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james blake

I fear that humanity and subtlety are dying virtues in music.   Every day, it becomes easier for artists to stack their work with more, as access to and ease of implementation of new sounds is pushed to a new horizon with the creation of every new song or instrument.  In the quest to create the sound of the future, an additive, maximalist process of creation is often unavoidable seductive.  In both vernacular and mindset, “hugeness” has become an uncomfortably universal end.   For many, making a tune that fucks the club up is enough, and even amongst those with higher artistic ends, faced with an existence moving further and further into the “realm” of the internet and social media, the novelty of our new mechanized consciousness is an enticing subject matter, especially for the electronic musician. I’m puzzled and perturbed that, in an age of endless imitation, nobody makes club music with a level of sensuality and soul remotely close to that of Jacques Greene.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and admire music that addresses the new digital landscape, but I worry that contemporary music neglects any truly inventive exploration of the “old-fashioned” troubadour-fodder of love, uncertainty and pathos. Call me nostalgic, but I’m starting to miss the beating heart and wit of the singer-songwriter.

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I had the pleasure of seeing Teed perform his full live set in December at the Fonda Theatre, and it was a mind-bending, immensely pleasurable experience.  Orlando’s musical stylings are  deeply nuanced, technically perfect and huge, but also accessible as pop songs.  This quality shines through on a  healthy snippet of a  remix of Foals’ “My Number” (available to stream below, the only release info given being “Out Soon x”).  I really like talking about songs, but I feel I don’t need to on this joint; its worth is rather self evident. Enjoy, and maybe get up and dance a little 😉

I’m coming at this review firmly entrenched in Henry Laufer’s corner. Not in the dickriding sense, because to be honest I don’t really fuck with some of his stuff, but just in terms of really respecting him as an artist and being willing to entertain the most absurd, abstract ideas of what he may be incorporating into his work and taking everything I pull from the listening experience as somewhat intentional on his part.

Like much of our generation, I get fucked up and sorta like, idk, think about stuff quite a lot. Let’s say I get Laid Out. That’s a pretty fun/fruitful thing to do in this world of constant stimulus and information. It certainly is a unique perspective, one in which I can divorce myself from all the mechanisms I normally use to sort the overload of information pouring into my brain through the Macbook/eyes/ears corridor into meaningful bins. In my weird, drug addled state of being, those bins become a little more convoluted and bits of knowledge that I have accumulated mix together and lead me to some very wacky conclusions about things and how they work.

Much of what enters my being through the computer/sensory superhighway comes in the form of music. I deal with an improbable number of different permutations of frequencies and macro-arrangements of frequency clumps upon which I vaguely cast the “808 drum machine” schema. Ever since becoming obsessed with “Top Back” by T.I., that instrument has meant a lot to me, even though I didn’t know it for years. The same with synths composed generally from saw/square waves, which have constituted the underpinnings of harmony in western pop music for a minute now.

That’s why I fuck with the instrumentation on “Later” by Shlohmo SO TOUGH. I can listen and discern the different 808 hits that I have become so familiar with, the underpinnings of the huge synth bass tones, and I derive pleasure from the “comfort foods” in the soundscape. Yet, there is a carefully wrought gauze over each of his instruments that is never static; it moves, sometimes imperceptibly, but it always pushes each of his sounds forward into what comes next, and it gives everything the sense of novelty that is so prized in contemporary electronic music.

Shlohmo is one of those “pop-conscious” producers, and thus, in a critical analysis of his music, you gotta spend some time thinking about the vocal element. His treatment of vocals has been, dare I say, groundbreaking across his entire Places EP-and-after canon. He doesn’t just put cool effects on well-chopped vocal snippets, he does it in a way that crafts an entire layer of meaning beyond what those voices may be saying. There is a careful attention to inflection that makes utterly digitized voices seem so human and emotive. He takes this to the next level in the lead single from Laid Out, in which a fuzzed out voice relies on his careful effects processing to impart any meaning on the listener. The fact that, without any heterogeneous syllables, I can understand that the voice is saying “I feel it” at the soaring drops is a testament to the skill with which Shlohmo wields his “Ableton Voice”, managing to marry technical skill with the visceral impact of pop. Well done mans.

