Music Blog: Sharon Jones / RJD2 & Zion I / Battles

Hello there. This is the first of what will be weekly installments devoted to who and what I find interesting in contemporary music – what new records I’m listening to and what shows I plan on attending.

Who am I? Just a guy who loves music and enjoys sharing it with others.

So, it’s summer time and that means concert season. The first Stern Grove event of the year is Sunday the 19 and should be a memorable one because Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are the featured act.

For those of you who don’t know, singer/pianist Sharon Jones is a throwback to an age of popular music that has long since vanished. The Georgia native came up on a steady diet of James Brown and gospel music.

Jones’ powerful, earthy vocals are comparable to Aretha Franklin, and I’m not exaggerating here. Her backing band The Dap-Kings are all veteran session musicians, some of the finest players in all of New York City in fact.

The music is vintage soul a la Stax Records. If you’re one of those people who feel like all of the best records have already been made, then this show is for you.

Come out and hear one of the most dynamic voices around for free, at beautiful Stern Grove Park.

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This double headliner event is sure to be great show for anyone with even a passing interest in hip-hop.

Bay Area favorites Zion I have been holding it down from Oakland for well over a decade now. Releasing a slew of critically-acclaimed records over the years, AmpLive and MC Zumbi have earned their reputation as one of the finest underground hip-hop acts. Their genre-bending brand of conscious hip-hop is equally thought-provoking and ass-shaking.

Philadelphia-based producer RJD2, was the man behind one of the last decade’s most important hip-hop records, 2002’s Dead Ringer. Released on the now-defunct Brooklyn imprint Definitive Jux,  it brought some much-needed soul – via sampling – back to hip-hop, at a time when the genre was experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis; it is now almost universally hailed as a landmark.

Did I mention this guy can put on a show? He’s got a bigger record collection than God, and he performs all-vinyl DJ sets on four turntables and a sampler. His tastes skew all over the place, but whatever he decides to play, you can expect quality.

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Album Review:

Battles are one of the more interesting bands around at the moment. A supergroup of ex-metal/hardcore musicians who decided back in 2002 to use their ridiculously bad-ass chops to create something entirely new: a kind of warp speed hybrid of cybernetic instrumental rock and space age dance music.

The first time I heard Gloss Drop was like looking under the hood of some incredibly complex alien space craft – I could only dimly comprehend what was going on, but whatever it was, it was impressive.

It’s a much more focused effort than the band’s 2007 album Mirrored. They’ve really honed their thing and are just nailing it again and again over the course of a full album. Opening salvo Africastle is a slow burn, but once things get going around the two-minute mark, the assault doesn’t really let up.

This holds true for the rest of the album, which could be described as something like a sonic flurry of interlocking parts: kaleidoscoping, dissonant sounds and strangely fun house-ish melodies whirling around a core of tightly wound, asymmetrical rhythms.

It’s definitely out there, but for those who like a little bit of weird with their rock music, I highly recommend it.


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