by Jon Hunt
Moors Blackmon, Black To The Future
(Brief disclaimer: I worked on the album cover for this sucker, but as I’ve said before: I only work on albums I love)
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again over the course of 2016: Afrofuturism, that loosely-defined movement of music and art that basically encompasses a number of future-forward musical forms into a wicked (and highly political) stew of funk, hip hop and jazz (along with a decidedly futuristic aesthetic vibe drawn from science fiction, Egyptian/African motifs and Earth Wind and Fire LP covers), is the most important musical genre currently happening. It’s pushing the boundaries of what’s possible harder and cooler than anybody else — sure, there are various avant-garde threads in electronic that might be more abstract and/or glitchy, but none of that stuff funks. At all.
Which is what’s righteous about Black To The Future, the debut EP from Minneapolis Afrofuturist funk/jazz combo Moors Blackmon — not only does it not sound like anybody else you’ve ever heard (seriously: the power-trio approach encompassing wild funk drums and bass plus crazy-ass synths and vocals is like the anti-Cream) but it also just straight-up funks. Like sure it sounds like music from 100 years from now, but you can seriously and insanely bob your head to it. Which is what renders it so damn enjoyable and listenable — like dig the waves of wild analog synths on “Coldhearted,” bolstered by a jittery hip-hop rhythm (courtesy Kahlil Brewington, ex-Dessa and Black Blondie) and a muzzy bassline (Antoine Martinneau), or the bubbling soul rhythms of “Da Light Philosophy,” or the super-heavy fuzztone grooves of “Black To The Future” — even at its most abstract, this stuff is straight-up groovy, which is awesome.
So that makes it easier to swallow, but seriously, this stuff is shoving music hard. Composer/auteur Dameun Strange (who just won a Minnesota Emerging Composer Award!) has an agenda to tap into the sort of cosmic id and channel old Omni magazine covers into some wildly inventive music. The title track is as wild/wicked/awesomely punk/funk as anything Thundercat is up to right now (not a million miles from Kanye’s last thing, though I think the band would murder me for saying that), while the instrumental “Calrissian Battle Song” is like synthwave plus enough rhythm section power to light up an entire town and “Da Light Philosophy” takes the threads of 80s synth-funk and filters them through the West Coast jazz-of-the-moment sensibility and some future-forward afrocentric philosophy.
I’m optimistic that even in this rather lilywhite burg, there’s a huge place for Moors Blackmon and the afrofuturist movement in general. Our hip-hop scene hasn’t exactly been known for future-forward thinking, our R&B scene is positively retro (at least the mainstream/crossover portions of it — god knows artists like PaviElle and Villa Rosa are doing some damn interesting stuff), and our Jazz scene is — well, let’s say The Bad Plus ain’t exactly afro-anything, you know? Black To The Future is a salvo into the sky — the future is here, folks, and it’s time to jump on.
Fury Things, VHS
VHS by Fury Things isn’t exactly a groundbreaking album per se. You’ve heard guitars and basses and massive helpings of fuzztone before, right? I mean, in the 90s, this was called Swervedriver (or Teenage Fanclub, or whoever) and we totally loved it. You know? Except: there is always a place in the world for albums that sound like GIGANTIC FUCKING JETS TAKING OFF. That’s a thing. In the 60s it was the Byrds, in the 70s it was Blue Oyster Cult, now it’s Fury Things basically duplicating the effect of a jet cruising down the runway and directly into your brain. It’s awesome. In fact, it’s totally necessary. There’s too much wishy-washy poop out there, too much indie rock that doesn’t do nearly enough skull-crushing and way too much wishing and washing. I’m all for slatherings of fuzz and ass-tons of phase and dreamy-ass vocals, you know?
In other words: who gives a fuck if it’s groundbreaking or not, or if it reminds you of shit you heard in the 90s? When there are songs as magnificently melodic and wildly heavy as “Summer Bummer” or sounds-like-Jesus-on-the-radio “Honest” or the tambourine-forward “Mersault?” When songs like “Some Things” or “Shakes” crawl into your head and sound like a rush of speed straight to the vein, or like the sound of technology taking over your body? When weird rushes of sound like “Stitch Up” or the quite gorgeous “Bahia” sound like transmissions from another planet? Does the groundbreaking matter then? I vote not. I vote that whenever smart-ass folks with melodic sense set loud guitars to “stun” it’s something worth hearing, and this one does that in spades.
Pasadena ’68 / Dakota Shakedown, self-titled
Minneapolis singer/songwriter Nick Leet dealt with the breakup of his old-school-Minneapolis-punk-country-rock band High On Stress (at the height of its powers, basically) by forming two different bands and then recording an album with both of ’em, split side-to-side. Weirdly: both bands share most members, both bands are on the same label, but while Pasadena ’68 favors Leet’s songwriting, Dakota Shakedown favors Mike Hjelden (ex-of Standard Thompson). I guess imagine Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne (or, hell, Warehouse: Songs and Stories) but instead of every-other, the songs are split side-to-side. S’an interesting gimmick, and it works pretty well — Leet’s songs are definitely in the old-school Minneapolis rock mode of the ‘Mats/Soul Asylum/Huskers, i.e. great songs, punk sensibility, tons of guitar, while Hjelden’s are a little poppier, a little more late-70s power-pop and a hair more country besides. That said: it’s basically two sides of a coin and sounds very much like an album by a single band with two songwriters, which is totally fine — and both are strong in their own way besides. I dig Leet when he’s at his most careening — “Pardon The Mess” is pure 1986 drunken Turf Club, while the gorgeous “Hang Me A Line” is as hook-laden as the ‘Mats used to get later on in their career when they stopped caring so much about being shambolic. Meanwhile, Hjelden is at his best when he’s doing a bit of Springsteen channeling — there’s a certain gritty intensity to “Expired Avenue” that brings to mind dirty city streets and makes it poetic in the same way The Boss does. And “Shut Out The Night” is downright New Jersian, rocking almost in a Thin Lizzy-ish fashion (yeah, I know they were from Ireland, but Ireland via New Jersey, always). Whether one band or two, this is definitely the kind of music Minneapolis used to do so damn well and which has all but vanished in recent years (why? I mean, I know it was ubiquitous for a while, but did we really need it to go away?) If you’re wondering if the genre is in good hands: it sure is. Two sets of ’em.