WILLIAM S. FISCHER – Akelarre (2005)

Reviewed by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Schuyler L.

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This here is an oddity; American arranger and film score composer William S. Fischer had travelled to the Basque Country in Spain, and decided to record funky versions of their traditional songs. The name of the record couldn’t be other than “Akelarre”, which might be the only Basque loanword in the English language. The word itself comes from the words “aker”, “he-goat”, and “larre”, “meadow”, but is more accurately translated as “Witches’ Sabbath”, the place where they were supposed to perform their dark rituals, guided by Satan in the guise of a black he-goat.

Despite having such an occult title, Akelarre itself is quite lightweight. All the tracks are completely instrumental, and they have the base melodies taken from the Basque musicality, and those are usually done with the flute. The other most prominent instrument is the electric guitar, which is often very screechy, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s playing distorted folk lines, or adding new ones. Not that it matters, it is the strongest point of the record! Completing the line-up, there is a jazzy/funky rhythm section of bass and drums, nothing out of the ordinary, and some electric effects.

Now, the flaw of this approach is that, most of the time, it is too mellow to have the strength funk demands. The flutes are played in a very… “softspoken” way, that lacks the acuteness that I so love in this instrument. This problem is particularly notable in the stretch from the third to the fifth track, in which the album slogs in flimsy jazzy wallpaper. The sixth track, “Eguntto Batez”, my favourite, comes to the rescue then, and it’s almost shocking how fierce it is, specially by the halfway mark where the guitars start raging in a solo clearly inspired by Eddie Hazel! The rest of the album sits in between these two extremes, and to be fair, not even at the lowest point this is as annoying as some jazz I’ve found. The ninth track, Xarmangarria, is also a highlight.

The basic Basque melodies themselves are also beautiful, and the more I listen, the more I notice the traditional backbone that holds this album. I’d say this particular factor makes Akelarre a “grower”, and not as much an obvious jazz-fusion as it would have seemed. However, and this might be more of my flaw as a listener, I can’t help but feel the lack of vocals really hampers this album, and make it much less interesting than it could have been. A coarse voice singing or even chanting something in Basque would do wonders to make even the most uneventful parts more interesting! It might even bring some of the promised witchcraft to this otherwise nice album.

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PAUL MCCARTNEY – Press to Play (1986)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

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Welcome to the Rock Superhero Bashing Circus! Well, as you might know “Press To Play” is usually indicated by some reviewers (oh those are terrible.. Oops) as Paul’s nadir. Oops again: I used to despise this album. But my fellow reviewer has given me the opportunity to explore this album under a new light; mostly in the darkness of my room, to be honest – just the music, and no videos. Those really didn’t stop playing back in the day. That wasn’t good.

“Stranglehold” is an extraordinary start. It’s strong and luminous, slightly bluesy. I feel some good 90s vibe here, even a bit of Lloyd Cole. There’s a double bass quality in the rhythmic base and the sax touches are totally engaging.

I changed scenery for the second song “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun”. Had to step out in the street on a cold threatening night, so I mounted the Fiio DAC and the Sennheiser cans on my head and I connected the DAC to my Android phone. BOOM! POW! Well, all those Batman 1966 onomatopeias. After the goofy start, it really blew my mind. You know sound counts, this is mostly a finely recorded album, no matter what they say.

I’m back in the computer and I launch the next song, “Talk more talk”, on the Yamaha amp. This one is a tad more annoying in the production department. The song itself is interesting (the guitar work is indeed very detailed) but it goes nowhere. Still, hardly offending. “Footprints”, instead, is one FINE Macca-style song. Extremely joyful details (some remind me of the future “Driving Rain” but everything was a little more guitar-rocking there). There’s a cracking detail in Paul’s otherwise still beautiful voice.. Is this when he starts to show the signs of age? “Press(ed) to play”..

About that song, and let’s forget the video clip, it’s probably the weakest in the lot. Paul what were you trying to achieve? This album has no hits (Will you count the bonus track, “Spies like us”? Well that video was.. slightly funny) and this is for the best: “Press” is really awful with the extremely tiring electronic drum, the echo vocals. No, please: “Never like this”.

