Monthly Listening: June 2020
|Leah B. Levinson||Jul 6|| 2|
Hey all, hope everyone is staying afloat, taking action when possible, and resting when needed.
Coming in with June’s monthly listening including reviews of 11 releases that have been in my rotation over the past month. Check them out and let me know if anything sticks. If you need further listening guidance, I highly recommend both the second quarter issue of Tone Glow—with 30 favorite albums from a brilliant group of writers—and the mid-year report from Post-Trash which is loaded to the brim with releases all over the map.
Additionally, I’d like to advocate that anyone with the funds to do so contribute to the Black Hills Legal Defense Fund to assist Indigenous People and allies who “were arrested in the process of defending [their] sacred lands in the Black Hills” this past week. The nationwide struggles that sparked off just over a month ago are nowhere near finished, and we need to work together to sustain our energy and efforts as they continues.
Lastly, I highly recommend two interrelated and accessible documentaries online right now: Disclosure, which focuses on the knotted history of trans representation in popular media (available on Netflix), and Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (available free without subscription from Shudder). Watching the two movies back to back, I recognized how intertwined the histories they laid out were, often overlapping, splitting, and coming to heads at similar points in their own separate trajectories. I’m not incredibly well-versed in movies and television, so much of the content these works drew from was new to me. Both documentaries are digestible, and each is thankfully guided by the voices that should be telling these stories.
Oh! And one more thing before we get started, I’d just like to mention my sincerest gratitude to Rebecca Jones for their work editing this newsletter. This issue truly wouldn’t be reaching you without their support.
closegood - NYMPH
I came across closegood by way of Huntrezz Janos’s 3D renderings of the duo in the video for “AANG,” a track that takes the protagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender as its namesake. When the lead vocals on the track are passed off from amada to nyfe midway, Janos’s animation captures the formal technique of the powerup. nyfe is suddenly encircled by a ring of fire, watery swirls, and satellite shards of metal, entering with a more driving, lifted triplet flow than amada’s, going in for the kill.
This acceleration characterizes the fluid experimental pop of closegood, a pop which is always in motion and pays little mind to a need for refrain. Their music develops and morphs, accepts change. Instrumentals, lyrics, and melodies engage with one another and grow together. closegood makes the pop music of cyborgs, flux and adaptable, endlessly upgrading, breaking from the logic of life-cycles, free from birth and return.
It’s physical insomuch as attention to the physical grounds the spiritual. Following nyfe’s powerup, amada briefly enters again, newly bolstered by nyfe’s effect on the beat, spitting off once more the evocative, “keep it in my chest/ air is a temple and flesh only serves as a life vest,” a sentiment echoed throughout NYMPH.
Bodies are bodies, sexual and present. Sex is a means for relation, the connection of spirits. We transfer ourselves to each other, I “wake up with my makeup on my hands and in your hair/ I take up so much space and you don’t care/ love looks like glitter,” it gets all over and it sticks, shimmering. Clearing out, making space: “eat me up and swallow ‘til I hollow wood,” it opens one up, “coping,” always “with [our] flesh prison,” learning to love with others.
KeiyaA - Forever, Ya Girl
Start with the echoes of Dilla left in the post-backpack lo-fi of Earl, MIKE, Slauson Malone, Armand Hammer and the like, multiply them by the loosely formed R&B of Solange, add the time-shifted samples of early Klein, and you get something close to what KeiyaA accomplishes on “a Mile, a Way.” It pulsates and lifts atonally, carrying itself with a cybernetic post-human frequency. Midway through, the sample slows, a heart sinking, dropping to the gut:
“I see a shooter from a mile away
I see a suitor from a mile away
I see my future from a mile away
I know we all are bound for brighter days”
Localities blur and songs escape across Forever, Ya Girl, as it sends itself forward endlessly. Warped frequencies illuminate the air with denunciation and reclamation, which looks like, “no matter what u do, please don’t pass my spliff around the room,” or simply, “I want my things!,” stern but positively glowing as pushed off the tongue.
“Hvnli” drones on for over four minutes (including the reprise) with a synth tethered to the song’s root note—a homebase that the track’s bass and harmony refuse to acknowledge as they float just around it. Stuck in a drought but still finding light: “gone for so long I could barely afford to eat/ but my love is heavenly.”
Forever, Ya Girl is an exploration full of sweetness, appreciation, and difficult conversations, all held with love and respect at its center. It is devotion and energy, worked and warm.
