Monday, November 28, 2011

James Ferraro - Far Side Virtual

Note: this isn't listening music, it's an art piece.
As such, it utilizes the same themes chillwave relies on (nostalgia, a DIY approach, de- and re-contextualization of old, even dated material) to mock that genre and all its associations. The message of the album is quite complex: Ferraro is asserting that originality of material is unnecessary in art (which has been a topic in the art world at least since Duchamp), but he also seems to think that our current culture is devoid of originality. Whereas the tape culture Ferraro came from prefers to make its references unrecognizable by way of distortion, elongation, etc. (and this can certainly be applied to any and all music influenced by the proto-sampling of early Tape Music, up to and including Hip Hop, Techno, Pop, etc.); on this album the focus is on using these processes without masking the source material. In effect, the result is a demasking of the past, say, decade of electronica, but more importantly of American culture at large, which certainly seems (to me, at least) to often be a collection of rehashed tropes.
This is why it's fairly useless to comment on particular sounds; the fact that the Skype sound is more recognizable than another corporate sample is only coincidence, and Ferraro intends all of them to be on an equal footing with the shitty preset synth sounds throughout the album. Indeed, even to speak about individual tracks seems futile, because the approach is what's revolutionary here, not the auditory result. By creating such a raw—and at times, ugly—work by essentially inverting modern music, Ferraro shows that American culture often presents nothing other than decoration. This in itself is worth noting (it's also a major theme in Klimt's work), but I would assert that Ferraro goes one step further to show that this culture is not simply ornamentation, but a ruse.
Despite the tongue-in-cheek irreverence, this is a truly honest album, and, like Swift's "A Modest Proposal," it is a premonition of our society's future based on current trends. Ferraro's past career was very much hit-or-miss, but he cements his status as both an artist and a social commentator with this forward-thinking album.

Essential listening.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Andy Stott - Passed Me By

Sorry bout the wait. I've been greedily listening to music, neglecting you. I'll be back, bby.

This album? Consider it a parallel to Actress's Splazsh, only without the latter's eclecticism; a focused, single-minded album pushing modern bass music into bafflingly new territories. It sounds like London being buried. I dunno, just listen (with headphones or on loud).

From FACT Mag's review:
It’s as if Stott has awoken from some long and laboured sleep, emerging haggard and caked in petrified dirt: everything here sounds broken, sawed-off, obfuscated, even Hellish.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Young Montana? - Limerence

Dubstep producers have restlessly been reaching into more and more disparate musical territories to infect with 2step rhythms and chop into melody snippets. Perhaps one of the most successful accomplishments of this trend is Young Montana?'s Limerence, a hyperactive journey bounded only loosely by dubstep's hazy sound and UK Funky's persistent beat. Perhaps I should call it future garage to highlight its forward-thinking approach (not to mention distance it from frat house bass music), but the truth is this album embodies the malleable nature of dubstep in its infancy.
Having found out about the album through techno circles, I was amused to see it classified as Trip Hop on rateyourmusic. Yet the label is valid, because YM? works like a British Dilla: short episodes are cycled around a basic groove which keeps the track moving. The result is always fresh, if somewhat disjointed, but the erratic jumpiness of the album is certainly part of its charm. One of the most cohesive tracks on the album is its effective opener, 'Sacré Cool,' which is a high contender for groove of the year, with the help of some expert vocal manipulation. Producers have been overusing this technique lately, and YM? shows his subtlety by keeping the melody to a few well-timed vocal stabs against the pulsating rhythm section.
I expect this album will usher in a couple more meticulously crafted but flashy dubstep records which will all inevitably be throwaway. Young Montana? shows that virtuosity is useless in itself; most producers of frantic dubstep lack any sort of artistic control and their ideas get muddled. Young Montana? succeeds—for the most part—at exploring concentrated ideas from wildly differing perspectives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Actress - Splazsh

