Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An Honest Thanks

During the few months that I made it back into the states in-between my ventures here in Korea, I was fortunate enough to spend time with my sister. She is fully aware of my affection for the music described here, and was kind enough to ask if 1) I was still listening to music that scared our parents? and 2) if I had any musical plans or direction in the near future? Out of her kindness she dropped me a line to a woman who she was working with over in NYC. She didn't have much more information at the time beyond that, but a month or so later I had an e-mail contact and some material on my plate.

Through a few good words from my sister, I was provided with the most recent project from a label. It's called Hljóðaklettar, the newest offering for my pleasure was called Rosa, and it's run by Sabrina Joy and Runar Magnusson. In our brief correspondence I revealed that I was doing some casual freelance music criticism, so I was pleasantly surprised that in the package was a multi-media project.

The range in artistic mediums made for a surprising change of pace. I initially went straight towards the music, since I feel the most qualified in this area, but also because I had dropped by the label website to check out what I might be store for. True enough, the offering dabbled in electronica across the board. There was some flickering minimalism on tracks like "Work," and "Gamelan Marimba Vibraphone" by Ilex, and cacooned break-beats on "Beforesundown" by Björk Viggósdóttir. "A Love Story" by Sophia Maj reminded me of a slow haunting pastiche of Zola Jesus. The track that really stands alone in style and energy was "Portal to Portugal," a piece of house shaking dub-step. There were only seven "just audio" tracks all told, but the music is just portrayed in other mediums.

In goodie bag of extras there's abstract music videos, like the swirling vortex "Window Flicker" by AGF, or the dead heat of Johanna Kristbjorg Sigurdardottir in her "untitled." The experimental artwork coincided perfectly on this project with the music, which makes me understand why the audio section was a little slim. Some of the pieces in the non-musical department are even more provocative. Birta Thrastardottir series of depressingly dark comics ended with heartfelt triumph of a mother and child found. Marit Victoria Wulff Andreassen's geometric shapes of ejaculating penises and a woman caressing a "vagina-in-breast?" Sabrina's has what appears to be a tissue paper torn in the shape of a crude face mounted on top of a TV screen. Like I said, this is not my area of expertise so I won't try to read deep into this.

I thought about approaching this offering from a variety of different directions. The difficulty of devoting a project to womens artwork, without falling into reproducing the pathology of gender restrictions. Or how producing this kind of multidimensional releases can be used to promote smaller labels to an audience with a broad sense of interest. Ultimately, Rosa is about the artwork that Sabrina Joy and Runar Magnusson love and are inspired by. I would like that thank them deeply for their kindness and graciousness.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Late On Time

At the end of every year there are usually a few albums that I don't get to until a month after. By the way, when I say end of the year, I mean in the last couple weeks. I don't know why record companies decide to release them at this time, for the simple fact that it will most likely disappear under the weight of holiday blockbuster promotions and fans trying to trace high water marks.

Even if I had got to Mikkey Halsted's The Dark Room, which was released on December 21st, I wouldn't call it just a good album. Halsted has been bumped around by around Cash Money and Virgin records in recent years, and has earned his time to shine. He's Chi-town proud, has a M.A. in Education, and hates on an Uncle Tom the way Scarfarce hates on a snitch. Along with production from No I.D. (Common, Jay-Z, Kanye West), who covers the boards for most of the album, he delivers over an hour long compilation of tracks that isn't a debut LP. It's a mission statement.

The two tracks that really standout are "Field Ni*#a Blues" and "Exorcist." "Blues" features Freddie Gibbs, another rising star from the midwest, a running ice-cold piano, and a swooning hook from B.J. the Chicago Kid. "Exorcist" is lead in by "Reading of Scripture," a poem read by J.Ivy that would make Farrakhan proud, then Halsted and a smoldering organ attempt to free hip-hop from it's wayward ways.

It's true that over the duration of the album the production begins to thin itself out and the returns begin to diminish, however in turn Halsted is given the chance to lyrically flex his talent. On "Camera Ready" Nat Turner takes you on a ride by Hyde Park and The Israel of God church, "Frozen" delves into the tragedy of neglected and abused women in his community, and "Story Untold" is a letter of warning and compassion from a father behind bars. The pain and pathology of ghetto life is captured on "N****z Just Complain" when Halsted rhymes:

"I'm from the place
where it used to take a village
now we scared to say shit
to anyone else's children.

