Black Thought feat. Reek Ruffin | Ivorrie | Djrum | Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life | Angelo De Augustine
Welcome back all. In the week that a £4 toothbrush pot bought from a car boot sale was revealed to actually be a 4,000-year-old historical artefact I’ve been digging up some extremely valuable items of my own.
I’ve excavated another hidden gem from Switzerland (with not a Lonely Goatherd in sight you;ll be pleased to hear), got down and dirty in the roots in more ways than one and confronted a truth I’ve been hiding from myself for years, despite the fact it is literally underneath my nose (and all around it to be fair as it’s my actual face).
And if all that sounds like a tenuous, overly-wordy and somewhat opaque introduction to what is effectively just a list of five tracks I quite liked this week… well, have you not read my stuff before?
Onwards and upwards…
1. The ‘Charm Offensive’ | Black Thought feat. Reek Ruffin: Conception
Tariq Trotter – best known to hip-hop fans the world over as Black Thought, rapper in residence for The Roots – is not a man who is easily upstaged. I’ve seen his band a number of times now in a variety of settings and, while drummer, Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson is widely considered the group’s ‘frontman’ I’ve always found my attention – in the live sphere at least – diverted back to the ‘pretty black one of the group, the smooth villain” as Trotter once so humbly described himself.
With his latest release, Streams of Thought Vol. 2, Mr. Thought has returned… a mere five months after putting out his debut solo record… which, in turn was just the 31 years since his band burst on to the scene. And so we can consider the two-piece-collection to be the London buses of the rap world.
But this is about much more than just two EPs for the price of one – on Conception we actually end up getting double the number of Black Thoughts we thought we were getting as Reek Ruffin turns out to be the rapper’s singing alter-ego. Unaware of this until this evening, I’ve been prepping all week to tell you how it’s the new singer who lays down the chorus as well as the underlying melody on the verses that steals the show on this one.
But, oh no; turns out that’s Black Thought too. Well, I did say he’s not easily upstaged.
2. The ‘Military Coup’ | Ivorrie: Straight
If last week’s yodel-lite cover of The Sound Of Music’s The Lonely Goatherd by Leibach wasn’t enough to make you see Swiss music somewhat differently, Lucerne-based Ivorrie certainly will.
The instigator of the rough-around the edges mixtape, Twins and – slightly more dubiously – Jason Derulo’s collaborator on the FIFA World Cup Anthem, Colors finds her feet with Straight.
The track combines the Bad Girl attitude of singers such as M.I.A. with the violent soundscapes of Glass Table Girls-era The Weeknd.
And while the lyric is unapologetically ‘straight to your face’, her output to date provides evidence enough that this is a young singer/rapper who will continue to zig and zag enough to keep us guessing… and no, I’m not making a Toblerone joke there.
3. The ‘Peaceful Protest’ | Djrum: Waters Rising
Djrum – known to his Mum as Felix Manuel – describes his new album Portrait with Firewood as “confessional” and as having “a sort of emotional candour”.
It’s a term he acknowledges is more often applied to singer-songwriter fare than electronic (not to mention, almost entirely instrumental) music.
And yet, you can absolutely see where he’s coming from. On Portrait…, Manuel combines the post-dubstep / jungle / breakbeat stylings of his past work with his own classically-trained jazz piano playing. It’s a move that he describes as if a leap of faith; his own artistry laid naked and vulnerable for the first time. And yet he need not be afraid.
Part Nitin Sawhney’s Nadia, part Archangel by Burial, Waters Rising is at once restless and at peace, both spiritual and hedonistic. In short, it is a masterpiece, whose hidden depths will reveal themselves over time.
4. ‘Guerilla Warfare’ | Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life: Aim High
It’s one of the most interesting dichotomies in music that artists who actively seek a better understanding of their heritage often subsequently create the sounds that are most able to transcend boundaries.
“I’m thinking about where we came from and how that clashes and goes hand in hand with what we’ve created here as Black Americans” says saxophonist and composer, Marcus Strickland of his new album People of the Sun.
And as good as his word, throughout People… West African griot culture and Afrobeat flavours rub against American jazz, soul and hip-hop vibes. Indeed, within the space of any given track, Strickland and his Twi-Life band members seem almost to be chomping at the bit to skip cultural hub, time signature and key every four bars.
And while that can often create dissonance and chaos (one suspects, to make a point), Aim High, penultimately placed on the record, offers a rare moment of calm.
Here, the brass oozes with all the warmth of Takuya Kuroda’s Green and Gold while the hazy backdrop and prominent bass recalls Bokante’s O La.
“Take off, spread your wings and fly” sings Jermaine Holmes on the chorus and the song promptly does. How interesting that staring at one’s roots should have such an elevating effect.
5. The ‘Quiet Riot’ | Angelo De Augustine: Tomb
On the odd occasion that I’ve had a disagreement with my wife in the past there have been times where I would appear to have unwittingly made the situation worse simply by having my face. You see, she believes I have a tendency to look like I’m smirking when I’m actually upset. That, of course, makes her even more angry and so we spiral downwards from there.
In a similar but far more profound way, it is a definite skill that some musicians have, to write a song that is neither obviously happy nor obviously sad but feels like it could be intensely both at the same time.
It’s a skill Angelo de Augustine has in spades. It’s also a skill his co-writer Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a. Doveman) has. And, for those of you familiar with Bartlett’s back catalogue, you’ll know it’s a skill Sufjan Stevens also has (as Bartlett is a collaborator of his, too).
We shouldn’t avoid the elephant in the room, here. The fingerprints of Stevens’ 2016 album, Carrie and Lowell are everywhere on this track, from the timbre – which leans heavily on the same delicately picked instruments and half-whispered vocal delivery – to the artwork’s nostalgic aesthetic.
But where Carrie and Lowell focussed very specifically on the death of Stevens’ mother, de Augustine’s lyrics are a little more abstract, less specific and, therefore, potentially more relatable.
On Tomb, he juxtaposes:
“I walked into your life at the wrong time
Never quite been perceptive of real life
It was not your fault or a fault of mine
But it’s hard to let you go this time”
“You were on my lap, I felt your heartbeat
As you pressed your chest hard against me
It was not of this world or of a dream
For the first time someone else loved me”
…and what am I supposed to do with that, ey? I can’t decide whether it makes me want to cry or grin like an idiot.
Fortunately, it would appear that my face allows me the freedom not to have to choose.
And so we reach a cease-fire for this week. You can find all of the tracks reviewed above in the 45 Revolutions per Minute playlist below or click to access the 45 RPM Playlist on Spotify itself.
If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), please engage in dialogue with me @45rpm_Reviews on Twitter. I can’t listen to every new track released each week so all recommendations from like-minded readers are most welcome too.
The silence is broken again next week when I’ll return with five more selections for your consideration. Until then, thank you for reading and go in peace.
– SV –