Still (aka Hsi-Chang Lin) is the turntablist for Dalek, who is perhaps most concisely described as the rare hip-hop MC on Ipecac, the record label run by noise-meister Mike Patton (Fantomas, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle). Remains is an EP-length (35-minute) solo album that Still is about to release on the Public Guilt label. And “Futility” (MP3) is a free download that Public Guilt has posted, one of Remains‘ six tracks, an exploration of acoustic texture. The underlying basis of the track is that furry sound of LP surface noise; various melodic elements make themselves heard (a bit of woodwind, some echoed horn tones, mallet-like reverberations) but they seep through without coming close to disrupting the sonic capillary action of the vinyl. The piece manages to lull and discomfort simultaneously. The full release is highly recommended. More details at publicguilt.com.
Month: June 2005
Guitar Haze MP3
There’s a voice buried deep in “Jeka” by the group Port-Royal. Perhaps your hearing is better than average, but the spoken material is barely audible on first listen, appearing just out of range, lost in an aquatic murk that suggests both Gavin Bryars’ Sinking of the Titanic and Scanner’s early work, back when he was still scanning the airwaves for loose talk. Over repeated listens, the voice reveals itself as likely voices, perhaps Russian, and the four-minute “Jeka” reveals itself to be largely a construct of reverberant guitars, amorphous sounds that become a set of evident patterns. But just ’cause you can trace the haze’s contours doesn’t mean you know what’s buried deep inside. The highly recommended “Jeka” (MP3) is the first track off Port-Royal’s Flares, released late last month on Resonant, and its available for download from the label’s website, resonantlabel.com.
Analog Aphex Twin Cover MP3
Aphex Twin has gone analog. More specifically, the new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound is about to release a full-length set of Aphex Twin covers, arranged by various composers, including some of its own members. Titled Acoustica, the record is due out July 12 on Cantaloupe, the label associated with the Bang On a Can All-Stars. That group set the stage for Alarm Will Sound’s album with their ensemble interpretations of Brian Eno’s ambient classic, Music for Airports, released on Philip Glass’ label, Point Music, in 1998.
For a taste of Alarm Will Sound’s project, try the free promotional download “4” (MP3), in which the first track of Aphex Twin’s 1996 Richard D. James album is broken down into its constituent parts, and then those parts are each replaced with a sonic analog.
That’s analog in both senses of the word. Almost the full complement of Alarm Will Sound’s palette is acoustic (i.e., analog, as opposed digital), including not just standard classical instrumentation like bassoon, viola, English horn and piccolo, but also curtain rods, kalimba, cocktail stirrer and water hose, all the better to approximate Aphex’s sonic eccentricities. Acoustica is also an analog in that all these tools that Alarm Will Sound has employed were patiently selected and honed to serve as analogous sounds for everything that Aphex Twin initially programmed on his computer.
Indeed, to compare the two “4”s side by side is to invoke that paranoid Steven Wright joke: “I got up the other day and everything in my apartment was stolen and replaced with an exact replica.” Except that what Alarm Will Sound is up to is no joke. The effort here was a painstaking one, even if the original “4” did provide a head start, in that it featured a violin-like sound right from the outset. The original ran a sinuous melody over a rubbery stretch of percussion, the line always a little apart from the beat, which gave it the sense of something hovering. In Alarm Will Sound’s rendition, that rubbery sound is approximated with expert drum rolls, and the violin is brought to life with a real string instrument. The group even inserts the little spoken back’n’forth that sounds like studio chatter in the original. (If you’re really interested in comparing ’em, you can quickly purchase the original track for $1.35 at bleep.com.)
