Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Joints

The library is demanding I return a few CD's I've had for a while so I thought I'd write a little about them first.  After all the hype around Sampha and his debut album, Process, I decided to check him out a bit, but I wanted to go back to the source -- I read about his guest appearances on albums by SBTRKT so started there.  To be honest, while I think Sampha has a unique voice with a very warm quality to it, he wasn't really doing it for me; I even saw him live recently, with the XX, and felt the same way; just not feeling it.  But I do like SBTRKT!  He has some really great sounds on his records; I particularly love the squelchy synth bass on this track, Wildfire:



Features Little Dragon -- keep coming across them recently.  Another good thing I've noticed about that track in particular is that it rewards repeated listening -- I keep hearing new sounds that I hadn't noticed before, like the warbles behind the singer's voice at certain points.


Second CD due back is 'Malibu' by Anderson Paak.  Now, this guy is hardly unheard of; in fact I decided to check the album out after getting round to listening to a best of 2016 podcast from NPR.  But there's so much music out there these days, including so much lauded good music, that even though he's on best of lists that doesn't mean you've come across him -- all I'd seen was the name, but hadn't heard anything.  Really glad I got the album out though, as it's really good.  I've been listening to the whole thing at a time as it all gels really well, though I can't say it's been sit-down in-depth listening -- mostly it's been on in the living room on a weekend morning.  But I'm cool with that -- music that I can just put on and enjoy is more than welcome.






Non-library and newer listening now.  I came across JLin thanks to NPR first listen.  The accompanying write up for her album Black Origami talks about one of her records being played by Aphex Twin recently, her album being on Planet Mu (a UK label), and how some footwork-y music has junglist elements to it.  All pretty interesting stuff and, to be honest, I even found the fact that she's a black woman releasing this type of music pretty cool and unusual in that I don't come across that often (maybe I'm looking in the wrong places). And she's from Gary, Indiana!  I stopped there, once, in a snowstorm, on the way to Chicago with my brother and cousin -- we wanted to check out what was then described as the most dangerous city in America; we didn't stay long. Anyway, the album's hyper-erratic beats don't necessarily do it for me, but I do like this next track, and can definitely hear sounds that would fit right into some jungle:






Sunday, April 9, 2017

Time only moves one way

Just a few notes and jottings here.

This article on Monoloc and production is worth hanging on to.  Some good stuff about the use of space, background noise.  And the tunes aren't bad either.

https://www.xlr8r.com/features/2017/03/artist-tips-monoloc/

Prolific rapper Oddisee's got a dancey track, Things, on his latest album, the Iceberg, that I didn't want to get overlooked.  As usual  you can hear the entire album at the bandcamp page.



Another boring technical thing here -- Four Tet talking about how he does his thing live:



I've read that he does everything in Ableton when it comes to making music, but it's interesting how he changes things up to play out live.  I've seen him live, actually playing out the album that you hear bits of here, so it's extra interesting to see how he did it.

Finally, I've got around to listening to the third XX album, I See You.  Haven't heard it all yet, and I know I'm late to this track, but really like it -- it's got me looking up how-to bits on dub rhythms and bass lines:



Two things really get me on this track -- the lovely nostalgic feeling has me looking back to college and all that emotional up and down; and I'm really impressed by the singing -- both singers really displaying that they've got great voices when the raise the volume a bit.  Looking forward to seeing them next month.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

