Coco Em, “Land (Black) First” (InFiné)
Nairobi, Kenya, producer Coco Em is a new name to me, but her debut EP, Kilumi (out April 21), hooked me from the start—an all-too-rare experience. An understated gloom runs through the seven tracks here, evoking some of the more exploratory releases on the excellent Hyperdub and Planet µ labels. Kilumi's beats sound woody and ungridlike, its atmospheres dank and mysterious, its bass frequencies cavernous enough to get lost in. These cuts may not get the LCD masses' asses moving on the dance floor, but they would sound amazing on a big club system—and on your high-quality headphones. I can't speak for earbuds, but I'd guess they'd do all right on those, too.
With seven Kenyan women vocalists augmenting each track here, Kilumi revels in tonal and stylistic variety, with amapiano (a loungey/jazzy strain of South African house), future bass, and kuduro (high-energy dance music from Angola) in the mix. One highlight is “Mbeni,” which has Janice Iche on the mic, her hearty chants spiritualizing over the skittering, scattershot beats, percussion that sounds like bamboo being stripped, and bass that messes with your root chakra. It leverages a fresh kind of seductiveness whose closest relative I can think of is Cooly G's “Weekend Fly.” No higher compliment.
The spotlight track “Land (Black) First,” which features vocalists Sisian & Kasiva going both sotto voce and declamatory with M.I.A.-style militancy, is a low-key, steadfast protest song against white supremacy with beats that artistically ratatat like machine guns and bulbous bass pressure that knocks with rude insistence. The groove is fascinatingly wonky; respect to any dancer who could do it justice with merely four limbs.
Laddio Bolocko, “Laddio's Money” (Castle Face)
It's not enough for John Dwyer to release a great album damn near every month with Osees and his various improv side projects. He also somehow has the time to run the Castle Face label, which has maintained excellent quality control for years, including recent releases by EXEK and Seattle's J.R.C.G. Now Castle Face is gearing up to issue '97-'99 on May 20, a 3xLP archival box set by Laddio Bolocko, one of the great lost American bands of the '90s. The box collects all of the band's official recordings on vinyl for the first time.
Laddio Bolocko created an explosive blend of angular noise rock and free jazz that made most of their peers sound anemic. They combined extraordinary rhythmic power and dynamics with extreme tonalities, like some unholy hybrid of This Heat, Can, and Albert Ayler. They could make mantric sound transcendental or shock you with unpredictable changes.
Two of Laddio's members—guitarist Drew St. Ivany and bassist Ben Armstrong—later formed the equally cataclysmic Psychic Paramount, another overlooked group who, remarkably, played Capitol Hill Block Party in 2012. Laddio members St. Ivany, Armstrong, drummer Blake Fleming, and horn man Marcus DeGrazia had roots in the Mars Volta, Dazzling Killmen, Panicsville, and other underground units. Their rarefied chemistry burned briefly but astonishingly brightly. St. Ivany told me in an interview published in The Stranger 10 years ago: “We gear our music to our own tastes and courage level. We get high from this pressurized intensity, so naturally we indulge ourselves. [I]t's more about tapping in and conjuring than anything else. It has more to do with spell-casting than writing a pop song. When it's good, it's very transporting, and that's what we're in it for.” He was talking about the Psychic Paramount, but his words also apply to Laddio Bolocko.
“Laddio's Money” is probably the funkiest track in LB's catalog, moving with martial discipline of the Meters. Those booming beats get embroidered with what sounds like a crazed radio frequencies or a Theremin under duress and a guitar emulating bagpipes in triumphal mode. The progress gets interrupted a couple of times with random audio phenomena and an eerie fade-out, but these only serve to increase the pleasure quotient when the instruments return at full strength. This is an unusually powerful head-nodder.