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 (520)

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.”

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

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.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jul 12, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

It’s so satisfying when a purist statement comes along that still pushes the boundaries of its chosen medium. RP Boo’s I’ll Tell You What! is such an album. It’s the first collection of new material from the producer born Kavain Space, who helped invent the regional Chicago house style known as footwork in the 1990s and released one of its best full-length statements, Legacyin 2013. That was a compilation of older works, as was 2015’s Bank Pads & Shoe PrintsI’ll Tell You What! is his first album of all-new material, and it’s the sound of a wily old vet expanding the genre’s territory by pushing inward rather than outward.

At times, Space seems to be testing how few elements he needs to generate the gravity-defying momentum of footwork, which at its best can make the casual listener feel as if they’re standing in the center of a maelstrom. Long stretches of the album are just drums—including the album’s first 20 seconds, just before an acid bass-worm winds its way across the stereo field. “Earth’s Battle Dance” lets the sample just ride for much of its midsection, like a dusty hip-hop beat. “U Belong 2 Me” coasts on the hairpin melisma of its vocal sample, and when all but voice cuts out, it’s nearly as dramatic as John Bonham’s drum solo on “Moby Dick”. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jul 12, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The rare major-label debut at the intersection of artistry and intent.

Rico Nasty’s poise is regal and her gaze imperious on her new tape Nasty. TacoBella is no more; this woman eats lobster. She wants you to know two things: she’s awesome and you can never fuck with her. She has a million creative ways of saying those things, of course, but the narrowing of focus is emblematic of an artist who knows who she is and what kind of impression she wants to make. Helpful, as this is her first release on Atlantic. While rising rappers often end up with their identities groomed out once they hit the big time, Nasty is the rare major-label debut at the intersection of artistry and intent.

Like collaborator Lil Yachty, Nasty alternates between candy-colored “sugar trap” and harder-edged, territorial battle rap. She has personas for each; while Yachty had Lil Yachty and Lil Boat, Nasty has Tacobella and Trap Lavigne. The difference is that while Yachty is great at neotenuous pop and boring when he really tries as a rapper, Nasty is fantastic at both. “Block List” from her Tales of Tacobella tape was one of last year’s best pop songs, and certainly the best song ever written about hooking up with guys, stealing their wallets, and blocking their numbers before they find out. But her music’s just as powerful delivered in an Auto-Tuned warble as through thick tangles of language.

This is a grown-up rap album. Nasty is 21, which seems young for a star of any genre. But when so many rappers want to look and sound younger than they are by adopting a patina of millennial nostalgia, it’s easy to forget Nas, Biggie and Big Daddy Kane made their best work around her age. Nasty’s certainly been guilty of this in the past with her anime album art and 8-bit beats, but there are no references to Mario or Hungry Hungry Hippos here. This isn’t an album about aesthetics but about rapping, and it’s a reminder that so much of the youth rap that pisses off purists is as meat-and-potatoes as it comes.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jul 11, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

This is a record in limbo, a behemoth crippled by a well-timed shot to the leg.

Scorpion contains some of the most sympathetic and emotionally gripping music in the entire Drake catalog. But it’s sleight of hand—sound and fury to distract us from the gaping nothing at the album’s center. Drake’s hideous recent beef with Pusha-T ended with the latter revealing that Drake has been hiding a child, whom he was supposedly planning to reveal to the world as part of an ad campaign for Adidas products. Drake has never looked worse, and though he no doubt thought he was untouchable after mopping the floor with Meek Mill back in 2015, now he knows how it feels to be on the losing end of one of the most gruesome beefs in rap history.

Drake is synonymous with the diaristic, hyper-specific school of songwriting that dominates pop. We expect this guy to spill whatever’s on his mind, so there was never really any chance of him simply ignoring the revelations that he had a secret son and just going on with making music. If we found out Young Thug was hiding a kid we’d forget about it in a few days and be delighted next time he screams about his jewelry. But Drake is obliged to address the situation, and as there’s no hope of him recording a diss track that could counter “The Story of Adidon,” the best he can do is shoehorn a few references into his latest, already nearly-complete album. (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jul 09, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Alex Zhang Hungtai is influenced as much by filmmakers as fellow musicians.