BMX

One thing I've long admired about Brits is their focus on fun and having a good time.  It's one thing i really (and unexpectedly) found missing when I moved to America at the age of 16 . The radio had multiple country stations, and rock/alt rock stations, and rap/RnB stations, but most of what was on MTV and so on wasn't fun -- it was rock, it was angst, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana (still), hardly hedonistic good time stuff (as an aside, this is why I got into RnB and some hip hop for a while, and watched a lot of BET -- that was fun and forward sounding w/cool electronic production by the likes of Timbaland and the Neptunes, while a lot of alt-radio was still playing tracks off of 'Nevermind'.  I didn't come round straight away, but I got there and have stayed there, kind of).  As for dance music, basically nowhere to be found, which was really weird as I was living in a Detroit suburb!  Clubbing was not mainstream at all, there was no funkiness, no dancing, not that I could come across easily anyway, not compared to the mid-90's UK I'd left behind where the Prodigy were already on Top of the Pops and the second summer of love had happened when I was around 10.  The school bus was (pretty) girls with goth make up and dyed hair, or wannabe gangstas with the pants falling off their bums (all the way back in 1995) who insisted on putting Bone Thugs N Harmony on the cassette deck.  Once we got cable we'd tape shows like AMP and 120 minutes on MTV, later on waiting for the one or two good videos to come on, while forwarding through the rest.  I remember being in shock when I wore a Prodigy beanie to school (ordered via a UK cousin, through the post) and the kid who sat behind me in maths knew who they were (really regret not talking to him more about that, but my social goals back then were pretty bizarre).  There were kids who liked some of what we liked, some of the UK indie stuff, but sadly those kids were mostly weirdos with no friends, and I considered myself somewhat normal, perhaps even cool.  Sometime later I started listening to pop radio, and made the most of what I could I find on there, things like the Venga Boys for instance... (I should note that there was a brief period in the later 90's and early 00's when things did improve -- not to UK levels, but still a lot better; Detroit gained a proper club in Motor lounge, and 89x started broadcasting live sets from there on weekend nights).

Where is all this leading?  Well, it's leading to Jamiroquai and a recent nostalgia-fuelled video binge I had.  I like Jamiroquai, always have, ever since seeing them perform 'Too Young to Die' on TOTP when it first came out.  I like that they're funky, fun, dance-orientated.  Some people seem to think they're uncool, or like them in some sort of ironic way, but I don't care.  The hats are dumb (but show an admirable lack of self-regard), the didgeridoo stuff doesn't do it for me (see previous bracketed note), but the rest is great!  So many great songs, such great sounds!  Jamiroquai exemplify that fun loving Britishness to me.  They represent to me the British desire to dance, and to explore danceable music in all it's forms.  Part of the history of British pop seems to be hearing cool danceable music, exploring it, and then putting it back out into the world -- from the Beatles to acid house, and yes, to acid jazz too.  I do wonder how all the modern PC types feel about that in the age of cultural appropriation and all that, but I don't wonder too much.  Jay Kay and the band are back with a new album now, and a tour, and I'm happy to report they're getting good reviews for both, with an appreciation of their past too -- writers have noted that the Jamiroquai sound can be traced to the latest Daft Punk stuff, as well to what people like Pharrell are doing.  Really, the acid jazz label needs to be dropped and replaced with something far more credible and honest -- Jamiroquai, Britain's greatest disco outfit.


Aah, good times.  Peak, peak TOTP, when live preformance was emphasised.


Fun.  Smooth.  Lovely.


Another thing to love -- great dance moves.  That man is 47 and he still hops around like that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Alive 2017

Sorry it's been so long.  I've thought about the neglect I've been showing this blog but kept thinking I hadn't really heard anything so there was nothing to write about.  Thought about it again yesterday and realised I've been wrong -- I've heard quite a lot that I've never blogged on, and all quite recently -- Skepta, SBTRKT, the new Depeche Mode, the new Tribe Called Quest, and more besides.  So plenty of stuff to cover.  I've also started to mess around a bit with making music myself.  I won't bore you with the details, but it's meant that I've been listening much more deeply to the music I hear now, which has been really good; it's been a while since I enjoyed music so much in that way.  I'll take it slowly though.  I'll start here with Roisin Murphy, as I have some time at the moment.

I first came across Ms Murphy back when she was in Moloko.  I heard "Sing It Back" while visiting the UK one summer and loved it.  But that and "The Time is Now" were all I really heard by them.  I'm in the US and Moloko weren't terribly big over here; I wasn't able to follow them or Roisin at all as she never came on my radar.


(Just heard that for the first time in years -- Wow.  The lyrics are great!)

 Then, years later, "Hairless Toys" came out and I made a Petridis-review based decision, one I've not regretted.  It's a lovely album, full of electronic music that's weird enough to be interesting but still very funky and danceable.  In fact I really should get it out and listen to it some more.



 That was in 2015; then Roisin came back up on my radar again at the end of last year, I forget why now.  I started looking her and her back catalogue up and bought "Overpowered" due to more good reviews.  There are some great tracks on there, and reading more about Roisin had me regretting that I wasn't following her all along.  Luckily she's still around and still doing great work so hopefully I'll get to see her live soon.   A stand out track from "Overpowered" is "Primitive", which I'll post below.  I love the sounds, the skittery beats, and Roisin's singing.



