It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party. Recently, dubstep dundodda Mala got behind the decks to turn in a BBC Radio One Essential Mix and did not disappoint. Naturally, Mala threw in his fair share of dubplates and exclusives including the legendary “Anti-War Dub VIP”, but the highlight of the set came at the very end when he dropped James Blake’s (as Harmonimix) long awaited remix of “Maybes”, which has been floating around in various lo-fi forms for nearly two years now. The track still does not have a release date, but this is the first quality rip we’ve received since it was first debuted. Don’t just skip to the end though. Turn the lights off, light one up, let the speakers rattle and let Mala take you on a two hour journey.
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.
Hit the jump to read on…
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.
So the TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke + Lunice for those living under a rock) EP saw its American release today. Instead of an album review (words don’t do it justice), we’ve decided to compile a little retrospective on British producers lending their talents to American hip hop. In an interview with FACT last month, Lunice had this to say:
We’ve been doing this shit for years, and it’s not like we’re new or anything, it’s not like we’re new money shit, it’s not like we came out of the blue and we blew up like crazy. We’ve built a whole foundation of our work. So it’s about that time. I feel like that sort of movement is backed with all of our homies together, like: “This is us! You can’t do this shit! You can’t just take our ideas and come up with it all after all these years. We’re coming for you!
Clearly, Lunice believes that American hip hop producers have been misappropriating hip hop-indebted UK bass for a minute now and are taking a stand. While I don’t think Toomp and Hit-Boy are listening to too much Mount Kimbie, I get it: Lunice has a persecution complex… just kidding. With the EP set to take the States by storm and the duo’s remix of Flocka’s “Rooster In My Rari” igniting the interwebz, it’s easy to see where Lunice’s frustration is coming from. As the UK sound constantly progresses into exciting new territories via labels like LuckyMe and Night Slugs, American producers are often too content to find a sound and stick with it. As a result, some of the best interpretations of American, especially Southern, hip hop have come from British producers. TNGHT might be the apex of the trend (yes we know Lunice is Candian), but many other (mostly) pasty perpetrators have attempted to freshen up Stateside hip hop tropes, both new and old. This is not meant to a comprehensive review, because that would be impossible. It’s just a list of a lot of really fucking good producers remixing a lot of really ignorant hip hop music.
Dubbed by some as the “British Diplo”, it made all too much sense for Sinden to host volume two of Mad Decent’s Free Gucci series. The Burrrtish Edition features 16 remixes of Mr. Radric Davis’s trap anthems, courtesy of a coterie of revered Brits: HudMo, Rustie, Melé, Mosca and Toddla T just to name a few. Predictably weirder than the Diplo hosted Volume One (with the exception of the Flying Lotus contribution), the tape is an exhibition in low end sounds with varying levels of success. HudMo’s take on “Party Animal” essentially spawned TNGHT, is utterly playable to this day and should probably soundtrack your next night of drunken shenanigans. Melé also wins big with his wonky reinterpretation of “Missing” from The Appeal: Georgia’s Most Wanted (a largely overlooked Gucci project). Stripped down and menacing, “Missing” is a precursor to some of Melé’s more recent Soundcloud uploads. Burrrtish isn’t much of a cohesive project drawing from every realm of bass music, but who cares when HudMo, Melé, Rustie and Sinden bring the collective heat?
Hit the jump for the rest of the retrospective…
There have been a bevy of announcements regarding upcoming albums from some Astral Plane favorites to stoke our excitement. It’s easy to get bogged down in the morass of contemporary music. Attempting to keep up with the constant stream of releases, previews, mixes, etc. across dozens of platforms is a trying task. Outside of the hip hop world though, the EP/LP format still dominates the musical landscape. That’s not to say that physical releases are still remotely relevant, but whether you are buying an album on iTunes, or downloading it from Mediafire (RIP Megaupload), the format still dominates. That being said, the following releases are bound to be some of the most exceptional and forward-thinking of the coming year, and will most likely inhabit many spaces on year-end “Best Of” lists.
