PJ Harvey & Ramy Essam, "The Camp" (label). The cause may be more compelling than the music here, but the music's still pretty damn nice. English superstar Harvey and Egyptian vocalist/guitarist Ramy Essam have linked up to pen this paean to, as the press release states, "raise awareness and much needed support towards the health and educational well-being of displaced children in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. The artists will donate all net profits from the track to Beyond Association in the Bekaa Valley, a national Lebanese non-Governmental Organisation. Beyond Association provides services such as access to education, healthcare, and psycho-social support mainly through art therapy, neuro-physiotherapy, and recreational activities."
This digital release was recorded with Harvey's trusty producer John Parish, and it's an understatedly pretty rock song that oddly balances the jaunty with the melancholy. Essam's verse in Arabic translates into: "I wish I had wings to fly away, far away. Meet smiley faces who never ask where I came from; not to ask about colour, race, or religion. What difference does it make if we're all humans? No wars, no limits, no borders. Earth is everyone's right.” Sincere do-gooder music often sounds stodgy, but "The Camp" demands multiple replays.
Tricky, “The Only Way” (False Idols/!K7). Imagine the pressure of having to follow up maverick downtempo masterpieces like Maxinquaye, Pre-Millennium Tension, and Nearly God. Fans of those records could sense the strain of Tricky's subsequent releases, which sporadically contain some great work, but don't match the sublime expressions of dejection and wrenching ennui of those early efforts. So it's heartening to hear the Berlin-based Bristol producer/vocalist somewhat returning to the seminal form of Maxinquaye et al. The auteur likens "The Only Way" to a sequel for "Hell Is Round the Corner," and he's not wrong. The melody is a bit more airy, but the languorous rhythm, bittersweet atmosphere, and understated evocation of heartache hark back to that Maxinquaye highlight. There's also a whiff of Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melodie Nelson in the lamenting orchestration. And that can only benefit any song. It's like Blowback never happened...
Mommy Long Legs, "Diva Night" (Bandcamp). To put it mildly, I'm not a big pop-punk fan. But, holy shit, when it's done this righteously, I just gotta succumb. The lead track on Seattle quartet Mommy Long Legs' new Rock Product EP, "Diva Night" explodes into DayGlo™ action right after the muttered intro of "Last one there is a penis pump." What follows is a hectic, staccato fist-raiser that sounds like Tacocat on the cleanest meth. The lyrics aren't easy to discern, but phrases like "Are you down to hump?" and "Don't be shy/420, 69! 69! 69!" seem to celebrate the libido in the strongest terms. Mommy Long Legs call their music jocular things like "barfcore," "fartcore," and "brat punk," but you don't sound this furious and coiled without a degree of seriousness and a devotion to harnessing feral energy to indelible hooks. So disregard this staunchly feminist band's self-deprecating descriptions and revel in MLL's tuneful, anthemic punk splats.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, "By Your Side" (Bandcamp). Orcas Island native and rising electronic-music star Smith faithfully covers one of the favorite songs of her youth, Sade's "By Your Side"; didn't see that one coming, especially after the warped songcraft of EARS. But this version is a pleasant surprise, as Smith allows slightly creepier vibes to encroach on the silky original's elegant chassis. Talking about her motivation to this song from 2000's Lovers Rock, Smith said that Sade's "voice glides naturally across genders and genres, which is a quality I also work to embody with my vocals."
Best Available Technology, “Session 4190” (Styles Upon Styles). Down in Portland, Best Available Technology (aka Kevin Palmer) has been concocting some of the Northwest's strangest and most inventive abstract techno. (If you caught his extraordinary MOTOR performance from 2014, you were fortunate.) His latest release is Exposure Therapy on New York's excellent Styles Upon Styles label, and "Session 4190" represents BAT's chillest dimension. Here, icy, isolationist-ambient synth washes waft over a staggered dub rhythm, which provide a welcome brooding tension to the proceedings. Exposure Therapy often comes off like a long-lost missive from the sinister, dubhop/illbient label, WordSound, and is therefore highly recommended.
Noteworthy June 9 album releases: Chuck Berry, CHUCK (Dualtone); Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly & James McAlister, Planetarium (4AD); Phoenix, Ti Amo (Atlantic); Ani DiFranco, Binary (Righteous Babe); Katy Perry, Witness (Capitol); The Secret Sisters, You Don’t Own Me Anymore (New West); Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie (Atlantic); Glen Matlock, The Anarchy Arias (Virgin); London Grammar, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing (Metal & Dust/Ministry of Sound).