The raver soul of Yoshi Flower
Date: Feb 19, 2019
ALL EARS Two tracks into Yoshi Flower’s debut mixtape American Raver we hear a voicemail from his dad. It’s a shortcut to pathos we’ve heard on a million albums, from Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city to recent albums by Aaron Carter and Mike Posner. It’s easy for the uninformed to roll their eyes—except Yoshi’s “dad” is 26-year-old comedian Brandon Wardell, who regales Yoshi with criticisms in a voice that sounds almost like someone’s happy-go-lucky pops.
“We recorded like 20 minutes of it,” Yoshi told me over the phone—though only a few short snatches made it onto the mixtape. Both performers were quite stoned, and judging by the singer’s tortoise-slow drawl and lyrical fixation on chemical consumption, it’s not an uncommon state to find him in. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
The Residents: Eskimo/The Commercial Album (pREServed editions)
Date: Feb 12, 2019
These are the albums most new Residents fans will hear for the first time.
1979’s Eskimo and 1981’s The Commercial Album are the first two Residents albums to feature their iconic eyeball masks on the cover, which might be why they’re among their most famous. While the band had operated for the last decade as a hermetic outfit who spoke through their art, the eyeball masks gave them a badass brand image as indelible as KISS’s. The Residents tend to be a formative obsession for left-field rockers, which might be because of Primus’s covers of “Constantinople” and “Hello Skinny” but also because certain aspects of their music appeal to a more juvenile mindset than most avant music. Beyond the masks, there’s their dark-carnival aesthetic, which isn’t too far removed from what we find in James Wan movies or the grungier corners of Midwestern rap. Americans, especially young Americans, love a good subversion of an innocent trope. Then, there’s the way they like to tie their music into fake-deep anti-corporate concepts. The imagined Inuit on Eskimoare loyal consumers, incorporating Toyota and Coca-Cola slogans into their “traditional” chants. And The Commercial Album works on the premise that, given how repetitious pop songs tend to be, there’s only about one minute of actual music in a three-minute single—hence an album of one-minute songs that are “commercials” for themselves. If you’re the kind of rock listener for whom ambition and conceptual heft define great rock music, the Residents come with a built-in appeal. It’s not a huge leap to go from The Wall to a Residents record.
These two albums, freshly reissued for the Residents’ ongoing “pREServed” campaign, are the most recommendable Residents albums but far from their best. Eskimo is probably the band’s most meticulously sound-designed album, making wonderful use of space and an omnipresent pall of digital wind to evoke a barren landscape. It’s also an odious study in phony ethnography that, nearly two decades away from the end of the Canadian residential school system, uses an offensive exonym to reduce real people to props for a flimsy concept. Throughout the record, we hear garbled gibberish and fake-Native heya-heyas that once in a while cohere into something like “you asked for it, you got it!” or “Coca-Cola is life!” If the Residents wanted to make a statement about the wide-reaching tendrils of American-style capitalism, why not recruit real people to speak in real languages and talk about real issues plaguing their communities? Why even use the fake language? It might’ve been fun if all we heard was advertising slogans in English. Erase the voices and the “Eskimo” conceit and we’d have a great ambient album on our hands. Either way, we don’t get much out of the concept aside from the jokey incongruity of hearing these Times Square-friendly slogans in the midst of an Arctic whiteout. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Discography: Parliament-Funkadelic: America Eats Its Young
Date: Feb 07, 2019
America Eats Its Young is one of the great post-’60s comedown albums.
What’s most immediately striking about America Eats Its Young is how much sense it makes. While the first three Funkadelic albums traded in thick, fetid, burbling psychedelia played at fuck-you volume, opener “You Hit the Nail on the Head” is almost rustic. Bernie Worrell’s organ is droll and stately. Eddie Hazel’s guitar is reduced to hasty snatches of wah that function more like a boatman’s oar than a tsunami. The drums dance briskly rather than plodding like the last steps of a dying brontosaurus. And George Clinton‘s words are simple, precise and devoid of bullshit. This isn’t a political album that makes sweeping statements on the problems and morale of the time but puts us on the spot with measured words that a child can understand and an adult can comprehend. “Just because you win the fight don’t make it right.” “If you don’t like the effects, don’t produce the cause.” “We’ve got to see what we are doing in the name of comfort.” Comfort – not hatred, not stupidity, something subtler and far more dangerous. Clinton is one of the smartest men in pop and knows better than to recite platitudes about the brotherhood of man; in that post-hippie winter of discontent, strangled by cults and murders, Clinton knew precisely what peace-and-love bullshit gets us. In its precisely worded sloganeering, content-packed but light-footed sprawl and purifying minimalism, America Eats Its Young is sort of the Season of the Witch’s answer to Solange’s A Seat at the Table. “You wanna be the teacher, don’t wanna go to school/ Don’t want to do the dishes, just wanna eat the food,” from Solange’s “Junie,” could easily be a lyric from this album. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
What Are the Chainsmokers Selling with ‘Sick Boy’?
Date: Jan 31, 2019
We’re so used to thinking of the Chainsmokers as a con that it’s hard to say if their sadness is real or something they’re selling.
The Chainsmokers’s Sick Boy owes a lot to Justin Bieber’s Purpose, not only in its chipmunk infestation and Axe-scented approach to pop but in how it’s meant to be a mea culpa for personal transgressions. Bieber’s annus horribilis of abandoned monkeys and egged houses was all but forgotten when he put out a record that was sort of about saying sorry but mostly about his ability to still make vital music. And Andrew Taggart’s pop startup is as well-known for its product as for the boorish behavior of its bosses. Taggart and his partner Alex Pall, who seems more of a PR agent than a producer, admit that sex and cash are at least as much of an impetus for their project as the product. Their candid materialism skirts the line between refreshing frankness and open contempt for their audience.
You might recall their performance of early single “Selfie” on American Idol, where they left the track idly playing as they raced around to snap selfies with elated crowd members. It’s arguable that a lot of the disdain towards their music stems from their behavior rather than its actual quality, because the Chainsmokers actually beat a lot of their pop-EDM contemporaries in the songwriting department. Taggart and/or team have a knack for writing about the bad memories that gestate into good ones after enough time. But if we’re to believe him, all that partying is really wearing on him, and he’s worried people like him for those qualities alone. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.”
Boosie Badazz: Boosie Blues Café
Date: Jan 31, 2019
Is Boosie Badazz is trying to unite the languages of blues and rap?