Ever since 2008, Outkast fans the world over have been cautiously optimistic that Three Stacks and Sir Luscious Left Foot would throw caution to the wind and deliver another full length. Big Boi‘s solo effort Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty proved that at least one half of the duo can still bring the heat, and while Andre 3000 has been wildly inconsistent over the last half decade, he has shown that he can still occasionally get focused and bring brief spurts of genius. Unfortunately, Friday brought news that a new Outkast album is presently out of the question. With that disappointing news though came hope that a solo effort from Andre is in the works. We already know that Big Boi is working on his sophomore effort and solo efforts from both, while not rivaling the immense nature of a full Outkast album, would dominate the 2012 hip hop landscape.
There aren’t many listeners who weren’t satisfied with James Blake‘s 2011 output. Two EP’s, an LP, numerous remixes, an essential mix and a world tour brought Blake from relative unknown London producer to commercial and critical darling. The majority of the listeners shaking their heads at Blake’s 2012 output held a certain disdain for Blake’s transition to a more vocal style. These listeners wanted an album full of “CMYK” style tracks, but instead got more of “The Whilhelm Scream” variety. It appears they might get their wish on Blake’s next album. In a recent Spinner interview, Blake professed that he has spent a lot of time in the clubs, and that his next effort will be more “agressive” and “electronically influenced” than his self-titled 2011 debut.
In the indie world, news of a new album from Baltimore duo Beach House circulated the net last week as well. Although unconfirmed, a tentative release date of May 15 has been alleged. The album will be titled Bloom and is set to be released on Sub Pop.
Last, but not least, experimental hip hop trio Death Grips signed with Epic Records today and will release two albums this calendar year. The first, The Money Store, will be released on April 24 and will feature two recent tracks that are available to listen to now (“Black Jack” and “Get Got”). The second album, No Love, will be released sometime in the Fall. Death Grips are far from accessible, but the raw talent is definitely there, and watching MC Stefan Burnett’s emaciated looking body writhe and jump around on stage is a pretty unique sight.
Last week I posted on BBNG’s live performances of James Blake’s CMYK and Limit To Your Love you can find that here. This video was recorded while the band was at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards on January 21st. Now they have released the rest of the songs from that show which include; Hard In Da Paint, DMZ, Banter, CMYK/Limit To Your Love, Rotten Decay, and Bastard/Lemonade. Needless to say I am always excited to hear new live material from this group and better quality than that shaky Youtube video. Now some of these songs have already been released, but I am excited for the James Blake covers. The album can be streamed on their bandcamp page. There is also a link on the page for the free download via Mediafire. I also found some better video footage of the live performance.
Photo from facebook
One might assume that because James Blake utilizes silence and empty space so well in his music, there would be a abundance of remixes, refixes, edits, etc. of his tracks. That is not the case. There are obviously a wealth of bedroom produced remixes, but most boil down to attempting to mash Blake’s vocals, rhythm’s, breaks, etc. into a separate genre in an entirely incompatible way. Just listen (or don’t) to Benny Benassi’s awful dubstep remix of “Limit To Your Love.” Pretty unbearable. Even as a huge fan of instrumental hip hop, I am extremely wary of any producer, obscure or world-famous, to take on a Blake track.
M-Phazes‘ “James Blake never learnt to make drums smack like this” has made me do a complete 180 on how I feel about Blake remixes. Those drums are just too good. The song title is just too apt. And his looping of the original drop just works too well. M-Phazes is from Australia, far from a hip hop hot spot, and has produced for the likes of Pharoahe Monch, Redman and Talib Kweli. The track is available for stream and download (!) below, and if my fantasy goes as planned, the three aforementioned MC’s will jump on the beat as soon as possible. One can dream, right?
Photo from facebook
Yesterday, I highlighted L-Vis 1990’s D’Angelo remix and mentioned that a number of other remixes have become popping up across the electronic music spectrum. The Night Slugs headman definitely put his mark on “Untitled,” transforming it into a pulsing house track, but I believe he has been bested. One of 2011’s most hyped artists, James Blake, debuted his remix of “Left & Right” off of D’Angelo’s classic Voodoo, on BBC Radio One. The track is the newest member of Blake’s Harmonimix series, and brings the listener back to the Londoners fuller, earlier works (his A Milli remix is a favorite of mine). For now, a stream of the radio rip is the only version available, but hopefully we’ll get lucky, and get graced with a 320.