Posts Tagged ‘experimental’

h1

2010 Rocks

May 26, 2010

So, folks, it’s been just about a month since I last gave a big summary of my favorite albums of Q1 of 2010, and I’ve already heard a slew of new, awesome music. 2010 has been an incredible year for music so far, and here’s some more great albums.

I’ve provided youtube samples, but do know that their sound quality is going to be a lot lower than the actual recordings. I’d really recommend getting the albums if you like what you hear.

♦♦♦

Clubroot - II:MMX

I admit to not being an ardent follower of dubstep in general, though I do dip into the genre on occasion. Anyone who knows me knows that I pretty much listen to Burial every day of my life, and I got pretty excited about the Luvstep mix earlier this year, and hell, I would just about never turn the stuff off if I ever heard it on the radio (never have). So I’m not beyond getting excited about a good dubstep release, and this new album by Dan Richmond, known as Clubroot, might be the prime example of the second most intelligent dubstep producer that I’ve heard (all due respect to those I haven’t). Clubroot’s sound is slow, deliberate and contemplative, and creates one hell of an aural environment of atmospheric dubstep; echoing synths and string samples hover in the air over visceral and subtly groovy dubstep beats. The result are melancholy mood pieces, and though they take a while to develop, once your ears are attuned to them it is easy to get addicted. The first Clubroot album last year was tasty, but II:MMX takes the style to the next level with cleaner production and more memorable melodies. No one is going to pretend that Dan Richmond is trying to push things forward half as much as William Bevan, but we’re still all the better for his excursions.

♦♦♦

LM1 - Blue Mountain EP

I’ll preface my next recommendation with yet another claim of ignorance; I may not know drum ‘n bass in and out, but I know good drum ‘n bass when I hear it. The Blue Mountain EP by LM1 is such music, energizing and completely smart. LM1 is the work of Allan Cowie, and it’s apparent that he is the master of the breakbeat. The beats themselves are propulsive but in no way intrusive, and the atmospheric touches he brings to his songs do a lot with a little. Ambient flourishes give the tracks on this EP a lot of volume. Particularly, the title track matches its title and creates a vast, expansive sound world with ambient textures. The other tracks are just as strong, slowly developing but fast moving ear candy for electronic fans. The big question: where did this come from? Well, it turns out LM1 is the founder and owner of Offworld Recordings, which he created after releasing a string of recordings on other record labels. Offworld already has four releases from a multitude of artists, and it turns out they rule too. The Blue Mountain EP has blown the top off of this exciting new project, and you can be sure that we’ll have coverage on all of it soon. In the meantime, go here for more information as well as an Offworld showcase, which indicates that this is truly the new revival of drum ‘n bass.

♦♦♦

Sleigh Bells - Treats

How old am I again? Well I feel like I’m about fifty five, scowling at legions of young music aficionados about how despite the fact that there is a lot of cool stuff going on in music at the dawn of this new decade, the fact stands that rock music just isn’t cool anymore and these kids don’t know what they’re missing. Sleigh Bells’ music may still be pop at its heart, but it rejuvenates the lost concept that it’s really cool to be really fucking loud. And loud Treats is. Blisteringly loud. The guitars cut like razors and their drums sound like running giants. The volume is going to be the first thing most anyone notices about the vast majority of these songs, but like Psychocandy before it, the noise encases a really down to earth pop album. The heart of this concept is heard most apparently on the sublimely jangly “Rill Rill,” which is Treats‘ most obvious accomplishment because it lacks the sheer volume that the rest of the tracks have. It’s slightly distorted and rough around the edges, but above all else it’s delicious pop music. The keystone of the album, it makes the other tracks seem less violent and more good-natured. You can tell “Crown on the Ground” wants to be on Kid’s Bop, but it got rejected because it had tourettes. “Tell ‘Em” was to be a high school fight song, but it got mangleded in a car accident. They’re fractured pop songs that you can more than relate to and side with, because despite the fact that they will destroy your cochleae, they just sound right.

♦♦♦

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma

Steven Ellison, known as Flying Lotus, made one of the best records of 2008, Los Angeles. It is just a fact, and one that I have taken a few years to come to grips with and fully appreciate. In electronic music, it’s easy to see Flying Lotus becoming an important figure, and so it’s easy to see a new FlyLo album as an important occurrence. Cosmogramma pulls together an environment as rich in style as Los Angeles, with many notable aspects: Lots of live instrumentation, strong jazz elements, strings and harps, and a sense of mysticism. Also notable: while many of Los Angeles’ beats trailed behind bars by fractions of seconds, on Cosmogramma those beats lead the measures at a similarly minute speed, which makes for an album that is fully excited and running at a high speed but never trips over itself, because it is in the hands of a master. And as usual, there is a slew of sounds here that you would never find anywhere else. Describing those moments are almost impossible, but they stand for themselves; the super high frequency “Nose Art,” the free jazz experimental “Arkestry,” the awesome collaboration with Thom York on “…And the World Laughs With You,” and the heavy “Recoiled” are just a few such highlights, but they by no means stop there. This is yet another truly important electronic record from an artist with incredible talent. The future of music clearly lies with this man, and with that said, the future always seems to be bright.

