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 (533)

Date: Oct 31, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

When I first watched Kōji Shiraishi’s Noroi: The Curse, I spent two hours wondering what was happening. By the time it was over, I had to process what exactly had just happened to me. It’s not immediate. Its storyline takes time to congeal. Jump scares are absent, gore is sparse and we don’t see our first ghost until deep in the film. But it’s not “atmospheric horror,” nor is it a family drama in a Halloween costume. In fact, it’s shot in one of the most commercial and clichéd horror formats: found footage.

The 2005 Japanese film is presented as late-night TV ghost-hunter schlock. We meet Masafumi Kobayashi, director of documentaries about the supernatural. His motto: “No matter how terrifying, I want the truth.” When you’re in a horror movie, you make bad decisions, and as the self-cast hero of a horror movie, Kobayashi excels in making bad decisions. They’re his own flaw, not the film’s, and when the weight of those decisions comes crashing down, the film earns the importance of tragedy.

As Kobayashi investigates the disappearance of a child psychic, it becomes clear that lives are at stake and more than good footage lies at the end of the road. Near the end of the film, Kobayashi makes an unbelievably stupid decision that we can interpret on one hand as an expression of guilt for being unable to prevent an earlier death and that on a deeper level we can interpret as a shameless ploy for footage. His movie is always on his mind, and we want to punch him for his selfishness. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 17, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

No doubt this album sounded spectacular to Joni fans after her ‘80s wilderness, but it resembles her best work more than it embodies it.

Night Ride Home, the first album Joni Mitchell would release in the ‘90s, is by no means a great album. But it’s a return to Mitchell’s strengths after a meandering ‘80s spent trapped in the hell of dated synths and blind commercialism that tripped up so many minds of her generation. It’s no surprise, hearing the desiccated arena drums and incongruous MTV-star guests of 1988’s corny Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, that she’d become more and more critical of the music business in the ‘90s, threatening to make each new album her last.

The most questionable decision Mitchell made in the ‘80s was to shift from personal to topical themes. These would re-emerge on 1994’s Turbulent Indigo, but here Mitchell retreats into the exquisite sketches of her own head and others’ that define her best writing. Even the song about child abuse, “Cherokee Louise,” spends scarcely a bar decrying the injustice of the issue and instead focuses on what it means to provide comfort to a friend in need. It never loses sight of the individual in pursuit of the message, avoiding a common issue with political music. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 11, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Guaraldi’s contributions are rarely anything less than magical.

Astonishingly, the It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brownsoundtrack is only just now being made available in physical form thanks to Universal Music’s film-score imprint Varèse Sarabande. But this isn’t a lost gem to stand alongside the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, some of the most haunting ever to grace a family TV special. There are no ancient voices of children here, and the dominant mood is light-hearted kiddie mischief rather than aching nostalgia. And it’s inseparable from its source material, racing through 17 songs in 20 minutes at the same rate and in the same order as the special. (If A Charlie Brown Christmas received the same treatment, half its runtime would just be “Christmas Time Is Here.”)

But it’s a fun and affectionate album, and there’s enough stuff going on here that even at its brisk runtime it feels like a pretty substantial jazz record. For instance, we get not one but four World War I ballads, played diegetically on piano by the character Schroeder, crammed into under two minutes. Full-fledged songs like “The Great Pumpkin Waltz,” previously only available on an expanded version of the Christmas album, rub elbows with interstitial themes that play for a few seconds when, say, we see Linus licking a lollipop. The endless short reprises of themes like “Linus & Lucy,” which God knows we’ve heard enough times, get annoying pretty quickly, but at least they give the record a sense of internal logic.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 05, 2018

Publication: Jewish News of Northern California

rake is one of the biggest rap stars in the world — and one of the most eclectic. He is doing three shows at the 19,500-seat Oracle Arena in Oakland, Oct. 26-27 and 29. If you’re not familiar with the Canadian Jew’s work, it’s hard to know where to start with his surprisingly massive discography, but these eight songs highlight his diverse taste, skill set and evolution from teen heartthrob to hardened music-industry veteran.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 02, 2018

Publication: 48 Hills

Local label honcho Patrick Brown on his eclectic roster, collaborative DIY model, and the lasting influence of Soulja Boy

ALL EARS The first thing you hear when you call Patrick Brown is “please enjoy this ringback tone,” followed by Louisiana rapper Kevin Gates belting the hook to his hit “2 Phones.”

Brown probably won’t answer. He doesn’t pick up phone calls; he’s usually in the studio anyway. The name of his record label is Text Me, one of the most productive outfits in San Francisco: Brown wanted to name it after something he always says.

Brown, 40, came of age in New York during the hip-hop boom of the ‘90s, and his musical education had as much room for Prince Paul as Paul Simon. This eclecticism is reflected not only in the roster of Text Me’s dozens of artists, but also on his approach to breaking down genre walls and production barriers—all in service of putting records out from a broad spectrum of local artists (and getting those artists paid). He moved to San Francisco in 1998 to study graphic design at Academy of Art. Then he studied film. Then he ran an art gallery.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Oct 01, 2018

Publication: Phluff

It’s hard to ignore how much Lonnie Holley uses the word “humans.” Usually when we hear that word it’s out of the mouth of a killer robot or an alien invader in a Saturday morning cartoon. Maybe it’s just one of Holley’s weird quirks, like wearing mesh beanies festooned with trinkets made of trash or greeting people with a fist-bump with thumb extended. But it’s a better word than “people,” anyway. “People” reduces the sum of humanity to an indistinct mass. “Humans” highlights the individuals. Besides, to be thought of as human isn’t a given. It’s something a lot of people have to fight for.

MITH, Holley’s third album since beginning a recording career early this decade after years as an acclaimed sculptor, is a humanistic lament for an America that was, is, and likely will always be fucked-up. Holley was born in Jim Crow Alabama in 1950 and might have been doomed to a life of extreme poverty had he not dragged his first sculptures to the Birmingham Museum of Art in the ‘80s. He must be fairly well-off now as a prominent figure in the art world. But he remains— as he phrases it in the first words of this gargantuan, 76-minute record—a “suspect in America.” (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 26, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Some will leave this album comforted. Others might be unfathomably depressed.

