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.
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’m real, I’m real, I’m really really real.
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.
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.
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)
My Best of 2010 was basically an attempt to carve my musical experience of the past year down to its most essential, most ingrained elements. An attempt to sum up the music I feel had the largest impact on my listening, on my life.
I left out a lot of great albums. Thankfully, they were drawn from a text file kept on my desktop throughout the year, chronicling each album I decide, at a given moment, is awesome. Yes, it’s that simple. As time passes I remove the fleeting infatuations, anything not holding up. So I’m left with a solid list I can refer to in search of everything I really, truly enjoyed this year. This is it, in order I heard them.
- Bullion – Say Goodbye To What EP
- Four Tet – There Is Love In You
- Arrington De Dionyso – Malaikat Dan Singa
- Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales
- Autechre – Oversteps
- Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
- Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh
- Ikonika – Contact Want Love Have
- Take – Only Mountain
- LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening
- Boris – Heavy Rock Hits Vol. 3
- Connect_icut – Fourier’s Algorithm
- Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid
- Rollo – 3
- Yellow Swans – Going Places
- Sightings – City of Straw
- Guido – Anidea
- Lorn – Nothing Else
- Teebs & Jackhigh – Tropics EP
- Infinite Body – Carve Out The Face Of My God
- The-Dream – Love King
- The Sight Below – It All Falls Apart
- Deepchord Presents Echospace – Liumin
- TOKiMONSTA – Midnight Menu
- Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal 7″
- Scuba – Triangulation
- Sepalcure – Love Pressure EP
- Imbogodom – The Metallic Year
- Singing Statues – Outtakes EP
- Flying Lotus – Patter + Grid World EP
- Seefeel – Faults EP
- Mark McGuire – Living With Yourself
- Efdemin – Chicago
- T++ – Wireless
- Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner
- Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
- Balam Acab – See Birds EP
- Gonjasufi – The Caliph’s Tea Party
- VHS Head – Trademark Ribbons of Gold
- Marcus Fjellström – Schattenspieler
- Zach Hill – Face Tat
- Games – That We Can Play
- Zs – New Slaves
- Fenn O’Berg – In Stereo
- Richard Skelton – Landings
- James Blake – Klavierwerke EP
- Fursaxa – Mycorrhizae Realm
- Dimlite – My Human Wears Acedia Shreds EP
- Kurt Weisman – Orange
- Clubroot – II MMX
So there it is. Something to remember is that any one of these albums may end up defining the year as much as the ‘true’ list – and that something I haven’t even heard yet may best them all. It’s happened before. This is why Optimistic Underground will soon post its first Music From Before 2010 But Discovered This Year list. This will cover the much wider range of music I was into this year, since there is already much more music out there than is being released at any given time.
[This post is subject to change. Like I'll probably add one or two more by January.]
Singing Statues hit me out of nowhere. Sort of. Truth be told I looked this up out of curiousity while absentmindedly browsing Teebs‘ profile and listening (again) to Ardour. After an afternoon bicycle ride with this brief EP providing the soundtrack, I’m completely sold.
Imagine The Durutti Column (my favorite guitarist, Vini Reilly) hooking up with Flying Lotus, James Blake, Mount Kimbie, or even Bibio or Joy Orbison, and working that liquid guitar magic into some organically throbbing, techno-skirting production and forming something more akin to ‘songs’ than the beat genre usually cooks up. Then realize that this is all done by the man formerly known as Jackhigh: London based Ben Thomas, who with Teebs himself created the exquisite Tropics EP earlier this year. Twisting crushing motorik beats with the tidal dynamic of emotional song structure, each track seems to toy with its own headspace, providing a high definition playground for the listener with discerning headphones turned loud. Opening modestly abstract with a tangible guitar melody, every minute forward turns the energy up a notch and bleeds directly into another style. Each track feels like a natural progression and evolution from the track before; despite being called Outtakes, this 18 minute set has an album’s worth of gravity and vision. Fourth track All At Sea may just be a highlight with its shamanistic tribal/missle percussion section and ear-scraping synth line, but the EP is best heard as a whole. And it leaves me excited for more.