♦♦♦

Autechre - Oversteps

Electronic producers Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been making music as Autechre for about twenty years now, and their new album Oversteps is their tenth. Throughout their flabbergasting career arc, they have invented, reinvented and refined not only their sound but contemporary progressive electronic music as a whole. Anyone who knows albums like Tri Repetae and LP5 know that a new Autechre album means a whole new world of sound, and Oversteps is no exception. The album is filled with jittery, mysterious productions, and it shows the group at their most melodic state since 1998’s LP5 (with the exception of several moments on 2008’s great Quaristice). A lot of times, and as is certainly the case for Oversteps, Autechre songs have sleeper qualities, puzzling at first and then later sinking in for heavy thinking. It stands that being an Autechre fan is incredibly awarding. In their ten album and twelve EP (give or take) career, they have crafted just about every song into its own sonic world, and with each album have built unshakable statements. Oversteps initially feels like a strong, logical progression. It’s possible that if it is given time, the yeast will rise and it will stand even taller. But what’s even more exciting and puzzling than these tracks is that Autechre are set to release another album this year. Move of Ten is due out on July 12, and a quick examination of the cover art certainly makes me surmise that the new album may be a companion piece to Oversteps. What that means is that we may still only have part of the full picture here, and thus Oversteps as well as Move of Ten may have new developments to explore.

♦♦♦

The National - High Violet

I have missed The National’s live show twice. I traded their show at Lollapalooza 2008 for a good spot at Nine Inch Nails, and their show at Pitchfork last year for a set from The Black Lips. At the time I wasn’t sad about having to make those choices at all. The National were always a band that were pleasant enough, had a specific style that I’m sometimes in the mood for, and made a handful of really cool songs that I liked a lot. But the fact stood that The National, in general, just bored me. It’s only now that High Violet has come out that I’m finally kicking myself for missing them and really getting excited about seeing them at Lollapalooza this year. Don’t get me wrong – the National have always been a good band, but High Violet really brings them above and beyond. A lot of these tracks are immediate National classics. The excellent first single “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” with its dramatic lyrics and melancholy atmosphere that the band are known for, only scrapes the surface of this album’s highlights. “Sorrow,” “Anyone’s Ghost” and “England” in particular show the band locking in and delivering some of their most savory, melodic moments on any of their five albums. High Violet is the work of a band that has had years to build, refine and experiment with their sound. Admittedly, High Violet and it’s overall sound are very similar stylistically to what The National has done before with such successful albums as Alligator and Boxer, but if you’re into this band, this may be their best album yet.

Advertisements
h1

Best New Music: Q1 in Review

April 9, 2010

We’ve finally entered Q2 of 2010, so I thought I’d revisit some of the best music I’ve heard this year so far.

•••

Beach House put out the best record of the year so far, Teen Dream. What we at Radio Cure call “beach pop” has been surging in popularity within the past year and a half and it all came down to Beach House’s third album release. It’s a doozie, romantic pop perfection. Buy it or may God have mercy on your soul.

•••

Another one of the best beach pop releases of the year is the Something in the Way single by Best Coast. It’s a magical, pristine pop song that harkens back to ’60s rockabilly. Best Coast hasn’t released a full album quite yet, but they’ve been making huge splashes on the blogosphere with their great one-off songs, so definitely check them out.

•••

Apparently even major label pop music is jumping on the beach pop bandwagon; Gorillaz recently released their oceanic third album Plastic Beach. It delivers in much the same way that their previous albums have, churning many great hip hop and rock tunes with a guest list nothing short of incredible. Damon Albarn and company continue to prove that major label acts can still deliver truly vital albums.

•••

Grouper and Roy Montgomery put out a Split EP on the first day of the year that rivals other releases this year in terms of inventiveness. On Roy Montgomery’s side, epic, ambient middle-eastern guitar strumming. On Grouper’s side, wistful, understated melodies. Both are gorgeous.

•••

Four Tet put out the stellar There Is Love in You in January, maybe the best electronic album since Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles. It’s minimal techno at its biggest and most physical, influenced by Hebden’s work with Burial. Hebden still has a way with organic sound and makes another dazzling album to fascinate until the next one.

•••

The Knife along with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock put together the sprawling, progressive Tomorrow, in a Year, the opera based on the life of Charles Darwin as well as the history of the earth. It is difficult, abrasive and also incredibly beautiful and brilliant. If you’re up for a challenge, give it a listen.

•••

Finally, Gil Scott-Heron released I’m New Here, his first new album in fifteen years, on XL. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before, a moving mix of Scott-Heron’s strong vocals, post-industrial production, spoken word and awesome cover songs. If you are into poetry or want an eclectic set of tracks, this is a must-have.

What have YOU been listening to?

h1

The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims & Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In a Year

February 28, 2010

The Knife in collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock - Tomorrow, In a Year

The Swedish electronic band The Knife have stayed busy since their last album, the widely praised Silent Shout, in their own ways. Karin Dreijer, as Fever Ray, released her self-titled debut last year to quiet but unanimous praise, Olof has worked under the name DJ Coolof and the siblings have managed their record label, Rabid Records. As a band that takes few cues from others and follow even fewer conventions, it’s no surprise that The Knife decided to release their latest album in the form of a collaborative work with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock as an opera written for the Danish performance group, Hotel Pro Forma. Tomorrow, In a Year is based on the life and work of evolution theorist Charles Darwin. It should be noted before I dive into talking about this album that not only do I have no prior experience with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, but their influence here is apparent. These songs are clearly influenced by these outside forces, though The Knife have a hand in writing each and every song.