The title track of Sandro Perri’s In Another Life, which comprises the bulk of the album, is new age for a world of shit. It spins a utopian vision, where “freely goes the child at night” and “there’s no intelligence test in class,” while sighing sadly that it can only be “in another life”. It’s smarter than most new age but also more frustrating, because instead of telling us that the world is perfect or that you can find perfection in yourself, it tells us we can find perfection in…itself. Like most messianic pop visions, including its close cousin—John Lennon’s “Imagine”—it offers no solution. But at least it’s bitterly aware of that fact. It runs 24 minutes for a reason: it’s trying to maintain its papier-mâché paradise as long as possible before reality sinks back in.

Its inertia might be frustrating to those who remember his last album, 2011’s terrifically groovy Impossible Spaces, a little less so for those who’ve heard his earlier ambient work as Polmo Polpo. And to be fair, there are a lot of ambient albums that work better to conjure the kind of paradise Perri dreams up. Its sequencer sounds more like a piece of gear than a piece of the music, and it’s a little discouraging to realize it’s not going away. It’s in the stereo field around it where In Another Life truly comes alive, with all manner of little florets of steel guitar, flute and percussion. And Perri’s voice is benevolent and soft-spoken enough to float above the music without distraction. Singing’s hard to get right in ambient music, but Perri finds the right notes.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 24, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

It’s not the trees in a forest that make it frightening — it’s the spaces between, the sylvan caverns and canyons where wild beasts prowl and ancient magic seems to take root. This phenomenon explains why Suzanne Langille and Loren Connors’ The Enchanted Forest is so spellbinding in its evocation of the dark secrets of the woods in spite of comprising no more than Langille’s voice, barely rising above a whisper, and Connors’ lightly amplified filigrees of guitar. It’s in the chasms between Connors’ notes that the story unfolds. He rarely strays from portentous minor, and the delineations between tracks are almost imperceptible. Once you’re deep enough into this 1998 jewel of an ambient folk record, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been going in circles.

“The forest spoke to me,” goes an early and memorable lyric. This is the kind of album where such a line makes perfect sense, sending shivers of magic through the proceedings. There’s a sort of story running through the record, but for the first half of the album we’re at home among Langille’s paintings of silver butterflies and high-flying ravens — classic aesthetic fantasy stuff we might hear on a Zeppelin brit-folk odyssey or the knottier thickets of Astral Weeks. Langille introduces characters — a woman with a child, some wild animals, an “Uncle Joe,” the ominous presence of a forester. A decisive break comes about halfway through. “You should leave here,” warns Uncle Joe, and suddenly those voices from the woods don’t seem so benevolent.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

 

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Date: Sep 18, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

Shinichi Atobe, that elusive producer of nautical dub techno, emerges from the depths on his sunniest, most club-friendly release yet, Heat.

Shinichi Atobe’s evolved the same way life on Earth has; after floundering about in the deep sea, he’s flopped up on land. Maybe the beach on the cover of his new album Heat is where the dead and rusted things that populate his previous albums like Butterfly Effect and World wash up, because this is the sunniest music the elusive Japanese producer’s ever made. The crusty distortion that defined his music and that of the Chain Reaction crew he ran with early in his career is gone, replaced by a spit-shined mix and insistent beats that indicate a desire to be heard in more DJ sets.

It’s not as cynical as it sounds once you consider Shinichi Atobe’s always made anthems. Most dub techno producers are content to let the stoned soup of their music ebb and flow around you unobtrusively, but Atobe makes tracks that stick in the head, the memory, the heart. What are “Plug and Delay”, “The Red Line”, “Regret”, and “Butterfly Effect” if not bangers?  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 16, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

One of the year’s more stylistically impressive records.

Safe in the Hands of Love is one of the year’s more stylistically impressive records and, as his Warp debut, a fine introduction of provocative Tennessee producer Yves Tumor to the world. Tumor, born Sean Bowie, made a small splash under the moniker Teams in the chillwave days before finding himself at the vanguard of a wave of underground producers blurring boundaries between genres, between chart pop and avant-garde, between digital uncanniness and animal sensuality. Most of these artists are queer people of color who present themselves through glamorous press photos and lurid album art; think Arca, Lotic, Sophie or serpentwithfeet.

Of these artists, Bowie is the most restlessly itinerant. There’s plenty of dark body music with low rumblings of bass on the album (“Economy of Freedom”). There are also rock ’n’ roll songs (“Licking an Orchid”), things that sound almost emo (“Recognizing the Enemy”), violent sound collages (“Hope in Suffering,” filled with the putrid buzz of flies), nods to his blunted beatmaker days (“Noid”) and songs that mix these elements together (“Let The Lioness in You Flow Freely,” whose sheets of noise are stirred up by sid-echained drums, as much Toro Y Moi as Throbbing Gristle). (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 14, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

One of ambient’s most austere artists, Sarah Davachi, expands her sound, but her music is more mysterious than ever on Gave in Rest.

Add an extra “e” to the end of “Auster“, and you’ve got a perfect description of the first track on Sarah Davachi’s second album of 2018, Gave in Rest. It’s almost comically characteristic of the most ascetic of ambient artists, vibrating in dead space, unadorned, denying listeners the pleasure of either a psychedelic texture or some amniotic sound design to swim in. If we’ve heard a Davachi album, we already know what we’re in for.

And then it does something incredible. It stops. Then it starts back up again in a different key. It does this often until it peters out for good after eight and a half minutes.

It’s astonishing no one’s thought of this trick before, and it’s startling, imbuing a stationary drone with an eerie sense of momentum. Philip Sherburne at Pitchfork described it as the track “breathing”. I see it more as individual, grainy shots from a security camera capturing different angles of the same place. That’s the difference between Gave in Rest and her past albums. Things happen, and they’re fascinating.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 12, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A crossroads for fans—both a confirmation of Mitchell’s stature as an auteur and a revelation of the ugliest aspects of her art.

Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is an album of unbridled auteurism, and its miles-wide baroque sweep acts as easy confirmation of Joni Mitchell as a progressive pop visionary worthy of mentioning in the same breath as Brian Wilson. But it’s as exhilarating for its freedom as it is frustrating in the way it chooses to express it, and listeners are required to grapple with its racism, Mitchell’s infantilizing and colonial mindset, and her desire to leech legitimacy from elsewhere besides her own whiteness and femininity.

It was and remains exceedingly difficult for a female pop genius to be taken seriously, and though Mitchell had a few masterworks under her belt by the mid-‘70s, she was frustrated to find herself valued mostly for her gender. Obscene advertising that declared her “90% virgin,” a model of pristine white femininity, might have been the final straw. She began to identify deeply with “black classical music,” as she termed it—particularly the art of Miles Davis, deep in his electric fusion period at the time. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 05, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

This is not the place to start for a new Residents fan.

It’s not hard to figure out who the Residents are if you try, but anonymity is a big part of the package. Are the people in the eyeball masks and top hats really the musicians? There’s a wonderful interview from 1986 where Homer Flynn, head of their Cryptic Corporation, drones on while the Residents pace around the room behind him like bored pets—and gee, doesn’t Flynn’s Southern-accented voice sound a lot like the singer on a lot of the songs? He might be a Resident, he might not be, but it’d be a little underwhelming if he was. As with fellow art-world troll dril, even those who know the creatives’ identities might be hesitant to divulge them.

The argument of the long-running art collective’s new album, I Am a Resident, is that anyone is a Resident. Indeed, fans were encouraged to submit their own covers of Residents songs to the group, who mashed them up into long-form compositions on disc one of the sprawling collection. Disc two highlights the covers individually, which range from lo-fi bedroom-pop curiosities as hermetic as anything recorded by the band itself to a professional gypsy-jazz cover of 1980’s “Moisture.” The artists aren’t credited, and a “Song Gallery” on their website gives only jokey artist names like “Ranchstyle Chickenpants” and “El Douche (and His Sister).” (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Sep 03, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

In a perfect world, this album wouldn’t be as transgressive as it is.

It’s not just that Australian pop singer Troye Sivan is gay—it’s that he’s so thoroughly gay, painting same-sex love with the same nuance and carnal detail straight relationships have been afforded since the dawn of pop music. He wields the word “boy” like a scepter, animated by the energy of being someone whose brains a lot of people want to fuck out. It’s awfully helpful to be handsome and famous when the dating pool’s a tenth that of your straight friends.

Bloom is unusual in another way: it’s the rare album by a male pop star that’s not so much about what he does to you as what he wants you to do to him. A submissive partner, he makes much of specifics, and even the album’s title is a most lovely euphemism for grostulation. The metaphor of the title track hits you incredulously, like an old showtune—“is he talking about what I think he’s talking about?” we might ask. There’s lots of kinky topography about oceans and rivers, but he gets creative with it, skipping stones across a lover’s body on “Lucky Strike.”

Sivan comes off as smart and self-aware. He likes to sing about formative sexual experience: lying about his age to fuck older men on “Seventeen,” receiving for the first time on “Bloom.” There’s often a push-pull dance between his body and the racing brain that governs it, and at its best—the artificial angel’s garden of “The Good Side,” the alien moans of “My My My”—the production reflects this, casting him as a chart-side mirror to underground queer provocateurs like Arca and Lotic who use squishy, tactile sounds to reflect tenuous trust in their own bodies.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 29, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

It’s easy to imagine the musicians falling into a trance as they play this music, and it’s contagious.

A lot of bands are better at jamming than writing songs, which raises the question of why you’d ever want to listen to a band like Träd, Gräs och Stenar over your cousin’s garage band. What makes freeform, improvisatory freak-outs as fun for the listener as for the musicians? Having both seen and participated in many endless guitar jams, I propose it comes down to taste. In a less-than-inspired jam session, a musician with an ego might swoop in and try to save it. In an inspired jam session, the collective product is so good no one tries to better it. Everyone surrenders to their instruments, in service of the sound.

Träd, Gräs och Stenar have been masters of the jam for half a century. First emerging as Pärson Sound in 1967 with some of the woolliest music in the world at that time, the band changed its name a few times and finally settled on the Swedish for “trees, grass, and stones.” Happier playing airstrips than auditoriums, more comfortable cooking meals for crowds rather than indulging in princely tour riders, the band maintains an anti-commercial ethos that means they’ll be comfortable sprawling out in small venues until Judgment Day. And on Träden, they take us deeper than ever into their hermetic world. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 26, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The strongest album by an A-list American pop artist since Lemonade.

Ariana Grande’s Sweetener is the strongest album by an A-list American pop artist since Beyoncé’s Lemonade in 2016, which is interesting because both albums are about the same thing: monogamy, specifically being a specific famous person in a relationship with another specific famous person. Monogamy is a harder sell than promiscuity in pop. Everyone knows sex feels great, but young listeners are likely to see marriage as an end-game, a cut-off point after which you can’t do all the fun things in life like party and travel and walk around naked and smoke weed in your apartment. It’s easy for label goon to bang out a song about fucking and be home by lunchtime. Songs about commitment thus tend to come from a more personal place from the artist and better reflect their personality. It’s no surprise, then, that Grande’s definitive full-length to date both comes on the heels of her engagement to goofball comic Pete Davidson and is her first album where she had a hand in writing most of the songs.

Co-writer credits in pop are often dubious and tend to exist to funnel more royalties to the singer. But what’s striking about Sweetener is that Grande makes her strongest statements not through her voice—long the selling point for a singer often termed “Baby Mariah”—but her voice as an artist, that self-assurance that prompts fans to scream “iconic” from the Internet cheap seats. Great songwriters have that voice. So do great pop stars. Those specifics can be the difference between an A-list and B-list stars. You know what I’m talking about. Drake cries in hotel rooms and frets about the state of his empire. Rihanna gets high on boats. Beyoncé makes dazzling public appearances and has Warhol-wrecking sex with her husband. And here Grande emerges as a most unbothered of pop singers: comfortable, bemused, blissed-out enough to observe offhandedly just how successful she is as if realizing it for the first time. She no longer needs to broadcast her emotions to the heavens. She barely needs to get out of bed.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 23, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

Young Thug throws a party for both listeners and his fellow rappers on Slime Language, a showcase for his new vanity label.

