SPECIAL REVIEW PROJECT: 2017 IN REVIEW – Best and Worst Albums of 2017

2017 IN REVIEW
By Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

francey's top nine

So, here I am again with a list of 141 musical releases from the year 2017, to listen to, sieve and discover gems and potential favourites. These releases form a very motley selection, for they were picked through a variety of means. Many Anglophone and Brazilian ones came from a methodical cataloguing of best-of-the-year lists, to see which ones got to higher positions more often. Some were chosen due to the recommendation of friends or acquaintances, or simply because something in it piqued my attention. I ended up with 25 African albums, 41 Anglophone ones, 6 from Asian artists, 47 from Brazil, 13 from Europe and 10 from the rest of Latin America.

I’d like to start with the continent from which we all came, and whose music is so sadly ignored by most people. From northern Africa, the Tuareg genre of tishoumaren continues to produce many strong releases. Some were more peaceful, like Mdou Moctar’s Sousoume Tamachek, and some were bluesier, like the hypnotic Kiral, from Tamikrest, containing my favourite guitars of 2017. Award-winning icons Tinariwen also released a typically good album in Elwan. As tishoumaren is overall a stylistically uniform genre, I must say I am disappointed with the attempt to mix it with post-punk, by Saharawi band Group Doueh with the French Cheveu. This fusion, in my opinion, has the potential to be much better realised than it was in their Dakhla Sahara Session.

African jazz also had a good crop last year. Legendary drummer Tony Allen’s The Source had some great funky tracks, Orchestra Baobab threw out their warm Afro-Cuban Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng, but my favourite of the bunch was Mistakes on Purpose, the 30th volume of the Éthiopiques series. It continues the trend set with last year’s Awo by Ukandanz, in which Ethiopian veterans join French ethio-jazz bands, in this case Girma Bèyènè with Akalé Wubé respectively. The result was a very solid album, even if did not reach Awo’s fierce intensity.

The final trend from Africa that I’ll mention is that of female-fronted Mandé music. Of those, two I’d like to mention later, among my favourites, but while Awa Poulo’s Poulo warali wasn’t quite as good, it still had an excellent first four tracks. Sadly, the disk got too repetitive by the end.

Onto Brazil, now, on the more rootsy side of things. Mateus Aleluia’s Fogueira doce did an afoxé-tinged MPB that was peaceful and warm with a tinge of sadness. Fabiano do Nascimento’s Tempo dos mestres was reportedly jazz, but drawn from Northern and Northeastern Brazilian traditions. He failed to absorb any of the energy of those sources, and the result was folksy-jazzy shit that goes nowhere, just annoys and tires the mind. To add insult to injury, he also found time to ruin the classic O canto de Xangô by Baden Powell & Vinícius de Moraes. Far more faithful was Yangos’ Chamamé, which did accordion-based Gaúcho music with ease, even if without any significant innovation.

In Brazilian hip hop, I can say that we have seen the complete transition of styles. In the early 10s, artists like Criolo, Ogi and Karol Conká would mix in influences from a whole gamut of Brazilian genres like samba, MPB or repente, to make a dazzling, melodic hip hop. These days, their objectives seem unfinished, for while there is still a lot of untapped potential, even their luminaries have moved away from it. Criolo has gone full samba, and Ogi’s Pé no chão is good, but far from the brilliance of 2015’s R A !. The new generation, however, seems far more interested in a new, raw, trap-inspired production, with screamy or just annoying voices, overall very unpleasant to my ears. I think it is partially due to shifts in American hip hop, but just as much to blame is the coup that put Temer into our presidency, and darkened much of our population’s perspectives towards the future, especially the poor. The worst ones were Djonga’s Heresia and Baco Exu dos Blues’ Esú, but nill’s Regina, Flora Matos’ Eletrocardiograma, Don L’s Roteiro pra Aïnouz, Vol. 3 were also very weak. Some of the new generation have made some alright albums, like Ricón Sapiência’s Galanga livre and the aptly named all-women group Rimas & Melodias’ self-titled debut. American trap has been far better than Brazilian though, with many strong, lush releases like Migos’ fun Culture and especially Future’s melodic and surprisingly melancholic HNDRXX.

Two queer artists with sexualised urban music also achieved notoriety in Brazil. Pabllo Vittar, popstar and drag queen, achieved larger success among the public, but his Vai passar mal was overall weak. The hit single K.O. is very catchy, though. Trans woman Linn da Quebrada’s vulgar funk carioca from Pajubá made a stronger impression on me. Far better than the both of those, Tyler, the Creator’s coming-out statement Flower Boy has some great soulsy production made with so much care that it reminded me of the early Kanye albums. It might be my favourite hip hop release of the year, along with Brockhampton’s Saturation III. The whole Saturation trilogy is pretty good, making use of the voices of their many different members to make a sort of kaleidoscopic effect. It is also very interesting to see how much they evolved, both in production as in hook making, in a single year.

