June 2011

The World Is Our Playlist

The sounds beyond our shores worth noting


In the age of the global village, it sure seems like our musical choices are ruled by geography—and just maybe limited by cultural imperatives.

Personal playlists are ubiquitous, but they tend to be frighteningly similar, built on the recommendations of friends and friends of friends and the collaborative filtering of iTunes and Pandora.

But it’s a big, wide world, and we wondered what we here in the States were missing. To find out, we asked 15 critics the world over to pick one track by a homegrown artist that they think is worth crossing over to our shores.

The result is a true rhythmic patchwork of intercontinental sounds, proving that though we all dance to different drummers, they always have a great beat.


SONG: “Banana Ripple”
ARTIST: Junior Boys

This nine-minute electropop confection is tinted by the Ontario duo’s wistfulness. “Let’s stay on top of the sand,” singer Jeremy Greenspan begins; by the outro, he shouts, “No, you’ll never see me go!” Ah, hanging on to something as it slips away.

Mike Doherty, National Post

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SONG: “Se eu Soubesse”
ARTIST: Thaís Gulin

Hailing from Curitiba in the south, Gulin possesses a stunning voice in the grand style of Brazilian singers like Astrud Gilberto. Here, accompanied by Chico Buarque, she could break your heart from 50 paces. Just close your eyes and listen.

Doug Gray, Rio Times

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SONG: “Ink Free”
ARTIST: Sons and Daughters

On their third CD, Mirror Mirror, this Glaswegian quartet gives its sinister punk-rock roots music to producer JD Twitch. This track ably summons evil spirits from synthesizers and a chattering typewriter, like a spell cast by someone with a grudge.

Dorian Lynskey, the Guardian and Q

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SONG: “Tri Martolod”
ARTIST: Nowlenn Leroy

Leroy rose to prominence in 2002, after winning Star Academy, France’s version of Pop Idol. She was duly packaged, produced and then disappeared. Her fourth CD, Bretonne, is the comeback, and on it, you see what she’s really made of.

Samantha King, Euronews TV

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SONG: “One Piece of Tape”
ARTIST: Kim Petras

Inspired by the “NoH8” campaign in the U.S., Petras wrote this in two hours. Pads and pumping beats blend with her angel-like voice, combining a state-of-the-art club sound with traditional songwriting to spread the word of tolerance.

Allan Hall, German Herald

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SONG: “Le Pleiadi”
ARTIST: Vinicio Capossela

Capossela started in the early ’90s as the Italian answer to Tom Waits, and he has proven himself a delicate poet and exquisite songwriter. Take this ballad off his album Marinai, Profeti e Balene—part Little Mermaid, part Tim Buckley lament.

Fabio De Luca, Rolling Stone Italy

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SONG: “Kabinenparty”

My personal favorite of all Austrian songs, done by one of the country’s most famous musicians. “Kabinenparty” is rap and electronica done in a dialect mostly used by elderly people—and so it has some good fun with the country’s peculiarities.

Richard Wolf, Austrian Times

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SONG: “Čemu se Nadaš Srce Moje”
ARTIST: Gibonni

This is a new song from one of Croatia’s biggest stars. Literally “What Do You Hope For, My Heart,” it connects traditional Mediterranean Croatia with modern pop music. Zlatan Stipišić Gibonni is our biggest hope for crossing borders.

Ivo Scepanovic, Croatian Times

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SONG: “Stay Right”

Off their long-awaited album OOo, “Stay Right” is the latest single from an alternative rock band who are a revelation for their homeland. Bogdan Spirea, Marius Moise, Mircea Valah and Horia Stere bring a fresh sound with a great, reviving rhythm.

Anca Enoiu, Romanian Times

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SONG: “Forever People”
ARTIST: Just a Band

This song’s steady 127 bpm jam begins as the pitter-patter of rain—definitely not the Benga of old or our new-age Genge. And yet their geeky Afro-electropop captures the zeitgeist of Nairobi’s twentysomethings and is still delicious everywhere.

Wanjeri Gakuru, UP Magazine

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SONG: “Empires”
ARTIST: Juliana Down

U.A.E.-based outfit Juliana Down are one of just a handful of Middle Eastern bands producing original rock music worth talking about. This is the standout title track from their debut album, and though there’s more than a hint of Placebo about it, the singer’s not as whiny. Great guitar hooks, a catchy chorus and supertight driving drums and bass make it worth repeat listens.

Adam Grundey, Rolling Stone Middle East

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SONG: “Gimme Failure”
ARTIST: Jamie Hutchings

Aimless, stunted boy-men rarely look appealing when not in a Judd Apatow script. But in this song, there’s an undeniably attractive hue over the disappointment. As on the album, Avalon Cassettes, it sits in a blurry world between folk and jazz, child and adult—and yes, it can hurt.

Bernard Zuel, Sydney Morning Herald

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SONG: “Fu Kua”
ARTIST: Eason Chan

The hottest song in Hong Kong is this piano ballad—which translates to “Bitter Gourd”—off local pop star Chan’s latest CD, Stranger Under My Skin. It’s written by famed Hong Kong DJ Wyman Wong and tackles the tried-and-true notion of persevering through hard times. Wong’s lyrics straddle the line between cliché and clever wordplay, and Chan’s vocal prowess suits the song’s theme perfectly.

Ben Sin, South China Morning Post

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SONG: “Medicine Man”
ARTIST: Scratch 22

On his debut album, Distance from View, the Aucklander flexes the skills he honed as a club DJ: manipulating mood and tossing in sonic curveballs. This opening track encompasses hip-hop, soul, dub, Eastern exotica and the baroque, late-’60s souljazz of David Axelrod. Aotearoa psychedelia of the highest order.”

Grant Smithies, Sunday Star Times

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SONG: “Love Life Wisdom”

This is one blistering track—an ear-grabbing outburst from a trio formed in early 2010. Indra Lesmana has been acknowledged as one of Indonesia’s jazz icons, and the skills of Barry Likumahuwa and Sandy Winarta are also impressive. Here, they’re aided by Dira Sugandi’s angelic voice on a song that’s a blend of modern jazz, hard bop, funk and nu jazz.

Adib Hidayat, Rolling Stone Indonesia

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After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, poet Ryoichi Wago expressed his anguish by releasing poems through his Twitter handle @wago2828. And they spread like wildfire through the Japanese blogosphere. Composer Yasuhide Ito (whose wife is an acquaintance of Mr. Wago and comes from Fukushima) put melodies to the poems and published the first 10 works as Furusato, which translates to “Hometown.” One song, “Anata,” tells of a person calling out to a loved one taken by the tsunami. Mr. Ito creates touching music to console the many listeners who find solace in Mr. Wago’s words.

Takuo Ikeda, Nikke Inc.

VIDEO: “Anata”

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