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Article count (402)

Date: Nov 14, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Rabit: Les Fleurs Du Mal

Rabit’s Les Fleurs Du Mal is meant to be taken as a piece with two recent albums he worked on: Elysia Crampton’s Demon City and Chino Amobi’s Paradiso. That’s easy enough to do, because the album is really of a piece with the last half-decade of avant-garde electronic music. Les Fleurs Du Mal is the breed standard of a specific kind of electronic album: typically made by a queer producer or producer of color, poptimist in its willingness to appropriate cues from chart music, filmic in the way the tracks blur together to form a cogent experience, bold in the way it uses sounds to scare and shock. The list of collaborators on Crampton’s Demon City is probably the best overview of this loose “scene,” which history will eventually give a nifty name.

Rabit is a Houston native whose experiences growing up queer and Catholic informed his first album Communion. While that album resembled nothing so much as shards of metal flying into each other at high velocity, Les Fleurs Du Mal is a slow-burn that seethes with dread. Talking about individual tracks gets to the point less than talking about individual moments. Rabit’s strategy here is to sedate us with atmosphere before scaring us shitless with a sudden interruption: a pitch-shifted coital moan, a blast of gunfire or, most jarringly, on “Dogsblood Redemption,” someone screaming “YOU’RE ALL A BUNCH OF FUCKING SLAVES!” (He flashes his poptimist card by having a robo-voice solemnly recite Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”)  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 12, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Willow is an auteur, and the charts could always use more of those.

Has Willow Smith ever met an idea she didn’t like? The youngest progeny of Will and Jada might have more creative rein over her work than anyone else who can feasibly be called a pop star. She never sounds like she has anyone hovering over her shoulder telling her what to do. Sometimes, we wish she did. Smith has ambition, but she lacks taste, and her second album The 1st is one idea after another—some great, some good, some inconsequential, many cringe-worthy.

Look how the album starts. “Hey, Mom,” she exclaims over pizzicato strings that suggest the opening of a heartwarming family movie. “I met a boy/ He plays guitar/ He likes Quentin Tarantino/ And really sad songs.” The next lyric is “anxiety attacks,” and seconds later she claims to come from space. It’s not promising.

Guitars, Tarantino movies and sad songs have all become telltale signs of the patrician, patronizing soft boy who’s fixing to fuck you over. It’s possible this lyric is a clever update of the old girl-group tradition of pining for a boy that’s bound to break your heart. If so, it’d be the only place she displays any kind of wit or nuance. She’d rather her music sound smart than be smart, hiding behind purple prose and third-eye pseudoscience rather than writing lines that hit hard.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 09, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Jackie Shane is a bawdy badass.

For more than five minutes in the middle of a cover of Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” Jackie Shane veers into a rambling monologue, one that ultimately serves as the heart and soul of Any Other Way, Numero Group’s compilation of the forgotten Toronto soul singer’s recorded material. She talks about her money, how she spends it, what she did on her vacation, how her shows are the closest to God anyone in the audience will ever get, how people point at her and whisper when she walks down the street, how if they ever stopped she’d look in the mirror and wonder if she’d put her mascara on wrong. And she underlines her precisely-worded personal slogan, which she’ll reiterate later in the set: as long as you don’t force your will and your way on anybody else, live your life.

Shane begins the monologue as a ripshit-good soul singer and ends it as someone we’ve come to know and love. The music collected here, mostly from 1963 studio recordings and a 1967 club concert, is great but no revelation. She’s an electrifying vocalist and performer, but her covers are tried-and-true. She’s also clearly in thrall to James Brown, who was just then emerging as a significant star. The music is secondary to Jackie Shane herself, who’s one of the funniest, most likable people you could possibly have the pleasure of meeting on record. She’s a bawdy badass, bragging about her fancy clothes and fine French perfumes, projecting an unmistakably queer air of defiance where every chest-puff flips the bird to the world.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 07, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

God bless the brave souls at Warp for letting Bibio get away with it.

On Phantom Brickworks, Bibio makes a hard-left turn into ambient, and what’s incredible isn’t that he’s good at it so much as that he’s fully committed to it. Bibio’s brand of woozy, blunt-friendly beat music is often pegged as “ambient” by default. But this is the real thing: no vocals, no drums, track lengths that flirt with and often crawl right past the 10-minute mark. Casual listeners might be bored to tears, but longtime fans will recognize this as the producer’s most fearlessly realized record yet, delighting in the subtle ways it hearkens back to his earlier work.

God bless the brave souls at Warp for letting him get away with it. Not long ago, Bibio seemed on track for a comfortable career of diminishing returns. Last year’s A Mineral Love was solid, but in focusing on his indie-troubadour mode, it forsook his restless spirit for solidity. Phantom Brickworks is the reverse. It’s an album we didn’t know Bibio could make, and it’s pure indulgence, as admirable for its guts as for how good the actual music is.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 06, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

We laugh when we probably shouldn’t.

