Bobby – It’s Dead Outside

I recently came across this album and have been absolutely hooked since I heard it, especially this tune. But every time I would go to start it again from the beginning I couldn’t help but wonder why this was the only album Bobby ever released. There’s an undeniable vibe to the whole record, and I couldn’t imagine finding a way to capture that in a recording and then calling it quits. Though it could have happened for a lot of reasons, I suspect that it might have something to do with one of the members, Amelia Meath, getting a little busier with her other project, a group called Sylvan Esso. Both this album and Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut were released on Partisan Records based out of New York/London. In addition to her work with Sylvan Esso, Meath also recorded vocals for Phil Cook’s latest record along with another project called Mountain Man which features another member of Bobby, Molly Sarlé.

Researching this record really had the feeling of convergence for a lot of threads in my musical taste that seemed disparate but are in fact closely connected. From this record reminding me of the first time I heard Animal Collective Sung Tongs to the personnel overlap between Bobby and Sylvan Esso (one of my girlfriend’s favorite groups) to Meath’s collaboration with Phil Cook. Cook is in the touring band of Hiss Golden Messenger, who my dad and I both try to see live whenever he’s in our neck of the woods. Maybe this is cheesy, but I like to imagine that there is some underground cadre of people who all have a tacit understanding of what good music should sound like regardless of genre and seeing all these overlaps isn’t exactly disproving that thesis. From the description on Partisan’s website it seems like the sessions for this record would be hard to replicate, but whatever they did I’m sure glad it was being recorded.

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Buddy Ross – Running Around

This track might sound familiar to fans of Frank Ocean’s Blonde, as it was sampled on a number of tracks including Be Yourself and Facebook Story. It’s easy to understand how it ended up there, as Ross has been playing live with Ocean since 2012. Ross described the transition from touring player to studio partner in an interview with Pitchfork:

During soundchecks I’d always just start messing around and coming up with new little ideas, playing on the synths. He would come out and just start freestyling over stuff. I think that’s when we started first vibing together, just onstage during soundcheck. That was 2012, and then in 2013 we did a big European festival tour. After that ended, a week later I thought I was going to be home for a while and then I got a call that he wanted to meet in the studio—like a week after we got off the road. I guess those moments during soundcheck just stuck with him and he wanted to bring me in. He was super cool.

When I first heard this song I didn’t know about the connection to Frank Ocean, and I wondered why this person had only released this song. Since he’s worked with Ocean, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Haim in the last few years as well as put out an album with his own band Motopony, I guess he’s busy enough as it is.

Robert Lester Folsom – Jericho

Robert Lester Folsom only released one solo album on his own imprint Abacus Records before moving from his native south Georgia to the Florida panhandle, where he worked painting houses. He did play with another group called The Stroke Band, which released an album in 1978 entitled Green and Yellow, but the project disbanded shortly after. While he was painting, his 1976 solo release Music and Dreams slowly accrued a cult following among soft rock enthusiasts and listening to Jericho, it is easy to understand why. Before Anthology Records reissued Music and Dreams in 2014, collectors were limited to a number of quasi-official releases from Asia. However, Anthology did this album right and also made a short documentary to accompany the release. The doc has lots of good color, including Folsom talking about picking pecans so he could buy Led Zeppelin II. Anthology also put out a number of previously unreleased recordings called Ode to a Rainy Day: Archives 1972-1975. That released is also on Bandcamp and is worth checking out if you like this track, especially See You Later, I’m Gone and Another Sunday Morning.

Vanishing Twin – The Conservation of Energy

The Conservation of Energy has been in pretty heavy rotation for me over the last few weeks, in part because I keep finding different parts of it that I become convinced are what “make” the song. For now I think that bass solo in the middle is about as groovy as it gets, but it’s hard to not be happy about a good flute track too. Of course good music is greater than the sum of its parts and this is no less true here. The Conservation of Energy comes off Vanishing Twin’s first full-length album Choose Your Own Adventure, which was released last year by Soundway Records. The group takes its name from the twin that singer Cathy Lucas absorbed while in utero, and based on the music I’d say that is a pretty flattering tribute for a cluster of cells. Susumu Mukai can be credited with the bass solo and seems to have recorded with a number of other projects that I haven’t heard of but that I will be sure to check out now. In fact all the members of Vanishing Twin seem to keep pretty active in other groups and rather than pretend I know anything about them I’d recommend just clicking around their Discogs page. While physical releases are sold out on Bandcamp, it looks like they are still available on Soundway’s page. In May the group released an EP entitled Dream By Numbers which has more of an experimental vibe and is also worth checking out.

Emahoy Tsegue Maryam Guebrou – Mother’s Love

This is one of two songs from Buda Musique’s Ethiopian music series that have been on pretty consistent rotation for me, with the other being Tezeta (Nostalgia) from Mulatu Astatke. While recorded in a very different climate, something about these two songs just feel good now that it is starting to finally get colder here at Orion’s Bastard HQ. I chose this one in part because the story of Esmahoy Tsegue is deserves a much wider audience, though whether a post on this blog delivers that is another, more embarrassing question.

