oeuvre

oeuvre

This is a more-or-less complete collection of my past work. Much of my early Emerald work was lost during a major website update this year, but the Emerald staff is currently working on recovering these articles.

My work can be found on the following sites:

Article count (477)

Date: May 30, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Do you like Destroyer for Kaputt or for Bejar’s gnarled, uncompromising vision? Listening to these reissues might be the best way to find out.

In 2000, New Pornographers keyboardist Blaine Thurier made a film called Low Self Esteem Girl that features a clip of Dan Bejar playing “Destroyer’s The Temple” on an acoustic guitar at a party. Bejar, only 27, looks shockingly young; the camera lingers on his face as he yelps his cryptic poetry. Then a drunk bro wanders in mockingly singing a heavy metal song, making a travesty of Bejar’s word-drunk lyrics. Ever the trooper, Bejar starts to accompany him on guitar.

This gives a good idea of where Bejar was when he released City of Daughters and Thief, his second and third albums as Destroyer. Today, his reputation is of a weary, learned boozer using glib intellectualism and bemused cynicism to mask fatigue and regret; he seems old. Here, he’s plainly a kid. His voice is higher, his lyrics are lustier, and he seems in the midst of the heedless youth at which his later music looks back sadly—or, perhaps, is just starting to sense the good times slipping away from him. Hearing the new vinyl reissues of those albums after 2011’s belated elder-statesman coronation Kaputt, it’s astounding how green he sounds.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 29, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

The new album from oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls is post-Internet genre agnosticism that settles on a sort of digital version of roots-rock. Think TheBasement Tapes, but swap the warm communalism of Big Pink with how we think of basements nowadays: hermetic places inhabited by digital-age degenerates, lit by sickly computer-screen light and redolent of rotting garbage and bong smoke. It’s an effective and unexpected merger of rock ‘n’ roll with the proudly artificial, vaporwave-adjacent music that dominates the underground electronic world.

You might remember oOoOO as one of the leading lights of witch house, a movement whose mix of gothic indie rock and molasses-slow Southern rap makes more sense now than it did at the time. (He’s not the only member of the coven to crawl back out this year; White Ring is prepping their official debut for June 22). Islamiq Grrrls from Los Angeles is a relative newcomer; though no one knows her name, it’s a relief to learn she’s actually a Muslim woman.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 29, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

Ornette Coleman’s decision to feature his ten-year-old son Denardo on drums for his 1966 album The Empty Foxhole throws a splendid monkey wrench to the machines of avant-garde music. We all know the popular cliché about abstract art — that “my kid could paint that” — and indeed, when Coleman played the album for the great trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, Hubbard thought it sounded like a little kid fooling around.

On one level, it’s a troll. Could the only difference between avant-garde music and the blind thrashings of a little kid be the prestigious Blue Note Records stamp on the cover? Could a less discerning ear than a musician’s tell the difference between incompetence and deconstruction? I, for one, stumbled across The Empty Foxhole while perusing music late at night on Spotify. Intrigued by the cryptic title, I put it on and thought it worked fine as free jazz before I found out about the complex backstory. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 28, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Puth is not much of a horndog—but who is he?

Charlie Puth is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer, but his “real talent” schtick has sadly been undercut by the whims of his pop-machine superiors. Of the bloodless ballads on his debut Nine Track Mind, Puth told the Seattle Times: “That was people nudging me in a direction that I didn’t want to go in.” His second album Voicenotes sets Puth free in the kind of whimsical auteur album that’s all-too-rare in a pop industry that avoids taking risks on art of great consequence.

Much better than Nine Track Mind (frankly, nearly everything is), Voicenotes is replete with ear-catching flourishes. Classic pop strings swoop and dive dramatically, layers of vocals ache like vintage Brian Wilson and there’s even a clavinet on “L.A. Girls” that sounds a lot like the one Sun Ra used on Atlantis. But this is still a middle-of-the-road pop album that won’t convince naysayers of Puth’s worth as a pop star, and if he has a What’s Going On in him, the 26-year-old has a long way to go before he makes it. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 25, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

Emma Silvers, my former colleague at the sadly defunct Bay Guardian, recently interviewed her hero Liz Phair. It had me thinking about what I’d do if I ever met a celebrity I worshipped to that degree. I’d like to think I’d shy away from flattery; musicians probably meet so many fans that fawning has no meaning. I’d love to engage Paul McCartney in a chat about Brian Wilson or ’60s girl groups or something I know he’d like. Prince, famously frosty, is someone I’d rather not meet. But if I ever met Wolfgang Voigt I’d have to pull out all the stops not to lose my shit.

Wolfgang Voigt is the mastermind of the Gas project, which has released six albums and two EPs of ambient techno since 1996. The most recent six of these, including this year’s Rausch, are united by their forest theme, and each Gas album is adorned with a thick tangle of leaves and branches stamped with the Gas name. The impetus for the project was Voigt’s youthful acid trips in the Königsforst of Cologne, Germany, and indeed Voigt builds most of his pieces from samples of German classical music to tie the project into the country’s ecological history.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 23, 2018

Publication: Pretty Much Amazing

Knock Knock is a sternly professional album by an artist who’s typically more playful; a demo reel by an artist we already know is capable of great things. 2013’s Amygdala is one of the best “artist albums” ever made by a house producer. But while that record seemed to rise naturally from the landscape, Knock Knock is constructed—a community planned around an architect’s vision. Luckily for us, few producers impose a more fearsome vision on their art than DJ Koze.

The German has only made three albums since 2005, but his catalog of apocrypha is extensive: a DJ-Kicks mix in 2015 (brilliant), a compilation from his Pampa label (inconsistent), a collection of sketches as Adolf Noise (fun). These releases are united by his personality. He’s a psychedelic, puckish prankster, in love with house music as well as hip-hop and Sgt. Pepper, which informed Amygdala and potentially the melody of “Moving in a Liquid” here. Like Paul McCartney, his music is marked by euphoric lapses into childish joy. You know that moment on “Yellow Submarine” when the sea captain with the megaphone exclaims “submarine, haha!” Koze sells that guileless feeling by the bottle. I can’t think of a single moment in his catalog that’s played for irony; even his acapella cover of “We Are The World” from the Adolf Noise record doesn’t make fun of the song but transmutes its communal ecstasy to drunken solitude.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 23, 2018

Publication: Pretty Much Amazing

Rausch is the smallest and fleetest of Wolfgang Voigt’s six albums as Gas, suggesting a quick walk through familiar terrain rather than the frightening possibilities of an infinite universe. It’s his most discordant work since 1997’s Zauberberg, but it feels reassuring rather than terrifying.

This owes in part to its length. Running an hour, six minutes shorter than the next-shortest Gas album (2000’s warm, benevolent Pop) and 20 minutes shorter than average, we know we’re never too far from a clearing and can get out of the woods as easily as we stumbled into them.

It also owes to Voigt’s decision to structure Rausch as one track broken into seven movements that bleed into one other. Gas albums typically open onto stagnant midsections that suggest a dramatic view of the German forest the project seeks to evoke. They don’t map a specific terrain but look panoramically at the size of the world and reflect on the tenuous self-control that prevents us from abandoning society and slinking ferally into the woods to wander until we die of starvation. Rausch’s structure is strictly linear, and though a blast of strings from Zauberberg reappears on “Rausch 3,” it doesn’t reference itself like most Gas albums do, pulling samples willy-nilly from other songs as if the wanderer has circled back to a place they’ve been before. It has a beginning and an end, with Voigt as an unseen, omniscient guide.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 23, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

Yonatan Gat’s Universalists presents a bold new idea for what to do with rock: treat your own band noise like other people’s samples and weave it into something bigger. Gat, late of Tel Aviv’s Monotonix and now based in New York, spends a lot of this record kicking up clouds of guitar dust with drummer Gal Lazer and bassist Sergio Sayeg. But a nearly equal amount of space is taken up by vocals, either sampled or courtesy of Rhode Island’s Eastern Medicine Singers. All of this is treated as a single slab of sound for Gat to slice and dice in the studio, and the surface of this terrifically organic music is rearranged electronically in unpredictable ways that suggest Teo Macero, DJ Screw, Yeezus-era Kanye, but not much else in rock music.

It’s almost like the Grey Album with Gat playing both Jay-Z and the Beatles. Maybe that’s an album you haven’t thought about in a long time, and indeed the Universalists philosophy is closer to something you might encounter in the post-mp3, pre-Pandora days when the limitlessness of the Internet threatened to end the tyranny of genres and po-mo pranksters like Girl Talk, DJ/rupture, and M.I.A. ruled the world. In this weary, dystopian age of the Web, the Internet is valued more in electronic music for its dehumanizing qualities than its potential to break down musical and cultural barriers, and the heedless optimism with which Gat rearranges genres is almost anachronistic. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 22, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The new split release from Kyle Bobby Dunn and Wayne Robert Thomas is available in digital form on Bandcamp, where it sounds just fine. But the limited-edition cream-colored 12” vinyl may be the best way to present it, with each 20-minute piece fitting perfectly on one side of an LP, and music is so luscious and lavish it deserves exclusive treatment; black vinyl would seem almost unworthy, like serving a Michelin-star meal on paper plates.

This is Canadian composer Dunn’s first release since an impressive run of albums in the first half of the decade, on which he made a worthy case for heirdom to Stars of the Lid in both the eerie melancholy of his drones and the glib way he presented them; a typical title for a Dunn piece is “Variations on a Theme by St. Dipshit.” The Indiana-based Thomas is lesser-known, but it’s easy to see why the two are kindred spirits. Both make guitar-centric compositions with a stagnant wistfulness, like a sweltering summer day slowly creeping by, and the pieces on KBD/WRT complement each other beautifully.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 20, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Traumprinz clearly has no interest in eking out a conventional legacy.

Though Traumprinz—also known as DJ Metatron and Prince of Denmark—is a big deal in dance music, you’d be forgiven for not knowing who he is. In fact, no one knows who he is; his name, face and place of origin are unknown. We only know he’s a he because he was signed to Giegling, a promising bastion for ambient techno that fell from grace after founder Konstantin’s disparaging remarks about female DJs. (Traumprinz and Giegling have since parted ways.) His releases are too long, too purist and too hard to access to make much of a dent in the indie world, let alone the mainstream. But you could practically hear Beatlemaniac screams in the underground dance world when he announced he’d be dropping two new albums on Easter 2018.

Easter is appropriate given Traumprinz’s penchant for surrounding himself in religious iconography as well as his retirement of the Prince of Denmark name, which he’s resurrected as Prime Minister of Doom. Indeed, this dual release comes on so strong that fans may be surprised by how relatively slight these two albums are. Nothing 2 Loose, released as DJ Healer, is an atmospheric blur closer in sound and (holy) spirit to Yves Tumor’s Experiencing the Deposit of Faith than any dance record. The Prime Minister of Doom release, Mudshadow Propaganda, is a granite-grey slab of purist techno that’d be at home bouncing off the walls of Berghain even as its sharp sound design brings out details that would disappear on the dancefloor.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 17, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

It’s a comfort to know Maus is just fucking with us.

You’d be forgiven for expecting Addendum to be a jumble of odds and ends, tacked on as it was to the end of a career-spanning John Maus box set before its standalone release. Surprise: this is as fully-realized a Maus album as any, and it’s a neat enough summation of his sound that it could have forgivably been self-titled. If the title seems like a sheepish understatement, take a closer look at the church on the cover. Artists don’t waste images that baroque on albums that they don’t want to make an impression.

In contrast to the grim paranoia of last year’s Screen Memories, Addendum finds the Minnesotan indulging in his usual mix of icy beauty and broad humor. There are songs called “Dumpster Baby” and ones that rhyme “1987” with “AK-47.” There are also songs that seem to open up miniature black holes. Though his palate is as limited as ever—grumbling bass, cold synths, primitive drum patterns—he gets a lot of mileage out of them, situating us within a familiar soundscape before flirting with the unfamiliar.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 14, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Spanish producer Agustín Mena makes ambient music of a fearsome purity.

As Warmth, Spanish producer Agustín Mena makes ambient music of a fearsome purity. This is not music that seeks to elicit an emotional reaction or stake out a psychedelic space for the listener to explore. This is ambient in the strictest, most workmanlike sense, and though Mena comes from club music (he was a dub techno producer before shedding all aspects of his sound save distant chords), his music is closer to what Brian Eno envisioned when he stipulated a new form of music that could act as “wallpaper.” Eno recently released a box set of music intended to accompany art installations. It sounds like free jazz compared to Warmth.

But over Mena’s impressive recent run of albums—2016’s Essay, last year’s Home, and the brand-new Parallel—little wrinkles have appeared in the project that reveal more going on than meets the eye. Though the three records had almost exactly the same sound palate, the mood of each is distinct and obvious. Essay was positive, an album for meditation and deep thought, a happy place; it accomplished this through an expansive presence in the stereo field and subtle frills like electric piano. Homewas colder and more insular, occupying the dead center of the stereo field and focusing on heavy bass tones rather than comfortable midrange.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 13, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Music for Installations is best thought of as a prolific dump of quality new Eno, all available in one place.

The title of Brian Eno’s latest sounds kind of like an insult. One can imagine an earthy British dad saying before turning back to his soccer game, “This sounds like music for installations!” In a way, Eno’s been egging us on with this ambient shit since the ‘70s and Music for Airports. How little work do you have to put into enjoying a piece of music for it to scan as music? For that matter, how little work could one put into making music? Eno uses generative computer programs and algorithms to make a lot of these pieces, and some of the longer ones might take more time to listen to than they took to make. Are we supposed to even think of this as music? Eno would rather compare his pieces to paintings.

This nine-LP release reinforces your take on Eno. Think he’s is infuriating, an NPR-sanctioned intellectual who sucks all the fun out of music? This $200-plus box set of music meant to accompany art exhibits might set you over the edge. Think he’s one of the greatest minds ever to ennoble pop music? The shimmering purity and deceptive complexity of these pieces make them some of his most rewarding yet. Just like to doze off to his music? Sweet dreams.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 08, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Bearthday Music goes down easier than 95 percent of pop albums.

One of the pop industry’s best-kept secrets is the division of labor in songwriting. Singers are typically credited as writers for royalty purposes even if the songs were simply handed to them by assistants in the dressing room. Typically, we can assume whoever isn’t the singer, producer or author is the songwriter, but some artists have such individual voices—Beyoncé’s good-natured bawdiness, Adele’s maudlin venom—that they must have some stake in things, right? Bearthday Music is a collection of songs ostensibly written by Justin Bieber scribe Poo Bear. “Songwriter” isn’t much of a cogent artist identity, especially in this industry, and though it’s common for singers to take on the work of a single songwriter for an album, this is sung mostly by friends, with Poo Bear taking the mic a few times to no great distinction. With guests from Justin Bieber to J Balvin to your usual crop of mononymous EDM divas, this thing should hang together like a David Ayer soundtrack.

But somewhere during the making of this thing, Poo Bear and company stumbled on a sound, and it’s a good one. This is mostly chill beach-party pop adjacent to tropical house—except it actually sounds chill, thanks to its decision to foreground acoustic guitars rather than the squealing samples and Tarzan yells popularized by Bieber’s Purpose, much of which Poo Bear wrote. Bearthday Music goes down easier than 95 percent of pop albums, if only because its dynamics rarely rise above mezzo forte. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 06, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

There are a lot of albums that sound like October Language in 2018.

When the New Orleans duo Belong dropped October Language in 2006, it was invariably mentioned in the context of Hurricane Katrina, despite being recorded before the disaster. It became a sort of Disintegration Loops for Katrina, but while William Basinski actively encouraged people to connect his decayed-tape epic with the September 11th attacks, Belong didn’t mention it at all. Ostensibly, a new Spectrum Spools reissue of October Language should rectify this problem and allow the album to stand free of context and simply be enjoyed as an album rather than a package of meaning.

Unfortunately, October Language now struggles against a different context—that of everything that’s happened in ambient music since its release. Six months after October Language came out, Tim Hecker released Harmony in Ultraviolet and ambient’s center of gravity shifted closer to blurred-out shoegaze and white-hot noise. There are a lot of albums that sound like October Language in 2018—by Hecker as well as Rafael Anton Irisarri, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and Yellow Swans—and this old warhorse might have trouble making itself known with these other options a click away.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 02, 2018

Publication: Phluff

Elysia Crampton’s new album is self-titled not once, but twice. It’s her name in the “Album” slot when it shows up on iTunes, but the name on the sleeve is “Ocelote,” apparently her DJ name. One of her many production tags is “fuck with… Ocelote.” The message of this album: don’t.

Elysia Crampton is a fearsome assertion of DJ badassery, electronic music so viscerally powerful as to suggest the person behind the boards is not to be crossed. Her music has always relied on rhythm, but Crampton hurtles forward breathlessly, its drums tumbling into each other like debris in an avalanche. It’s avant-garde music, but it has more in common than you’d think with something like Justice’s Cross or Skrillex’s Bangarang.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 02, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Conjures images of tapestries, ornate carpets, four-poster beds draped in fabric.

There’s something about simple music, made with only a handful of instruments, that’s more convincingly spiritual than that made with extensive overdubbing, arranging, primping and fussing. Perhaps it’s something to do with buried associations with some ancient druid or shaman tooting a flute or beating a drum to will some change in the universe. Perhaps it also has to do with the actual sound of the instrument taking up less space than the extra-sonic aspect, the spiritual aspect, the sort of world-beyond-the-world that the best music generates.

This is what makes Sarah Davachi’s music so exciting. Her last album, the great All My Circles Run zeroed in on the instruments used to make her austere drones; the tracks bore titles like “For Strings” and “For Voice,” leaving the listener to fill in the rest with their imagination. Her latest, Let Night Come on Bells End the Day, continues in this tradition but is just a little more baroque, both in the music-crit sense (it feels more ornate, there’s more going on) and the classical sense (Bach might approve of the church organ that’s the source of these drones).  (Click “web or pdf ” link to continue reading.)

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Date: May 02, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Harris built this glass castle only to shatter it.

Grouper’s new album Grid of Points has an apt title: this is an album about individual moments, and its sparse arrangements make even the smallest moments devastating: The subtle, soulful blue notes in Liz Harris’ voice on “Driving”; a comprehensible lyric among the cavernous ambient drift of her vocals; and, at one pivotal mark, a sound that shatters the illusion and brings us back to reality. You’ll know it when you hear it, and if you’ve heard it, you understand how Harris built this glass castle only to shatter it.

Grid of Points was made with only voice and piano. The music stands naked; it’s the emotions that hover just out of reach. It gives the impression of being a personal record, and such titles as “Thanksgiving Song” and “Birthday Song” suggest they might be about specific incidents. But only about one word in ten can be made out, and the ones that stick out aren’t much help. “Driving.” “Smells like rain, it is raining.” Perhaps she’s saying “it isn’t raining.”  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 30, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Ras G seemed to be channeling another world through his record collection.

Ras G is the strangest producer in the Brainfeeder stable—and one of the best. The fame of compadres Flying Lotus and Thundercat has eluded him, though he doesn’t court it. He’s content to toil in his own little corner of the universe, cranking out music that runs the gamut from laid-back Dilla worship to astral cacophony that could rub elbows with the gnarliest relics of the Afrofuturist free jazz era from which he clearly takes inspiration. Listenability and accessibility are dead last on his list of priorities, and if there’s a direct link between the L.A. beat scene and the “chill beats” format beloved by stoned millennials, Ras G’s hardly to blame.