The easy conclusion to draw from Boosie Blues Café is that the legendary Baton Rouge rapper Boosie Badazz is trying to unite the languages of blues and rap. There’s a lot of common ground between the two, especially in Southern rap, which has always paid tribute to the region’s great blues tradition from Pimp C’s beats to Juvenile’s voice to Young Thug’s way of making unintelligibility an art form. But Boosie isn’t writing a compare-and-contrast essay. Nor is he making a genre piece. He’s simply looking the other way in regards to genre.
Boosie Blues Café doesn’t sound much like a blues album, though it maintains a down-home, sentimental feeling that evokes venues far smaller and more intimate than those the rapper is likely to rock. The one-chord vamps are closer to funk. “Let’s Talk About It” sounds like Weezer covering Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry.” The accordions and fearsome drums on “I Know How to Have a Good Time” position the music closer to South African shangaan electro than the Cajun music to which it seems to tip its hat.
What’s astonishing is this all coheres. The use of a few consistent sounds helps, most notably a midrange bass sound that’s so chintzy it’s either MIDI or the work of someone who’s been listening to way too much Tool. Maybe a real bass sound would’ve been better, but the 2D digital sheen (the horns and organ on “Confused” are obviously GarageBand presets) means it sounds more like a mixtape than one of those laboredly authentic electric blues records that works very hard to sound like it was recorded at some whiskey-soaked late-night jam in Chicago. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Future: The WIZRD
Date: Jan 29, 2019
The WIZRD contradicts the popular narrative that’s taken root around it.
2019 marks five years of Future’s run as Atlanta’s most consistent rapper, and The WIZRD feels like the end. Not because it’s bad, necessarily – this is only the second or third worst album he’s made since Monster – but because Future seems tired of it all. In a revealing recent Rolling Stone profile, the rapper revealed that during the sessions for their collaborative album WRLD on Drugs, 19-year-old upstart Juice WRLD told him his music inspired him to try promethazine cough syrup as an eighth-grader. Rocked by the tangible impact of his music on youth, he indicated he might retire from music – unlikely, as with all rapper retirement announcements, but at least with a better reason than publicity.
Compared to rap in the early Trump era, the cutting-edge Atlanta rap of the late Obama years seems like a bastion of morality. Future talked extensively about drugs and vacuous consumption but made it clear it wasn’t something to emulate and that he was really suffering. By contrast, emo-influenced rappers like XXXTentacion and the aforementioned Juice WRLD turn a “damaged,” “fucked-up” archetype into something heroic. Still, Future is partially responsible for this. His music helped make “sad and on drugs” the most popular rap persona, tipping the exhilarating hedonism of the swag rap that preceded him down a black hole, and his rock-star affectations hold sway over a culture that lionizes dying like one.
Like frequent collaborator Drake’s Scorpion, The WIZRD contradicts the popular narrative that’s taken root around it. Drake’s onetime victory lap had to counter the pre-release PR disaster of Pusha T’s revelations that the Canadian had been hiding a child. Future, it seems, had already laid a lot of this album down by the time he had his epiphany. How else to square his sigh of “I made it seem so fucking cool” in that Rolling Stone piece with his brags about his drug consumption on “Call the Coroner” and “Krazy but True?” The latter would seem to come from the post-Juice WRLD fallout, sniping as it does at Future’s imitators, but it also includes the man screaming “smellin’ like kush, promethazine-drinkin’.” (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Date: Jan 28, 2019
An alluring challenge to listeners who’ve traveled the poles of experimental music.
If Äanet resembles a Pan Sonic album more than most of the music Ilpo Vaisänen’s made on his own this decade, it’s no coincidence. The Finnish band’s other half, Mika Vainio, died in 2017, leading to a rapid canonization and a glut of archival material—including Äanet, which combines new pieces with field recordings made by Vaisänen on a 2000 Pan Sonic tour. Though it resembles the sprawling, echo-drenched techno of Vaisänen’s excellent last two records as I-LP-O in Dub, Äanet also has a lot to do with Pan Sonic’s pranksterish abstractions in sound and form. It’s poignant to imagine Vaisänen trying to make a Pan Sonic album on his own, sans his friend, using field recordings as a séance. But to frame this record in the story of a legendary dead man would be to both ignore both Vaisänen’s talent and the fact that the music he’s made this decade is some of the most consistently excellent from the Pan Sonic camp.
On Äanet—“vote” in Finnish; Vaisänen maintains a mischievous leftist streak in his titles—the Finn spins a rugged landscape that’ll seem hostile to most but an alluring challenge to listeners who’ve traveled the poles of experimental music. His music is monochrome and austere but never as oppressive or suffocating as a lot of ambient and techno that likewise borrows cues from dub. It’s crisp in an icy way. It feels good the same way a smarting wind or a plunge into a cold lake might feel good. It’s sorta purifying.
Vaisänen dropping “dub” from the name is significant. There’s plenty of echo here, but it doesn’t spiral into space, instead adding an interesting wetness to the drums, as if they’re dripping with dew or melted frost. The obstinacy of the drums suggests some kind of mechanical process at work, and Äanet is kin to Norwegian neighbor Biosphere’s masterpiece N-Plants in suggesting the way machines grind away while no one’s around. That album predicted the 2011 Fukushima disaster in its concerns about the vulnerability of the power plants it toured, and the field recordings have a way of suggesting that as those machines grind away to keep us alive and comfortable, the natural world moves at its own obstinate pace. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
James Blake: Assume Form
Date: Jan 27, 2019
Assume Form isn’t bad because it’s a sellout. It’s bad for other reasons.
Assume Form is mostly about how famous James Blake is. Around a decade ago, a few underground British bass DJs like Blake, Rustie and Jamie xx quietly influenced what would become the mainstream. But Blake has fully embraced pop and maintains a steady stream of features, hiring himself as a goon for marquee pop and rap projects like Travis Scott’s Astroworld and Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack. His fourth full-length is modeled as a similar blockbuster, but it’s not a lush sprawl of ideas like those albums or Blake’s The Color in Anything from 2016. It’s a well-curated, 48-minute album of frequently annoying pop that’s just self-serious enough so you know you’re listening to someone who used to be weird.
It’s his Synchronicity, and it even has its own “Every Breath You Take:” “I’ll Come Too,” where he’ll go literally anywhere his girlfriend goes. Blake is not much of a lyricist, which he used to circumvent by recording astonishing ballads that consisted of a few simple words sung over and over. Here he has nowhere to hide. The solo Blake songs tend to be molassesy four-something-minute beat-wisps over which his voice kind of floats and sputters until it congeals into something cringy like “I’ll slow ride in between the cracks between you and him.” There’s not enough depth to Blake’s malcontent beyond being hurt by girls, a far cry from the oceans of feeling from a lyric such as “my brother and my sister don’t speak to me/ But I don’t blame them.”