21 Savage has yet to make anything to match the quality of last year’s Savage Mode, one of the best Atlanta trap tapes, but he’s solidifying into one of the movement’s most distinctive voices. His raps are single-minded, lip-smacking communications of the kind of personality that sucks all the air out of a room. He’s got the same glint in his eye as Snoop Dogg, and though he takes street violence very seriously, he seems to joke about it as a sort of catharsis. Like with Future, we laugh when we probably shouldn’t.

He’s the unquestioned star of Without Warning, a surprise-released Halloween tape with Offset and Metro Boomin whose milieu is menace. Savage stalks the beats like a silent killer, cracking grim jokes. He immediately compares himself to Kim Jong-Un when he starts rapping on “Ghostface Killers,” and on “My Choppa Hate Niggas” he decides opening a morgue might be a good business investment. He’s in his element. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 05, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

This doesn’t really sound like sex music.

Patrick Cowley passed away tragically young in 1982 but left behind a vast body of work that’s still being unearthed. Oddly, his best-known solo works today are arguably his porn soundtracks thanks to a comprehensive reissue series from the Dark Entries label: School Daze, Muscle Up and now Afternooners.

Cowley’s contribution to the world is the Hi-NRG disco style, built around that octave bass throb that even the most sheltered Christian sectarians know to associate with bulging male muscle. But his porn soundtracks are sprawling, ambient synth ruminations, built around the basic pulse of disco but also happy to dip a toe into far more cosmic territory. One suspects that if not for how inescapably gay his music is, he might have as much currency in the oppressively straight “chill-music” circles as, say, Nujabes—a mysterious cult figure to be passed along as an awesome secret alongside joints and iPod jacks. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Nov 01, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

It’s hard to say why Super Slimey exists.

Isn’t it funny how big-name albums between industry titans end up being minor career curios instead of world-busting statements? We talk in theory about, like, Elton John and Paul McCartney getting together and making something enormous. But if they did, it’d probably be the third or fourth most talked-about thing either one did this decade.

The biggest takeaway from Young Thug and Future’s Super Slimey is that rappers are learning this. It’s obviously modeled after Future’s What a Time to Be Alive with Drake, a low-stakes effort that was mostly dismissed—including by the artists itself—and sold boatloads while its biggest songs are still beloved. Expectations for Super Slimey are modest: a few songs on the radio at most. Artists have little to lose in these endeavors, which are undersold so fans stay interested when they drop “albums” with more fanfare.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 31, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A sort of rom-com rendered in space disco.

The latest from Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is a sort of rom-com rendered in space disco, a breezy slice of mid-summer romanticism, delightful to curl up with and let your mind go blank. But It’s Alright Between Us as It Is is missing a lot of what we’ve come to love about Lindstrøm, especially his sense of grandeur.

He was once the most out-there of the Norwegian disconauts, opening his debut with a 29-minute suite and paying homage to prog with such records as Six Cups of Rebel and Runddans with Todd Rundgren. But his later albums weren’t received nearly as well as his earlier work, and his newest too often sounds like the less-inspired experiments of his countrymen Prins Thomas and Todd Terje, especially on “Tensions,” which uses a synth so beloved by the latter he named a whole EP, It’s the Arps, after it. There’s nothing bad here, just light-hearted fun. Everything works, but only because it plays it too safe to fail, and we frequently miss the dangerous, potentially-alienating risks once central to Lindstrøm’s livelihood.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 31, 2017

Publication: Pretty Much Amazing

Dan Bejar’s lyrics feel bottomless. To be a Destroyer fan means to give up searching for the rhyme or reason to the Canadian’s impenetrable tangle of eccentric images and academic asides and accept that the riddle is more important than the solution. This gives his records a tremendous amount of replay value and means they often sound better the second time around, once you’ve become accustomed to their rugged terrain.

ken is the first album where we can see the method to Bejar’s madness, and as such it’s the first Destroyer album that actually sounds worse on repeat listenings. Rather than mystic parables, Bejar relies too often on cheap, ironic contrasts whose only purpose is irony and contrast. Rock’s most formidable intellectual is dumbing down.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 29, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

New Energy requires less work from its listeners than any other Four Tet album.

New Energy requires less work from its listeners than any other Four Tet album—and it also sounds like the one that required the least work to make. It’s one of Kieran Hebden’s most immediately pleasurable albums, just fine as a pure listening experience, and a good first Four Tet album to play for someone who’s never heard him. But it lacks the craft we’ve come to expect from Hebden, and new fans should try to look beyond its borders once they have heard it.

New Energy continues in the club-leaning direction he’s picked up since There Is Love in You and its unexpected DJ-set staple “Love Cry.” But it’s lusher and quieter, painted with a simpler palate. For the first time, the jazz influence that’s led him to cram dozens of moving parts into one drum track is absent. He tends to center one element at a time: the lonesome santoor that lopes across “Two Thousand Seventeen,” or the hang drum he happily slaps away at on “Lush.”  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 25, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The time couldn’t be riper to reissue Dream Theory in Malaya.