He puts out an album or two a year on average, but his latest, Stargate Music, seems like a tentpole release. It’s been more heavily promoted than trifles like The Gospel of the God Spell and My Kinda Blues, and it’s credited to “Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program;” though Ras G seems to be the only member of the Afrikan Space Program, the bipartite name suggests an expansion of scale and scope, similar to Prince’s Revolution and D’Angelo’s Vanguard. And unlike most Ras G releases, which can be ramshackle, Stargate Music comes on strong as a complete, all-encompassing marvel of sound design, clearly the product of a lot of elbow grease.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 20, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

Seventeen years after telling you exactly what kind of animal you look like on their turn-of-the-millennium UK hits “Ooh Stick You” and “Ugly”, Daphne & Celeste have finally found a worthy target for their schoolyard taunts. “Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,” drones a saccharine male voice over the radio. “This is the first thing people figure out when they get a guitar!” exclaims Daphne. “Do people actually dig this?” asks Celeste. Their opponents are obvious—Ed Sheeran, George Ezra, Jake Bugg, and Britain’s other chart-sanctioned bastions of poor-boy authenticity. “Every time I tune to that show there’s a basic busker on the radio,” they sing—before reprising the “oh yeah” chant as proudly artificial electropop. The message is obvious. It’s all pop music; why not own it?

Daphne & Celeste Save The World is deep-cut poptimism. It’s intended less for those who vaguely remember “Ugly” than those to whom the name Daphne & Celeste actually means something. It’s aware of its position at the intersection of the chart world and the indie substratum that roots through its trash. This is surely the only album by ostensible peers of Aqua to include references to Arthur Russell, Black Dice, Captain Beefheart (twice!), Captured Tracks, David Foster Wallace, Shocking Blue, and Yazz (not to be confused with Yaz, whom the Brits call Yazoo). Daphne, Celeste and writer-producer Max Tundra don’t seem to be just trying to show off how much they know. They’re just acutely aware of their place in a cultural current many indie-adjacent artists try to avoid.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 16, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Dirt is all but defused by its production.

Dirt is compressed within an inch of its life, a production decision that defuses moments that should be explosive. There are more organ solos, operatic arias and bludgeoning guitar codas here than on just about any album you’re likely to hear this year, but good luck remembering them: they don’t stick out from the music, elevating it to the dizzying heights we desire from good prog rock. Instead, they merge so thoroughly with the overarching whole you’d have a tough time recalling which songs they were on. Grasping the album’s narrative, which sounds awesome (Native American creation myths! Futuristic bubble people!), seems equally unlikely; it is practically impossible to come to grips with when the vocals are so remote, landing just south of intelligibility.

But it’s easy to appreciate Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s knack for proggy bluster, even when that bluster doesn’t make as much of an impact. The Canadian collective, now led by drummer Alaska B after the departure of crucial early collaborator Ruby Kato Attwood, invariably ends up on the right side of the line between excess and pretentiousness. Their albums are conceptual, but goofily so. Absent from this music is the prog pretense of elevating rock music to the level of Western art music, and “Western” is only half the equation, anyway: their double-barreled name reflects Alaska B’s Chinese-Irish (and Attwood’s Japanese-British) heritage, and their aesthetic is permeated with anime and East Asian theater. This is a good-hearted band, one easy to root for.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

 

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Date: Apr 16, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

Alice Coltrane’s farewell to jazz, recorded live at UCLA, is her finest record — and her most demanding.

The notes of the Wurlitzer organ spell out a solemn hymn, and Alice Coltrane turns to address the audience. She’s about to play a piece by her late husband John, and she’s explaining how the piece came to be. “He saw a vibration, and it was… energy,” she muses. We can practically hear her stare into space. Slowly, the notes of the hymn begin to sour, and the chords jostle against each other at right angles. “I want you to feel the full force of what this piece is about.”

Without warning, the floor drops out from under us. Reggie Workman works himself into a frenzy, hammering the strings of his bass with such force it threatens to crack and splinter, and the high notes of Coltrane’s organ whoop and soar in an uncanny imitation of human speech. It’s absolutely relentless, and it doesn’t let up for more than half an hour. This is “Leo,” and it takes up half of Transfiguration, recorded live at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall on April 16, 1978 and released later that year just before Coltrane retired as swamini of the Sai Anantam Ashram.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 12, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Tink is smothered by the Mosley Music machine.

Tink’s deal with Timbaland’s Mosley Music Group was one of the more disturbing things to happen to a rising star in recent years. The Calumet City singer-rapper emerged early this decade with the astounding Winter’s Diary series of tapes, which cast her as something akin to a hip-hop Stevie Nicks: an artist at home in Magic Kingdom fantasies but mostly interested in the psychology that leads one to spin those reveries for themselves. When Tim anointed Tink as the next Aaliyah, it felt gross not just because of how badly Aaliyah was exploited by the music industry during her brief lifetime but because Tink’s music was so distinctive that crowning her as the next anything seemed beside the point. The singles from her promised album Think Tink were nothing special, they didn’t chart, and the album was shelved; Tink is now an independent artist.

