Fishmans – Uchu Nippon Setagaya

Have you ever heard of Fishmans? If not, that’s okay, because you’re here. I’m sharing their most incredible album. Uchu Nippon Setagaya is pure dub nirvana from Japan.

As a true believer in dub in all its permutations, I wholeheartedly consider this one of the best examples of the genre. Fishmans lit a constellation spanning the night sky from Kingston and Tokyo, mixing lush electronics, deep, wobbly bass lines, and the utterly distinct, androgynous vocals of lead singer Shinji Sato. Their final album may be the purest expression of their unmistakable sound.

Witness the coalescence of their finest single, Weather Report, named after one of the greatest jazz fusion bands of all time:

Incredible, right?

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Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

Cocteau Twins made some of the most unique music of all time. I could hear a two second clip from any song in their catalog and know instantly who it is. This is the only dream pop band that sounds like it came from actual dreams.  People tend to love everything they’ve done, or nothing at all. I’ve been addicted for years.

At the center of that iconic sound is Elizabeth Fraser’s ethereal, incomprehensible vocals. Her voice is so expressive and inscrutable, it conveys worlds of emotion and narrative without the crutch of recognizable vocals. Concrete words float to the surface now and then, throwing the mood into sharp relief. Most of the time, we’re floating along a string of syllables, interlocking melody and tone without language. It’s a real life special effect.

Here’s the title track from their greatest album, Heaven or Las Vegas.

One thing that stands out with this track is the fact that I can actually make out a portion of the lyrics, including the title phrase. It’s a rare moment of total clarity that crystalizes the punchier sound they were going for on their final release for the legendary 4ad label. Heaven or Las Vegas mutated the band’s somnambulent drift with crisper, more overtly electronic production that, to me, teased out the inherent chest-pounding catchiness of their best songs. It’s not exactly club music, but the technicolor dynamic is far better suited for high volume enjoyment with friends.

The band, including guitarist and producer Robin Guthrie and bassist Simon Raymonde, always created a consciousness-defying, holistic sound. Listening to their albums is like hearing a single living instrument more than a group of actual humans working together. With this album, they cranked up the saturation and surrendered to the groove.

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Who have I got to thank for this great musical love? Probably Gregg Araki, director of weird and weirdly tender masterpieces like Mysterious Skin and Nowhere. His aesthetic runs all over the place, sometimes feeling like nihilistic Looney Tunes, but every single one of his films are tied together with perfect dream pop and shoegaze soundtracks. For the last 25 years, Araki has introduced millions of people to the joys of Slowdive, Ride, Jesus and Mary Chain, and of course Cocteau Twins. While I can’t pinpoint exactly where I first heard this Scottish trio, it’s a safe bet that one of my teenage VHS rentals contained a song or two.

This is how I celebrate black Friday: staying in, writing, and listening to old favorites. Seeing some friends later. I’ve done buy nothing day for years now, so it’s usually like this. If you’re out and about in the shopping madness reading this, plug your headphones in and enjoy the oasis. If not, you’re probably already relaxing in your own way. For me, there’s few artists better suited for a peaceful day.

Drexciya “Andraean Sand Dunes”

Drexciya is an enigma of an act that left behind some of the greatest and strangest techno and electro music ever recorded. From the debut album Neptune’s Lair, here’s the first song I heard, the tune that hooked me and opened up an entire new world of sound.

I’d never known the outer reaches of techno until I listened to Andraean Sand Dunes.

It’s a pure exploration of genre constructs littering the ocean floor, an aquatic adventure full of energetic machine-funk pulses and glistening columns of light reaching down from the surface. This is techno for adventuring, the kind of track that makes me want to kick open my front door and run through the night, rather than dance at all. In other words, it’s more My Kind Of Thing.

While the production itself springs from the sounds and structures of classic electro, the music leans hard into futuristic Detroit techno, with a cascading synth repetition begging hypnosis rather than hip shaking. The bass line is as funky as this kind of music gets, but it’s sunk into an atmospheric wash of melody, dropping out for moments of pure untethered synthesizer flight. Head nodding never felt so aerodynamic.

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Despite my years-long love of Drexicya, I have never previously written about them on this blog. The mysterious duo of James Stinson and Gerald Donald may have dissolved after Stinson’s untimely death in 2002, but their legacy has only grown over the years. After a host of single and b-side collections were issued, their original album label Tresor began repressing the classic trio of full-lengths on vinyl. This is important, because it means that I was finally able to pick up a copy of Neptune’s Lair and own a piece of techno’s weirdest mythology. It’s not just an important and brilliant album; it’s incredibly easy to get into and enjoy. You can find a copy via Discogs or even on Amazon, though the latter’s price is outrageous.

