What I’ve been most focused on, listening-wise, this past week:
(1) The seven tracks on Sand (Touch) by Philip Jeck were recorded live, but what the music consists of is all pre-recorded. These are no mere mash-ups, mind you. Jeck is about as far from the kaleidoscopic party music of a Girl Talk or a DJ Z-Trip as a DJ could find himself. The layers of music on Sand, as in much of Jeck’s work, are the result of atmospheric loops of manipulated turntables. Be sure to check out the ecstatic “Fanfares,” in which clips of orchestral grandeur (reportedly sourced from Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”) echo into the distance as the reverberations gather enough richness to overcome the evident record scratches. Also worth spending time immersed in is the album’s “Residue,” a rice-paper-thin extension of light crackles and nearly sub-aural drones, with occasional, scene-changing alterations in volume and density.
(2) In our age of malleable media, listening habits can, at times, be less like playlists and more like recipes. Right now, my favorite recipe is as follows: the instrumental track of rapper Aceyalone‘s (aka Eddie Hayes of Freestyle Fellowship) “To the Top” (a single from last year, backed with “Jungle Muzik”), its naked Bo Diddley beat dropped to 70bpm, run through the Automaton plug-in (from the folks at Audio Damage) via Ableton Live, with Automaton’s Replicate function picking up random segments, glitching ’em all to hell, and repeating them at unexpected intervals atop the original.
(3) The Disquiet Downstream of last week is the snippet of faux-ecclesiastic acapella composed by David Stutz to accompany Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem (MP3, disquiet.com). Just beautiful voices tracing geometrical abstractions on the blackboard between your ears. I’m 300 pages into the book at the moment.
(4) A little off topic, Metallica‘s Death Magnetic is, easily, the band’s best album since 1991, when Metallica (aka “the black one,” aka “the one with ‘Enter Sandman,'” metal’s closest approximation of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which Nirvana released barely a month later) hit stores. It isn’t just the return to Ride the Lightning-era riffs, thanks to judicious production by Rick Rubin, that makes the album. It’s that those riffs are often the majority of a given song, meaning Metallica has put the straightforward pop structures of Load, ReLoad, and St. Anger behind them. On Death Magnetic, which opens with a heartbeat reminiscent of … And Justice for All‘s “One,” those riffs churn with a bare-bones aggression, which means that rock’s equivalent to grinding gears are, for the moment, a mainstream sound. Yes, it would be great to hear more of Earth/Sunn O)))’s drone-metal in Metallica, and maybe some touches of Godflesh/Drumcorp-style digitally chopped’n’screwed beats, but simply for having taken the band back in time, Rubin has secured Metallica’s future. (Maybe we’ll be treated to some remixes?) I was in LAX a year or so ago, my plane delayed, and while wandering the mostly deserted halls, I ran into, of all people, Metallica’s lead singer, James Hetfield. I’d interviewed the band’s loquacious drummer, Lars Ulrich, on several occasions, but had never spoken with Hetfield before. I approached him, and he eagerly joined in conversation about working with Rubin (production was already well under way, and Rubin’s involvement was pubic knowledge). When I mentioned the great work Rubin had done with Slayer and Johnny Cash, Hetfield’s agreement was clear, but when I mentioned his then recent work with Neal Diamond, something changed, and he sort of closed down. The conversation was over. At the time, I figured that he took offense at being reminded that Rubin had resuscitated the reputation of the 1960s and ’70s singer’s recording career, as if Metallica had anything in common with that lovably cornball folk-pop — or he took it as a suggestion that Metallica needed something approaching resuscitation, which it did. But now it’s clear that Rubin did exactly the same thing with Metallica he’d done with Diamond and with Cash: located the place deep in the back catalog when the music still mattered, and then convinced the musicians to meet him there. (Maybe he can revisit the Beastie Boys now, and re-awaken the true old-school, tape-loop-based hip-hop production?)