No Blues (Turnstile/Wichita)
The life of a Los Campesinos! fan is as rewarding as it is lonesome. You might be the only one listening, but you never have to wait very long to hear something new.
Since they came together in 2006 at Cardiff University in Wales, the six piece (none of them actually Welsh) has reeled off five albums in five years - each darker and more ornate, if not better, than the last.
No Blues continues the trend, piling more noise atop the band’s common themes of lust, heartbreak, death and soccer.
For a band occasionally dismissed as twee, Los Campesinos! can make quite a racket. Lead singer Gareth Campesinos! whines, spits and shouts his clever, occasionally confounding lyrics with thickly accented irony and earnestness as his fellow Campesinos! (the bandmates all share the same surname, complete with sarcastic exclamation point) bash away behind him.
The stand-out track, “As Lucerne/The Low,” mixes background chants and steel drum plinks with some of Gareth’s most inventive and heartfelt vocal work yet.
Just don’t expect to understand everything right away, not without ready access to Google, or a maybe a library card. The first single, “What Death Leaves Behind,” employs the word “tautology.” In the chorus.
Such literate lyrics invite comparisons to bands like Belle & Sebastian, The Beautiful South and The Smiths (see track four, the wryly titled “Cemetery Gaits”).
But Los Campesinos! never takes itself terribly seriously. On the rollicking “Avocado, Baby,” a chorus of children swoops in late to explain the song’s silly name: “A heart of stone, rind so tough it’s crazy, that’s why they call you the avocado, baby.”
It’s one of the best moments on a record that peaks in the second half, like any good football squad.
On the closing track, “Selling Rope (Swan Dive to Estuary),” Gareth narrates a suicidal leap that goes completely unnoticed, even by the birds perched beneath the bridge.
The absurdist image doubles as a fitting tribute to a band worthy of more attention than it gets: a splash made for the sake of splashing, whether anyone sees it or not. HENRY BREAN
World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 5: Who Is William Onyeabor? (Luaka Bop)
If Fela Kuti was Nigeria’s answer to James Brown, then William Onyeabor is its holy trinity of funk: its George Clinton, Parliament and Funkadelic all wrapped in one.
That we can say conclusively. But there is little else than can be said definitively about the African mystery man behind the 75 minutes of far-out space-disco collected here. Part of the conceit of this compilation is that even the people who licensed this music from Onyeabor had trouble nailing down basic biographical facts about him.
Here’s what is known, from the liner notes: Onyeabor is a crowned chief in the Eastern Nigeria, his hometown. He currently resides in “a hidden place in the woods.” He self-released eight albums in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He abandoned his music career in the ‘80s, presumably after becoming a born-again Christian.
So he’s kind of a question mark, albeit an incredibly funky one. The most remarkable aspect to Onyeabor’s music is how cohesive a sound he creates with so few elements, and somewhat chintzy ones at that. The nine tracks on Who Is William Onyeabor? are built on little more than cheesy synthesizers, tinny drum machines, his own voice, occasional guitar and some female backup singers.
But it smokes, crackles and cooks like an African funk barbecue. “I’m gonna explode,” Onyeabor sings on “Atomic Bomb” while his lady singers repeatedly chant the song’s title. “Good Name” simply sounds like Gary Numan on acid. And the incredible organ-trill solos on “Something You Will Never Forget” are exactly that.
This is another winner from David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label after a run of amazing compilations in their World Psychedelic Classics series. Previous releases hipped Americans to ‘60s Brazilian tropicalia weirdos Os Mutantes; their fellow countryman and soul legend, the late Tim Maia; and the American psych guitarist/singer Shuggie Otis.
The series is sometimes derided as “Putamayo-for-hipsters.” But that’s truly selling it short. Luaka Bop has had a tremendous effect bringing wider recognition to masterminds forgotten to everyone outside of DJs and cratedigging record collectors. Also, Otis and Os Mutantes regularly tour now on the strength of the renewed interest sparked by the label’s collections of their work.
Perhaps this amazing introduction to Onyeabor’s music will coax him out of the Nigerian woods and back onto the stage.