Koushik | Out My Window | Stones Throw Records
Out My Window arrives on a drift of gorgeous etherea, its singer’s voice suspended like a thick cloud over the organ tones’ terra firma, the whole crackling scene fading into the foreground of the listener’s day. “Morning Comes” could, at first, be mistaken for ambient music, but Koushik’s approach is far too warm to be wallpaper. And funky too. Second song “Be With” is something of a flagship track for the Ontario crate-digger (it served as the title track of his 2005 Stones Throw compilation), and it owes as much to Madlib (close-cropped upright bass, crunchy strings, flitting flute) as it does to late-’60s sunshine pop (thick aahs, fuzzy notes, spacey effects). Of course, Koushik’s style has matured since, and this album debut finds the artist deftly working the fader between those touchstones: carving out a rhythmic banger with “Buttaflybeat” and mining shadowy psychedelia on “Corner of Your Smile.” The end result is that same sound (held taut by its architect’s dulcet breath) but refined rather than amplified, like Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields sublimating the Avalanches into a thick and dreamy haze.
The Final Solution | Brotherman soundtrack | Numero Group
The Brotherman soundtrack was an ill-fated album by an ill-named group that sat in a closet for 30 years before its rediscovery. It’s an extraordinary back story made better by how good the accident-prone album is.
The Final Solution were one of Chicago’s better unsung soul bands of the 1970s. First named the Kaldirons, the quintet of John Banks, Allen Brown, Bruce Rodgers and brothers Darrow and Ronnie Kennedy came out of the multi-part-harmony tradition of other Chi-town groups, like the Dells and the Impressions. Brotherman could have been their long-desired breakout, except the band were writing songs for a movie that not only wasn’t finished; there was never a script.
Ironically, the movie’s failure inadvertently benefited the soundtrack’s recording. In an age of post–Shaft/Superfly imitation — think overwrought string arrangements and “wakka wakka” guitar riffs — Brotherman’s production was hamstrung by a fading budget that left most of the music to just drums, bass and the sliding guitar lines of new group member Carl Wolfolk.
The sparseness turned out to be a surprise gift, as it created simple, uncluttered arrangements that highlighted the honeyed harmonies of Banks, Brown and the Kennedy brothers. Their four-part vocals, joined by Wolfolk’s singing guitar, bathed Brotherman in what you might call a sweet melancholia — that contradictory state of sadness and beauty so much a facet of Chicago’s soul heritage. With songs such as the moody “I Don’t Care,” the up-tempo and slinky “Girl in My Life” and the tense, dramatic theme song, Brotherman transcended the stale conventions of so many other blaxploitation music projects. Though the album never got the shot it deserved in its time, its resurrection now is a redemption that all can celebrate.
The Black Ghosts | The Black Ghosts | IAMSOUND
The self-titled debut from London band the Black Ghosts via L.A. label IAMSOUND takes its place on nu-electro’s top shelf alongside such breakout acts as Justice, Simian Mobile Disco and Digitalism. This 11-track one-night stand of an album (done so soon?) features ’80s synths, thrashing, live-like drums and the wistful, yearning voice of Simon Lord (of Justice’s “We Are Your Friends” fame). The songwriting, performance and sentiments here (the dramatic, string-fed “Some Way Through This,” the regretful “Don’t Cry”) are heartfelt, giving birth to an emo-tronic sound.
Even when the Ghosts get off the pillow, the moods (the catchy “Something New,” the momentous “I Want Nothing”) are bittersweet, buoyed only by a disco-punk groove and a chorus so syrupy it would make Chris Martin blush. Theo Keating, formerly of British big-beat duo the Wiseguys (“Start the Commotion”), helps the Ghosts maintain polish, rhythm and bass, which are never far from the dance floor. The penny-loafer stomp of “Face” belongs on an LCD Soundsystem album. The Damon Albarn–sung single “Repetition Kills You” rolls on bouncing rock & roll bass lines and vintage video-game melodies. The Black Ghosts is one of the best albums of the nu-electro era, even if it gives a little TMI to the audience of point-and-click cool kids.
Look Daggers | Suffer in Style | Up Above
The cover of Look Daggers’ debut sports a Banksy-worthy bit of art agit-prop: a fraying noose branded with the band’s own monogrammed mockup of the Louis Vuitton logo. Taken with the album’s title, Suffer in Style, this might seem a profound statement from the purported prog-rap duo of L.A. undie-rap stalwart 2Mex and the Mars Volta’s organist, Ikey Owens. But just scratch the surface and you’ll uncover the dishearteningly emo truth: First single “Call You Later” is about little more than being annoyed by an overeager girlfriend (she makes 2Mex “want to puke in the Photobucket,” har har). Truth be told, Suffer is full of self-serving clichés on the nuances of love, and Look Daggers’ sound, too, is far better on paper. 2Mex hasn’t modified his delivery since emerging from 1997’s seminal art-hop project Of Mexican Descent, and his hyper-rhythmic assonance/consonance here feels like so many speed bumps. Likewise, Owens’ compositions are often mired, deadened by some ill-advised attempt to imbue could-be-blazing instrumentation with the timbre of a shitty sample. Occasionally they get it right — as on the fiery and ominous epic “Falcon Gentle” — but as long as true genre-benders like Subtle exist, LD seems about as cheap and redundant as a designer knockoff.