Lately I've been utterly transfixed by two new ones in two very different ways.
I'll be honest, the first time I ever heard the name Gil Scott-Heron it was being shouted at me in the LCD Soundsystem song "Losing My Edge." Even then, for reasons that I can't quite fathom (especially now after having finally heard Gil Scott-Heron) I didn't listen. However when he released his new record about a month ago entitled I'm New Here I knew that listening would be inevitable. The insert of the record tells you to set aside time to hear it, pour a drink, sit down, and give it your undivided attention. While reading that advice, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time that I've done that with a brand new record. Sure there have been times where a record that I was listening to pulled me away from other things and demanded my full undivided attention, but it has most certainly been awhile since that was the case going into the situation. This record absolutely deserves your full undivided attention. Mr. Scott-Heron has a rich back story to be sure, and it's treated beautifully here. The production is spot on, technical smarts, minimal jazz and blues piano and guitar all with a nicely underlying cinematic feel create the precise world that his mostly spoken, sometimes half sung reflections deserve. Is it possible to not be knocked flat by a line like "Not running for cover, because if I knew where cover was I would stay there, and never have to run for it?" Certainly not to my mind.
Conversely, twice now I've found myself home from a tiring day at work, and walking to the grocery store up the street while listening to the new Northern Portrait record Criminal Art Lovers. Both times it's shimmering, falsetto vocal tinged, glorious melodrama have made me forget the exhaustion and gain a sense that somehow, strangely, everything will be o.k. That's in spite of titles like, "The Operation Worked, but the Patient Died."
Here's an interesting montage of images that someone has put together of one of Gil Scott-Heron's most famous pieces:
This is the song that opens Criminal Art Lovers. I can't help but let it make me walk faster every time it begins: