‘Final Days (Bonobo remix),’ Michael Kiwanuka
London-based singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka’s self-titled 2019 album is full of anxiety and doubt delivered with a bit of sugar via funk and soul. He’s a musical polyglot who blends folk, rock and R&B with traditions from his Ugandan heritage. Kiwanuka’s music is optimal source material for LA-based-U.K.-born producer Bonobo, aka Simon Green, whose equally omnivorous musical tastes make him a staple on the dance floor and at the after party. For his first remix in three years, Green gives “Final Days” his signature atmospheric touch, keeping the focus on Kiwanuka’s mournful vocals with a beat gentle enough to complement the strings of the original version, yet strong enough to lure you to the middle of the dance floor for a sweat-drenched, pre-COVID heater. “Following the crowd / Coulda been a stronger man,” Kiwanuka laments as Green builds tension. “Plead insanity / I will die in these / Final days on the planet / Here we are, on the ground / Every day, automatic / Here we are, goin’ ‘round and ‘round and ‘round.”
‘Breakthrough,’ Death Valley Girls
LA’s Death Valley Girls found this 1971 track by English prog rockers Atomic Rooster by way of a cover by Nigerian outfit The Funkees (who formed around the same time as Atomic Rooster in the late ’60s). Death Valley Girls give the song a crunchy makeover, swapping Vincent Crane’s original honky-tonk keyboard for Larry Schemel’s grimey guitar, and Nick Graham’s bluesy tenor for Bonnie Bloomgarden’s Cherrie-Currie-by-way-of-Kathleen-Hannah alto. It’s a respectful homage that leaves the emphasis on the song’s message to fight for your mind: “An invisible prison encircles my mind / I wait for a vision / I search for a sign / An invisible prison is built around me / There may be a door / but there isn’t a key.” Whether you read the song as a battle cry for mental health or an anthem for the oppressed, you’re right. It’s a fight song meant to defend the strongest weapon we possess.
‘If It Ain’t Me Babe,’ S.G. Goodman
Kentucky-native S.G. Goodman’s debut album, Old Time Feeling, is an Americana/post-punk/indie rock hybrid — a perfect off-road vehicle for navigating tales about life in the rural South. “Southerners should be telling their own stories — that’s important when you’re thinking about this,” she told Rolling Stone in May. “And it’s the rest of the world’s responsibility to actually listen to people from these areas and what they have to say. And maybe take it upon themselves to dig a little deeper.” While the debut single is a tortured love-lost ballad, the South is still the setting, cotton blooms and cypress knees making cameos as Goodman grapples with watching a love turn cold. A pedal steel helps Goodman mourn, but producer Jim James gives the track a psychedelic edge, with swampy guitars and lonesome chimes.
‘What Moves,’ LA Priest
Sam Eastgate spent a year building an analog drum machine, using dozens of electrical circuits that he also built from scratch. The finished product, christened GENE, creates the foundation of Eastgate’s new album (also dubbed GENE in honor of his creation) as LA Priest. Eastgate has always explored psychedelic sounds, first with his band Late of the Pier and then with his first solo record Inji, but GENE takes that exploration into rockier territory. When producer Erol Alkan began working with Eastgate on this track, he noticed that the beats per minute on the track were “wildly fluctuating,” as he explained to Dazed. But instead of locking in the BPMs, Alkan worked with what Eastgate’s machine had created. The warped-cassette effect is charming, not distracting.
It would be a gross understatement to call pianist Greg Foat’s new album, Symphonie Pacifique, a jazz album, though jazz is a foundational element. Foat eschews the free-wheeling jam style in favor of narrative and texture — he gives you a lot to hold on to while still thrilling with backdoor progressions and cascading runs. While the title track features Foat’s nimble fingers painting a musical picture as bright as the Pacific Coast, other tracks, like “Man vs. Machine,” take on a moodier, Kraftwerk-inspired vibe; a drum machine makes an introduction for a drum kit, and Foat’s piano is nowhere to be heard.