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.
This will loop indefinitely over the Elysian fields of an afterlife of my design.
Actress (aka Darren Cunningham) redefined ambient beauty with this piece, lighting the spiritual wires from the organ works of Camille Saint-Saëns through Brian Eno’s Discreet Music while sparking fresh air to flame. Blooming the color of Arvo Pärt’s devotional tilt in an exploratory space odyssey from the dreams of Oneohtrix Point Never or Stanley Kubrick, N.E.W. is uplifting and warm, alien and awestruck. We’re inside a nebulous pipe organ riding the cusp of a singularity, dancing on the membrane between ascension and obliteration. Let it repeat.
I should mention the video: I have no clue where the footage is from, but it strangely works. This copy was chosen mainly, however, because it can be set to 720p, so the sound quality is superb.
I’d heard a single or two from Kendrick Lamar over the past year, and knew I liked his voice and style but never bothered to grab his Section.80 mixtape. So anyone else who’s heard his official debut good kid, m.A.A.d. City can imagine how completely my hair was blown back in surprise: his bravura storytelling prowess, easy-like-falling cadence, all-star lineup of peripheral talent behind the mic and mixing boards; most of all, the entire album comes together in a cohesive narrative which completely justifies the subtitle of “A short film by Kendrick Lamar.” The spoken interludes are not only enjoyable but essential to wrapping the entire package up. Presented as a series of voicemail tape recordings from Lamar’s mother while he’s out on the town in her borrowed minivan, the final episode unfolds within this song, flipping aspiration to inspiration and leaving a lump in my throat.
Whether it’s the Erykah Badu-like hook and bouncing beat or the way “love” acts as a prism through which several verses are refracted, something about this track in particular allowed it to burrow under my skin and seal the wound from inside. Since Lamar is such a gifted storyteller this almost feels like a spoiler to share a song near the end… but it’s too good to keep to myself. If you haven’t heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and try possibly the best major label release I’ve heard in years.
There he is, eating cereal and sporting what looks like the exact haircut I had in 1991.
You can grab the album on Amazon, but I’m waiting for a vinyl copy.
In preparation for last week’s Flying Lotus show, a friend and I were having a youtube-off. Exhausting the major albums and creeping toward the dusty corners of his recorded output, we were constantly surprised at b-sides, remixes and otherwise lost tracks which only one of us (a pair of somewhat huge fans) was aware of. There’s a sublime comfort in peeling up the tiles of artists we know and love, only to find worthy treasure below. I’m trying to replicate that experience with those who will be completely on the same page when I share a given artist.
This is an older piece from a split tape with Caboladies, one which I’d heard years ago when first discovering Oneohtrix Point Never yet never fully appreciated until this autumn. The gelid synth oscillations build toward softly hissing dunes; the song itself imagines low level flight over this alien landscape. It’s a dream of a half remembered childhood science fiction story. Although that description could be shoehorned onto nearly anything OPN has created, it’s especially pointed in this case. I could drift off with this on repeat for hours.
This has been out over a week and the leak for half that, but tonight, alone, listening to the proper stream on NPR, my excitement is reborn. There are details, sharp edges and vocal snapshots bursting out at me, entire stretches brimming with instrumentation I haven’t noticed. I listened to the leak ten times and haven’t heard the album like this. My thought confirmed: the vinyl leak is muffled, distant and compressed sounding. Everything’s in there, buried then rendered in high fidelity. I kept wanting to lean inward and focus on the elements I knew were inside. It’s a treat to know that what I’ll be receiving in a couple weeks is even better than what fans have been going nuts over.
So I’ve had the album for a year now. We’ve had the entire trilogy for a while, in fact. Only just now I realized there are videos: this one is compellingly odd and surprisingly fun for those with an eye for cinema.
Watch the entire video for an indulgent mini-opera of how singer Abel Tesfaye compares a messy breakup with the violent overthrow of an Ethiopian king, while the lyrics paint an unflattering story of misbegotten sexual revenge. Honestly, it’s a lot more fun than that sounds. The song is a crumbling finale on his first album, House of Balloons; although not my favorite, it’s a perfect end to the party-life-gone-to-seed theme of his work.
But for certain people (me) the highlight appears around 2:20 with a direct reference to one of the greatest films of all time. You may recognize it from the little image appearing next to the address bar in your browser right now.
If you aren’t yet familiar with this artist, I suggest you hit the-weeknd.com where all three of his albums are available completely free and are, to my ears, nearly equally brilliant.
One of the most addictive pieces of music I’ve heard all year is this Night Bus II mix, by CFCF.
Absorbing the parade of tunes woven together here was a huge eureka moment: a realization that not only does someone else share my love for a particular aesthetic, he managed to daisy chain exquisite highlights like some match-ending Street Fighter combo move. Opening with a 30 year old Vangelis piece echoed in the synthscapes of modern favorites from Emeralds to Tim Hecker to Destroyer, the mix laid me on my back, set me in a trance, and cast one dazzling spell after another for its 42 minutes. Every moment that would peak on any other tape gets toppled by the next transition then obliterated by a combo freshly illuminating both sampled tracks. Witness new internet sensation A$AP Rocky rapping underwater with Oneohtrix Point Never, drawing out the romantic swoon of the latter and tricky phonetics of the former while subverting their individual moods entirely. The pièce de résistance is, hands down, Underworld’s gigantic Sappys Curry cresting with a balls out rap from Meek Mills (“Whats your body count nigga, I’m double digit!!”) until the instrumental hits the afterburners with a lazer tag synth eruption. The magic is that it hits more viscerally than in its original context; Second Toughest In The Infants is one of my favorite all-time albums and yet CFCF lets the tune blast harder than it ever has. This is the essence of what makes Night Bus II as listenable and interesting as many of my favorite albums of 2011. Also, it’s free. Thanks to Gorilla vs. Bear you can download it and play the whole thing while you go for a walk or drive tonight.
01 wait for me intro (vangelis)
02 this city never sleeps (eurythmics)
03 stranger (jhene aiko)
04 demons/behind the bank (asap rocky/oneohtrix point never)
05 keep the streets empty (fever ray)
06 aventurescence/addiction (beaumont/cassie)
07 here in heaven/one more chance (elite gymnastics/notorious BIG)
08 tongues (d’eon)
09 sappys curry/body count (underworld/meek mill)
10 lowride/unthinkable (autechre/alicia keys)
For some original blissed out fun from CFCF look for his The River EP. It’s chill, it’s hypnotizing, it’s his aural interpetration of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Intrigued?