SOUND ‘ROUND: Making music whilst they still breathe



This ain’t no typical tribute record. Though original member and album namesake Ndiouga Dieng remains with them in spirit after succumbing to an unspecified illness, his living band mates waste nary a breath on their fallen leader. They’ve been doing this for 50 years since forming at a nightclub in Senegal, making them old enough to know life goes on and wise enough to know life is worth celebrating. That realization continues to make their music — a harmonious mesh of Afro-Cuban influences — remain vital. What keeps them crazy after all these years? A deep admiration and respect for women that’d make them enemies of the state in Saudia Arabia or the White House. They dig wedding nuptials (translated lyrics, “A good marriage is beyond price”), dig parenthood even more (“Leaving your children lagging behind, that is not normal”), and express loving words with simplicity and grace (“All the beauty of a pretty woman is seen in you”). Salute to the long-tenured percussionists who provide the grooves that get you in the door, and praise be to Balla Sidibe and Rudy Gomis, who lean their leathered vocals into the beat and refuse to budge. With a love this immeasurable and the goal to make each day count, why should they go anywhere else? GRADE: A

Key Tracks: “Woulinewa” / “Sey” / “Foulo”


Orchestra Baobab were once a prolific band, releasing 12 album during the 1970s. But “Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng” is their first record in nearly a decade and just their sixth in 17 years. The group’s latest album was significantly delayed due to the departure of guitarist Barthelemy Attisso, who left the band’s native Senegal to practice law in Togo. Attisso was replaced by Abdouleye Cissoko, who plays the kora — a 21-string instrument.


Music this morbid is routinely overvalued by the literati, be it much of late-period Johnny Cash or widower Phil Elverum, who has been lauded by gatekeepers for this album centered on the death of his wife (artist Genevieve Castree) from pancreatic cancer. As empathetic creatures, our hearts should break for Elverum and his daughter — born just 18 months before her mother perished. As music consumers, however, we should remember meditations on death do not guarantee profundity, enlightenment or memorable tunes. Elverum’s goal here isn’t for collective healing. These songs are hyper-personal and written in a prose too wordy for melody or typical song structure. And while the austere production and minimalism signifies his grief, his depressive vocal delivery muddles these songs into an indistinguishable slab of sadness. But nestled in the gloominess are clues to his realization that life carries value even as we endure indescribable loss. Father and daughter move into a new house on “Ravens” because they need a new start in a death-free home, and later a task as mundane as taking out the trash becomes a quiet moment of clarity. But Elverum’s darkest line is likely the most hopeful: “We are all always so close to not existing at all.” That’s why we have to keep breathing. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: “Seaweed” / “Swims” / “When I Take out the Garbage at Night”


Mount Eerie’s newest album deals with the death of singer Phil Elverum’s wife from pancreatic cancer. Elverum spoke to his wife’s ability to deal with the difficult disease in a lengthy profile with Pitchfork. “She did a really good job of having cancer and dying. That’s a weird sentence, but she was incredible at it. She was really good at doing chemo, she was best friends with all the nurses. She knocked it out of the park. She died really well, although I would rather she didn’t.”

Mount Eerie on Spotify

Baobab on Spotify

Mount Eerie on YouTube

Baobab on YouTube