Tuesday, 31 December 2013

my pieces this year

Thought I'd do a post gathering together everything relatively major I wrote in 2013. Click the links to get either the relevant piece or a fuller description I put up here on the blog where you can click through to the piece itself. Happy New Year!

End of 2013 Stuff

I loved 2013 for music - loads of huge and really fresh material. The second half of the year in particular was a constant stream of amazement, with Burial, Beyoncé and a new E+E release just missing the boat for most of the end-of-year coverage too. I did masses of lists and writings for the end of year, and here they are (in roughly chronological order). At the bottom I've jotted down another list of albums that were great but which you are less likely to have come across outside my writing and end-of-year contributions.

Wire

Wire's January 2014 issue (#359) was its annual Rewind issue. I contributed some reflections and an essay on the year in the online underground featuring vaporwave, newcomposed vaporwave (Eyeliner, PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises), hardcore pastiche (Yen Tech, Gatekeeper), post/para/quasi-vape beats (Contact Lens, Blank Banshee), weird beats (RAP/RAP/RAP, Karmelloz, Pazz Cherofoot, Suicideyear) and the new epic collagists (E+E, Diamond Black Hearted Boy, Total Freedom, TCF) with nice pics of Suicideyear, E+E and Diamond Black Hearted Boy. There's also a review of 18+'s MIXTAP3 by me, which I picked as my release of the year. And as ever, Wire's Rewind issue is worth a look, with a great list of best releases and everyone's reflections. At some point everyone's lists will be accessible online too.

Dummy

Dummy did a load of stuff, much of which I got involved in voting and writing for, including best albums (click here), best tracks (click here) (ft. me on Autre Ne Veut's 'Ego Free Sex Free'), best EPs (click here), best mixtapes (click here) (ft. me on James Ferraro's Cold and 18+'s MIXTAP3) and everyone's individual lists (click here). I did one of the 'Trends of 2013' pieces too, on Neo-Eski, Alien Shapes and the New Grime (click here).

Electronic Beats

My Pattern Recognition column for Electronic Beats became a couple of best-of-2013 lists covering the online underground, one for non-vaporwave (click here) and one for vaporwave (click here). These are pretty good for releases you might have missed, and the second one is a good intro to vaporwave and its recent activities.

Boomkat

I did an end-of-year list for the online music shop Boomkat (click here to see it). It's probably the best list if you want to know what I liked this year, and features an almost lifesize and increasingly outdated pic of me. If you needed persuading.

No Fear of Pop

Top-notch mp3 blog No Fear of Pop came to me wanting to realise an offhand comment I once made (here, actually) that 'maybe one day the chart will rate musical objects of the year' and the result was a gorgeous page featuring lists contributed by myself and NFOP's writers (click here to read), with an introduction to musical objects written by me. The project ended up with a personal and thoughtful character, and was beautifully designed to - do check it out. I wrote about Burial, Janelle Monáe, war dubs, Laurel Halo, Autre ne Veut, Yen Tech, Metallic Ghosts, Lou Reed and Drake, the others picked a great range of specific musical tidbits and experiences.

Recommendations of Less Famous Stuff

18+: MIXTAP3
a i r s p o r t s: BE THE 1 I DREAM OF
Alak: Guardian Petted
AyGeeTee: Fools
Blank Banshee: Blank Banshee 1
Bloom: Maze Temple
Cakes Da Killa: The Eulogy
Contact Lens: Free Throw Banquet (CL keeps taking this one down from Bandcamp but it's worth seeking out. Much of it's on Youtube - e.g. here)
Cyan Kid: Free
Diamond Black Hearted Boy: Father, Protect Me
E+E: Recortes (currently down from Bandcamp)
E+E: The Light That You Gave Me To See You
Egyptrixx: A/B til Infinity
Eyeliner: LARP of Luxury
Glass Eyes: Cero
Infinity Frequencies: Computer Death (gorgeous bit of vaporwave, this)
Karmelloz: Bud Air
Luxury Elite // Saint Pepsi: Late Night Delight (gorgeous bit of vaporwave, this)
Magic Fades: Obsession
Marie Dior: Euphrates
Nima: Spirit Sign
Yearning Kru: Cracked Lacquer / Vanadium
Yen Tech: Revengeance

