Crystal Stilts: Radiant Door EP. Statik Selektah / Action Bronson: Well-Done. Childish Gambino: Camp. The Black Keys: El Camino. yMusic: yMusic, Beautiful Mechanical. If you're an indie rocker in need of chamber instruments, odds are you'll end up hiring a member of yMusic. The quietly ubiquitous sextet has spent its three-year existence amassing cross-genre collaborations like so many passport stamps: you've heard them, wittingly or not, playing with Bon Iver, Björk, Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, the National, Vampire Weekend-- you get the idea. But they also perform as a more traditional contemporary-classical ensemble, and on Beautiful Mechanical, their first proper full-length, they mix up the two worlds, slotting compositions from St. Vincent's Annie Clark and Son Lux alongside new works from young composer colleagues.
The album's existence is a feat of networking savvy and determination-- it was funded via Kickstarter page-- but the music itself is sadly hit-or-miss, underlining a melancholy truth about bridging genre divides: It results in empty press-release fodder as often as it produces luminous, surprising new music. Quilt: Quilt. Quilt is an East Coast group of Anna Fox Rochinsk, Shane Butler, and John Andrews. They've been touring the basement show circuit and putting out occasional, limited-run releases since 2009, although I hadn't heard of them until this year's SXSW festival, when my band shared a makeshift wooden stage with them, at an unofficial backyard showcase in South Austin, hosted by WNYU.
The odor of smoke, brisket, and crawfish stew seemed the perfect accompaniment to their twangy, somewhat ramshackle blend of 1960s psychedelia, mantric blues, and folk, and I remember realizing that they were the first band I had heard all week whose vocal parts included classic, three-part harmonies-- and whose use of a Farfisa was less retro-futuristic than straight-up retro. Like their namesake, Quilt's music feels handmade and stitched-together, as though its creators were sifting through a collection of musical hand-me-downs and collating the bits that spoke to them into something new. Co La: Daydream Repeater. Kid Sister: Kiss & Tell EP. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. Jónsi: We Bought a Zoo OST. Desertshore: Drawing of Threes. Fred Falke: Part IV. Laura Veirs: Tumble Bee. Fennesz / Sakamoto: Flumina.
The Roots: Undun. Undun is the story of a man, Redford Stevens, dying in reverse, rewinding from the moment he became a statistic and hitting the points in his life where he's at his most self-aware. That he's a criminal who got caught up in the familiar street-hustle trappings that the modern media's documented countless times is a pivotal detail-- it's hit at an angle that seems to emphasize the futile inevitability of it all. His life could be any number of misdirected narratives that ends with a toe tag, and what details listeners learn about him are hazy, buried under archetypal turns of fate and decisive struggles.
That this protagonist is a fictionalized composite of a handful of real people, filtered through a matter-of-fact narrative that splits character ambivalence with journalistic impartiality, only makes his lack of direction and the failure of any real closure stand out even more. "Lotta niggas go to prison," Dice Raw states on "Tip the Scale", "how many come out Malcolm X? " Eddy Current Suppression Ring: So Many Things. The story goes that the members of Eddy Current Suppression Ring decided to form a band during a drunken jam at an office Christmas party. The "office" in that scenario was the Corduroy Records vinyl pressing plant in Australia. The story's captured on their first song, 2003's "So Many Things", a track with ragged, propulsive energy; a juvenile sense of humor; sloppy vocals; and a loud, meandering organ.
It sounds like the sort of in-the-moment jam that could pop up at any work party-- people have clearly been drinking; the lyrics are frontman Brendan Suppression's bitter rambling about a woman: "I think about you here and there/ Only because you're a dickhead" and "I don't need your boobies/ I don't need your cute little bum. " It's a rough artifact of their first foray in making music. Since So Many Things shows the group from its inception to the present, it's safe to assume it illustrates some sort of growth. Wives: The Roy Tapes. Keep Shelly in Athens: Campus Martius. You'd be forgiven for thinking Planet Mu is all about twitchy, high-tempo music these days, given prominent albums from Machinedrum and Kuedo, not to mention their ongoing documentation of the Chicago footwork sound that influences those artists.
