Friday, May 31, 2013

No Time for New Years

Fact Mag over here composes a long list that is oddly poised against rhetorical question "Has there ever been a year Quite like 2013?"

It's perhaps rhetorical because a simple antipodal response would not suffice. "No" is almost certainly incorrect because the article being linked is nothing more than a litany of comebacks and reunions, the past regurgitating itself, a perverse ouroboros wherein death is staged, sometimes only for a few years, only to facilitate the cycle of rebirth. "Yes", however, would also be wrong, because what we're witnessing is not the singular revival of a style (garage/postpunk/synthpop/Balearic/Italo/house...). Rather, 2013 seems to be the year of the zombie vanity project. A ouroboros that doesn't engender recreation, just reaffirmation. Everybody on that list (with a few others that have resurfaced to boot) are brands, name acts whose sudden re-materialization is accompanied by a successful flood of hype. The reaction to the music itself is almost secondary. Simply returning in and of itself reestablishes the brand, and thus pushes the act into the contemporary.

(David Prince- Ouroboros)

There used to be a healthy amount of cynicism towards the reunion tour and the accompanying "comeback" album (some of it earned/some of it not), but these acts have almost unanimously been greeted with open arms. The result is a 2013 in which a flood of old names have become the zeitgiest. As someone who came of age at the tale end of the music biz siege on the popular imagination, it's almost heartening to see a collective nostalgia for the "event" album resurfacing, particularly for folks I'm keen on like Bowie, MBV, or Boards of Canada (and we can expect a great deal more think pieces on music's marketing in 2013 than its music- some Philip Sherburne has articulated well over at Spin). But thus far, there hasn't been a whole lot that has popped up from the margins to demand attention like Death Grips did last year. The closest to the mark that I've heard is the stuff glowing from the loose assemblages of the American queer rap scene, which is still rising but which poses the danger of shaving its edges for more widespread acceptance.  And its press, while kind, seems to somewhat treat it is a novelty, an addendum to a perpetually progressive scene (which hip-hop is not) rather than a legitimate attempt to branch off from the dying root of hip-hop, which sure has good singles, but you know there's trouble in genreville when your single of the year is the one where Rick Ross drugs a rapes someone.  Yes, there's also a good deal of quality footwerk out there that, luckily, still sounds alien, but we're now talking about a scene almost a decade old.

Maybe this lack of surprise is on me, as I've admittedly been tuning in less (focusing myself somewhat on the past). Even as I scan the blogs and the zines though, it still seems like music at the current moment is being swept up in investment into (diminishing) returns rather than the shock of the new.

That said, here's what I've been digging this year:

Welcome In

RP Boo's Legacy

Jagged, disorienting, abstract masterpiece ten years in the making.  I can't put this on and do anything else.  I mowed the lawn and went off in zags. I tried it at work and got the slight sensation of vertigo.  I tried jogging and nearly got lost. Proving that footwerk is still pretty much the most viable and dynamic artform currently out there, it's music that hijacks your senses and not only in a club.  Everywhere you go.  Tarzan howls.  Aaliyah samples that underline tension and uncertainty rather than confidence and assurance.  Use with extreme caution when operating a vehicle.  One word tossed around frequently when describing Legacy is "surreal" and there's parts of it that remind me of Negativland's Escape from Noise LP, the way stoic newspeak phrases were turned from something lucid and calculated into something mysterious and indistinct.  RP Boo is doing that same thing with music-taking sounds we know and unlearning them for us, meaning it's not only introduces the new but deprograms the old at the same time.

Also, DJ Rashad's Rollin' EP on Hyperdub is pretty dope, but I've only listened to it through once so far.