AceMo - SYSTEM OVERRIDE
SYSTEM OVERRIDE, the latest release from the prolific NYC dance producer, is a high-energy balancing act. AceMo pushes bass melodies, jittering samples, and hyperactive panning to extremes, exploring house, jungle, and techno styles while exploding formal structures and maintaining a minimal atmosphere. Each track is texturally minimal at any given moment as it progresses through various sequenced themes. In the face of a mass awakening to systemic racism (violent, systematic, judicial, historical and cultural), “Perpetrator” offers a script to offenders: “Yo, you a name. Perpetrator to the game.” As the techno-world contends with the ways its biggest names and institutions have whitewashed the genre’s own radical Black history, a dialogue ensues: “...when we really don’t want to condone these types of performers we just pull up to the gig and take their equipment away. like pull the usb right out the cdj. or just take the whole cdj setup.” AceMo replies, “Yes it’s a no go for you my guy u gotta go.. literally everyone in the crowd screaming PERPATRATOR that’s what this track is abt.” This is the techno utopia that genre pioneers Underground Resistance might have dreamed about, a being-together capable of instantly and immediately excising any intrusion.
Permission - Organised People Suffer
[This review originally published on Tone Glow]
On their third LP, Permission expertly strike the balance between presenting a monolithic mass of sound and allowing enough moment-to-moment variation to provide momentum. They push the atonal potential present within hardcore punk towards a frenzied, baseless terrain. Jolting, contracting, and expanding phrases with endlessly unsettled harmonies result in the sound of an ever-adapting present constantly reformulating and finding a new point of stasis within each moment. A broken, fluid sense of grammar collages images of war, sex, politics, and decay: “NEW BAD DEAL STIMULATE GLISTENING AND WARM HIS FACE DROPS YEARS OF SERVICE BETRAYED WITHOUT A SINGLE THOUGHT WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING ALONG ABJECT AND HAUNTED BLINKING.” These lyrics are oddly classical although fresh: it’s an evolution of both the politically minded collage-surrealism of Crass and Discharge and the vibrant figurative expressionism of Void and Napalm Death. Infrequent but consistent use of present-tense direct address creates the occasional hallucinatory second-person narration: “YOUR TEETH FALL OUT LOOK DOWN YOUR FOOT SPLITS” and “LOOKING BACK AT YOU WORDS FALL FROM YOUR LIPS.” These moments are markedly different from the “you” that inhabits traditional hardcore, a pronoun most typically reserved for conservative politicians, parents, cops, bullies, hippies, fags, disinterested women, and nazis in the genre’s earliest forms. Here, it denotes an ambiguous subject, it feels to be nightmarishly pointing at you, the listener. Organised People Suffer presents a dense howl pouring out from broken lips, writhing.
Barcelona - Residuos Del Ultrasonido
Many of my favorite bands in hardcore sound as though they have recently emerged from Plato’s cave. Enraged at their captors, overcome with anxiety at the world before them, and having only heard distant reflections of rock bands miles away, they stumble into a studio and give punk a try.
Barcelona scratch that itch in a whole new way, delivering eight new tracks left over from the same sessions that birthed 2017’s Un Último Ultrasonido Nació Y Murió En Barcelona. Here, the songs’ constituent parts are simple. Drums often sound in unison with stiff, non-syncopated riffs. The lead’s howl is closed off in the throat, disgruntled and upsetting. While the album remains resoundingly minimal, the deconstructive style moves towards a new punk alchemy. “Higiene” is picked apart midway as grindcore blastbeats move towards textural improvisation. Likewise, the album’s opener is a feature for a shimmering drum base and spoken, grunted vocals. Simple ideas and structures are exploited for maximal communication. I’m not fluent in Spanish by any means but I know what “matar” means, and as it’s chanted arrhythmically as a song’s hook, I find that the shoe fits.
Macula Dog - Breezy
Macula Dog pick up the mutant dystopias that Captain Beefheart, Devo, and The Residents set forth, bringing them present. Now glossy and HD, we can see Macula Dog’s vision with a newfound crispness and accuracy. We find that this creature’s warts have eyes, and those eyes have warts, and so on, ad infinitum. Macula Dog posit a parallel Cronenberg version of the present where all is oily, prosthetic and strange: Jeff Goldblum becoming The Fly, picking himself apart in odd time. Mostly made of percussive, synthesized sounds, there’s only ever a shadow of harmony to these songs, a facet that makes their brutalist structures all the more rewarding. The four songs here are tightly composed and gushing with imagery, melody, and abstract sound design. Finally it feels as though Macula Dog has made a home in their radioactive wetland, spectres hovering, singing their song.