That at times Alarm Will Sound’s “4” sounds like Steve Reich is no surprise (though Aphex’s “4” never did in particular); the group’s last album was an all-Reich program, and that precision comes in handy here. Nor is it a surprise that “4” brings to mind the band Tortoise, which has always made itself comfortable in the no man’s land between chamber music and rock’n’roll. What is a surprise, though, is how much, at times, “4” sounds like something by Aaron Copland, with its wide, warm melodies that hang like low clouds. (“4” was arranged by Jessica Johnson and Payton MacDonald.) Despite Aphex Twin’s advance billing as a leading technologist, listeners new to his music who encounter him first here will be taken aback by, and then taken in by, his emphasis on melody. Given Alarm Will Sound’s interest in the progressive edge of classical music, this may end up being simply some of the prettiest music they ever play. More info on Acoustica, with brief MP3 samples of all 15 tracks (including two remixes by Dennis DeSantis), here. More info on Alarm Will Sound at alarmwillsound.com.
(PS: This review originally included the following pair of sentences: “Tellingly, Alarm Will Sound’s version is titled ‘Four,’ where the original employed the numeral ‘4.’ Such is the group’s attention to detail.” It turns out that Alarm Will Sound retained the numeral for its rendition, and that the spelled-out version, “Four,” was just a typographical error in early press materials. Nonetheless, the group’s attention to detail is remarkable.)
I-Hop MP3s with Zombie Swagger
It’s ironic how few hip-hop labels post free MP3 downloads. If ever there were a music-industry model for an art-market environment where information is appropriated fluidly and yet still available as a source of income, it’s hip-hop, much of which is built on samples from pre-existing recordings. Anyhow, over at the website of Definitive Jux, the record label home to El-P, RJD2, Cannibal Ox and others, there are two lightly swaggering backing tracks off rapper Aesop Rock‘s 2003 album, Bazooka Tooth (which, by the way, is worth picking up on vinyl for its Tomer Hanuka-illustrated gatefold cover alone). These vocal-free cuts subsequently appeared on 2004’s Build Your Own Bazooka Tooth, which, ingeniously, consisted of two CDs : one containing the instrumental versions of all the songs on Bazooka Tooth, and the other (yeah, you’ve figured this out already, but why not complete the sentence?) containing the a cappella versions.
It’s the longest day of the year, so celebrate with music that sounds like it only comes out at night. Both tracks move at a zombie’s pace, though with a little swing, “Frijoles” (MP3) taking its cues from Western soundtracks, with a hearty men’s chorus and what sounds like a busted theremin imitating Ennio Morricone’s iconic whistles. “Mars Attacks” (MP3) actually sounds like the undead sat in on the recording sessions, thanks to a vocal snippet mechanically slowed to a quarter-speed; it’s all sublimated flange and widely spaced beats until, midway, it switches gears, speeding up ever so slightly; subsequently the rhythm appears always on the verge of stumbling out of control. Bazooka Tooth includes production credits by El-P, Blockhead and others, but both of these were produced by Aesop (born Ian Bavitz) himself.
Like any good hip-hop figure, Aesop has a talent for recycling. If you want to know what he rapped over these instrumentals, you could pick up the original album, or you could grab his latest, Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives, which includes a small booklet containing all his lyrics. Grab a mic, and you could really build your own Bazooka Tooth. More info definitivejux.net.
Nice Nice MP3
Nice Nice’s “Uh-Oh,” a free track posted on the Audraglint Records website to promote the group’s new EP, Yesss!, exemplifies how electronica never truly abandoned pop music. After the genre failed to fulfill the absurd projections of those who saw it overtaking rock and hip-hop in record stores, it simply went underground. And then it tunneled upward, through the feet of guitarists, drummers, bass players and many other pop music-makers. The music went from overt to covert, opting for infection instead of chart-storming onslaught. The addictive “Uh-Oh” (MP3) is dirty pop funk that’s utterly infected with electronics; no element here is saved from the torque of digital transformation, whether functional or imitative. And yet it sounds as retro as it does futuristic, like a lost track by Fear of Music-era Talking Heads. The rhythm is grimy, the vocals muffled, and flushes of flashy gutter synths fly through in unexpected formations. And this, of course, is the unmolested version of “U-Oh.” For the remix of this and other Nice Nice tracks by the likes of DJ Rupture, Caural and Stars as Eyes, check out Yesss!, due out tomorrow from Audraglint. More info at audraglint.com.