Album of the Week: Burial’s Young Death / Nightmarket (2016)

So, like most things Burial, this isn’t actually an album. By my count, Burial has released 20 singles and EPs since 2007’s full-length Untrue. Some of these releases are collaborative, most are solo. Some are one track, most are 2-4. There’s a lot of gems in the group, but this one stands out to me.

Side A’s “Young Death” has a heartbeat and ghostly vocal samples, at least for its first 3-and-a-half minutes (this section would fit well on Untrue). After that, things slow down to a crawl as thunder, breathing and a perfectly placed Skull Kid laugh create the track’s atmosphere. This section feels to me like a precursor to the B-side.

On “Nightmarket”, Burial flips an esoteric Mike Oldfield sample, and the result is like a rave frozen in time, or the biggest moment in trance suspended in amber. To me, it’s sort of like the spacey portion of “Born Slippy” in its epic reach. This sample recurs several times in the first 3 minutes of the track, and I spent countless nights in college with this addictive moment soundtracking nighttime wanderings about campus. The rest of “Nightmarket” (outside of its open space and vinyl hiss) diverges with a slew of video game-y prog-electro. Unlike “Young Death”, there is no backbeat on the track. Its Burial at his most mysterious.

Listen to “Young Death / Nightmarket” here.

Album of the Week: Jeremih’s Late Nights: Europe (2016)

It’s been a little while since Jeremih dropped a project. Despite some smash hits throughout the last 13 years or so, his last album was Late Nights in 2015. While that album was critically and commercially successful, I feel that its mixtape follow-up Late Nights: Europe is under-appreciated. Recorded largely on the road during a European tour, Late Nights: Europe feels like an off-the-cuff project that shows just how fire Jeremih was coming off the success of Late Nights.

Talking to Billboard in 2016, Jeremih said “in Europe… I brought my homie Soundz out with me. I was trying out new treatments while performing. After a lot of the shows, we’d set up small little booths in the hotel room, which I had never done before. Over the last week and a half or two weeks, we came up with a body of work, like 20 songs.”

“Amsterdam” was always my favorite song here. It’s one of 10 songs here produced by Soundz, who made Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo” (amongst other things), and the bass-heavy track provides ample room for Jeremih to breathe. It’s also a track that sticks closely to the theme, with references to the red light district and smoking weed (sounds like Jeremih had a good time in Amsterdam). indicates that Jeremih played a show in Beirut on July 9, 2016. Whether or not he played “Lebanon” there, it sounds like he had a good-ass time there too, as it’s one of the most fun and explicit tracks on the tape. “Belgium” features Chicago’s trademark juke production. “Paris” is a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, who appeared on the Late Nights album and would eventually make a full-length project with Jeremih (2018’s excellent MihTy). I really like that a song called “Oslo, Norway (feat. The Game)” by Jeremih even exists (and it’s good, too!) Things round out back in Jeremih’s hometown with “The Crib”, a tribute to Chicago, appropriately featuring G Herbo.

Some of my favorite YouTube comments on the Late Nights: Europe songs:

“I be listening to this while travelling Europe wit the love of my life” (“Czech Republic”)

“This tune is real UK underground… dance done… real road underground… dance hall business. it was prevalent in the 90’s Loose Ends, Cool Notes, Janet Kay, Matumbii etc there is a lot to name so I am most certainly not excluding the great artists of that period of UK Lovers Rock, so it’s nice to see that it’s reformatted for the 2000’s similar to what Vybes Kartel has done with Dance Hall basheee…. and Popcaan. The tune is tappa tappa.” (“London”)

“Ayyye” (“Amsterdam”)

“I know my ex playing this with some one else 😂😂😂😂” (“British Headboards”)

Listen to Late Nights: Europe here.

Album of the Week: Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

Yer tellin’ me you never heard of rainbow dome musick?? Well, big Steve Hillage was quite productive between the years of 1969-1979. At 17, he played lead guitar in Arzachel (previously Uriel, later known as Egg) and joined Gong shortly thereafter. By 1979 he had released 4 studio albums with Gong and 4 solo albums. Most of these fall in the psychedelic rock/Canterbury scene category, but Rainbow Dome Musick exists in its own ambient plane.