Now to get this out of the way: DAMN was very good but I don’t see it as being excellent, and I still consider Kendrick’s masterpiece to be good kid, m.A.A.d city. Finishing my hip hop list, I liked Jay-Z’s 4:44, catchy and cool with great samples, and Damso’s Ipséité, rapped in French with fine flow, but was underwhelmed by Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory, although I must say I loved Kilo Kish’s participation in Love Can Be… and will try to find more stuff from her.

Among Latin American musicians, the trend was to mix traditional genres with modern lush productions, making stuff that felt fresh and with a lot of potential, even though this year’s batch didn’t quite make an excellent album. The best for me was Puerto Rican group ÌFÉ’s IIII+IIII, which takes Afro-American (Santería) religious music as a base and spices it with all sorts of Caribbean genres, and takes it through an electronic sheen to make something dazzlingly polyphonic when it’s fast, and pretty and mellow when it’s slow. The other three albums I’d like to mention are all rooted in beautiful female vocals. Sister duo Ibeyi’s Ash couldn’t make the most of their voices due to inconsistent songwriting. Irka Mateo’s Vamo a gozá travels through various local genres, while Las Áñez’s Al aire was more alien and atmospheric pop, both were equally good.

Still on Latin America, it was sad that Colombian bullerengue legend Magín Díaz died so soon after his El orisha de la rosa was released. Having written many classics of the Colombian canon since the 1930s, he was nonetheless ignored for most of his life, up until 2012. His last release, full of guest stars, felt like the recognition he always deserved. Another dead icon, Moroccan gnawa musician Mahmoud Guinia, had his final studio recordings released last year, on the posthumous album Colours of the Night. While very poignant, it didn’t match the energy of his earlier records to me.

Of course, among all those albums, I made sure to listen to the new releases of many of my favourite artists. Chico Buarque is one of what I consider the Holy Trinity of Brazilian music, an all-time great. His Caravanas, however, brings the worst aspects of his songwriting, a collection of self-indulgent poetic bossa nova ditties that bores the shit out of me. Still, he definitely has earned the right to indulge himself, and at this point in time, doesn’t need anyone’s approval for anything. Love you, Chico. Another self-indulgent release from a favourite was Nação Zumbi’s Radiola NZ, vol. 1, in which they perform songs that influenced them, with very mixed success. Their renditions of Refazenda and Não há dinheiro no mundo que pague are great, but O balanço and Sexual Healing are embarrassments. Tribalistas’ new self-titled album is a good effort in mixing pop-rock with MPB, every song having its own dosage of the mix. Those very elements were also the foundation of Otto’s solid Ottomatopeia. Metá Metá released a very interesting and rhythmic avant-garde soundtrack for the dance spectacle Gira. The group’s members also released other records: vocalist Juçara Marçal joined Rodrigo Campos and Gui Amabis to assemble the inspired, poetic and uneasy Sambas do absurdo, inspired in the philosophy of Albert Camus, while guitarist Kiko Dinucci’s solo Cortes Curtos’ short post-punk tunes underwhelmed me. Even worse was Curumin’s Boca, in which he tries to become “artsier” while losing his catchiness.

Fleet Foxes’ first new release since Helplessness Blues in 2011, Crack-Up, offered a denser, but less immediately melodic take on their intricate folk pop. It was good, but their two previous efforts are masterpieces to me. I knew that this new disk had to be different, however, and I hope they can regain their brilliance while following this path. A clear improvement from the preceding album was Lorde’s latest. Pure Heroine had its moments, but Melodrama has so much subtle touches, with her perfect intonation elevating the emotional level. My greatest criticism is that it could have used more cathartic refrains like in Homemade Dynamite or Writer in the Dark.

Perfume Genius’ dream-poppy No Shape was nice, especially given how much I disliked his previous Too Bright. Now Jay Som’s Everybody Works on the other hand, was the type of music that I thought was over. This sort of slow electronic-y indie pop was never good back then, and now it’s both bad and passé. Sheer Mag’s Need to Feel Your Love baffled me: they travelled through the whole diversity of early 70s pop and rock, from hard rock to glam to disco, and it could have been very catchy, but they tied it all with screeching, effects-laden vocals. Maybe just a little bit less screech would have turned this 180º to me, but as it is, it’s very hard to listen to. Far more pleasant was The OOZ by King Krule. It draws from Tom Waits, hip and trip hop, resulting in a smooth, talky rock.

