Yes, the #MWE chain doesn’t stop. It keeps going, from experimental to alt hip-hop. Let’s dive into my navel-gazing:
Daniel Avery, Alessandro Cortini – Illusion Of Time: If you’ve heard Avery’s Songs For Alpha or any of Cortini’s SONOIO work, you’ll hear how different this sounds. It’s a dense panorama – at times harsh, and on others melancholy. Sometimes it’s a combo of both (the epic “Water” is a perfect example of that). “CC Pad” has an 80s ambient sound to it that seems tailor to be listened to while walking along the beach, whereas there is a foreboding drone echoing through dark caverns in the aptly titled “Inside The Ruins”.
Smoke City – Flying Away: Bossa nova/samba permeates the album. Most people only know them from “Underwater Love”, but there are tracks like “Mr. Gorgeous (And Miss Curvaceous)” and “Dark Walk” that make it swell past its sensuous aura. The album wants to stand alongside those of notable trip-hop contemporaries, but something is missing and it slips through the cracks, purring in the deep while Dummy and Mezzanine elevate into legendary positions.
Dorian Electra – My Agenda:Is pop elastic or meant to be shattered into pieces? Electra’s answer is a polished firebomb of influences and interesting collab choices, meticulously crafted into neon protest howls. Strangely alluring as a whole, but it would be difficult to point out just one song in this 25-min barrage. The ones that come to mind is “Ram It Down” and “Edelord” but it would take a bit more of a deep dive into hyperpop in general to see if there was something here.
Lady Gaga: Chromatica: Put down the acoustic guitar from Joanne/A Star Is Born and came back w/ fun Gaga. Has the right cheery flow to gloomy lyrics ratio, which is key in pushing Chromatica‘s purpose as a concept album. Old-school house beats steadily pumped into its veins, so the remixes will be bomb AF. Truthfully this would be up your alley if you were the type that recklessly went into clubs in the 90s and 2000s. It’s a shame there aren’t any clubs where we came blast the hell out of these songs.
Perfume Genius: Set My Heart On Fire Immediately: Hadreas built something great from No Shape and Too Bright. This album still has the defiance you would find through the personal nature of his lyrics. There is a deep longing spilling out f the spaces between the notes and Hadreas’ voice in “Moonbend” and “Leave.” Even a stripped-down song like “Without You” has a certain grandiosity to them. It’s all over the place but vulnerable and joyful.
Geto Boys: We Can’t Be Stopped: An obvious zero fucks to curb stomp chivalry, piss on the war on drugs, all the while stealing your girl. From a general listenability factor it still fucking bangs, 30 years later. The production is still on point, and the themes they were playing with aren’t the type that generally go out of style (the lyrics for “Fuck a War” and “Aint With Being Broke” still work today). It’s the way they handled it – Bushwick’s wildcard rap, Scarface’s storytelling, and Willie D’s abrasive bars made them a three-headed hydra of early 90s grimy hardcore rap.
Open Mike Eagle: Anime, Trauma and Divorce: The laidback beats and clever references belie OME’s confessions on body image issues, feelings of failure, and the pain of starting over. It’s grown man emo rap, with one man spitting out his post-divorce neuroses in the most earnest way he can. OME’s sardonic wit in “The Black Mirror Episode” and “WTF is Self-Care” helps us ride this depression wave as he takes us through it.
I’m nearing the end of the Haiku Mixtape project, so I thought that it would be a good idea if I put down the notes on each haiku. This idea came up partly as a way to see how an explanation would look like in writing, and as a way to show people how the sausage is made to those whose who are working on poetry of their own. I just wanna cover ten from the first eleven haiku ( I already deconstructed one in a previous post).
Ziggy Stardust – It took me a few weeks of figuring out what song would start the project. Any mixtape has to start strong, and I decided the late great David Bowie was the best choice.The inspiration primarily came from the image of Ziggy, of course, and part of the lyrics (“when the kids killed the man…”)
Austere – The Joy Formidable is a Welsh indie rock band. I heard about them years ago through an incredibly-ancient Idolator blog post, and I like that, despite their overall pop sound, they still had a kick to them. Hence why I ended it with the word roar.