Le1f- Fly Zone 
Mykki Blanco- Betty Rubble: The Initiation 
Zebra Katz- DRKLNG 

In essence, these three form a three-way split between the now-ism of the past few years of techno, crafted in new forms to create vertical pop poetry out of these more horizontal forms.  Le1f is the  post-everything  eclectronica of contorted and wabbly synths a la Night Slugs, LIES, Numbers, et al.  Mykki's a bit more industrial, not quite at the level of desperation as the Perc Trax and Sandwell District folks, but definitely way more scorched early than his peers. Zebra Katz is austere minimalism, with cold detached lyrics that betray the neutrality of such tones, presenting them instead as something perverse and somewhat frightening.  What makes this core so unique in special is their willingness to get dirty, to go to dark corners, and to ignore anyone's perception of what a hip-hop track should be or how a hip-hop artist should act.  Perhaps most importantly, they've all elected at points to tell the backbeat to fuck off, choosing producers (including themselves- all are very talented and would do well to weird up a Yeezy or Miguel track) that understand how stale beats are killing hip-hop.

DJ Clap- Best Night Ever

Though there are parts of this release that are Footwerk-y, I think this album has  been branded as such because it's mostly composed of rapid-fire CD skips that occasionally bust off into abstruse tom-heavy beats, but there's also a lot more lock-step here than most Footwerk include many sequences that play like straight-up accelerated house/techno.  DJ Clap pilfers the gabber pace and its spotlight on the meth end of molly and its endless micro-repetitions, but also adds the euphoria of (happy) hardcore in the lush timbre of its sounds.  Last time I listened, I kept thinking equations like M83 gabber or Traxman Drill N Bass, which seem cheap, but cheap may be the key here. Like the leading title, Best Night Ever is music that assembles the tiniest slivers of bliss it can find and violently shakes them at you until you're nauseous.  Moderation is best, but impressive stuff nonetheless.

Various- This is How We Roll

When I last checked in on Blackdown's Keysound Recordings label, they were doing some quality and competent, though not particularly groundbreaking bass music.  With this latest compilation, it appears they've upped their game a bit. I'll have to dig a little further into the catalogue to see what I missed.

Sarantis- Electric City

A number of good things coming out of the Senseless Records Bandcamp page for a while now.  Like DJ Clap and RP Boo, this one might also not be great for those prone to migraines, but for the rest...

Welcome Back

My Bloody Valentine- M B V

Everybody seemed to have made up their mind about this by the time most of us were finally getting the download page to load.  My initial thought was, like many's final determination, that yep, This is yr Bloody Valentine.  And particularly when I got to "Who Sees You", I was A-OK with that. But the weird twist that the second half of the album took some getting used to.  I've decided that it is indeed pretty great, though I do feel now like I want more, something I ironically never felt with Loveless. There's a tension in thewhirlwind event horizon of "Wonder 2" that makes the record feel incomplete. Hopefully, we'll find out what's on the other side of that black hole sometime in our lifetime.

Locust- You'll Be Safe Forever

Locust is principally the project Mark Van Hoen.  So in this sense, You'll Be Safe Forever is not really a comeback.  Van Hoen's been active for a while.  In fact, last year's Revenant Diary was a career highlight.  This is the first time he's gone by Locust though in 12 years.  The music on the album does not necessarily veer into far-off directions like contemporaries Seefeel did with its digitally pixelated return album a few back, but the swelling hazes, vocal manipulations, and radiophonic allusions are more contemporary than ever now as underground electronic music has finally caught up with Van Hoen.

The Knife- Shaking the Ritual

I've actually only heard this one once too, but it was impressive and I really like the above.  I was never interested when their early naughts albums came out, but I've it on my calendar to dig in further.

Various- Interpretations of F.C. Judd

A bunch of today's most compelling acts taking a stab at Judd's 60's electronic experiments, but not in the usual way wherein artists remix to make the original sound like their own signature style.  On this album, the productions truly compliment each other and the artists involved have done a good job at pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.