Alex Zhang Hungtai is influenced as much by filmmakers as fellow musicians, and it’s not hard to find filmic comparisons in his music: the noir rockabilly cool of David Lynch, the transient searching of Wong Kar-Wai. If you want to, you can use cinema as a starting point for Zhang’s new album Divine Weight, too. It’s hard to imagine him playing back the solemn choirs of “Matrimony” and not thinking of Popol Vuh’s soundtrack to Aguirre: The Wrath of God, with its uncanny choir organs. And the puffs of saxophone on “Pierrot” and “This Is Not My Country” might suggest the Stygian steam issuing from deep beneath Taxi Driver’s New York.

But Divine Weight is concerned with a deeper level of projection than what cameras can capture and regurgitate. “To believe is to project a certain reality onto the external world,” says a Bandcamp blurb, and in a recent Fader interview, Zhang seems preoccupied with ghosts: those that inhabit the empty streets of Taipei at 5 a.m., for instance, or that exist between the buildings of Hong Kong’s Yaumatei district, a place where there is “no space for anything to survive”—but where Zhang did, for three months. Ghosts probably don’t exist, but if you’re drifting through deserted city streets on a moped on acid at 5 a.m., it’s easy enough to believe.

The five tracks here are ghosts in their own way. In the four years since hanging up his best-known moniker Dirty Beaches, Zhang made the saxophone his primary instrument. Many of these tracks come from the stem files of incomplete compositions, which Zhang further distorted until the saxophone began to resemble something else entirely—the scraping of a violin, perhaps, or a particularly distorted guitar. Like dub or skeletal R&B, this music benefits from the empty space. Maybe they could have been neatly woven into pop songs like on early Dirty Beaches releases like Badlands. But free of structural constraints, they seem to expand.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jul 03, 2018

Publication: POPMATTERS

Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz is the world’s biggest bedroom-pop project, the hermetic musings of a man with enough clout to call up Grace Jones like he’s ordering a pizza. The Now Now is a tacit admission of this, an album of hunched-over experiments in soft-spoken jazz-funk with little promotional hullabaloo and only a handful of guests. At 11 songs and 40 minutes, it’s the shortest Gorillaz album and the lowest-stakes since 2011’s sad iPad odyssey The Fall, with which it shares a fascination for the mythology of the middle American road journey. If you didn’t like last year’s Humanz for its glut of guests and lack of emphasis on Albarn’s sandy, pinched warble, this is as close to a one-on-one experience with the erstwhile Blur singer as you’re ever going to get—apt, as this is meant as a solo album by the cartoon band’s “frontman” and Albarn avatar 2D.

The Now Now doesn’t sound particularly cartoonish. While Gorillaz’ music always had a ligne-claire complexity that gave it the illusion of springing off the page of a comic, the music here is more VHS than Saturday morning. It fits neatly within the post-Odd Future school of L.A.-style pop that spins summery nostalgia into something druggy and slightly unwholesome; think Steve Lacy, Kali Uchis, Rex Orange County, or Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy. It has almost nothing to do with the post-everything future-pop of Demon Days and Plastic Beach, and it reminds us that while Gorillaz once sounded like the future during that mid-’00s era when the Internet threatened to destroy the boundaries between pop and rap and rock, the project’s influence is most palpable now in songs like Uchis’ “In My Dreams”, progeny of droopy-eyed Albarn ballads like “On Melancholy Hill”.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 27, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A really good left-field pop album that introduces an exciting new singer.

Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. is already destined to be the least-discussed of the five albums from Kanye’s Wyoming sessions that have come out this past May and June. This is in part because Taylor isn’t as big a star as the veteran male rappers that dominate the sessions and in part because the album isn’t already attached to an ignominious public narrative. Pusha-T’s Daytona is probably less-discussed at this point than his hideous beef with Drake. Kanye’s brainless flatulations of “dragon energy” threaten to overshadow both his recent records for all history. And Nas’s Nasir comes on the heels of allegations of abuse against his ex-wife Kelis.

K.T.S.E. carves out its own rarified space away from this toxicity. Alongside Daytona, it’s the best of the Wyoming records. However, it’s not a culture-stopping event but a hidden pearl fans can call their own. Fewer people will listen to K.T.S.E. than the other records or even know it exists, but those who hear it will establish deeper bonds with it. It’s easy to admire the artistry of Daytona or Ye or Nasir even while abhorring the reprehensible shit the artists do or say both in and out of the studio. K.T.S.E. is benevolent and inclusive. It doesn’t confront or troll listeners—except perhaps to piss off the prudes with some good old-fashioned orgasm noises.