“He Loved Him Madly,” the swirling, eddying 32-minute piece that opens Miles Davis’s electric-era compendium Get Up with It, is a key but easily overlooked milestone in the history of ambient. It’s not the first ambient song; that game is as pointless as the endless “first rock song” debate. Brian Eno coined the term “ambient,” defined its rules, and shaped its sound. But Eno cites “He Loved Him Madly” as influential to On Land, the best of his original Ambient series, and it’s no doubt part of the reason he sought out Jon Hassell, a jazz trumpeter who fancied himself the heir to Davis and producer Teo Macero’s then-heretical experiments with samples and tape loops.

By the early ‘80s, when Eno and Hassell made the Fourth World albums Possible Music and Dream Theory in Malaya, this kind of digital trickery was less blasphemous than befuddling. (It helped, of course, that Hassell didn’t have a classic body of work behind him.) The techniques used on these records—especially the latter, released in 1981 and freshly reissued this year—were adventurous for their time in their use of delay, pitch-shifting, esoteric sampling and looping. Hassell’s trumpet hardly sounds like one on Malaya; he uses it to generate an ambient buzz that ebbs and flows on his whim.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 23, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A sorry-for-the-wait EP meant to hold over anyone waiting for Echosmith’s delayed second album.

Inside a Dream is a sorry-for-the-wait EP meant to hold over anyone waiting for Echosmith’s delayed second album, apparently called the same thing. It’s such a monumental improvement over its predecessor, even doubters would be forgiven for getting pumped for the forthcoming full-length. In fact, if Echosmith slotted these seven songs alongside seven of comparable quality on the album, we might even be rewarded with a pretty good pop record on the horizon.

Echosmith came up during the Pandora-fueled peak of indie pop, and the songs on their debut album Talking Dreams could be distinguished by what other semi-chic, semi-superstar act they ripped off: the xx, Young the Giant, you name it. They had a modest hit with “Cool Kids,” but the indie pop fad’s passed them by, they’ve had to improvise, and Inside a Dream finds them conjuring the landscape of the ‘80s, when pop music had the most pronounced sense of place.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 22, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Young Martha doesn’t really work, but it’s worth keeping for one banger.

There was a brief, worrying moment about three years ago when the word “trap” seemed prepared to go down in music history the same way the word “ska” has: as a reference to the ersatz, popular, mostly white fusion product rather than the older black art form that informed it.

Perhaps inspired by the fact that trap beats were roughly the same tempo as the half-speed heavy metal-dubstep hybrids that soundtracked the first blunt hits of so many millennials, DJs started cranking out a form of EDM called “trap” that didn’t owe much to Memphis or Atlanta. But as the fad phased out and Disclosure-style “deep house” got big, kids must have become interested in the roots of this music, because guys like Fetty Wap started blowing up and Migos went from cult influence to commercial juggernaut. Now, Atlanta trap comprises an enviable chunk of the charts and is the breeding ground for many of the best ideas in contemporary pop.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 18, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A sprawling morass of sound that seems to spread its diseased tendrils in all directions.

I seem to sink lower,” sings Archy Marshall on “Biscuit Town,” and, with those words, we descend into the young worldbuilder’s most complete and suffocating statement yet.

The Ooz is his third album, but it feels like The One. It’s the kind of album critics have in their heads when they say an artist has “potential.” And Marshall’s been all potential for a while. His early singles, released at the improbably young age of 16, include two of the best indie rock singles of the decade: “Out Getting Ribs” and “Ocean Bed.” His first EP as King Krule was solid but slight. Yethe floundered under the guiding hand of Rodaidh McDonald on his debut 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, which stripped his music of its textural intricacy. It wasn’t until 2015’s low-stakes beat tape A New Place 2 Drown, made to accompany a book, that he really seemed to be getting at something.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 17, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Reggaeton beats ensconced in the liquid chords of classic deep house.

DJ Python’s Dulce Compañia is built on a fusion so ballsy and simple it’s a wonder no one’s done it yet: reggaeton beats ensconced in the liquid chords of classic deep house. It’d be commendable enough for pulling it off, but the DJ born Brian Piñeyro isn’t content to sit back and smirk at what he’s created. This is one of those albums, like Burial’s Untrue or Luomo’s Vocalcity, that builds worlds while refusing to sacrifice its funk.

It’s a little simpler than those behemoths. Really, there’s not much to this stuff except the drums – solid as rocks – and the amniotic fluid in which they’re contained. With such a simple palate, individual sounds stick out: the snaky siren-sound at the edges of “Esteban” and “q.e.p.d.,” the coital gasps that glint through the nine-minute abyss of “Acostados” and the lithe machine-man that swims through the depths of “Yo Ran (Do).”  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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