Dave Aju, Open Wide (Circus Company; circusprod.com). A tech-house album constructed entirely from San Francisco producer Dave Aju's oral cavity, Open Wide transcends its gimmick to work as a left-field dance gem. Björk tried a similar stunt with Medulla to mixed results (she used guest mouths), but Aju proves himself to be a remarkable mimic of "real" instruments like drums, synths, and myriad percussion toys. His singing voice (imagine Sly Stone's at its most lackadaisical) rides atop bumpin', low-lit party cuts that are not so much peak-time as freak-time. It's safe to assume that the disc's tongue-in-cheekiness is intentional.
Squarepusher, Just a Souvenir (Warp; warprecords.com). You probably don't know Squarepusher anymore. Twelve years after Feed Me Weird Things, the mad drum 'n' bass scientist has morphed into the mad jazz-rock fusionist. What a long, strange trip it's been. Just a Souvenir posits the question: What would a record made by spazz-rockers Hella, the late punk-jazz maestro Jaco Pastorius, and prog-rock speed demons Magma sound like—if it came out on ECM? The disc bears Tom Jenkinson's patented perversity, extreme mood/tone shifts, vaunted bass and beat-programming virtuosity, and an oddly alluring melodic sensibility. Just a Souvenir has little coherence (an oft-overrated commodity), but its radical stylistic jump-cuts offer an absurd amount of thrills.
Various, 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground (Sublime Frequencies; sublimefrequencies.com). Rai—which originated in Oran, Algeria, in the '30s and is translated literally as "opinion"—is essentially popular folk music that has assimilated various styles over time. Its profile skyrocketed in the '80s despite government suppression; Algeria's Islamic leaders forbid dancing and lustful lyrical content and rai is, at base, irresistible id-centric music. Sublime Frequencies (via compiler Hicham Chadly) focuses here on obscure 45s from the decade before. Rai's often-bawdy subject matter is buttressed on these eight tracks by hypnotic organ and accordion drones; mesmerizing, serpentine darbuka rhythms; and triumphant, elephant-roar horns. Above it all are masculine vocals reeking of passion and sometimes sadness. Groupe El Azhar's tempestuous "I'm Still Getting Drunk... Still" deviates with its male/female vocal volleys, and it's one of the LP's strongest cuts, fusing the most compelling qualities of African and Arabic musics. Cheb Zergui's "I Cuddle Myself" surprisingly introduces a wah-wah guitar to the genre, lending it a fluid, psych-rock burble while a mantric bass line and hand drum lock into a gripping groove. Momentous cuts by Bellemou & Benfissa and Boutaiba Sghir fill out the album's too-brief running time. Because it's on Sublime Frequencies, I expected 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground to be a wilder listen, but it's still another enlightening excavation by this Seattle label renowned for its treasure-digging expertise. Act fast, as this is a (180-gram) vinyl-only release limited to 1,500 copies.