Someone asked about this project of mine, and just like all questions about creative projects of mine, I immediately got defensive and tried to figure out what the real question being asked was. Do they think I should publish my writing in a more significant way? Should it be more community-oriented? Should I try to write more about relevant things to the world?
After that particular wave of anxiety passed, I started re-framing my thoughts for any of my creative pursuits, and perhaps engagements in general. As a person with a limited belief system and no defined long-term goals, it would make sense to simply "do what I want," or more to the point, "do what I'm compelled to do." In general, this doesn't create stable systems, so I have to choose to be unstable within a stable framework, which is what doing this writing grants me.
Mostly the reason I am compelled to do this at all is because the art is that good. One way of supporting it is personal financial investment, which is made more complicated with fungal physical media collections, inferior digital collections, or inconsistent concert attendance. But a nebulous and potentially powerful tool is putting out an opinion (mine are all positive) about something that might garner more support for something in hopes that it keeps happening, which I have to hope is more of an emotional than a financial
This month it's in alpha order but separated by normative songs and electronic. More rambling might mean I liked it more, but it might also mean I wasn't in a rambling mood. It's a huge month but you've got time to mull it over cause Nov/Dec means seriously dwindling content.
Normative Song-based music:
A. Savage - Thawing Dawn
Parquet Courts’ best and most intense songwriter takes it down a notch for his solo debut. His Texan heritage is on display here, suggested in both lyrics and stylistically, suddenly unafraid of guitar twang and Americana meanderings. The record is rooted in careful, quiet arrangements, and even when deviating, such as the sax assisted freakout of “What do I do” or the upbeat pop of “Eyeballs” and “Winter in the South,” there’s still a truckload more restraint than on a PC album. The songwriting is generally very good with a few clunky lyrics along the way that have a way of sounding like Malkmusisms the more I listen to it, which is nice. It’s definitely a satisfying listen for fans and probably worth checking out if you’re not yet.
Aldous Harding - Party
Music nerd hits are not like hits for other people. Often, music nerds, heretofore simply nerds, are affected by something that sounds singular and affecting to them, and possibly not too many others. It’s struck a chord, if you will, for these nerds, and one that hasn’t really been struct before. Harding’s vocals, featuring odd timbres, a large range, and varying amounts of vibrato, aren’t unique for these qualities, but their combination and their use feels singular to this nerd. Her songwriting comes from a place of emotion but leans to the canonical, which would feel even more unique if I hadn’t just been talking and thinking about the new Susanne Sundfør album. “Imagining my Man” reminds me of Marika Hackman in the elevation of a simple folk song with an interesting production choice, and is an early highlight here. The title track is the real nerd hit of the album, though, and it’s one of the nerd hits of the year.
Brockhampton - Saturation II
I feel like this is my second chance to appreciate a numerous, oddball, west coast hip hop collective after my complete failure to appreciate anything Odd Future. This is way different: it’s pop music, it’s not obnoxious, and it’s fairly inventive and realized. I also don’t know if this will really just be the launching point for solo careers or if it’s best contained as this baker’s dozen strong “boy band” collective. OF does seem like the right comparison in the 21 year old kids getting together to make something noteworthy happen, and they’re really good at it. The strengths here are enthusiasm and songwriting, which is a rare pair in the genre. The reference points are equally G-Funk and modern not-so-good hip-hop, the latter of which might make this seem not-so-good at first blush. That’s not the case though, it’s really good. Hip hop is a little less over.
Circuit Des Yeux - Reaching for Indigo
It’s so much harder to verbally recommend (I know, this is writing) a Circuit Des Yeux album than it was to recommend Haley Fohr’s Jackie Lynn album from last year. I mean, there’s the pronunciation, with the contained liaison within that adds a layer of aural confusion that somehow seems representative of his project. Also, Jackie Lynn was an easy sell: a gun-toting, cocaine-fueled cowboy character here to save country music. This record has a bit of Jackie Lynn spirit in that there are very distinct songs with hooks, but it’s sonically much closer to In Plain Speech from 2015. Her songs may be best when they’re both expansive and accessible, exemplified by standout “Black Fly,” which reminds me of her solo 12-string performances but now fleshed out by her usual suspects cast of collaborators. “Philo” is similarly vast but still contained within the idea of a song. “Geyser” is also worth mentioning, though it’s an understated folk jam that’s perhaps most reminiscent of Jackie Lynn. Also, I should say: I know all the words already and I’m a huge fanboy and I’ll be in the front row at Great Scott in a couple weeks.
