Blog Archives

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up

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.

[pick this up via Sub Pop or Amazon or Insound or Undergrounghiphop and thank me later for helping you find one of the least recognized masterpieces of the past year or so]

Thank You, Music (Jesus Birthday Listening)

It will be Christmas in a few hours.  More importantly, it will be my first day off in over a month and I’m getting a head start on savoring the opportunity for a long stretch of music enhanced repose.  I realize many of you will not be reading blogs or spending time online – some of you must have families – but I feel that it’s as good a time as any in the year to express thanks and revel in the great works of sound art that enhance our lives.  Also I’d like to know what you’re spending your equivalent holiday vacation listening to, so reply if you’re interested.

What I’m into this weekend:

1. Rangers – Pan Am Stories

This one is pure six string love, through and through.  The atmosphere is warped tape and spacey reverb and psychedelic compression but the playing is hypnotic Durutti Column inspired tapestries of melodic progression.  Swinging, flowing, building and cresting and never stopping; this feels like tuning in mid-stream to some frequency of guitarist Joe Knight’s brain, no beginning or end.  It sparkles without ever feeling consciously virtuoso, yet remaining far too impolite for wallpaper listening.  Try out mid-album stunner Jane’s Well below.

2. Sepalcure – Sepalcure

The tangentially-dubstep-related duo containing Machinedrum‘s Travis Stewart and some other guy Praveen Sharma burst out of nowhere last year with a couple EPs that balanced any lack of holy shit! novelty with a more than generous dose of holy shit! punch, dynamics, and elastic rhythm and songwriting that made them instant standouts in an exponentially flattening market.  The fact that their debut LP is a blistering collection of tuneful cutting edge productions is as unsurprising as a sunrise but equally satisfying and essential.  Constant streams of ‘aha!’ sampling and percussion flourishes along with skyward bound synth pads and neck-tingling effects keep momentum with the insistent throb of bass that’s always one step ahead of tame; it’s the kind of sound that I can easily become addicted to, listening on every commute for a week.  The fact that it’s nonthreatening is only a detriment to its chances of appearing on Best of 2011 lists (I am working on one, coincidentally) because this is one of the most solid quasi-danceable electronic releases in a long while.

3. Teebs – Collections 01

My love for Teebs is a known quantity.  While his sound is an entire utopian environment unto itself, there is always room for growth and change, even for someone preternaturally adept at crafting beat-bliss pocket symphonies.  Enter his new ‘Collections’ series.  Presented as an odds and ends gathering of sorts, only hinting that it’s less of a mission statement than the debut LP in that the tracks lack consistent segues.  This half hour is more assured and ballsy than anything he’s dropped, loaded with muscular bass and distinct structures.  There’s a tangibility and sense of confidence here which the drifting vistas of Ardour couldn’t sustain over its length, and a wider palette at work.  Collaboration provides a couple standout moments:  Rebekah Raff’s sensual harp showers Verbena Tea with a transcendent light reminiscent of Alice Coltrane, while Brainfeeder newcomer Austin Peralta anchors the sub-bass throb of LSP with twinkling piano loops.  I can listen to this while cooking, cleaning, or paying the rent.  I can enjoy it day and night and often do.  I can share it with everyone with a working set of ears.

4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

So I’m still really into this.  Pornographic flights of radiance, as I said.  Something new each time I listen.  In the car, in my kitchen, in my headphones mostly.  How lucky to hear something so new and so addictive and so profoundly, unpredictably gorgeous.  Expect to hear more about this, from myself and everyone else who values adventurous leaps into the unmapped terrain of where our minds and machines can go when pushed beyond what’s known.

Listen to the whole damn album below if you haven’t, already.

I’m badly in need of rest so this post stops here.  I hope to find time tomorrow for more since this is hardly all I’ve been obsessive about.  Remember, I’d love to hear what you are into this weekend and beyond! 

CFCF – Night Bus II

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.

DOWNLOAD (right click, ‘save as’)

streaming:

full disclosure:

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?

Let Me See You Do The Tightrope

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.

You’re welcome.

[pick the album up on jmonae.com or amazon i guess.  just, somewhere]

Music For Our Future

So apparently to help promote the prequel series to Battlestar Galactica, Syfy channel has worked with Pitchfork and XLR8R to curate a far-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be compilation “inspired” by the new show, Caprica.  Rather than toss together a random selection of indie pop hits aimed at moving units, those responsible have created an ostensibly futuristic sounding mixture of left-field beat excursions, austere psychedelia, and blissed out ambience – and released Music For Our Future completely FREE of charge.

That’s right, this sublime collection is just a click away.  The best part is that the selection is of such uniformly high quality, containing several tracks unavailable elsewhere, that it would easily warrant a purchase price if they so chose.  Thankfully, their commercial impetus for appearing generous is a freewheeling invitation for those of us more into music than television to indulge in something we don’t get every day: an official mixtape that’s not only surprisingly eclectic and deep, but coherent and fluid unlike all but the best of film soundtracks.

Basically comprised of several key satellites orbiting the modern avant electronic landscape with a foot or two firmly in more well known indie territory, this playlist promises to release listeners from the shackles of gravity and set them adrift somewhere outside the oort cloud without a tether in sight.  Sliding through warm drones, cold glitch, crushing dub, rapid space grooves and minimal-everything, we’re right on the cusp of anything conceivably fitting for this particular title.