But over the past two years, the English label has placed just as much stock into warmed-over and vaguely nostalgic sounds, riffing off of chillwave and hypnagogic pop but dressing it all up in beat-oriented structures compatible with the UK bass dialogue that Planet Mu otherwise engages with. Artists like Boxcutter, Solar Bears, Oriol, Tropics, and even FaltyDL have all swum down this lukewarm stream of lazy watercolor, and the label ends one of its best years ever with its first release by Greek duo Keep Shelly in Athens. Making their first appearance on Mu with a remix of fellow dream-popper Tropics, the lead track off of their first solo EP is also a remix. Charlotte Gainsbourg: Stage Whisper. Throbbing Gristle: Second Annual Report / D.O.A. / 20 Jazz Funk Greats / Heathen Earth / Greatest Hits.
"Yea yea twist again better than we did last summer, laughing in the face of all rock and roll historians collectors revivalists purists inquisition members puritans bores creeps and not forgetting the fussy midgets with obscene hairdos. " So wrote Claude Bessy in the liner notes to Throbbing Gristle's Greatest Hits, one of the five classic Throbbing Gristle albums Industrial Records have just reissued, and which now sit upon my desk, uncanny and accusatory, over 30 years after that pre-emptive fit of snark. Throbbing Gristle were never meant to be reliable, but here they come again, ready to be harvested by the very culture industry they alternately solicited and spat upon so long ago. In time for Christmas, a revived Industrial Records has just re-released all five of these classic albums, lovingly repackaged in deluxe gatefolded 2xCD editions. Assessed as an archival work of restoration, it's a bullseye.
Kate Wax: Dust Collision. James Holden's Border Community is a label known for its between-genre dislocation, an imprint that takes dance-music influences, warms them over on the stove, and then buries them in fuzzy pink noise. Home to artists like Nathan Fake, Luke Abbott, and, of course Holden himself, it has a habit of drenching techno in longing nostalgia and stasis, music caught in some dimensional rift between dance and pop. It seems a likely home for Swiss artist Kate Wax then, who made her name six years ago on bizarre spoken-word electronica on Mental Groove, but whose sound has slowly gelled into something more palatable, and certainly more traditionally pop.
On her first album for Border Community and second overall, Aisha Devi Enz buries herself in a dark, claustrophobic world blanketed with careful textures both prickly and enticing, and tries to tunnel her way back using mostly her elastic but childlike voice. Just as it exhausts itself, Dust Collision can have a similar effect on its listeners. Mac Miller: Blue Slide Park. At the 2000 VMAs, Eminem's performance of "The Real Slim Shady" featured him walking across Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and into Radio City Music Hall followed by a few hundred extras that had been styled in his image, bleached hair and all.
The performance was an arresting, and very literal, visual representation of the song's claim of there being "a million of us just like me. " Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller is having his "'The Real Slim Shady' at the VMAS" moment right now, even if he'll never actually perform there. There are hundreds of thousands of listeners trailing him intensely-- Blue Slide Park sold just about 145,000 copes in its first week in stores, making it the first independently distributed debut album to go No. 1 in 16 years. And the reason Miller's mass of fans follow him is not because of his music, at least not completely. It's because he looks just like them, because they can see themselves up on the stage behind him, if not next to him.
Emika: Emika. The idea of a British-born, blue-eyed Berlinite turning Aaliyah's "Try Again" into an industrial-dub robot dirge seems pretty suspect. But somehow, 25-year old Bristol-bred Emika pulls off "Common Exchange" with flying Grisaille colors. Chalk its success up to the electronic composer/sound designer's belief that life and dance music alike are fatally boring when you stick to the blueprint. Emika's self-titled debut is one of those rip-it-up-and-start-again records. That's not to say that she isn't descended from a tradition of pitch-black and borderless artists, but rather that her influences are varied enough to strand you on Spotify for several hours.
If the above paragraph sounds like gibberish, let me re-translate: To the European underground, Emika is a golden child in somber pose. Over the last few years, dubstep has slowly seeped into the bloodstream of mainstream pop. But at its core, this is about the beats, as silvery and scalloped as a Frank Gehry facade. This Mortal Coil: HDCD Box Set.