So as to not leave my earlier run on sentences about drug use hanging, let me get into the arrangement of the elements in this tune. The most salient impression I got from my first listen to “Later” was how much of a jump in song structure and development this represents for him. It’s subtle, there are few clues to guide you out of a 6 minute trance, but for me, this song is centered around three big moments, which have this awesome chorus/drop hybrid feel to them. Between the drops, the arrangement swirls around to give this awesome pushing/pulling sensation that sets up the big moments with a sense of eventuality. There is a moment of silence, and then, boom, you feel it. To me, these moments represent my hazy flashes of realization in the midst of some drug induced stupor, and hearing a sonic representation of these ephemeral occurrences puts me in a thoughtful, open-minded place. I’m sure different people will have different reactions to this music, but I think this is art that forces a personal reaction in the listener if he or she listens closely. That’s why you should listen, and listen carefully to this song.

Shlohmo’s ‘Laid Out’ EP drops March 5 via Friends of Friends/Wedidit.

destiny's child

In these dark times of pop music, two of R&B’s seminal masterminds have emerged from the shadows and injected a little class into America’s pop lexicon. New singles from two of the most commercially successful acts in recent memory, Destiny’s Child and Justin Timberlake are backed by production from Pharrell and Timbaland respectively, and rather than buckling to the “EDM”-tainted sound that characterizes most of today’s radio smashes, both producers provide soulful, gritty pieces of future-oriented revivalism that make me smile.

As a genre, R&B possesses a futurism that is firmly rooted in music tradition, one of the traits that make it so critically satisfying. Old soul samples are juxtaposed against contemporary crooning, making for a rich listening experience that appeals to people young and old. In the world of half-assed electro house beats and Jason Derulo, that populist appeal is smothered by a digital sheen; cheap thrills take the place of musicality in a more traditional sense. 2013’s first two big budget singles utterly abandon the oppressive polish of the pop output of the past few years and bring back the realness. A sexy swing knocks the barrage of over-compressed kick drums out of the spotlight and I think the world is a slightly better place as a result.

Hit the jump for the full review…

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skrillex

There has been discussion of “the death of the music blog” and the fact that in the world of Tumblr we don’t need hipsters with English degrees writing flowery, insipid music commentary. After perusing the first few pages of Google results from the query “Leaving EP”, I see where these sentiments are coming from. People regurgitate the same quotes Skrillex gave to Rolling Stone, conclude that Skrillex is moving in a Burial-esque direction because he has cited the dude as an influence and maybe say something else about how they have secretly enjoyed his past output. Ummmm…

OK music journalists quit being a bunch of lazy fuckboys. If you spend some time actually listening to this EP, contextualizing it in a realm greater than in the scope of few quotes Sonny Moore threw at some press dude he probably didn’t know, there’s no way you can come to the “oh, look Skrillex is making English dubstep now” conclusion. Go ahead and disagree, but I see the Leaving EP as Skrillex grappling with the monster he has wrought and attempting to align the music he wants to create with the music his (obsessive, devoted) fans wants to hear. I know the masses of dirty-midrange-craving kids quite intimately and they are a scary, immovable force. Political-economic constraints on media output actually do exist outside of media studies classrooms and in this case, Sonny Moore is shackled by hundreds of thousands of kids who use his music to exorcise their angst and derive some enjoyment from the relatively miserable existence of the non-athletic kid in suburban America. I would wager my laptop that Skrillex would love to release a white label on Swamp 81 of hard-hitting, mind-fuck techno but I would make the same wager that a negligible portion of his fans would follow him over to the good side. Instead they would shift their affection over to one of his even more aggro clones (wow, yeah I hate those guys) and Sonny Moore would lose his influence over these kids that are probably a lot like him when he was growing up.