Where we're paying for our feelinz'
slingin' death right by the buildinz'
our back up against the wall
we killin to make a livin."

This is a multi-dimentional, piercing, and mature emcee committed to his craft. Most artists need several efforts in order to establish an identity for themselves, but The Dark Room finds Halsted fully aware of who is he is as an artist. The years of trial and opportunity deferred has only sharpened his lyricism and a determination to be heard. With his connection to other Chicago names like Kanye and Lupe, it's only a matter of time before word gets out, and there is no doubt that when the time comes, Halsted will be ready.

Other 2010 greats that I am stuck on:
Megafaun - Heretofore
Pestifer - Age of Disgrace

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bits and Muses


In terms of being "that's-the-spot" albums, my favorites would have to be:

Owen Pallet - Heartland
Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Abscess - Dawn of Inhumanity

I have lots of love to give, but if pushed into a corner, I would send these up with the most confidence. I honestly thought about Kanye being on this list, because My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is that good, but does he really need anymore praise on this one?

Black Milk's Album of the Year was probably this years greatest disappointment. After Tronic I was looking forward to him taking his game to the next level. The live drums just became overwhelmingly prominent and drowned out other creative directions. The strings on "Black and Brown" was the crown here and made for one of my favorite tracks this year.

Jayke Orvis was the biggest surprise this year. I ran across It's All Been Said by total accident and I get caught up with the brilliant picking on songs like "Yankee Taste," "Shady Grove/Gypsy Moon," and "Dreadful Sinner" every time around. The purest country moment had to be "Streets," another favorite track of mine this year. In the end, Been Said didn't have the kind of awareness as how to pace a LP which kept it off my favorites list.

Other Honorable Mentions:
Big Boi - Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
108 - 18.61
The Mynabirds - What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood
Bonobo - Black Sands
Chicago Underground Duo - Boca Negra
Therion - Sitra Ahra
Jamie Lidell - Compass
Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here?

2011 update:
Right now listening to: Caitlin Rose - Own Side Now

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not Letting Go

NO. I will not fall prey to best-of-year-list grovelling. You know, the kind of self serving dribble that, in a musical context, articulates nothing about the importance and patience for dialectic conversation, and has everything to do with bragging about how deft everyone else is to your sense of authority. INSTEAD. Owen Pallet. Heartland.

Since it's release in January, few albums come off as dead-on-target. It was conceived as a concept album, following the life of a fictional character named Lewis, which is cool and all that, but I find this precursor a bit misleading. What I mean by this is that great concept albums do not require a consummate back-story. Even if you never read the liner-notes, you could still understand where Heartland is coming from, because you soon realize it's welling over with vision and intention.

The arrangements here are absolutely stunning. Pallet is a classically trained musician and composer so it's not surprising to find his work constructed with this kind of authority and grace. It also can't hurt to have the full fledged power of The Czech Symphony Strings and The St. Kitts' Winds at his disposal. Songs like "The Great Elsewhere" awaken with murmuring keys and synths, then takes flight half way through with soaring drums and strings. He follows after it with the sly ballad, "Oh Heartland, Up Yours!," an example of how he's mastered the kind of push and pull that keeps songs from becoming benign duplicates. The horns and hook on single "Lewis Takes His Shirt Off" is perhaps the albums most immediate moment, while the closer "What Will Happen Next?" features a wounded piano dancing under Pallet's layered vocals, and keeps the drama breathing until the last second.

While there has been plenty of great music this year, Heartland is one of the few complete masterpieces. It has held true all year long, and I find myself anticipating every turn and leap with nothing less than wonder. Last year I didn't make a best of 09', and I'm brewing as to whether I should make one this year, or perhaps a track listing instead? Be sure either way to see Owen Pallet's name among them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Death By Wrench

For the past couple of days I have been listening to Murder Construct. They have been labeled as a kind of grind/death super group, in the same way that last year Shrinebuilder was for doom metal. I think these collaboration have no pretensions of being touted as "super groups," but are really just a group of like minded friends who love playing spine-break music with just enough time on their hands.