Teyana Taylor is a Harlem singer signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint. This is her second album, following the uncertain if intermittently brilliant VII from 2014. Her husband is NBA star Iman Shumpert; they have a reality show, Teyana & Iman, together. It’s tempting to conflate “Issues/Hold On,” a Lemonade-like narrative in which Taylor pieces together evidence of her husband’s infidelity, with her very public if not exactly globally-followed personal life. But maybe it’s not a glimpse of a sordid life, but just an album—which is more than you could say about any of the other Wyoming records, and that is what makes K.T.S.E. such a breath of fresh air.

It’s a lot to ask a mostly unproven artist to send off the year’s biggest music industry event, but Taylor navigates the high stakes with grace and ease. Though her identity as an artist is hard to pin down, no one really gets in her way, even though the half-song, half-beat “No Manners” feels like a last-minute Yeezy caprice. In fact, she benefits from the constraints of the 22-minute bauble format in which all the Wyoming albums have been packaged. With so little room to roam around, she’s forced to be consistent, so instead of the searching of VIIK.T.S.E. sticks to languid, light-footed funk. She feels comfortable, singing mostly about sex.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 27, 2018

Publication: Resident Advisor

A Pride-weekend party with the potential to blossom.

If San Francisco’s Pride parade and related events have become a “party for straight teens,” as the local interest site SFist lamented in 2015, it’s because most of the queer folks have somewhere better to be. Why would you watch Apple employees in white T-shirts waving identical mini-Pride flags when you could be grinding gay bodies at the veteran drag queen Juanita More’s annual Sunday party?

Now in its 15th year, Juanita MORE! is one of the few major Pride-weekend parties to entirely benefit an LGBT organization. This year, the proceeds went to TRUTH, a program for trans youth—which forgives the watery $12 margaritas. (Juanita MORE! raised more than $77,00 across the weekend.) The venue, located at 620 Jones Street in the Tenderloin district, was a huge open balcony nestled between towering apartment buildings. Though ravers could take refuge from the punishing sunlight in a cool indoor bar, the dance floor was always so packed that getting through it was a ten-minute ordeal. This led to people swarming the stage, making it near impossible to catch a glimpse of the DJs.   (Click “pdf” or “web” link to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 25, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Striker’s mix probably translates better away from a club setting.

DJ Sprinkles and Skylax Records founder Hardrock Striker have collaborated intermittently for about a decade, but Skylax House Explosion is the fullest flowering yet of their partnership and a celebration of two kindred spirits. Each disc of the double CD is devoted to a mix from one of the two DJs, drawing primarily from the Skylax roster, and though each DJ’s personality is distinct, it’s striking how similar their ideas about house are, as though they were born to work together.

DJ Sprinkles, a.k.a. Terre Thaemlitz, is a veteran DJ and experimental musician who’s probably best known for Midtown 120 Blues, a treatise on house music’s queer origins and their erasure by the genre’s global commercialization. It’s a great protest album doubling as a purist manifesto, and she’s quick to delineate between the corporate music sold as “deep house” and the “minimal mid-tempo instrumentals” of the New York deep house scene she came up in.

Minimal mid-tempo instrumentals are the order of the day on Sprinkles’ set, and if there are vocals, they’re buried deep in the mix: specks on the wind rather than exhorting divas. The Sprinkles mix isn’t much of an “explosion.” It seethes slowly, sticking to a palette of chintzy drums and reflective chords. It’s easy to see why she’s drawn to Skylax, on which she’s put out a few releases as K-S.H.E. in the past—both for the label’s sound and its championing of queer artists.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 22, 2018

Publication: SPLITTOOTHMEDIA

It takes less than a minute for Katy Perry to go from “there’s a pounding in my head” to “do it all again” on “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” the fifth single from her blockbuster 2010 album Teenage Dream. In between is a gradually escalating series of post-debauchery images whose explanations exist in a fog of tequila and bad decisions. A stranger in the bed. An unconscious DJ. Pink flamingos in the pool (she’s most likely talking about the lawn ornament, but I like to have fun and imagine Pink Flamingos in the pool). The shitshow is so exaggerated (“warrants out for my arrest”) it’s impossible to take seriously. The stakes fall away, and we somehow know she won’t get in trouble.