She was born to a wealthy family in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and was sent off to boarding school in Switzerland at the age of 6. Though the Ethiopiques series from which Mother’s Love is taken is meant to focus on Ethiopian jazz, Emahoy’s views her own music as the result of her blend of classical training and traditional Ethiopian Orthodox chanting, according to a profile in The Guardian. From the same Guardian profile:

In the 1930s, she returned to Addis: portraits from this period show a gorgeous young woman with a wry smile and a bold fashion sense. She went to high-society parties and sang for Haile Selassie. She had a car and raced a horse and trap around the city. She was a feminist: the first woman to work for the Ethiopian civil service, the first to sing in an Ethiopian Orthodox church, the first to work as a translator for the Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem. “Even as a teenager I was always asking, ‘What is the difference between boys and girls?’” she told me. “We are equal!”

That life was brutally disrupted when Benito Mussolini, with an eye on a potential colony, invaded Ethiopia in 1936 and three members of Emahoy’s family were killed. She was evacuated to Europe, but she was unfazed in her determination to become a musician and eventually found her way to Cairo to study with esteemed Polish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz.

After years of studying classical music, she became a nun and began focusing on her religious duties and playing music on the side. It was here that she developed this unique blend of classical music and the chanting mass of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which started with the 6th-century Ethiopian saint Yared. You can hear examples of this kind of chanting, which is still practiced today, on youtube. Despite being 93 years old, Emahoy is still composing and recording music, though it’s not clear whether another album is in the works. In addition to the Buda Musique compilation available on their website (link above), Mississippi Records also released a compilation of her work that includes Mother’s Love as well as another great song of hers, Homesickness. I’m convinced Homesickness is an arrangement of the Mulatu Astatke song I mentioned above, but I guess you’ll have to listen for yourself to be the judge of that.

Syrinx – Hollywood Dream Trip

Syrinx was an electronic music group from Canada at a time where the coolest thing you could be doing was experimenting with synths and electronics. John Mills-Cockell seems to have been the prime mover behind the group, and he spent the 60s doing what I would do if I had a time machine: experimenting with tape manipulation and electronics while studying classical composition at the University of Toronto. Well maybe I wouldn’t be in Toronto but you get the idea. Before forming Syrinx, he toured North America with a collective called Intersystems, which combined spoken word, tape manipulation, and other electronic tricks. Check out one of my favorite tracks of theirs here. Mills-Cockell joined up with Bernie Finkelstein to record his music on Finkelstein’s new label True North, and once Mills-Cockell met Doug Pringle and Allan Wells the group was up and running. There is an excellent write-up over at Bandcamp Daily about the group with lots of cool archival pictures and more details about the bands recording history.

This compilation of re-issued and previously unreleased material from Syrinx comes courtesy of Rvng Intl., which still has copies of the release in CD and LP form as of this writing. They also put out a short documentary on the group that is worth checking out too. Hollywood Dream Trip was originally released on their self-titled debut record, but the group put out only one more release before disbanding, with Mills-Cockell going on to compose for film, TV, and theater along with apparently producing techno music. I was torn between Hollywood Dream Trip and this longer track also from their debut Chant for Your Dragon King, which anybody who digs this would probably also enjoy.

The Equatics – Where Is Love?

Though they definitely have a grown-up sound, The Equatics released their only album Doin It!!! while they were still in high school. Bassist Benjamin Crawford was the catalyst that brought the Equatics together. A cadre of young musicians in Hampton, Virginia formed the nucleus of the group, and they played a mixture of funk, soul, and (perhaps surprisingly) prog rock, as Crawford was a big fan of Yes. After playing gigs near Hampton, the group decided to enter the Pepsi New Sounds of 72 contest, which involved sending a demo jingle to the company for the chance to win time in the studio. They were featured in the top 10 and recorded their jingle. Pepsi then followed up on the promotion by asking people to send in bottle caps along with votes for their favorite jingle, but this time the prize was much bigger: the chance to record an album at Pepsi’s expense.

The group’s campaign to get people to vote for their jingle paid off, and the result was this album. Once they got in the studio, the band’s manager (and Crawford’s football coach) Frank Johnson tried to move the band towards soul standards like Ain’t No Sunshine, in part because Johnson had always dreamed of being a soul singer. In fact, Johnson provides the vocals on this and another great track from the album Merry Go Round. The group cut the record in a hurry, not even bothering to name the label that was to be responsible for the record. Very few copies of the album were ever distributed, and most were limited to the Richmond, VA area until it became a favorite of crate-digging collectors. Differences between Crawford and Johnson eventually led the group to break up, leaving behind just this one record.

If you’re looking for the original I can only offer you good luck, but Doin It!!! was reissued in 2010 by Now Again Records. If you’re in the mood for more soul cut by young folks, check out I’m Not Ready For Love, which I wrote about a while back.