The guests are useless. The Travis Scott-Metro Boomin song just sounds like something from Jack Huncho, taking no advantage of the union of two of pop’s best vocal contortionists. Spanish flamenco singer Rosalìa’s melismas cast jagged beams of light across the cold dubscape of “Barefoot in the Park,” but it’s not clear why she’s here besides the critical goodwill from her phenomenal El Mal Querer. Moses Sumney’s voice isn’t a million miles removed from Blake’s, so he weathers the storm well, but far more typical is something like André 3000’s inexplicable verse on “Where’s the Catch?” “Now this might get a little bit heady,”he prefaces it. It’s anything but; by then it’s more like the next number starting in a bad musical. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)
Hardy Fox: Rilla Contemplates Love
Date: Jan 23, 2019
A circular, impenetrable album that approximates the thought processes of a kept gorilla.
The late Hardy Fox’s swansong, Rilla Contemplates Love, is a circular, impenetrable album that approximates the thought processes of a kept gorilla. Or does it? Lyrics about touching one’s crotch and peeing in a pool seem consistent with the behavior of a great ape. Lyrics about sharing condoms and owning cars don’t. Maybe it’s meant to simulate how unknowable the brain of an animal truly is, even one so closely related to us. According to W.G. Sebald, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.” Would an ape understand this album better than us? Or a child? Is there really anything to understand?
Fox passed away in October 2018 from brain cancer at age 73, not long after revealing himself as the primary composer in the Residents, the Bay Area-based art collective known for protecting their identities with massive eyeball masks and other whimsical accoutrements. He departed the band in late 2016, he says, citing a conflict with the more live-centric, theatrical ambitions of the “singing Resident” (most likely one Homer Flynn). This year, he released two autobiographical albums on top of this cipher. What a way to go out. David Bowie and Leonard Cohen anticipated their deaths with grim swan-songs, but Fox gives us an album about a gorilla. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Holy Hell! The Soft Bulletin Turns 20
Date: Jan 23, 2019
The Soft Bulletin isn’t a bleak vision of an irreparably fucked world. Its poignancy comes from Coyne’s blinding hope.
For all its sci-fi bluster, what comes through most poignantly on The Flaming Lips’ 1999 masterpiece is sadness. The Soft Bulletinis as wrenching a sustained portrait of lost innocence as anything since Pet Sounds, which shares a fixation with lounge music and a pervasive feeling that its best lessons were learned in an altered state. Wayne Coyne does not sound wise, though perhaps he’s suffering the wounds that harden into wisdom later in life. With each song, he regains innocence and loses it in real time, stuck in his own apocalyptic Groundhog Day. Recall the moment on “Caroline No” where Brian Wilson sings “that’s not true” like a child losing his pet for the first time. Then blow it up and shoot it into space. That’s The Soft Bulletin.
So many of these songs are about disappointment. Superman wants nothing more than to save the world; he just can’t. In reality, there was no reaction. You come home from the grocery store and the world ends. We never find out if the scientists on “Race for the Prize” find the cure that saves mankind. Yet The Soft Bulletin isn’t a bleak vision of an irreparably fucked world. Its poignancy comes from Coyne’s blinding hope. He is convinced that the universe is essentially positive and that the chemical reaction that gives us love is written into the DNA of existence itself. This cosmic good hovers like an angel over the overwhelming fact of mortal pain.
Just as fantasy worlds create their own gods and believe in them, Coyne spins his stories against a high-camp backdrop where the existence of such a force is more plausible than on our dreary little plane. It takes away nothing from the underlying emotions of “The Spiderbite Song”—in which Coyne desperately needs his loved one to live—that its setup is so fanciful. A spider has bitten his loved one, but what matters is that he’d be absolutely destroyed if they died. The scenario is specific, the feeling universal. This isn’t magic realism. This is magic. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Mike Posner: A Real Good Kid
Date: Jan 22, 2019
A sincere portrait of a very successful, very depressed man.
Mike Posner’s A Real Good Kid is one of the most jarring pop albums in recent memory. It’s an incredibly sad album that is obviously about real pain and doesn’t sell a chic portrait of numbness like Drake and his emo-rap progeny. It’s not great – Posner’s writing is rote and his taste questionable – but it’s a sincere portrait of a very successful, very depressed man.
“If at this time you are unable to devote 40 minutes of undivided attention,” he says as a disclaimer at the beginning of the album, “I politely ask you turn this off and return at a later time.” It sounds phony at first, rooted in the untruth that art about one’s pain is worthier of undivided attention than that about more frivolous subjects like sex. Soon it becomes clear he just wants people to listen.
Either way, the disclaimer turns out to be irrelevant by the fifth track, “Drip,” dominated by an extended monologue on which Posner’s screams of “fuck” cut into the red. He explains, very simply but through dramatic shifts in volume, that he feels like he should be doing okay as a millionaire pop star but that he is definitely not doing okay. It’s one of the most alarming things I’ve ever heard on a pop album. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt: Brace Up!
Date: Jan 10, 2019
A free improv abstraction of the sweatiest punk gig of your life.
It’s a hell of a risk to put a picture of a live gig on the cover of your studio album. The energy of so many great bands is lost amid the scheduling and spit-shining and ticking time-and-money clock of the studio that “you have to see ‘em live” has become a cliché. Playboi Carti got away with putting a picture of his own backflip on Die Lit because it encapsulates not only the energy of the record but of 2010s rap itself, where moshing and stage-diving are taken to the extreme. And Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano get away with it on Brace Up!, which at its best resembles a free improv abstraction of the sweatiest punk gig of your life.
Brace Up! is a tribute to DIY scuzz and busted amps and all the loving accoutrements of the basement concert culture with which these less-than-superstar musicians are well-acquainted. Both parties involved are formidable live performers; look up footage of either Orcutt’s ‘90s band Harry Pussy or Corsano’s gigs with wizard-bearded saxophonist Paul Flaherty. It’s surprising Orcutt and Corsano haven’t made a full-length studio album together yet, but they’ve released a few limited-edition live tapes. Perhaps they were afraid the energy of a live show wouldn’t be replicable in the studio, but within seconds of Brace Up! it’s clear few albums are likely to do a better job of capturing what it feels like to totally surrender yourself to a loud, fast rock ’n’ roll band. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Revisit: Skrillex: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
Date: Jan 07, 2019
Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites plays like a relic of a simpler time.
Every top-rated YouTube comment in early 2011 seemed to equate Skrillex’s music to Transformers fucking. It’s apt: when it first roared into the mainstream it was seen by dance-music purists and fans of more gentle genres like indie rock as empty spectacle, giant chunks of metal slam-banging into each other as a simulacrum of entertainment, much like the Michael Bay franchise that ruled the box-office when Skrillex put out his Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP in late 2010.