In the latest iteration of the rap name game, where albums can be albums or EPs or mixtapes or playlists depending on the size of the ideas rather than the size of the work, Young Thug’s decided to call his new album Slime Language a compilation. That’s true insofar as it compiles artists from his new Young Stoner Life vanity label, but the boss is on every track, and it’s his bars that make Slime Language more than just a booster shot to 2018’s summer banger canon. He’s at the center of a specific commercial space in rap, and Slime Language visualizes this geography, positioning him as an exemplar for his understudies, or perhaps a mother tiger teaching her cubs how to hunt.

Usual weed-carriers Gunna and Duke are there. His sisters Dora and Dolly (who quietly dropped a mixtape, Family Ties, in 2016) show up. His on-and-off fiancée Jerrika Karlae makes a convincing case for herself as a Travis Scott-style Auto-Tune cyber-star, castigating weak underlings on “U Ain’t Slime Enough” in-between steely ad-libs. (If you think this album is somehow meant to uplift women, wait until Thug justifies making a girl get an abortion by claiming “she ain’t nothing but a thotty” on “Slimed In;” his post-gender philosophy still seems to apply mostly to his wardrobe.) A strong turn comes from the veteran, shuttled-around rapper Strick, who makes one of the funnier “I’m a racist” jokes that have become popular post-Charlottesville. And Lil Uzi Vert, who appears on “It’s a Slime”, can always be counted on with his Weezy Joe Armstrong antics.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 22, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

One of electronic music’s most promising maximalists, Iglooghost scales back his relentless sound on a new set of EPs.

One of last year’s nicest surprises was an album called Neō Wax Bloomthe debut from Brainfeeder signee Iglooghost. It may well be one of the most electronic unrelenting albums ever made, trapping us in a laser war with every zap aimed at our pleasure centers. There were elements of grime and dubstep; its visuals came from the Japanese video games on which the producer born Seamus Malliagh no doubt was weaned during his Irish childhood. But influences disappeared in its novelty and sonic onslaught. Never content to kill time with loops, Neō Wax Bloom felt herculean, the product of obsessive labor in a time when a few flimsy loops and an aesthetic can be the quick ticket to indie fame. All the more impressive given Malliagh was barely out of his teens.

Rumors of an imminent follow-up seemed unbelievable, but less than a year later, here are Clear Tamei and Steel Mogutwo EPs with a neat light-dark dichotomy (the two are more or less interchangeable, with Mogu a little more aggressive). The logical approach after something like Neō Wax Bloom would be to either scale things back or abandon taste at the altar of blinding hubris. But Malliagh wants his cake and his ice cream. On the one hand, there’s more space between the sounds, and these tracks often move with the iron clank of Fade to Mind-style post-club or American brostep rather than the gravity-defying speed of Super Smash Bros. characters. On the other hand, Malliagh seems to be drawing from an older tradition of maximalism than what Rustie and Joker might serve up. A lot of these sounds belong to the arena or the opera house, not the arcade.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 20, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

Nicki Minaj’s Queen highlights her threatened place in rap, chasing trends while maintaining an old-school ethos.

Nicki Minaj and Eminem may or may not be dating. But at least they can chat over drinks about how, as a rapper, Minaj invokes on her fourth album Queen famously said, things done changed in the hip-hop game. Em hasn’t made much worth a damn in the last 15 years, and even the stuff that was ever ostensibly worth a damn now scans as meathead Bush-era trolling, as wretched as Family Guy. As for Minaj, it’s only been four years since she was at the chart-rap vanguard. “Trini Dem Girls” and “Four Door Aventador”, not to mention “Anaconda”, were poptimist staples after The Pinkprint dropped. “Truffle Butter” got a healthy amount of club play and remains one of the decade’s better bangers. But trap and SoundCloud rap have taken over since. Queen‘s title implies it’s meant to function as a coronation for one of the biggest rappers ever, but it’s more the sound of Minaj fighting to keep that crown on her head.

Those who wished she’d just make a hard rap album instead of “compromising” to pop as she did on Pink Friday and the second half of Roman Reloaded might feel validated. The rapping-to-singing proportion is higher than on any of her releases since her mixtape days. There are no obvious pop-radio hits like “Starships” or “Pills n Potions,” though perhaps that’s because the overlap between rap and pop is greater than it’s been since the first half of the 2000s and it’s commercially safer than ever for her to spit instead of sing. Either way, hooking up with the Weeknd for a blustery goth-R&B ballad (“Thought I Knew You”) and Future for the millionth pale retread of Juvenile’s “Ha” (“Sir”) is at least as cynical as manufacturing a bunch of dance-pop songs for the second half of your album—and a lot less entertaining. Its nods to Atlanta come across less like canny fusion and more like what happened to Prince around the time new jack swing took over, or to Stevie Wonder once gated drums and synth bass became the sound of the future.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 17, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

Shinichi Atobe’s Ship-Scope EP lasts 18 minutes, but the expanses it opens are vast. It’s a brief glimpse at something unutterably huge. Its smallness seems to mirror our own, as if telling us within the overwhelming size and mystery of the world, that our lives might as well be that short.

Every second counts, so Ship-Scope wastes no time deepening, expanding, teasing ideas to be developed later on. It opens in a whoosh of delay-treated pads as tiny chords flash deep in the mix like distant ship-lights at sea. This is “Ship-Scope,” the title track.

“Plug and Delay” resembles techno, but it seems to emanate from somewhere else besides the sterling sound system of a DJ. It feels like it’s pushing to make itself known through an old radio that hasn’t been used for 60 years — or perhaps from the bottom of the ocean, or under sand. (Click “web” or ‘”pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 13, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

If you see Travis Scott as a hack, Astroworld won’t change your mind.

If you see Travis Scott as a hack, Astroworld won’t change your mind. If you’ve always liked what he did – the extravagant dark-fantasy aesthetic, the patina of danger, the overwhelming size and sound that made every idea feel important – but just wish he’d make a great album already, Astroworld is a revelation. This is an album for the fans. Luckily, he has a lot of those.

Scott has long been an acolyte of Kanye West, whose greatest skill many fans argue is curating albums – assembling the right beats and collaborators and concepts and fitting them into the perfect arc. This feels like the conclusion to that approach in rap. Though Scott raps harder than he has since early tapes like Owl Pharaoh, he’s a master of ceremonies for an album whose guests are frequently uncredited, though a quick Google search reveals many of the names. Tame Impala and Thundercat show up to lend indie cred, Stevie Wonder to add hall-of-fame cred, Swae Lee and the Migos guys for trap cred. It’s a high-art canvas, a brainless tentpole blockbuster, a gesture towards the rockist cult of the album – it’s a rap record in 2018.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 12, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Tangerine Reef is an ambient sort of thing that more closely resembles earlier Animal Collective releases like Danse Manatee or Water Curses.

Tangerine Reef  is an ambient sort of thing that more closely resembles earlier Animal Collective releases like Danse Manatee or Water Curses than anything they’ve put out since becoming accidental rock stars with 2009’s “My Girls” and Merriweather Post Pavilion. If you stumbled across the band during that annus mirabilis for indie rock, you might be sorely disappointed by the lack of great pop songs on Tangerine Reef, and the absence of the band’s Brian Wilson surrogate Panda Bear might make this a non-starter for some fans. But this is the most relaxed and easygoing thing they’ve billed as a full album in over a decade.

Reef  is a soundtrack to art-activist duo Coral Morphologic’s film of the same name, made to spread awareness of the plight of coral reefs—colonies of invertebrates (literal animal collectives!) that are sensitive to changes in the water such as the warming and acidification caused by human activity. The film emphasizes the alien shapes of the corals as they gyrate in the ocean currents, their beauty acting as our impetus to help save them. Tangerine Reef  takes a similar approach. It doesn’t really suggest environmental dread; it’s sound scuba, evoking both the immersive qualities of the ocean and its status as one of the last true wildernesses.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 08, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

There’s a heightened fairytale hyper-realism to this album.

Jake Muir often mentions “surf rock” and a “beloved American pop group” in discussing his new album, Lady’s Mantle. He’s cagey about exactly what band he’s talking about, but there’s no mistaking the harmonies that bloom into view as “High Tide” begins, least of all the keening, heaven-searching voice at their center. Muir melts this band back into the sand and surf, confirming the existential fear of nature that courses through so much of their work. It brings to mind, at its best, Gavin Bryars’ masterpiece The Sinking of the Titanic in its evocation of human voices haunting nature itself, an ephemeral flash of life living on in the impermeable fabric of the planet.

These samples are one part of the formula. The other is aqueous field recordings taken from the shores of California, Iceland and elsewhere. By virtue of an impossibly deep mix, they merge into one. We’re reminded how water is so often described in the same terms as the voice—“murmuring,” “roaring,” “babbling.” At times it feels like the ocean samples are having a conversation with us; that haunted magic elevates Lady’s Mantle above countless other ambient records that seek to evoke nature. There’s a heightened fairytale hyper-realism to this album; it’s not just about the ocean but about the feeling of staring out at it and feeling something else, something alive, staring back.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 07, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A psychedelic treat for an ear trained in the more esoteric schools of electronic music.

Mark Fell, the Yorkshire musician late of Y2K-era clickers-and-cutters SND, has spent most of his solo career making beguiling algorithmic music. He typically starts out by typing some numbers into a program. Then he lets the hand of fate guide what happens. The results are often too weird and too complex to have been conceived by the human imagination alone, and while this kind of hyper-conceptual computer music can be more interesting to read, write and wonder about than to actually listen to, Fell consistently avoids this trap. How his music’s made isn’t as interesting as how it sounds, how it feels.

So it’s interesting to see him add a human element on Intra. This is an algorithmic piece written for the sixxen, a microtonal percussion instrument invented by composer Iannis Xenakis. Each sixxen, furthermore, is slightly out of tune with the others. The piece wasn’t properly notated; rather, Fell relayed information to the performers through headphones and tasked them with recreating it as accurately as possible. Mistakes are part of the work, and it’s (probably deliberately) hard to tell if the willy-nilly way this weird music moves owes to its unconventional notation or errors on the part of the performers.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 07, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

No musician aside from Lopatin is more responsible for the tenor of millennial experimental electronic music.

The Station is a grab-bag of loose songs, and it’s not really apologetic about it; the cover looks pretty much the same as that of the last Oneohtrix album Age Of, and the already-released song “The Station” serves as its load-bearing opener. But it’s good music, and as the cult of Daniel Lopatin and his project develops, these tracks might end up as fan favorites.

“The Station” already appeared as the fourth track on Age Of. Its almost “Schism”-like riff and brooding lyrics (“It must be an infestation/ Something that I can’t control”) hearken back to the explorations of canned ‘90s alt-rock angst on 2015’s Garden of Delete. But aside from that, it’s pretty representative of what’s available on Age Of: an eerie fake nylon-string guitar, vocals by Lopatin corroded by shrieking Auto-Tune, and unpredictable samples like a swell of incongruously pretty film-score strings towards the end. It’s Oneohtrix at his most structured and pop-adjacent, which isn’t surprising when you learn it was sourced from a demo for Usher.

“Monody” is IDM like Autechre and Boards of Canada used to make it, half beat and half industrial nightmare, all pitch-bent melodies and faraway pads and drums that sound like they’re bursting out of a cobwebby broken radio. It’s a stylistic experiment that wouldn’t fit that easily on most of his other albums but finds a home here, a window into a possible influence that could have been implied in his fetishes for detuned synth and post-apocalyptic aesthetics.  (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 07, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

At 81, trumpeter Jon Hassell continues to push his patented Fourth World sound forward. Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) is his first album since 2009’s Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street, and if that album felt like a well-earned victory lap, Listening to Pictures pushes forward with a fearsome hunger; it even presents itself as part one of a series. It’s not a culmination but a launching point.