A big notable trend in Anglophone music was this new wave of soul / R&B. Slow, glossy, and far more attuned to pathos rather than the simple emotions of joy and sadness. The quality varies. Sampha’s Process and Kelela’s Take Me Apart have pretty production but little else to entertain me. SZA’s Ctrl fares much better, but it still doesn’t match the critical acclaim it received in my opinion. The Kendrick track is great, but the one with Travis Scott, oh boy… awful! The real standout of this set was Moses Sumney’s Aromanticism. It’s very unique, almost as influenced by Kid A as What’s Going On. I’ll even wager it’ll start a new trend, one whose development I will be curious to track. Brazil also had a soul release that got recognition, Xenia’s self-titled debut. It consists on versions of MPB songs done in her style, but still maintaining the original diversity. The slower tracks drag a bit, but the faster ones are good, especially Chico Cézar’s Respeitem meus cabelos, brancos.

Brazilian pop-rock had its best release in Maglore’s Todas as Bandeiras. It doesn’t do anything that different, it’s just strong hooks and melodies with pleasing textures, but that’s all that I need, really. Those are lacking in Lá vem a morte, by the extremely overrated Goianan band Boogarins, themselves an inferior version of the already overrated Tame Impala. On the other hand, Scalene’s Magnetite had many people turn up their noses due to its banal lyrics about society’s problems, but musically, it is adequate. Vanguart’s Beijo estranho is also solid, while Giovani Cidreira’s Japanese Food has that awful thing where the lyrics don’t fit in the melodies, like Legião Urbana or Cidadão Instigado, making it a very uncomfortable listen.

Going on to Europe, Andrea Laszlo De Simone paid homage to his native Italian lush pop from the 60s and 70s in his Uomo donna. While I really dug its sound, I felt that he was too willing to sacrifice the flow of the album to make bigger statements. Many songs are 2-3 minutes longer than they should have been, and Gli uomini hanno fame has an awful 4-minute-long intro with random political recordings. Despite its flaws, it was still a very interesting listen, as was Japanese band ゲスの極み乙女 (Gesu no Kiwami Otome)’s 達磨林檎. Rich, melodic, jazzy and proggy, though sometimes too lightweight to be fully engaging.

Europe and Asia also had some noteworthy releases on the folkier side of things. From West Java, Indonesia, the duo Tarawangsawelas’ Wanci attempted to modernise the local sacred music, called tarawangsa, which consists mainly of repetitive acoustic drones done in just two string instruments. Despite that, they were much better in the sole longer, more conservative, track, Sekalipun, than in the shorter, supposedly more palatable, ones. Bridging the two continents, Meïkhâneh’s La Silencieuse draws from everywhere between southern France to Persia to Mongolia, providing innovative combinations for those familiar with the musical vocabularies of those regions. Oj borom, borom is Ukrainian folk done by a Polish duo, Maniucha Bikont & Ksawery Wójciński, vocalist and contrabassist respectively. Focused on textures, it can be great when you’re receptive, but it might be too repetitive when you’re not. There were also two albums based on a capella Iberian traditions. Galician Xosé Lois Romero & Aliboria’s self-titled debut, while not bad by far, lacked the vibrancy of the other one, which figures on my favourites list.

Of everything to which I’ve listened, two albums stood out as the worst. Nina Becker’s Acrílico consists of poetry written with no ear for meter or rhythm, and lacking melody, set to tacky bossa-nova-ish instrumentation. That would be bad enough by itself, but the lyrics are embarrassingly bad as well. Somehow even worse is Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy. It also has embarrassingly bad lyrics. And nothing else. The fucker gave up on any sort of musicality whatsoever, just to record words like: “oh, their religions are the best / they worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed / with risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits”. I actually stopped, disgusted, at around 3 minutes in the first track, and I am an atheist Marxist! And honestly, after finding out this album is fucking 75-minutes-long, I’m so offended, that I refuse to spend a single second more listening to shit utter garbage.

Conversely, I have nine albums I would call my favourite releases of 2017. Of those, my top two, in their particular order, are well cemented in my mind. For the others, I tried ranking them as I wrote this essay, but those positions are very fluid in my mind, and they are all of similar quality to me.