First, I ask those involved with the overwhelming backlash towards this album, what were you expecting? The answer is probably more material like the leadoff single, “The Colouring of Pigeons,” which The Knife released a couple months back. With that said, it’s a bit of a cruel, leading trick that the Dreijer’s decided to release “Pigeons” before all else. A slow paced, developing operatic piece, one of the few things that the song has in common with prior Knife material are Karin Dreijer’s wispy, haunting vocals that don’t even come in until the piece is three minutes deep. In contrast, the piece has a goldmine worth of new concepts to introduce: a stacatto string section, echoing gongs, and breathtaking guest vocals. These elements build slowly to incredible heights, and ultimately the song might be The Knife’s finest achievement yet.

The Colouring of Pigeons

Barely anything else on the album is even remotely like “The Colouring of Pigeons.” In fact, it takes until the second disk for even any remotely traditional sounding song structures, and a vast majority of the album consists of glitch and noise music. This will be The Knife’s most divisive album; some people will dig what the Dreijers do here, and some people just won’t. Yes, of course a modern opera by The Knife was going to strange, abrasive and abstract. But it stands that they know how to construct such an album very intelligently, slowly developing washes of noise, 8-bit bleeps, subtle atmospherics and operatic vocals with care, the end result an album that keeps listeners either on the edge of their seats or walking out of the theater.

The best of these more difficult, progressive pieces are likewise quite subjectively excellent. “Minerals” and “Variation of Birds” sputter and whir over innovative and gripping vocal parts, but they share space comfortably with the likes of “Ebb Tide Explorer” and “Schoal Swarm Orchestra,” which explore more subtle ambient textures. Many of these contemporary, often times atonal classical pieces seek out their goals more through process and theory than listenability. The Knife travelled to areas of the world such as the Amazon and Iceland for inspiration on their work here, and some pieces match their environments closely (The liquidic synths on “Geology” are meant to emulate flowing lava), and others still represent the concepts involved with the works of Darwin, not stated as evolution but instead as his coined term “descent with modification.” The creative methods in which these tracks were both written and recorded goes on: Drums were recorded while moving underwater and in open, resonating spaces, and electronics are used to create animal sounds in random patterns. The lyrics in this album are often written in relation to Darwin’s documents or essays about his life. Music and lyrics are written about the earth, its creatures and its lifespan. This is by far The Knife’s most diverse set of ideas yet.

The Knife

Which leads us to the fact that not all of these ideas are fully theirs. Remember, The Knife were commissioned to write the music for this opera. They were given a set of concepts, ideas and presumably a stage script, and had to go from there when it came to writing and recording. It’s a wonderful surprise then to know that The Knife have made the project very much their own, crafting a set of ideas that have progressed far past their previous interests. No where on Tomorrow, In a Day will you find the previously explored themes of capitalism, gender studies, politics or fractured love. This album, even within its instrumental passages, explores themes of the Earth and its inhabitants, evolution, death, and the fantastic, turbulent life of a brilliant man. It is difficult to even think about asking for more.

The second disk of the soundtrack brings the progression of both the album and The Knife’s career into perspective, delivering more traditional song structures and focusing particularly on three pieces of about ten minutes each: the aforementioned “The Colouring of Pigeons,” the electro-gothic “Seeds” and the clattering, percussive “Tomorrow, In a Year.” All three pieces slowly shift their weights throughout their massive spans, uniquely and yet somewhat similarly fleshing out sonic narratives. On either side of the stretch of electronic epics are two more quaint pieces, the earlier “Tumult” a continuation of the first disk’s noise experiments and the latter “The Height of Summer” building a tribal groove.

Tomorrow, In a Year

The disk is bookended by two takes of “Annie’s Box,” a piece about the death of Darwin’s daughter Annie, which are melodically the same but fundamentally different due to their vocals. And vocals serve as one of the album’s key elements, among others as percussion and repetition. Voices haunt these tracks like phantoms both alive and dead, and the vocal parts were written for delivery by three performers, one an opera singer, another a pop singer and a third an actress. Seeing how vocals were treated on albums like Deep Cuts and Silent Shout, it is sensible that the vocals here are just as innovative. It is quite clear that the Dreijers have developed their music in leaps and bounds throughout their now long-spanning career.

It’s hard to say whether Tomorrow, In a Year will be a game-changer. For the new decade, it almost certainly won’t- It’s form of release is decidedly exclusive, and most people who do get their hands on it probably won’t even get past the first three songs. These facts are partially due to The Knife being and always having been elegant in their delivery and embracing of high art, even when they dealt with low art concepts on Deep Cuts. But for The Knife and company, as well as everyone who gives this music the time it deserves, Tomorrow, In a Year feels like giant leap forward, both stylistically and structurally. However, the fact remains that unless an accompanying DVD is released or Hotel Pro Forma tours extensively, the masses will mostly be left without the project’s visual component, which we can safely assume is as just as important as the aural. But for the majority of us who will never experience Tomorrow, In a Year in its fullest form, it’s jaw-dropping to think that the soundtrack communicates so much on its own.

You can listen to tomorrow in a year in its entirety at http://rabidrecords.com/tomorrowinayear/.

Tomorrow, In a Year

h1

Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
h1

My Twenty Favorite Aphex Twin Tracks

June 16, 2009

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of one of my favorite artists, Richard D. James (most commonly known as Aphex Twin) and I’ve been kind of sorting through in my head which of his songs are my favorites. I haven’t numbered anything on this list because I think that would be both disrespectful and useless, as my favorite Aphex tracks are always changing anyway. There is a loose hierarchy here, but in general I’m taking this as an opportunity not to judge anything objectively but more to explore some of my favorite songs.

