Seashore (DJ Sprinkles Ambient Ballroom)

“It’s so easy to be confused.”

DJ Sprinkles (Terre Thaemlitz) has made it a mission to reclaim house music from the blandly hedonistic masses. As we’re reminded on the opening to 2009’s insanely perfect Midtown 120 Blues, “the house nation likes to pretend clubs are an oasis from suffering; but suffering is in here, with us.” His (Terre is “she” and Sprinkles is “he”) dreamlike house undulations evoke a distinct melancholy while oozing comfort and acceptance.

This track is a beating heart at the center of what people mean when they say emotional dance music. It can destroy anyone who’s paying attention, but it’s also incredibly addictive, a spiked dopamine drip at the center of my nervous system for 12 consecutive minutes.

“It’s so easy to be confused. It’s so hard to love ourselves and to find what’s good for our lives.”

There’s a moment in this pulsing cloud where these words pierce the veil, sending a thunder-drum to the pit of my stomach. In fades a brief spoken word passage, full of encouragement and gratitude and bravery. At the same moment, deep in the background we hear the word “faggots” emerging as part of a foggy repeated loop; it’s a knife stabbing through the narcotic cloud, upending any placid mood.  turns out it’s a loose thread of this Gil Scott-Heron song that I’ll only link the lyrics to, that makes me cringe. This juxtaposition of deeply loving and open dialogue against the sharp and ugly surrounding voices is the most affecting and honest expression of how it feels to be tender in a hard world that I’ve heard in music in a long time.

It’s about a lot more than that kernel of feeling, but this is what disarms me quickest.

The bass throb and side chain melodies flare up and the words are dissolved quickly. Only feeling remains. It’s a slow but bumpy ride down as a cascade of wordless female vocals ease the song to an end. For a few fleeting seconds, the ghosts of the dialogue echo. In a weirdly fitting twist, we hear a house cat calling to the gauzy, disembodied voices in perfect clarity. This is a perfect track.

DJ Sprinkles

Seashore is actually a remix; as part of the two and a half hour Queerifications & Ruins compilation, DJ Sprinkles radically transformed Oh, Yoko‘s original song. I’ve shared it below. If the atmosphere is at all part of the draw for you, you’ll love this dreamlike torch song as it drifts into pure mist over the course of 7 minutes. Take heart, as the cat remains.


Please, check out Terre’s website, Comatonse Recordings, to purchase any of her works. They’re not cheap, but they’re better than the gouging you’ll receive elsewhere. Here’s a link to purchase Queerifications & Ruins, where this song resides at the very center.

Rest In Peace, Tangerine Dream founder Edgar Froese

My morning news just brought word that Edgar Froese, founder of one of my favorite bands of all time, Tangerine Dream, has died at age 70. The cause of death was pulmonary embolism.

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Tangerine Dream, for those only familiar with the name via a smattering of mostly-great 1980s film soundtracks, were one of the most innovative and popular bands to emerge from the 70s German krautrock / kosmiche scene. Constantly evolving, they helped birth the modern ambient sound and informed generations of electronic music in every form. Froese was the only consistent member through dozens of lineup changes that included the luminous contributions of Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler.

Moving from spooky moonscape-scouring meditations through epic space rock and pulsing dance music, Froese never let the band stay perched on one sound for long. With over 40 years worth of music to choose from, fans of the band can never reach consensus on what is the best. Personally, my heart will always return to Rubycon. The eerie psychedelia on these two tracks laid the blueprint for ambient rock, but was so much more than a chill-out session. Analog synth arpeggios lay a spaced out bed for for a quietly propulsive rhythm. With a wash of disembodied choral voices influenced by György Ligeti, plus tactile sounds from gongs, strings, and woodwinds, the eponymous pieces build tension and ease it away like a tidal wave in slow motion.

I hope you enjoy this full album stream and, if you’re not already familiar with the band, dig in to the body of music Edgar Froese and company have left behind. I’ve collected below a selection of the most important Tangerine Dream albums. These form a distinct arc from the sparkling cosmic tones of Phaedra, when the band emerged from purely drone-based sounds into more structured orchestration, to the distinctly 80s dystopian futurism of Exit.

