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