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bashmoreatrhonda

On December 14, 2012, I met a Club Called Rhonda and she took me to dance music heaven.

Samo Sound Boy was there (Body High in that mothafucka), Total Freedom was there (Fade to Mind in that mothafucka), and all the way from Bristol, UK, the one and only Julio Bashmore lent us his surly face and impeccable house music (Broadwalk Records in that mothafucka).

There were beautiful women, there were beautiful men, beautiful men dressed as women, beautiful women dressed as men, and beautiful people that escape such silly classifications.  I was sweating (woo!), and so was the ceiling.  I think Rhonda, Samo, and Julio changed my life, so hit the jump and let me tell you about it.

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chief keef

We wanted to share this piece with you in light of the upcoming release of Chief Keef’s Finally Rich and the soul-shattering events of the 14th.  We need to remember that music is more than namedropping and new genres.

Hip hop has a new prince, and he is a 17 year-old felon with a muti-million dollar deal with Interscope Records. Keith Cozart, better known as Chief Keef has been lauded by some as a savior of rap music and reviled by others as an irresponsible kid who promotes violence amongst his peers. In a matter of a year, his fan base expanded from an amorphous network of Chicago high school-ers on their cell phones to the massive audience brought about by a major label PR budget. Not one but two of his music videos have accumulated over 20,000,000 views on Youtube, and almost every major critical publication has come out either in support of, or at least respectably acknowledged, his work. On the other hand, the Chicago District Attorney’s office is doing its best to put Cozart in jail, and many see him as nothing more than an irresponsible teenager, or worse. However, trying to neatly pigeonhole Chief Keef as either a heroic postmodern poet or a delinquent is the wrong way to approach the study of this fascinating, walking talking piece of media. Chief Keef is both of these things.

Fellow Chicago rapper Rhymefest, in a blog post that shines an incredible amount of light on the nature of Chief Keef’s position, called the young rapper a “bomb”, an incredibly powerful force that is unleashed upon whoever it is dropped upon. The deployment of this “weapon” is integral to how rap fans and the general public alike will perceive Keef, but more importantly, it will determine how Cozart’s career life will proceed. The result depends on whether Keef is being positioned as a cash cow, reinforcing dangerous stereotypes and leading young people into destructive behavior or whether he will emerge as a voice that expresses the pain of his life and those of his peers in a way that is visceral enough to move people to change.

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The auteurs of one of the finest, most groundbreaking electronic albums in recent memory, Dominic Maker and Kai Campos, recently embarked upon a quick jaunt across North America to showcase new material from their upcoming full length and a more developed live show.  While the members of Mount Kimbie took in some Los Angeles poolside vibes the day before their LA appearance, (reviewed as an incredible musical journey in which the concepts of time and place ceased to behave according to their usual rules and regulations) I had the pleasure of sitting down with them and hearing their answers to my star-struck, stammered queries.  The transcription that follows sheds some light on the intentions with their live show, a few of the more technical aspects of their live and studio setups, the creative process, and more.  They confirm a new record out on Warp before summer of 2013 and hint that some James Blake collaborations may see the light of day in the upcoming year as well.  I had a fantastic time chatting with this pair of gentlemen and am pleased and honored to share their insights with you.

Hit the jump for the full interview…

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Dear Readers,

My apologies on being AWOL from this URL for the past month and change, hopefully you’ll hear a thing or two about what I’ve been working on recently in the next few months.

Anyways, full disclosure, barring possibly my middle school obsession with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, James Blake is the most influential musician to ever reach my eardrums. I keep coming back to his work. Thus, I was tickled pink to find that he released a single and b-side under the old Harmonimix moniker (he released these with rapper Trim, who I won’t focus on here, but still deserves a lot of recognition for his vocal contributions). If I may, I’m gonna take the opportunity to say a few things about JB, his new tune, and how he has changed the way I think about music.

Music these days seems to be splintering into a camp making tunes meant for big speakers and disorienting dancefloors and one making the tunes you wake up to, walk around to, and fall asleep to at night. Although this is far more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, it is difficult for a musician to place him or herself firmly in both of these camps.