The tracklisting:

1. Lusine – Gravity

2. Atlas Sound – Walkabout

3. Hudson Mohawke – FUSE

4. White Rainbow – Raw Shanks a Million

5. King Midas Sound – Outta Space (Slow Version)

6. Low Limit – Turf Day

7. Willits and Sakamoto – Toward Water

8. The Field – I Have the Moon, You Have the Internet (Gold Panda Remix)

9. Tyondai Braxton – Uffe’s Woodshop

10. Untold – Luna

11. Nice Nice – See Waves

12. Richard Devine – Matvec Interior (feat. Otto Von Schirach)

13. Peter Kirn – Anaxagoras

[once again, this is completely FREE.  so grab it and enjoy]

Dr. Strangeloop

Are We Lost Mammals of an Approaching Transcendental Epoch?

I think so.

Evidence:  A single 18 minute post-rock-esque collage of beats, spacey atmospherics, feedback skronk, beat loops, synth swells, and percussion galore; this piece has the arc of a massive Artistic Statement album, played in double time with enough dips, curveballs, and trap doors to lock interest in a firm grasp and obliterate all sense of time passing.

Primarily a visual artist, Dr. Strangeloop (seriously, check his vimeo page now) met Brainfeeder head honcho Flying Lotus in art school, where the two became fast friends, smoking and playing atari while working on film and music.  Currently VJ-ing Brainfeeder events and working on new music, this is his first release, created about a year ago.  He has this to say about the track:

I made it about a year ago, and it is probably the strangest thing I’ve ever shepherded into this world. It is one track, 18 minutes long, very lo-fi, and I picture it as some sort of narrative about the Singularity, mystical states, and the evolution of man. It is more post-rock influenced than the stuff I’m working on now, and is divided into three idiosyncratic movements.

So that pretty much sums it up.  This video gives a good taste.

[pick this dream shard up at boomkat or through brainfeeder itself]

Dâm-Funk

Dâm-Funk, who just dropped his epic 2cd debut album Toeachizown on October 27, is set to explode heads through the end of the year and beyond with funky electro-boogie workouts the likes of which haven’t been heard since Prince and the Revolution erected bangers for the new millenium two decades early.  I’ve barely had time to absorb the 2+ hour set, much less give it a proper writeup, so here’s the video trailer featuring psychedelic space visuals and a selection of tunes from across the album.  In no way does this do the massive set justice but it’s a tasty slice to whet your appetite, and a heads up to anyone still sleeping on this guy.

Keep your eyes on Optimistic Underground, as I’ll be unleashing a full album post within the week.

-note that the spelling is *not* Dam-Funk, on the artwork-

[available on CD now at the Stones Throw store, or pre-order the ungodly gorgeous 5LP vinyl set available January 10, 2010]

Shackleton – Three EPs

Yeah.  Adventurer Shackleton

Shackleton first came to my attention late in 2008 via the sublime mix album Uproot (which I posted here in April), produced by one of my absolute favorite beatmakers, DJ /rupture.  Almost exactly one year later, this collection – entitled Three EPs – drops the definitive word thus far on his (already stellar) burgeoning career.

Earthquake-level bass lines slither beneath evasive percussion maneuvers throughout every moment of this disc, providing a cavernous bottom end to support the origami skyscrapers of of sampledelic dexterity, all wrapped in loops of pulsing synth candy.  The palpably soupy atmosphere creaks and groans like an old ghost ship refusing to sink, far removed from the climate of foggy London alleys of dubstep to altogether more obscured and claustrophobic (not to mention exotic) environs.  Sitar drones ride lines of tablas and salt shaker cymbals, disembodied vocals drift through the mix spectre-like, and a time machine’s load of futuristic effects beam us from deep underwater through the Oort cloud and back.  More than anything else, this is music to disappear into, be swallowed up for an hour and dropped out with faint knowledge of where, exactly, the journey took us.

With a darkly romantic night drift more akin to Burial‘s pitch black monster Untrue than anything strictly dubstep and a calculated iciness echoing nothing less than Muslimgauze himself, Shackleton stands neatly alone in his world.  This melange, spiced with minimal techno, middle eastern percussion tapestries and a truckload of straight dub effects, is truly a unique proposition – something felt more than heard, a necessary experience for anyone still reading.  Don’t be left out.  And, if you’re still unconvinced, merely try out There’s A Slow Train Coming, directly below.

Exactly.  Right?

 

OK, here he is for real, artist Shackleton.

 

[get familiar with this incredible set at boomkat or norman records on vinyl, or at amazon on cd (boomkat also carries the cd edition)]

Bows – Cassidy

Bows were born after the demise of brilliant post-rock pioneers Long Fin Killie, by lead guitarist and singer Luke Sutherland.  A more atmosphere- and beat-driven, nominally trip-hop associated group than its predecessor, Bows bloomed into something equally adventurous and fulfilling as the acclaimed first band.  On this album, they flew even higher.

Bows_oH5Su307aXMx_full

With a foundation in the bleeding edge of  UK PostRock, Sutherland and company’s oceanic swells bleed into entirely new territories, amplifying the latent dub tendencies of the former scene while skipping right over the forefront of then-popular Bristol trip-hop sounds into a starbursting heaven of cascading orchestral waterfalls and breathy dreampop vocals courtesy of chanteuse Signe Hoirup Wille-Jorgensen and Sutherland himself.  The enigmatic low end throb provides a bedrock for the torrent of acid-bent melodic workouts embedded with a stream of sub-consciousness lyrics and oracular percussion.

Imagine your favorite deep 90’s Bristol album draped in the gauzy atmosphere of A.R. Kane or Cocteau Twins and shot through with terrifying elation and existential anomie.  This is light years beyond that image.  Leaning away from the club floor and into the fevered minds of blissed out dreamers, it’s the pinnacle of its kind.  Perhaps the only one.

[get ahold of Cassidy at norman records, lala, or reliably, amazon]

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