Saturday, August 27, 2011

The day before

Tomorrow I leave for a semester abroad in the Netherlands, specifically Amsterdam.

This is the first time I've been out of the country save Canada, so this is pretty exciting for me, but also nerve-wracking as traveling can sometimes be. Somehow I always end up both eagerly anticipating and dreading the airport and the flight. Something about airport security makes me really anxious, and I don't know what because I don't have anything to hide and the whole process is really relatively painless. I think it might just be because the process has been given so much notoriety when really I don't have a problem with it other than my aversion being patted down (I much prefer the x-ray induced radiation that is really probably only comparable to eating a few bananas, for Chrissakes).

For the long plane ride as well as the entire semester, I have a whole bunch of lofty, challenging books ready to read. I'm currently trying to tackle Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace again which well we'll see how that goes this time. I'm kind of a literary masochist; I tend to only read a few books a year but they are usually...well, lofty and challenging. On the reading list is:
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
...and depending on how brave, stupid, bored I feel, Ulysses by James Joyce is still on the bucket list. When I graduated high school at the young age of 17, I felt like I was about to take on the world in college and proceeded to buy an annotated copy of Ulysses and vowed to finish it, Infinite Jest and the Holy Bible. I dropped that plan after trying to read the first two pages of Ulysses. Some three years later, the goal still seems overambitious but also at least within the realm of possibility. I'm hoping to do a lot more reading while abroad than I normally do, so we shall see how much I get done. I recently finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I felt was incredible, and before that The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, which I felt I could not fairly assess because I am absolutely not the target demographic the book was being aimed at (teenagers going through identity crises).

I'm expecting (maybe hoping would be more accurate) that the next four months are going to be transformative, changing my attitudes and perceptions. I also hope to have a good time and to see and do a lot of new things, travel to many new places and meet many new people. I'm going to keep a travelogue in the awesome bound book that Amy gave me for my birthday, but also expect some updates about my trip here, maybe some pictures too...we shall see what happens.

As far as music goes, the only foreseeable event in that department is that I might go to the Pitchfork Festival in Paris to see Aphex Twin, if scheduling allows, which would kind of be a dream come true for me. Other than that I'm going to keep an eye on the city's concert schedules and probably end up coming back home with a lot of gaudy, expensive purchases that would ring up ridiculous import prices here in the states.

Some good music has been coming out lately. The Field's new album Looping State of Mind is up to par with his other work which says quite a lot. I like the new Balam Acab album Wander / Wonder. Play it really loud on a good stereo and it is a very trippy, beautiful experience. I still can't get over the new Machinedrum album, Room(s); it is very ambitious but also very fun. Zomby's new album Dedication is also sick, with a downright amazing flow and with a lot of sounds the likes of which I have never heard before. The new Fennesz EP, Seven Stars, is very relaxing and pretty. Shlohmo's album Bad Vibes is very relaxing, and I've been chilling to it a lot. I'm a little late to the game on these, but I've also been really digging Africa Hitech's jittery and colorful 93 Million Miles and Andy Stott's dark as fuck Passed Me By. 2011 is really bringing it.

And of course I can't possibly pass up the chance to plug my friend Drew Bandos' music. He usually goes under the name "Is and of The," but he just dropped a .zip file containing a release called Handpainted Glow under his own name on his facebook page. Apparently it contains some otherwise unreleased stuff, some finished songs and some unfinished songs. I wouldn't have guessed it contained the latter; it all sounded complete to me, and it is absolutely great. Dude's twenty and he's already doing stuff far better and more interesting than other rising electronic music stars of approximately the same age (Balam Acab and James Blake, for instance, who are downright boring in comparison.) Seriously I would not be surprised if Drew's work really blows up soon and he gets some widespread attention. If you're a fan of psychedelic music or electronic music or both, don't pass this guy up. Also, if you haven't heard Is and of The's album Heads Phased for Dreamless Sleep, it's streaming right over here and is also getting a physical release on Mush records in September (I think).

That's all for now. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place

I noticed some trends at the Pitchfork festival this year, one in particular that a lot of the bands we saw were doing really interesting, progressive things with rhythm, sometimes ditching it completely. Animal Collective were using jarring loops, Deerhunter let out roaring washes of sound, and Julianna Barwick fed her voice through loops and reverbed the living shit out of them to make some beautiful ear candy. I downloaded this one earlier in the year and I thought it was alright, but since the beginning of the Summer I have been playing it nonstop. Barwick essentially throws rhythm out the window, or at least slows it down to a snails pace and doesn't signify it with any sort of beat. All we hear is her voice with a few occasional touchups or accompaniments. The end product sounds choral, even spiritual. When you break it down, the album's construction is very simple, but it sounds like nothing else I've heard. Basically what she is doing is inserting sounds into space and letting them breath and bounce off of one another. Very beautiful stuff. The cover pretty much says it all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mellowhype - BlackenedWhite / BlackenedWhite (Reissue)

