I’m new to k-pop but I’ve often enjoyed what little I have heard in the past, far more than American counterparts in the sugary pop game. Other than Taylor Swift, there’s nothing currently on Top 40 radio that I’m remotely interested in. I like to hear pop that crackles with audacity. This brings me to the earworm-worthy tune below: Red Light, the first song I heard by Korean pop stars 에프엑스 – aka f(x).
Also, here’s my favorite comment on the video page:
Patrick Bateman: “They seem like nice Amish girls.”
I know I’m not supposed to look at the comments. Especially me. I even have an award at my office for Angering The Most Racists in light of certain shenanigans. Still, I’m perpetually drawn back, beating my eyes against the tide of Internet Comments. At least I’ve learned to stop commenting myself. Some of the time.
A Clockwork Orange with remote control trucks?
Following that tangent, I’ll leave you with a request:
Please comment here! I miss getting regular feedback from friends and strangers! I miss hearing new music when someone sees what I’m into and has a suggestion of their own. That interaction is the genesis of this post. I was curious about k-pop and a knowledgeable friend shared a few key songs that he felt I’d enjoy. This sort of art discovery isjust the best.
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.
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.
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…
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 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.