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!
This video is old and I haven’t written a post about Gang Gang Dance in a while, but neither fact matters. This is a freewheeling ode to getting high on your music.
I really can’t say more. Watch the video.
I had nearly forgotten: this is one of my favorite things ever.
Or at least the past year.
In late 2010 this clip from a July 23 concert in Los Angeles was posted and I realized how much of an incredible force of nature Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is. Flying Lotus fans know him as the guy providing the string arrangements in the legendary album Cosmogramma, while those more familiar with J Dilla probably smile at the thought of his work as headliner of the Timeless: Suite For Ma Dukes album, a sweeping orchestral take on the late James Yancey’s productions. This 13 minute alchemic beast weaves a stargazing intro from the former into one of the sparkling highlights of the latter’s final statement, the Ruff Draft EP, into an uplifting, hard charging masterpiece.
Truly an all star production, this band includes none other than Flying Lotus himself, Thundercat (best known for 2011’s Golden Age of the Apocalypse and making Cosmogramma jump like frogs in a dynamite pond), Rebekah Raff (another Flylo alum, she of the Alice Coltrane-worthy harp ethereality) and a full set of accomplished musicians I’ll list below.
Flying Lotus (laptop)
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (violin)
Evan Francis (flute)
Dontae Winslow (trumpet)
Joey Dosik (alto sax)
Kamasi Washington (tenor sax)
Garrett Smith (trombone)
Rebekah Raff (harp)
Marcel Camargo (guitar)
Brandon Coleman (keys)
Stephen ‘Thundercat’ Bruner (bass)
Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (drums)
Nikki Campbell (percussion)
I’m just hoping this hints, if not at Flying Lotus‘ next album (which will be announced at Coachella) perhaps a collaborative effort or even a full length release from this Ensemble itself.
In this first post of 2012 I proudly present my unabashedly belated yet wholeheartedly enthusiastic response to a slice of sound that has not only dominated my listening time for months but brightened my outlook for an important piece of the future of music.
Black Up is one of the best
hiphop albums I’ve heard all year (the year being 2011 but it doesn’t matter), possibly longer. I slept on this at first, honestly, because the name just seemed too hipster, too pitchfork, too much. I pictured a thousand chillwave and witch house bands lined up behind triangles and crosses, a sea of stoned faces, limpid whitewashed guitar and anonymous lazy beats. I pictured nothing interesting or worthy of my time, much less my money. I did not picture something this fucking good.
When most people think of a hiphop artist the vocals come first: style, cadence, and timbre to subject matter and storytelling. The sheer blunt force of the words themselves, inseparable from voice, embodies a delivery system of surface and substance. Crushing the underground binary of either transcending or subverting this natural order, Shabazz Palaces blow hair back with pointillistic dexterity and canny substance while folding the vocals into the dreamlike puzzle box instrumentation itself. Beatific slides like “It’s a feeling, it’s a feeling!” and “Clear some space out, so we can space out” are amplified by the very way they emerge through cloudbusting moments of clarity in the mix. The production is the most intricate and interesting I’ve heard in an impossible stretch of time. Huge and futuristic and swarming like Cannibal Ox (one of my all time favorites) but delicate and minimal in places, sometimes in the same song. Relentlessly kaleidoscopic on a track-to-track basis like Madvillain and equally playful. Taking each second as an opportunity for left turns, trap doors, and extraterrestrial launches like the best Flying Lotus material. I’m uncomfortable reducing this experience to references but they help paint a picture. Thrilling, gorgeous, head nodding and hypnotizing, worthy on its own as pure sound yet never subsuming the oft-poignant vocals, the meaning of Black Up is delivered fresh and phonetic, kinetic, poetic. I sink deeper, hearing more each time. Romantic, political, angry, meditative, militant, optimistic, futuristic, this blurs free-association and laser focus in the same moment, words and sounds in the same experience.
The duo of Ishmael Butler, of classic conscious/jazz-hop group Digable Planets (listen if you possess even a passing interest in A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, or Del La Soul; they’re probably better) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire (of whom I’ll be honest: I have no idea where he came from), is an alchemy I’ll forever thank Sub Pop (of all labels) for bringing to my ears.
My first favorite track.
Possibly the most direct distillation of the group’s ethos, with an outright nod to the original Digable Planets album in its ascendant coda.
The full album streaming free with visuals on youtube. Nice.
I should be so bold as to say that this is the equivalent of Disco Inferno (a longtime favorite of Optimistic Underground) for the hiphop galaxy. I don’t state this lightly. I also do not often insist so fully on a vinyl purchase but in this case I must spread the word on its inner beauty: the package does not resemble the semi-anonymous visual you’ve seen floating around the internet and the top of this post.
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.]
Janelle Monáe is an intriguing artist whom I’ve followed since an explosive debut EP dropped in 2008 and I happened to catch a blurb in Rolling Stone (of all places!) about it. Metropolis: The Chase Suite was a firecracker of sci-fi themes, futuristic funk, fresh production, elastic style and absolutely star-making vocals. I thought, this kid is absolutely going to blow up.
Then she disappeared.
But not exactly, as it turns out. Debut LP ArchAndroid came out this Tuesday and to promote it Miss Monáe appeared on David Letterman‘s show for her broadcast premier with first single Tightrope. Watching this clip convinced me of her raw live-wire talent and the inevitable nature of her rising star. Enjoy.
That footwork! That presence! Those pipes! That band! The audience appears highly impressed. Since I’m such a nice guy, watch the original music video as well. This shit grabs me like few videos have since the 1990’s heyday of the form. Loose fun yet tightly sculpted and conceptually stylized, it’s the kind of vision I was unable to shake back in that day. The sort of video which I didn’t realize apparently still exists.
Dam-Funk, as readers well know, dropped one of the absolute hottest albums this year with the massive Toeachizown. He’s already my personal choice for biggest surprise of 2009, and his debut is looking at best of the year status. Here’s the inspiringly trippy video for infectious first single, Mirrors.
Lynch-esque employment of light and shadow! Dreamy visuals! Laser glowing keytar action! Yes!
[album is on sale at stones throw in either 2CD or 5LP format - peep the gorgeous artwork]