Underworld – Thing In A Book [with a strange fan video]

Languishing for two decades in the rare original Dark & Long single, Underworld’s Thing In A Book is finally seeing the light of modern day this month. Courtesy of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition of legendary dance album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, the wider world can appreciate what has been one of my favorite hidden gems for years now. It’s a 20 minute minimal techno monster, an otherworldly take on Dark &Long that jettisons our solar system, hitting light speed on the way to stars beyond.

There’s a methodical build to the spare insistent percussion, slowly accumulating layers of analog synth and interstellar static. Bits of guitar and monosyllabic snippets whisper by. The sound floats closer to Philip Glass and the pop ambient of Kompakt than Underworld ever dared before or after. I’m warmly reminded of legendary Detroit techno project Deepchord presents Echospace, an act assembled over a decade past this song. My headphones access a maglev train, pinging sonar over glowing dot-matrix mountainsides. My brain locks directly into its groove on a primal level. Simply put: it’s a perfect long-form chillout techno piece.

This is the best youtube version of the song. We’ve got a high quality stream of the music itself combined with a strangely hypnotic fan created video. The footage moves like a weirdly banal camcorder take on the time lapse photography of Godfrey Reggio, the subway tracking, sidewalk rushing connective tissue of Koyaanisqatsi. Watch it, or leave it in the background and enjoy the song purely on its own terms. Despite its minimalist nature, the song still packs a number of Underworld’s more populist traits. More than anything, this one feels as refined as a Swiss watch, cranking up the tension through its lengthy run. There’s a certain appeal to something so unabashedly epic, yet restrained and introverted, that tears into my heart. If you haven’t heard this, you may be surprised.

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The band seen in 1994 (supposedly).

I should mention the 20th anniversary reissue of Dubnobasswithmyheadman. This is a rare example of an album from the burgeoning CD era being remastered with care and delicacy. Subtle details I’d never noticed in my nearly two decades of listening were revealed. The drums are punchier, basslines snappier. Yet the loudness war remains in distant lands, allowing the full dynamic range to stand intact. The two disc edition contains some essential early singles, but the five disc edition (seriously) holds nearly everything produced in that era, including Thing In A Book. If you don’t have the money or patience for that massive slab of music, the whole set is streaming free on Spotify.

Just give it a listen. I’ll be looping this for a while at work tomorrow.

Alice Coltrane – Divine Songs

This is a glowing gem known only to those who have burrowed deep enough into the inimitable catalog of jazz legend Alice Coltrane.

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“Divine music is the sound of true life, wisdom, and bliss.  This music transcends geographical boundaries, language barriers, age factors; and whether educated or uneducated, it reaches deep into the heart and soul, sacred and holy…” – Alice Coltrane

Released in 1987 on cassette only, Divine Songs is the purest expression of the spiritual drone jazz sound that Alice had been perfecting ever since establishing the Shanti Anantam Ashram in the decade prior.

Soaring into ethereal space, leaving only the faintest jazz roots visible, the sound here is birthed in minimalist Indian organ modes. The atmosphere cracks open with harp and strings, shining brightly around her transcendent voice. It might not be for the casual fan, but if you’re tuned in to the celestial vibe Alice developed in the years after her husband, John Coltrane, died, you’ll settle in perfectly here.

A bonus for fans of Flying Lotus, and his album Cosmogramma in particular: keep your ears open for fleeting moments where he sampled his great aunt directly. With such a heavy influence she’s had on his music, the cameos feel especially poignant.

Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me [heart stopping music video]

I’m seeing two children hop out of their caskets at a funeral and dance, running for the door. They’re grinning as they look back. I’m grinning as I watch. This is one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced in a while, and it’s the best music video I’ve seen in years.

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My heart is full and I’m beaming. This is the definition of life affirming cinema. Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) and director Hiro Murai have rendered the joy of life on a grand scale, as only those who have lost it may experience.

As someone who’s recently lost his parents, Ellison is probably more interested in the subject of death than most folks. As someone in the same place, I can relate. We want to wrap our heads around what happens, where our loved ones have gone. We want to imagine new ways of being, new channels of experience, that might follow our journey on this plane. We try to picture what it’s like to realize you’re dead. Will I be confused? Will I be happy? Afraid? Will there be any subjective “me” at all?

None of these questions are new or original, but the music poses a cascading meteor shower of fresh replies.

The music on Flying Lotus’ upcoming album, You’re Dead!, evokes existential puzzling and euphoria without accompaniment. This video adds a gut punch that sends me reeling. Watch it now if you haven’t already. If you don’t feel at least a spark of joy, you might already be dead.

Check the album on amazon or itunes or probably spotify or just order the LP at Warp like I did.

PS: I’ve got friends who can relate all too well. I want them to know I’m thinking about ‘em.

Queen – Radio Ga Ga

Somehow this perfect Queen song escaped my attention for my entire life. Sure, I’d probably heard it as a kid, but never on purpose. Never as an adult. How did I not know this song until I was 30 years old? Why?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can thank Grand Theft Auto V for including Radio Ga Ga on the classic rock radio station. This is not merely pop songcraft of the highest order; this is a new favorite Queen song.

