In truth, I didn’t listen to a lot of Joni Mitchell through the month of March. But – especially in the context of a piece concerning a number of related artists – it is worth wishing her well here, in light of her ongoing hospital stay. And over the past week I have given a few listens to both Blue and Mingus.
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Nicole Dollanganger – ‘Rampage’
I only began listening to the music of Nicole Dollanganger towards the end of February, after Grimes highlighted her via Instagram. Dollanganger has released six collections of songs to date – four albums and two EPs – with another couple of works in progress, including a new album and a second series of ‘Embarrassing Love Songs’. Typically recorded in her bedroom or bathroom, her compositions are archly observed but with a graceful wistfulness that undercuts the humour of some of the lyrics; rooted in a sense of place which evokes her Ontario hometown – but more than simply recalling through sharp and suggestive detail, Dollanganger resuscitates moments so that they move about her in the present. ‘Rampage’ was the song that first stood out for me from Observatory Mansions.
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Grimes – ‘REALiTi’
Grimes released ‘REALiTi’ on 9 March: her first fully-fledged song to have appeared since last August’s ‘Go’, and serving to satiate fans awaiting the follow up to Visions. Depicting it as a never-completed track recorded in early 2013 for a now-largely-scrapped fourth album, the video shows Grimes at various locations during her tour that year across Asia. Whatever its backstory, and whatever its future prospects – Grimes has indicated she might now consider placing the song on her upcoming album, such has been its reception – ‘REALiTi’ is a wonderful piece which readily fills the space extending from Visions to the Grimes of the last couple of years. While its sound palette fits somewhere between the ethereal opening to ‘Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)’ and the dance tracks on Visions, the lyrics on ‘REALiTi’ are less oblique and the tone is more earthy. The chiming synths and cascading claps which begin the song make it one of her most instantly appealing and atmospheric.
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Tom Waits – ‘Chocolate Jesus’
Tom Waits, furnished with a speakerphone, offers an ‘immaculate confection’: a performance of ‘Chocolate Jesus’, from his twelfth studio album Mule Variations, which he produced on the Late Show with David Letterman in 1999.
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The Troggs – ‘Give It To Me’
Listen to how the lustiness of Reg Presley’s voice, as he pleads ‘Give it to me’, modulates into the tender yearning of ‘All your love’; and then on through the bridging hopefulness of ‘And I’ll know’. Reg Presley had one of the best voices in rock and roll, and The Troggs released a whole slew of fantastic songs between 1966 and 1968.
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The Count Five – ‘Psychotic Reaction’
And in the same garage rock vein, and from precisely the same period – their only album was released in October 1966 – stands The Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’. This was one of Lester Bangs’ favourites; and provided part of the title for the defining collection of his writings published in 1987.
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Kendrick Lamar – ‘King Kunta’
Even more than good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick’s new album compels and requires repeated listens. ‘King Kunta’, the third single from To Pimp a Butterfly, offers grooving bass, shuffling percussion, and ostensible funk, with a menacing overlay.
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Rihanna – ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’
Rihanna is on imperious form here, as she moves sharply on from the unburdening acoustic sound of ‘FourFiveSeconds’ to this taut and tense, darkly hypnotic beat and vocal.
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Björk – ‘The Dull Flame of Desire’ (feat. Antony Hegarty)
This dovetailing of Björk and Antony’s voices – on a setting of a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, released on Volta – is a high point amid two remarkable artistic careers. The video for ‘The Dull Flame of Desire’ is also exceptional, in three parts, directed in turn by Christoph Jantos, Masahiro Mogari, and Marçal Cuberta Juncà.
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Leonard Cohen – ‘Winter Lady’
A viewing this month of McCabe & Mrs. Miller propelled me towards the world of Leonard Cohen’s debut album. Robert Altman used three compositions from the middle of Songs of Leonard Cohen – ‘Winter Lady’, ‘The Stranger Song’, and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ – as crucial elements towards the slow pacing and rich atmospherics of his 1971 film. Cohen apparently facilitated the use of his music after admiring Brewster McCloud; and on a first viewing of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, regretted committing himself to Altman’s latest work, although he soon rewatched the film and roundly changed his opinion. As someone who only intermittently dives into Cohen’s catalogue, and wouldn’t describe himself as an ardent fan, it is hard for me to detach these songs from the dense beauty of the world Altman creates. ‘Sisters of Mercy’ can even become a little cloying on record, with an over-elaborated accompaniment. But Songs of Leonard Cohen certainly stands up in its own right; and only gains from its prominent part as one the greatest uses of popular music in cinema.
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Ata Kak – ‘Obaa Sima’
Ata Kak, a Ghanaian musician previously unheralded and all but unknown, became a legendary figure on the margins of the world and indie music scenes when his 1994 cassette Obaa Sima was made available for download in 2002, courtesy of Brian Shimkovitz and his Awesome Tapes From Africa blog. The album has now been remastered, and was released – via LP, CD, MP3, and limited edition tape – on 3 March.