Living in the Information Overload Age isn’t always a bad thing. Possibilities arise simply because they synchronize (or juxtapose) in the rushing river of everyday data. Of course, we often miss them — even when they are right in front of us. Luckily, Merrill Garbus is watching closely. The Oakland-based musician, who works under the moniker Tune-Yards, seems remarkably attuned to the possibility and poetry of our age. And anyone who cares about modern music should be glad that she is.
“Whokill” is one of this year’s boldest, freshest creations: A pulsating quick-step that feels utterly contemporary, careening down a city street while the detritus of consumed influence trails from the car windows.
“Buckle up ’cause we’re gonna move fast,” Garbus sings, and indeed, this 10-track polyglot chop-up unspools dizzyingly. The opener, “My Country,” is a ripping, horn-peppered banger that echoes M.I.A.; the second, “Es-so,” is an irresistible, strung-out jazz-scat; and the third, “Gangsta,” tops them both: a fat bass line (Garbus worked closely with bassist Nate Brenner on the record) drills into a symphony of vocal tracks and spiraling, honking horns. The melody is a hypnotic chant, conjuring sirens and the ominous repeat dub of a King Tubby record. Headphones recommended.
While the disc doesn’t sustain that incredible pace, the slower, spacier tracks that follow are marvelously rich. Strains of Afropop and like-minded experimenters Dirty Projectors surface — alongside snatches of ukulele — while Garbus continues to chase her own melodies like a phantasm.
“Whokill” goes so far past the modest, homemade charms of Tune-Yards’ 2009 debut that it can’t be called an evolution. Instead, it sounds like a milestone. And your chance, dear music lover, to be ahead of the curve.
— Patrick Foster
Recommended tracks: “My Country,” “Gangsta,” “Bizness”
“A Mother’s Prayer”
Ralph Stanley has long maintained that he makes old-time mountain music as opposed to bluegrass. He’ll get no argument from anyone who’s heard his chilling, a cappella rendition of the Depression-era plaint “O Death” from the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” “A Mother’s Prayer,” his latest album with the Clinch Mountain Boys, likewise taps the ancient, Anglo-Celtic tones that predate bluegrass. Several of its songs contemplate mortality and the afterlife, including “That Wonderful Place,” an unvarnished ballad that finds him confidently preparing for life’s ultimate transition.
All of the material here is gospel-themed, from the admonitory “Let Him Into Your Heart” to “Are You Washed in the Blood,” a fiddle- and banjo-driven call-and-response. “It’s Time to Wake Up,” a flinty ballad, revisits the biblical account of Jesus raising Lazareth from the dead.
Featuring nimble fingerpicking from guitarist James Alan Shelton, “Lift Him Up, That’s All,” a song attributed to the sanctified blues singer Washington Phillips, tells the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Another gospel blues, an a cappella version of Blind Willie Johnson’s “John the Revelator,” pays haunting tribute to the author of the apocalyptic book of the seventh seal.
Stanley’s range is hardly as dynamic now as it was when he was providing keening, otherworldly counterpoint to his brother Carter’s fluid lead vocals on Stanley Brothers classics such as “Rank Stranger.” Staying within himself — and getting a steadfast harmonic boost from the boys in his band — he achieves a transcendence here of a more intimate, but no less affecting, sort.
— Bill Friskics-Warren
Recommended tracks: “Are You Washed in the Blood,” “That Wonderful Place,” “Lift Him Up, That’s All”
“Book of David”
He’s an early pioneer of West Coast G-funk and a legendary producer and remixer, but at this point DJ Quik is probably more beloved in theory than in fact. He hasn’t released a solo album since 2005’s “Trauma” (although he recorded several mix tapes and a well-received collaboration with Kurupt, “BlaQKout”) and, even in his heyday, never got the respect afforded his thornier contemporaries.
Quik (born David Blake) always was more interested in wooing, shopping and bassed-out, ’70s soul-inspired love songs than in beefing. His new disc, “The Book of David,” dusts off everything Quik loved back in the day and everything he was good at; it’s aggressively, self-consciously vintage — from its old-school drum machines to its ’80s-style R&B-meets-hip-hop beats.
Quik’s only 21st-century concessions are a judicious use of Auto-Tune and the presence of up-and-coming rapper Gift Reynolds, who shows up on the genial first single “Luv of My Life.” Otherwise, the disc’s many guest stars appear to have been sprung en masse from some Aging West Coast Rappers lair: Kurupt shows up on the familiar, bottom-heavy “Flow for Sale”; Ice Cube roughs up the similarly old-timey “Boogie Till You Conk Out.”
R&B singer Jon B. turns up on “Real Women,” a silky rap song Luther Vandross would have appreciated. “Although you got your faults / we won’t make that an issue,” they promise generously, explaining, “I need a proper girl” — possibly the only time in the history of hip-hop this sentiment has been expressed. Even on a disc devoted to historical gangsta preservation, such courtliness may be the most retro thing of all.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended tracks: “Real Women,” “Nobody”