If you pay attention to indie music and haven't heard of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, well, I'm fuckin' surprised. Not to be rude about it, but get with the program; they are easily the most buzzed as well as controversial hip hop group in the business now, and they've released a slew of albums and mixtapes of varying quality within the past two years. They've released some really killer stuff: Tyler the Creator's Bastard and Earl Sweatshirt's EARL are great rap albums, and then there's this, BlackenedWhite, by the duo of rapper Hodgy Beats and the producer Left Brain under the name Mellowhype, which to me is easily the best thing to have come out of the Odd Future camp yet. Hodgy isn't a great rapper, but he's definitely a good rapper. The real star of the show here is Left Brain, who I would say is the second most talented member of the collective outshined only by Earl Sweatshirt, who is unfortunately missing in action. The beats and productions on BlackenedWhite are incredible, innovative and kind of need to be heard to be believed. In short, it's one of the most fun hip hop albums to come out in a long time.

Mellowhype dropped this album for free on the internet last October. Now that Odd Future have blown up and gotten lots of attention from record labels (as well as having established their own), they're releasing a remastered version on Fat Possum with an alternate cover and a reshuffled tracklist with a few new tracks. It makes perfect sense for the group to give BlackenedWhite a physical release; the album is incredibly good and obviously had potential to be a moneymaker. I'm sad to report that they completely botched the reissue, cutting some of the original version's best songs and tacking on some decent but unnecessary tracks. The tracks that were cut from the original: "Hell featuring Frank Ocean," "Loco," "Stripclub," "Chordaroy featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator," "Gram," and the bonus track "Based featuring C. Renee." The reason the excellent "Chordaroy" was cut is because the label didn't have the permission to use Earl's vocals, so says the wikipedia article anyway. This is unfortunate but understandable. However, I don't think any of the other exclusions can be excused, because they were/are all excellent, especially "Hell" which has a downright ridiculous beat. The extra tracks "64" and "Igotagun" are good but not really necessary.

I don't see the need for them to have altered BlackenedWhite more than absolutely necessary, though I'm sure they had their reasons. In a perfect world with all circumstances allowing, I think they could have compiled all of the tracks from the original and all of the new tracks as well as the bonus tracks for the reissue and released one fuck of a bloated, delicious 19-track double album rather than a criminally abridged 11-track album. Odd Future are doing enough interesting things right now for me to want to support them by buying their albums, but it's hard for me to get behind the BlackenedWhite reissue, though the original is necessary listening for anyone who wants to learn about these guys, or just wants to hear a really fun hip hop album.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Machinedrum - Room(s)

I'm extremely impressed by the new Machinedrum album, Room(s). Besides being an amazing front to back album with no bad tracks, I feel like it is also pushing music forward in a big way. It takes the frenetic pace of juke house and combines them with some of future garage's stylistic elements, particularly high pitched, warped vocal samples. The result is highly energetic and technical but also aims for the pleasure centers with its melodic sensibilities. It can be exhausting, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Maybe the musical form of ecstasy?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jürgen Müller - Science of the Sea

This lovely reissue has been getting some attention from the Pitchfork/AlteredZones camp. I downloaded it and was very pleasantly surprised. Gorgeous fountains of low fidelity arpeggios and melodies make up the entirety of this lost gem, out of print for nearly thirty years until its recent issue from Digitalis. This could end up being regarded as an electronic/ambient classic if it gets circulated sufficiently. I could paraphrase the story behind this, but the Digitalis website has a wonderful writeup.


Jürgen Müller, b. 1948 in Hamburg, Germany.

Jürgen Müller was a self-taught amateur musician who, while studying oceanic science at the University of Kiel, purchased some electronic instruments and set up a mobile studio on his house boat, docked along the town of Heikendorf, on the North Sea. He held a life-long fascination with the ocean, the expansive and endless inner-space of the deep, where he felt many ecological miracles had yet to be discovered, and which kindled a love for the unknown. This love of all things nautical started early in his youth and eventually led him to study the oceanic sciences.

For one week in 1979 Jürgen took up with a film crew on a mission to document some sea-water toxicity testing that was being performed by a couple of notable biologists, only a few kilometers off the shore. This was to air as a special later to be viewed in universities. Jürgen went to take notes for a course, but soon found himself instead moved by the surroundings more in an artistically inspired sense than a scientific one. He found the mystery and romance of the great seas to be quite moving, and then decided rather abruptly that he would make music to capture this feeling.