Pearls Girl – I had some words to a longer free-verse poem inspired by this Underworld song – I never finished it, and I didn’t like it. I played around with it this time for the mixtape, and made this instead. I think I might go back to the original, who knows.
I Don’t Care (I Love It) – There’s a personal story to why I chose this song that I won’t get into unless we’re friends. The narrative in the haiku give a general idea of what happened, and added a bit of flair ( the smashing/crashed internal rhyme).
She’s Lost Control – Fun fact: Ian Curtis had epilepsy, which affected his dancing on-stage. This haiku goes straight to the point, to the lyrics, because, hey, I gotta deal with it too. And it would feel really cheap if I’d do it any other way.
Flight Of The Feathered Serpent – The imagery of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of wind and learning, is very cool. That was the sole inspiration of the haiku sprinkled with the sonic sprawl of the song.
Beetlebum – I saw Blur live with friends at Madison Square Garden that week. This is my favorite song by the band, and the lyrics just hit me. Used the word Britannia to do a syllabic extension to Britpop, so to speak.
Bela Lugosi’s Dead – The Halloween haiku, obviously. There is no way I won’t say no to a good goth song as my choice for this, my favorite of holidays. Imagery of people wearing black and vampires stuck in my head when I started the writing process.
Teenage Crime – I found this Adrian Lux song on Spotify, and I quite liked it. Nice simple house beat, a coy voice with sparse lyrics that fit. Brought out memories to a lot of old clubbing days that lasted ’til morning.
Her Fantasy – This one is slightly inspired by the music video and combined it with inspiration born from the lyrics in Dear’s baritone delivery. I also used the album cover for the mixtape background. After I finished it I spent a night of watching Kenneth Anger movies.
While I put up my regular top five album list earlier, this year was more of a song year overall. It made sense for the compiling of a playlist, of course, so here it is for your ear’s pleasure. It has songs from the top albums along with the honorable mentions, as well as others that came from different areas. Here’s the list, and small description of my favorites from the playlist.
Sia – “Chandelier” – I am really enjoying this new transformation of Ms. Furler. This also includes her semi-inconspicuous aesthetic, but what makes this song great is in how she made it hers. A lot of her songwriting has gone to a lot of other artists (Rihanna, Beyonce, etc.) and it you can tell in this song it’s from that same vein. Delicious to finally hear it come from her amazing voice.
Action Bronson – “Easy Rider” – This has all the keys of a Bronsolini song on high levels, ripping out on a chopper from the church doors filled to the gills on acid. He’s spitting bars on riding with horses, landing planes on Roosevelt Ave, and eating eels. Yeah, it’s that ill.
D’Angelo – “1000 Deaths” – So I just found out as I write this that Questlove provided the glorious drumbeat on this. Yes, the first single heralded the greatness of Black Messiah, but good lordy, this is a Prince cut set to 13. Actually, forget Prince, this is D’Angelo, and only D’Angelo, getting heavy as fuck on the funk.
Shabazz Palaces – “They Come In Gold”– With a beat switching from something that is somewhere between weird slasher flick and acid trippiness, Ishmael Butler pushed his abstract rap into a mellow beat that was emblematic of the sound of the album.
Rustie – “Attak (Ft. Danny Brown)”– This I have to thank Jeph Jacques for, as I had never heard of Rustie, but after listening to his list, the entire album really opened up his entire work to me. There is an almost-axiom that EDM and rap don’t mix, like that one thing Biggie said in that one song. Rustie, in the pauses of the staccato electro-house, let every verse of the Detroit lunatic go and proved that rule very much wrong.
Hudson Mohawke – “Chimes” – I heard this live the summer of 2013, so it was great finally hearing the single on my speakers as opposed to a massive sound-system discombobulating my stomach from the bass and trumpets. Still, if I upped the bass on my system, There was still a rumble in my esophagus.
2. Top Five Supplemental
EMA – “Satellites”– A clap and static, with an industrial beat leading to strings and dissonance, EMA’s voice breaking the connection, linking to the whatever-is-left. This is not about past lives of martyred saints, but demons trapped in orbit.