I found some info about the Rainbow Dome on this website, which includes the poster I repasted below. As you can see, the dome was advertised as part of the 3rd Festival for Mind Body + Spirit, which took place at London’s Olympia exhibition space/music venue in ’79. Billed as “The show about you & me”, the festival featured such new age-y attractions as astrology, “Earth mysteries”, and “sports”. Hillage and his wife, the musician Miquette Giraudy, made the music for the Rainbow Dome. I’m guessing this was some sort of psychedelic 3D art piece you could venture inside and space out in, like a Turrell space.

If you’re familiar with Mario Party 3, there’s some sparkly SFX that you hear for about 10 seconds when the players first enter a level (you can hear this at the 6:55 mark here). About 5 minutes into Rainbow Dome Musick, a very similar sequencer sound appears, creating the background for the rest of the track. Shit gets super gnarly about 12 minutes in when Hillage, gently at first, starts ripping on guitar. By 15 minutes in the music has become transcendent.

That’s “Garden of Paradise”, which takes up the A side. The other half is “Four Ever Rainbow”, which to me is somewhat evocative of Ashra’s New Age of Earth meditations. Less ecstatic than “Garden of Paradise”, but quite mellow. The guitar here is more rhythmic, and the synth sounds great.

I really like this comment on the above blog from one Julian Guffogg – “I went then – and met Steve Hillage in the dome!” It appears the event founder Graham Wilson commented as well.

Listen to Rainbow Dome Musick here.

Album of the Week: Az Yet’s s/t (1996)

Wtf happened last night? Oh, that’s right… Az Yet were making love… to you.

Even though most of the disembodied faces on the album cover look like they just dropped their phone in a sewer grate, Az Yet deliver the goods on their self-titled debut. Some people really can’t stomach the kind of intensely saccharine R&B heard on the opener “Last Night”, and I get that. But Babyface wrote or co-wrote 7/12 of these songs (I should also mention Keith Andes is credited on 5 of those), and he was no slouch in the 90s! While “Last Night” is not my favorite track on the album, it has the winning Babyface touch and reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Elsewhere, Babyface’s “Care For Me” glides with the same slow-jam arranging that carried tracks like “Red Light Special” and “Rock Wit’cha”. Singer Marc Nelson (the Chris Paul-looking dude on the cover) had previously been in Boyz II Men, which comes through on the almost acapella “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, which was written by and features Chicago’s Peter Cetera (what?). “Secrets” is another standout jam, courtesy of the legend Jon B. “Sadder Than Blue” takes the vibe into more jazzy hip-hop territory to good results.

I’m not really sure what happened to Az Yet, they seem to have gone fairly quiet after this album and then resurfaced 10 and 20 years later with follow-ups. I wouldn’t recommend it to Babyface n00bs as the place to start, but Az Yet is yet another winner on his CV.

Listen to Az Yet here.

Album of the Week: Bloodstone s/t (1972)

Bloodstone started in Kansas City in the early 60s as a junior high singing quartet started by Harry Williams, which became The Sinceres. While The Sinceres they never released an album, you can find their excellent single “Don’t Waste My Time” on Spotify. Moving to LA as Bloodstone, they recorded and released this excellent debut for Decca.

Bloodstone is a tight mix of classic 60s R&B and dirty 70s funk. I love the electric guitar on this record. While opener “Sadie Mae” is not necessarily a killer song, the band makes up for it with their ripping guitars. The centerpiece here is the lone cover song, “Little Green Apples”, written by Bobby Russell and performed by several artists including O.C. Smith, who hit #2 on Billboard with his version. Whereas Smith’s version was about 4 minutes, Bloodstone kick it into epic territory with a 9 minute take. The pre-chorus (“If that’s not lovin’ me…”) is magically drawn out, and the falsetto backing vocals make the track. This is a killer soul deep cut.

The B-side starts with “This Thing is Heavy”, an outsider’s take on the bourgeoning world of recreational drug use (“What’s this thing, people talkin’ bout ‘let’s get high’?”) “Lady of the Night” is a funky rave-up with some excellent rhythm guitar. Next to “Little Green Apples”, closer “Dumb Dude” might be my favorite track here. It starts out as an almost dirge, with Bloodstone’s vocal-group roots showing in vocal harmonies. Then the track finds a more upbeat groove in its final 2 minutes, with a killer guitar tone. Wonderful ending to a tight album.