2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生

Sometimes there’s no better way to discover music than aimlessly sliding through the dark dream of the internet.

One day at the office I was looking for something that I could drift to. I wanted a sound that stretched like taffy until it reached the horizon. I needed my surroundings blurred beyond recognition, smeared into the very fabric of reality. With 新しい日の誕生 (Birth of a New Day) by 2814, I found exactly what I was looking for.

As a writer, I rarely listen to vocal music while doing my job. The lyrics work their way into my hands, spilling into whatever piece I’m trying to finish. It’s too much of a distraction; I lose all focus. Some people do fine with hip-hop or pop music blasting while they write, and I almost envy them. Instead, I’ve settled into a groove with certain genres that help me stay on task, creating an aural environment to work in. This means that I end up playing a whole lot of jazz, techno, and ambient music for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It also means that I’m forever seeking new music with a similar hypnotic effect.

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DJ Spider – Upon The Gates Of The Great Depth

DJ Spider’s new album is a hot revelation, a refractory slab of noisy techno and deep house. Upon The Gates Of The Great Depth grabbed my attention out of nowhere this morning, leaping from a list of new releases with a sense of inevitability: “I’m going to be really into this,” I thought, seeing nothing more than the abstract cover art. As it wormed its way into my skull, lifting my cheeks in a smile, I realized that I was right.

The album opens throbbing with the sub-aquatic pulse of Drexciya, but quickly enters some outer space turmoil. This is compulsive, looping techno erupting into storms of noise and distortion, running light speed through an asteroid belt. It’ll give whiplash to anyone expecting a more traditional dance experience. All is not harsh, however: there’s a pervasive but slippery heart of deep house in DJ Spider’s work, a sense of belonging and warmth that says you belong nowhere more than here. It reminds me of spiritual embrace of my favorite DJ Sprinkles tracks.

There are moments where the addictive rhythms give way to peals of abrasive noise, like wind whipping over pixelized rocks on a blasted out digital tundra. The effect is more a gripping story than a collection of individual songs, replete with harder moments that give weight to the soaring peaks. The central dynamic pivots between an industrial  as it completes a mostly unspoken arc, rising and falling and exploding into new forms over its running time.

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Oneohtrix Point Never – Garden Of Delete

Oneohtrix Point Never has returned with a massive new album you can call G.O.D. It peels up the corner tiles of a thousand realities over 45 minutes, blooming micro-worlds of sound and immediately dissolving in head-on collisions.

For the first time in years, OPN – real name Daniel Lopatin – hasn’t completely restructured his sound, yet I’m feeling the same sense of dizzying vertigo that he’s made a career out of conjuring. In a real sense, the strongest component of his appeal has always been that daring sense of surprise, the act of an artist venturing over the edge of the known music world and bringing back sounds that I’ve never even anticipated, much less heard. More than a style, it’s an idea, a philosophy. In the wrong hands, it can become a cheap trick. This is something far more substantial.

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Beach House – Space Song

While writing about the incredible new Beach House album, Depression Cherry, I promised to share my favorite track. Now that the album is out, it’s right here streaming for your pleasure.

Space Song is the moment when the band cements its own sound, defining the new album and taking their art to a new level. If the first track kicks off like Cocteau Twins and the second drifts with My Bloody Valentine, this is where they come fully into their own sound world.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the song is without dramatic influences. This is the point that Depression Cherry starts showing its swooning, eerily classical side. This is what deeply reminds me of the music in David Lynch films, with singer Victoria Legrand’s voice rising to a new level of weightlessness that conjures the ethereal likes of Julee Cruise and Dead Can Dance. The galloping rhythm harkens back to much earlier pop, in a way that the best Spiritualized songs recombine the same five or six Elvis-era melodies in giddily unexpected ways. The best part is that Beach House have managed to pack this inspiration into a puzzle that’s unmistakably their own.

I wish that I could take a close enough picture to convey just how fuzzy and awesome the Depression Cherry vinyl sleeve is. The pictures online look like a flat, boring album cover, but holding it in my hands is a revelation. I have other albums with strange packaging, including hairy CDs from both Black Moth Super Rainbow and The Flaming Lips, but have never owned a vinyl in such a sleeve.  I just had to share that because if you can, you should buy it. You’ll want to rub your face on it.