I love hardcore music. That much should be obvious if you’ve read anything I’ve written here. But for the purposes of the Navigator, it’s a good starting point, a quick shock to the senses. I never know where these trips are going to take us at the start, so it’s always nice to start with something familiar. And loud. That’s where we’re starting this time.
I love a good riff. Thick, palm-muted chugging is pretty much always gonna grab my attention and hold for at least a little while. That’s how Australia’s Cherish get you. From the start, it’s obvious they’ve got riffs, but once you get drawn into the pit, there’s a strong message behind the fury. Cherish use their polished, kinetic, hard-hitting hardcore to talk about sexuality, masculinity, and the radical nature of daring to hope for a better world. As they say in “There is An End,” ”I have a vision bigger than our daily afflictions.” It’s not all punishing riffs, though. There’s a fun little pop-punk 2-step bridge on “xReinventionx” that is unexpected and works in ways that a standard hardcore breakdown wouldn’t. Politics are, of course, nothing new in hardcore, or in music in general, and with Project XOXO, Cherish have crafted a strong statement, another voice added to the chorus screaming that things don’t have to be the way they are. “Transcendence isn’t comfortable,” Cherish tell us on “Crack the World,” “but worse is staying the same.”
Based in #Melbourne, Cherish’s use of that geographic tag allows us to check in on something else going on in that city. It’s not really the same genre, but they’re in similar orbits. Any time this happens, I wonder if the people in these bands know each other. Melbourne’s a big place, but it’s possible.
The Secret Migraines
A Love Letter to Helen
Compact Disc (CD)
The debut from Melbourne’s The Secret Migraines grabbed me quickly on my first listen with the slow-burn tension of its opener “Sit Down,” the lyrics of which are just those two words repeated in increasing intensity for the song’s duration. That mounting suspense is a formula explored throughout A Love Letter to Helen. Most of the tracks here start with a simple idea—a slowly strummed guitar, a line of spoken, almost conversational speech. As the song progresses, that strumming gets faster, distortion might be added, and the vocals get louder and more anxious. It’s a thrilling ride, and the true artistry at work here lies in that process of unfolding. There are exceptions, of course. Both “Mount Everest” and “Pretty Brain” are hot right from the start, each a sharp punch before the album closer, the phenomenal 10-and-a-half-minute “I Wish I was Sleeping,” which seems content to stay in the quiet, slow, neighborhood. The friction between that final track and what precedes it is just another thrilling aspect of an excellent debut.
It’s hard to write about truly #spoken word releases here because, well, we’re focusing on music. Not that spoken word works aren’t valuable or interesting, but for our purposes, those spoken word pieces are better with musical accompaniment, like what you heard from our previous artist and in our next…
I Just Want to Feel
Compact Disc (CD),
This beautiful ambient work is built around the voice. Specifically, it is built around voices saying five words, the words of the album’s title. Repeating any word or phrase has the effect of eventually stripping it of its meaning, the language slowly eroding away and leaving nothing more than a series of sounds. Karen Vogt emphasizes this effect on “voices three,” where a deep voice repeating the titular phrase develops rhythm and even a hint of melody. We stop wondering what, in fact, the speaker “want(s) to feel” and become mesmerized. The meaning subsides and we’re left with the abstract, which somehow amplifies the emotion behind any given reading of the phrase. It’s definitely difficult to explain without digging deep into the science of language and the way sounds are assigned meaning, but it’s clear that Vogt has these ideas in mind. All that matters here is the feeling.
The repeated voices on Karen Vogt’s album become a kind of chant, even if it’s artificially created by the layering and looping of samples. Our next featured work also deals in #chants, but those of a different type.
Compact Disc (CD)
I have little more than an extremely basic knowledge of Polynesian folk music, but you don’t need to know much to know that this record is absolutely beautiful. Taoba features eight traditional chants from Kaumaakonga’s Polynesian/Melanesian cultures—musically arranged around the standard guitar/bass/drums pop music structure, but featuring folk instruments throughout. The result is spectacular, particularly in the sections where multiple voices carry the chant in unison. The simple guitar strumming on “Ongibao” is augmented with hand-held percussion and supports an intricate vocal line that shifts at a moment’s notice from a duet to a full choir. “Tou Baka” brings pan pipes and violin into the mix, adding an extra layer of richness to a track that, even with just the vocals, would be hypnotic and captivating. It’s uplifting and anthemic, and its presentation over musical arrangements which listeners may find familiar offers a clever fusion of the traditional with the modern.
The #world music tag allows us to jump over ten thousand miles (16,000 kilometers) from the Solomon Islands to Nigeria. The world’s a really big place.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Omara “Bombino” Moctar has been called (by Vice) The World’s Best Guitarist, and while that sort of superlative is a very subjective title to hand out, listening to his newest record I’m finding it hard to argue with. The lead-in solo that kicks off “Aitma” is practically transcendent; Moctar’s guitar, mildly distorted, cascades effortlessly through intricate fretboard runs. On “Ayes Sachen,” a mellow mood obscures the fact that there’s some amazing playing going on. It catches you off guard; the track is peaceful and serene and then a solo shows up that is skillfully played and deceptively complex while still maintaining a sense of tranquility. I’m not a guitarist, but the looping, repetitive riff that closes “Nik Sant Awanha” sounds like it would be the hardest thing in the world to play; here it flows smoothly out of my speakers like it’s the simplest thing in the world to do. Bombino’s blend of the traditional Tuareg guitar sound with just a bit of blues influence creates a sinuous, elaborate, layered sound. Calling someone the best in the world is obviously high praise. Sahel is proof that praise is deserved.