Once again, these just scrape the surface of my favorite RDJ tracks, so before you complain about stuff that is missing from the list, I promise you that I’m not trying to compile a timeline or history here. I’m just trying to aknowledge some good songs. I tried to get youtube links for as many songs as I could, and the official music videos for the songs that have them (“On,” “Windowlicker” and “Nannou”). Understand that the sound quality of videos on youtube are inferior to what you get from playing these songs out of a stereo or nice headphones, so the best way to hear them would be to dig in and explore Aphex Twin’s music for yourself, and in the process uncover some of your own favorites.

409135

Hangable Auto Bulb

Laughable Butane Bob

Aphex Twin’s first foray into the “Drill ‘n Bass” style which would come to characterize his later work was the Hangable Auto Bulb EP series, which had more than a few gems of the genre. The full picture of the series comes when all eight songs in the series are put together in the Hangable Auto Bulb compilation, and when you put them all back to back, “Laughable Butane Bob” stands out most to me. The experimental rhythm plays out perfectly, and this is the perfect introduction to RDJ’s new, crazy style, and the methodology of listening to his breakbeat work is still the same as it is for his creation; let it simmer a while and it’s pure funk.

9411

...I Care Because You Do

Acrid Avid Jam Shred

By the time fans of the Selected Ambient Works albums realized that the first song on Aphex Twin’s new album was an anagram for Richard David James, it had probably already occurred to them that the track was a scrambled incarnation of everything James had previously worked on. The song features the hard techno beats of his early AFX days slowed down to a creeping pace, playful electronic flourishes present on Selected Ambient Works 85-92, and elegant atmospherics that would have been at home on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. The fact that all of these elements work together to great success and without seeming forced to make both this song and …I Care Because You Do indicates that James is not only talented as a musician, but also as an arranger.

aphex_twin_nagy

254730

Analord 10

Fenix Funk

The only EP in the Analord series, Aphex Twin’s extensive return to analog synthesizer programming, to be released under the name “Aphex Twin” as opposed to “AFX” was Analord 10, and it was released before any of the other EPs, which were thereafter released in numerical order. Also, Analord 10 was packaged with a full sized binder with spots for the rest of the Analords. This odd non sequitur is understandable when you listen to Analord 10, as the EP contains arguably the best two songs in the series, the most notable being “Fenix Funk.” The track contains not only the smoothest of James’ funky breakbeats but also some of his most distinctive atmospherics. The rest of the series is downhill from this track, which fuses styles of RDJ’s two most significant discographies, thus making his persona that much more decipherable.

3017

Drukqs

Vordhosbn

Drukqs was the final frontier for Aphex Twin’s Drill ‘n Bass exploration, and “Vordhosbn” might be the highlight of the album’s more hard hitting half. It moves at a breakneck tempo with mile-a-minute development, hitting on more great new ideas in just under five minutes than most other Drill ‘n Bass artists can manage to pull off in entire albums. It’s got the intense thought provoking rhythms in God only knows what time signature as well as subtle a subtle atmospheric backdrop. Despite the complexity, this also manages to be one of the more exciting and listenable Drill ‘n Bass achievements Aphex Twin has yet put out, and hopefully not the last.

34112

Analogue Bubblebath

Analogue Bubblebath

The song that gave RDJ’s first massive EP series it’s name, Analogue Bubblebath is almost too humble to be a namesake. It’s whimsical ascending and descending synths accompany soft rhythms to make a finished product that contrasts with the majority of the acid techno in the series. The song more closely resembles the work James would subsequently release on his first album under the Aphex Twin name, Selected Ambient Works 85-92. With that said, “Analogue Bubblebath” foreshadows great things to come while still holding its own as a fun, relaxed cut, and a classic of early IDM.

Aphex+Twin3

18840

On

On

Aphex Twin’s early single “On” bridges two of his styles, the early IDM of  the Selected Ambient Works albums and the harsher rhythmic noise on …I Care Because You Do. The song and it’s accompanying music video directed by Jarvis Cocker are composed in similar ways, moving at a frenetic pace and progressively adding and subtracting different parts of the composition. The rhythm is too rough for the track to be danceable, and too eventful and funky to be ambient, thus moving away from any of James’ previously explored genres. In this sense it is one of the earliest examples of his avant garde single series, even more fun and stylish than “Digeridoo” and the beginning of his experimental modus operandi which would persist through the rest of his career.

8797

Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2

Rhubarb

The best justice I can do to explain Rhubarb is that it’s one of the most beautiful things ever recorded. I say this with great conviction. Of course beauty is subjective, but hearing is also believing, and this song is one of the most believable that Aphex Twin has ever composed. It is Richard D. James submitting himself completely to the concept of beauty and contentment through Eno styled ambient music, and the end product even gives Eno a run for his money. Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 is an album filled with progressive ambient experimentation, but throughout the the album are a few tracks of simple clarity, this being the most poignant on merit of delicate songwriting alone. I can’t think of anything less pretentious that fully does this song justice than saying that it is not only music you can live to but is also music that you can die to.

25827

Windowlicker

Nannou

The Windowlicker single may have rode on the strength of whimsical humor, the title track being Aphex Twin’s most fun single to date and “Equation” an indulgent experiment, but that makes the juxtaposition of the last song on the single, “Nannou,” that much more fascinating. The song was created with nothing but samples from music boxes: winding, clicking, clacking, chiming. The song is not only pleasing as a pretty, nostalgic gem, but also a piece of aural art crafted from things that have themselves already been crafted. Even in this musical sampling culture, it’s rare that we get something sampled that is so humble and quaint.