Bloodstone would go on to record their biggest hit as the title track of their sophomore record, Natural High. Somewhat oddly, the entire B-side of Bloodstone was released on the CD (and now streaming) version of their third LP, Unreal, which is also a winner. But for a place to start, Bloodstone comes with my high recommendation.

Listen to Bloodstone here.

Album of the Week: Nelson Angelo e Joyce (1972)

When it comes to albums that have that hazy, late-night feeling, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. It’s one of those 70s records, like Das Hohelied Salomos, where you can practically hear the weed smoke coming through your speakers. Look at Nelson on the cover – dude is walking on clouds!

The two Brazilian singers were around 22-23 years old when they recorded this album. Angelo, who was part of the Clube de Esquina movement, worked closely with legendary artists Naná Vasconcelos and Lô Borges. Joyce Moreno is a singer and guitarist who would go on to work with Vinicius De Moraes. My understanding of Portugese is about nil, but the opener “Um Gosto de Fruta” translates to “A Taste of Fruit”, and it’s appropriately refreshing.

Angelo is mostly at the reigns here in terms of songwriting and performance. Joyce doesn’t take the lead until “Linda”, which is short and sweet, and then standout “Comunhão” delights in its melodious chorus of na-na-nas. “Ponte Nova” reaches a transcendent jam in its final 20 seconds, only to fade out. Joyce also takes the lead on “Meus Vinte Anos”, which she wrote, and has a blissful harpsichord backing.

Nelson Angelo e Joyce is indispensable. My only possible qualm would be that the record and its songs are so short, it’s hard not to want more. Well then, time to find more Nelson Angelo/Joyce albums…

Listen to Nelson Angelo e Joyce here.

Album of the Week: Les McCann’s Layers (1973)

Another winner from Les McCann! In March, I covered Invitation to Openness, a standout fusion record. Where Invitation was a showcase of swirling, dreamy fusion with extended jams, Layers is often more upbeat. Recorded a year after Invitation, Layers is nothing short of a percussive triumph. Buck Clarke, Ralph McDonald, and Donald Dean join once again on percussion, this time with the addition of Jimmy Rowser on electric bass, bass violin and percussion. The beat on opener “Sometimes I Cry” is so legendary as to provide the backing track for Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”.

“Sometimes I Cry” is a good indicator of the unique sound you get on Layers: McCann’s ARP synth takes center stage in what is essentially an extended vamp (with glorious results). Along with his Clavinet and electric piano, McCann carries the melodies with his synth sounds, still a new frontier back in the early 70s. Anyone who’s heard Marvin Gaye’s I Want You and knows “After the Dance (Instrumental)” will recognize that ARP sound, bright as the midday sky and free as a bird (“Let’s Play” is especially portentous of “After the Dance”).

Layers really kicks up the groove on “Dunbar High School Marching Band” (in which McCann imitates a marching band’s horn section with synths!) and “Harlem Buck Dance Strut”. But I don’t think Layers can be categorized as straight jazz-funk. Its uniqueness lies in tracks like “Soaring”, again evocative of flight, the multi-layered synth/clav sounds creating an atmosphere that is both freeing and a bit melancholy. Layers is a versatile record that is relaxing enough for a Sunday morning and deep enough to avoid any sort of dated cheese.

Listen to Layers here.

Album of the Week: Future & Zaytoven’s Beastmode 2 (2018)

Can I call this the last great Future project? I’m not mad at him for making 22-track albums that rehash the same territory he’s been in for years – his output from Pluto (2012) to 56 Nights (2015) is still unfuckwithable, and he’s earned the fandom that allows him to operate on cruise control.

But Beastmode 2 stands out among the mixed bag of Future projects over the last 5 years. Like the first Beast Mode (2015), Zaytoven – truly the Beethoven of trap-rap production – handles all the beats here, and the chemistry is palpable. Beastmode 2 is lean at 9 tracks, and holds up well in the era of bloated Deluxe editions.

I appreciate that Future, who had scored a massive hit in 2017 with “Mask Off”, included his OG Young Scooter as the only guest on this tape. “Doh Doh” bangs, and it helps Beastmode 2 feel more like a classic early 2010s ATL tape than post-peak Future.