Longer lists of less famous stuff can be found in the Electronic Beats pieces (see above)

Liner Notes for Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger

I wrote an essay for the liner notes of a great new CD of contemporary classical compositions by Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger (click here for more info). The music is really worth a listen - both composers reconstruct and play with samples in absorbing and complex ways - Shlomowitz by comparing, contrasting and paralleling material between a piano and a sampler, Ablinger by replicating vocal samples on a piano in various different ways. Have a listen and read extracts from my essay below:

video
Matthew Shlomowitz - '1. Free Sound' from Popular Contexts

Peter Ablinger - 'Hanna Schygulla' from Voices and Piano

When first listening to the works of Matthew Shlomowitz and Peter Ablinger, it's tempting to reach for a well-worn concept and say that they take music or sound and 'deconstruct' it - but this would be a mistake. It's common to hear of how works playfully pick things apart piece by piece and layer by layer, whether found objects or objects of tradition, in gestures interpreted as knowing, self-aware, ironic. The work of Shlomowitz and Ablinger is more interesting - it reconstructs music, not merely by getting back to basics or back to where we came from, but one note at a time. The interest lies not just in what they manage to achieve, but in the nature of the task itself and the scope of its foundations.

Shlomowitz and Ablinger seem less 'knowing' than open-mindedly learning as they generate their material - composing as if beginning from an almost pre-intellectual or even pre-human starting point. They approach the world of music and sound like an intelligent but newborn child, a blank slate whose complex and confusing surroundings must be parsed and understood moment upon moment. Or like a pet starling, picking up sonic objects like household noises and human speech from its environment, perfectly replicating them, and incorporating them into its song wholly or in fragments but with little apparent understanding of their everyday meaning... Or like a complex artificial intelligence, designed in a lab, algorithmically building a knowledge base by tracking the trajectories of its stimuli, analysing spectral data, and haltingly interacting with technicians...

Emma by Chuck Close, an artist whose work was a point of comparison in the notes

Performances of the work of Matthew Shlomowitz (b. 1975) are often met with well-intentioned laughter - it's the natural reaction to suddenly hearing recognisable or banal sounds in rapid combination within a concert setting. His work is playful and flippant in this way, but sooner or later it asks to be taken more seriously. As the frisson of meaning in the sound effects dies down, as the 'jokes' outstay their welcomes, it's the processes of form and syntax that take centre stage, the purity of the latter all the more surprising given the down-to-earth nature of the former...

Each of the Voices and Piano pieces can be thought of as a photograph of somebody's face overlaid with a system of lines and shapes that is uniquely generated according to particular architectural rules, suggesting a structure in the face not obvious beforehand. Discovering this process anew in each piece is what makes hearing them so beguiling. In some, such as 'Amanaulik' and 'Alberto Giacometti', the texture is wrapped very closely and tightly around the voice, almost masking it. So scrunched and fine-grained is it in the latter that they evoke the thin but turbulent bronze sculptures of the eponymous artist. In 'Jacques Brel' and 'Carmen Baliero', Ablinger constructs a halo of pitches at some distance from the pitch of the recording. The latter features staccato pitches high above the voice, which is talking about the rain in Buenos Aires, and it's as if the raindrops were falling from the clouds in straight lines and constructing Baliero's voice where they fell...

Monday, 30 December 2013

Essay (Trends of 2013): Neo-Eski, Alien Shapes and the New Wave of Grime

Artwork by Educastelo

This Dummy essay was also one of a number of end-of-year 'Trends of 2013' pieces for the mag, and looked at this years' new wave of grime, particularly its eski, sino and alien elements (click here to read). Pleased with this one - feat. Wiley, Logos, Visionist, Bloom, Inkke, Slackk, Murlo, SD Laika, war dubs, grime tonality (chromaticism vs pentatonicism), squarewave, auto design now and tomorrow, yo-yos and more.