This music has inspired an entire wave of modern artists, including Yellow Swans, Emeralds, Bee Mask, and my favorite currently working musician, Oneohtrix Point Never. (Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Jones!) Special mention must be made of the most obvious nod toward classic Tangerine Dream I’ve featured on this site: Skyramps. The one-off collaboration between Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix) and Emeralds’ Mark McGuire soars between the ambient guitar and pulsing synth ends of the sound that Froese and company conjured at their peak. There’s no more fitting a love letter to this man’s work than listening to the albums themselves.

Here are those full length albums:

Phaedra, 1974

Ricochet, 1975

Stratosfear, 1976

Music from the Motion Picture, Sorcerer, 1977

Exit, 1981

If you’re interested in purchasing any of this legendary music, check out the band’s Discogs page for used vinyl and CDs. However, since I know barely anyone purchases music anymore, I’m happy to let you know that the vast majority of the Tangerine Dream catalog is available on Spotify. Enjoy any way you prefer!

PS: If anyone has any thoughts or recommendations to add, please leave a comment. I will be editing and amending the post with any thoughtful words my fellow fans leave here.

Edit 1:  I forgot to mention that Froese worked extensively on the music of Grand Theft Auto V, being the central mind behind that morphing, interlocking, dynamic score that elevates the game in a way over all of its predecessors. Whether the pulse pounding moodiness of a night flight in a helicopter, or the ballistic brass shards erupting during a police chase, Edward Froese gave the game a distinctive atmosphere that harkened back to Tangerine Dream’s scores for Thief (Michael Mann) and Legend (Ridley Scott) and their own mid-70s runs of lush space rock.

Alice Coltrane – Divine Songs

This is a glowing gem known only to those who have burrowed deep enough into the inimitable catalog of jazz legend Alice Coltrane.

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“Divine music is the sound of true life, wisdom, and bliss.  This music transcends geographical boundaries, language barriers, age factors; and whether educated or uneducated, it reaches deep into the heart and soul, sacred and holy…” – Alice Coltrane

Released in 1987 on cassette only, Divine Songs is the purest expression of the spiritual drone jazz sound that Alice had been perfecting ever since establishing the Shanti Anantam Ashram in the decade prior.

Soaring into ethereal space, leaving only the faintest jazz roots visible, the sound here is birthed in minimalist Indian organ modes. The atmosphere cracks open with harp and strings, shining brightly around her transcendent voice. It might not be for the casual fan, but if you’re tuned in to the celestial vibe Alice developed in the years after her husband, John Coltrane, died, you’ll settle in perfectly here.

A bonus for fans of Flying Lotus, and his album Cosmogramma in particular: keep your ears open for fleeting moments where he sampled his great aunt directly. With such a heavy influence she’s had on his music, the cameos feel especially poignant.

Progress [mixtape]

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.

Things have changed. This is Progress.

Stream above or download the mixtape on mp3.

PROGRESS

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.


Continue reading

Oneohtrix Point Never + Philip K. Dick

Today I’m taking shelter in my apartment while a certain Christian music festival rears its ugly head across the street. Fanny-packed crowds flood the streets below while devotional rock blasts through the windows. I shut the shades and find my Rifts box set, selecting the third and possibly gentlest Oneohtrix Point Never album, Russian Mind. Once the turntable is spinning, I nudge the volume a few times until I hear nothing but the gorgeous introductory drone and feel myself wash away. I’m reading VALIS, the final work by science fiction visionary and personal favorite, Philip K. Dick. It’s dense, wild, bursting with ideas in every direction at once. It’s also painfully close to my inner workings at times – a strange proposition when the book is about insanity, living information, and puzzling out the coded machinations of the universe.

Hit play now, so you can follow along:

I slide back into the book I’ve nearly completed. The wandering cadence of this story feels like the most familiar dream. When a sudden gap allows the fist pumping dogma to pierce my room from outdoors, I jump to get side B rolling as quickly as possible. The title track begins, and my eyes fall on this passage:

-
To my surprise I realized that I had stopped shaking.