I've thought about putting this album up for a while now, but always concluded that sharing such a widely-lauded album would be frivolous, because so many people would already have it. I have decided most definitely to jump on the bandwagon though, because it rivals FlyLo's Cosmogramma as possibly the most important electronica album of 2010.
Actress is from London, and it shows. Splazsh makes allusions to most, if not all, of today's trends in electronic music, which makes for an incredibly varied listen. Opener 'Hubble' is one of my personal favorites, presenting a bastardization of deep house which sounds ultra-modern while staying entirely familiar. He's not afraid to reach back for sounds: 'Purrple Splazsh' explicitly investigates the relationship between disco and modern techno, leading into a track that disassembles dubstep. For me, at least, most of the pleasure I get from listening to this album comes from the deconstruction of source material coupled with wonderfully original compositions. The fact that they groove like hell also helps.
The disparate styles present on the album might appear to be a lack of focus, but I would contest that Actress's method is exactly the opposite. Most of the tracks are built up from only a few elements, and are relatively static, giving the listener enough space and time to take in every button tweak, synth stab, and rhythmic twist. This is where the more esoteric tracks really shine, because they are designed to make you think about current music, not just shake your ass. Occasionally, like in 'Always Human', he manages to bring these two elements together, and it's moments like these which make the album required listening.
Only albums as ambitious and expansive as Splazsh have a chance at truly changing the musical landscape. Watch out for Actress, I expect his future work to be quality as well.
He's already off to a good start with this single, released in 2011.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moonface - Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums

It's always nice to see someone succeeding at making pop music the old-fashioned way; by creating an object based on and informed by a familiarity with a larger musical context that would be inaccessible to the untrained ear. In a sense, a pop song should be as contemporary as it is outdated, allowing the previous work of the underground to shine through without the hostility of avant-gardism. This is certainly a simplification of previously extreme ideas, but the collage-like nature of pop music allows for many strands to be woven together into a final product that is ironically much more personal than the cold, refined methods of art music.
But those boundaries have clearly fallen, given the ease of using the term 'art pop' to describe a vast amount of music. Technological advances have certainly helped; writing arrangement parts and screwing around with the sequencer on a drum machine is arguably easier these days than getting a band together ever was. Lady Gaga and Kanye have certainly brought artistry into their work, redefining it as a multimedia performance complete with music videos referencing European art house cinema, elaborate costumes and shows, and an artificial persona that seems to be entirely detached from reality— They are clearly pop stars.
Yet there exist musicians for whom this dream presents no allure, those who fittingly evolved out of the 90s indie scene. Spencer Krug has been a part of many of the heavy-hitters in this circle, most notably Wolf Parade, and here he presents his ideas solo as Moonface. Most notable is the presence of marimba throughout the EP's one twenty-minute track, which shows an indebtedness to Steve Reich that is supported by Krug's penchant for layering instrument on instrument to create heavily rhythmic, driving episodes. The piece is essentially a suite connected by marimba, and motifs enter and reappear in a highly sophisticated fashion. Krug's lyrics are characteristically cryptic, and although I won't attempt to analyze their possible poetic meaning, their effect within the overall structure is notably fitting. "I am making hissing sounds with my mouth," Krug declares right before the end of the piece, giving a sense of the deeper otherness that remains to be heard under his well-crafted harmonies.
Marimba and Shit-Drums would never be played on Top 40 radio, yet it is clearly a great accomplishment of pop in which fans of techno will find minimalism treated in a remarkably different way, and fans of pop will hear how far the medium can be changed.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Tired Sounds of - Stars of the Lid

Stars of the Lid exists in that halfway realm that all drone/ambient projects should strive for: emotional honesty and an artistic vision to control it. There are various methods of going about this: Celer created miniatures that interacted, Natural Snow Buildings brings hazy folk in, etc. Stars of the Lid have gained a following based on their liquid masses of sound that each seem formed with perfection in mind. Perhaps I should offer a lesser-known album than The Tired Sounds Of, but the truth is that I only just recently got this too. It is a cornerstone of the genre for a reason, and does encapsulate it. When compared with today's drone, its influence is felt even stronger, and its power is more than apparent. The amount of textural music today (dubstep, chillwave, house, post-minimalism, black metal, kosmische, etc.) that branched off in some way from the drone movement that Stars of the Lid were at the helm of becomes much clearer after listening to some good old slowness.
Any discounter of drone needs to hear the craftsmanship that went into each sound.