Duds - Of a Nature or Degree
I’m always into snappy, angular, concise post punk with a no-wave bent to it, and this is no exception. Influences range from Swell Maps to Wire to The Fire Engines (okay it’s a pretty narrow range), songs range from 1-3 minutes, and the vibe ranges from fun to funky. I’m surprised to find out that this is released on Castle Face, but maybe because it’s the first non-California act I know of on the label. It’s in line with the consistency and promise of the label otherwise, even if it’s more British and less psychedelic than its peers. Certainly worth your 24 minutes.
Kelela - Take Me Apart
This is a headphone, alt R&B production-lover’s album that happens to have some nice vocals. Like, it’s released on Warp and has four Arca joints on it. So you’re well taken care of there, all the way through, and it’s definitely something to come back for. The songwriting does have interesting aspects that are slowly working their way out, though I think they appear more vanilla at first than, say, everything on the Hallucinogen EP. Vocally, Kelela is always pitch perfect, and the lyrics are sort of the usual R&B fare. Specifically though, she finds new ways of phrasing sexy things that, in the middle of several songs, makes me think: “oh, that’s actually pretty dirty.” It’s actually a really special skill. Generally, it’s a really big pop album that’s unfortunately a little bit smaller than the sum of its parts, but not by much.
Protomartyr - Relatives in Descent
I’ve mostly been into (obsessed with) music and visual art that doesn’t serve any external purpose in particular but that is as close to autotelic as possible. This record feels pretty far away from that, at least to the extent that it’s driven forward by some sort of awareness of other people and things, in a political sense. It’s all about something, I’m pretty sure, and I probably agree with a lot of it, since I agree with the sound of it. Does that even seem right? Anyways, I’m not going to ignore a massive rock record like this even if I don’t quite know if I agree with the oblique messages it may contain. It’s pretty easy to just listen and enjoy.
St. Vincent - MASSEDUCTION
This is the best record that Annie has made so far but for anyone who’s experienced her live show, you know she can do more. It’s way more consistent than her singles-oriented eponymous album, which is great, and it’s generally a tightly produced pop album. This might be the problem: there’s too much sheen and not enough Annie. She’s the whole show but it feels like she’s playing a part, instead. The ballads are even overproduced, thanks to Antonoff’s sledgehammer approach to pop music (which people apparently love). Strip the excess away and there might not be enough left though - still, I’d sort of like to hear this produced by, say, Steve Albini or Ty Segall. I realize I’m just saying I want Annie to be a Rock Star and not a Pop Star…but I’m pretty sure she’s a Rock Star. I might just have to wait to see her live to really be sold on this as her direction.
UUUU - UUUU
The first question is “Why did it take so long for these artists to come together?” But then that’s too similar to “Why didn’t this art exist before now?”, which isn’t important, because now it does. Then there’s “You can make this music with guitar/bass/drums/synth” and you can’t, unless you’re being helmed by Edward Graham Lewis of Wire fame and you’ve got three other legit professionals (Matthew Simms has been playing with Lewis in Wire for a while now) who aren’t afraid to plunge into new territory. And that’s the thing that this record really is: new and fresh! No one instrument clearly holds the compositions together, nor are they necessarily strict forms. Songs will go from improvised space to tight, muscly composition and back, often within the space of a song. The source of the sounds isn’t important, it feels more like a “whatever is needed right now” approach, which provides a lot of flexibility. The result is not quite a rock record, but with enough structure and familiarity for an accessible, relatively cohesive listen; a hard-to-define art-rock triumph.
$$$TAG$$$ - Fractals
Asem Tag takes a fairly large sidestep on his second release as $$$TAG$$$, this time for Seagrave. Fractals is far more experimental than his beat-driven debut and explores the territory between Post-Industrial and Progressive Electronic, both spaces that are not completely saturated between my ears. Fractals uses a lot more digital sequencing than is usual for this genre, but still feels organic to me because of the noisy sound beds that are used on a few of the tracks (they sound perfect on headphones). Like vintage IDM that was largely sequenced similarly, there’s a lot to appreciate and less repetition than other forms of electronic music.
