Arca – Xen

This sounds like towering columns of shattering light, the kind of futuristic timbres that I associate with crystalline sky cathedrals in some imagined Final Fantasy game.

Arca‘s constructions remind me of the fierce creativity that bursts from the most surprising Aphex Twin singles. I don’t mean to put him on the same level; this music simply conjures that same joyful sense of surprise that only a handful of artists seem capable of. Surprise isn’t everything, but it makes a huge impression here. You haven’t heard anything quite like this before.

The music video for the title track cements that nascent Aphex Twin connection in my mind. If you’re a fan of I Care Because You Do or the Rubber Johnny video, you’re going to love this. You also know exactly what I mean about cementing the connection.

Here’s a favorite track of mine, halfway between the relaxed and spastic-laser-beam ends of the album:

The album itself is buttoned together by a sweeping sense of narrative and pacing, with slow dreams buffering the sharp edged experiments and deep bass explorations. It’s far more than an intriguing experiment; it’s lived in, thoughtful electronic storytelling.

You’ll probably find this cutting through your mind, if you’re a fan of the alien architecture of Oneohtrix Point Never, the neon contrast footwork of DJ Rashad, the depth charge techno of Andy Stott, the weird end of Warp‘s catalog, or even Kanye West – Arca helped craft his ear shattering album Yeezus.

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This was the first album I discovered well into 2015 that I might have included on my best of the year list. You can buy Xen via links on Arca’s Soundcloud page, or listen free on spotify right now.

Rubber Johnny, the most bonkers of all Aphex Twin videos

I just needed to share this right now.

I forgot for the longest time. I had somehow missed the opportunity to share this infamous and absolutely captivating music video on Optimistic Underground for a long, long time. It’s based on one of the final songs on Aphex Twin‘s spastic genius monument, Drukqs, and it’s one of the most unforgettable videos you’ll ever see.

There’s not much to say about this, other than make sure to pick your jaw up after it’s over, and try not to be upset if it takes you outside your comfort zone!

aphex-rubberjohnny

Enjoy!

The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

This album is GOD.

I haven’t been back to Optimistic Underground in a while.  There has been a lot going on in life but as always I’m continuously immersed in music.  Lately, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve been listening to a lot of my personal favorite albums in an effort to tap into the exhilaration of something I know I love.  I think I’m also looking for inspiration, and answers.  What elevated these particular pieces of music to a realm of formative life experiences?  These are the albums I used to burrow into for months, knowing every nook and cranny, knowing the texture and contours like my own skin.. and yet they’re a revelation once again with the right mixture of time, decay, perspective, distance, environment and attitude.  It’s probably more than that.  My ears have changed, not to mention my tastes.  Yet the true greats will always have a place; it takes at least time to sort them from the intense but short love affairs with slightly lesser albums.

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One of the most striking moments in my listening life happened the night I heard The Flaming Lips‘ 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, driving though rural back roads with a friend who had just purchased the CD blindly.  He’d picked up Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and asked if the band was any good; I replied with some half thought that I’d heard “their older stuff was better” without any clue if I was even thinking of the right band.  In response, my friend bought the only other CD available and inadvertently changed my (musical) life forever.  The warbling tape orchestra, the out-of-nowhere bass thunder on the second track, and that melody on The Spark That Bled had me instantly.  I was distracted to the point that I remember images of my stereo, the booklet in my hands, the music and exclaiming about it, and not the drive itself.  The friend wanted a blank CD and I gave him one on the condition that I borrow this new Flaming Lips thing for the night.  I listened half a dozen times before bed.  I scoured the band’s website, where the entirety of Yoshimi and a handful of earlier album songs streamed free (this was extremely novel and rare at the time, about 2002).  I became a total diehard fan in a matter of weeks.

This is all to preface the fact that when I dug through my collection after moving – when the cds and vinyl are all out in the open like that, it’s easier to become excited about certain albums – I had a lurch in my heart toward this album.  I needed to hear it.  My soul was calling to it, or being called.  The next thing that happened was.. despite never having had much of an extended break from hearing it, I was getting the fresh, brightening outlook, rising sun, open chakra, wide eyed feeling all over again, a decade later.  The thing that meant most to me at the time, I believe, was this feeling of new possibilities and opportunities everywhere.  This adventurous, brave, open and attentive nature was overtaking me and my outlook on life literally widened in scope.  It was a confluence of events and life changes, but The Soft Bulletin crystallized that feeling in a single disc I could grasp forever.  It was exciting; all the rough, unnerving bits that hit me by surprise like sudden deer in the headlights became the very signposts for the change I was seeking.  This album is not only different from what the band was doing, what was accepted and loved in pop music, and what I’d been into until that moment, it actually embodies that jarring, eye-popping thunderclap of sudden and real change in life.  The songs each take off like a homemade rocket, reaching space against all odds in some miracle of ingenuity and love.  This is not something I take lightly.