The album I placed as the ninth best release of 2017 was Luyando, by Zimbabwean group Mokoomba. It’s afro-pop-rock of the catchiest sort, while keeping a reasonable diversity in style. Songs like Kulindiswe and Kumukanda will stick to your mind if you listen to them, and you won’t want them out! On the eight spot, the instrumental post-rock in Kalouv’s Elã. Refreshing and enticing, it built novel soundscapes of varying colours without resorting to the tired “crescendocore” formula. The seventh place, Ladilikan, was an unusual collaboration between Malian griot Trio da Kali and Seattle-based chamber music Kronos Quartet. The music is overall in the Mandé tradition, carried principally by female vocalist Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté’s expressive vocals, with added depth by the incredibly fitting and well-oiled mix of European strings with the balafon and ngoni. There’s an odd American gospel song in the middle that robs the album of some momentum, but it is easily regained. St. Vincent’s Masseduction takes the sixth spot. While I generally hate the prefix “art” when used on genres, I have to accept that the best way to describe this is “art-pop”. Sexy all over, sometimes manic, sometimes melancholic, always alluring.

We shall return to the aforementioned a capella Iberian music for our fifth position. Ao longe já se ouvia, by Portuguese all-female group Sopa de Pedra, has harmony and playfulness by the bushel, making a very entertaining, unique listen. Oumou Sangaré, Malian songstress from the Wassoulou region, takes the fourth spot with her Worotan. Carrying forward the style for her region, her sound might resemble blues to the western listener (actually blues probably originated from Wassoulou music), but with a hooky, poppy sheen. Her voice is just entrancing! On the third place, Criolo’s love letter to old-school samba, Espiral de ilusão. While it didn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, it travels through all the varieties and strains of the genre. The transparent admiration for the masters only makes it more endearing. The second-best album of 2017 to me was Msafiri Zawose’s Uhamiaji. If you read about it on the internet, you might think it is traditional Gogo music from Tanzania, but Mr. Zawose has actually done what I believe most electronic music I’ve heard fails to achieve. The use of acoustic percussion gives a strong oomph to the mesmerizing rhythms, which are innately pleasing.

Finally, my favourite 2017 release was Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell Live. While there was undeniable beauty in the original studio version of Carrie & Lowell, I always felt it lacked something, particularly by abandoning the maximalist arrangements of his previous releases. The live version more than fixes that, maintaining all the beauty while adding huge doses of power, both from the return of the maximalism, and from the rawer vocals, with natural cracks and imperfections, greatly raising their emotional impact. The sum of all those parts is touching and radiant, and not even the weird Drake cover at the encore can detract from such a wonderful experience. For all the other marvellous stuff I’ve seen from last year, this is still the apex in terms of music and emotion!

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Osamu Kitajima—MASTERLESS SAMURAI (1978)

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Review by Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Assigned by Victor Ferreira Guimarães

Why do people in this game keep assigning me instrumental mild-mannered electric folk-jazz? I don’t like this type of music, never did! Go figure. After reviewing Akelarre, in which American soulsman William S. Fischer travelled to the Basque Country to mix Basque folk melodies to modern genres, I now get to review Masterless Samurai, whose author, Osamu Kitajima, did the opposite. Born in Japan, he travelled, first to the UK, then to Los Angeles, to absorb Western influences and make fusion of his traditional Japanese music to prog and jazz. And it’s uncanny not only how those two albums resemble each other, but also in how they make me feel.
Consisting of 10 instrumental pieces, with most being less than 5 minutes long, and the longest one not even reaching 7 minutes, one would imagine they didn’t overstay their welcome. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The main problem is that the songs lack both dynamism and emotion. No song builds to anything, there’s no big changes or progression, they end the way they started, so there’s no tension, nothing to surprise the listener. And, mood-wise, everything just goes for “well-played background”.

Texture-wise, there is much less of those marvellous Japanese woodwinds than there could have been, which is a pity. My favourite song here, “Sei”, is precisely the one that explores them the most. It is also one of the few songs that goes for a mood (relaxing), rather than being just noise. The awful bossa-nova-ish “Floating Garden” is the worst of the bunch. Japanese strings are also present in many tracks, but again in a not very prominent position. The rhythm section is very technically proficient, but they are just there, making noise but not making sound. I really think this album could have used more minimalist percussion to great effect. The same could be said for all the guitars, synths and electric pianos present in all tracks. All songs invariably have sections with all those instruments, with no variation in tone or texture. The way it is, everything feels too busy with no payoff, and too samey.

In the end, Masterless Samurai feels like something that was done for the sake of itself. A mixture that was focused more on the ingredients that had to be put in the pot, rather than the taste of the stew.

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.

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!