“Last Friday Night” takes place on Saturday morning, amid a mess of consequences from half-remembered actions, and Perry wakes up not in shock but with a feeling of pride: “I’m pretty sure it ruled — damn!” Then the chorus rushes in, explaining (almost) exactly what happened with skyscraping exuberance. Is it her memories flooding back? Is it an account by someone else who was there? Is it an omniscient narrator filling in the gaps in Perry’s memory? We never know, and the ambiguity lends the song a certain mystery we don’t usually expect out of early-2010s electro-trash party songs.  (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 20, 2018

Publication: Phluff

From Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” to the Blue Nile’s “Downtown Lights,” the Fairlight is the go-to synth for popsters seeking to cultivate a sophisticated, dimly-lit aesthetic. No wonder Italian-Californian duo Baseball Gregg have made the instrument the centerpiece of “Gemini,” the first single from their upcoming second album Sleep (out August 3 on La Barberia Records/Z Tapes). Sleep is a concept album tracking the deterioration of a relationship over the span of a single night, and “Gemini” corresponds with the moment when the sun goes down. Over a bed of synthpop as sultry and whispery as a warm evening breeze, singer Luca Lovisetto employs his fearsome command of vocal fry to ruminate on the moment, in the words of his musical partner Samuel Regan, “when loving somebody first begins to feel tragic.” Listen to “Gemini” below!  (Click “pdf” or “web” link to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 18, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

This is the rare project that’s truly unmoored from genre.

Tierra Whack is a former freestyle champion who has since veered into a style somewhere at the intersection of pop and neotenous indie rock. Her debut album Whack World is a 15-song, 15-minute collection accompanied by an elaborate music video featuring Whack grooming dogs, snipping balloons, and dancing in a cemetery. This is remarkable on its own. But when the shock of its novelty wears off, the album resonates not for what it is but for what it does.

This is the rare project that’s truly unmoored from genre. Whack is a fearsome rapper, but that doesn’t mean her music’s necessarily rap; she’s so far out on her own limb that she treats the discipline that made her famous as little more than a fanciful detail in a bigger picture. Interestingly, much of the album is sung or rapped over little more than a single instrument, usually an electric piano, so it sounds as much like a singer-songwriter record as anything else. (Click “pdf” or “web” link to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 14, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

The world Vynehall creates here is so inviting.

It seemed a little strange for Leon Vynehall to subtitle his last release Rojus “Designed to Dance.” Is that really all there was to it? It felt like Jeff Koons declaring his balloon dogs had no meaning whatsoever—true, perhaps, but a bit of a cliffhanger. Nothing Is Still sheds some light on what he might have meant. This is a work of vast ambition, reaching back to his family history and his parents’ move from England to New York in the ‘60s. Though it’s actually shorter than Rojus, he’s selling this as his first album, as if to render Rojus and 2014’s beloved Music for the Uninvited apocryphal. And though Nothing Is Still is many things, one thing’s absolutely sure: it is not designed to dance.

Nothing Is Still finds Vynehall moving away from his friendly downtempo/deep house sound into the realm of ambient drift. Only a handful of tracks have drums, and with the exception of “English Oak (Chapter VII),” they’re far from dancefloor bangers. Nothing Is Still evokes similar feelings to Bibio’s British time-travel odyssey Phantom Brickworks or the Viking archaeology of Swedish duo D.Å.R.F.D.H.S.: an eerie melancholy that comes from traveling back through history, nostalgia for times long before you were born.  (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web

Date: Jun 07, 2018

Publication: Spectrum Culture

MC Paul Barman is the definition of an acquired taste.

MC Paul Barman is the definition of an acquired taste. He’s the whitest of the white rappers: nerdy, self-deprecating, whimsical, pleasant in an aw-shucks way that might endear him to listeners who wince when rappers get mean. There’s also no one who does quite what he does. He’s not one of those self-righteous types convinced they’re saving hip-hop from an amoral morass of gangsterisms. He doesn’t revel in the novelty of the fact that he’s rapping. He isn’t really a comedy rapper, though the shit he says is usually ridiculous. It’s hard to be mad he exists, especially because he’ll never find a home on pop radio. He doesn’t represent anything wrong with rap. He’s not Macklemore. He’s not Lil Dicky. He’s “the crested bird of nested words.”

(((echo chamber))) is his first release since 2009’s Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud; in the interim, he’s become a father. You might think that’s the only thing that could possibly make his music dorkier, but this isn’t an album of self-conscious dad raps. If being a family man has affected him at all, it’s that he sounds more at ease, the excitability of his earlier flows replaced with a careful, laid-back way of explaining things. He delivers many of his rhymes as if from a rocking chair, and the general feeling of this album is lush and easygoing, almost baroque. The production, largely by luminaries like MF Doom and ?uestlove, hearkens back to that post-golden-age era where beatmakers were happy to put anything in the blender. (Click “web” or “pdf” link to continue reading.)

view/download PDF view on web