Hassell was there at the birth of ambient, and his two Fourth World albums with Brian Eno in the 1980s spawned and titled an entire subset of the genre (surveyed on Optimo Music’s excellent Miracle Steps compilation from last year). On Listening to Pictures, it seems like the master is taking lessons from his students, or maybe it’s just an incident of convergent evolution. “Picnic” has some of the same hallucinatory, gauzy sheen we can hear in the music of Gas, Tim Hecker, or Rafael Anton Irisarri. The way the sounds on “Manga Scene” seem to bump around in dead space brings to mind the dub abstractions of Vladislav Delay. Cool synth chords imply the creeping influence of club music, which spawned its own separate ambient tradition from the more classical-minded school Hassell and Eno exemplify.  (Click “pdf” or “web” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 06, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A distraction in the back of your head rather than focused listening.

Guarda in alto is a limb of latter-day Sun Araw, a band that’s more pointillist than psychedelic, more like molecular gastronomy than a stoned soul picnic. Austin-born, Los Angeles-based musician Cameron Stallones started out making dub-inspired groove music stoney enough to land on the soundtrack to Hotline Miami. But Since 2012’s underrated The Inner Treaty, he and his cast of collaborators have moved towards something more ambient, more remote and more about silly sounds bumping into each other at high velocity. You really have to stand back with this stuff to see the whole from the parts, and albums like this one, The Inner Treaty, and 2015’s Gazebo Effect (credited oddly to the S. Araw Band) get better the further they deepen.

This is the soundtrack to an Italian art film about a man who discovers a magical world on the rooftops of Rome. Its obligation to accompany images supersedes its ability to conjure its own, and it lacks the clear-cut identity of its kin, which more or less have distinct personalities: the hermetic austerity of Belomancie, the cowboy irony of The Saddle of the Increate and the incense-scented mysticism of Professional Sunflow. To invoke an artist to which Stallones’ music is often compared, it’s a good Sun Araw album in the same way Pangaea is a good ‘70s Miles Davis album. It’s not essential; it’s more of an extension of his œuvre than a great stand-alone work, but play it for neophytes and their minds may very well be blown wide open.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Aug 02, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Though the threat of violence looms overhead and moments of beauty are rarely allowed to exist unscathed, Power’s optimism is dizzying.

The discomfort everyday queer presentation can induce in the casual bigot can be kind of empowering. Back in 1967, the transgender soul singer Jackie Shane railed about how if people ever stopped pointing at her on the street, she’d go home and look in the mirror and wonder if she put her makeup on wrong. The great gay anthem “Queen,” by Perfume Genius, is about the way people still recoil from queerness and the associations with disease and sexual perversion still inexorably attached to it. If that isn’t power, it argues, what is? But perhaps no one has phrased this topsy-turvy dynamic as deliciously as J’Kerian Morgan: “Brown skin, masculine frame, head’s a target/ Acting feminine, make ‘em vomit.

Power, the new album from the Houston-born, Berlin-based producer known as Lotic, is about the power of simply existing. It’s a suit of bulletproof armor, and though the threat of violence looms overhead and moments of beauty are rarely allowed to exist unscathed, its optimism is dizzying. Morgan was homeless for much of the recording of the album, but it doesn’t dwell on hard luck, preferring to look towards the future with resolve and resilience. At times, Power is beautiful and luxurious, its twinkling, bell-centric textures evoking ambient artists like Donato Dozzy and Ernest Hood. At other times, it kicks up such an orgiastic squall of noise it justifies the album’s portentous title through sheer physical force.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 30, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

There’s something resolutely no-bullshit about Container.

The newest LP from Ren Schofield’s Container project finds the producer veering further away from his roots in the fertile Providence, Rhode Island noise scene and deeper into unapologetic club music. The drums are crisper here, the in-the-red distortion less all-consuming, the basslines squelchier. It doesn’t bludgeon you into submission, nor does it hover stagnantly in the air. It barrels relentlessly forward at high tempos and takes you along with it, tickling your brain all the while. Some listeners might prefer an experience where they’re less in control, to surrender to the music rather than navigate it. Others will be surprised by just how playful LP can be—and how ridiculous. At its best, the sound design approaches something similar to comedy.

Noise is traditionally used to obscure, obstruct, and distort. LP, by contrast, feels almost skeletal. Nothing blurs together. Every element in the mix is clearly discernible, and the individual drums sparkle through the thick patina of fuzz with which they’ve been treated. This allows individual sounds to shine through, and a lot of them are pretty mind-bending. The bass on “Drain” gives way to a bug’s buzz. The pitch-bent acid bassline on “Refractor” seems to talk in a mocking tone of “voice.” “Chunked’ is all insectoid skitter, similar to the algorithmic compositions of Mark Fell. “Peppered” is based around a squishy loop it’s hard not to imagine Schofield smiling as he laid down, and as on many tracks, it eventually splits apart as Schofield slowly turns up the delay.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 29, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A celebration of the ancient marriage between repetitive music and cynical harangue.

nderworld’s new Teatime Dub Encounters EP with Iggy Pop is a celebration of the ancient marriage between repetitive music and cynical harangues, so lovingly consummated in the past by Alan Vega, Mark E. Smith, John Cooper Clarke, Sleaford Mods, Bingo Gazingo, Wesley Willis, Courtney Barnett and so on. Underworld has long made use of Karl Hyde’s stream-of-conscious slam poetry, but Pop is so much more charismatic than Hyde (and just about everyone else) that this strange-on-paper pairing starts to feel more inevitable than anything else.

Maybe it was fate that brought them together. Their music—Pop’s “Lust for Life” and Underworld’s raver anthem “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” bookended the ‘90s cult film Trainspotting, and the sessions were originally intended to accompany last year’s sequel T2 Trainspotting before an independent project began to blossom. Funnily enough, they each dropped their last albums on March 20, 2016, and I reviewed them together for another website; if Pop read what I said about his, that’d explain his wish on “Bells & Circles” for a world with “no more rock critics.” (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 25, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A fun glimpse at the world’s biggest, most glamorous girl group.

Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote some of the Supremes’ greatest songs. Not many of them are on The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, a good but not great album released in 1967, not long before the departure of Florence Ballard and the trio’s rebranding as Diana Ross & the Supremes. Motown’s tightest songwriting trio doesn’t come off too well on what’s ostensibly a tribute to themselves, and only a few of these songs even approach the heights of “Baby Love” or “Where Did Our Love Go.” And though Diana Ross is as cool as ever, her remove and restraint aren’t ideal for songs like “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave,” so fiery in the hands of Martha and her Vandellas, or “It’s the Same Old Song,” a third-rate song given spark by the Four Tops.