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I came here today merely to share the following documentary but was overcome by my continent of feeling for this album.  I could drift for days on how this makes me feel.  I know it was released last year but I only came upon it during my recent binge and was blown away by the reverence and passion the band still have for this masterpiece.  It not only delves into the nuts-and-bolts creation of the music itself but also dissects a bit of what makes it such a personal touchstone for a certain set of folks.  If you’re already a fan, be prepared to have your nostalgia drive working overtime and keep the album handy for an inevitable post-viewing listen.  If you are unfamiliar, I kind of envy your position.  This is beautiful new territory, and in my view the documentary will make a perfect introduction.

I must note for the diehard fans that the audio used in most of this appears to be from the 5.1 and/or recent vinyl issue of the album.  If you’re as irredeemably familiar with this music as I am, it’ll be a nice experience to get hands on either of those releases and hear this music rendered in a slightly different (clearer?) light.

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! 

ATTN: unintentional hiatus.

Or: I will not have much opportunity for internet-related anything for the next month, but would love if any of you friendly charitable readers / friends / good samaratins could help keep me up to date on great music still being released in the late hours of this year.

So please, leave a comment here and let me know what you’re into, the triumphs and sure shots and surprise masterpieces I’m missing out on.  I promise to get myself caught up in due time and come roaring back with a vengeance.  This is a time of patience and focus for me, and the words are building up.

For now, I leave you with one of the greatest pieces of music ever recorded: After The Flood, by Talk Talk.

I once said “This song is a sentient being,” and I still stand by that statement.

Found A Job

First: sorry I’ve been sort of quiet for a few weeks.

Second:  this.

It’s true.  This one pays far more than my prior occupation so it’s worth the being-busy-all-the-time aspect.  However I have not – cannot – neglect music and thus always have something worth sharing with the world.  Every commute, every bicycle ride, every nighttime book devouring session is accompanied by something new, expansive, exciting…  punctuated by old favorites I find myself doubled over with joy upon re-hearing.  So I’ve got something to say.

Unfortunately I worked my brains out today and must save the in-depth breathless praise and wild exhortations to purchase vinyl for the remainder of the weekend.  I will simply state that there are a few albums I’m quite taken with, continually listen to, and wish that more people would get familiar with.  These are a few of them:

United WatersYour First Ever River

Sensations’ FixFragments of Light

Robert FrippLet The Power Fall

Fleetwood MacTusk

Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

ThundercatGolden Age of the Apocalypse

and finally, with apologies to the artist herself:

Matana RobertsCoin Coin Chapter One: Gens De Colour Libres

Because this is, by some distance, one of the most powerful and heartfelt albums of 2011 and I really should have shared all about it when I got it months ago.  I promise – I swear – I will soon.  Keep an eye on this page, and stay ready for the deluge.

The Durutti Column – “Otis”

Another sleepless night for me…

My favorite guitarist of all time, Vini Reilly, was also a pioneer with regards to sampling in an ostensibly rock context.  His Factory label boss, mentor, and best friend Tony Wilson famously discouraged Vini’s use of vocals in Durutti Column recordings, feeling he was far better at literally every aspect of music creation than singing.  This obviously contributed to his daring and invigorating use of sampling (and later, frequent female guest vocalists), highlighted by this brilliant piece from the center of his eponymous Vini Reilly LP, released in 1989.  A rising arpeggio gives way to a typically gorgeous guitar ramble before the song slides into perfection with recontextualized phrases from Otis Redding‘s (also typically gorgeous) Pain In My Heart and Tracy Chapman‘s heartbreaking Behind The Wall (listen, seriousl) and cements its place in any hypothetical Top 10 Durutti Column countdown.

I must note that, indeed, a far more famous and recent use of a classic Redding sample exists, but Jay-Z and Kanye West‘s same-named Otis borrows far more liberally (and literally) from Try A Little Tenderness…  which I’ve always found quite affecting in a certain other context:

[you basically owe it to yourself and the perennially under-acknowledged Durutti Column to get the album at theDuruttiColumn.com.  Really, get any of his nearly 2 dozen albums.  Anywhere.]