That's it for now.  The plan is for more soon.  But you know what they say about plans.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rhythm Stick

I've been in Dallas over a year now but this past week marked my first concert here.  As someone who used to go to multiple shows a week, this is a bit of a change.  Reasons are various but living in the burbs definitely makes things a bit harder -- after commuting to work and back it's so much easier to call it a day than to go back out again, but I managed it on Wednesday and didn't really regret it.

Nicolas Jaar finally induced my return to the nightlife.  Not an artist I've ever really listened to, bar possibly hearing some mixes at some point, but he does electronic stuff and is pretty well respected, so that was enough to get me out.  Plus there's a part of me that doesn't want to give up going out and hearing new things.  Add to that tickets to the show at the Granada were pretty cheap and I found a couple of friends to go with.

The show proved to be a bit of a mixed bag, which wasn't entirely down to Jaar.  It started out alright, with some very loud ambient sounds that verged on this just this side of cheesy (rainfall and bird sounds were present, so...); the other problem with that initial segment was it just seemed a bit too abstract.  There was a decent crowd present, and this section, which was probably somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes long, got me thinking about the live experience when it comes to electronic music.  What I've noticed is that crowds at a concert have certain built-in expectations, and it's hard for electronic artists to meet those expectations.  Even when I used to go to Motor lounge in Detroit, if the DJ that night was a big enough name a significant part of the crowd would just be facing the DJ booth instead of dancing; at a concert that's billed as live that's almost 100% the case, but more often than not there's nothing much to see.  Artists make up for that in various ways -- extensive visuals, random instruments to make things as "live" as possible; but others just have a bunch of machines and a laptop and stand behind them.  So, in the absence of anything to see, I think a crowd is at least looking for something to grasp on to aurally -- hit them with abstract ambient for 20 minutes and you end up with a bunch of people who are basically waiting for something to really happen, and they'll happily whoop if you just drop a big slab of bass.  Which is what happened at the Granada.  Unfortunately, right at the point that I think Jaar had planned to introduce some beats and more danceable sounds, there was a technical issue which ground everything to a halt for around 10 minutes.  The show then lost all momentum so that by the time the music started again most people were on their phones or carrying on conversations.  Kudos to Jaar then for being able to turn that around and get people re-engaged.  The fact that from that point on everything was far easier to dance to really helped; a 25 minute segment towards the end really stood out in that regard.

Jaar has quite a range of musical styles, which I hadn't expected (well, I didn't really know what to expect).  Apart from the ambient stuff he also had some disco bits, house, bass music, tropical beats, and techno.  In a couple of tracks he even picked up a mic, adding and looping his voice into the mix.  The crowd, I think again responding to traditional concert cues, loved it; I liked it too,  mostly because those tunes were great.  Jaar gave a good sense of playing his music live, which is another area I think can be challenging for electronic artists.  There's a need to properly convey that some risks are being taken, that someone isn't just hitting 'Enter' on a laptop and then noodling around.  Not all artists are successful at this aspect -- many don't do enough to justify the live tag, while others go too far and up playing jazz!  For me, Jaar found the right balance, but, as mentioned before, it didn't make for much of a visual experience, other than when he was singing.  The stage set up was two banks of machines and a laptop, with Jaar solo and pretty obscured behind his gear.   Fair enough as I suspect few artists can afford to take a really good visual set-up on tour, but I think even arranging his equipment differently could improve things.

To sum up, it was a decent show let down by one technical problem.  After that issue the sound didn't seem the same; it sounded like a speaker was blown and the music just wasn't loud enough for me.  The show lasted about two hours; I do think Jaar could clean things up a bit and make the show tighter and more focused.  As far as what I want from my electronic live experience, there was a visceral quality that was missing for me; I'm looking to be hit hard by something just nuts, and that didn't happen.  Not Jaar's fault, that may not be his thing, but I feel like I'm looking for something and not finding it.  I got a glimpse of that something in the latest album by Hieroglyphic Being, but unfortunately the track only lasts a minute and 10.  I think what I'm after is a massive four-four beat that's been messed with, played at ear-bleeding volume; the search for that aural high continues.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Twittered