But it’s worth wondering how much better the music on her first indie EP, Pain & Pleasure, is than what she might have made with Mosley Music. These six tracks are polished studio R&B that chooses to be solid rather than distinctive, and though only one of the songs here (“Signs”) is really bad—the “signs” double entendre in the chorus really isn’t worth sitting through Tink singing things like “confused like a Capricorn/that’s why I’m feeling oh-so-torn”—there’s the worrying sense that she may have left part of herself behind in the music-industry wolf trap. Her writing no longer seems personal, and a lot of songs here are based on Tin Pan Alley gimmicks; “Faded” is about how sex is like getting stoned, “Signs” is about how sex is like astrology, so on.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 12, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The Other is a protracted sigh of exhaustion from a character whose creator by this point despises him.

The Other is a protracted sigh of exhaustion from a character whose creator by this point despises him. After kicking around in various bands since 2005, Kyle Thomas hit it big with King Tuff, a glam-rock party goblin who shrieked about sex and weed over riffs that knew the ridiculousness of this sort of lunkhead rock but appreciated its visceral power. “Alone and Stoned” was a great song, never mind that Thomas didn’t drink or do drugs. He became a festival staple, took King Tuff to its logical excess on 2014’s Black Moon Spell, completed a grueling tour and laid low for a while. On The Other, King Tuff plummets to earth with a painful thud.

It’s surprising Thomas used the King Tuff name for this record. Though “Raindrop Blue” and “Ultraviolet” twinkle with psychedelic mischief, The Other is grounded in the real world. The effeminate squeak that made his Tuff vocal takes so lecherous is gone, and he’s singing in something a little closer to his real voice. The rip-roaring guitars are quieter now, the margins twinkle with electric pianos and horns and the songs trudge along at a pace similar to Bob Seger’s weariest road ballads. It’s the lighters-in-the-air kind of classic rock, not the devil-horns kind, and even that cliché seems like the kind of thing this King Tuff would abhor.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 11, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

You learn interesting things about ambient music talking to Rafael Anton Irisarri. For instance, that Harold Budd goes by “Hal” — who knew?

The nickname of one of the most revered ambient musicians of all time is the kind of information you’d expect Irisarri would possess, occupying as he does something close to the geographical center of ambient music. Name a recent ambient album, and there’s a strong chance it’s gone through his Black Knoll Studios. He’s mastered albums by everyone from ambient perennials Grouper and Julianna Barwick to retro-funkster Starchild & the New Romantic and minimalist legend Terry Riley. But he’s still best-known for his recordings, both as the Sight Below and under his own name.

His latest album Midnight Colours, which came out via Georgia label Geographic North, is a meditation on the end of the world, which seems closer than ever given the threat of global warming and nuclear war. The 40-minute record uses degraded tapes to evoke old newscasts from the 1950s, another time when the threat of nuclear war hung heavy over popular culture and everyday life. That might seem like a lot to tackle in a genre most people associate with falling asleep, but ambient music’s changed a lot since Brian Eno first heard those harps in his hospital room.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 08, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The Hilvarenbeek Recordings inspires awe by reminding us just how much is going on in our backyard.

Biosphere’s The Hilvarenbeek Recordings is an insular, ambient album that, rather than letting the world yawn in front of us, zeroes in on a specific place: the Boerderij ‘t Schop farm in the Dutch town of Hilvarenbeek, where Biosphere mastermind Geir Jenssen was invited by the Netherlands’ now-defunct Incubate festival to spend a week making field recordings. The album was first released as a limited-edition EP in 2016, unbeknownst to the artist, but this artist-approved wide release expands the fruits of Jenssen’s vacation to a full, 38-minute album that’s the most satisfying thing he’s made since his best album, 2011’s N-Plants.

This isn’t the first time Jenssen’s made music from natural, found sounds. His Cho Oyu 8201m—Field Recordings from Tibet(2006) used recordings and bits of Jenssen’s music to chronicle his journey from foot to summit of the Himalayan peak Cho Oyu. That album had a linear progression, from the comfort of a Tibetan town to the eerie stillness of the summit. This one doesn’t get its hands so dirty, and it mostly resembles the natural sounds you might hear on the porch of an idyllic countryside escape—birds, distant airplanes, farm animals and swaths of gentle synth that drift placidly overhead like clouds on a sunny day.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 06, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

The third decade of Snoop’s career finds him reinventing himself as one of the most capricious and experimental of all elder pop statesmen.

Have you ever seen a poster of Snoop Dogg? The Doggfather is at least as beloved among dorm-room stoners as Bob Marley, and he’s arguably even more photogenic, with his lithe, feline features and eyes perpetually narrowed in an arrogant assertion of his own badassery. But it’s Marley’s smiling face that adorns tapestries on walls the world over. That’s because Snoop doesn’t need to be on a poster. He’s in the air. He’s the god of stoner aspiration: effortlessly cool, rich, known the world over, still allegedly blazing through 81 blunts a day with a retinue of literal weed carriers never far away. To have a poster of Snoop Dogg in a stoner den would be overkill, because wherever blunts are being sparked, wherever weedheads are living their best lives, he’s there in the smoke.