There are a few keepers. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” pulls that trick Holland-Dozier-Holland do so well of sounding ominous yet essentially lively and good-hearted. The one-note guitar riff is tense and worried, the drums clatter restlessly, but it’s a great dance record. The circus-bear waddle of “Love Is in Our Hearts” is delightful, and though the child metaphor of “Mother Me, Smother Me” is a little creepy, Ross injects her lead with the right amount of sweetness. But The Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland is worth more in 2018 as a historical document than an artwork, a snapshot of one of the biggest girl groups ever at the end of their glory days. No one really sounds over-the-hill here, but it’s clear both singers and songwriters are coasting.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 25, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Pure-heroin E-40, rewarding chiefly to those who appreciate the essential nature of his work—which includes long-windedness.

E-40 considers The Element of Surprise his best album. Danny Brown, a rapper of erudite taste, cites it as one of his favorite albums. The consensus among E-40 fans is that… it’s long, which seems strange for a few reasons. First, we’re talking about ‘90s rap, and at 108 minutes The Element of Surprise is shorter than, say, Biggie’s Life After Death or 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me. Secondly, we’re talking about E-40, who releases music with the abandon of a man who loves his art as much as life itself. His Block Brochure series totaled about six and a half hours, and he hasn’t made an album since 2008 that didn’t come with a sequel/sister album/what have you.

But The Element of Surprise has the aura of a statement rather than a mere creative dump. For one, its regional focus is airtight. He’d open up to collaborating with rappers from the South and elsewhere on subsequent albums—his follow-up Charlie Hustle: Blueprint of a Self-Made Millionaire featured a young Lil Wayne—but his cast of collaborators here is mostly cherrypicked from the vicinity of his native Vallejo. Secondly, this album is so dense with language it feels like a tome whose pages are black with text. Its scale is staggering, and at times it sounds like he’s trying to fit in as much as possible. It’s like James Michener’s Vallejo.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 24, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The message of Crush seems to be that even in a postmodern hellworld, love will survive.

We live in a cyberpunk dystopia, but it’s nowhere near as cool as the movies made it look. The retrofuturism of Akiraand Blade Runner is mostly mined today to suggest “the ‘80s” rather than “the future.” The world isn’t neon lights and cancerous skyscrapers; it’s clean surfaces and reassuring digital voices. There are more people than ever, but the planet doesn’t feel bigger but rather smaller now that we can talk to people halfway around the globe. It’s a challenge for futurists. Ridley Scott has adopted the precision of the Apple aesthetic in his most recent films, and Blade Runner 2049 had to retcon a shutdown of the Internet to indulge in analog sprawl.

If nothing else, Varg’s Nordic Flora Series Pt. 5: Crush makes the world we live in feel a little more interesting. It takes place in our universe, but the towers are a little taller, the sky a little darker, the fog a little thicker and the lights a little more radiant. His music is unmistakably millennial, from the dubious use of Japanese characters to the poetry readings by collaborator Chloe Wise that contrast consumer buzzwords with abstract expressions of deep longing. Yet he resists the temptation to go the Daniel Lopatin/James Ferraro route and create pessimistic pieces that assault us with artificiality. His world feels staggeringly vast; it calls to us to explore.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 22, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Jacquees doesn’t give us much reason why we should be so attracted to him.

Jacquees is one of the biggest new signees to Cash Money, which is strange because his music is so niche. He’ll be the first to tell you—and he has, on Genius—all the R&B singles he’s interpolated into his music. On his debut 4275, you’ll find knowing nods to heavyweights like Usher and Ginuwine and also-rans like Avant. He’s even brought a few of the voices he grew up with into the studio with him: turn-of-the-millennium quartet Jagged Edge show up to sing on “Special,” while Donell Jones turns up simply to give the young singer a pep talk on “23.” This is music for music nerds, a hyper-referential collection you’ll dig more the more familiar you are with R&B from the ‘90s and early ‘00s.

But a record collection isn’t much of a personality, and once we’ve spotted all the references there’s not much left. He’s got a good voice, to be sure: a high, husky croon that sounds just the tiniest bit like Tracy Chapman’s. And though there’s a refreshing purity in how completely he’s an R&B singer, only rapping once in a blue moon, he won’t say no to trap beats and features from the biggest young stars (Young Thug is predictably slobbery on “Studio”). But he doesn’t give us much reason to listen to 4275over all the music it references, especially over 64 minutes that’s good for evoking the bloat of the CD era but not great for keeping us awake through all these slow, slow jams.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.”

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Date: Jul 18, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Gate of Grief lets witch house stand totally free of context.

The funny thing about the microgenres of the late 2000s and early 2010s is how many people seemed to hate them while buying into them. Perhaps because the internet as a facilitator of specific sounds was still a new idea, genres like chillwave and witch house tended to be dismissed offhand, including by the artists. But those sounds were real, people wouldn’t shut up about them, and as happy as Neon Indian is that the term fell out of favor, put on Psychic Chasms and you’re in summer 2009. That’s not a bad thing.

Had White Ring’s Gate of Grief come out in 2011 or 2012, the proper follow-up to their early singles and Black Earth That Made Me EP, those old discussions would rage around it. Is it witch house? Is it not witch house? In 2018, it’s pretty fucking obvious that it is. In fact, this is about as close as we’ll ever see to a meat-and-potatoes witch house album, a summation of the style’s central elements and a reminder of why people liked the stuff in the first place, even while kidding themselves and the internet that they didn’t.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 17, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

Prince stepped into the mouth of evil when he recorded The Black Album in 1987. A divine vision yanked him back out and the forbidden masterpiece has been shelved since

Ah, yes: the Dark Funk. It’s one of the great lost albums, and though it’s on Tidal and was briefly available in 1994, it’s, for the most part, still pretty lost. Even with Prince’s death opening up a trove of archival goodies, the reissue campaign has so far amounted to an expanded Purple Rain and a bunch of his Piano & A Microphone shit. Maybe that’s because all the really hardcore fans already have The Black Album. I got mine on Mediafire, that treasure trove of sketchy rarities whose loss was a crushing blow to everyone outside the music industry. But who wouldn’t want to hear “Bob George” on vinyl? Have three decades dulled the mystique of this forbidden masterpiece? Or is this thing just too damn evil to safely unleash on mere mortals? Would a vinyl pressing lead to a Ghostbusters-style plague, with little green things swooping around and stealing our hot dogs?

