Author Archives: David James
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.
I’m not sure what is going on here. Freddie stands in the background in a white robe. All is still.
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.
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!
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.
The upcoming album is “soon” and has yet to be titled, so that’s all the information I’ve got today!
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.
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.
Just as I start typing well past the halfway point of this album, a sudden dynamic bloom splits CIRCLONT14 wide open. Wordless female vocals seem to come from below and around me, before erupting a cyberpunk break straight from future-Detroit. This is one of many moments so far to truly surprise me and dilate my eyes, and it’s the biggest so far.
Somehow time seems to be stretching forever. The songs appear to go beyond their track lengths. This is a wildly unnatural sensation. Fun times usually pass in a flash. I’m definitely having fun.
A boogie funk line just hijacked the proceedings. I’m now unable to think of what came before. Wait, no. Let’s jump back to the beginning.
It begins with minipops 67. We know how grand this is, how warm and sensuous it is, referencing the first Aphex Twin album and his boldest pop moment at once. Next..
Now I’m hearing a synth ghost chorus, high speed jazzy drum programming, and what can only be described at this moment as an equatorial oscillation. Maybe that should be a question? It sounds like nonsense. I’m not going for anything profound right now. This isn’t going to end that thoughtfully. I just wanted to lay my excitement down in words, as it happens. Gonzo style. Of course, I’m safe, alone, and in my apartment, but all the same: this is me experiencing an album I never knew I wanted so badly for so many years.
As the final track, aisatsana (Anastasia in reverse, incidentally) winds down in Gymnopédie-like ecstacy, I’m reminded of nothing so gentle and haunting as Virginia Astley‘s 1983 song A Summer Long Since Passed. I’d rather not spoil anything, so just listen to this song if you want a metaphorical preview of Syro’s ending.
I feel like maybe the title is appropriate, somehow.
I’m starting it over. Track two now, and I’m realizing how tactile this thing feels. I may get the cybernetic dream sequence feeling from Selected Ambient Works 85-92, but it’s far more alive. I can’t wait for the the arrival of my 3LP next Monday.
The leak is out there. I won’t share links because anyone interested enough can find them. Besides: buy this. Buy it now. I did before hearing even the first single, and now I’m cemented in my belief that it was a Good Choice. If you’re a fan of the man at all, this is a sure shot. Check the Warp page for links to purchase.
Aphex Twin is dropping a new album for only the second time since I became a fan, and the first time I have been aware, this month. Since the neon blimp soared over London I’ve been excited beyond words. The build-up to this album has seen a newly unearthed side project from two decades ago, art stunts on two continents, and a series of listening parties set to occur in the next week. We should have expected it at this point, but this week birthed surprise as we finally got a taste of things to come. Richard D. James has truly delivered.
This feels like a Windowlicker sibling raised in the nocturnal, neon soaked grid of Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Familiar touchstones abound: skittering percussion moving like a current over melodic bedrock, dynamic shifts birth crystalline synth tones, and a sort of broken cyberpunk tone colors the whole thing. Over halfway though, warped vocals enter unannounced, striking in their warm candor. The most unexpected aspect of minipops 67 might very well be how welcoming and open it is. This is Aphex Twin as pop auteur, working in an understated, head nodding aesthetic that he’s rarely approached.
The reaction I’ve seen around the world has ranged from exultant worship to cries of heresy – which is par for the course, as far as I’m concerned. This track sneaks up on me, sinking its knives before I even realize 5 minutes have passed, before I hit “replay” again. For an artist known for bold moves (the entirety of Drukqs, his confrontational, arresting videos), perhaps an ambient pop song was the boldest move of all. Is he setting us up for a full frontal assault when Syro drops later this month? Will the album pull this thread, becoming his most accessible release yet? In a few weeks we’ll know. I expect that we will see how far the internet can bend that day. It’s good to have Richard D. James back.
Buy Syro at Bleep, Amazon, iTunes, or wherever. This is the one indulgence I’ve allowed myself this fall: the 3LP set is destined for my home in a few weeks.
Shabazz Palaces‘ new album Lese Majesty has wormed its way to the very core of me. It’s glorious, it’s freewheeling psychedelia, it’s a complete deconstruction of hip-hop forms and one of the best albums this year. Since my purple “loser edition” showed up a couple weeks ago, I’ve played it more than any album in months; even more so on my headphones at work, through the Sub Pop stream and then Spotify, where it’s streaming for free in whole: Lese Majesty on Spotify.
If you haven’t jumped on this wavelength, please have some #CAKE.
The second single, #CAKE, is the centerpiece of the album’s even-more-warped second half. An electro-jungle hip-hop riot erupts before leaping through a perfectly incongruous female soul vocal, taking flight with vintage Kraftwerk synth lasers as the tune ratchets up toward an unforgettable chant ending. It’s the type of multifaceted, twisty song that made their debut, Black Up, an instant left-of-center masterpiece.
This piece is really indicative of how Shabazz Palaces (duo of Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler) appear to hold no affiliation to any particular genre or sound. The middle vocal bridge slides into the beat-driven first half like a glacier, overtaking all momentum. As the tune gathers steam for its ending, the krautrock influence bursts through as the vocals craft a towering a list of places from Berlin to Neptune. It’s pointed, it’s weird, it’s confusing, and it’s fun as hell. A recent review of Lese Majesty mentioned that they’re not “the future of hiphop, but a step to the side” as if it was a bad thing. I couldn’t imagine a higher compliment for a duo wholly unconcerned with trends in this meme-driven music climate.
Also, I feel obligated to share this amazing photo of Butler. It’s one of my favorite artist images in years:
[buy Lese Majesty on 2LP vinyl, CD, or digitally via Sub Pop right HERE or Amazon or whatever]