We haven’t explored the #desert rock tag before. We’ll use it to jump from Africa to the Middle East.
Haifa’s EMMEK make a huge sound for a band made up of just two people. This bass and drums (not drum & bass) duo produces forceful, bottom-heavy rock. A declarative step forward from their promising debut album, 2019’s Ta’am Shel Eyn, the sound on באר מינימום is fuller, produced in a way that emphasizes the low growl of the bass, adding depth and dimension to the solid songwriting. There’s a definite similarity to Blues for the Red Sun-era Kyuss, but that’s just a reference point. EMMEK’s sound is a little more stripped down (as you would expect) and direct. That’s not to say that the band isn’t capable of complexity. Check out the dynamics of “כלבים”, the fill-tilt fury that propels “שבוע מבאס” (especially the bombastic final 30 seconds), or the lurching progressions that build into a nice little two-step part in “דגל לבן” for a quick example of EMMEK’s ability to create towering structures of sound from deceptively simple ingredients.
Making guitar-based rock music as a #duo is still seen as a bit of a novelty, even though it’s becoming more common. We’re using the tag to move from an Israeli duo to a British one.
I’m listening to this (and writing about it) in the summer, but Town Cruise’s ONE is unquestionably, for me, an “autumn” record. You can listen to it any time and enjoy it but as I’ve mentioned before there are some records that are extremely seasonal for me. Autumn is a season of change and transition, and ONE just seems like it would be best experienced under orange leaves and gray skies. Town Cruise’s mixture of the ’90s “emo” sound with early ‘00s indie pop and just a little bit of folk punk jangle (most prominently on the opening track “Pins & Needles”) delivers that perfect formula of joy shot through with just a little wistfulness. The synth beds that support a twisty little guitar line on “Ruminating” add an atmospheric touch that really elevates the song. This is, to my knowledge, Town Cruise’s only release, and I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more from them. ONE ends before you’re ready, just like autumn.
K.O.G. (Kweku of Ghana)
Zone 6, Agege
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Anyone with a passing familiarity of the pop music of Ghana (or, in general, the countries with a shoreline on the Gulf of Guinea) would expect a strong highlife influence in the music of an artist with “of Ghana” right there in the name. In the case of Zone 6, Agege, you’d be right, but only partially. Of course you get the expected shimmering, bouncing guitars (check out the amazing, bright playing on “No Way” for just one amazing example), but there’s a lot more going on here. There’s the R&B/soul-by-way-of-Afrobeat “Like a Tree,” the smooth, jazzy hip-hop of “Lord Knows,” the gentle, mostly acoustic “Adakatia,” a little psychedelic pop influence felt in the reverb and wah-pedal guitar on “Gbelemo,” and even a bit of jazz-backed English-language spoken word poetry on “Heritage.” Regardless of the influences at work here, the main constant is happiness. There’s a deep feeling of celebration that infuses this album—the universal pleasure of a group of immensely talented vocalists and musicians making music together. (Note that K.O.G. also fronts ONIPA.) I can’t guarantee that listening to this will make your day better, but I’ve spent a lot of time with this record and it always works for me.
There’s so much going on on Zone 6, Agege that I didn’t even mention the #reggae track (“Spirits”). That tag allows us to move to a great recent reissue that fuses reggae and other Caribbean sounds to a disco beat.
Let’s Talk About It
Originating in the Caribbean islands (most sources specify Martinique and Guadeloupe if you wanna get academic about it), Zouk is a form of music that combines synths, traditional Caribbean rhythms, and disco beats. It also happens to be one of the greatest things you’ve ever heard. Everything about it is bright, charming, and joyful, and this recent reissue of Ghisly Brown’s 1981 album Let’s Talk About It is a perfect example. If you’ve heard anything from this record, it was probably the title track—an absolute explosion of ridiculously funky basslines, early ‘80s disco funk, and Brown’s smooth vocals. But this isn’t the case of a mediocre album built to pad a perfect single. There’s the ballad “Love For Ever,” featuring floating synth beds and touches of flute, the reggae styles of “I Want You, Black” and the propulsive “Life is Like A Sunshine” that takes things in a more pop-rock influenced direction. Let’s be honest…you probably missed this in 1981. That’s okay. Monte Cristo Records has made sure it’s available for you now. You’ve got time to catch up. It’s worth it.
The label behind the Let’s Talk About It reissue is based in #Rotterdam, a location filled, based on the evidence provided by a look at those using the tag, with electronic music. We’ll end our journey there.
Neo Modernist is a driving, relentless collection of synth workouts with insistent drum machines and deep bass. There are elements of synth forefathers at play, of course. You can hear Jan Hammer, Sylvester LeVay, and even a little 808 State. You may have noticed that two of the three references I used are well-known for writing classic ’80s television themes. Listen to “Hybrid Lotus” and you’ll get why. It’s a great song on its own, but it’s exceptionally evocative of synth-driven opening credit sequences of the ‘80s. It’s difficult not to hear it and think, at least fleetingly, of the opening of some fictional crime-fighting drama, possibly involving a boat. “It Takes Forever” features an incredibly catchy beat built around snaps and handclaps that brings an organic feel to an otherwise mechanical track. The tempos here never get too fast, but the album, as a whole, is fluid; always moving. Many of the tracks are built around loops, but Martin knows the secret of using incremental changes to hold the listener’s attention, drawing them even further into the album’s deep grooves.
From Australia to the Netherlands with stops in Ghana, Israel, and the Solomon Islands…It’s been quite a trip. Thanks once again for taking it with me. As always, I hope it inspires you to do some exploring of your own. There’s a lot of good stuff out there waiting for you.