It was as if I had been shaking all my life, from a chronic undercurrent of fear. Shaking, running, getting into trouble, losing the people I loved. Like a cartoon character instead of a person, I realized. A corny animation from the early Thirties. In back of all I had ever done the fear had forced me on. Now the fear had died, soothed away by the news I had heard. The news, I realized suddenly, that I had waited from the beginning to hear; created, in a sense, to be present when the news came, and for no other reason.

I could forget the dead girl. The universe itself, on its macro-cosmic level, could now cease to grieve. The wound had healed.

Not many people know me that well, but those who do will know why this hits me so hard. Especially when paired with what I was hearing.

Coming in after a song called “Grief and Repetition,” Russian Mind works a swift attack. Rejecting the overlapping, clipped dull tones of its predecessor, the song bursts forth in a warm arpeggio, taking flight above grey clouds on a stormy day, pulling right on into space. It’s simple, direct, working on a primal level; there’s nothing subliminal about the way it sets progressive thought blooming. It is, in a sense, a kernel of understanding my love for sci-fi evoking synth music. I grew up when science fiction was, if not optimistic, always framed with boundless possibility. There was fear, but not of the unknown. The fear was about our past, our old, dumb ideas still haunting us. The unknown was the future, and whatever it held was not going to hold us back. This music opens a back door, plugging me into that childhood feeling of endless curiosity and hope for what was yet to come.

I feel confident hazarding a guess that Dan Lopatin (the artist’s real name; coincidentally the son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union) was raised on similar fiction with a similar affection for the galaxy of sounds made possible via synthesizer. The more I read on, while the album neared its conclusion, the more apparent it became to me: this notion that VALIS, and the philosophy of Philip K. Dick in general, might be the author’s ultimate work. Not only that, but it may be one of the few books I’ve read that stabs toward the fundamental abyss I find myself gawking at so often. Not only that, but, given the book’s themes and plot (I won’t spoil anything), Lopatin’s work likely acknowledges both Dick and this novel in particular.

I’ll end with this tidbit, gleaned from the Wikipedia article on the name of the final track on this album:

Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing the material world.

pkd

Please, read some of Dick’s work. It’s worth all of our time.

Special thanks to my friend, collected unkept, for lending me VALIS.

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.

Flying Lotus – Tiny Tortures (video featuring Elijah Woods)

This arrived today and it is beautiful.  Echoing Akira (and Tetsuo) and some of the brilliant, creepy videos from Aphex Twin, it’s a dark, cinematic corkscrew in psychedelic miniature.  There are few videos so evocative of their namesake, working as a perfect thematic foil to the song.  Now watch, as Elijah Wood has a fucked up night.

Despite the fact that I haven’t done a full “album post” about Flying Lotus‘ latest opus, Until The Quiet Comes is easily one of my biggest repeat listens of the year.  It’s the living, breathing incarnation of what I’d always kind of hoped his work was pointing towards.  Its growth from 2010’s Cosmogramma is more organic and inevitable than the sudden leap that album made from its predecessor, breathrough lp Los Angeles; naturally, it’s less surprising how radically good this is.  I feel like I took it for granted at first: “Of course this is good.  Well there it goes in my car to stay in rotation for weeks.”  Only a handful of albums have spent so much time as regular, near-daily listen this year, and if it weren’t for Kendrick Lamar’s new release, I could have, possibly, worn it out.

Thankfully this video came along today.  Not only my favorite track, Tiny Tortures was due for some recognition.  On an album crowded with standout moments between sublime guest vocals and dizzying synth work, its sparkling meditative cascade can be mistaken as a gentle interlude.  It’s more like a brief exposure of Quiet‘s spiritual heartbeat.  It reaches transcendence in the emotive dance of its guitar and bass (by second time MVP Thundercat) over a pulse hinting at great-aunt Alice Coltrane’s organ work on one of her masterpieces.  If you haven’t listened to the album yet, here’s your chance to embrace one of the warmest electronic albums in years, a possible masterpiece of jazz and electronic music.