Aphex+Twin+Richard09

2590

Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Tha

The longest piece on Selected Ambient Works 85-92 contrasts with the rest of the album rather heavily. While “Tha” shares the infectious beat and playful synthesizer melodies that the rest of the album possesses, the song is also easily the most forward thinking the album has to offer, less pop or dance and more ambient and experimental. Clocking in at nine minutes, the piece is a slowly shifting ambient composition which immediately brings to mind contrasting speeds involved with the visual aspect of a train ride. The song represents the best of what SAW 85-92 has to offer, both cutting edge as well as vintage. This is what the year 3000 will sound like in the year 4000.

5053

Richard D. James Album

4

That Aphex Twin would ever be inspired by classical music was a head scratcher concept before 1997 when he released Richard D. James Album, which cemented him as a modern composer. The album’s opener, “4,” is one of its more poignant pieces, not only utilizing beautiful string parts but also structuring breakbeats in ways that imitate the structures of classical composition. But the breakbeats are hard and piercing in texture, making the resulting song both relaxing and riveting. When avant-garde classical ensemble Alarm Will Sound played the song on their 2005 Aphex Twin cover album Acoustica, it only further proved that compositions like these will be remembered for a long time as modern masterpieces.

8797

Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2

Blue Calx

The songs that fans of Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 would play for a non-ambient fan might be the more digestible tracks, particularly “Rhubarb,” “Lichen,” “Stone in Focus” or “Hexagon.” Although all of these tracks are great, they aren’t part of the more experimental three quarters of the brilliant double album, and “Blue Calx” might cover that essential experimental nature while still being accessible to new ears. It is ambient music at heart, both appropriate for background or forefront listening, and it encapsulates contrasting emotions, both safety and unease. The slow, unique beat mixes with the melancholy synthesizers and the sound of a clock ticking to make one of the most unique and memorable tracks on SAW2.

Aphex+Twin2

2590

Selected Ambient Works 85-92

We Are The Music Makers

“We Are The Music Makers” is typically noted as being the exception to the rule for Selected Ambient Works 85-92 as the only track to contain a vocal sample, but is usually only cited to differentiate the album from it’s house and dance music contemporaries as being more focused on texture and less hook oriented. But the song stands tall as one of the album’s finest moments, featuring an unstoppable groove and the signature ever-shifting dynamics that would come to be hallmarks of Intelligent Dance Music. And that single vocal sample from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, although originally utilized by 808 State, could be considered his original mission statement and will echo through the minds of chilled out early morning ravers for years to come.

9411

...I Care Because You Do

Alberto Basalm

In terms of sheer listenability, one would be hard pressed to find an RDJ track more addictive and pleasing than “Alberto Basalm.” By far the most popular track on …I Care Because You Do, the mysterious rhythmic groove is pure noir artistry, constructing its beat out of the sounds of cigarette lighters and clanging garbage cans. If I could think of a visual artist to paralell the song, Hopper would be the most appropriate comparison. It’s the Aphex Twin song that, were it tangible and visible, would be the modern masterpiece that the masses would oogle over in a prestigious art museum. His “Mystery and Melancholy of a Beat,” perhaps?

25827

Windowlicker

Windowlicker

Of Aphex Twin’s experimental singles, “Windowlicker” may be the most outwardly commercial. It is, after all, clearly a shot at the porn industry, as exemplified by its electronic funk style and accompanying over-the-top music video directed by Chris Cunningham. But both of the aforementioned elements come together to make one of Aphex Twin’s most successful and memorable songs to date. The chorus is classic, funky ass sexual chocolate, and the free flowing rhythm is easily Aphex’s most compelling, varied and memorable. And again, I stress, the video. I am told that Aphex Twin once said that he wanted to put a face to his music, which existed in a genre of faceless artists. After hearing this song and seeing that video, you’ll never forget his face, sense of humor, and unique musicality.

windowlicker

3017

Drukqs

Avril 14th

It is strange that Aphex Twin’s most well known track is also one of his most uncharacteristic. From the illegally used sample on a Lonely Island short on Saturday Night Live to being used in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, this song is the Aphex Twin track that any given person is most likely to have heard due to its wide exposure and undying popularity. 2001’s Drukqs contained a treasure trove of simple melodies played on piano and prepared piano, and “Avril 14th” is likely the most memorable. It’s the walking-to-Sunday-school melody that even the most naive of children probably wouldn’t believe in when their age had a single digit, and yet it seems to take every listener to a simple, happy place like no other track. That the song is flanked on the album by two of RDJ’s harshest breakbeat tracks is a testament to his versatility.

5053

Richard D. James Album

Girl/Boy Song

While Richard D. James claims that he wrote “Girl/Boy Song” as a response to the fact that most songs are either “boy” songs or “girl” songs and thus wanted to make a song for both genders, you would guess at first listen that it was meant for asexual aliens. However, upon repeated listens the song opens up like a flower, and new perspectives become more salient. It is possible that “Girl/Boy Song” is actually a realistic love story of simple melodic beauty (fairy-tale pizzicato string arrangements) juxtaposed next to frenetic insanity (intense, disarming breakbeats). The end product is the epitome of what RDJ Album has to offer, and in some ineffable way beautiful and human, an aural representation of what real, yearning love might sound like.

