Blog Archives

Gang Gang Dance – 4ad Session

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.

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Diamond Terrifier – Ascribing Essence

Diamond Terrifier is the solo project created by saxophone destroyer Sam Hillmer, as a vehicle for the exploration of more nuanced territory than the blast furnace his day job in avant-jazz-noise group Zs embodies.   He’s got a new album out which I’ll get to in a moment.

For now, check this:

Twenty seven minutes of otherworldly bliss.  I’ve now listened three times in a row.  Each set bringing something new to the fore, shifting around the sweet spots.  Each time a novel element flashes brighter: the swarming Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry echoes in the horn play, the primitively menacing percussion, the psychotic guitar threatening to derail everything at one point, even the familiar ghosts hissing between the cracks (hello, He Loved Him Madly).  It begins in earnest with Hillmer laying out a lyrical solo somewhere between siren and whale song and progresses to a full band tsunami where we have a synthy bass pulse emerging at times like a ship refusing to sink, only to rise in full sail near the end in a sax-and-laser maelstrom.

This incredible piece is just a taste of what this man creates, something taken to a much more personal and direct place on the new album, Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself.  There’s a stream of one of the tracks on the Diamond Terrifier soundcloud, though I believe it works much better as part of the whole.

There it is.  Get it at Northern Spy.  They have great prices and (seriously) fast and helpful customer relations.

For fans of: John Coltrane, Terry Riley, Boredoms, Colin Stetson, Anthony Braxton, Ultralyd, adventures

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]

Albums I Missed: 2010

So we all tend to discover some of our favorites of a given year immediately or long after it has passed.  I decided to share mine.  Despite being the first week of January, I’ve already discovered, revisited, and heard enough albums in a better light (courtesy of my brand new Sennheiser 280‘s) to start a list going.  This is the first in a series to unfold for the next month or so.  All I know for sure is that this music is at least as worthy of a listen as anything listed in Best of the Rest 2010, or even Best of 2010.

  • Forest Swords – Dagger Paths

This album I heard once, the moment it dropped.  Despite intriguing me somewhat, it managed to slip to the back of my must list and languished for the rest of the year.  Spotting its placement on several highly respectable year-end lists, I felt compelled to give it another chance.  So thank you, fellow list makers.  Especially my friend at Bubblegum Cage III.  What sets this material apart from the beat scene or the solo-psych-project folks – or anyone else for that matter – is the serpentine guitar work and murky, lived-in feel of every moment.  Lurching beats dangled around thunderous, bassy guitar melodies and an almost tribal, foot stomping ethos, this (frankly) astounding debut sounds like the work of an accomplished veteran, confidently going out on a limb, then rising, rising, rising.  The only direct reference point I have is Gang Gang Dance, live, lately.  Don’t look to their records for anything like this;  you had to be there.  Thankfully that ecstatic experience seems to be just what Forest Swords aims for and achieves on this album.

  • How To Dress Well – Love Remains

Honestly, I kept away from this one out of sheer knee-jerk hipster/pitchfork/etc rejection.  I shouldn’t have.  It’s so much more (and less, in a good way) than what it’s been sold as.  Far more psychedelic than any description employing “r&b” infers, it’s a syrupy miasma of primal notions and half-thoughts, the bits and bytes of heartache and longing twisted up in a melting dream logic David Lynch would be proud of.  This is drone music for the dance party comedown, dance music for the somnambulist, love songs for the fucked up.

  • Shackleton – Fabric 55

So I had the impression that Fabric mixes were simply a series in which an artist makes a DJ mix of other artists work.  Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re just alright.. but they’re never essential or brilliant like the artist’s own work.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Shackleton mines his own discography, past present and future, using elements of his Three EPs release as thematic glue to bind a striking set of 22 tracks that, to me, is possibly the final word on dubstep as we know it.  One listen through and I’m already confident that I’ll be spinning this more than his prior album – and I absolutely LOVE that album.  This one is simply more vibrant, active, playful.  It shuffles off on an oceanic dub odyssey, seamlessly whirling through almost 80 minutes of depth charge awe.  The fact that I ignored this profoundly satisfying set, from a personal favorite artist, makes my head spin.

