Music Box: June 2014
…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
The eleventh studio release from The Roots is another concept album like 2011’s Undun, and in that tradition it delivers its story of various characters with a number of instrumental interludes. This works nicely on the brief intro featuring a Nina Simone recording, but too often feels like a series of dull diversions from the actual songs. The sound is often so dour and minimal you’d think it was patched together by the likes of DJ Shadow, rather than performed by the same guys that make up Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show Band. However, in the roughly 20 minutes when Questlove’s beats and Black Thought’s rapping are both present, the results are consistently engaging. The first boost of momentum comes three tracks in on “When the People Cheer,” backed by a creepy piano roll and a classic breakbeat. Moments later “Black Rock” brings a deeply funky guitar line that sounds borrowed from the RZA’s vinyl collection. The disc is worth a listen for those tracks alone.
It’s always a thrill to discover a genre of music you’d never heard of, and it’s even more thrilling to find that someone out there is doing their best to keep its traditions alive. Here, Rub?n Luengas of Oaxaca leads a group of musicians and musicologists in reviving the rural folk orchestras of Mexico’s Mixtec region. The title of Pasatono Orquesta’s latest album refers to the travelling one-man circuses of yore; half of the music covers traditional tunes that would accompany those acts, and the other half consists of original compositions in the same vein. The mix of brass, woodwinds, strings, and marching drums recalls European gypsy music, early jazz and even klezmer, with a few mariachi-like ballads thrown in for good measure. The group even plays nearly obsolete indigenous stringed instruments that they made themselves, by hand! The whole thing would seem a bit too academic if the results weren’t so incredibly fun.
The sultry voice of Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano is the clear draw for electro-pop outfit Little Dragon, but the group’s latest effort lives and dies by the atmospheres created behind her. Dance tracks like “Klapp Klapp” and “Paris” rank among the group’s best songs and feature driving beats with tasteful bits of electronic experimentation, while “Killing Me” and “Let Go” are interesting but not quite danceable. Unfortunately, most of the remainders lack that same excitement and rely too much on Nagano’s vocals with layers upon layers of synths and strings. The group has created a lush dreamscape for you to explore, but the dreams are not always very memorable. The album’s slow jams are largely without hooks and the mid-tempo tracks are just begging for a remix.