Of all the areas of underground music that seemed to surge forward this year, grime was one of the most obvious and most intense.. 2013 might have been one of the most exciting years in emergent grime for quite some time - a year when the genre reached back to its roots to create its future...

Ultimately all these pressures on grime - what commercial success means, smoother dance directions and US approaches - really begged the question: what is grime? And for the answer to that, many producers have looked to its early days circa 2003, discovering there a freshness that stands out sharply against the productions of more recent years...

Visionist

If eski was a car designed in 2002, neo-eski feels like what the car would look like after a redesign in 2032, and not just the car itself but also the bizarre social, technological and climatological violence you'll be able to see out of its windows...

Visionist seems to be the avant-garde spearhead of grime's new wave, eschewing pastiche almost entirely in developing a range of distinctive sounds that are powerfully modern and that lose none of their effect to failed experimentalism...

The all-round biggest success might have been Bloom's 'Maze Temple EP,' an intense neo-eski raid that takes the futurism of Logos and makes you move to it. Bloom is one of the strongest of the new wavers, and his war dub send for Samename might have been my favourite of the lot, firing weapons that aren't supposed to be invented until the 23rd century...

Pattern Recognition: James Ferraro’s NYC, Hell 3:00 AM


Pattern Recognition 7 was on James Ferraro's latest album NYC, Hell 3:00 AM (click here to read). I was particularly pleased with how this one came out. There's a running theme of exhaustion and damage.

Up there, there’s Drake and Kanye, raging and weeping in their gloomy fortresses. Down here, under the dust, sirens and steaming vents, under the sidewalk and the rattling subway, under the dripping pipes and skeletons, here’s our James Ferraro, standing guard over a kingdom of rats...

Sorry we ran out of milk, but here’s your shot of James Ferraro, now fuck off...

Rather than being amazed, dazzled and possessed, NYC, Hell 3:00 AM weighs you down like a ghoul on your back and a concrete block chained to your legs. Far from presenting a particular concept—you don’t know what it’s about, can’t put your finger on a unifying reference or a commentary, can’t quite make the ends meet—the album’s power is in its dragging you into darkness. It’s like a flashlight shone into a pool in an otherwise lightless cavern, illuminating a few motes in a dull greyish beam that fades several feet later, leaving little impression of how far down it goes...


As they perform, the speckled, downcast members of Ferraro’s arcane backing band don’t make eye contact with each other or anyone else, but somehow their disunity settles, like silt...

The urgent but numbed scrubbing of hands and forearms in slow motion of “QR JR”, a ritual intermittently pierced by clock chimes and anxiety. The thin, suspended vocal of “Beautiful Jon K”, a human monument. In “Upper East Side Pussy”, a monastic refrain rolled like a carpet and pushed up the stairs as if after the occupant of a home has passed away...

NYC, Hell 3:00 AM is not just what happens to a city, but what happens to the public façade, the lungs, the muscles, and the mind, too...

Pattern Recognition: The Vanishing Frame of Blondes and Huerco S


Pattern Recognition 6 is a piece looking at the different ways recent albums by Blondes and Huerco S. frame dance music (click here to read). This one was implicitly a response to the whole 'outsider house' thing, and had me trying out a slightly more unusual writing styles.

Though they sound pretty different on the surface, they’re complementary—both are working through the same process with different outcomes. This process involves expanding out from older conceptions of where the ‘music itself’ is located and incorporating the sonic and formal consequences of its context into the wider musical appeal...

[Swisher is] bathed in low-Celsius streams of improvisational electronic minimalism, the kosmische microwave background. It’s like stepping into the clubs of that world you always wanted to visit, the one lit by a giant blue star, the one where the humanoid creatures step along with a sad dignity and no-one quite notices or cares that you’re there. There’s an almost melancholy voyeurism when you visit this imaginary club, where heads are down and backs are turned...

While Swisher zooms out to show you the club, the frame in Colonial Patterns is a zooming in, showing you the grainy physical life of the sounds themselves leaking through boxes and wires, so close up that you no longer see the wood for the trees. The forces connecting the sounds begin to weaken and they float freely as autonomous objects, and aren’t trees lovely up close when we can feel the rough bark under our fingers and smell the sap? Where are we again?...

