Choice Cuts: Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators – Keep Reachin’ Up

Timmion Records, 2005
Nicole Willis, promo 03 (1920x1080)It feels like a disservice to describe Keep Reachin’ Up by Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators as a ‘throwback’. Sure, that’s what it may sound like, but that doesn’t reflect the passion that these musicians have for soul music which makes this album so much more than what it first appears.

Brooklyn-born Nicole Willis has a credit list longer than most in the contemporary soul scene. Her professional career began singing and writing with the Washington Week in Review, before contributing vocals for Blue Period, Hello Strangers, Deee-Lite, Leftfield, singing backup for The The and a duet with Curtis Mayfield. She’s made two albums with the New York soul-hip hop collective Repercussions as well as her own solo material. There’s a little bit of Barbara Acklin, Mary Wells and Roberta Flack in her.

As for the Soul Investigators, this Finnish ensemble’s love of soul music led to the creation of Helsinki-based Timmion Records in the late 1990s. Members include bassist Sami Kantelinen, guitarist Petri Toikkanen, drummer Jukka Sarapää, saxophonist Lasse Tolvanen and producer and instrumentalist Didier Selin, among others. They’d released two full-length records and handful of 45s around the time of Keep Reachin’ Up – the 2005 collaboration that won them international praise (Gilles Peterson’s 2006 Worldwide Winner), put Timmion on the map for Northern Soul fans and discerning record collectors and landed the group on the Presidential playlist. Continue reading

Jam of the Week: Phony Ppl – Baby, Meet My Lover

Phony Ppl - Baby, Meet My Lover, single artwork (1200x675)“Vintage astral funk, colourful world music, and dusted-out hip hop/R&B” is how Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl describe their sound. Co-founded by writer and producer Elbee Thrie and keyboardist Aja Grant, the six-piece band recently released their first, true full-length album, Yesterday’s Tomorrow. And new single ‘Baby, Meet My Lover’ is captivating taster. Continue reading

You Have Too Much Shit: the self-help book that tells it like it is

You Have Too Much Shit (book, 2014) ,Chris Thomas (1400x788)It’s incredible really. Here in the Western world, we love to buy stuff. Fancy stuff. Cheap stuff. Desirable stuff. Stuff that the marketers say will make our lives better.

Of course, it never does, does it? If it did, then we wouldn’t need to buy the next thing they come up with. Continue reading

Are you wired for hi-res audio even if the world’s not ready for it?

Sony Walkman ZX2, lifestyle photo (1102x620)Your favourite tunes as you’ve never heard them before. That’s the promise of high resolution audio. Deeper bass, sharper riffs and vocals with greater presence for a fuller, richer musical tableau.

While that’s all well and good, the arrival of hi-res audio is long overdue and, right now, most of the world is far from ready for it. Continue reading

Choice Cuts: Wanda Jackson – Rockin’ with Wanda

Wanda Jackson, press photo, 1950s, Creative Commons (972x547)Is it possible to make old music sound sexy and essential in the space of a two-word header? Golden Oldies? Bygone Beats? Essential Echoes? Well, I’ll spare you anymore chocking examples of alliteration and get to the point.

Old music is fantastic. Whether it’s some forgotten hip hop mixtape from four years ago or an aging jazz LP from four decades ago, any music you haven’t heard is still new to you. So with this new series of posts, I intend to write about classic albums that I’ve been listening to, underappreciated artists whose music I’ve had on heavy rotation and perhaps even little-known relics you won’t find on Spotify.

So, my discerning reader, join me as we delve into crates and explore digital frontiers in search of audio gold.

To start with, an artist I learned of only last week, whose music has already hijacked many of my listening hours. Continue reading

Jam of the Week: Django Django – First Light

Django Django - First Light, single artwork edit (905x509)Django Django are a band many folks missed in the packed Olympic year of 2012. Their self-titled debut album was a curious drift through quartet choruses fit for a sweltering summer in a beachside bar and wonky, electronic-rock evoking the chill of midnight deserts. The whole thing was a surreal, sonic safari. (Kind of like boarding a rocket and swinging around the Earth in low orbit, I imagine.) It also earned them a 2012 Mercury Prize nomination. Continue reading

Tunage: Pearls Negras – Nossa Gang

Pearls Negras, press photo, 2014 (724x408)Brazilian hip hop doesn’t get much of an airing outside of its Latin American homeland and diasporas. A real shame, because the rappers and beat-makers of the Rainbow Nation have plenty to offer.

Pearls Negras, originally from Rio’s Vidigal favella, are a proud example. This female trio, now based in London, is serving up attitude-filled, baile-funk (the dance music borne of Rio’s nightlife) for the party goers who arrive fashionably late and aren’t afraid to tell the host to “bow down”. Still in their teens, Alice Coelho, Jennifer ‘Jeni’ Loiola and Mariana ‘Mari’ Alves rap with a fiery confidence that comes from growing up fast in the often unforgiving slums of their hometown. The beats are punchy, bearing similar elements to soco or bashment (Rihanna comes to mind; though the trio’s own non-Brazilian influences include Beyoncé, Ciara and Nicki Minaj). Continue reading

How do you stay focused in the digital era?

Weapons of mass distraction. Mar 27, 2012, by birgerking (720x404)How do you stay focused in the digital era? Discipline. There, that was easy, wasn’t it?

No, actually. Today we’re bombarded by so many distractions – on our phones and on the web – that it’s all too easy to wander off-task at work or at home. And one way or another, the consequence usually ends up impacting your own wellbeing.

Following BBC Click regular Kate Russell’s advice on tools to give yourself a digital detox, the question of how you stay on-task seems especially apt to me right now. Continue reading