Save your breath, then we have another little gem, “Pretty Little Head”, that could have been considered an A-HA (or even Tears For Fears) song as it begins. Here the electronic drums roll deliciously over the keyboards, and there’s that feeling that Paul is on the loose, experimenting.. The “African” voices are exquisite; the intertwined guitars and of course the effect-laden synths. It might be a little long; but I won’t complain, Paul is having fun.

As if he was paying the debts for “Press”, he scores high again with “Move Over Busker” (“Busker”.. Wasn’t that a movie with Phil Collins?). An engaging number, with more traditional sound, and a line that is certainly closer (specially in the second part) to a good rock and roll circa 1958, if you clean up the make up, that is. It rocks better than, say, “Take it away”.

Well in the end, you know, this wasn’t the awful album I’ve grown to despise. There is no such thing as bad production per se; it’s all in the numbers, “Press” ain’t a great song anyway and it tainted the whole set as a single, but a good electronic drum can be put to good use as we all know. For completists, “Angry” ain’t a particularly great song and “However Absurd” is a weird ending, but a good effort, anyway.

And the melodies, the hooks are there, Macca brand. Oh by the way did I mention “Only Love Remains”? 100% Macca ballad of any era, and it’s really good.

This is how you do it, and it’s 1986 so it’s worth a lot. Go and buy it before the fools and the critics find out and all the “Press To Play” CDs start to dissapear from the record stores. We still have CDs right?…

WASHED OUT – Paracosm (2013)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Assigned by: Syd Spence

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Feeling constrained
Your author has decided
To do poetry

Chill psychedelia
Bringing electronic soundscapes
Refreshing vibes

While it’s nice and warm
There are better stuff out there
To be enjoyed

Still, I thank you, Reece
A good fourty minutes
experience

NUSRAT FATEH ALI KHAN – Shahen Shah (1988)

Reviewed by: Victor Guimarães
Assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho 

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What elements make a legend in music? Is it about the composing creativity? Or about strong live performances? Albums sold? Maybe the sum of all of this features. But regardless of which is your criteria, one must agree that one of the many factors that makes a legend is their influence. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as a pakistani legend of music, certainly got the requirements. He is known as the most important Qawwali musician, a man of a distinct charisma, powerful presentations and an acclaimed career. An unparalleled local icon, also responsible for the introduction of his genre to the world and credited as one of the progenitors of the “world music”. Truly something!

This record, Shahen Shah, is something out of the ordinary. Composed of 6 tracks, all of them sung in urdu and each of them passing the 10-minute mark, the album shows from the start what it came for. First, there is mr. Khan’s powerful voice. And there’s those captivating instrumentals. And, yeah, notice that clapping, in tempo, in unison. Then, lots of voices – they start singing together! Then, another round. Some new instrumentals added, different lyrics, more clapping. Each new repetition brings in new power to the words, granting the songs an enticing energy. The lyrics are all based in classical poetry from the mystic islam dimension known as Sufism, adding a spiritual side to the listener experience. Ok, the round-based songs can be a little repetitive and tiresome. Or a lot. But, the boring moments are few in comparison to the crescent, thunderous, enticing rhythm that made Qawwali music known worldwide.

Trust me, Shahen Shah is a surefire method to transport you to the middle of a Pakistani celebration. Come on, clap along! As both a cultural and a musical experience, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan surely got it right. Would you expect less of a guy who had his own doodle at Google in Asia? That level of influence is definitely fit for a true legend!

MOSSING ABOUT: CHICO SCIENCE AND NAÇÃO ZUMBI – Da Lama ao Caos (1994)

Review dedicated to Margaret Murdoch and Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Written by: Jonathan Moss 


The more Brazilian music I listen to the more I think it’s unjust that its countries like the USA and Britain that are focused on. However, this is a review of a specific album, not a thinkpiece on the implicit white supremacy of the music industry. 