Run The Jewels – “Love Again (Akinyele Back) (Ft. Gangsta Boo)”– Did any of you listen to “Put It My Mouth” or “My Neck My Back?” back in the day? Well yeah, this is that circa 2010s. El-P and Killer Mike go in on fucking with the raunchiest of hooks, but Gangsta Boo saves the song from your average rap misogyny and makes the man in question on her bars into a goddamn slave, flipping the song to her will like a hood dominatrix.
St. Vincent – “Prince Johnny”- The change of pace on this song brings out the rest of the album, because the difference is so deep it holds onto you. and the “oh-oh-ohs” in her choruses really stick.
Azealia Banks – “Ice Princess”– This is Azealia at her realest, delivering a nice flow that goes into a house beat-backed chorus. Ladies and gents, what’s cooler than cool? This chill rap royal.
Caribou – “Silver” – Super-relax song meant for an ambient room in a house party, or a drive leaving the city heading out into the upstate forest. I don’t pay attention to the lyrics when I listen to it, I just hold onto the longing in the words.
3. From the Honorables
Sharon Van Etten- “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” – Van Etten’s entire album is my number 6 – so many great songs from Are We There that deserve mentioning but here is the best.There is a country sentiment reminiscent of Neko Case. Her voice lingers, weathered on the twangs of chords.
Banks – “Drowning” – I’m going “Shot Fired” on this – I really don’t get the appeal of FKA Twigs and her abstract R&B/trip-hop, it comes off as it misses on both marks. Banks’ Weeknd-esque modernity with tinge of 90s R&B fits with the sultriness of her voice really well, and is a lot superior to Twigs because of it.
Sturgill Simpson – “It Ain’t All Flowers” – The Metamodern Sounds in Country Music album was the only country album that grabbed me this year. The psychedelic undertones inherent in some of the songs elevate it past the southern plane into something metaphysical. This song is emblemic of that in the breakdown halfway.
Christian Löffler – “Mt. Grace”– A techno-shamanic hymn prepping your journey up misty lands in yelps and a relentless cadence of synths and drums. True emblem to the title of the album, in my opinion.
RATKING – “Puerto Rican Judo (ft. Wavy Spice)” – Someone I met at Governors Ball suggested I check out the hip-hop group’s set and I got there right as thee song came on. Even on the grass of Randalls Island it felt like running through grimy Harlem streets in the summer.
Phantogram – “Fall In Love”– I saw Phantogram with my friend Rob a few months before Voices was released, so we were lucky and heard the song earlier. Granted, a lot of their songs show up on TV commercials and shows now, but this one is honestly on arena-level, compared to the ones from previous albums.
So there was the memory of the 1999 Chemical Brothers show burned into my memory that I described in the first part of my love letter to electronic music. That night is ingrained in my musical DNA like an aggressive gene therapy created by the beats and sights of glowsticks and dancing. That’s about as deep as the scar on my left knee from the two surgeries needed to reconstruct it. That’ll never go away.
My sister took me other shows afterwards of course and I was very lucky for some of those experiences. One in particular was seeing the sweat come off Tiësto’s brow in an incredibly small rave tent in 2002 as he waved his hand at these two blonde girls that had the even smaller waists. This was years before the dudebros and guidos in the Tri-State Area found him and Tiësto started filling up US arenas like he did the ones back home in the Netherlands.
High school shifted the taste dramatically. It was a change made from the angst-ridden years where my mind and body wanted songs from men like Andre 3000, Christopher Wallace, Maynard James Keenan, Chino Moreno, and Jimmy Page. That big rock and hip-hop kick for most of high school, filled with all the introspection and manufactured anguish an introverted nerdy guy is generally known to have, washed out a lot of drum and bass and trance music from my MP3 players and CD mixtapes.
It wasn’t that something switched in me overnight and I just hated EDM. What occurred was just that there was a mental disconnect, at least to me at the time, of being a fan of high tempo dance music while being a moody little shit, you know? And it was a bit hard to keep your headphones on playing Orbital while your friends blasted screamo and the pop-punk du jour. I stopped going to electronic shows, started going to rock concerts. I loved them as well, but looking back they’ve yet to burn into me like the raves tents and dance clubs.
