Waking Life: A Music Mix For May 2017

Photo: Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington

What is it that attracts us to some songs and not others? A melody, a voice, a lyric, a certain riff -- I can't say I value one of those above the others. I'll often discover something I like about a song after initially being pulled in by something else. As the years go on, I've found my tastes and preferences changing in some unexpected ways -- not necessarily in terms of genre, but in terms of what attracts me.

More and more, I've gravitated toward things that were at first a challenge. It's strange to say, but when I immediately like a song, when it goes down easy, I'm almost always skeptical of its ability to stand up to repeated listens. Again, not in every case. There are no rules!

I arrived at the 32 songs that make up this month's Waking Life through all of the ways described above and then some. Speaking of unexpected, look no further than a pair of 10-minute-plus cuts here that break the mold of a world defined by pop song structures encased within a three-minute window.

"Truth" is the latest output from saxophonist Kamasi Washington, from the upcoming follow up to 2015's aptly titled "The Epic." It's not pop music and in no way does it try to be, but it's not out of place either. It's been interesting to watch Washington take his progressive strain of large band jazz to pop audiences over the past couple of years. Audience response has been overwhelming and he's performed at festivals -- Coachella, Pitchfork, Pickathon -- that found him alongside pop and rock acts.

Going against the grain in other ways is Mary Lattimore, included here in the form of a 10-and-a-half minute cut performed on her 47-string harp. She's collaborated with Thurston Moore and Sharon Van Etten and toured with Real Estate. "Wawa By the Ocean" from her new record "At the Dam" is utterly transporting.

Not that pop song structures can't also arrive in 10-minute packages. The War on Drugs recently unveiled their first new original song since 2014 with the Record Store Day single "Thinking of a Place." It's 11 minutes and 14 seconds of cinematic American landscape music the band's become known and loved for.

Also here is another song from Gorillaz' guest-laden new "Humanz," with Mercury Prize winner and past OpenAir in-studio guest Benjamin Clementine lending vocals to "Hallelujah Money." Speaking of Clementine, it's shades of him from fellow Brit Sampha. "(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano" is the kind of song that stops you in your tracks -- and is autobiographical to boot. It doesn't necessarily represent the sound of his excellent new album "Process," however. So "Blood on Me" is here, too. I couldn't choose between the two, anyway.

A few other assorted highlights:

  • Exciting first tastes of upcoming releases from Shabazz Palaces, Pickwick, Songhoy Blues, Algiers, Sam Amidon, The Shout Out Louds, and Casey Dienel who returns under her own name after four releases as White Hinterland.
  • More from the Prince vaults! The probably NSFW (depending on your W) is the first we've heard of the six bonus cuts to be included on the upcoming deluxe reissue of "Purple Rain," out June 23. Is it getting hot in here?
  • The first post-Gossip output from singer Beth Ditto, who's just released a new EP called "Fire."
  • A song from the new solo record from Coco Hames, the singer behind The Ettes. "Tiny Pieces" finds her joined by Deer Tick frontman John McCauley.
  • New cuts from a number of acts we'll all be able to catch live in the coming weeks, including Future Islands (Sept. 29 at Fillmore Auditorium), Jay Som (Sept. 10 at Fox Theatre), (Sandy) Alex G (June 25 at Larimer Lounge) and Denver's own Dragondeer, whose EP release show we're presenting May 5 at the Bluebird Theater. (Watch for chance to win tickets this week at OpenAir's Facebook page!).

As always, Waking Life is best enjoyed on shuffle and feedback is encouraged. Happy May!