But maybe Skrillex tracks work more like monster movies—and not just because like they soundtracked so many first fumblings and joint hits, like the B-movies that played in the drive-ins of old. Skrillex trafficks in the primal thrill of having something big chasing you, the same reason people shell out money to see King Kong and Godzilla on the big screen. His famous drops, which are more sudden and less teased-out than those of most of his progeny, are prefaced by violent exclamations—the famous “oh my gosh!” on “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” a chipmunk announcing “I want to kill everybody in the world” on “Kill Everybody.” When they come, the track’s sound blows wide open.
Skrillex’s music can be amazingly tactile. The thrill of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” is as much in the power of the drop as just how bizarre it sounds, metallic yet somehow fluid, like the undulating core of the Event Horizon. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, when the EDM era began, Hans Zimmer was a minor superstar, his earth-shattering blats for the Dark Knight and Inception soundtracks thrilling those who’d normally have no interest in film scores or sound design. For all the legitimate grievances one can have about brostep, it remains one of the most effective mergers of volume and sound design ever to be popular. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Serge Gainsbourg: Gainsbourg Confidentiel
Date: Jan 06, 2019
A one-off novelty that burns with the soul of an experimental artist.
Gainsbourg Confidentiel, first released in 1963 and reissued this year by Rumble Records, finds Serge Gainsbourg singing over no more than Elek Bacsik’s guitar and Michel Gaudry’s bass. It’s an obscure record, at least in the States, that might startle those used to the lavish orchestrations of Melody Nelson or his early records with Alain Goraguer. Think of it as equivalent to Beach Boys’ Party: A one-off novelty that burns with the soul of an experimental artist.
The arrangements work so long as Gainsbourg is performing quiet songs. While the “rock” songs, such as “Chez les yé-yé” and “Amour sans amour,” beg for a drumbeat, such ballads as “La saison des pluies” and “Sait-on jamais où va une femme quand elle vous quitte” translate better to this setting. Like so much of his music, this is an experiment, but its novelty often outweighs its practicality. It’s telling he’d never go back to this format; his next album Gainsbourg Percussions, inspired by then-faddish Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, was another such one-off. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
2018 Music That Mattered: ‘Whack World’ By Tierra Whack
Date: Jan 01, 2019
Instead of a traditional top-10 list for the end of the year, Split Tooth Media is releasing a series of essays about the music that we felt mattered most in 2018. Read why here and read other installments here.
“Don’t worry about me, I’m doing good, I’m doing great, alright,” declares Tierra Whack on her debut album Whack World — and, astonishingly given that this is a rapper in 2018, we believe her. It might be hard to believe hearing this dainty, deliberately cute art-pop record that the Philadelphian (and yes, Tierra Whack is her real name) made her name on fast-paced viral freestyles as a teenager, going by Dizzle Dizz. But what carries through from this past vocation, aside from a truly formidable flow she fires off when she feels up to it, is the feeling that you’re watching a human being in peak physical and spiritual form. She dares us throughout to bite her style, comfortable we can’t. She designs her own bling; she eats her fruits and vegetables; she pops off freestyles just to prove she can. A lifetime of discipline went into what we’re seeing here, and if we can come close to what she achieves, she’ll… well, she’ll be impressed, I guess.
She’s at ease on record — less so, we gather, in life. For its whimsy and quick wit, one of the strongest presences on Whack World is of sadness. The music leaves long spaces, as if to allow Whack some room to gather her thoughts. Pads and chords hang pendulously over the music. “Fuck Off” feels like a ribald parody of country kiss-offs until the line “you remind me of my deadbeat dad” introduces real-world stakes that make us wonder whether or not we should even be laughing at her outrageous fake Southern drawl. The record’s most stunning song, “Pet Cemetery,” seems like a goof about her dead dog until we realize with a start she’s not singing about a pet. “I talked to God today,” she declares over pianos that are half Blueprint 3 and half Brian Wilson. Then the clouds part and God responds “all dogs go to heaven,” accompanied by a din of baying and barking. It’s unbelievably poignant as she squints to hear the voice of her friend Hulitho, another Philadelphia rapper who was murdered in 2016, through the racket. As the song ends, the gates of heaven close up once again with a cat’s meow. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Review: A very full evening with Erykah Badu at the Warfield
Date: Jan 01, 2019
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The Neo-Soul goddess took her sweet time, but once she let her hair down there was no stopping her.
ALL EARS Things were not looking good at the Warfield on Friday as we waited for Erykah Badu. Though the billing advertised “doors at 7, show at 8,” there was no word on an opener, and we arrived to find a DJ holding the crowd over. People had been there for hours and were grumbling loudly, some evacuating their seats perhaps for good. Eventually came the sinking feeling that the singer might not show up.
Then someone came onstage to absent-mindedly cue up a few more songs. The band appeared and went into a lite funk groove as the keyboardist worked the crowd. The instrumentalists took showy solos; someone had to dazzle the audience. A lot of people went apeshit, but I could see others who weren’t buying it. The band was clearly trying to kill time while harried venue goons searched frantically for the singer.
At around 10pm, Badu drifted out from the corner of the stage, face hidden behind Klingon-length hair and an oversized gold hat, each footstep illustrated by the plod of the drummer’s tom, as if she were shaking the earth with the weight of her footfall like Godzilla. It was a good trick, but she seemed to be testing us, as if asking if another minute was gonna kill us. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
An alternate ‘Best Songs of 2018’ list
Date: Dec 31, 2018
The Internet, Tierra Whack, Ashley Monroe, Prince, and an uncanny Ryuichi Sakamoto mashup make our critic’s list.
Music critic Daniel Bromfield lists some of his favorite songs of the year—which you may or may not find on Pitchfork or Rolling Stone. (Click “web” view to continue reading.)
The best Jewish hip hop (and hip hop by Jews) of 2018
Date: Dec 18, 2018
Jewish News of Northern California
Think of Jews in rap and your brain will most likely land on Matisyahu or the Beastie Boys. But Jews are making some of the most interesting rap right now, even if it’s not exactly at the epicenter of the genre (with the exception of Drake, arguably the defining rapper of the decade).
Here are five of the most notable rap albums by Jewish artists in 2018, from Drake’s zeitgeist-gobbling blockbuster to MC Paul Barman’s nebbishy nerd rap to one of our favorite Bay Area upstarts. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)
Mike Cooper: Tropical Gothic
Date: Dec 12, 2018
It’s not “Southern gothic” but Tropical Gothic.