3017

Drukqs

Btoum-Roumada

Drukqs was an album of several principle ideas, one of which was the exploration of simple melodies which proved Richard D. James to be not only a master of electronics but also of classical composition. “Btoum-Roumada” may only be one of the album’s melodic triumphs, but it is the one that pops out the most, embossed with the use of a twinkling organ. While James may have emerged from the acid house underground, we can practically hear him playing from a quaint church on this track. The spirituality and finality of the song are enough to make it one of his most memorable and undeniably touching, and the ending brings the most satisfying epiphany – ah! This song isn’t alone. Is it possible that James has a heart under his mechanical exterior?

Aphex+Twin

2590

Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Xtal

The first song on the first album released under the Aphex Twin name, “Xtal” is pure IDM bliss. It marks the beginning as well as the immediate perfection of one of the many styles that Richard D. James would pick up and quickly move on from in his heyday, and it is all the more significant because those albums released under the Aphex Twin moniker would reach a mass audience. For that reason, “Xtal” is often the first song anyone hears by RDJ, and not inappropriately. Other IDM artists would try to replicate the subtle beauty of this track for years. It’s not like James’ was the first person to incorporate breathy female vocals, subtle beats and glowing ambient textures into dance music, but I’ll be damned if anyone has done it quite so well since.

9550

Come to Daddy

Flim

While the title track of the Come to Daddy EP might have been one of Aphex Twin’s most successful experimental pop jokes that resulted in as much approval as disgust, the track that proceeds it will turn whatever expression it elicited into a warm grin. Despite the fact that “Flim” is one of the most widely loved songs among Aphex Twin fans, many have a hard time expressing exactly why. After all, its not like this was the first RDJ track to mix delicate melody with an ever-changing ambient breakbeat, but this is certainly where he masters the art. The rhythm is, like his other breakbeat tracks, carefully planned and different for each measure, and thus stays engaging as well as structured throughout. Rhythmic flourishes echo into the back of the track while the simple synthesizer dances under a simplistic, soaring string part. It’s grace is so aurally embossed that it almost doesn’t even need to be explained once heard, forwards or backwards. A true gem.

And…

44939

26 Mixes for Cash

Raising the Titanic (Big Drum Mix)

Found on the 2003 remix compilation 26 Mixes for Cash, Raising the Titanic might at first be of debatable authorship, either of Richard D. James or composer Gavin Bryars who wrote the original minimalist piece Sinking the Titanic in 1969. But Aphex Twin undoubtedly makes the piece his own with his electronic rendition. The track is worthy of its new name, and if we are judging it by the age old avant-garde standard of whether songs match their titles, it could be argued that Raising the Titanic is even more accomplished than the piece from which it finds its origin. Possibly the hugest sounding recording ever put to plastic, the song almost seems to be too big for its own environment; the thundering beat sputters while it lumbers and the strings and choral samples are often violently distorted, but not without singular beauty. It is the beautiful sound of decay, heaved upwards by the colossal rhythm and yearning melodies ad infinitum. The arrangement might as well be the most ambitious James has ever attempted, and he succeeds perfectly at combining an incredibly strong beat with beautiful atmospherics, and the result is a lucid masterpiece.

Aphex+Twin+2847102408_c1365f31b2

h1

Halloween Albums

October 24, 2008

Halloween is near, and I have started to pick out some spooky favorites from the music library. I figured it might be appropriate to acknowledge some of the more genuinely scary or creepy albums I have come in contact with over the years. Six might seem like a rather arbitrary number, but these releases are of a rare breed and I find each one to be essential to the list. Of course there’s nothing wrong with traditional Halloween music (the Monster Mash, sure), or some other fun retro music that might be appropriate for the holiday (The Cramps!), but if you want something that might really creep you out, this list might be able to help.

♦♦♦♦♦

Alice in Chains – Dirt

Alice in Chains’ second album Dirt arrived just in time for the Halloween season in 1992, and took over the grunge scene with its spooky hard rocking style. The album is almost unbelievably advanced past the band’s debut album Facelift, every song taking on its own texturally rich identity. In terms of technical skill, every member of the band is in prime form despite their drug addictions which are reflected heavily in the album’s lyrical themes. The late and great Layne Staley spits “what the hell am I/thousand eyes a fly/lucky then I’d be/if one day deceased” on one of the album’s underhand knockouts Sickman. We can hear both the anger and anguish associated with personal breakdowns and drug abuse. The consistency of the album alone makes it one of the finest albums that grunge had to offer, with a killer lineup of singles, the hammering Them Bones, Vietnam reminiscent Rooster, and possibly the greatest grunge single ever, Would?. But the highlights don’t stop there; the album also has a slew of brooding, slow moving, moody masterpieces (Dirt, Rain When I Die, Down In A Hole), as well as many other sleeper highlights (God Smack is the origin of the name of AiC knockoffs Godsmack, to exemplify the album’s influence). Although Alice in Chains’ best work may be scattered throughout their albums and EPs, Dirt is easily their most representative and possibly most accomplished work, a scary, fun, and emotional masterpiece of its genre.

