Witness the most cosmic act in hip-hop, Shabazz Palaces, unleashing a hyperdrive tapestry live in the KEXP studio.
The whirlwind performance shuffles tracks from the best album of 2014, Lese Majesty, unfolding fresh aspects of their sound. There’s also a fine interview, discussing the recording process and what it feels to be making music that sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth.
These guys do not fuck around.
I dug this video from my drafts after listening to the groundbreaking album, Blowout Comb, from vocalist Ishmael Butler’s previous group, Digable Planets. In one of the most improbable second acts in music history, an early 90s underground rap hero emerged over a decade later with a new (at first mysteriously anonymous) project, breaking the few remaining rules of hip-hop like some young start up. With the group’s second album, they transcended all genre definitions, creating a sound as pure as it is unique.
Shabazz Palaces have officially joined weird, pioneering heroes like Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart, Aphex Twin, and John Coltrane in truly rarefied space.
This sounds like towering columns of shattered 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.
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.
I made this in springtime, as I was coming out of an anxious, fearful period of my life. It’s the sound of an airlock opening, of stepping outside for the first time in years. It’s my fucked up, weird nostalgia for the future, and it works. This is the sound of me beginning to feel OK again. The future’s going to be alright.
Listenability and fun are the highest priorities. That being said, It’s important to me that they have some meaning, or at least a guiding theme.
Nostalgia is borne from the mixture of optimism and apocalypse, dancing throughout this hour-long trip. Here we witness the neon digital rendering of an unsettling dream as it dissipates. I wanted that feeling I experienced as a fevered child, watching movies at home from school on my side, feeling the distance from the screen to my eyes fluctuating. I felt myself healing through the delirium. It was always something dark, sci-fi, scary, weird, beautiful. I remember those moments and I try always to conjure them, to reach that place. This is my best attempt yet. This is my cyberpunk utopia.
Without revealing the track list just yet, I will say that this mixtape draws from the sounds and moods of those fantastical stories of my adolescence. The movies and books and songs that so profoundly shaped my musical tastes have influenced the work of so many artists I now love. This sound was over 30 years in the making. Nothing here is coincidental.
Some things you might find conjured within: Akira, Nintendo dreams, analog synths, space travel, Blade Runner, reflection, rain, optimism.
Below I have shared cosmic instruction and the full track listing.
Draw an imaginary map. Put a goal mark on the map where you want to go. Go walking on an actual street according to your map. If there is no street where it should be according to the map, make one by putting the obstacles aside. When you reach the goal, ask the name of the city and give flowers to the first person you meet. The map must be followed exactly, or the event has to be dropped altogether.
Ask your friends to write maps. Give your friends maps.
– Yoko Ono
Some enjoy the mystery, and some are curious. Track list appears after the break.
Just now, Flying Lotus dropped a second preview track for next month’s long anticipated album, You’re Dead! The song is titled Coronus, The Terminator, and you can listen right here:
After first single, Never Catch Me (featuring Kendrick Lamar) burst out of his studio, Flying Lotus’ longtime fans were both reassured of his musical wizardry and shaken by the first appearance of a full-on rap verse in his music. I’m smitten with the sound, a sort of hyperactive take on late 70’s psychedelic jazz marching to a stuttered hip-hop beat. Lamar’s vocals were suitably drenched in the alien atmosphere, the requisite Thundercat bass fireworks popped just right, and the ending shot off into that fuzzy space where Cosmogramma left off.
This time, a low slung beat eases us into a pool of languid falsetto funk vocals, splashing in phosphorescence. Thundercat’s presence is far more subtle here, dancing lightly around the wood-clap percussion. A traditionally “Flylo” shuffle beat materializes, driving an ascension toward the same astral plane he occupied on Mmhmm nearly 4 years ago. It’s a hermetic, relaxed little slice of space age spiritualism that works as a perfect foil to the frantic Never Catch Me.
This preview pair might give us a nice hint toward the full breadth and scope of You’re Dead! but I’m prepared for bigger surprises, come October 7. Check out the Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! page at Warp.net and make sure to watch the dizzying video preview below, featuring visuals from one of my current favorite Japanese artists, Shintaro Kago. Warning: sorta NSFW. (Second warning: may induce seizures)
You watched it right? This is the beginning of an autumn full of brilliant music.
On Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at some point after 7pm, Aphex Twin‘s first album in 13 years leaked. Syro is playing right now, and I have a grin as big as the one below.
Just as I start typing well past the halfway point of this album, a sudden dynamic bloom splits CIRCLONT14 wide open. Wordless female vocals seem to come from below and around me, before erupting a cyberpunk break straight from future-Detroit. This is one of many moments so far to truly surprise me and dilate my eyes, and it’s the biggest so far.
Somehow time seems to be stretching forever. The songs appear to go beyond their track lengths. This is a wildly unnatural sensation. Fun times usually pass in a flash. I’m definitely having fun.
A boogie funk line just hijacked the proceedings. I’m now unable to think of what came before. Wait, no. Let’s jump back to the beginning.
It begins with minipops 67. We know how grand this is, how warm and sensuous it is, referencing the first Aphex Twin album and his boldest pop moment at once. Next..
Now I’m hearing a synth ghost chorus, high speed jazzy drum programming, and what can only be described at this moment as an equatorial oscillation. Maybe that should be a question? It sounds like nonsense. I’m not going for anything profound right now. This isn’t going to end that thoughtfully. I just wanted to lay my excitement down in words, as it happens. Gonzo style. Of course, I’m safe, alone, and in my apartment, but all the same: this is me experiencing an album I never knew I wanted so badly for so many years.
As the final track, aisatsana (Anastasia in reverse, incidentally) winds down in Gymnopédie-like ecstacy, I’m reminded of nothing so gentle and haunting as Virginia Astley‘s 1983 song A Summer Long Since Passed. I’d rather not spoil anything, so just listen to this song if you want a metaphorical preview of Syro’s ending.
I feel like maybe the title is appropriate, somehow.
I’m starting it over. Track two now, and I’m realizing how tactile this thing feels. I may get the cybernetic dream sequence feeling from Selected Ambient Works 85-92, but it’s far more alive. I can’t wait for the the arrival of my 3LP next Monday.
The leak is out there. I won’t share links because anyone interested enough can find them. Besides: buy this. Buy it now. I did before hearing even the first single, and now I’m cemented in my belief that it was a Good Choice. If you’re a fan of the man at all, this is a sure shot. Check the Warp page for links to purchase.
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.
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!