Neil Fauerso is a concert organizer/promoter, DJ, and critic, and the co-founder of the record label Unseen Worlds.
Welcome to the second installment of Studio Sounds, where I share some music I’ve been enjoying in my studio over the last month, often broken into four categories: Present and Past (self-explanatory), Future (music I think sounds fast, distant, ahead) and Afterlife (beautiful cosmic music I hope to hear after I die reassuring me that there is a soul and it continues). I hope you can find some time to give these a spin in your studios whatever they might be.
Luka Productions: Mali Kady
I’ve long believed that music is the most rarefied and soulful of the arts because it requires so little material and economic comfort to make, and in some cases seems to thrive in the most trying of environments. Mali, the West African country of fifteen million, has had a tumultuous and tragic several years, with the northern part of the country temporarily seized and occupied by Islamist forces (as dramatized in the brilliant film Timbuktu) and a horrific terrorist massacre in the Radisson Hotel in the capital city Bamako last November. But Malians keep shining. Mali, home of the wicked Tuareg blues and heavenly kora music, is perhaps the most vibrant musical country in the African continent, which makes it perhaps the most vibrant music country in the world. Sahel Sounds, an incredible Portland, Oregan label, exploded onto the scene five years ago with its third release, the seminal Music for Saharan Cell Phones. Since then Sahel Sounds has released over 30 albums and compilations from the west-African (and in particular Mali) region and they range in quality from “really good” to “so exceptional I feel profoundly grateful this label exists.” Sahel Sounds has single-handedly brought western exposure to Bamako’s wild, psychedelic Street Party and hip-hop scene.
And what a scene it is, an ecstatic mix of auto-tune rap, kuduro, decale, dancehall, and trap. This music is raw and frenetic and I imagine if you played it at a Trump rally it would cause a panicked stampede. This most recent Bamako Street Party lp by Luka, a young MC who seems poised to be crowned king of the scene, is my favorite of the series so far. Sublime production that transcends the chintziness of its building blocks (auto-tune, Casio-synths), and Luka is so charismatic it feels like he’s floating above the tracks.
Terry Reid ‘Brave Awakening‘ from Seed of Memory
Terry Reid is one of the great what-ifs in rock history. Jimmy Page invited him to be the singer for Led Zeppelin and he declined partly because he was afraid of Page’s love of black magic and instead recommended another young singer, Robert Plant. Reid’s solo career is so brilliant and his vocal performances so moving, I genuinely believe Led Zeppelin would have been as good— albeit way less into fantasy lyrics—with Terry Reid as the singer. Reid’s best album is also, of course, his rarest and hardest to find: Seed of Memory. A flawless suite of blue-eyed country soul with most songs running to the six-minute mark and a heavily burnished ‘70s studio production (in the best possible way). It could easily buckle under its own gravitas and pained backing vocals, but Reid is such a beautiful, fearless singer he instead accomplishes one of the best vocal albums of the era. Take Brave Awakening to continue the then-trend of really dramatic, sad ‘70s songs about coal mining. “Mother, I fear for the laddies, There ain’t much more coal to go down to, There ain’t much more soul to get round to, Not anymore.” Reid sings in such an incisive plea of weariness and despair, with the clarity of a lighthouse bell, that his voice literally stopped me in the tracks the first time I heard it. In some ways, Reid’s life and career has been haunted by such weariness: He never got the fame, money or respect he deserved, but he made this album—as good as any Led Zeppelin album. As good as any album really.
Amnesia Scanner: AS Crust
I hope to go Berlin next year and though I’m sure I’ll be disabused of this fantasy, I like to imagine it as a ruthless competitive citadel for forward electronic producers the world over. After all, everyone eventually moves to Berlin, once their own local scenes become stale and played— be they in London, Tokyo, Beijing or Addis Ababa. It’s hard to imagine the music the mysterious Berlin duo Amnesia Scanner makes coming from anywhere else but Berlin. The lengths that Amnesia Scanner goes to be bleeding edge is somewhat laughable; they describe themselves as Xperienz Designers for example, but they’re more akin to the ludicrously named minor Cronenberg classic eXistenZ (which I suspect is a major influence). Amnesia Scanner are unsettling and exhilarating. Their debut EP on tres hip and excellent label Young Turks, titled AS, creates a sci-fi franchise in 21 minutes. My favorite track, AS Crust, sounds like a banger for a club on a dystopic space mining colony.
Midori Takada: Through The Looking Glass
Whenever I begin to feel we’ve reached peak reissue/archive, i.e., there are no more truly amazing obscure records of the past to be introduced to, I turn to Japan which is the veritable oil sands of Alberta when it comes to strange and beautiful records from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and increasingly (at least for me) the 1980s. There are entire swathes of (for us) obscure Japanese music from the ‘80s—like for example the wondrous City Pop genre—that have never seen a single western reissue or release. Takada’s album from 1983 and released bizarrely on RCA Japan (the ‘80s record industry scene in Japan was incredible) is a pantheon level ambient/folk/field album combining traditional Japanese instruments, forests sounds and light studio/synth accouterments. Alternating between a stately, otherworldly garden atmosphere and glissando cosmic rhythms in the vein of Terry Riley or Mother Mallard, this is simply one of the best modern classical albums I’ve ever heard, and I understand it will receive an official reissue sometime this year.