What kept my body sing electronic, even though I sat in my room alone with my headphones on, came in the gust of one particular song – it keeps happening that way with me, as you’ll see in the next part of this series. That song kept coming to me in small parts placed in scenes of episodes on TV or movies. The bass line crept up slowly until the snare drum came in, then the languid sample loops and fuzzy guitar riff in the background. Then the lyrics came on.
“You…are my angel…”
The song is menacing as all hell while maintaining a seductive cool from the juxtaposition of Horace Andy’s voice. And from there I delved into Massive Attack and by that path I found trip-hop, downtempo, ambient, and all the slower undercurrents of electronic music. Here’s sampler of what I was listening to.
There’s a reason why I bring all this up. It comes because of my writing. As far as I can think of, most of my earliest writing came from the sounds of songs like the ones from the playlist above that came from Bristol or many other parts of the aural umbra. There are times when I hear the rhythmic drums in “Inertia Creeps” that take me to places to stories that are far and away from the song’s lyrics about sex. DJ Shadow’s “Midnight In A Perfect World” served as the theme for a lot of my old poems, if that makes any sense.
Even if all of the stuff I made from that time was garbage – and it was, of course – the music helped start it all, and it was this particular type of music that was the hymn. That was my soundtrack when I was sixteen and an insomniac with too many things that needed to be poured out of my head and onto the screen.
I did eventually get to hear “Angel” live, in 2010 at the Warfield in San Francisco – luckily someone put up a YouTube vid of it. The entire show helped me feel young since I remembered the album came out in 1998 and the crowd must have at least been 35-plus in age. I’m soon to be 27 and I’m listening to “(Exchange)” the final song from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Seems like a pretty good way to cap off the post.
Here are this week’s Tumblr likes. I need to figure out a way to put up gif sets, but until then, enjoy these, you punks.
From the post:
“At the height of his cocaine addiction, David Bowie weighed only 95 pounds, hardly a healthy weight for 5’11”. He later said that he spent most of the mid-Seventies trying to perfect telekinesis and trying to keep Jimmy Page and witches from stealing his soul.”
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Jeff Buckley. Nusrat was a Pakistani singer that had a six-octave voice, and Buckley was a huge fan. I put up Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Yeh Jo Halka Halak Suroor Hai” a while back – it is really goddamn good.
Comparison of shots from The Fantastic Mr. Fox with other Wes Anderson films.
Comic Writer Matt Fraction’s five-minute story of picking up writer and now-wife Kelly Sue DeConnick from the airport. I think I may use his “Hurrah for fucking adventure!” closer for shit in the future.
Atari Teenage Riot – Is this Hyperreal?
Most reviewers criticized this album for having a dated political screed and a lack of change in their sound but honestly it doesn’t matter. A great comparison of this album is The Prodigy’s Invaders Must Die. The band always kept true to their sound, with a couple of stumbles with Always Outnumber Never Outgunned aside. They came back out guns blazing, which wont to do for groups like The Prodigy and ATR. “Activate” opens the album with an upgrade to their electropunk sound, but only slightly. Adding CX Kidtronik to the band brought anew kick into the system, and as far as his opening statement on racism and Barack Obama on “Re-Arrange Your Synapes”. Other songs of note are “Black Flags” and “Digital Decay”.
Das Racist – Relax
I don’t even…just get on this. Heems and Kool A.D. are insane on the wordplay ( and that’s not to say anything of El-P’s bars on Shut Up, Man) and their references make Childish Gambino sound like a punk (sorry Donald, stick to funny). Oh, and “Punjabji Song’ is reminiscent of Punjabi MC on Jay-Z’s “Beware the Boys” but this song puts a flag on that then drops 16 weed-filled deuces on it.
DJ Shadow – The Less You Know
OK, I have to finally admit one of my greatest sins: Up until recently, I’ve never had a good pair of headphones. I’ve always rocked the cheap Sony wrap-around blue sports one – it was the only one that’d survive my clumsiness – and now that I have these massive Skullcandy ones with the ultra bass, I’ve heard songs in completely new ways. I’m still not a snooty audiophile (I’m too lazy to convert to lossless formats) but…oh, the drums..the drums on a Shadow song on them.
