Late 2011/early 2012: preview mp3s, library CDs, recent purchases, free mixtapes… lots of catching up to do. In an effort to contend with it all, let’s pair things off and see what connections we can find.
Orbital – “Never” | Saint Etienne – “Tonight”
I don’t know if Orbital’s forthcoming Wonky will read as tacky or timely by those in the know, but “Never” contains everything I loved about electronic music as practiced by British duos in the 90s, namely illusion of texture and big beats and total refinement of melody. I can’t wait. My even more beloved Saint Etienne are coming back, too, and while “Tonight” isn’t nearly as generous in melody or as impeccable in production as “Never,” it still bodes well.
Sam Phillips – Cruel Inventions | Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary
CD economy: Remember purging your collection for the simple purpose of keeping new stuff coming in, deciding which handful of CDs were worth sacrificing for a single new one? God knows why I ever sold my copy of By All Means Necessary, but if on some cosmic level it’s what allowed me to buy Cruel Inventions at sadly now defunct Natural Sound for $3 the other day, I guess it was worth it. KRS-One would be pleased I traded his philosophy for Sam Phillips’ equally compelling one, and not for cocaine, ganja, aspirin, coffee, morphine, sugar or any other habit legal or illegal. Now By All Means sits on my hard drive (a small one that needs constant cleaning out—some things don’t really change).
Sleepyhead – Starduster | The Ropers – “Waiting”
Slumberland always knew how to choose ‘em and when to let ‘em go. “Waiting” is a dreamy swirl, an iconic one, one of the label’s great forgotten moments. Starduster‘s preliminary singles were released on Slumberland, but by the time of the full album it must have been apparent that Sleepyhead were a bit too scratchily awake to stay in its embrace.
Danny Brown – XXX | Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin
Two of the great voices, maybe because part of loving a singer is worrying about the death they carry in their words. Let’s hope part of Holiday’s tragedy was that she wasn’t allowed to sing about the drugs.
Big K.R.I.T. in 4evaLand | Katy B on a Mission
Two of the most sensible personalities to emerge in music last year. “He’s dreamin’ – it’s not real,” mourns authority as KRIT fights to prove them wrong in his hip hop origin story. The same accusation might be leveled against Katy B’s club music, but she’s equally adept at casting it aside.
Clams Casino – Instrumentals | AraabMuzik – Electronic Dream
“You are now listening to AraabMuzik…” Does the recurrent aural watermark signify the creator’s anxiety that his songs don’t maintain the same silent authorial control that Clams Casino does with his beautiful instrumentals? Well, no, the watermark becomes its own crucial aesthetic imprint.
Men | The Men
Their latest albums are called Talk About Body and Open Your Heart, respectively, and they both make music that’s all about body and heart. But what a difference a definite article makes. The Men make no apologies about what they are, about doing the evil (punk rock?) men do, while Men (picture it in italics) comment on the evil from within a dance pop that has immediate origins in punk.
The Feelies – “Nobody Knows” | Shabazz Palaces – “a treatease dedicated to the avian airess from north east nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer)”
I still have only a partial picture of what The Feelies were up to on last year’s reunion LP Here Before (was it just Real Estate‘s Days minus youthful uncertainty?): “Should Be Gone” suggested a comfortable approximation of 1986’s The Good Earth, but “Nobody Knows” seems to derive from an altogether different guitar pop source, and could easily have been recorded by Thomas Mapfumo, the Lion of Zimbabwe, in the 80s. All that ringing fretwork, so pretty. Shabazz Palaces’ sources are harder to locate, and the typographical weirdness doesn’t help, but NE Nubia, far north from and apparently a zillion degrees colder than Zimbabwe, might be a good place to start looking. Someone suggested a man driven mad by the noise of his country, moving inward to a private one, which would explain why his achievement sometimes feels as big as Ralph Ellison’s.
Lee Ranaldo – “Off The Wall” | Lower Dens – “Brains”
Signs of a post-Sonic Youth world? Ranaldo assembles a slick pop song, essentially, from all his usual favorite chords, while Lower Dens make an early bid for next great American rock group by adding a locomotive rhythm to their noise, enhancing the ambition of their trances.
Janet – The Velvet Rope | TLC – CrazySexyCool