Mike Cooper is a world traveler, and this time around, he’s moored his boat in the bayous of the Deep South. But Cooper being Cooper, the South looks a little different than it does in life or in movies or in folklore, and sometimes it blurs into Bali and ancient Japan as if the whole world was a vast neural net made of bits of data that drifted errantly across the earth’s surface. It’s not “Southern gothic” but Tropical Gothic. He casts his net more widely than most.
Since 2004’s Rayon Hula, the 76-year-old guitarist has honed his sound into something he calls “exotica” but is a little smarter and more mischievous than that. Exotica was the ‘50s genre, popular with an American imagination inflamed by memories of the South Pacific, that sought to conjure far-off non-Western locales. That music was often infantilizing, relying on a “savage” view of non-Western peoples and cultures and bearing little resemblance to the music actually coming out of the places it made port. Cooper deconstructs this. When he mixes up countries, it’s not in the ignorant way of a movie producer mixing up China and Japan but as a sort of bricolage that serves to deliberately throw us off on what far-off place we’re supposed to be thinking of. Last year’s Raft used slide and slack-key guitar styles from Hawaii to conjure a rugged journey that’s anything but paradise and where the dominant life-form seemed to be biting insects rather than the dancing hula girls of exotica. His albums are never really about Bali or Japan or Hawaii or the Deep South, anyway, but the jungles of his mind. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Lil Baby: Street Gossip
Date: Dec 10, 2018
Leave it to Baby to play the old man.
“I ain’t never popped no Xan, I sip sizzurp,” raps Lil Baby on “Pure Cocaine,” the second track on his new tape Street Gossip. It’s not exactly a show of moral superiority, but has an Atlanta rapper ever shot such an explicitly get-off-my-lawn barb the way of the young SoundCloud-rap generation? Sometime between Young Thug’s Slime Language and Quavo’s Quavo Huncho it became clear that Atlanta is no longer the epicenter of rap innovation, its stars content to chase streams rather than expand their sound, but not many rappers seem aware of it. Leave it to Baby, who just turned 24 but sounds as fatigued as label-hell Lil Wayne, to play the old man.
Baby’s absurdly fast rise is well-known: he spent two years in prison for marijuana possession and upon getting out used his Young Thug connection to launch a rap career off verses that must have gestated in his head behind bars. It’s easy to be cynical, but his talent is obvious—he’s not an eccentric like Thug but a workmanlike rapper and very good writer. All of his music is informed by his relief at being able to not just be a star but to have a job out of jail. On Too Hard from last year, he acknowledged he started rapping in part because his prospects as an ex-con are so low. Even when he lapses into empty materialism his brags feel like unburdening. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Van Morrison: The Prophet Speaks
Date: Dec 09, 2018
Morrison seems casual and at ease.
Van Morrison is four albums deep in a jazz/R&B/blues-cover phase, which is par for the course for rock musicians his age. But no artist besides Bob Dylan does better to give the impression that this is something they want. In a dry, revealing interview with Time around the time of his last Astral Weeks revival, Morrison explained he doesn’t listen to any new music, just old jazz and blues. He didn’t shit on new music, though; he just seemed to be most comfortable going back again and again to those old records. For a man who revealed a great discontentment with the music industry in the same interview, it must be a relief to have his artistic ambitions intersect with a commercially-viable format. He wants to cover a load of old songs? Great. That stuff sells.
Morrison seems casual and at ease on these albums. He doesn’t use this old music to court some facsimile of authenticity or integrity, and there are no painful white cock-blues workouts or tried-and-true songbook covers. There’s really nothing that’s bullshit on these records, and if this is an indulgence, it’s one a lot of people will enjoy, which is kind of noble. He sounds like he could be fronting a slightly eccentric wine-bar jazz ensemble, and it’s clear he wants to undersell himself a little, to present himself not as an institution, not as the auteur that gave us Astral Weeks, but as a singer. One imagines that, had he not been sworn into the annals of rock from a young age, this might be the music he’d be making in some Irish bar. I imagine he’d be happy. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)
The 25 Best Electronic Albums of 2018
Date: Dec 06, 2018
Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2018 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 25 best albums. (Click “web” view to continue reading.)
Date: Dec 05, 2018
Will Wiesenfeld takes comfort in the virtual.
Will Wiesenfeld takes comfort in the virtual. His newest album Traversa, released under the pseudonym Geotic, takes place in a reality that’s a little brighter, cleaner and more comfortable than our own; it’s Kanto, it’s Johto, it’s Hoenn, it’s Hyrule, it’s Animal Crossing. Artists commenting on the information age tend to focus on its dystopic qualities, but Wiesenfeld zeroes in on the positives. This is a more instinctive reaction for queer people, as those who learned to be or were beaten into being shy and guarded in life can find a free voice in the digital world.
In Wiesenfeld’s music there’s often a degree of separation between our universe and the one he sings about. This year’s Romaplasm, released under his better-known moniker Baths, took place on a planet where knights ride on horseback and airships rule the skies. This prism served to emphasize the universality of the feelings he sung about. Here, the focus is entirely on the world. Traversa isn’t really world building—the tracks are too similar to each other to give the sense of a vastness stretching beyond the borders of the album—but it’s a simulacrum of a utopian place, a brief respite from cynicism for us and for Wiesenfeld. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)
The 10 Best Ambient/Instrumental Albums of 2018
Date: Dec 04, 2018
A great ambient album can provide a space to step into, or make the trees on your morning walk seem a little taller and the light a little more vivid or the world seem a little more like a dream. (Click “web” view to continue reading.)
“Buildings demolished on your cellphone”: Ratskin Records’ experimental resilience
Date: Dec 04, 2018
Through Ghost Ship tragedy to 183-song release, Michael Dadonna’s label delivers interesting music from diverse players.
ALL EARS Michael Daddona never thought he’d own a dog.
“What’s a dog even gonna do at a noise show?” he asks. “Or sit around while I’m tinkering with electronics? They’re gonna hate it.”
But when a stray dog wandered into his house, flopped down on the couch and made itself at home, what could he do? “I guess I have a dog,” he figured. Blade is now sort of the unofficial dog of Ratskin Records, the experimental label Daddona co-founded in 2003.
Sudden, no-turning-back decisions seem to be a constant in Daddona’s life. A week before the dog showed up, Ratskin co-founder, Jsun McCarty, died in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that took 36 lives in Oakland in 2016. Daddona knew and had worked with many of the deceased, and he almost shut the label down: “I think I just felt so overwhelmed and confused I didn’t feel physically I could even really think about that kind of stuff,” he says.