I've written about Zomby before; he's one of those enigmatic dance music producers with the kind of underground and bass music vibe that's appealed to me for a while, kind of like Burial.  I heard a few tracks of his last year and ended up following him on twitter, and then getting quite excited about his latest album Ultra, especially when I heard it was coming out on Hyperdub, and that there'd be a Burial collab -- so excited that I bought it without reading any reviews.  I do sometimes succumb to the hype machine and then subsequently regret it, and sadly this is one of those times.  I really wanted to like the album and was looking forward to some electronic weirdness but with a good beat.  I listened to it twice and didn't feel satisfied so went and read a review on RA which basically nailed exactly what my issues with the album are.

First of all, too many tracks sound like out-takes from Step 2001.  Others feel like they're either missing something vocal or lack a hook.  A couple of tracks are decent, but overall the album is basically disappointing, like it's flirting on the edge of being really good but isn't quite finished.  After two listens there's no track that I can recall from memory, and that includes the collab with Burial.  The let-down feels even worse because this CD cost me $18!  No idea why the price was so high; even the guy at the record shop was confused, but it's definitely not due to any extras, or special packaging, or anything like that.

In the RA review the reviewer mentions a previous album and how it's tracks just faded away, feeling half-finished.  I have an older Zomby album called 'With Love' that I actually returned once to the record shop because I thought it was some sort of industry sampler, not a real album -- all the tracks just faded out after a very short time.  Turns out that's how the album was meant to be!  It's a shame, because Zomby is obviously talented; in part I'd say his record companies are letting him down by letting him release work that's barely there.  I'm still going to follow him on twitter, but I'll be wary of letting the hype to get to me next time.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Complete Control

I was reflecting on my habits as a music fan during my morning commute today (50 minutes, mostly in traffic, ugh).  I was considering the fact that I've never been a completist; I've moved from favourite band to favourite band but never gone and got, or even listened to, any artist's entire back catalogue, no matter how taken up by them I was at the time.  When I was into U2 I stuck with just "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa"; when it was Black Grape I only got the first album; even with the Clash I only went a few albums beyond "London Calling".  I suppose for me it's never been about buying into anyone's entire career or oeuvre; it's more about the individual work that I may intensely like, while being able to keep things in perspective and realise that not everything by any given artist is going to be good.  Plus I think I lack the attention, especially these days, to really focus on any one thing for too long.

This was all prompted by hearing "Sing" by Blur on 6 Music today.  It got me thinking about Blur and their sound and trajectory.  "Sing" is off their first album, "Leisure", which I don't think I've heard fully, so what I'm about to say may sound like complete balls to anyone who's a real Blur fan.  My Blur fan-hood is kind of like my fan-hood for every other band -- there are a few albums I've listened to a lot, and that's it.  So I'm hardly the person to really know enough about Blur to say what I'm about to say, but I'll say it anyway.

When I heard "Sing" this morning I was struck by the thought that it sums Blur up in a way.  The song itself is pretty non-traditional for a pop song; it's experimental, with no easily decipherable verses to sing along or relate to, and it barely has a chorus.  It's a great song, but very far removed from those which made Blur famous -- songs like "Girls & Boys", or "Country House", or "Song 2".  Even if I consider Blur as an indie act instead of a pop one, "Sing" is a lot more ambitious than anything else I've heard from that period -- and they produced it themselves. "Sing" sums Blur up as a band who are actually very experimental and who've had many different sounds and phases in their 28 years.  And when I hear "Sing" and consider some of Blur's other music it seems not at all surprising that the band eventually fell apart; because it would be hard for any band with so many different ideas and sounds to capture it all in one outfit.  It makes sense that Damon Albarn ended up starting and being part of many other acts, and worked solo, as did Graham Coxon.  Blur was never going to be enough to encapsulate all the ideas those two, and particularly Albarn, had.

This is probably not news at all, or fresh original thinking.  Really this is me trying to figure out who Blur are to me.  I'm re-examining them and re-thinking who they are as a band.  Britpop Blur wasn't really the Blur I loved; the Blur I loved was the Blur of Think Tank and what I realised today is that Blur were always the band that would make Think Tank; that album isn't an anomaly, it's actually who Blur are.  And "Sing" is what proves that to me.