A lot of rappers are something other than rappers in the cultural eye. Dr. Dre’s the consummate businessman; you’d be forgiven for not even knowing he dropped his long-awaited third album in 2015 as a tie-in with Straight Outta Compton. Jay-Z is an auteur who can conjure up music of great significance when he wants to, but he’s more comfortable with and probably better-known for cash-grabs like The Blueprint 3 or Magna Carta Holy Grail. Snoop Dogg might be the only living rapper who’s respected more for transcending his status as an artist, and even his more embarrassing ventures — like the facetious Rastafari documentary Reincarnated — aren’t greeted with cynicism but affection (at least by non-Rastafari; Rastas have every right to be pissed). (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 03, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Glam still invites deep, almost neotenous love from its devotees.

Mouse on Mars’ Glam is one of the most obstinately difficult of all IDM albums—yet, 20 years after its release, it’s one that still invites deep, almost neotenous love from its devotees. The reviews for the 2003 CD reissue on Thrill Jockey, which cemented its stature, were rapturous. Rolling Stone hailed them as geniuses. Kareem Estefan at Stylus Magazine described it as “a comprehensive examination of life, one that describes its evolution, searches for meaning as all humans do, and produces beautiful results with the frequency of a thoroughly rewarding life.”

Some praised its experimentalism. Others hailed its emotional power. The common thread was that it was somehow great in spite of itself. “An album that moves you powerfully and consistently, even if it contains nothing you can hold onto, nothing you can be sure about,” said Estefan. Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson called Glam “an album packed with brilliant but unfinished ideas,” while still giving it a 9.1 and admitting he listened to it almost constantly when it first came out.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 02, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Welcome to Deep Snoop.

Bible of Love is 134 minutes long, Snoop Dogg’s voice is on maybe a tenth of it and the whole thing’s about Jesus. If that appeals to you, you’re either a scarily devoted Snoop fan or one of the 5,000 that bought it in its first week—low numbers by Snoop standards, but enough to get it to #1 on the gospel charts. It’s not bad. In fact, it contains some of the most powerful moments in the Doggfather’s recent catalog. It’s just an extremely niche product, and it’s the first release of the rapper’s increasingly weird late career longtime fans could be forgiven for skipping. Welcome to Deep Snoop.

Why would Snoop do this? Snoop isn’t known as a man of God, and he hops between faiths with Dylan-like frivolity; he was a member of the Nation of Islam around 2009 before his almost-certainly-facetious conversion to Rastafari in 2012. Interviews suggest BIble of Love is a cry for sanity in turbulent times, but there’s no clear social justice angle besides platitudes about love. It’d be more convincing as a genre experiment if Snoop served as more than just a host. Maybe it’s a light-side answer to his porn VHS.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Apr 02, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Long Trax 2 works phenomenally well as ambient music.

Will Long’s Long Trax 2 resembles an empty swimming pool or an abandoned pier extending out into the open sea. It deepens, but does not do a whole lot else, and though long stretches of it are featureless, it’s vast enough to be inherently awe-inspiring. A bassline is a luxury in this music; the drums sound like the rinky-dink automatic rhythm tracks on cheap keyboards; thick synth chords hang low, sad and heavy. Even house fans adapted to formidable repetition might find this stuff too stagnant to enjoy, but for those versed in the spartan ambient music Long makes as Celer, this should be familiar terrain.

Though Long Trax 2 and its predecessor are technically house music, this music works as ambient. These tracks don’t move linearly, nor do they build and release. They hang in place for anywhere between just under to just over ten minutes (long trax, indeed), and though the kick drops out often, it’s seemingly at random. Without the drums, these tracks would just be static washes of pad, but the dull think of the kick and the gentle hiss of the hi-hat (no snares here) means the music changes often enough to keep our attention—and, if we want to take this music for a walk, keeps our feet moving forward.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Mar 26, 2018

Publication: Pretty Much Amazing

The Mount Eerie mythology is over, and the shadow of Geneviève Elverum’s passing now hangs inexorably over Phil Elverum’s project. Last year’s A Crow Looked At Me found Elverum reckoning not only with the loss of his wife but the treatment of death in his art. The Mount Eerie project itself was born from a death: Elverum’s himself, as he climbed Mount Eerie on the final Microphones album that gave the project its name to die Ziggy Stardust-style and be reborn in the arms of the universe. “Do you see what happens when big black Death breathes on you with its breath?” blustered Little Wings’ Kyle Field on that record, panting into the microphone while surrounded by operatic hoo-hahs. It was an ambitious album, often musically dazzling, but it was essentially rock-opera theater. What once seemed awe-inspiring and terrifying might now, even to reverent fans, seem as contrived as Romeo plunging a collapsible dagger into his guts.

