoo earlier than 2008; I was too self-conscious back then and it is a great album and worthy of notice regards of how many other blogs posted about it back then.

  1. With that said, the greatest come up I ever had did, indeed, involve finding a record for cheap on the internet.

OUR NEW FACEBOOK *GROUP*

In the interests of expanding interaction, I’ve shifted from using a Facebook Page to a Facebook Group. I’ll leave both up for a while but eventually, I’ll only post to the Group as to avoid double-posting in your timelines. Thanks!

PUSHING FORWARD

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Swan Silvertones: If You Believe Your God Is Dead
From 7″ (HOB, 197?).

I received this email, from out of the blue, the other day:

Oliver, the world needs you more than ever now.

Your Soul selections (and general selection) is such an important part of global culture especially Soul & Black culture worldwide.

To DJ’s and Soul collectors you are a hero, and the one thing I know we all need in this world is more Love marinaded with your incredible selection skills.

SoulSides wasn’t just a blog, it was access to catalogues of music that never reached parts of our globe like Africa as an example, obviously because of political issues, but mainly because of limited budget releases of those incredible labels and artists.

It’s hard to describe how much it meant to receive it and not just because it’s highly complementary.

When I started Soul Sides in 2004, I was subconsciously using it to replace my old college radio show. The latter had gotten to be a slog so I was happy to reclaim those 3+ hours a week but I missed having a way of sharing and talking about music so voila!: audioblogging filled that space.

And in the heady days where people still, you know, blogged, it was kind of like doing radio but even better because people would comment and there’d be small convos that’d breakout on account of it. That kind of feedback is vitally important; it lets me know that people are out there listening.

And then Facebook and Twitter arose and I was just as guilty as anyone in shifting my attention and energies – as a reader – over to those platforms. I understand why people stopped commenting here but over time, I just couldn’t tell who was reading/listening anymore. Was I writing these posts to a non-audience? And if so, what was the point of doing that? And so, over time, my posting has slowed to a trickle.

I’m not saying this to guilt anyone out there. I’m totally fine with people hopping on, DLing a few songs, and jumping out. I do/did the same. But what this email reminded me was “oh, people are reading/listening” and it helps me to want to create more for you (the abstract “you”, not just the author of the email).

I’m thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been in a dark place because of what’s happening in my society and I keep coming back to something my friend Jeff Chang wrote: “don’t despair, create.” I’m really trying to take that to heart because action is a great counter to depression and so I’m more committed, than ever, to want to create things in the world, whatever forms that may take. And so you may see an increase in posting here but here’s my ask: let me know what you think. Again, feedback to a writer/DJ is part of our lifeblood. It helps to know who’s reading/listening out there. I’m not asking for paragraphs – just a sentence will do. And again, my point here isn’t to guilt people. And maybe what I need to do is create  Facebook group or something along those lines (since there’s not a ton of interaction on the FB page). But in any case, it helps to hear from you all, it truly does.

It also seems apropos that in a time where it feels dark, I gravitate towards songs that seem to burst with light and I can’t think of one much better than this Swan Silvertones’ single. I’m not religious so gospel to me is about feeling rather than faith but heck, the insistence they have in saying, “if you believe your god is dead, try mine, he’s still alive” is so powerful, it makes me want to believe. And theology aside, the basic message is: do not despair, hope survives.

 

THE CHAYNS: FORGED IN SAN ANTONIO

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The Chayns: You
From 7″ (Chayn-Reaction, 1968

Another one I picked up during the Numero Group’s Rapp Cats sale: a gem of a garage/psych rock track that originally hails from San Antonio’s “Teen Canteen” scene of mid-60s. The song would be memorable enough if it only kept to the opening, two-note bass line but the way it switches up for the chorus seals the deal.

SIDNEY PINCHBACK: SET STUNNERS TO PHASE

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Sidney Pinchback & The Sisters: This Is The Woman
From 7″ (Nickel, 1969)

Picked this one up from Rob Sevier during the recent Numero sale in L.A. Immediately fell in love with the phased effect that hits you from jump (listen to this on headphones for maximum impact). It’s the instrumental flipside of Lucky Cordell’s “This Is The Woman I Love” which features Cordell…just talking over the instrumental. Believe me when I say, B-side wins this one (again).

Notably, this wasn’t the only time Pinchback went with a phase effect; “Soul Strokes” was the first time I had heard of his name (I thought it was fake!). I only later learned that he was a semi-prolific songwriter in the Chicago R&B scene of the 1960s, including as a co-writer on Billy Stewart’s “Cross My Heart.”

PAUL GRIFFIN: OLD TIME SOUL SAUCE

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Paul Griffin: Yes, Indeed + Wilson, Otis and Aretha
From Paul Griffin Pours On Some Soul Sauce (Somerset, 1968)

A pleasant surprise find at Mono Records. Griffin was a prolific studio session player with over 250 recording credits to his name but only a small handful of solo sides to his name. All featured Griffin on the Hammond and this album, in particular, was obviously inspired by the burgeoning golden era of soul music in the late ’60s.

I initially thought “Wilson, Otis and Aretha” might have been some kind of medley cut but instead, it reminds me more of the gospel standard “Come Out the Wilderness.” Meanwhile, “Yes, Indeed” is a lovely, slow burn of a blues ballad (this could be a cover of Ray Charles’s song by the same name but they don’t sound alike to my ears).