Goddamn it, we’ve been coasting on post-modernism for at least thirty years now—and the idea of it spreading into house and techno only seems fresh and interesting for about 0.2 seconds. Blondes and Huerco S. don’t need to be casualties to the assumption that their music is simply a reaction, because every time I listen the music seems to get more abstract, not less...

Essay: Modules in Machine Modernism with Oneohtrix Point Never

Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven

Dummy essay giving my take on what might be going on in Oneohtrix Point Never's latest album R Plus Seven (click here to read). Includes thoughts on abstraction, modular composition, machine language vs human understanding.

If you have listened to 'R Plus Seven', make a list of ideas that R beautiful now that you have listened to 'R Plus Seven'. Here's mine: savannahs, stairwells, Mondrian, electric blue suits, cursors...

'Replica' was a mystery humanity may never solve, an ancient curse on the limbic system, a system of doorways leading only to other doorways. It managed to unify enormous godlike emotional forces and apparently inconsequential little sonic granules in some kind of fuck-me, Klein-bottle, infinite-Escher-ascent scenario...

This new album 'R Plus Seven' is so quizzical that it only barely interfaces with a human player on levels such as familiarity and emotionality. It cares nothing for your human need for unity. It cares nothing for your human hierarchy of musical signs. It cares nothing for your human categories of culture...


After a while, one can begin to sketch up a new cladogram. 'R Plus Seven' has several species of soft sounds (not as in quiet - woozy, hazy, pastel-coloured, rounded) and hard sounds (pinging, slamming, tinny, metallic). It is singular sounds (this note, that one, that pipette-blob of whatever it is) and multilicious sounds (bells, bunches, combinations, conglomerations). Organic sounds (human voices, water, was that a bird?) and non-organic sounds (for which only formulas can currently be given) - well, they're all both organic and non-organic and neither, really, 'R Plus Seven' makes it difficult to draw the lines. Discrete sounds (attacked, decayed, sustained and released into the silence) and continuous sounds (drones, breezes, atmosphères)...

The album might be what the computer that used to work for the Art of Noise does on its own time, an AI enthusiastically generating art, who once wouldn't admit to preferring modernism to postmodernism but now refuses to be ironic or ashamed of the so-called uncanny valley. 'R Plus Seven' wouldn't quite be the sort of thing to play to the tech-investors next time they come around, maybe we'll stick to 'Moments in Love' and 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' but we'll keep it on diskette, maybe one day humanity will have ascended to the point where it can be grateful...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Pattern Recognition: Is ‘Internet Music’ the New ‘Lo-Fi’?


Pattern Recognition Vol. 5 (click here to read) was a thinkpiece seeing parallels in the fate of the early 1980s cassette revolution - that is, its eventual reduction to the quaintness of 'lo-fi' - and the possible fate of the online music revolution. Although I covered the relegation of the online underground to something patronised and/or trivial, in hindsight I didn't say enough on ideas about the internet being unnatural, perverted and fearful (which I looked at in the context of OPN's 'Still Life' video in this blogpost).

When you look up close and see the pixels or strain to filter out the tape-hiss, neither ‘internet music’ or ‘lo-fi’ are quite what they seem to be...

Ask anyone, especially ten years ago, what an indie approach to music-making looks like, and they’ll describe the ‘lo-fi aesthetic’: well, it might be a little bit retro or a little bit folky or a little bit twee, and maybe the sound would be a little bit muddy, hissy or woozy, the playing would be a little ragged, but it would be warm, intimate, minimal, gentle, like a hug from a bearded man in a charity-shop woollen jumper with a kind face. After all, this is what comes out when you make music outside of the commercial studio system, right?...

When home-recording and the cassette medium first turned up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, few musicians or writers regarded the medium as ‘lo-fi' ... What independent music magazines at the time recognized in the cassette was sheer potential itself—now anyone could make whatever music they wanted and send it anywhere that had a mailbox. Within a few years, the cassette medium had been adopted by fringe and avant-garde musicians in the industrial, experimental and electronic underground and the production of modern-music recordings was radically decentralized...

