For his latest album, Soo, Malian singer-songwriter and guitarist Habib Koite let go of his standard rhythm guitar and replaced it with the banjo, one of the few times I've heard a contemporary African pop artist use what's essentially an African instrument. "L.A." is particularly great; I like the way Koite's banjo player uses the instrument at times as rhythm guitar, at times for the melody. The lyrics are funny for those who understand Bambara, the popular language of the Malian people — they poke fun at Koite and American blues artist Eric Bibb's tour in the U.S., and compare various landscapes of California to those of Mali. --Emmanuel Nado, KALW's Africa Mix
The Oklahoma singer-songwriter has album No. 2, titled Songs, coming May 27. "Happy" opens the disc and sets the tone. Before the band kicks in, he delivers a line worthy of one of his heroes, John Prine: "Every time I try to write a song, it always seems to start where we left off." There's no artifice here, and no new ground — just a songwriter trying to connect with his emotions and doing so in an elegant, restrained, refined manner. --David Dye, World Cafe
Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriquez's "El Güije" starts with a low, echoed rumble signaling the arrival of that tiny, bold, mythical troll Guije as if he were emerging from the halls of a Cuban dance club. As bassist Esperanza Spalding breezes along, percussion and piano spring up; she soars and sneaks down low, building and then hiding. Along the way, "El Güije" tells a delightful story, with a sweet melody that stays with you. --Alisa Clancy, KCSM
IAMSU! (who, like me, is a Youth Radio alum) runs rampant in this jam alongside Skipper and Kool John, with the aid of production syndicate The Invasion Beats. It's a great introduction for those who aren't aware of the crew's 24-hour party music. "Back on Your Mind" is all about the basslines: The bouncy, old-school rhythm recalls vintage Bootsy Collins. Lyrically, the song takes a highly stylized snapshot of ambitious, talented, ultra-normal kids as they throw parties, mess with girls and save to buy a car. Middle-class swag rap? I can relate to that. --Brandon McFarland, AllDayPlay.fm
Australia's Movement has been on my Making Time RADio playlists for more than a year now. It started with the band's first single "Us," a slo-mo chugger with elements of house and disco and a smooth R&B vocal. Movement continues to breathe new life into indie R&B with the more upbeat "Ivory." I've been starting a lot of my DJ sets with this one, and it always gets the dance floor moving. --Dave P., WXPN's Making Time RADio
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Songs embracing happiness are all the rage right about now, but Saintseneca's "Happy Alone" hits a unique nerve by marrying somber reality and authentic joy. It's a song that fills a room with mellow, measured and ultimately elated moments, with lines meant for memorization and singing along. By writing a song that depicts solitude as righteous, the Ohio folk-pop band has built a post-breakup ballad that even the happily coupled can enjoy. --Jessi Whitten, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir
On his forthcoming album Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould returns to the helm of his power trio with Jason Narducy (bass/vocals) and Jon Wurster (drums). There's no faulting the former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman for having explored different sounds in his career, but when he comes back to his sweet spot — as he does in "I Don't Know You Anymore" — few are better at making smart, hooky rock. The title stands in complete contrast to the joy of blasting the song full volume, and getting the feeling that Mould knows himself better than ever. --Sarah Wardrop, WFUV
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When I first heard "This Love Is Here To Stay," I didn't even recognize it as Norwegian singer Thomas Dybdahl. As always, his soulful vocals evoke Jeff Buckley, yet the sound is distinctly 1970s West Coast. It's seductive with quiet strength and a ghostly quality, especially when you take into account the darker side of the lyrics. --Anne Litt, KCRW
U.K. producer Greymatter is getting ready to release his second album, Visions, on the house label WOLF Music. But to promote the record earlier this month, he handed Mixmag a cut that doesn't appear anywhere on Visions. It's "Mission Creep," a track with a deliciously baited hook: It opens with a horn squawk — report to the dance floor, please — and goes right for those house chords, layering on confection upon confection. But it's a trick — or perhaps just dessert before dinner. Greymatter has other dimensions to explore. After the initial blast of confetti, he's off sticking his nose into stranger territory, and bringing us along as the Dr. Watson to his Sherlock. It's a bait-and-switch, yes, but one that's too likeable to declare deceptive. --Ally Schweitzer, WAMU's Bandwidth
Protomartyr is absolutely ruthless. The Detroit band cuts away every unnecessary note, sound and gesture until what's left is a skeleton. "Come & See" contains just a handful of essential elements: a reverberating wash of guitar, spider-walking bass, sparse drums. When it all crashes down on singer Joe Casey, it feels like the end of something. He sings/talks about a city near ruin, but he's matter-of-fact about it. "Are you ready to be capitalized, in this town, in this hole?" When you've got a story to tell, there's no reason to oversell it. Casey holds back just enough that, after each play, "Come & See" raises more questions than it answers. --Greg Kot, Sound Opinions