A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.
Philip Montoro, Reader music editor
Aby Ngana Diop, Liital Jim Magas’s Twitter feed just reminded me that I own this amazing record—a 2014 Awesome Tapes From Africa reissue of a 1994 cassette by Senegalese griot Aby Ngana Diop. The label claims it’s the first commercial recording of a traditional female taasukat (“taasu” is a form of oral poetry) backed by modern mbalax, with its synthesizers, programmed percussion, and tumbles of galloping, bubbly sabar and tama drums. The hypnotic songs don’t have much melodic or harmonic motion (taasu has been cited as a precursor to rap), but Diop’s commanding voice could carry an album with even less.
Body Void, I Live Inside a Burning House Will Ryan, singer-guitarist for this sludgy Bay Area doom band, came out as queer and nonbinary a few years ago, and the songs on Body Void’s first full-length address depression and gender dysphoria in wrenching, visceral language. The music often moves so slowly it’s nearly drone, with agonized shrieking, sparse but concussion-inducing drumming, and guitars that sound like a down-tuned chain saw. Thankfully, just when you’re about to lose your will to live, it’ll crank up into a crunchy riff with a double-barreled dose of “fight back” in it.
Percussion workshops at the Old Town School I just went to my first one, during the Square Roots Festival, but I had such a fine time that I’m comfortable recommending them all. It was almost enough fun to make up for the visa-related cancellation of Nigerian fuji star King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, scheduled to play the fest the same afternoon.
Philip is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Lucy Little, violinist and composer
Sampha I can’t remember how I first learned of Sampha, but his 2017 album Process may be one of my favorites of all time—I listen to it constantly. It’s personal, political, beautiful, and lyrically and musically brilliant. “Blood on Me” makes you stop whatever you’re doing and just listen. It’s gut-wrenching and important—so vital to hear in the type of world we live in today. “Blood on Me” and “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” may be my favorite songs, but the whole album is a masterpiece.
Ibeyi Ibeyi make gorgeous, fierce, powerful music, and I am so in love with them. The French-Cuban twins sing in English, French, Spanish, and Yoruba, and their music is driven by a rhythm that makes it nearly impossible not to move. They’re still being discovered in the States, so when they announced a small U.S. tour last year, a friend and I drove all the way to Detroit just to see them live—and it was entirely worth it. Both their albums are fantastic, but start with the self-titled Ibeyi—and definitely watch the video for “River.”
Ólafur Arnalds I’ve been listening to Icelandic minimalist composer and pianist Ólafur Arnalds since 2008, when I discovered his first album, Eulogy for Evolution. Arnalds creates music that paints grand landscapes in your mind and makes you breathe deep breaths of sadness, joy, and wonder. I recently saw him perform at Thalia Hall, and it was the first concert I’ve been to in a long time that made me cry. He’s back at Thalia in February—I highly recommend this show.
Lucy is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Jordanna, R&B and pop artist
Kari Faux Like a lot of the music I listen to these days, I discovered Kari Faux through HBO’s Insecure soundtrack. She sing-raps in a laid-back, I-don’t-care-about-you-because-I’m-an-amazing-bitch kind of way, while also spitting vulnerable (and sometimes political) realness. Listening to her feels like getting a manicure after very casually burning down the patriarchy. Her 2016 full-length debut, Lost en Los Angeles, is my favorite.
Nai Palm, Needle Paw I find Nai Palm’s Needle Paw, released almost a year ago, impossible to walk away from. On her full-length solo debut, the Hiatus Kaiyote front woman layers her smoky vocals over bare-bones guitar to create an intimate collection of songs, in sharp contrast to her louder work with the band. Recorded in the Australian desert, this record feels like warmth and mysticism in a dusty, endearing little log cabin. It also features Australian Aboriginal singer Jason Guwanbal Gurruwiwi, whose performance is like nothing I’ve heard before—spiritual and transporting.
The Internet You know when you hear a song that sounds like it was written just for you? That’s how I feel about every song by the Internet. They’re a super group of musicians who are brilliant beyond measure. They are neosoul, they are jazz, they are R&B, and—judging by their three latest singles—they are funkadelic pop. The 2015 album Ego Death is probably their most accessible; their earlier work is more experimental. Start with their sexy party track, “Special Affair.”