Dawn Richard, "Blackheart" (Our Dawn Records). Best known as an original member of Danity Kane, R&B singer Dawn Richard left the group last year (again) after a public kerfuffle revealed deep divisions among the crew. No disrespect to the others, but Richard is thriving without them. Over the last few years she's issued a series of works that hinted at a wildly visionary approach to soul sonics, and she's gone even further on "Blackheart."
A collaboration with the Los Angeles producer Noisecastle III, Richards' second studio album is thick with synth-based polyrhythms and layers of Richard's often breathtaking voice. When delivered straight, it's solid and pitch perfect. More often, though, she and Noisecastle run her words through strange filters, electronically manipulating it to move from male bass to female soprano and beyond. She merges her words with Vocoders like she's rolling onto Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," hums with Giorgio Moroder-like synth throbs. The result is magnetic future funk, rife with Roland 909 tones, British drum and bass accents and much left-field surprise.
Verckys & Orchestre Veve, "Congolese Funk, Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rumba, 1969-1978" (Analog Africa). While Fela Kuti was transfixing Lagos, Nigeria, with his big band Afro Beat sound, in the central African country of the Democratic Republic of Congo (renamed Zaire for much of the '70s), an upstart guitarist named Verckys was creating his own propellent variation. Adding in heaving rumba rhythms, the artist born Georges Mateta Kiamuangana and his Orchestra Veve invoked James Brown's spirit of groove, augmenting every measure with beat mazes and Verkys signature electric guitar tone.
The label Analog Africa's new collection gathers work from throughout the 1970s, when Verckys was at such a high level that James Brown dubbed the guitarist "Mister Dynamite" after seeing him during an African tour. "Ya Nina" drives through nearly 10 minutes of humming, driving rumba beats. "Oui Verckys" is accurately described in the liner notes as an "organ jerk" and mixes stomping electric piano, Verckys' miraculous guitar riffs, maracas, shakers and a deep, jumping bass line. All 11 tracks are top tier. Best, the guitarist is still making music and will tour Europe in the summer.
Hanni El Khatib x J. Rocc, "Moonlight Mixtape" (soundcloud stream). To call Los Angeles guitarist Hanni El Khatib a garage rocker is kind of accurate but also risks diminishing his skills in crafting deep, funky grooves. On his new album, "Moonlight," issued on Innovative Leisure (which he co-owns), Khatib moves toward swampier, more echoed tones and pairs them with magnetic stutter-step percussion and breakbeat-style drum patterns.
The proof of the artist's groove-ability lies in the just-released "Moonlight Mixtape," which sees J. Rocc, the turn-tablist, DJ, hip-hop scholar and co-founder of the Beat Junkies, using beats and riffs from "Moonlight" to build something new. At 25 minutes, it's a mesmerizing remix. Thumpy bass lines from "Chasin'" circle like Hula hoops, a sample of British ska band Madness' "One Step Beyond" arrives during a break. J. Rocc harnesses the beat of Khatib's "Home" in a loop that collapses in on itself. It doesn't hurt that the mix is bookended with samples of "Devil's Pie," D'Angelo's dark funk meditation. Somehow too it fits right in.