Prince might have suspected as much. The album, originally titled The Funk Bible, was recorded in 1987 but pulled and bulldozed a week before release, purportedly because Prince — while on Ecstasy pills that may have been provided by Anthony Kiedis — experienced a divine vision that informed him it was evil. He replaced it with Lovesexya solid album that’s just about the polar opposite of The Black Album. This event was the first of a series of blows for the Purple One that derailed his muse, with the ascent of hip-hop and his escalating woes with Warner Bros. being no less cataclysmic. The Black Album is arguably the last great album he recorded, coming after Sign O’ The Times and before the Graffiti Bridge and Batman soundtracks and his depressing descent into new jack swing.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 17, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Who knew Future had such an affinity for smoked salmon?

The first Beast Mode was released in 2015, deep in the fallout of Future’s ugly breakup with Ciara. That was a tape that crawled from the light. This time around, Future seems to be doing a lot better. Few rappers are better at making a hedonistic lifestyle sound miserable, but most of Beast Mode 2’s 31 minutes find Future in the luxury-rap lane, using an underrated eye for detail to sketch out the trappings of a jet-set lifestyle. It’d be a stretch to say the Future we hear here is happy, but at least he’d rather blow off steam by taking a shopping trip to Japan than by hiding deep in drugs.

Beast Mode 2 is almost escapist when it starts out. “Wifi Lit” is a fantasy about shopping trips to Japan, Burberry seats the “color of teriyaki” and the comforts of being able to use the Internet on a plane. There’s an ode to diamonds; there’s another one where he brags about smoked salmon. He’s always talked about his shit, but while the luxe life is usually a backdrop, here it’s the focus. For the first time in what seems like forever, we want to be this guy. We see ourselves in his seat, overlooking the world.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 16, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Gorilla is dated—and not just because they use the word “gay” to mean “happy.”

To understand British rock in the ‘60s, it’s crucial to remember it developed in a totally different environment than American rock. Sure, kids like John Lennon snuck a listen to Larry Williams whenever possible, but the English had already found a hundred ways to mess with American music. If not for the Beatles and the Invasion they led, would anyone outside of the British Isles still give a shit about trad jazz, the corruption of Dixieland that was the bees’ knees right before the Beatles blew up? How about skiffle, which played telephone with American folk and blues?

This helps explain why the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a bunch of gangly art-school Brits who would be barely of drinking age in the States, were able to sound so goddamn accomplished on their debut album Gorilla despite taking their music about as seriously as a pile of rubber dog doo. These guys started in trad jazz, where they learned to toot and fart and oompah with the best of them. And then the dog slipped out. At their best, the Bonzos made some of the weirdest, funniest and most inscrutable music of their time, the humor often lurking just off-mic.

Take “Jollity Farm.” It’s a barnyard singalong, a little like what we see Andy Kaufman doing at the beginning of Man in the Moon. We wonder the same thing with both: why the fuck is this funny? Andy Kaufman will forever remain a human question mark. With the Bonzos, it’s simple but no less subtle. We hear about a farm called Misery. But the Bonzos don’t care about that. They care about Jollity Farm, with cows that moo and pigs that oink. And yet the knowledge there’s a Misery Farm bubbles beneath it all, and the singalong feels pervasively unwholesome.  (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 16, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The first half is infuriating, the second just boring.

A major-label debut, or at least a debut on a vaunted indie, should tell us who the artist is and what they have to offer. Showtime, Baba Stiltz’s debut EP for XL, doesn’t even tell us if he’s kidding. There’s this post-modern, post-ironic plague of artists who sidetrack sincerity with smirking self-awareness, and it just seems pointless. If you’re for real, why mask it with winking irony? And if it’s all a gag, doesn’t that mean that any sincerity in the work is just a red herring?

Stiltz is a 24-year-old Swedish singer-producer who made a couple of wispy freak-folk albums as the Babylon Beard Syndicate as a teen before switching to soul-sampling hip hop and deep house. He’s made beats for Yung Lean, and like that artist, he seems drunk off the novelty of a waifish, white indie kid imitating the affectations of mainstream pop and rap. The title track is a Drake pisstake, with Stiltz grousing about fake friends while showing off “bags full of money/you’ve never seen this much money before.” Does he really have all that money? I’d guess not. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 15, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Let’s Eat Grandma present themselves as outsiders and are eager to assert themselves through any power source they can get their hands on.

One of 2016’s most exciting albums was the immersive psych-pop album I, Gemini, the debut from teenage British duo Let’s Eat Grandma. At the time, they were 16-year-olds who sounded even younger. Some of their songs were written when they were as young as 14. Their whispered voices, whimsical subject matter and Victorian-gothic visual aesthetic made us feel like we were dealing less with prodigies and more with evil twins in a horror movie who spoke their own psychic language. But their talent for creating haunted, pastoral landscapes steeped in dark fairytale imagery was offset by their age-appropriate lack of quality control. It might have been something close to perfect if not for how they seemed to be in love with every single idea.

That hasn’t changed on I’m All Ears, their second album, except the ideas are a little better than rapping about shiitake mushrooms. Now 19, they seem able to do it all, and they just about have, taking palpable delight in their expanded budget and ability to call up collaborators like Sophie, who produces “Hot Pink.” Heavy on shimmering pads and clicks-and-cuts disco beats, this is essentially a synth-pop album. Except there’s something about it that’s curiously—maybe not rockist, but it nods to the Album in the classic LP sense, with a shuddering intro that sets gangrenous violins over bone-rattling blats of Hans Zimmer synth bass and not one but two climactic opuses that flirt with the ten-minute mark. Think “Carouselambra” in the club.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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