Well, when I get assigned these sort of albums, albums I don’t know the background to, it can be quite exciting, because I get to listen to them completely context free, no pressure to conform to any sort of opinion, positive or negative. So my friend France gave me this album to review and I listen to it on Spotify, quickly ascertain that I enjoy it, i listen to it more times, find more things to enjoy, specific tracks I like and so on. I discover it’s an energetic, brash catchy album with a fun, likeable, charismatic singer. Then I actually look it up and discover that the singer died in a car accident at the age of 30. Oh, and that the album is critically acclaimed. So, looks like without having to feel the pressure of conformity I still picked the right opinion! 

And man, for an album which I’ve seen compared multiple times to Rage Against The Machine I really don’t hear it. Rage Against The Machine are a kind of dour, grey band with no range and a singer who, whilst angry, doesn’t really have any charisma. Da lama ao caos (which, according to google translate translates to “from mud to chaos”) instead is a rather lively and varied album. This isn’t to deny or downplay the politics. Though I can’t understand what Chico Science is singing, the album certainly does have a strident militant vibe, and occasional moments of melancholy as well, but with the funky and occasionally abrasive guitars I would more compare them to Gang of Four than Rage Against The Machine, if I have to compare them to any other leftist band. However, the album is fun as well, unlike either of those bands! How so? Well, first of there is the percussion, which is very rhythmic and erm….latin (sorry France), giving the album a danceable feel, like a hypothetical caribbean soviet disco. This interacts smoothly with the bass as well, which is funky and melodic, while still being understated and holding shit together. Then of course there’s Chico himself, who as I mentioned before is quite charismatic. He’s not the most tuneful singer but he has a lot of energy and passion, like a guy you could hang around with and get occasionally into heated debates with, but end it all with some friendly joke wrestling. Intense but affable. This dialectic is echoed perfectly in the guitar playing as well, which is rough and distorted and on a few tracks even heavy metal, but despite this retains a looseness and spontaneity.  

These elements are all demonstrated beautifully in the opening song “Montologo ae Pe do Ouvido”, a fiery anthem opening with strident blood pumping percussion (hand percussion played by Chico I understand) and clanging psychedelic guitar playing. Chico speaks ominously over it and from there a lighter percussion part starts as well as a groovy little bassline, and then the guitar comes right in, turning it into a fantastic rock song with a great intense rhythm part and a menacing but funky lead part! Chico kind of rap-sings it, very enthusiastically and with a passion that demands respect. Perfect music for the upcoming revolution. Got me air guitaring like an idiot. 

The title track is a masterpiece as well, with a seismic crunchy lumbering riff and spat out vocals from Chico. Lucia Maia also does several quick searing guitar solos. The song in general has a stormy paranoid vibe, like Black Sabbath but sublated from fantasy to reality, perhaps Chico is singing about some war that happened (yes, I know Black Sabbath had songs about wars, but there’s involved witches and fairies). The following song is a classic as well, “Maracatu Tiro Certeiro”, with a fantastic scratchy funky rhythm guitar, like an erupting volcano which people from the beach are partying on top of. Antene-Se is another fab song, funky slapped bass playing and a wah-wah guitar! It sounds so self-assured and confident, like a renegade businessman who has joined the cause and is bombing his old company! Okay, with “slapped bass” (i’m not actually sure it’s slapped, it just sounds like it. Either way its fluid and melodic) and “wah-wah guitar” i may have made it sound cheesy, but trust me, the punkish spirit of it, melodicity of the guitar, badass groove of the song and Chico’s fun but militant shouted vocals give it a lot of personality and vigour. It even ends with a short ominous synth bit!

There’s a couple of good short instrumentals as well. The first one is a very busy song with an agitated vibe and melodic bass. The second one has more awesome heavy metal guitar part which is built up by militaristic drumming and a weird sound that could be an air horn or something. They’re cool interludes and both come before amazing songs, working to enhance them in creating a build-up and tension. 

The last two songs end the album on a bleaker vibe. “Computadores Fazem Arte” is an intense melancholic rocker with more melodic singing from Chico. He sounds almost nostalgic and kind of wails in a slightly lower range, not baritone, but more romantic sounding. The bass line is hooky and ambiguous sounding, the guitar playing an angular shuffle, with a passionate mourning lead line occasionally showing up. “Coco Dub (Afrociberdelia)”, as its name suggest is a slow, psychedelic number, with a sorta apocalyptic vibe. The guitar line is really interesting, it sounds kinda like morse code being tapped out, but if morse code had been created by a depressive post-punker. Chico makes weird bird sounds at one point, there’s a catchy sci-fiish synth sound and groovy, tribalesque percussion. 