But he soldiered on—“and that was kinda when I decided I was gonna do [Ratskin] for the rest of my life,” he says. “I don’t really believe in destiny, but I’m good enough at it, and it brings me enough passion that I think it’s worthwhile.” (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Oneohtrix Point Never: Love in the Time of Lexapro
Date: Dec 02, 2018
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Lopatin isn’t the refracted-memories guy anymore.
Like its predecessor The Station, Daniel Lopatin’s new Oneohtrix Point Never EP Love in the Time of Lexapro isn’t shy about being a tie-in to this year’s Age Of full-length. Two of its four tracks are remixes of songs from that record and the album cover hews to roughly the same design, but it stands on its own a little more readily, for better or worse.
The title track doesn’t have much to do with anything Lopatin’s made in the last five years. A far cry from the spidery, mechanical robo-music on Age Of, “Love in the Time of Lexapro” is a sweeping love theme that reminds us why Lopatin should’ve been first on the list of candidates to score Blade Runner 2019. It’s built around a detuned old synth that we might’ve heard on an early Lopatin album like Returnal or Replica, but rather than retrofuturist fantasy, its graceful three-chord arc evokes the romantic sweep of classic film music.
“Last Known Image of a Song,” an Age Of cut, is here reinterpreted by Ryuichi Sakamoto, perhaps to return the favor of Lopatin remixing his “andata.” Like the original, the Sakamoto rework is prickly and desolate, but the music-box plink that floats over its deserted landscape betrays Sakamoto’s sentimental streak. Though Sakamoto’s work, both solo and as part of Yellow Magic Orchestra, has a direct influence on the parodic dystopian aesthetic of contemporary electronic music, Sakamoto is as sincere and happy-go-lucky as Stevie Wonder or Paul McCartney. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Date: Nov 29, 2018
Plenty of albums sound like Submers, none offer quite the same experience.
Loscil’s 2002 album Submers is inspired by submarines, but it doesn’t put us inside them but outside, where the pressure is great and the shapes making their way through the murk could be anything. In real life, we’d drown or be crushed by the unrelenting pressure or both, but we swim through these oceans the same way a cartoon character can walk on a cloud. Just like a good deep-sea documentary, Submers offers us an impossible view from the safety of home.
Scott Morgan’s ambient project would take on a more personal dimension on the subsequent First Narrows, which kicked off an astonishing run of albums inspired by the producer’s native Vancouver. Submers, by contrast, is a flight of fancy. It’s a natural progression from his debut Triple Point, which was inspired by the laws of thermodynamics, but while few of us have much of a reference for how heat behaves, the deep sea occupies a spot in most of our imaginations. Submers inflames our latent fantasies of sunless oceans and bug-eyed beasts. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Review: Gas looms through the trees at Recombinant Festival
Date: Nov 28, 2018
Wolfgang Voigt’s storied ambient project debuts in SF with ethereal Königsforst vibes and earthy visions of erlkings.
Wolfgang Voigt’s music as Gas is inexorably tied to the forest. The project was inspired by Voigt’s youthful acid trips in Germany’s Königsforst, and appropriately the sleeves for the project’s six albums (with the exception of its apocryphal self-titled debut) are adorned with psychedelically blurred trees and shrubs, all bathed in unnatural colors coordinated to the mood of the music and stamped with the name Gas in a formidable serif font. How this specifically sylvan music would translate to the spartan constraints of the live electronic show intrigued me. It seemed inappropriate to have a Gas show anywhere but the most remote and tangled stretches of the Black Forest, maybe with a trail of breadcrumbs leading to the stage.
Gas’s first-ever San Francisco show was part of the first night of the Recombinant Festival, an ongoing multimedia and experimental music event at Mission Street’s Gray Area. While most of the artists aren’t well-known outside deep avant-music nerd-dom, Gas was undoubtedly the popular headliner. His music enjoys the same critical acclaim and rare crossover appeal outside ambient music as Brian Eno or Tim Hecker, and 2016’s sumptuous Box set of his 90s albums was enough to bring him out of a decade-and-a-half hiatus to drop 2017’s Narkopop and this year’s Rausch. By popular demand he’d added a second early show after I’d bought my tickets for the late show at 9 pm. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Jonny Nash/Suzanne Kraft: Framed Spaces: Selected Works 2014-2017
Date: Nov 25, 2018
Ambient compilations like this are tricky.
If you thought Melody as Truth was just an elaborate branding effort for the music of ambient artists Jonny Nash and Suzanne Kraft, Framed Spaces: Selected Works 2014-2017 won’t dissuade you. Though the Amsterdam label released very good albums by Tourist Kid and Palta this year, the vast majority of their music is by the two head honchos. Their first compilation is devoted to them and them alone, combining a smattering of tracks from each of their releases on the label, save some of their lower-stakes albums and the 2017 collaboration Passive Aggressive. Per Bandcamp, this is the “first chapter in an ongoing story”; maybe the second chapter will focus more on the new blood.
Nash, whose music occupies side one, seems the more wide-eyed of the two. His music is sentimental and militantly pretty, almost new-age, in thrall to its influences from the early Eno-dominated era of ambient music. Eden in particular suggests Laraaji’s earliest tapes in its phased-out psychedelic soup and use of zither and gamelan bells. When there’s a rhythm, it’s usually the noncommittal drift of a hand drum. If not for their spit-shined and unapologetically digital production, most of his tracks could have been on Ambient 5. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Raising Atlantis: Parliament’s ‘Motor-Booty Affair’ At 40
Date: Nov 20, 2018
In one of the great ridiculous pop records, Parliament is still trying to raise Atlantis after 40 years of funk.
Motor-Booty Affair (1978) is a self-contained pocket of the Parliament-Funkadelic mythology that exists entirely underwater; it’s one of the great ridiculous pop records. Forty years after its release it’s not one of the better-known P-Funk albums, owing perhaps to its release two months after Funkadelic’s masterpiece One Nation Under A Groove — and the simple fact that more people are going to check out a band called Funkadelic than one called Parliament. But it’s arguably Parliament’s strongest full-length. It’s funky but often gorgeous thanks to the lavish sensibilities of new musical director J.S. Theracon, a.k.a. the late Junie Morrison of the Ohio Players. Its long, meandering compositions, a boon as pop transitioned into a more club-friendly format in the disco age, gave mastermind George Clinton free range to pull the most demented shit out of the sinkholes of his mind. And though it presents itself on the surface as the freakiest backstage feather-boa party in the galaxy, it blindsides us with beauty when we least expect it.