Well Come Around
5 to listen a little further:

Stellar Om Source- Joy One Mile
Mu-Ziq- Chewed Corners
Broadcast- Berberian Sound Studio sdtrk
Various- Night Slugs Vol 2
Kurt Vile- Walkin on a Pretty Daze

Top of the Pops
5 for the charts

Timberlake/Timbaland- "Blue Ocean Floor"
Timberlake/Timbaland- "Tunnel Vision"
Disclosure- "When a Fire Starts to Burn"
Kanye- "New Slaves"
Iggy Azaelia- "Work"

Further Down the Well
5 lower underground

Boards of Canada- "Reach for the Dead"
Low- "Just Make it Stop"
Tropic of Cancer- "Fall Apart"
Stanislav Tolkachev- "Heartbeat"
Ducktails- "The Flower Lane"

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Past is a Regional Dialect

Another dead blog post. This blog refuses to die. Should I just cut off life support? Should I let it all go? Who the fuck is even listening at this point?

Most of my online activity as of late has been at the “Vintage series” of blogs I’ve set up, which aim to commemorate the anniversaries (in increments of 10) of all that happened in music 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 (maybe more?) years ago.

The original idea behind all this was that theoretical proposition that I think any music nerd pontificates on at one point or another; what would it be like to spend a week/month/year in (insert “golden age” era here)? I’ve heard of a few people trying this out, restricting themselves just to music that came out during a specific year for a month  or so to try to encapsulate what was unique or important about that era. But these kind of thought experiments always miss the mark because it’s too difficult to denote the gaps that broader culture gave context to (see the nostalgic 80s film trope that paints the bubbly music, bright fashions, and aspirational wealth as some kind of benign utopia whilst ignoring the misery and darkness of that era).

So, instead I decided to just give a broad scope overview of the sonics of the years in question (2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963). With the potential though unlikely exception of 2003, it’s unlikely that any living individual from any of the aforementioned eras would have ever been in contact with all, or even most, of this music. Therefore, it’s more of an internet-age assessment than a cultural thermometer. If blogs had been around at the time, the vintage series would be what those online portals graphed out of the full scope of the landscape that was worth retrieving.

Music mags from these eras are peculiarly biased by their audiences.  Though there were certainly exceptions in which rock mags started embracing hip-hop, dance, et al., the limitations of the culture industry failed to recognize many things that the internet's long, long, neverending tail has been retrieving ever since.  

For the two eras that I was somewhat musically cognizant in (1993 and 2003), I’ve also included a few things that worked for me at the time, but which maybe are not so great in retrospect. Nostalgia's a powerful force when wrapped around a memory.

Some of the posts are just a Youtube link, while others contain a brief paragraph or two about the song, album, or artist in question. For the most part, I’ve tried to stick to one track per album/single/release, but I have and will cheat on occasion.  Rules are loose here and this is obviously a taste factory that I've conceived, not one purposed with any specific historical thesis or theoretical objective.

Why put forth so much effort? What’s the point of all this?

  • It’s not that much effort. For the most part, this is just music I’m listening to at work and posting when I come across something relevant.It’s a timefiller satisfying a retromantic impulse to gaze backwards, illustrating how impossible it is to capture it all
  • It’s a cumulative education. At the end of the year, I plan on posting year-end lists, just as you would in any current year. I also figure that this project can go on as long as I need or want it to. If I make it through 10 years, I will have pretty much documented the whole of post-rock-n’-roll history.

Outside of this (loose term here, people) "work", I’ve also submitted a few pieces of fiction to some publications, though I’m open to ideas though of what some good places that publish are.  Please send suggestions as I'm not too familiar with mags, zines, anthologies, that do short fiction, plays, or speculative non-fiction (do any places do this in a respectable capacity anymore?  Not to even remotely compare myself, but where would a Ballard go now? ).

I also have a cassette release that is the second release on Good Behavior Records, run by my former neighbor in Philly, Donnie Felton of Grubby Little Hands (whose very good psych/chillwave-ish album The Grass Grew Around Our Feet was the label’s first release- I did a couple remixes of the lead track here). The album, Harvest Monsanto, is being offered in special deluxe packaging as a limited edition “Investors Only” 100-run cassette that is jewel-encased in ugly chemical plastic and complete with nutrition label, rubber glove, and a short pitch for a cutting edge corporate product.

Stream the album or purchase the cassette here (If you’d like to review the album and want a free copy, e-mail me)