A i w a - Recent Ups and Downs
Seagrave is a label that’s helping step in and save tape house, filling a part of the void that 1080p created by folding late last year. Between this and the Boliden release earlier in the year, as well as the Perfume Advert tape last year, they are gaining some pretty solid traction and/or runoff from Opal Tapes, who is apparently going more experimental and less beat-driven. This particular release moves in a good direction with a restricted sound palette of synths and drum machines without getting penned in by it. The low end is especially well fleshed out compared to other releases in the genre, which makes for a satisfying listen.
Ben Frost - The Centre Cannot Hold
Frost takes a break from making soundtracks for things (Fortitude, A rainbow six video game, and Super Dark Times, recently) to soundtrack some version of mechanical urban decay in realtime. The composition of this work is harder to parse and probably more interesting than AURORA, his last work, which used obvious dynamic shifts to celebrate its intense moments (which were great). Here, the more the shifts are more from melody to amelody than quiet to loud, and both give the listener a lot to hold on to, if they manage to hold on at all. The more melodic pieces are quite successful: “A Sharp Blow in Passing” sets the idea in motion early and “Ionia” is somewhere between a climax and a centerpiece because of its massive intertwining melodies. There’s no moment that’s quite as satisfying as the cataclysmic shifts of his earlier work, but this is another intriguing listen from one of the best sound artists around.
Byron Westbrook - Body Consonance
A Progressive Electronic nugget that found its way to me last week and has been helping me float along on pillows of analog synth once each day since then. I enjoy the idealistic nature of gear limitation and the effect it can have on long-form composition in this type of music, which can be actually be carefully planned and/or improvised in nature. This album feels like it has a score, and an uncomplicated one that allows you to keep it in mind all at once despite great levels of detail along the way. The one two punch of the first two tracks quickly establishes a post-Emeralds maximalist style that lends itself to powerful crescendo. The real standout for me is the most minimal moment, the closing “Fireworks Choreography,” which reminds me of Eliane Radigue’s sophisticated understanding of analog synth drone.
Four Tet - New Energy
Generally, this feels a little bit like a singles collection, and I historically really like Hebden’s singles collections (Pink, Percussions comp). There are five beatless passages that try to tie together the 11 fleshed out tracks, which are by and large warmer and less dance oriented than most things he’s done before. There are a couple house tracks (“SW9 9SL,” “Planet”) but a lot more that sound somewhere between Downtempo and sample-laden ambient house. “You Are Loved” sounds very familiar but is a highlight, and “Scientists” plays with vocal chops well in a way that hasn’t been typical of his productions lately. Overall, a shift to less danceable house is never something I’m going to complain about, so this gets my seal of approval.
Kassel Jaeger - Aster
Once you refuse melody, rhythm, and structure in general, it can be hard to create engaging…well, sound art. I’m a pretty big fan of what I label as “Abstract” music, and I do so because it most closely reflects my visual work that’s best described in a similar way. With painting, I think it takes a moment of inspiration, disquiet and/or change in order for something interesting to happen with a restricted palette and ideals, and the same can be said for this sort of art. Jaeger has capitalized on some inspiration with Aster, as it is one of the most fully realized works of purely abstract. This album (on Mego) works because it is expressionistic, and performance oriented without feeling unplanned (or overwrought). The biggest difference between this and similar music may be that this is consistently beautiful and a wide enough variety of sound from Francois Bonnet’s chosen palette.
Lakker - Eris Harmonia
This is a fun little burst of icy textures, more so than beats, that blends together a wider spectrum of sound than their last couple releases. It’s a great length of EP to explore this more-caustic, more-artsy sound, but hopefully it will be incorporated into their other releases in the future. The two parts of Eris are both laden with lush distortion, but the former is more aggressive and beat driven, and the slower is a calmer drone. Before that though, “Empress” has a UK Bass meets Grime approach to beat creation and “Extinct Peoples” is downright noisy. “Song For Rathlin” might be the most classical Lakker tune here, and it kicks off the EP because I think it would sound strangely calm and normal if it came anywhere else.
Michael Claus - Memory Protect
100% Silk is having a really slow year, which isn’t helping my tape collection. This is one that I’m strongly considering picking up though. It’s got a classic Silk sound to it (circa 2015), replete with ambient washes and skeletal 4/4s. It’s generally groovy and psychedelic, with builds that can mirror more typical house track structures while still eschewing the sound of Deep House to a great extent. This is especially seen in the middle of the tape on “Forest” and “Dissent,” which largely take out the kick drum in trade for spiraling synths. Recommended if you like drum machines and ambience together and separately.