If you’ve got suggestions for something I may fall in love with, please leave a comment.  We all benefit from hindsight.  MORE to come…

Always Loved A Film

Underworld drop their latest studio album, Barking, on September 14th and are teasing it with the hilarious (and hilariously badass) video for second single Always Loved A Film.  Skateboarding, shoplifting, drinking, girls, joyrides and more… from a group of deliriously ecstatic senior citizens!

I’m guessing it’s a reflection of, or sly commentary on, the men behind Underworld‘s “grandfather” status in the electronic music realm.  They’ve come back with their most straightfoward party starting album (at least since the blissed out live Everything, Everything album and DVD) at a time when most of their peers are curating soft jazz shows on NPR or laying low in the south of France or some such idyllic place.  It may not be the most original slice of dance nirvana or within spitting distance of the band’s 1990’s apex (see Second Toughest In The Infants right here on Optimistic Underground for that) but it sure gets my blood pumping more than most of what 2010 has had to offer.

All I’ll say beyond that is to watch the entire video.  To say things escalate beyond mere (displaced) adolescent destruction is an understatement:  this ride gets wilder until the very last frame.  Enjoy

[pick up Barking soon at amazon or basically anywhere on the 14th.  as a longtime fan I can attest it's a worthy purchase]

Grackle – Desert Acid

Grackle was a complete mystery to me only a few weeks ago.  Named after a small black bird I see often around the neighborhood, the name dared me to indulge, inflaming my curiosity.  This turned out to be a far-more-than-worthy gamble, as William Burnett (aka Grackle) brings a shitload of personality, energy, and hardened swagger to a corner of the electronic music world often lacking in all of the above.

Ostensibly a moody space disco number, the title track evokes everything from laser-pocked 80’s sci-fi soundtracks to smokey funk bangers, its rhythm deftly negotiating an absolute stampede of bass, yet never once feels any older than Right Now.  It’s the score to nighttime escapades in the Grand Canyon on a clear night, possibly in some future dystopia where the desolate  home of the Roadrunner is the only solace from the onslaught of modern living.  The set-opening Musiccargo remix feels like a primal dance around and through a brush fire, a stomping, clattering frenzy let loose when the crisp air first hits and the wild starts to take over.  A 4/4 motorik pulse glides the momentum on rails straight into the main feature before you’re even aware of what’s happening.  Afterward, the sparkling skyward view beckons and we’re flat on our backs, feeling the draw of space and the sounds of satellites.  The Sombrero Galaxy version draws out the meditative (and frankly psychedelic) aspects of the track, riding through hot aquatic swells bathed in that surface-of-Venus skyline in Blade Runner.  Twinkling synth stabs illuminate romantically pleading horn waves, sending shivers up the spine while the martial lockstep percussion wanders off towards a hazy oasis.  We’re gently brought back to earth the the tune of splashing water and distant laughter.  Finally rounding up this drum-tight selection is an original titled We Are It, feeling like a mysteriously shrouded cousin of some of Gothenburg’s finest club crushers.  All buzzing seaside guitars and breathy vocals, snaking their way through wavering key lines and plinking drum taps, it’s 4am, long after the beach party died down.  So Grackle leaves us by the salvation of water, after all.  Starting out in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert (with possibly a satchel of peyote buttons) has been redefined into something not only desirable, but vital.  If you grew up in the same era as I did (reading this, you probably did) – expect to have all your deep pleasure centers massaged over these 23 minutes.  Take this trip and call me in the morning.

[grab this EP at boomkat, junodownload, or on 12" from kompakt]

Boredoms – Voaltz/Relerer

Boredoms are one of the greatest living bands on the planet.  Here is an obscure, tangential testament to that unavoidable fact.

