11:10 am Aug. 13, 2012
It seemed like a great idea on paper, but the collaboration last year between Jack White and rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson (Aug. 17, Maxwell's) didn't arrive without some birthing pains. "I describe him as a velvet-covered brick," Jackson deadpanned in an interview describing the standoff they had over White's insistence that Jackson cover Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good." In the end, both of them won—Jackson recorded the song, but not before White altered a few of the more scandalous lyrics with which she took issue. It may seem like a minor dust-up, but that kind of hard-headed determination is the very thing that helped Jackson to succeed despite facing decades of skepticism and resistance. You can hear the tenacity in her voice, a sabre-toothed howl, scraped-up and searing, plowing fiercely up the center of hot-rod rockabilly numbers like "Fujiyama Mama," "There's a Party Goin' On," and, most famously, "Let's Have a Party." Though she is a proud practicing Christian, Jackson's best songs radiate a kind of recklessness, the gut-walloping bass and firecracker percussion sound like the soundtrack to every sock hop and jail fight in the 1950s, and it's not hard to imagine that the woman who's clutching the microphone has bruised knuckles from a dust-up the night before. It's no wonder Bob Dylan once referred to her as "A hurricane in lipstick." Having held her own against White, Jackson is spoiling for an even bigger challenge, teaming with Justin Townes Earle—himself something of a hurricane—for Unfinished Business. If her work with White often strained itself to emphasize Jackson's rock bona fides, Business is a more natural fit, returning Jackson to her rockabilly roots. Here's hoping the two of them make it out alive. Screaming Females (Aug. 16, 92nd St. Y) are the heir apparent to both Jackson's belly fire and her hot-poker wail, though they operate from a base of punk rock rather than rockabilly. Ace in the hole? Frontwoman Marissa Paternoster's fret-punishing guitar work. The Kills (Aug. 18, Hudson River Park) also have Jackson's steely resolve, but their sound is bleaker and a lot more unholy, anchored in Alisson Mosshart's menacing moan. By comparison, Porches (Aug. 16, Big Snow) and White Denim (Aug. 14, Brooklyn Bowl) seem positively sedate; the former instill country-rooted ballads with indie rock raggedness and the latter do the same to heavy-lidded jam-band meandering.
Like Porches and White Denim, international outfit the Very Best (Aug 13, Irving Plaza) takes a sideways approach to traditional genres. On their 2009 debut The Warm Heart of Africa, which they recorded with the London production team Radioclit, they blended the steady bob of traditional African music with hot synth flashes and relaxed dance rhythms, and even found room for a cameo from Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koening, himself no stranger to decorating indie rock with guitar phrasings more common to highlife and juju. On the just-released MTMTMK, one half of Radioclit has departed, leaving remaining member Johan Hugo and Very Best vocalist Esau Mwamwaya to rebuild the formula from scratch. The results are flashier and more hyperactive. Where Warm Heart was an idle ramble down a dusty street, MTMTMK feels like a feverish evening in a packed-to-the-hilt nightclub. But though there may be more exclamation points than commas, the group has retained most of their canny genre-mashing tricks. "Bantu" nods toward the thumb-piano bliss-outs of groups like Konono No. 1, but laces them up with acid rock guitar. "Rudeboy" has dancehall's bounding cadence but techno's primal throb. The cumulative effect is bigger—at times suggesting LMFAO almost as often as MGMT. It was only a matter of time before such accomplished genre gobblers turned their attIntion to American pop. Like the Very Best, Yeasayer (Aug. 15, Music Hall of Williamsburg) also started out mashing together a host of international sounds with bits of British synthpop. They committed fully to the latter on 2010's emotive Odd Blood, which frequently recalled the best moments of the U.K. group Yaz. The upcoming Fragrant World is more ambient and liminal, favoring texture over thump. The songs of the always-fascinating group Ducktails (Aug. 15, McCarren Park) have similarly grown more concrete, away from hazy bedroom laptop ambience and toward meandering and charmingly ramshackle indie rock. Those missing that mystery would do well to investigate Airiel (Aug. 18, Cake Shop), whose woozy songs are wrapped in ghostlike synth and float by like strange figures painted on a paper lantern. Deep Time (Aug. 15, Union Pool) also recall a bygone era, but theirs is the science-lab indie pop of the mid '90s, when bands like Stereolab and Cornelius were on the ascent.