There’s some other great songs on the album but this review is already too fucking long and I think I covered the best ones. All the songs are cool though, try to ignore the fact that Rolling Stone Magazine likes this album and check out it!  

STORMY SIX – Un biglietto del tram (1975)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: Joseph Middleton-Welling

Italian prog and communism! The best combination since guava and cheese! In the foreboding acoustic opener, Stormy Six already show what they came for: “on its frozen path, the Swastika knows / that from now on, Stalingrad awaits in every city”. Lovely lyrics! Lovely strings! And the rest of the songs just keep up with the style. Too bad I’ve only been able to find translations for the lyrics to three of these, because this blood-pumping leftist themes are exactly what I need to help me face these grim times of neo-fascism. I could at least understand a bit from every track. Have I mentioned the strings? They’re not attempting to be “classical” like those common progressive acts, no sir. They incarnate Italian / Mediterranean folk music, instead, and I welcome this. Instrumentation is folky throughout the record; I don’t think I’ve listened to anything electric save for the bass, which is pretty good. On the other hand, a large diversity of acoustic guitar-like instruments brings variety, always exchanging the spotlight with violins, always catching my attention. The voice is just as good, a strong baritone that brings the right amounts of intonation and feeling. The album is emotional, alternating between ominously melancholic and sombrely blood-pumping. There’s a preponderance of the former, however, so the songs where the latter appears, for example the opener “Stalingrado” and the homage to Italian anti-fascist partisan Gianfranco Mattei, are the strongest. The other tracks sort of blend with each other, but are very pleasant nonetheless. This review was made on-the-go on my first listen of this record, so maybe further listens might show me hidden depths. I don’t need any more, though, to say that this is excellent, and stands on its own amongst all the greats of Italian prog.

CHICO SCIENCE AND NAÇÃO ZUMBI – Da Lama ao Caos (1994)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Ever since this project began, I’ve been given records whose taste doesn’t suit my palate, which is good to a degree. It get’s me out of my ghetto of listening patterns. So far though,  I’ve not really enjoyed any of them, which i find weird because I think i have a wide palette. I mean my current listening collection has reggae, jazz, metal, and pop rock, and yet, you Only Solitairians keep giving me music that I don’t enjoy. Apparently, i’m more narrow minded then I think I am. 

However, this round I was assigned an album that I should like. It’s this Brazilian funky hip hop alt rock fusion group with leftist politics and fantastic hand drumming (that only Brazil could do.) Essentially, Brazil’s answer to Rage Against the Machine, a group that any child of ‘90s knows and loves. Yet, I don’t like this record. 

First let’s start with the MC. Now I don’t exactly know what he is talking about, I’m a dumb American that can’t speak Portuguese. It’s pretty terrible how monolingual my decaying empire is, but that’s the fact of the matter, but I digress. I’m pretty certain all the lyrics are leftist in tone, I believe i heard a Viva Zapata, and who doesn’t love Emiliano Zapata? Well, fascists of course, but surely any sane person loves themselves some Zapatistas. So good for Chico. It’s just his delivery sounds like a macho football hooligan that wanted to be a hip hop MC. I just find his tone and style unsavory. He probably is spitting the truth, but my dumb ears can’t decipher it or more to the point enjoy it.  

The next problem is the guitar. The tone is so ‘90s, it’s like a mixture of generic hardish alt rock and funk, which just turns me off. Like if he sounds like a local bar band’s guitarist attempt at sounding like John Frusciante or Tom Morello, and the guitar tones he uses are so generic ‘90s altrock that it sucks all the funk out. 

With all those problem, I must say the percussion was on point. I love those tribal drums, and this album has a lot of it. Unfortunately, they surround subpar songs with subpar guitar and a subpar MC. Not for me, perhaps next session, I’ll get a new album that I will love.