Although he isn’t the only one to do so (cough cough Mount Kimbie, Disclosure, Probably Countless Unheard But Incredibly Talented Producers Toiling In The Depths Of Soundcloud), James Blake has created a characteristic sound that feels equally at home in your laptop speakers/headphones and the most absurd soundsystem at a festival headline stage. I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting the music he makes, so oblige me sharing a few of the observations I’ve made.

Confidence Boost (which you oughtta be listening to by now via the attached youtube video) opens with reverb-soaked drums that possess two important qualities: they are both ambiguous and engaging. The sound is amorphous, but nuanced, as bursts of condensed white noise that will continue permeate the song flit among the cloudy drums. Suddenly, Trim’s voice comes to your attention. “Look”.

James Blake is a student of pop music as well as an accomplished practitioner of sound design. This double degree manifests itself in how well his music translates to different contexts. I have spent days slaving over logic pro as well as enjoying music as a casual listener, and both of these sensibilities are appeased with the opening of “Confidence Boost”. All of a sudden, the soundscape is subjected to a sort of vaccuum. Only the clearest, most salient elements remain, and sitting directly in the center of the mix is a rather unprocessed human voice. Like much of Blake’s vocal work, Trim’s lyrics speak to a personal pain that has a universally applicable quality. JB keeps the voice a lucid center of the piece, but by adding pitch shifted wisps and subtle manipulations of timing, the lyricist becomes less any particular person and more a unorganized chorus of empathetic listeners. The third time around, the vocal has sunk into a cacophony of emotion and energy that gradually recedes, leaving the listener with one last clear “strike a pose”. A similar balancing act of vocal and feeling-soaked instrumental made me tear up while listening to the Wilhelm Scream live, and it works again.

As far as Blake’s work with the instrumental, if I told you everything I wanted to about how perfect I think the construction is, how finely tuned and polished each element is, how well all the elements complement each other, how the arrangement manages to be utterly left field and yet as familiar and listenable to the acclimated listener to any pop song, this article would move just way too far into tl;dr status. Instead I’ll tell you this. I don’t think I would even listen for qualities like this in music if it wasn’t for James Blake’s pop tunes drawing me into their complexities.

Thank you for reading this far, I’ll leave you with this. One time I smoked way too much DMT, thought I was developing rapid onset multiple personality disorder, and felt like the world was closing in around me. Then all of sudden, inexplicably, the opening chords to the Wilhelm Scream started playing in my mental stereo and the psychedelic purgatory quickly faded into a warm light blue color, and after about a minute of the song playing out in my imagination, I opened my eyes and everything was fine. Why this happened is beyond me but what i do know is this: I’ve listened to James Blake’s album enough that I could basically recited the Wilhelm Scream to myself, arrangement and all, while utterly incapacitated, and just the thought of that song was one of the most incredible musical moments I’ve ever had.

Shlohmo is one of those musicians that has always held this sort of magnetism over me; his dark, moody productions are satisfying without fail. He manages to keep a pop sensibility in his melodies, harmonic progressions, and percussive elements while creating a thoroughly otherworldly vibe on the whole. His latest effort, which exists only as youtube rip (embedded below) from Benji B’s radio show the other day possesses all the aforementioned characteristics while still feeling fresh and new, a clear progression from his Vacation EP era material. The drums are really what get me here, skittering tuned percussion that maintains the energy of hip-hop while swinging like a UK garage cut and staying weird and non-quantized enough to keep a beat scene kid breaking his/(her?) neck to it. No word on a release yet, I’m hoping to hear this on a sophomore Friends of Friends LP (or underneath Abel Tesyafe’s beautiful, demonic crooning).

Speaking of that wonderful LA label, check out a stream of a cut from the upcoming FoF debut LP from that fool on the left, Groundislava, right here. It’s some real trap shit, but without biting anybody’s style. I see big things in Mr. Lava’s future.