It's impossible to talk about musical culture clashes without talking about Antibalas (Aug. 18, Williamsburg Park). Since 1998, the Brooklyn group has been tirelessly working out their own particular spin on Afrobeat, the thumping, endlessly-rolling music invented by Fela Kuti, blending it elegantly with Afro-Cuban jazz and elements of salsa and cumbia. Like many bands, their earliest years were marked mostly by audience indifference; though they put out a steady stream of sturdy, reliable albums, their appeal remained depressingly cultish. That all changed in 2008 when the group was tapped, fittingly enough, to be the house band for the musical Fela!, playing the very songs that inspired their sound in the first place and flexing their live muscles during the show's essentially never-ending musical numbers. They bring that expertise to their new, self-titled record, which they recorded at Daptone studios, home of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, with whom they share this Williamsburg Park bill. It is Antibalas's strongest work by far—a confident, assured collection of limber grooves that leave plenty of room for ecstatic vamping. Case in point? "The Ratcatcher," where a simple, simmering base of organ and bass allow room for frequent, fiery streaks of saxophone that flash across the center of the song like lit rockets. The 10-minute closing track is the band at their best: a measured, stomping drum cadence provides rigid structure; a big-bellied, low-end organ line saunters in next and then, fully one-minute in, the song erupts into a wild eureka of brass and bongos and bass; it's the sonic equivalent of someone throwing a fistful of corn kernels into a frying pan full of bubbling oil. J.C. Brooks & the Uptown Sound (Aug. 17, Brooklyn Bowl) are almost as reverent toward their source material, but their record collection is full of old soul and blues. With Sonny & the Sunsets (Aug. 16, Mercury Lounge), Sonny Smith applies a cockeyed, Jonathan Richman-like sense of humor to country and folk, while Marina & the Diamonds (Aug. 16, Webster Hall) bring Broadway-style theatrics to booming electropop.
Antibalas and The Very Best create new sounds by feverishly mixing genres, but Enfants Terribles (Aug. 15–17, Blue Note) is most interesting for its mix of personalities. The group is comprised of seemingly opposing forces. Saxophonist Lee Konitz is best known for his work with Miles Davis on Birth of the Cool, and his recent efforts hew close to that shades-and-cigarettes blueprint, threading smoky sax lines through walking bass and clattering percussion. Guitarist Bill Frisell, on the other hand, is the consummate deconstructionist; his best works, like 2009's Disfarmer, dismantle traditional American music while retaining its essence; the effect is similar to eating deconstructed cuisine. Bassist Gary Peacock is the most stubbornly avant-garde of the lot, his stumbling, murmuring lines the centerpiece of any record on which he appears. And drummer Joey Baron has a taut, crisp style that provides rigid structure for even the most ruthless experimentalists. The combination of their distinct playing styles can't help but yield a riveting tension—four fierce participants in a sonic tug-of-war. The members of Zombi Jazz (Aug. 13, Cameo Gallery) are more unified in purpose. Their latest album Foreclosure is full of wailing, atonal sax and drums-falling-down-stairs percussion that periodically cohere into nasty knots of noise—it's the kind of music made by malicious spirits. Celebration (Aug. 17, Union Pool) are just as physical, creating big, percussive songs flecked with haunted-house organ and topped with Katrina Ford's spectral wail. And Black Bananas (Aug. 17, Mercury Lounge), the project of Jennifer Herrema, formerly of Royal Trux, is even nastier and more chaotic, a tar-coated take on the kind of bottom-heavy music that used to blast from the open windows of busted Mustangs in the 1970s.
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