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Stranger in a strange land

Daniel O’Sullivan – “HC SVNT DRACONES” – VELD – O Genesis Recordings

Taking Latin in University isn’t completely useless. You get to read inscriptions on buildings, decipher fancy college degrees, perform etymology, and translate obscure song titles. This one means: “Here are the dragons.” One could also say “Here be dragons” if one wanted to sound more like King Arthur. Who says it’s a dead language?

 

Regis – “Maxi” – Blackest Ever Black

To me, the Holy Trinity of Techno is still Silent Servant, James Ruskin, and Regis. I am not finished mourning the demise of Jealous God, the excellent if short-lived label that released some of the musketeers’ classiest late-night stompers. But this too-short teaser from a forthcoming single on Blackest Ever Black will have to do. For now. One for the bloody dancefloor.

 

False Witness – “Revolt” – The Art of Fighting – GHE20G0TH1K Records

I knew I’d heard this before.

I have a strange affliction—some might call it a gift, others a curse: I am able to recognize aesthetic similarities across various pieces of music. Useless, perhaps. It’s an acrostic kind of memory, akin to perfect pitch: recordings inscribe themselves permanently and irrevocably into my mind’s ear. (I may have missed my calling as an intellectual property attorney.)

For example, I can sing a song in the precise key in which it was committed to tape. I can also immediately identify little phrases, licks, riffs, or passages in songs. Let’s do some comparative analysis:

Blur’s “Boys and Girls” bass line is a direct facsimile of David Bowie’s “DJ”;

 

“I don’t like the drugs” by Marilyn Manson is Bowie’s “Fame”;

 

Supergrass’s “Jesus came from outer space” contains a descending phrase reminiscent of “Star”.

 

Come to think of it, all these examples are David Bowie-related. Here are some that aren’t: Radiohead’s “Decks Dark” = “Teardrop” by Massive Attack;

 

Alicia Keys’ “Blended Family” = “What I am” by Edie Brickell;

 

And L-Vis 1990’s 2009 banger “Compass” = “Revolt” by False Witness. Listen to them side by side, or at once for all I care:

It’s the same Soca rhythm, at the same tempo, in the same key. And don’t be alarmed, but it even features the same air raid sample.

AIR RAID!!

 

Yally – “Dread Risk” – Diagonal Records

I’ve been working on a theory of music akin to Thomas Schatz’s “whole-equation-of-pictures” method of cinema analysis. In contrast to Classical film scholarship like André Bazin in France, or Andrew Sarris in America, both of whom advocated for auteur theory, Schatz believes that films are in fact a product of what he calls “the genius of the system”—a more media-ecological or even proto-intersectional approach. For Schatz (and me), cultural texts are just as much shaped by complex structural forces as they are authored by an individual artist’s voice and vision. I find this to be especially evidenced in instances of historical revisionism.

Artists naturally want to pay homage to their greatest influences, and at various points set out to emulate the feel of their favourite masters. Liam Gallagher made a career out of trying to perfect John Lennon’s slap-back delay, which was itself modeled after Elvis Presley’s vocals. But Lennon’s was as far away from Presley’s as Gallagher’s is from Lennon’s, because certain elements in the equation—everything from media format to microphones, cables, effects processors, and sound dampening materials—have changed. Even when a band goes as far to emulate a long-gone sound as, say, Arcade Fire did with The Suburbs—using 1940s gear; pressing each song to a dubplate before digitization—it still comes out sounding like early 21st century Indie rock.

Regarding revision, electronic music is no different. Take Yally’s “Dread Risk”, a faithful nod to the brooding 1990s Drum ‘n Bass of Photek or μ-ziq, and the comparatively maximal belter that I always suspected (hoped) was lurking in the Raime arsenal. It sounds like Jungle, but different, simply because the whole equation is different.

 

Delia Gonzalez – “Horse Follows Darkness” – Horse Follows Darkness – DFA Records

Speaking of nostalgia, here’s one to tug at the old melancholy cord. In this vintage synth hymn, Cuban-American multidisciplinary artist Delia Gonzalez dreamily conjures the uncanny air of feeling like a foreigner at home. At a time when Trump and Brexit have become all too real, I think that many of us can relate.

 

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