Elverum’s reconciliation was to make an album that made a show of somehow not being art. “Death is real,” Crow’s opening line, was last year’s most quoted indie-rock lyric. Less widely shared was the line that came next: “It’s not for singing about/it’s not for making into art.” Never mind that Elverum had just made an entire concept album about his wife’s death, made in part with his wife’s instruments. It seemed at best like a problem Elverum had yet to work through, at worst like a preemptive defense against charges of exploiting his wife’s memory in the name of art. Crow wasn’t exploitative—it felt like a necessary unburdening—but the fact remained that it was a work of art, and Elverum’s attempt to distance himself from that truth seemed dishonest.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Mar 26, 2018

Publication: Pretty Much Amazing

2012-2017, Nicolas Jaar’s compilation of tracks recorded as A.A.L. (Against All Logic) and intermittently inserted in his DJ sets over the years, reminds me of those rumors about Stanley Kubrick making a porn film. This is low-stakes genre fare by an ambitious producer who usually prefers dizzying conceptual fare, and it’s interesting seeing Jaar bring his artsy sensibility to tried-and-true genres like disco edits and acid house—interesting, but not always rewarding.

Though it’s lengthy and plays like your typical house “artist album,” this is clearly one of Jaar’s minor releases. He dropped it on the world with little fanfare, and it doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s a compilation, as some of the more jarring transitions—the spritzy disco “Some Kind of Game” into the subterranean Berlin techno of “Hopeless”, most notably—make clear. A lot of this music sounds like it’d work better in the club than over headphones. While most disco edits drive loops endlessly forward in the pursuit of ecstasy, Jaar’s are weirdly stagnant, and his samples duck shyly in and out of thick tunnels of filter at their own whim. Those earth-shattering moments where the bass kicks back in and the dancefloor goes wild are mostly absent, and though “Know You” and “Such a Bad Way” would have no problem moving bodies at a club, over headphones they hover in a frustrating limbo between jacking physicality and ambient drift. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Mar 26, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

One of the most replayable albums from DJ Rashad’s Teklife crew.

DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’ is one of the most replayable albums from DJ Rashad’s Teklife crew, and it has a lot of personality. Much of this latter factor owes to Taye’s decision to rap over many of his tracks. He’s far from a jaw-dropping rapper; his raps are mostly about getting stoned, and they’re as showy as GRiZ pulling out a sax during a DJ set. But they’re amiably boyish, and they give a human voice to the master of the machines.

Taye described Still Trippin’ as a way to bridge the gap “between footwork and some of Chicago’s rappers being the biggest rappers in the world.” Indeed, with its woozy, shimmering chords and occasional Dillaesque sense of arrested momentum, it’s probably the best starting point for those who heard the footwork influences on Chance the Rapper’s recent tapes, like Coloring Book and Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama, and wanted to learn more. But Still Trippin’ isn’t really trying to break into the mainstream, and any engagements with the chart world are in the service of its own hermetic vision.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Mar 21, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Singer and band bleed together holistically.

“I be Fela Kuti,” sings Seun Kuti on “Last Revolutionary,” from his fourth album Black Times, and he’s not entirely wrong. While most children of internationally renowned musicians shirk from the shadow of their pedigree, Seun embraces it, taking control of his father’s Egypt 80 band and making what are essentially modern-day Fela records. His vocal timbre is uncannily similar to the old man’s, and the differences between Seun’s sound and Fela’s owe mostly to updated themes and technology. Plus, his songs are shorter, presumably to hook an international audience with less patience for 15-plus-minute tracks.

It’s this last quality that makes the younger Kuti’s work ultimately less effective than his dad’s (at least in the studio; Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 should be a bucket-list band for any open-minded fan of live music). The musicians have less room to roam, and we don’t get as many interesting combinations of sound as on the lengthy, ruminative records Fela made with Egypt 80, like Army Arrangement and the four-song, blockbuster-length Live in Detroit 1986. Secondly, there’s less of the thrilling interplay between the bandleader and band present on Fela records. Egypt 80 seemed to orbit around Fela’s microphone-shy presence, and when he finally walked up to the mic to speak after five or 10 minutes, the band quieted down as if in awe. Seun is never far from the microphone, and rather than interacting, singer and band bleed together holistically.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Mar 20, 2018

Publication: Jewish News of Northern California

Many synagogues and JCCs in the Bay Area are opening their doors for Passover seders, bringing people together to celebrate the Festival of Freedom in community. From traditional seders to gourmet feasts, here’s a selection of this year’s offerings. It is advisable to make reservations even if not required. A number of Chabad seders are listed here; for more see Chabad.org. Passover is from March 31-April 7, with the first seder held on Friday, March 30 (though many organizations are offering earlier seders as well).  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Mar 18, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

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.)

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Date: Mar 14, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

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.)

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Date: Mar 12, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

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.)

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Date: Mar 08, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

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.)

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Date: Mar 04, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

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.)

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