Soon enough, it was taken for granted that home-recording and lo-fi—a sloppy, hissy, amateur folk rock sound—were one and the same thing. But home-recording and lo-fi are not the same thing...

This is a reactionary and patronizing take on a new form of human—yes, human—cultural structure that might be so serious, so powerful, and so new that it’s frightening, that it’s too much and needs to be reduced to a quaint, charming place. This reductive maneuver is the lo-fi of the 2010s—it could be called ‘internetness’, in parallel with the ‘cassetteness’ of lo-fi...

Essay: London's Hi-Tech Noise

Art by Clifford Sage

Dummy piece (click here to read) on a network of artists (including Yearning Kru, Clifford Sage, Karen Gwyer, Brood Ma, Felicita and more) and labels (including Kaleidsoscope, Mantile and Astro:Dynamics) based in London that are sort of in an art/noise place but that are reaching beyond lo-fi analogue alchemy. Some great stuff covered in there, and a promising network.

Pop vitally needs its avant-garde sectors, and this London-centred noise network represents the hi-tech weirdness currently sweeping the underground in its most distilled form. If you don't normally consider yourself a noise person, it's worth giving it a try in this case - this is not something gurgling away as a static sub-sub-culture, but an insight into the modern sound...

Just as some techno, once clean and hi-tech, is becoming more distorted and hissy and thus more like noise music, this faction within noise and industrial music is becoming a bit more clean and hi-tech. It's a particular network headquartered in London (with an annex in Taiwan) and it's been slowly cooking over the past few years, with focal points provided by labels such as Kaleidoscope, Manile, Astro:Dynamics and No Pain in Pop. It's coming to resemble something of a counterpart to New York's own abstract hi-tech crew - the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never (and his Software Label), Laurel Halo, Ferraro, Gobby and Arca...


Sometimes 'Cracked Lacquer / Vanadium' is dense, angry and demented, pulling up clods of God-knows-what from the roots, pressing them together and twisting the whole bunch. Other times it's searching desperately for something deeper as its surface trembles with latent anxiety. Aethrr Wvlf starts off like a pocket call from a friend shopping for groceries in other dimension, but a mournful refrain slowly rises out of its centre with a halo of broken glass and crockery in its orbit. In The Confines, a handful of scrunched-up tones is cranked like a mad hurdy-gurdy. While the 'Cracked Lacquer' section is usually grander and slower-moving, 'Vanadium' is a series of smaller sketches featuring the signature tones of shifting high-resonance phasers, like wine glasses as they scrape and scoop up water, soil, stones and other all-frequency sonic components, most dramatically in effect on the final track...

The opening track, Oxidiation Fix by Brood Ma, takes the cake, an essential future-groove of chiming icicles and kick-drum fists. You may then want to listen to Brood Ma's album 'F I S S I O N,' a stunning, sharp-edged diamond, a classic of the modern sound that seems to have languished in woeful obscurity for roughly a year (it can be found as a free download here). It shivers with snares and flexes claws as it hurtles forward, now mutantly misshapen yet oncoming, now on-the-beat and sleek like a lightcycle. Not Going Home probably features the most terrifying use of the 'Ha Dance' sample out there, resculpting it as an eyeless bug scuttling down from the hive to feast on your pituitary gland. Disconnect From This & That takes some tonal sample or other and just wrecks it, rabidly shaking it in its jaws and sending flecks of acidic saliva in all directions. If just one of this album's bucketfuls of new techniques made it onto London's dancefloors, it'd be a transfiguring moment...

Essay: 'Something Beautiful?' The Hardcore Pastiche of YEN TECH and ADR

Yen Tech: Revengeance (download it here)

Dummy essay on the questions raised by such extreme and detailed use of pop pastiche, especially on recent releases by ADR and Yen Tech (click here to read). This one was a bit of a follow-up to last year's distroid piece. Since this essay went up, Gatekeeper released their Young Chronos EP in a similar kind of bag, and Yen Tech released two more great tracks - 'Creature' and the Christmas song 'All I Want for Christmas' (for the brilliant Christmas 2.0 Forever Priz Tats x PC Music compilation).