♦♦♦♦♦

Slint – Spiderland

Considered the premier post rock album, Slint’s second and final album Spiderland is made by a band with absolutely nothing to lose. Perhaps it is this that makes it so startlingly affecting. How out of no where the album must have seen at the time is also probably a reason that it was as vastly influential as it is. But legacy aside, Spiderland is quite a scary album by all accounts, softly building damaged melodies out of nothing and then disassembling them again. As soon as the opening arpeggiated harmonics of Breadcrumb Trail start, it sounds like the beginning of the end. This mysterious, slow urgency pulls the listener through the albums six unsettling songs with great anxiousness. All of Slint’s weaponry is fully formed here; their percussive anger, David Pajo’s atmospheric guitars and sense of instrumental tension, and Brian McMahan’s oft whispered creepy poetry. These elements make for six completely perfect songs, the rocking Nosferatu Man, the quiet, brooding Don Amon, the sadly beautiful Washer, and the extremely quiet instrumental For Dinner… It all seems to lead to something, and when it does, we get one of the single scariest and most beautiful songs of the nineties, Good Morning Captain, which evades all explanation. It may disappoint fans that the subsequent two song Slint EP was as far as the band would ever go, but Slint’s three releases, and particularly Spiderland were all they needed to be one of the most important bands of their genre.

♦♦♦♦♦

Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

With Board’s of Canda’s second major full length release Geogaddi, brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin make certain that their love of degradation and psychosis plays itself out on more than just their own production values. In fact, one might be given the false impression of their own mental degradation while listening to the album, it is so elaborately and eerily constructed. Although its format is essentially the same as its championing predecessor Music Has The Right To Children (long pieces dispersed with very short pieces, beat driven IDM), their style is distinctly advanced over their previous works. The album is almost extravagantly detailed with myriad fascinating jigsaw pieces of sound; reversed beats, distorted vocal samples, dissonant chords, and heavy aural contrasts provide the album’s basic groundwork. Although some pieces here are vaguely reminiscent of previous fan favorites (Sunshine Recorder, 1969, Dawn Chorus), every song is highly advanced and vaguely unsettling. Throughout the album Boards of Canada paint as they call it a vast, winding, labyrinthine “journey” through a beautiful and horribly warped dreamland. Once you follow the white rabbit down the hole, something immediately seems very, horribly wrong, and this feeling is played with, turned upside down and inside out at every turn of the album. The more you think about it, the more it scares you, and the more one recognizes its intricacies such as mathematical structures, biblical references, and distorted fascination with the occult, the more one wants to dismiss Geogaddi as pretentious and supersaturated. However, it is a genuinely creepy album, and its ominous atmosphere cannot be denied. And yet the brothers state the ultimate innocuousness of the album in interviews. “…If we’re spiritual at all, it’s purely in the sense of caring about art and inspiring people with ideas.” (interview “Play Twice Before LIstening” by Koen Poolman). Despite what its message is, Geogaddi is an album that genuinely brings you to the brink of your own mind and refuses to let you forget the experience.

♦♦♦♦♦

Coil – The Ape of Naples

If any album has ever been literally haunted, or at least come close, The Ape of Naples is the culprit. Created posthumously after Coil frontman John Balance tragically fell to his death over the banisters of his Mansfield home in a drunken stupor, The Ape of Naples is actually a collection of the industrial/electronic band’s leftover material. This makes the overall cohesion of the album nothing short of a small miracle of planning. In fact, it makes little to no sense that this album is more than a rarities compilation, and it is more, much more. Through it’s lengthy textural songs it develops many stories with real life reference points, perhaps outlining both the experiences of the unsettling said ape on the cover art as well as John Balance’s descent into alcohol addiction. The haunting opening chords of Fire of The Mind (the original title of the album) set the stage for an album loaded with treasures, all uniquely disturbing and affecting. Songs call on an eclectic selection of instruments such as accordions, marimbas, horns and pipes, and as always carefully synthesized melodies, beats, and atmospherics. Songs range from gentle to violent, and the album’s transformation is downright scary. The Ape of Naples is an all around great performance from all those involved, but John Balance remains the album’s key player. His voice touches every song in different ways, and his emotion is fluid, sometimes gracing songs with subtle melancholy and other times with spitting anger. The album comes to a close with a cover of the British sitcom Are You Being Served?’‘s theme song Going Up, featuring vocals from Balance’s final onstage performance at the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival in 2004. And with John Balance’s final vocals, locations of bedding materials, tea, and travel products as well as the final direction of an elevator, it isn’t hard to hear him simultaneously falling down and going up.

♦♦♦♦♦

Merzbow – 1930

Many non-noise fans may turn on Japanese noise godfather’s quintessential album, 1930, and be disgusted. It is, to put it one way, a deliberately disgusting album, barely music in any traditional sense, and more of a terrifying sound assault. Perhaps best at home in a torture chamber (just how the bondage obsessed Merzbow would like it), listening to 1930 at loud volumes is a potentially terrifying experience that can push one’s sanity to the limit. Once again, it is barely even music, but more an aural representation of a mile high battleship with cannons filling every square inch, all firing at the listener at the same time. Reach for the off switch and the terror goes away temporarily, but curiosity will make you turn it on again at some point, and when you get curious enough to listen to the entire thing, you probably won’t be able to turn it off as much as you want to. There is something almost inhuman and unearthly about 1930 that manages to consistently fascinate here, and even if you can’t bear to turn the volume up higher than a whisper, it is unspeakably overbearing. Everything from the fiery title track to the dizzying cacophony of Degradation of Tape to the final explosive, twenty two minute, ever changing Iron, Glass, Blocks and White, everything here is sheer chaos. For how brutal and unpredictable it is, it is no surprise that this horrifying album is considered a cornerstone of noise music. To say it is good or bad is irrelevant, because it definitely shouldn’t be judged by the same standards as any other album on this list, let alone any form of “art” on this planet.

