Etran De L'Aïr, “Toubouk Ine Chihoussay” (Sahel Sounds)
A wedding band from the musical hotbed of Agadez, Niger, Etran De L'Aïr roil firmly in the desert-blues tradition of more renowned groups such as Western media faves Bombino and Mdou Moctar. And like those bands' music, that of Etran bears more resemblance to electrified psychedelic rock than any strain of blues.
On their two studio albums—2018's No. 1 and 2022's Agadez—this family collective of musicians flaunt quicksilver guitar calligraphy that will impress fans of Jimi Hendrix and Phil Upchurch. But this isn't virtuosity for its own sake. Etran imbue their lengthy songs with an emotional gravitas and joy while riding rhythms that have that one-leg-shorter-than-the other galloping quality peculiar to desert-blues bands. Chanted vocals and ecstatic shrieks punctuate their irrepressible rock ramble, common elements in African desert rock. (Check out “Hadija” from No. 1 and “Tarha Warghey Ichile” from Agadez for Etran at their dynamic and hypnotic best.)
Etran's newest release, Live in Seattle, captures the raw energy of two songs from their April 22 gig at Madame Lou's, which was the final night of their maiden US tour. (You can download the album on Bandcamp while naming your own price.)
“Nak Deranine” is a relatively smooth cruise for Etran, with radiant guitar spangle; this live version slightly increases the tempo of Albhabid Ghabdouan's drums and Moussa “Abindi” Ibra and Abdourahamane “Allamine” Ibrahim's guitars glint harder than on the studio recording (both tracks are drawn from Agadez). Ibra's voice is at once passionate and vulnerable, though you'll need to be fluent in Tuareg to understand his lyrics.
One of Etran's most exciting cuts, “Toubouk Inew Chihoussay” churns and ripples at a frenetic pace, charging into anthemic territory with an intensity akin to an African interpretation of the MC5's “Kick Out The Jams.” If you're looking for an entry point into Etran De L'Aïr's scorching world of desert music, this live rendition of “Toubouk Inew Chihoussay” lays down a spectacular red carpet for the curious.
Mason Lowe, “Plastered” (Kill Room Records)
Bread & Butter spent a good chunk of the 2010s and '20s as one of Seattle's most reliable dispensers of fun, hook-filled rock. At this late date, this sort of meat-and-potatoes rock really needs personality-rich songwriting and exceptional instrumental prowess to avoid ho-hum-dom, and B&B clear that hurdle with little effort.
Most likely, few people expected B&B's drummer, Mason Lowe, to emerge as a budding star after the quartet's Psycho World LP dropped in September 2020. But his debut solo full-length, Morning People (released June 23), bears the hallmarks of a cult classic. Over these 12 songs, Lowe makes a great case for shoving weak rock-drummer jokes up your cowbell.
Those familiar with Bread & Butter will feel a warm and fuzzy familiarity with the retro-savvy moves inhabiting Morning People, which was recorded as a way to cope with the pandemic and to shake off some personal and professional troubles. The results sound like Mason overcame those obstacles, and then some.
With a voice somewhere between Big Star-era Alex Chilton and Liam Gallagher, Lowe goes wild for huge choruses that implant themselves in your brain after one listen. “Stoned and Cold” bursts with such tuneful bonhomie, it could've qualified as a secondary theme for That '70s Show. On the aptly titled “World Class” Lowe purveys audacious power pop with massive cymbal splashes and saucy harmonies.
The album's first single, “Hanging Around,” is an absolute charmer, replete with Lowe's faux-British accent, effervescent choruses, and triumphant guitar wails that would make peak-era Badfinger weep. “You Got the Touch” is pure pop for now then people—meaning it's worthy of being segued into a late-'70s Nick Lowe tune. (Wonder if they're related...)
The album's toughest and best track is “Plastered,” which barnstorms with an Electric Warrior swagger, coming on like Marc Bolan fronting Slade in 1972. It's overflowing with bravado, killer guitar tones, and thrilling melodic contours. What a brilliant way to open your debut LP. Bang a bong, get it off.