The music video was so inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, actual footage of the original German expressionist masterpiece features prominently. Freddie, Brian, Roger, and John ride a flying car through the bustling, dystopian future city, while the vocals reassure the radio that it is still loved. It’s kind of timeless and weirdly 1980’s at the same time. It’s the kind of video that a major pop star wouldn’t make in 2014. I’ve probably watched it 15 times since last year’s discovery. It’s really that fun.

The handclap moment really does it for me. Most handclap anthems leave me cold or embarrassed. Not Radio Ga Ga. The rhythm drops, the acapella vocals burst, “All we hear is, radio ga ga, radio goo goo, radio ga ga,” and I’m on my feet, hands in the air. One of the best moments in this video involves the band doing exactly that, while wearing shredded bondage gear in front of a cult audience dressed in white. Like I said: perfect.

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I’m not sure what is going on here. Freddie stands in the background in a white robe. All is still.

Aphex Twin – asiatsana [live]

It’s been an amazing week for Aphex Twin fans and everyone else with open ears. Still digesting Syro, I feel compelled to share this clip. It features a piano on a swing.

Asiatsana, rendered on prepared piano, sends the listener off on glistening waves of heartbreaking beauty. This spare sound echoes around chirping birds in an ancient, solitary space that Richard D. James gently inhabits on rare occasion (see also: Avril 14th or Jynweythek Ylow).

There are a couple interesting things to note about this tune. First, the name is his wife’s – Anastasia -rendered backwards. That’s easy enough. Secondly, “prepared” simply means that something has been done to a piano to create specific, idiosyncratic sounds for a given piece of music. Sometimes objects are placed on the hammers to mute or otherwise modify their tone. In this case, RDJ has swung a piano on a giant harness to bend pitch via the Doppler effect. It’s gorgeous. It’s over the top. It’s perfect, as far as I’m concerned.

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This is a somewhat recent photo of Richard, looking far less crazy than I’m used to. I’m not worried about him going boring, though. I’m sure he’s still got tits and a satanic grimace on the inside!

Remember, you can buy Syro from Warp and probably everywhere else on the internet. Just listen to it. New Aphex Twin music exists!

Kendrick Lamar – i [new single!!]

And so it begins. Kendrick Lamar consumed months of my listening life, two years ago. Now he’s about to drop his follow up to one of the greatest albums of the past decade, good kid, m.A.A.d. City. The first single is called i.

After hearing his collaboration with Flying Lotus on Never Catch Me, I was primed for more material. It’s been two years since his last album released, but only one year since the CD left constant rotation in my car. I probably listened to that album more than any other released in the past 5 years, in any genre. It’s not just a hip-hop landmark; it’s a colossus of popular music in general. Suffice it to say that my expectations are flying high.

“We got a young brother that stands for something! We got a young brother that believes in all of us! Brother Kendrick Lamar. He’s not a rapper, he’s a writer!”

An announcer opens the song with these words, before the inimitable guitar line of “That Lady” by the Isley Brothers leaps into action. Kendrick comes in with another fresh vocal inflection and the tune is off and running. Bouncy, bright, funky, psychedelic, energetic: it’s a bold proclamation that the young master is back in top form. I dig it. The song obliterated my fear of a sophomore slump in exactly 4:20.

Don’t take my word for it. You should already be listening.

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The upcoming album is “soon” and has yet to be titled, so that’s all the information I’ve got today!

Progress [mixtape]

I made this in springtime, as I was coming out of an anxious, fearful period of my life. It’s the sound of an airlock opening, the sound of stepping outside for the first time in years. It’s my fucked up, weird nostalgia for the future, and it works. This is the sound of me beginning to look feel OK again. The future’s going to be alright.

Things have changed. This is Progress.

Stream above or download the mixtape on mp3.

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Listenability and fun are the highest priorities. That being said, It’s important to me that they have some meaning, or at least a guiding theme.

Nostalgia is borne from the mixture of optimism and apocalypse, dancing throughout this hour-long trip. Here we witness the neon digital rendering of an unsettling dream as it dissipates. I wanted that feeling I experienced as a fevered child, watching movies at home from school on my side, feeling the distance from the screen to my eyes fluctuating. I felt myself healing through the delirium. It was always something dark, sci-fi, scary, weird, beautiful. I remember those moments and I try always to conjure them, to reach that place. This is my best attempt yet. This is my cyberpunk utopia.

Without revealing the track list just yet, I will say that this mixtape draws from the sounds and moods of those fantastical stories of my adolescence. The movies and books and songs that so profoundly shaped my musical tastes have influenced the work of so many artists I now love. This sound was over 30 years in the making. Nothing here is coincidental.

Some things you might find conjured within: Akira, Nintendo dreams, analog synths, space travel, Blade Runner, reflection, rain, optimism.

Below I have shared cosmic instruction and the full track listing.

Draw an imaginary map.
Put a goal mark on the map where you want to go.
Go walking on an actual street according to your map.
If there is no street where it should be according to the map, make one by putting the obstacles aside.
When you reach the goal, ask the name of the city and give flowers to the first person you meet.
The map must be followed exactly, or the event has to be dropped altogether.

Ask your friends to write maps.
Give your friends maps.

- Yoko Ono

Some enjoy the mystery, and some are curious. Track list appears after the break.


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