Album Picks: Ata Kak, Purity Ring, Moon Duo, Swervedriver, Parquet Courts

Posted by Billy Gil, March 3, 2015 09:08am | Post a Comment

Ata KakObaa Sima

Ghanaian highlife artist Ata Kak was brought to light through ethnomusicologist Brian Shimkovitz’s Awesome Tapes From Africa blog when he posted the unstoppable “Daa Nyinaa.” Shimkovitz bought the Ata Kak tape more than a decade ago and finally found him living in Ghana. Only 50 copies of the original Obaa Sima tape were made, and though the original master DAT had disintegrated, Shimkovitz’s tape was used to reissue Obaa Sima. Details of Shimkovitz’s search for Ata Kak could likely fill a book (in fact, a documentary is being made), but it only serves to give the truly awesome Obaa Sima even more allure, as does the tape hiss from the transfer. Its seven tracks offer nothing but good times, a non-stop party that sounds removed from time, full of delightfully rinky-dink synths, instant-play beats and Ata Kak’s motormouth rap. The slightly off-time nature of the backups on “Agdaya,” the louder than necessary mix of the vocals—all things that could be construed as negative instead feel like happy accidents that make Obaa Sima sound so singular. One track flows into another across Obaa Sima, coming into centerpiece “Daa Nyinaa,” an Afro-house masterpiece of warehouse-party cool. But stick around for the slightly sinister “Yemmpa Aba” and head-bobbing vocal-less closer “Bome Nnwon,” which will have you replaying the entire album once its final handclap echoes into silence. When Ata Kak is on, you won’t want to listen to anything else. If you need me, I’ll be watching this video on repeat:


Purity Ringanother eternity

Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring push their dreamy sound outward on their second album, dialing up the hooks and production value for a more straightforward pop release. Songs like “push pull” sound cleaner than the booming tracks of their debut, Shrines, yet they’re still percussively fascinating, possessing the same kind of odd time meters, space and layered percussive noise that make FKA Twigs such a hit. Megan James’ vocals move further from ethereal to real, particularly on “begin again,” a bass-heavy ode to breaking up and making up. James lyrics aren’t the kind you parse for concrete detail—dream-R&B ballad “repetition” has lines that make your head spin, like “watchin’ me is like watching a fire take your eyes from you.” But it’s all part of the mesmerizing spell Purity Ring are so adept at casting, utilizing Cocteau Twins-style wordplay and vocal manipulation to seemingly set off digital sirens and synths that shoot like fireworks on “heartsight.” Other than the goth-tinged “dust hymn,” they’ve mostly ditched the witch house thing to dig into a more all-embracing sound. Despite its title, another eternity almost ends too soon, proving that adage that it’s better to leave fans wanting more. It’s a confident sophomore effort that plays up to the band’s melodic and percussive strengths while remaining just elusive enough to keep us as intrigued as ever.


Moon DuoShadow of the Sun

Moon Duo’s third album purrs with gripping bass grooves, organ drones and sterling solos that cut through the haze on tracks like “Wildling.” “Night Beat” starts a motorik dance party that rolls into the bluesy surge of “Free the Skull.” You might at first think you’ve heard this from Moon Duo before. But the twosome of singer/guitarist Ripley Johnson and singer/keyboardist Sanae Yamada have never sounded bad, nor better than they do here, continuing to mine influences like Suicide, Silver Apples and krautrock to mesmerizing effect while proving they can be just as alluring when trying something different, slowing things down for space ballad “In a Cloud” or adding some new-wave synths to their primitive thump on standouts like “Zero” and “Animal.” Their awesome sound has been refined with a never-before-heard clarity and confidence on Shadow of the Sun, making it a frontrunner for Moon Duo’s best album yet.


Swervedriver I Wasn’t Born to Lose You

Swervedriver are back after a 17-year absence. If albums like Raise and Mezcal Head didn’t already put Swervedriver in the same pantheon of shoegaze titans like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Lush for you, try this new album and then go back to their first few. I Wasn’t Born to Lose You is looser and more atmospheric than their earlier material, but it also serves to highlight aspects of the band’s music that was always there—it was just sort of squashed under the skull-crushing chords of songs like “Rave Down.” The timing changes and interlocking guitars of “Setting Sun,” for instance, play like an extension of the quieter passages of songs like “Duel,” given room to breathe without the expectation of some mammoth power chords to take you out of it. No offense to mammoth power chords, of course—they’re still in supply here, though just more intricately placed, taken apart into chiming octaves on “Last Rites” or given more melodic dimension on “Deep Wound,” a thick slab of classic Swervedriver that will have any longtime fan of the band secretly playing air guitar. Similarly to their other albums, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You is dense, taking a few listens for its individual tracks to sink in, but it also makes for great road music, calling to mind endless rolling landscape with its peaks and valleys of noise and pastoral sound passages on songs like the gorgeous “Lone Star.” Hopefully this is just the start of another period of new recordings from the band. Long may they run.


Parquet CourtsLive at Third Man

Live albums aren’t my favorite thing, but Parquet Courts aren’t your everyday band. Their songs are already sinewy beasts that writhe through your fingers by the time you think you have them figured out, so it makes sense to hear these songs alternately bashed out with maximum efficiency and stretched out to stoner-jam length. It does wonders for the band’s sophomore release Sunbathing Album, a good album that wasn’t as immediately likeable as their debut. Here, the songs come to life and feel more natural, sounding like they oozed out of the cracks of grimy NYC sidewalks. Hear a clip of Andrew Savage barking out “Sunbathing Animal” for a taste.


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Album Picks (146), Ata Kak (3), Purity Ring (7), Moon Duo (8), Swervedriver (5), Parquet Courts (16), New Music (5), New Releases (214)