Welcome to Wednesday Morning Download v.2005. There's plenty of music to look forward to this year: a hotly anticipated rock album from Beck; a new record from 2004's MVP, Kanye West, with a guest appearance from the much maligned but often brilliant John Mayer; welcome returns from Stevie Wonder and Scott Walker; near surefire genius from Outkast; near surefire comic relief from Paris Hilton; and the solo debut by hit-making production team the Matrix, which promises to be a work of evil genius.
And then there's all the free music, which is what I'll be tracking down for you. I've got a bunch of exciting tracks lined up already, but as always, I'd like suggestions. So if you know of a free and legal download that you think would be right for this column, post it on the Wednesday Morning Download Table Talk thread, or e-mail me.
"My Friends Have," Marianne Faithfull, from "Before the Poison"
The majority of Marianne Faithfull's new album, and ANTI records debut, was written by either PJ Harvey or Nick Cave (five and three tracks, respectively). Faithfull's decision to have the two not just write songs but also produce them and provide instrumental accompaniment was both gutsy and canny. Gutsy because she's inviting direct comparison with two such forceful, unmistakable artists; canny because it pays off so well. The Harvey tracks, performed with her longtime drummer, the brilliant Rob Ellis, and Portishead's Adrian Utley, are especially effective, her guttural, punky songs suited perfectly to Faithfull's cragged, desperately sad voice. Free Download: "My Friends Have"
Jens Lekman, Department of Forgotten Songs
This is a real treasure trove, a biweekly updated collection of unreleased demos, rarities and b-sides from Swedish wunderkind (and WMD reader favorite) Jens Lekman. His precocious baritone and ambitious lyrics can sometimes come off as a tad too self-conscious, but Lekman's home-studio genius is astounding. Track after track combines samples, sequencing and a variety of live instruments in such unexpected but delightful ways that I think the young man has already surpassed the production skills (if not the songwriting) of his musical father, Stephin Merritt. My favorites from the current batch of songs include "Pretty Shoes," "Bois-bis-o-boisa," "Pocketful of Money" and "At the Department of Forgotten Songs," but everything here is worth a listen. Free Download: "Department of Forgotten Songs"
"Ditshe Tshiekutala," Konono No. 1, from "Lubuaka" In order to achieve success in the lucrative world-music market, it helps to be either slick and Westernized or rustically, sloppily traditional and "authentic." That's a shame, because it's so often music that falls somewhere in the middle -- rooted in tradition, but not dogmatically so -- that is the most exciting. Konono No. 1 is a Congolese group that is driven by three thumb pianos, or likembes, amplified to the point of distortion and playing trancey, repetitive loops, surrounded by a cacophony of junkyard percussion and shouting voices. I fear they're neither smooth enough for Starbucks nor primitive enough for trad-music fetishists, but they sure are fun to listen to. This link comes via Fat Planet. Free Download: "Ditshe Tshiekutala"
"The Matter (of Our Discussion)," Boom Bip, featuring Nina Nastasia, from "Blue Eyed in the Red Room"
Although it's not going to be released until mid-February, there are already two mp3s available from hip-hop producer/electronic music composer Boom Bip's upcoming "Blue-Eyed in the Red Room." "The Move" (click here for free download) is a hugely satisfying feel-good mélange of analog burbles, digital clicks and woozy synth string sounds. In "The Matter (of Our Discussion)," Nina Nastasia gives a typically clear-voiced, understated performance over drifting, slow-moving clouds of harmony. Free Download: "The Matter (of Our Discussion)"
"You Better Run," Iggy and the Stooges, from "Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough"
Junior Kimbrough, who died in 1998, was one of the great modern bluesmen -- but to call him a "modern bluesman" feels wrong, as Kimbrough, with his haunted, modal blues and obvious but apparently unconscious ties to African music, seems so much the product of a shadowy, mysterious past, keeping the enigmatic air that surrounded early bluesmen like Skip James alive well into the '90s. Now Fat Possum records is preparing to release a tribute record, with versions of Kimbrough's songs performed by artists like the Black Keys, Spiritualized, Mark Lanegan, Jim White, and the Fiery Furnaces. Although Kimbrough certainly deserves wider recognition, the idea of a tribute album is, in this case, a questionable one, because his greatness was so completely in performance rather than composition. Iggy and the Stooges' punkified version of "You Better Run" is fun, though, especially with Iggy substituting his own name for Kimbrough's in spoken sections: "On the way home I said, 'Baby! You might still get raped.' She said, 'Oh, Mr. Pop!'" Free Download: "You Better Run"