Motor-Booty Affair comes from the peak of Parliament’s commercial success; it would be their fourth of five consecutive gold records. During this period, Parliament had completed its transition from psych-rock orgy to tight funk juggernaut and was busy laying the foundation for the P-Funk mythology. Their first mythopoeic work was 1975’s Mothership Connection, which was elaborated on by 1977’s definitive Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome and 1979’s Gloryhallastoopid (a very good record in spite of much of the core crew jumping ship prior to its recording). Motor-Booty Affair can be seen as a spinoff. Some of the same characters as on previous records appear, but all the new faces it introduces are infinitely more interesting. Mr. Wiggles the Worm and his “bionic idiots” Giggle and Squirm. A mermaid named Rita. A mouth named Jaws. Rumpofsteelskin with dynamite sticks by the megaton up his butt. Queen Freak-a-Lene and Charlie Tuna. There are a boatload of fish jokes on this thing, which makes sense as it takes place mostly in Atlantis, a place where you can “dance underwater and not get wet.” (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Q&A: Lonnie Holley On ‘MITH,’ Improvisation And How Memories Lead To Art
Date: Nov 19, 2018
Lonnie Holley is one of the most unlikely heroes in indie-rock circles. He’s a 68-year-old African-American artist born in Jim Crow Alabama. He didn’t make his first album until age 62. His lyrics are almost entirely stream-of-consciousness, and he never performs the same song the same way twice. His band consists of himself on vocals and keys, backed by a trombonist and drummer. He eschews what most people would think of as song structure. His voice is untrained at best, and he never stops singing. And he’s collaborated with Bon Iver and members of Deerhunter and the Black Lips; toured with Bill Callahan and Animal Collective; contributed several interludes to an Arthur Russell tribute album and recently inked a deal with Jagjaguwar, known for indie heroes like Okkervil River.
It’s easy to be skeptical, reminded of the aging bluesmen trotted out by shady promoters before leering white audiences during the ’60s folk revival. But the differences are that Holley has more creative control than just about any other artist you could care to name — he’s unbound even by the restrictions of playing the same song twice — and he’s spent decades as an internationally-renowned artist with complete creative control: just not for music. His monumental sculptures, often made from trash, have been a fixture of the American art world since the 1980s and were displayed in the White House under President Clinton. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Various Artists: bblisss
Date: Nov 11, 2018
A compilation with a singular vision.
Ambient compilations can suffer from a lack of unity. With so many voices over so many tracks, it can be hard to get the same sense of wandering through a defined space from a compilation as a record with a singular vision. bblisss, headed by producer Ryan Fall, circumvents this by splitting a squat seven tracks between six artists who like the same sounds: cloudy chords, the distant ghost of a house beat. It could be the work of one artist, and that’s its biggest strength.
In other words: if you liked Pendant’s Make You Know You Sweet, you’ll love this stuff. That album debuted a new moniker from Huerco S., the Kansas City producer who counts some of this decade’s best ambient releases under his belt, and the success of that record is no doubt why this compilation, originally a limited cassette run in 2016, is now seeing its wide release. The Pendant track, “Des Vieux Temples,” doesn’t disappoint. Like the tracks on his record, it makes great use of space, its sonic elements seeming to swirl around us like hostile winds from our vantage point. But if someone told me this were a Pendant album, I wouldn’t blink, and if someone told me the Pendant track were made by Fall or Naemi or anyone else who appears here, I wouldn’t either. Maybe that’s why Huerco and Fall used their lesser-known monikers (Fall usually records as uon, here as DJ Paradise) for this stuff. The music’s so interchangeable the best-known artist ends up becoming the reference point for everyone else. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Cécile McLorin Salvant: The Window
Date: Nov 07, 2018
Rarely sounds like anything but a conversation between friends.
Surely singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and her accompanist Sullivan Fortner sat down at some point to decide what songs they were going to interpret for their album The Window. But you’d never guess from listening to it. Songs seem to pop into their head as they’re being played, so freewheeling are the selections here and such impish liberties do they take with them. A Stevie Wonder song! Next—an Aretha Franklin song! How about some French cabaret? A Brazilian ballad? I thought of those Alan Lomax recordings of old bluesmen who seemed surprised to have a tape machine pointed in their face and scrabbled out the first standards that came to mind. Or Prince on his Piano & a Microphone tape, stabbing out jazzy abstractions until something resembled a song he liked. Or that Alex Chilton live album where the power went out and someone handed him an acoustic and he played what he wanted. A song can be both a transcendent work of art and something musicians can bang out as an exercise to kill a few minutes. The Window understands this, and despite its epic 70-minute scope, it rarely sounds like anything but a conversation between friends.
It’s fun to hear them work together. Salvant always sounds like she’s having fun, which means some of the more serious songs are less convincing but that ditties like “Obsession” or “The Gentleman Is A Dope” are delightful. Fortner sounds like he’s channeling a massive reserve of pent-up energy even as his fingers land precisely on the keys; I imagine a kid banging on a piano with abandon wishes what came out could sound like this. Salvant talks a lot of shit here, mostly at no-good men, which means The Window is a crowd-pleaser. It’s easy to root for her sass, especially if you relate to the great jazz theme of falling in love with schlubs against your better judgment. The best moment on the record might be when she sings “so tall” on “Trouble Is A Man” in a way that’s both lovesick and knowing, letting herself briefly disappear into fantasy before remembering what a jerk the guy is. Though her singing style can be outré, she’s such a gregarious, likable figure that audiences who might find jazz singing too remote or self-absorbed might be able to connect with her more readily than with a Billie Holiday or a Dinah Washington. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Pick Of The Day: ‘I Came From Nothing 2’ By Young Thug (2011)
Date: Nov 06, 2018
I Came From Nothing 2, Young Thug’s second-ever release, was recently made available to stream on Spotify. It’s from 2011, which itself is kind of strange, when “swag rap” was the thing, Lil B was god, and amid a dearth of real hip-hop megastars, we saw the breakthroughs of A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and every other smart, image-conscious rapper to merit their own VICE documentary. And Young Thug, 19 years old, was fine-tuning his sound in the canyons of the Atlanta rap scene, seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world.
Read more of our Pick of the Days here
Thug’s first tape, I Came From Nothing, came out the year prior. He was obviously trying to imitate Lil Wayne, and he spat with a clarity absent later. He wanted us to focus on the words (he’s a more clever writer than he’s given credit for), but for his second round in the booth he realized he could get more out of abstracting his lyrics than simply feeding them to us. Thug is easily fetishized for his eccentricity, but his voice, way with pop form and pervasive benevolence are equally key to what makes him one of the world’s most brilliant rappers. Those would come later; here, he knew he had to get weird to earn attention. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Akira Sakata: Fisherman’s.com
Date: Nov 04, 2018
Fisherman’s.com is waiting for you to take the plunge.