Earlier this year, two members of the Dis camp released what might be two of the most perplexing and provocative albums of recent years, and both of them work with the deepest, most detailed and most unblinking pastiche of among the most lurid and inauthentic (traditionally, at least) music around today: ADR's 'Chunky Monkey' and YEN TECH's 'Revengeance' mixtape. Both are spectacular. It's pastiche so hardcore that it seems like they form an extreme yet logical intensification, the furthest reach, an end-point perhaps, of the light pastiching that began with the likes of Stereolab, Boards of Canada and Ariel Pink messing around with cheesy old-fashioned pop. Where those artists casually invited you to a wistful afternoon of sunny, dappled nostalgia, safely distant in time and historicised, a little cheeky lemonade to offset the artisanal ales of indie folk, maybe a faint pang of poignancy here and there, 'Chunky Monkey' and 'Revengeance' slam your head right into the toilet bowl and shout over and over again, "YOU LOVE IT! YOU LOVE IT!"...

The gap between the caricature and its object narrows to a hairline fracture. No longer is underground new music merely caricaturing the sounds its audience associates with capitalistic or technological excess, leaving us space to comfortably situate ourselves in relation to it. For all intents and purposes, it is the music of capitalistic and technological excess...

Pattern Recognition: Indigo Beats

Pattern Recognition Vol. 4 is on the convergence of a number of beat-making trends in the online underground (cloud rap, 'trap,' witch house, vaporwave) into something euphoric, hi-tech, ethereal, based, weird and diverse I gently dub 'indigo beats' (click here to read). As well as doing an overview on 'beats the genre' and what it's been doing in recent years, the piece takes in several great lesser-known artists that are worth a look including Contact Lens, Horse Head, Party Trash, BLK SMK and more (and since this piece went up, the style has solidified further). In order to best introduce you to these artists I did a mix to accompany the piece, which you can download:



Since the piece went up, several more albums in the stylistic vicinity have been released, such as Blank Banshee's Blank Banshee 1, BLK SMK's 110, Horse Head's 3D and Spirit Armor, Party Trash's Scrapped (some tracks more than others) and MiaMee's Ghost Boy (even Burial's Rival Dealer sounded kinda like this stuff in places). The name 'indigo beats' comes from the generally blue and/or purple coloration on the covers of the releases and/or the Bandcamp pages, which parallels the music's mixing of 'blue sky' digital and seapunk sounds (blue) and cloud rap (purple, naturally):

Contact Lens - Free Throw Banquet (currently unavailable)

Some extracts:

Cut open modern popular music culture, squeeze it, boil it, turn it upside down and shake it, and you get beats. Hip hop instrumentals, riddims, productions, selected ambient works, call them what you like, beat music can be found everywhere... Today, this extraordinarily versatile and accessible genre—no, genre’s too narrow a word: medium—is practically the default setting of pop music’s base. Where in the 20th century, bored or fame-hungry youth would join a jazz or rock band, today they make or use beats...

But the clear ruler of post-vape crystal beats (or whatever) is Contact Lens... Free Throw Banquet is a different animal, finding a new sound and mining it capably. It might be the wallpaper music album of the year—it’s warm, masterfully crafted, very personable, very now, and has a sense of humor without being annoying or insincere. Sonically, it favors reverby e-piano and chiming synth patches and TR-808, like all the tech-company sound-logos of circa 1993-2003 got together in a hot tub. I say this, but the album isn’t retro or an arty conceptual jolly—it’s beat-making. No giant sea-view mansion should be without it, especially if said mansion is really a drab sofa in the suburbs...

Future beats, then, might be converging somewhere beyond the established formulations of cloud rap, vaporwave, trap and witch house, as restless producers use their old tools for new purposes. Most of the producers mentioned above show a tendency to avoid heavy sample use and classic organic warmth in favor of unconventional electronic textures with a strikingly emotional and blissful resonance, together with an inclination towards considerable heterogeneity in technique from track to track, each one constituting its own little world...