by Etran Finatawa
This isn't a single—just the deepest, most hypnotically beautiful song on Desert Crossroads, which, after the new Erykah Badu, is my favorite album of 2008 so far. Etran Finatawa, a sextet, are from Niger (emphatically not Nigeria), they combine members of two of the country's nomadic ethnic groups (there are 11 altogether), and they sing in a language I'm guessing you don't understand—me either. It's discernibly foreign. But their music is so effortless that I'm convinced anyone would respond the way I do, with the sense of discovering something I'd been waiting for all my life without even knowing it. Here's a thought experiment: You awake at dawn without prompting and the sun feels great, so does movement. It takes a minute but you realize that you're absolutely content. Add some unhurried guitar and transported call-and-response vocals and you're sort of there.
"Reggae Is Here Once Again"
"Afro Punk Reggae (Dub)"
by Steel an' Skin
Too often, reissues of "lost classics" contain no such thing. And Reggae Is Here Once Again, a somewhat pricey CD-plus-DVD from an obscure London-based band—active from the late '70s to (at least) the mid-'80s and featuring members from Africa and the Caribbean—is no bargain, not with nearly 9 of its nearly 36 minutes dedicated to "Acid Rain," the worst piece of save-the-children shit I ever want to hear. But these two songs are not to be believed. Despite its title, 1979's "Reggae Is Here Once Again" isn't reggae—it's disco, with heavy calypso steel-pan lines spicing it up nearly as much as Peter Blackman's emotive vocal, not to mention a heart-stopping, female-chanted breakdown. Everything about it is perfect. Improbably, this holds nearly as true for the song's bare-knuckled dub mix, in which every obvious trick in the mixing-board book (high hats slicing like funked-up scissors, a bass line boring its way into your innards, chants and steel pans growing ever more dazzling via extreme echo) is worked to within an inch of its life.
"Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)"
In its original form, London producer Zomby's "Spliff Dub" was a rough-and-slinky dubstep track with heavy, glowering bass and a flute motif reminiscent of nothing so much as "Torgo's Theme" from MST3K favorite Manos: The Hands of Fate. Refracted through a billion little shards of synth spritz and conga clatter by Glasgow's Rustie, it's as dazzlingly psychedelic as any dub, only in far sharper focus, particularly when synth pads burst through like sunshine midway through.