Akira Sakata’s 2001 album Fisherman’s.com can claim the historical footnote of being one of the last albums Pete Cosey, guitarist on four of Miles Davis’s best ‘70s albums, ever played on—and his first appearance on record since no less than Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock. This is not a man one calls casually. What was going through Sakata’s head when he decided Cosey would be perfect for his album of Japanese fisherman’s songs? For that matter, what was going through Cosey’s head when he accepted? Fisherman’s.com is a great piece of trivia but not an album that’s heard much. A reissue on Trost Records makes clear it’s one of the great dark funk records.
It’s hard to think of many records that capture anything close to the violent psychedelic flux of Davis’s work with Cosey—Dark Magus, Agharta, Pangaea and Get Up With It, which aren’t Davis’s most beloved albums but are definitive as far as what he was doing in the ‘70s. Fisherman’s.com comes closer than most, which is especially remarkable given that the production might elicit nods of approval from Lars Ulrich. Hamid Drake’s drums are crisp and precise; Cosey’s compressed to hell. It sounds for all intents and purposes like an album recorded in 2001. We pine for the analog warmth of a ‘70s album, but few records this clean sound so evil. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Pick Of The Day: ‘Noroi: The Curse’ (2005)
Date: Oct 31, 2018
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.)
Holy Hell! Crystal Ball Turns 20
Date: Oct 30, 2018
Quality control was never at the core of Prince’s genius, but his unbridled, try-it-all freedom is as frustrating as it is inspiring.
Fuck the Vault: the material Prince released is enough of a pain in the ass. Have you heard Chocolate Invasion? How about The Slaughterhouse? Did you know he made a straight-to-DVD movie to accompany the Love Symbol album, with his wife-to-be Mayte Garcia as an Egyptian princess? The lines between what Prince released and what’s technically still Vault material isn’t always clear; The Black Album is on Tidal but nowhere else, and it’s pretty easy to reconstruct his legendary “lost” album Camille. Dead in the middle of this ungainly morass sits the 150-minute compendium Crystal Ball, the Marianas Trench of the Prince discography.
Crystal Ball was released in 1998, when not many people cared about Prince, or at least not as many as during his brilliant ‘80s or the postmortem rush of adulation that will soon yield a flood of Vault releases. It’s an album of apocrypha from a period that, to most fans, is already apocryphal: his new-jack ‘90s, specifically 1994’s Come and 1995’s The Gold Experience. It even comes with its own apocrypha: its original release was bundled with The Truth, a largely acoustic album featuring Prince’s ode to veganism (“I don’t eat no funky, funky blue cheese!”), and Kamasutra, a cassette of easy-listening orchestral music made for his wedding to Garcia. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Magu the Dog’s ‘Life On The Line’ is More Than Just Chill Beats to Study to
Date: Oct 25, 2018
If you’ve poked around the Internet enough, you’ve heard music like Magu the Dog. Maybe names like Ol’ Burger Beats and Tomppabeats come to mind, or maybe you think of an anime girl scribbling endlessly in her notebook as her cat stares forlornly at the rain outside. This is the smooth jazz of the Internet age—low-commitment music where the identity of the creator doesn’t matter so long as it evokes that laid-back, slightly wistful vibe, like watching ships disappear in the rain. This music can provide a cocoon from stress and the horrors of the world: an easy escape.
But the beatmaker born Tyler Ingraham doesn’t let us off the hook so easily, and the only time his latest tape Life On The Line is about escaping from anything is when we hear the sampled voice of Kevin Briggs, the former Highway Patrol officer who’s talked somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 people out of jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. “I have lost interest in life,” he intones. “I have to go.” The track is called “Wasabi,” and if you remember the first time you stuck a wad of that green goo in your mouth as a kid, you know how it feels when this track ends. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Ty Segall: Fudge Sandwich
Date: Oct 25, 2018
Fudge Sandwich doesn’t have the benefit of stylistic unity.
Ty Segall could’ve gone the obscure record-collector gem route on his covers album Fudge Sandwich, but the bulk of these songs are by artists most people reading this review will at least have heard of: Funkadelic, the Grateful Dead, John Lennon, War, Neil Young and, if you’re a little more erudite, Amon Düül II, Gong, Rudimentary Peni, Sparks. This means none of these songs seem selected to show off Segall’s patrician taste. Because the originals are in such plain sight, it’s a little too easy to subject the album to a contrast-and-compare test.
Segall starts the album with “Low Rider,” which as War does it is a great, funky song with a playful Friday-night boozer vibe. Segall’s version is all muscle-car badassery, the boots of the low rider hitting the steaming pavement. It’s slower, he sounds like a ghoul, and instead of that nice horn hook there’s a skull-crushing synth. The percussion is provided by a drum machine, which serves to remind us how much the rock ideal has shifted from a bunch of hairy ne’er-do-wells in a room writing music together to “projects” and solo acts augmented by hired stooges.
Funkadelic’s “Hit It and Quit It” is more or less the same as the original minus the organ, bells, and portentous female choir. Once again, it replaces community with loner rage and suffers for it, given how much Funkadelic sounded like a free-for-all feather-boa freak party at its best. (He also pronounces “it” something like “Ëa.”) The best of the more faithful covers is “I’m A Man,” originally by Steve Winwood’s early band the Spencer Davis Group. It’s one of Segall’s best vocal takes, a real rock yowl that’s much more assertive than the nasal goblin voice he prefers. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)
Kurt Vile: Bottle It In
Date: Oct 18, 2018
This is Vile in Mark Kozelek-circa-Common as Light and Love mode.
Kurt Vile has retreated further into his own head than ever on Bottle It In—or maybe his head’s just further up his own ass than ever before. This is Vile in Mark Kozelek-circa-Common as Light and Love mode, where an indie stalwart with a distinct style embodies and extends his craft to such an extreme that it scans as either self-parody or a logical endpoint to a slow and steady development. Those already skeptical may well be infuriated, but those who enjoy Kurt Vile’s work for its endless peregrinations on laziness will find their hero’s craft more intriguing than ever.
I’m biased: I love this shit, and I love when artists reach this degree of fuck-you auteurism. This record could easily have been self-titled, so completely does it embody what makes his music so distinctive in the crowded indie-rock world. It’s not his best album—that’d be 2015’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze, which laid the blueprint for his style—and it’s not the best place to start unless you want to jump off the deep end and understand why people like his music so much, accessibility and concessions to newbie fans be damned. Bottle It In is, however, definitive. (Click “web” or “pdf” view to continue reading.)