What Are You Listening To? is a weekly run-down of what A.V. Club staffers are streaming. Listen to these songs and more on our Spotify playlist, updated weekly with new stuff.
The songs of Nigerian funk musician William Onyeabor often sound like one thing but say another. Coupled with cheerful trumpets, futuristic synths, and groovy guitar riffs, Onyeabor’s often dark lyrics create a welcome cognitive dissonance. They’re simple and repeated again and again within long runtimes, the perfect recipe for taking up residence in my brain. Days after listening, I’ll find myself mindlessly, cheerily singing, “Something you will never forget / One day you’ll be lying dead.” Onyeabor self-released eight albums throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and in 2013, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label put out the compilation Who Is William Onyeabor? In 2014 a Noisey documentary tried to answer that question, with little success, as the musician remained reclusive up until his death last year. People are drawn to his mystery, but the music itself is, of course, where it’s at. I put Onyeabor on at a cookout a few weekends ago, and it made for a chill good-time atmosphere, just not too chill. [Laura Adamczyk]
When I talked to Merrill Garbus back in January about the DJs who inspired her new record, she mentioned FXWRK, a Brooklyn-based producer whose name I knew as part of the queer artist collective KUNQ but whose music I hadn’t yet sought out. Last week, when new single “The Awakening” crossed my radar, I finally took the opportunity to remedy that, and I’m glad I did. FXWRK says her music is the product of intense personal work that involves illuminating past pain and trauma to heal and move forward, and you can hear it in the title track from her forthcoming album. It’s a transportive, minimalist R&B jam with soulful samples, psych synth textures, and a detoxifying sub bass line—all of which FXWRK lets breathe in the mix. It’s honestly over too quickly, so I just keep hitting “replay” over and over again to keep floating. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Off The Charts has been an interesting feature to put together, especially when that random number generator pulls out a year before 1980. Once you start going back that far, finding those hidden gems requires some serious digging, and sometimes you end up in territory so uncharted there’s not even enough evidence to put a solid release year on the wild stuff you find. That’s what led me to the music of Johnnie Walker, a Chicago-born pianist who tried breaking through in Detroit during the ’70s. His 15 (or less, really) minutes of fame would come in 1980 when he self-recorded and released an album celebrating his promise to get off welfare (the appropriately titled Farewell To Welfare), but prior to that, he did record a few songs on a short-lived subsidiary label called New Detroit, both under the Walker name and as USAries when collaborating with someone named Larry Ashmore. I could see why he never landed a more stable gig. As his best track, “Are You Ready To Come? (With Me),” shows, he was making some strange but inventive stuff—a lo-fi Parliament layering looping riffs and grooves together into some seriously catchy electronic funk. You can find both parts of this song on Personal Space, a fascinating compilation of radically forward-thinking electronic soul and funk songs that I couldn’t recommend highly enough. [Matt Gerardi]