Construct's line-up contain members of Exhumed, Cattle Decapitation, and Bad Acid Trip for anyone needing some meaty proof to warrant the hype. Their self titled EP is everything one would expect, extreme metal that makes your bone marrow quiver and all that good stuff. My favorite track is "End of an Error" where drummer Danny Walker builds up a stormy bridge on the toms before they all come together again to finish the kill.

But these extremes rarely surprise anyone who is familiar with the genre. Bands like Inhume and Last Days of Humanity have pushed all the qualifiers such uncompromising ends that their relevance is purely THAT, being the nastiest in a nasty neighborhood. While these extremes represent the edge of the spectrum, they are predictable and quickly assimilated.

And then there is a band like Flourishing. Yes, they also play death/grind, but it's the a less obvious approach that makes A Momentary Sense of the Immediate World one of the more intriguing metal listens this year. The crew is from New York, which explains their style of "later-years-death-metal riffs", but they are also willing to take some needling chances. Gorguts and Cynic did this maybe more than any other bands from a previous generation, and Flourishing guitarist Garett Bussanick (Wetnurse) seemed to have been taking notes. On "Fixture" all the chaos vaporizes in an instant and Bussanick slithers around in the free space in a way that recalls early Dillinger Escape Plan and Discordance Axis circa 2002. With all this said, this band comes off relavent in their own age.

This trio has a sound that's all their own, so don't get it twisted. Most of their EP is unquestionably extreme metal, with old-school production, and throws down plenty of musical chops. A Momentary Sense is a mutation with wire brush limbs. Check it out.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

No More All That

The Chicago Underground Duo is trapped in time. Most would agree that somewhere in the eighties, jazz, one of America’s greatest art forms, started to fade into the background. Culturally today there is a lot of indirect exposure, since the creative energy that used to go into the genre is still alive, but is just spilling into different directions. But the disconnect between Art Blakey and Pete Rock to broader audiences is a tragedy, and makes me wonder why there aren't more artists uncovering this space and musical text?

The Duo, now as formed, by cornetist/trumpeter Rob Mazurek and drummer/percussionist Chad Taylor, have an improvisational tradition with multiple and/or previous band members since the“Chicago Underground” name has traversed a quartet and an orchestra over the years. Boca Negra finds the two instrumentalists transitioning between their dizzying talents, inspired by greats of the seventies, and incorporating their own brand electronic influences.

The frenetic moments are highlighted on the opener “Green Ants,”and there is no denying the musical talent on display. They are full of soul and devotion, which should resonate with anyone who has an appreciation for acid/avant-garde era. Where they make contributions to a modern identity is on the tracks that come after. Tracks like like “Left Hand of Darkness” and “Quantum Eye” slow things down and graft synthetic bridges into the same environment.

During the course of the album things begin to smooth out over these divisions. The dizzying energy finds solid ground to glide across on “Confliction” and “Spy on the Floor,” by adding lucid bass lines and sprite piano and xylophone percussion. By consequence, the almost interlude moments harbor themselves within the same wave, and quietly glow on “Hermeto” and “Vergence.”

The most difficult role in defining the triumph of Boca Negra is the lack peers for comparison. In an era when jazz is too often trying to appeal into shallow perceptions of the past, the Chicago Underground Duo has the confidence to say, while challenging the moment has its risks, it's worth the sound of history to come.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pixilation Wave Train

So I came across something not too hot, or too stale, when I found Fudge Fingas. The man goes by the name Gavin Sutherland, is from Scotland, and bumps some awesome electronica. The catalogue of his music is dispersed amongst a handful of mixes and compilation albums, but it’s his most recent EP that I'm here to give some love to.

About Time
is only three tracks long but brings plenty of energy and weight without being overbearing. It is closer to techno or house than it is minimalism, so it's sure to get your blood flowing. The arrangements are full of deep synth harmonies, slick percussion, funky guitars, and hypnotic vocals that keep a diverse groove in motion. The single off the album, "It's About Time" slowly builds throughout and sets the stage for the other two songs, "Me & u," and "MmmHmm."

The terrain of the techno/house/electro culture is based in the spontaneous nature of the club world. DJ’s are constantly taking apart old songs and previous re-mixes to apply their own appeal and insight. It's all about going to hear someone spin that evening, and creating in the moment something that you may never hear again. That being said, I have to give About Time much respect, even if I can throw it on from the comfort of my apartment. Fingas comes with straight class, and anyone who is a fan of electronica should dig this, no matter where you are coming from.