Truth be told, The Outsider sucked. Only Phonte on “Backstage Girl” and “Artifact” saved that album for me. But from track one on The Less You Know… Shadow established that his scratching is back. The follow-up song”Border Crossing” sound like a poorly made 90s action movie version of “Artifact” (actually, check out “HYPERPOWER” from NIN’s Year Zero if you want a better version of this song). The “Stay the Course” team-up of Posdnuos and Talib Kweli is pretty solid; Kweli especially got to me seeing as he’s been off my audio radar for a minute. It’s amusing that Shadow dropped an emphasis on the lull in the next three songs by putting up a song titled “Tedium”. The slowed down vocals and acoustic guitar on “Enemy Lines” gives the album an Entroducing pick-me-up before the break beats of “Going Nowhere” rolls in. that, along with “Run for Your Life” should get any Shadow fan at attention. Sadly, on “Scale It Back” Yukimi Nagano does her first lackluster performance on a song she’s featured on.
Now, let’s get to the singles. “Def Surrounds Us” renewed my faith in Shadow with his effective use of vocal samples, pounding drum beats, a sprinkle of hyphy and dubstep, and pianos and apocalyptic choir singing. “I’ve Been Trying” was in the first lull I mentioned, so I didn’t realize it was a single. Oh, back the topic of new headphones: listen to the other single “I Gotta Rokk” on them. Trust me on this.
Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
It’ s a little late to review this album without looking like a punk against ones like the fake Ghostface’s review. Instead, I’m just concentrating on the singers. First off, Frank Ocean dominates on his two songs; even if “Made in America” was one of the lesser cuts on WtH, he still delivers on it (and don’t get me started on his hook on my new banger “No Church in the Wild”). Truth be told, the only other ones of note is Elly Jackson of La Roux on “That’s My Bitch” and The-Dream on “No Church…”; I didn’t know that the unintelligible bridge on the “That’s My Bitch” was Bon Iver, nor did I really care. As for Beyonce on “Lift Off’, the song was pretty bad on its own, and she didn’t really help to bring it back. Mr. Hudson’s voice on “Why I Love You” reminds me of how the last time he brought something good to an album is still 808s & Heartbreaks. Oh, and Swizz Beatz needs to stop putting his “talking while straining through a bowel movement” voice all over a track.
Kasabian – Velociraptor!
Halfway through, I stopped listening it and went back to West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
Ladytron – Gravity the Seducer
It’s interesting to see the career trajectory of these electro-Liverpudlians, not just in their sound but in their whole look. The aesthetic in their music videos and photos from each album mirrors the songs of the album attached to them. In this album’s case, there is this a baroque, upper-class sound far different from the utilitarian beats in 604 or the cold grinding pulses from Witching Hour. There are some glimpses of Velocifero in “Melting Ice”. Songs like “Altitude Blues” and “White Gold” reinforce an 80s sci-fi soundtrack vibe (even the album art is reminiscent of the opening scene from Blade Runner). One of the biggest issues with the album is that there are too many songs that sound alike; “Ace of Hz”, “Mirage”, and “Aces High (which is just a boring instrumental of “Ace of Hz”) are the culprits of this. Overall, this is not as good as album as the previous one.
St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
It took one song from her Actor album to really make me into a stan for Ms. Annie Clark (go listen to “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood. The title is deceiving.). “Cruel” lets her gets it starting with her great vocals (it kind of reminded me of Feist) on the end of her verses. Then she reminds you “Oh yeah, I still got the grind” on “Cheerleader”. The eponymous track has an 80s synth thing going on until it hits you with her guitar/vocal one-two punch. The album fades out a bit until “Hysterical Strength” which reclaimed my attention with its driving drums and piano.
Watch the Throne is already in my library – hearing Kanye beat out Jay-Z on this (I think that’s intentional, but on the other hand, Jay’s skills are waning) is good enough to make it a keeper. DJ Shadow and St. Vincent stay as well. I can’t say no to Shadow’s masterful sampling/mixing and Annie Clark’s singing/rocking.
Ladytron might grow on me like Velocifero did. We’ll see.
ATR and Kasabian