Introspective Future is good Future: see “When I Think About It” (“I’m droppin’ outta school but that didn’t stop my education”). This is the first of three superb songs that close out the project. “Some More” finds Fewtch gliding over an icy, beautiful beat. And “Hate the Real Me” finds Future at his most compelling. Like “Codeine Crazy” and “Throw Away” he is reckless, remorseful, self-sabotaging, all over the most thrilling production on the project. It’s a peak that puts a bow on an outstanding tape with a lot of replay value. As Future himself puts it – the music special… it’s a part of us.

Listen to Beastmode 2 here.

Album of the Week: Valerie Carter’s Wild Child (1978)

At a party a few months ago, I was enjoying a very 2022-sounding playlist of Charli XCX and rap stuff when someone threw on Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen”. I was flabbergasted. WHO had the cojones to throw on this cut from Gaucho, my favorite Dan album, and interrupt the frenetic hyper-pop with this smooth whiteboy funk? And why was it so GOOD?

Okay, so alcohol was involved, but I’ll never forget how (probably embarrassingly) excited this made me. That late 70s LA sound is so special, so fine and mellow, with slick session musicians who cut classic records in the place where it never rains. Chuck Rainey is here, who played bass on most Steely Dan albums, as is Victor Feldman, who also played (percussion/keys) on most Steely Dan albums. Jay Graydon, who plays guitar on Aja‘s “Peg”, provides a sick solo here on standout “What’s Become of Us”. Multiple horn players here also recorded with Steely Dan.

It makes sense then, that I think of the Dan when I pop on Wild Child, its opener “Crazy” just dripping with that disco-era production, all soulful and sexy. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Valerie Carter, other than that she was a singer-songwriter who worked with James Taylor and similar artists. She passed away in 2017, and her relative anonymity in the pop world today has me approaching this album almost as more of a Columbia Records group project than a solo album.

Wild Child doesn’t really separate Carter from her contemporaries (Jackson Browne, Phoebe Snow etc.) in that it is lyrical content is all love songs, and musically it’s pure Yacht Rock. This album’s strength is in its consistent quality. “Taking the Long Way Home” is sappy, but builds to a tight climax. “The Blue Side” rolls in like a Pacific breeze. “Wild Child” closes the set on an extremely strong note, with Feldman’s jazzy atmosphere and Carter’s most arresting vocal performance. Though it lacks that X factor found in stone-cold classic albums, Wild Child doesn’t deserve to be a forgotten, bargain-bin mainstay. It’s an excellent record with lasting music, and a defining piece of the late-70s LA sound.

Listen to Wild Child here.

Album of the Week: Sister Sledge’s We Are Family (1979)

Yes, this is Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, featuring the hit Sister Sledge song “We Are Family”. However, this classic disco LP has a lot more to offer! The incomparable Nile Rodgers is in the house, as is his Chic bandmate and bassist Bernard Edwards. The duo produced and wrote the entire album, but it couldn’t be complete without the satin-clad singers you see above.

The sisters Sledge – that’s Debbie, Joni, Kim, and Kathy Sledge – hail from Philadelphia and graduated from Olney High School. I never knew they were actually sisters with the last name Sledge, but that explains “We Are Family”, for one thing. It’s one of those songs that’s so strongly burned into my childhood brain from radio play, family gatherings, sporting events, birthday parties etc. that I wouldn’t really go out of my way to listen to it now. But hearing “Thinking of You” for the first time recently, I was blown away. Here’s a downright amazing song, peak Nile Rodgers. Here’s what Kathy Sledge told PopMatters of the track:

“I remember they would always show us the song that we were going to record, not even the day of, but when it was time to record it… When they first played ‘Thinking of You’, I loved it instantly. I like all the songs that I got the opportunity to sing with Nile and Bernard, but ‘Thinking of You’ always stuck out to me.”

Opener “He’s the Greatest Dancer” went to #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 – disco was really a thing, huh? If you’re a 90s baby like me, you probably know this guitar line from Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”. Needless to say, the Sister Sledge song knocks it out of the park. This is rock-solid album where the non-hits are great as well: the last minute of “Somebody Loves Me” is heavenly. We Are Family is a laid back slab of grooves from one of the masters, and this album has actually changed the way I think of pop disco. Dig it.

Listen to We Are Family here… ooh- er, that’s actually a video of Phish covering “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”. Listen to We Are Family here.