This highly evolved tribal psychedelic rock juggernaut exists on their own terms, in their own world, above and beyond the perceptions and ambitions of mere mortals.  Frontman Yamantaka eYe is reported to be at least 200 years old and fueled entirely by advanced nuclear photosynthesis – not to mention a mould-shattering, epoch-defining musical genius.  Birthed in the chaos-as-art nebula of 1980’s Osaka, Japan, Boredoms grew from noise-assault pranksters with more than a hint of potential to the Weird Kings of the original Lollapalooza with a little help from American fans Nirvana and Sonic Youth in merely half a decade.  Eternally restless, they next entered the experimental cocoon of Super Roots, emerging at the tail end of the 1990’s as a sun-worshipping tribal-drone-trance monolith, devouring lesser bands and bridging the gap between primal violence and avant garde jazz like an acid-frenzied Colossus of Rhodes.  Throughout the current decade, the band has danced extensively with electronic manipulation and outright reconstruction through eYe’s increasing flirtation with DJ culture, and Voaltz/Relerer is one of the many joyous, dance-floor ready permutations they’ve birthed lately.  Consisting of percussion-centered tranced out remixes of two tracks included with the Live At Sunflancisco DVD, this 12″ rarity is essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in the band; or anyone still reading for that matter.  Give it a spin (via the album artwork above) and try resisting the sorta exorbitantly priced copies available below.

(Special thanks to Ackibear for bringing this to my ears!)

 

[highly sought after and extremely rare, this 12" can be procured on the discogs marketplace and few other sources]

Gang Gang Dance – Crystals

New Gang Gang Dance material.  It’s called Crystals, and it’s mighty promising.  This is an epic on the scale of their earlier God’s Money centerpiece, Egowar.  Which, as it happens, is my favorite track from these boundary destroying folks.

Yes, finalizing my last post reminded me of one of the best pre-release tracks I’ve heard in a long time.  Yes, I’m speaking of their new live favorite.  And yes, it’s beyond fucking incredible.  Hit play, turn on the “HQ” version if possible (for the sound quality) and leave a comment about what you think.  I have faith.

Noonday Underground – Surface Noise

Noonday Underground is the sun drenched soulful electronic project from Simon Dine (formerly of Adventures in Stereo) which flies across the radar first appearing as a retro throwback, slowly revealing its entirely inventive and modern structure and intricate production detailing.  Submerged in everything 60’s-cool, from exotica to California pop and Motown swagger, Dine weaves evocative time-travel textures shot through by every technique at his disposal in a modern studio.  It’s a deliciously supple blend which has gone virtually unnoticed far too long.

Graphic 001

Stretching out on the wider canvas of this second LP, the album opens with orchestral pomp straight out of a climactic film score, doubling over into a breakbeat laden lounge simmer before sliding directly into first single Boy Like A Timebomb.  Slow-burn vocals by Daisey Martey (of Morcheeba) manage to steal the spotlight from the deep groove brass section and massive drum fills, evoking the passionate gravity of classic soul sirens and sultry Bristol trip hop birds alike.  While ostensibly Dine’s partner in crime throughout the band’s early career, she is joined by a menagerie of crooners on this outing; most notable is early supporter and famously soul-infatuated former front man of The Jam and The Style Council, the preeminent Paul Weller.  His turn on the emphatic I’ll Walk Right On is one of the unquestionable highlights on this platter, already stuffed to the gills with one gem after another.  While the smokey atmosphere, dubby bass and loose percussive nature begs comparisons to modern acts like DJ Shadow or Portishead, the surface feel itself is indebted to the exotic sheen of composer John Barry and his quintessentially cool film scores.  Every listen to this album transports me to a space where I’m suiting up in a peaked-lapel tuxedo and ordering a gin-vodka martini, shaken and served in a deep goblet with a thin slice of lemon peel, all the while zipping over the clouds in a chrome-accented private jet on the way to some hidden volcanic island.  Yes, it’s that evocative.  Turn it on, turn it up, and get to the runway – there’s plenty of room on this trip.

[the Japanese release (with 2 bonus cuts) can be found at amazon for a better price than used original copies, while norman records supposedly has a standard priced copy in stock, and eil will let you request the next available unit.  yeah, it's a bit hard to track down]

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