According to the Kindle application on my phone, I’m 14% of the way through Mo’ Meta Blues, the new memoir from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. And while it would probably behoove me to wait until I’ve read, oh, I don’t know, at least a third of the Roots drummer’s book before I start sharing opinions about it, I can’t help jumping in with a quick reaction to Thompson’s relationship with record reviews.
The word “transcendent” gets bandied about like nobody’s business, but I’d like to apply it in a very specific way to Kishi Bashi’s performance at June 14’s Friday Cheers.
I have a friend who seems to know someone in every other band that comes to town. It’s jealousy-inspiring and heartwarming at the same time, but more than anything else, I see it as a testament to how good and generous she is as a person, and how some people are wizards when it comes to keeping in touch. (This has always been a weakness of mine, so when I see that quality in others, it really catches my eye.)
She recently told me about a band she’s friends with that’s set to play this Wednesday, June 26 at Strange Matter, and it took approximately 0.734 seconds of listening to their new album for me to develop a strong desire to probe these people about the hows and whys behind the music they make. They’re called NYMPH, and they’re a 7-piece group, hailing from Brooklyn and specializing in the crazy spaces between jazz, psych- and noise rock. Their new album, New Millennium Prayer, comes out tomorrow, giving you 24 hours to dissect and digest it before they hit the stage at Strange Matter in a colorful cloud of creative energy.
RVA Magazine was kind enough to pick up the interview — I hope you’ll check it out here and listen below to the remix they did of “Golden Heart,” one of the tracks from Neneh Cherry’s outstanding 2012 album, The Cherry Thing.
NYMPH & Neneh Cherry – “Golden Heart” Remix [Spotify/iTunes]
There’s this Radiolab segment that’s stuck with me ever since I heard it a few years ago. It’s about how electronic devices are designed to sound — not what comes out of built-in speakers or plugged-in headphones, but the sounds that the object itself makes. That soft, round clap that let you know that your old flip phone was closed. That sharp, plastic-y snap that came from closing and locking your Walkman. These sounds weren’t accidents; they were carefully engineered by human people. Isn’t that wild? People sat around thinking about how the materials of a Walkman should be assembled so that, when it closed, you’d feel a sense of security. This thing is definitely shut. There’s no way my Paula Abdul tape is going to unexpectedly pop out.
When I’m listening to the self-titled album that Boston-based group The Most Americans recently released, I can hear that snap. It wasn’t used as a found sound on any of the tracks, or sampled to make a beat; it’s the album itself. The whole thing snaps because it sounds like the work of bandmates who have totally locked into one another — the harmonies, the guitars that carefully paint on different regions of the same canvas, the subtle but confident time variations — it all sounds secure and pleasing in a truly extraordinary way.
A flow that natural can seem effortless. But the truth is, as with the electronics mentioned above, it’s actually the result of years of hard, collaborative work by human people, and since I’ve been dying to know more about the album (“Two Dreams” has become one of my favorite songs released this year), I sent the human people responsible for it a few questions via email. The group’s two lead vocalists — guitarist Jon Braun and drummer Kevin Walsh — sent back the following responses:
I knew soul was messy, but I hadn’t seen firsthand how beautiful and messy it could be until last week’s Friday Cheers.
Rain fell all day long, leaving the ground on Brown’s Island a soupy wreck, and when Mrs. YHT and I finally walked across the pedestrian bridge onto Brown’s Island — we’d spent the preceding half hour in the car, delaying our inevitable drenching — I did not expect that the show would actually happen. The original start time had lapsed and the entrance fee had been waived, yet I didn’t see a single spectating soul until the front edge of the stage was in view. There, a dozen or so umbrellas were huddled, the people under them watching Charles Bradley’s backing band — in this context you’d call them Bradley’s “Extraordinaires,” but without Bradley they’re known as Menahan Street Band — tune up. (I imagined that the band was having their own version of the “Is this thing actually going to happen?” conversation.)
Some friends had taken refuge under an unused radio station canopy across from the beer truck, and we joined them and learned that (good news) people were being allowed backstage, but (bad news) Bradley was rumored to be held up in traffic. We didn’t go backstage, but amazingly, just a short time later, we heard Bradley’s Extraordinaires playing what sounded like organized notes, and a few instrumental numbers later (“Summer In The City” being one) there he was. The Victim of Love. The Original Black Swan. The One and Only Screaming Eagle of Soul. (His extended intro, voiced by the band’s keys player, was a show unto itself. It felt more like a wrestling introduction, like how Paul Bettany introduced Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale.)
The rest of the evening was pure magic. The band sounded great, Bradley’s voice was every bit the wonder I’d hoped it would be, and the small group of us that crowded the gravely area near the stage made enough noise for an audience 10 times our size. And while the music was outstanding (the rendition of “Confusion” embedded above was a personal favorite), what Bradley did between songs was most memorable.
In case you couldn’t tell from my post about Golden Rules for Golden People, I’m rather fond of Pretty & Nice. I’m extremely happy to report that I had the chance to interview them a few hours before their recent show at Strange Matter, and the interview just went up over at rvamag.com. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look it over and learn a little more about how their amazing new album came together.
Just for fun, here’s the Us You All We track I mentioned in the interview, along with its remix.
Pretty & Nice — “Dan’s Heart” [Spotify/iTunes]
Pretty & Nice — “Dan’s Heart” (The Mathematics Remix) [Spotify/iTunes]
BK Music is one of my happy places. I could give you a slew of reasons why (Record Store Day acquisitions would definitely rank among them), but there’s a single, indicative vignette I want to share with you today: