Lil Yachty: Lil Boat 2
Date: Mar 18, 2018
The guests don’t sound like they’re having much fun either.
Lil Yachty doesn’t consider himself a rapper, and maybe it’s time we stopped thinking of him as one. After all, most of his appeal comes from somewhere else: his flippant punk attitude towards the rap canon; the way he wraps himself in a candy-colored glow and then says the most disgusting shit; his self-marketing as a patron saint to marginalized groups (more believable if you ignore the execrable things he says about women and his inability to resist a Migos feature); and the fact that his best songs are usually the ones where he sings.
It’s disheartening, then, that Yachty has recently ditched most of what makes him great. His last album, Teenage Emotions, had some of his best songs, including the transcendent Stefflon Don collaboration “Better,” but devoted an inordinate amount of time to freestyles and battle raps that found the typically breezy rapper scrambling to spit words out of his mouth. He sounded like he was trying to rap rather than actually rapping, and it negative and aggressive, at odds with the way he wryly contrasts threats and graphic sex narratives with an aesthetic summed up by a Target commercial where he catches Swedish fish off a boat. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Bad Gyal: Worldwide Angel
Date: Mar 14, 2018
It’s no secret that Alba Farelo models her Bad Gyal persona after Rihanna.
It’s no secret that the Catalan singer Alba Farelo models her Bad Gyal persona after Rihanna. Her breakthrough single “Pai” was a remix of “Work,” and even on her second tape Worldwide Angel there’s a song called “Tra,” whose title means “work” and whose hook is no less ingratiating. The music industry is chock-full of fake Rihannas, of course, but what made Bad Gyal and her fantastic Slow Wine Mixtape from 2016 stand out was how well she inhabited the conversational ease of her idol. Her lyrics—sung in English, Catalan, and Spanish—were mostly about smoking weed and getting paid. But there was a mischief in her voice that made it clear she was in on the joke, just like Rihanna on her genre pieces like “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
Worldwide Angel, unfortunately, lands a little closer to “Diamonds” territory. These songs are anthems, built for arenas rather than the decadent, weed- and vodka-fueled journeys between them. It’s hard to ignore how much “Internationally” sounds like the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” and though it has a production credit from post-club patron saint Jam City, it sounds like pop rather than avant-pop; hackneyed chord progressions played on weird synth sounds haven’t been cutting-edge since about 2014. And amid all the bluster, Bad Gyal’s personality is lost in the mix. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Annie Lennox: Diva/Medusa
Date: Mar 12, 2018
Some of the most immersive pop of their time.
At its best, Annie Lennox’s music is as deep, comforting and mysterious as that of Sade, the Blue Nile, or any of the other great sophisticated pop acts from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. But in Lennox’s voice there’s a certain acidity that grounds us firmly in reality rather than suave fantasy. Ugly, real emotions are never far beneath the illusion, and on her cover of “Take Me to the River” or as she whispers into the mic on “Why,” she’s ready to kill. Even on something as atmospheric as “Downtown Lights,” she never allows herself to disappear into the mix. Helen Folasade Adu never loses her cool, but Lennox ends her best-known solo song, a jaw-dropping cover of obscure British band The Lover Speaks’ “No More I Love You’s,” by bursting into tears. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Gigi Masin: Kite
Date: Mar 08, 2018
An album outside time.
The Italian ambient artist Gigi Masin released his first album Wind in 1986, but for all intents and purposes he’s an upstart. His early music didn’t sell, and for most of his career he was best-known to the hip-hop crate-diggers that worked his “Clouds” into beats for everyone from Björk to Post Malone. It’s because of 2014’s Talk to the Windcompilation and his subsequent formation of the band Gaussian Curve that he’s been known to a broader audience.
Kite is Masin’s first album since 2001’s Lontano, and it doesn’t sound much like anything else he’s made. His previous albums were restless, sometimes too much so; they flirted with jazz and minimalism, singing and spoken word, and their indulgences could come across as a little corny. Kite sticks to a single sound, dominated by acoustic piano and shadowed by faraway pads. It doesn’t really feel like classical music, but it evokes a sort of Grecian stateliness that can be represented in white temples, seaside cliffs, mosaics at the bottom of sparking fountains. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Ryuichi Sakamoto: async remodels
Date: Mar 04, 2018
Ryuichi Sakamoto is sort of a Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder for experimental electronic music.
yuichi Sakamoto is sort of a Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder for experimental electronic music, a happy-go-lucky, slightly-batty great-uncle whose work is essentially harmless even at its most esoteric. When faced with a prickly collaborator like Alva Noto or Christian Fennesz, his instinctive reaction is to offset their noise with placid piano. It’s interesting to see how the tracks on last year’s async fare in the hands of a cast of acolytes whose work largely adheres to the postmodern hellscape aesthetic prevalent in left-field electronic music. async remodels is as much a gritty reboot as a remix album, and though it’s alluringly prickly, it sacrifices a lot of what makes async special, like its innocence and its bittersweet awareness of the transience of life.
Most of the 11 remixes—many of the same songs—add rather than subtract, demonstrating how a few small alterations can change a piece for better or worse. The remix most in line with Sakamoto’s vision is Daniel Lopatin’s take on “andata,” which is more or less identical to the original until he puckishly turns up the reverb on a single piano note and lets his trademark sine-wave swell out of the depths of the mix. Not many producers are better at mechanized melancholy than Lopatin, and his hangdog synths work wonderfully with “andata”’s painfully plaintive piano motif. His strategy isn’t dissimilar to Cornelius’, whose “ZURE” remix augments the original with foley sound effects but feels too cartoonish to work with Sakamoto’s sad synths. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
U.S. Girls Make Unsettling Pop to Fool Us All on ‘In A Poem Unlimited’
Date: Feb 28, 2018
Meghan Remy, like so many great songwriters before her, has discovered the potential of a catchy melody to hoodwink listeners. Ever listen to a cheery song and hum along, then pay attention to the lyrics and feel like a spider’s crawled up your arm? That’s the effect Remy’s going for on In A Poem Unlimited, her sixth album with the unsettling pop project U.S. Girls.
On “Pearly Gates,” Remy finds a creative way to get into heaven. “Velvet 4 Sale” is about killing a jealous ex-lover. “Rage Of Plastics” is about infertility in an industrial hellscape. “Incidental Boogie” is about domestic violence, “M.A.H.” about the false promises of the Obama administration. All over music that twinkles like mirror balls and stomps like Marshall stacks. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Aaron Carter: LØVË
Date: Feb 27, 2018
LØVË is smart to cast Carter as a middle-of-the-road male pop star.
LØVË is where Aaron Carter grows up, reckons with himself and his emotions, starts swearing and singing about sex, dyes his hair Joker-green and trades in featherweight pop-rap for lumbering EDM behemoths a tech bro could feel okay liking. We’ve seen all this before.
What’s different is that it’s 15 years after the fact. Carter debuted in 1997, aged 10, as a maybe-a-little-too upbeat child pop star. He had a good run and seemed to retire after 2002’s Another Earthquake!, after which he became the proverbial child star gone south; he got in trouble with the law, went into treatment, briefly went bankrupt, tweeted and retracted an endorsement for Donald Trump. At a discomfiting 2013 performance at Eugene, OR’s 600-capacity W.O.W Hall, he was glassy-eyed, throwing roses at the crowd and paying no attention to where they landed. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Alva Noto/Ryuichi Sakamoto: Glass
Date: Feb 26, 2018
A promising development in a 15-year musical dialogue that’s far from over.
Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Glass is unique among the duo’s collaborations in that it’s holistic, blending the artists’ personalities instead of exploiting their differences.
Alva Noto, born Carsten Nicolai, lent his name to the Noton label, a name synonymous with some of the most extreme and austere electronic music of the last two decades. Just last month, Noton released Live 2002, a collaboration between Noto and fellow fringe electronic musicians Ryoji Ikeda and Mika Vainio that felt too austere to be live.
Ryuichi Sakamoto is a happy-go-lucky figure by comparison, known for his placid movie scores and his crucial role in the influential and aggressively goofy Yellow Magic Orchestra. The duo have recorded a series of five good-to-great albums together, the first two of which—2002’s Vrioon and 2005’s Insen—remain classics of the clicks-and-cuts genre. Interestingly, they’re also responsible for the score for The Revenant. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Stef Chura: Messes (Reissue)
Date: Feb 21, 2018
This is a strange gambit, but it’s a canny one.
What a voice Detroit’s Stef Chura has: an elastic, filigreed thing that puts intelligibility dead last on its list of priorities to revel in its potential as a psychedelic instrument. She wails, switches accents and stretches simple turns of phrase into abstract sewer sludge. She’ll pronounce an innocuous phrase like “down the road” with perfect clarity on one chorus (“Slow Motion”) and on the next turn it into a buffalo grunt. This is less of a rock ’n’ roll vocal than a hot slurry poured over the music and left to bubble and seethe. It’s a master class in vocal trolling, and it’s no wonder she’s called her debut album Messes.
This is unusual in today’s indie rock climate, which tends to favor the Lou Reed approach to singing—sacrificing as much artifice as the singer can afford. Chura’s voice is more like Nico in a black hole, or perhaps Chrissie Hynde mixed with Young Thug. Instead of using the music as a means of communicating the lyrics, Chura leaves it up to the listener to sift out what’s a poignant turn of phrase and what’s syllable soup. Her frequent unintelligibility invites repeat listens. This is a scenery-chewing performance that seems destined to provoke extreme reactions. You’ll either be enthralled by the way she exploits the muscles in her mouth and throat or you’ll read it as mere caterwauling. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Elysia Crampton in San Francisco
Date: Feb 17, 2018
Elysia Crampton opened for her own set at The Midway with a lecture, which was either presumptuous or gutsy. You might expect to see, say, Steve Reich discuss his intentions before performing his latest piece, but it’s a different story for an obscure electronic musician performing at a dance club, even one whose music is as heady and idea-driven as Crampton’s.
The Midway is a multi-purpose venue in Dogpatch, a partially gentrified district where hip breweries and boxy condos coexist only blocks from the ruins of shipyards and factories. It usually hosts big dance parties, and it took a second to register that the room where Crampton was set to perform was the same one I’d seen Call Super in a few months earlier. But instead of dancers and strobe lights, the room was arranged like a classroom, with a few rows of chairs perched perilously close to the speakers. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Date: Feb 15, 2018
Montero is enamored with the art of arrangement.
Before Ben Montero won the Internet with his wholesome, psychedelic comics about frogs and birds, he authored a comic titled “Lee Hazlewood Kicking Jonathan Richman’s Ass,” which shows exactly that: the cosmic cowboy kicking around the Boston bard, who accepts his fate with a smile on his face as his skinny frame flops around. It’s hard to say if Montero’s just enamored with the image or if he’s trying to make a statement; the two artists don’t have enough in common for saying one’s better than the other to say much.
Richman’s the better songwriter for my money, but listening to Montero’s music, it’s easy to see why he’d root for Hazlewood. Montero is enamored with the art of arrangement, and though his new album is called Performer, he’s more of a pop auteur in the vein of Hazlewood, Todd Rundgren and other ubiquitous, underloved talents. Though Montero spends a lot of time with the Tame Impala crowd and heavily features that band’s Jay Watson here, his music isn’t rock but pop, made by someone who knows the difference. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Pendant: Make Me Know You Sweet
Date: Feb 12, 2018
Brian Leeds’ most spellbinding submersion yet.
Make Me Know You Sweet, released as Pendant, is Brian Leeds’ most spellbinding submersion yet into the depths of desolate turn-of-the-millennium ambient. This isn’t a cushy floating cloud but a vast neural network through which atrophied bits of sound crawl aimlessly towards oblivion. It shouldn’t be anyone’s first ambient album—nor anyone’s first Brian Leeds album—but there’s beauty in its corrugated landscape.
While the ambient zeitgeist is largely preoccupied with ‘80s Japan and ‘70s cosmic synth music, Leeds, who typically records as Huerco S., takes more inspiration from the IDM-adjacent movement that encompassed the glitch music of Oval and the ambient dub of artists like Vladislav Delay and Pole. Reference points are a little less obvious here, though a cut-up bell sound on a few tracks brings to mind turntablist Philip Jeck.
What’s amazing about Make Me Know You Sweet is how it creates the feeling of this era of ambient without explicitly evoking it. It’s just all there: the unfriendly digital crackles, the omnipresent wind, the little sounds that seem suspended in midair. Even the titles sound like long-lost .exe files. Look elsewhere for soothing synth chords or agreeable melodies; even the twinkling sequencer on “BBN-UWZ” sounds diseased. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
MGMT: Little Dark Age
Date: Feb 11, 2018
Little Dark Age drips with unease.
One imagines a pang of dread shooting through the members of MGMT as their debut album, Oracular Spectacular, turned 10 last month. For better or for worse, Oracular Spectacular is now a classic, and its three titanic hit singles—“Kids,” “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel”—show no signs of going away. Most bands would be pleased to have a legacy set in stone, but MGMT have spent the better part of the last decade trying to distance themselves from pop stardom and prove to the world—or to themselves—that they’re a serious experimental band.
They’ve succeeded, sort of. Though most of the world will always know MGMT for their hits, we no longer have any safe expectations for the “next MGMT album,” and it makes perfect sense that they’re ditching the psych-poppet affectations to reposition themselves as compadres of Ariel Pink and John Maus. Little Dark Age, the duo’s long-gestating fourth album, casts them as graveyard goths whose madcap sense of humor barely keeps the bad vibes at bay. That it works is a testament to just how unpredictable this band has become in its experimental period. (Click ‘web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Mika Vainio + Ryoji Ikeda + Alva Noto: Live 2002
Date: Feb 08, 2018
Live 2002 is improvised, and most of it is careful and controlled.
Don’t expect anyone flicking a lighter and shouting “woo!” when Ryoji Ikeda hits a perfect 12,000-hertz tone. Live 2002, the only recording of fringe electronic musicians Ikeda, Mika Vainio and Alva Noto performing together, doesn’t sound much like a live album: no audience noise, none of that slight muddiness that lets you know it’s not a polished studio product. If you told me the “live” packaging was a prank and this wasn’t recorded at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle after all, I wouldn’t blink. After all, that’d be in line with the attitude of the Y2K-era computer music on labels like Mego, Mille Plateaux and Raster-Noton, which could be as puckish and capricious as it was abrasive and austere.
Live 2002 is no walk in the park for the casual listener, but it’s a good entry point to this music. This is in part because it’s so hard to tell who’s doing what here that eventually Live 2002 stops being an album and instead becomes a sort of platonic ideal of turn-of-the-millennium laptop music. It could be an album from Pan Sonic, the late Vainio’s vaunted noise duo with Ilpo Väisänen; it could be a Noto record. The only sound that’s easy to pinpoint is the sine tones that screech at the edges of the music, which are probably Ikeda but not necessarily. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)
Camila Cabello: Camila
Date: Feb 06, 2018
Camila is such a rush-job, but it’s understandable.
Camila Cabello’s solo debut Camila is the rare album where we get to see a pop star grow in real time—but it’s easy to wish more of that growth had happened before she actually dropped the album. After a less-than-amiable split from “The X Factor” girl group Fifth Harmony, Cabello hedged her solo bets on a sappy Sia song called “Crying in the Club,” which stalled halfway up the charts. It was subsequent single “Havana” that shot to the stratosphere instead, and knowing she had to go back to the drawing board, she drafted new songs that closely followed its template. Those songs are on Camila, surrounded by the debris of her discarded personas.
The core of the record is “Havana,” with its punchy live horns and reliably slurry Young Thug verse, and the two songs that flank it. “She Loves Control” flips the devil-woman ballad on its head, like Beyoncé’s “6 Inch” with a dembow beat instead of an Isaac Hayes sample. “Inside Out” feels minimal but never undercooked, its feather-light steel drums stabbing out a familiar progression as Cabello shouts out the places she’s lived. These songs feel like a serendipitous meeting of the increasing acceptance of Latin sounds on the U.S. charts and the music Cabello must have internalized while spending time between Havana, Mexico and Miami growing up. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)