♦♦♦♦♦

Brian Eno – Ambient 4

Brian Eno’s final installment in his Ambient series is possibly the most emotionally startling ambient album of all time, and may be considered to be the first dark ambient album. In that sense it is hard to imagine the entire genre of demonic dark ambient texture without this album as a precursor, although Ambient 4 is anything but paganistic or demonic. In fact, there is little to nothing subversive about Ambient 4 in the slightest, except perhaps its one odd song out, the deliberately creepy Shadow featuring Jon Hassell on trumpet, although if we are talking about scare factor the song is the album’s clear winner. Beyond this song, the album makes its goals known almost instantaneously and follows through with its goals systematically, like the other members of the beautiful ambient family. Moreso than any other album on this list, Ambient 4 carries a wide range of emotions with it, of which horror is only one. The collection of soundtracks to geographic locations here range from touchingly calm (A Clearing) to impendingly scary (The Lost Day). The distant chains of Lantern Marsh, the distorted miasma of Tal Coat, the birds and frogs of Leeks Hills…The album is startlingly emotional in ways that can be simultaneously relaxing and unsettling. On one hand, you get the feeling that at any point during the album someone could appear behind you and cause your heart to skip a beat, and yet at the same time the soundscapes are warm and completely safe sounding. The wide range of emotion here is mostly due to simple skill in production and crafting of music. The soundscapes sound so deftly realistic that the emotion comes quite naturally and makes the overall product quite moving. This may be the one to play on the boombox outside when the trick-or-treaters come by.

♦♦♦♦♦

h1

Autechre – Chiastic Slide

February 4, 2008

It is easy to say that Chiastic Slide is the point where Autechre decided to be experimental, but everything is relative when you talk about arguably the most progressive electronic artists of our time. Every Autechre album is a departure from what came before it, and every song feels like a disconnect from what preceded it. The band has always been decidedly focused on covering new ground, moreso than honing any of their countless styles. Even what fans consider to be the most perfectly formed album from the duo, Tri Repetae, is not completely certain of itself. Tri Repetae rushed headstrong into new ground, but new ground that could be considered accessible, and with hesitation. A follow up was going to be daunting no matter what, and Chiastic Slide ends up being about as striking as any other Autechre album, stylistically different, but delivering the around the same amount of positive yield and disappointment.

In that sense, it is unique, but naggingly inconsistent and incomplete. Also like all Autechre albums, it jettisons its ideas from its boundaries towards a gravitational origin that it always curves around and misses, but this time it gets closer than usual. There are a handful of songs that could be considered among the bands best, but surprisingly none that could be considered among their worst. The new sounds that are utilized here are compelling, as usual, sometimes adhering to their purposes and other times straying from them. Warm crunches that sound like snow crumbling under heavy boots comprise a considerable amount of the albums lower bass sounds, electronic scrambles run rampant, and wheezes and kitten mews randomly dot songs with some sort of vulnerability.

All in a days work for Autechre, throwing new sounds at the listener, but Chiastic Slide does end up being fairly song based, at least as much as Tri Repetae. The opening Clipater consists of two futuristic funk tunes, the first of which develops into the second almost unrecognizably to the passive ear. The last track, Nuane, follows a similar approach, a lengthy mechanical ass swinger that develops little by little for over ten minutes. Yes, the lengths are imposing, and the beats and hooks get tired. Autechre unfortunately don’t know how to end their songs very well, and their methods of segmentation are not completely effective. But these are some of Autechre’s most consistently interesting songs, and that makes up for the continued delay on the band picking up on their mistakes and pitfalls. Recury is also a standout, the most beat driven and alternatively relaxing of the entire album. The best song is Cichli, which resonates of the style that would punctuate the next album, LP5. The beat is continuous, heavy, fast paced, and danceable, and the synth line is melodic and interesting. Never has a cold Autechre synthesizer felt this full of life. This makes Cichli feel a little out of place when compared to the rest of the songs, most all of which feel cold and ultimately contrived. Autechre nail this song perfectly, hitting the spirit of the machine at it’s core, and even the near ten minute length doesn’t feel meandered on.

This is when the band is the most successful, when at least partially adhering to rhythm and melody. The rest of the songs usually only adhere to one of the two, and their repetition is their downfall. Some beats just shouldn’t be held for as long as they are, especially when they have almost no recognizable rhythm, and some of the melodies are too atonal to be interesting. However, the songs that aren’t always the most satisfying, Tewe, Hub, Calbruc, and Pule, seem to point towards LP5, so there is at least direction and consistency in the experimentation, and chances are they will strike fans as fun or interesting.

This probably isn’t the best Autechre album, and it sure isn’t the most digestible or consistent, but there is something here that gives the individual tracks more soul than can be seen anywhere else in the bands discography. Even Tri Repetae and Incunabula, although nuanced and fun, often times felt sterile, but Chiastic Slide feels fertile with ideas, and for the first time, sure of itself. Never have I seen an electronic artist, or scarcely a band, as frustrating as Autechre. Their albums are always just interesting and complex enough for me to approach them on a higher level, but just too far away from what they should be in terms of quality. I do keep on coming back to them though, for some reason, something subliminal that I can’t put into words or even fully understand myself. I have probably had more fun exploring Chiastic Slide than the other albums. This is because although Chiastic Slide is the usual beautiful mess, it somehow feels essential to Autechre’s body of work, a notion that their other albums constantly struggle with.