Sometimes when I’m feeling a bit blue because, say, an orange egomaniacal demagogue has been chosen as the leader of the free world, I use music to escape to a different time and place. Sounds can invoke soothing nostalgia for bygone eras even if the listener never actually lived through them. If you need a reprieve from the increasingly distressing news media or the pressures of day-to-day life, join in a spatiotemporal journey across the globe.
New Music: The Frightnrs - Nothing More To Say
It's difficult to find "new music" that sounds like it's from a different time and place, but Nothing More To Say fits the bill perfectly. The fantastic debut Frightnrs album with a tragic backstory includes only one subtle hint that it's not a classic '70s reggae record. That hint is that the lead singer Dan Klein forgoes a Jamaican accent, respecting the originators of the genre while injecting his Brooklynite character. Listening to the record feels like watching a well-integrated expat sing at a bar in Kingston.
The mastery of the Caribbean sound is matched if not topped by the lyrical content, a profound mix of love songs and long-form proverbs that remind the listener of what is important in life. Klein sings of "lookin' for my love", grieves that "there are only so many hours and so many days" to make time for his loved ones, and begs his brother to "do unto others as you'd have them do right back to you".
Klein's wise words are no coincidence; the album was written as he faced his own decline and mortality due to ALS. The result is a poignant though never dismal rocksteady record that will displace your mind, wick away your day-to-day stressors, and center your thoughts on the beauty of life and love.
Ten From Back Then: Stereo Total - Musique Automatique
Stereo Total’s schtick is a mashup of European pop music from multiple countries and decades. On Musique Automatique, German-born Brezel Göring and Burgundy-native Françoise Cactus collaborate to offer a multilingual, endlessly experimental, and impossibly coherent record.
The album opens with the title track, which seems to exist in more than one language composition. The bouncy, electronic introduction track seems to poke fun at the two songwriters with lyrics like, "this is automatic music, from the music automat" clarified by, "my automat, a machine, extremely sophisticated... very complicated". Following these lines is a ridiculous, twangy guitar line interjecting the robotic electronica that somehow makes sense behind the intentionally corny lyrics.
The band satirizes their simplistic songwriting style from the start and leans into it throughout the record; some songs sound like the duo just discovered GarageBand loops and simply possess the genius to turn them into moving works of art. For example, "Wir Tanzen Im 4-Eck" is a cutesy electropop beat you might expect to hear behind a character that’s working out in a Wes Anderson movie. In "Kleptomane", Cactus sings/talks about shoplifting over a drum-machine loop, video-game esque synths, and not much else. It's inexplicably fun.
"Forever 16" sums the record up quite well with buoyant and rebellious lyrics that will make you feel like a young Berliner watching whatever their equivalent of '90s MTV was.
Classic You Should Know: Fela Kuti - He Miss Road
Afrobeat, the musical genre that Fela Kuti created, is like jazz in that it is fluid. You come to appreciate every sound instead of waiting for the big dopamine release at the chorus. It’s difficult to pinpoint his “best” records for this reason, but for the purposes of this post, He Miss Road transports you to the title of its second track, “Monday Morning in Lagos”.
On the opener, Kuti speaks of a number of Nigerians trying to conduct their daily business - a man bringing cloth to a shoemaker, a lawyer bringing his case documents to a prosecutor, etc. However, each one mysteriously misses the road. Some pay fines, some go to jail. Kuti, an outspoken critic of corruption in Africa, was likely criticizing the actions of the Nigerian elite that derail the prosperity of the common man. Regardless, the bold lyrics contrast with the upbeat drums and guitar rhythms, revealing that Kuti is empowered by knowledge of the issues that plague his country, and far from defeated.
"Monday Morning in Lagos” is lead by a steady bassline and accented by Kuti’s signature horn sections and organ. Google Translate won’t tell you much about what Kuti is saying in Yoruba, but one can imagine a bustling and convivial Monday in the Nigerian capital. If you need some inspiration in your life, allow the pride and vitality that emanates from Fela on this record rub off on you.