Negativland

The dearly learned moral of Negativland’s story is simple: those who test gas leaks with lit matches encounter a lot of bad smells and occasionally blow themselves to kingdom come. The albums documenting Over the Edge, the absurdist San Francisco Bay Area troupe’s KPFA radio show (imagine Prairie Home Companion as envisioned and performed by…

Henry Kaiser

If you’re in the market for a brilliant postmodern guitar hero, you could do a whole lot worse than Henry Kaiser. This Bay Area diver/filmmaker/musician has appeared on more than 50 records since the early ’70s, ranging from total improvisations to jazz to experimental and progressive rock. While augmenting his flawless techniques with a wide…

King Missile (Dog Fly Religion)

Underappreciated and understated metaphysical comedy music comes in strange forms. This is one of them. With words by singer John S. Hall and music by guitarist Dogbowl, beefed up by Kramer’s production and auxiliary musicianship, New York’s King Missile (Dog Fly Religion) produced two uneven yet insinuating records of bellicose nubbins concerning the secret guilts…

Ebenezer Obey

Along with King Sunny Adé, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey dominates the juju music genre, that beautiful, spiritual and eminently danceable combination of traditional chants, hymns, highlife, rock and country- western. An easy way to think of juju is as inverted Western pop: interlocking guitars function as rhythm instruments while numerous drummers take on the melodic…

Sonny Okosun

A decade younger than Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s Sonny Okosun(s) grew up on the Beatles and Elvis Presley rather than the country-western twang that influenced Sunny Adé, or the funk explosion that gripped Fela. He and his group blend highlife, reggae, funk and various African beats into an international style, an Afro-rock that dovetails nicely into…

Souled American

Heavy and heartfelt country’n’strychnine from this hard-touring Chicago quartet. Closer to Neil and Graham than Lefty and George, Souled American specializes in low-key grooves that gurgle and bounce with songwriter Joe Adducci’s reggae-style lead bass, Jamey Barnard’s slapping New Orleans-style drums and Scott Tuma’s shimmering rhythm guitar, which sounds like pedal steel but isn’t. Sporting…

Johnny Clegg & Savuka

In a well-intentioned gesture of political unity, singer/guitarist Johnny Clegg (an English academic raised in Zimbabwe and South Africa) joined forces with Sipho Mchunu, a black South African street musician, to form Juluka, a failed experiment in combining rock with Zulu chants and the mbaqanga sound of the South African township. The results, heard on…

Dinosaur

One of the great diplomatic challenges facing underground rockers in the mid-’80s was how to repeal the punk era’s edict against guitar heroics (which actually did nothing to undercut the instrument’s hegemony, except to shelve it for a brief synth-pop sabbatical) without raising suspicions of cultural revisionism or unseemly nostalgia. In a gambit that proved…

Shockabilly

Crazed rockabilly-tinged remakes of “Psychotic Reaction” and two Yardbirds classics isn’t a bad idea, especially if gonzo guitar and drums like those on The Dawn of Shockabilly are brought to bear on ’em. Taking the same tack on “A Hard Day’s Night” and a country oldie, adding silly organ also makes a funny kind of…

Thomas Mapfumo and the Acid Band

From nightclub singer to political firebrand, Thomas Mapfumo’s career has elevated him to near-sainthood in his native Zimbabwe. The Chimurenga Singles, recorded with the Acid (as in bitter) Band, carries an interesting disclaimer: “The quality of these tracks leaves much to be desired, but remember they were made under war conditions.” Influenced by Voice of…

Brave Combo

Formed by Denton, Texas homeboy Carl Finch in 1979, Brave Combo are witty and wise purveyors (and perverters) of polkas and musics of many nations. A highly successful tour of local mental institutions honed their chops, and each record reveals an ever-more-adventurous and itinerant package of sounds. By exploring and exploiting the least hip music…

Eric B. & Rakim

Queens homeslice Eric B. (Barrier) is the DJ and Strong (Long) Islander Rakim (William Griffin) is the rapper; as the latter sings in “I Ain’t No Joke,” “I hold the microphone like a grudge/Eric B. hold the record so the needle don’t budge.” Beginning with a brilliant summer of ’86 single, “Eric B. Is President,”…

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Led by Joseph Shabalala — who formed the ten-man group almost 30 years ago and has been recording with it for two decades — Ladysmith Black Mambazo is one of South Africa’s most popular ensembles. For sheer vocal ecstasy, few organizations can equal its lush, comforting and sophisticated choral harmonies sung in the open mbube…

Fela Anikulapo Kuti

One of the world’s true musical revolutionaries, Fela Ransome-Kuti’s life and work embody most of the contradictions inherent in any major collusion of Western and African styles of thought and art. Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1938 to an affluent Christian family and educated in London, Fela was just another minor highlife bandleader until he…

Bongwater

What’s in a brilliant name? Some of the funniest, smartest and messed-up ultra-psychedelia ever invented. Almost all of Bongwater’s music came courtesy of Mark “Maul of Sound” Kramer, the former Shockabilly linchpin, king of the Shimmy-Disc label and in-house workaholic producer/owner of Noise New York studios. Performance artist-cum-actress Ann Magnuson contributed onstage attitude and her…

Bongos Bass and Bob

Sixteen terribly amusing songs about oral hygiene, used duds (“Clothes of the Dead”), rent-control romance, Thorazine and girls with guns, all done to a golden-brown turn by magician-comedian-label-proprietor Penn Jillette (Bass), Dean J. Seal (Bongos) and Rob “Running” Elk (guitar), with Kramer kind of at the kontrols. Loose’n’lively in a hip, know-it-all, post-frat singalong sort…

Zoogz Rift

As imaginative and stimulating as he is irritating and vitriolic, California’s Zoogz Rift (Robert Pawlikowski) is an iconoclastic original, a reactionary whose paranoia has too frequently detracted from his music’s experimental pizzazz and considerable exotic charm. This might be explained by what were, for a long time, his primary intellectual inspirations: Salvador Dali’s dadaist strategies…

Dos

Dos — meaning, of course, two — consists of husband-and-wife bassists Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) and Kira Roessler (ex-Black Flag). Since Kira has also composed for fIREHOSE, several of the short compositions comprising the pair’s charming album hint at that fine trio’s signature sound. A dose of Dos entails little more (and nothing less) than…

Blind Idiot God

Refusing to compromise their chops with some cut-rate rock vocalist, this young instrumental trio (originally from St. Louis but now living in Brooklyn) constructs a huge, brash sound influenced (consciously or not) by Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, the Meters (Blind Idiot God covers the Crescent City funk geniuses’ “More Time”), the Sex…

Rubén Blades

Rubén Blades was the first important salsa performer to integrate rock aesthetics into his music. After a successful stint with Willie Colón, the Panamanian-born New Yorker went solo, rocketing to the top of the salsa charts with songs that avoided the music’s clichés in favor of topical narratives and carefully crafted imagery. The best of…