Utilizing only a handful of barely-remembered childhood piano lessons, Jürgen set about creating his marine-influenced vignettes with some electronic instruments he had gathered through friends, as well as borrowing some new equipment from a local school’s music department. As a general music lover, earlier in the '70s he had taken note of several avant garde electronic composers who he felt simultaneously captured a purity of sound and sense of wonder that was lacking in other music. He dreamt of fusing this ideal with the synthetic recreations of nature. In a sense, one could say he stumbled onto an early “new age” aesthetic through pure ignorance and coincidence. Mixing relaxing ambient tones and spooky otherworldly sounds, he came up with a unique approach. After filling several reels of home recordings he held ambitions of becoming a film composer. He decided to start his own publishing company, Neue Wissenschaft, and hoped to compose albums in order to sell as production music to various film companies for use in documentaries and television programs. As he was simultaneously hard at work on his studies to finish school, he had to work on his music in short intervals, and often had to put it aside altogether. As a result, it took several years for him to actually realize his sole full-length recording, Science of the Sea, the sessions for which began in late 1981, before finishing a year later. Less than 100 copies were pressed, and few of them were even sent out to potential clients. Most copies were eventually given to friends and family.

Jürgen’s musical gamble never quite paid off as he had hoped, and without any outside interest or connections in the music world, he soon abandoned any dreams of a musical existence and instead chose to further his oceanographic career.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Richard Pinhas & Merzbow - Rhizome

Masami Akita, known best as Merzbow, has always been an artist I have respected from afar, unable or unwilling to delve into his body of work much further than surface level. My first exposure to him was in high school. I was kind of fascinated in a weird way with his recordings while my friends mostly thought he was just funny (in a bad way). Yes, I respect 1930, but wouldn’t really say I enjoy it. I wanted to listen to Merzbient but couldn’t be arsed to actually obtain it. I had one of his collaborative albums with Boris but never really listened to it; it just sounded like noise on top of typical Boris fare (this is probably the point, though). So no, I don’t find myself ever really getting many releases that Merzbow has put out or is involved with, but I felt it necessary to get this live, collaborative album with avant-garde guitarist Richard Pinhas that was recorded on 9/24/2010 at the La Maison Francaise (aka the French embassy in Washington D.C.), mostly because I actually attended the show. I mention Merzbow first and foremost not because he was the star of the show, but because I didn’t know who Pinhas was at the time, though I would find out that he was not simply playing a supporting role here.

It turns out that being music director at a college radio station gets you some perks. Boatloads of promo material are one of those perks, and free concert tickets are another. When I saw that Merzbow and some guy named Richard Pinhas were coming to town for the Sonic Circuits festival of experimental music, I felt like I kind of had to go for whatever reason. It turned out that I could in fact swing getting some tickets, and it seemed stupid to pass up seeing a noise music legend whether or not I was really a fan of him. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me (it’s hard enough to find anyone my age who even knows who Merzbow is let alone wants to see him live). So I took a cab all the way to the embassy up in Georgetown, waited for maybe two hours in the spiffy lobby with mostly older, artsy people, and sat through the modern and marginally interesting sets of Blue Sausage Infant and TL0741. Then Akita, this short, unassuming looking middle-aged Japanese guy with glasses and long hair, comes out and sits at a table with two laptops and a big mixing board of some sort, and the taller, puffy haired Pinhas sits at a chair with a guitar, and they start.

The first thing I remember is that the show was loud, not loud enough to merit the earplugs I brought (and quickly ditched in exchange for better clarity of sound) but loud enough that I had a hard time hearing what I was hearing. I mean, I knew there was a lot of sound going into my ears, but it was hard to make out exactly what I was hearing, especially because Merzbow’s roaring wall of noise kind of took over the atmosphere. It was hard to tell exactly what Pinhas was doing in terms of sound, but there was a weird tonal basis to all of it, which gave the sound a vaguely emotional framework.

On this recording, the rough edges of the show are smoothed out a lot. Akita’s crushingly loud noise is toned down so that it is easier to hear Pinhas’ arpeggios and improvisation, and the two artists are split between the left and right channels respectively (maybe not completely though). This is good because you get a better idea of who’s doing what, but the vastness of the recording is diminished in some parts, though there are still some parts that sound a lot like how the show sounded at the time. This is an album that is meant to be cranked, to give the songs more life and keep them accurate to how the show sounded.

As for the music itself, Merzbow’s noisy experimentation is interesting as usual in a sort of masochistic way, and Pinhas does some great things with his guitar that makes this album have some really beautiful moments. The closest comparison I can make is to Yellow Swans’ final record, Going Places, which ended up being my favorite album from last year. What we have here is some beautiful, Fripp-esque guitarwork hammered with Merzbow’s harsh noise. And it sounds really cool. This is a psychedelic record just as much as it is a noise record or an avant-garde record. The album comes with a DVD of the performance, which I sadly do not have for financial reasons, but I can tell you that this show sounded much cooler than it looked. Merzbow didn’t do much moving throughout the entire show, but Pinhas seemed like he was a little busier than his partner. It was impressive that they seemed so zoned in and calm while creating such huge sound. In any case you should get ahold of this album if you are a fan, casual or devoted, of either artist.

And here we are.

Expect news, media and thoughts related to new music, mostly electronic stuff.