Lily and Horn Horse - Republicans for Bernie
[This review originally published on Tone Glow]
My initial impulse was to recoil at the title. “Republicans for Bernie” felt both too on the nose and beside the point. Worse yet, it held a shield of irony despite its political signaling, and this coming from a duo I had come to love for their relentless sincerity in spite of a humorously shifting, absurd, and anachronistic musical framework. Now that I’ve sat with the EP, the title has grown on me: it points elsewhere, channeling propulsive post-hypnagogic jazz-fusion-inflicted dream pop down endless alleys without resolve and with little refrain. The album’s opener asks bemoaningly—amidst much greater existential queries—, “Why’d you have to say that/ Why’d you have to say that/ About Crosby, Stills & Nash/ Crosby, Stills & Nash.” The question lingers because, A), we would never assume that—in all their apparent multitudinous influences—Lily and Horn Horse are especially inspired by the work of Crosby, Stills & Nash and, B), we are never sure what slight has been said of the late-60s folk-rockers in the first place. The song opens up twin exits, splitting off into worlds exterior to its own tightly-composed body. The five songs that follow are among the duo’s strongest to date, oscillating abruptly as they do, floating further philosophical quandaries (“And how am I supposed to reckon with this loneliness?/ How much does it really cost to be me?”) and affirmations of the self (“I know what I want this time/ Can we know?”) atop brilliantly shifting grooves and synthetic fields. The result is whimsical, strange, and altogether enchanting.
pedezo de carne con ojo - ¿Pero Like Cómo E'tá?
“I Trip U Trip” centers around a horn-driven sample that Steven Perez loops with a hard stop and a tiny rest at its end: a little gasp, a trip, an empty melody, a soft break. Steven Perez’s voice above it is wavy, loose cursive scribbling. The overall effect is flimsy and on edge. Broken samples with sudden cuts lend pedezo de carne con ojo an odd rigidity, a brittle fabric—everything breathes and dies by the grid.
In an interview with Treble Zine, Perez explains:
“You grow up in certain environments where you think money is the only way out of shit. That’s how I was becoming, and I hated that. I still have to watch myself. … It’s important but when you get to a point when you need money over respecting people or over the lives of others. … Like, it’s all I think about sometimes, all I feel like I am to my family sometimes, is a support system of money. … . I was trying to grapple with that.”
Perez expresses that he finds inspiration in the work of Earl Sweatshirt and Slauson Malone (two artists who have become familiar exemplars of the sound of the New York collective Standing on the Corner along with MIKE and Solange). These artists’ work is steeped in tradition. They blaze forward, forging fragmentary works full of rich sampling that evokes the ecstatic, divine tradition of Black popular music to mold a weighty collage, murkier than the clarity their sources offer. They trouble a sense of commodity.
Unlike those fluid works, ¿Pero Like Cómo E'tá? is odd, mechanistic, and choppy. Rather than pulsating, pumping, and writhing with sidechain compression and bass-boosted soul samples, it cuts like FM radio: tinny, crackling, and slightly holographic. Samples sweat through repetition, flowing into the smallest body, stuck in a puddle, eddying. Perez’s production is resoundingly DIY, self-developed, and idiosyncratic. Static, it holds its place, denies upwards mobility, and disrupts its own commodity status through its very shakiness.
NÍDIA - Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes
Writing about dance music is intimidating. Its styles are minced into subgenres distinguishable by a single beat per minute, a specific kick pattern, or an abstract geographical and temporal tint. Add to this the fact that it often offers little by way of textual supports for me to lean on, and the prospect of picking dance music apart with my words feels insurmountable.
In this regard, NÍDIA’s Não Fales Nela Que A Mentes makes for an interesting case. The tracks are expansive and open, booming yet light. In a way it proposes thought as its own dance. “Rap Tentativa” sounds just too slow, knowingly so, each beat lasting just beyond its capacity for holding. It dares you to dance but holds space for thinking.
NÍDIA merges forms and genres, making Portuguese batida feel just a few snaps away from Chicago footwork, really, coalescing the two, with other styles close in their midst. She forges a new thing, making my genre paralysis worse but allowing my critical faculties to shutter completely. In this way, it’s oddly welcoming. At 29 minutes, it’s a short, varied album, inviting and fresh, offering new thoughts at each turn. It’s simple and joyous, practiced and clever, rewarding.
Julius Eastman - Feminine
The recording starts with a gathering: a crisp metal texture, several bouts of laughter, a tuning ensemble, a low-mid hum from a mic feeding back. Sustained bells bridge candid sound and composition and a new process begins. This 1974 live recording captures a long lost piece by the posthumously acclaimed composer Julius Eastman who fortifies the ensemble over the course of 72 minutes. Two main components—the steady, rapid chorus of sleigh bells and a short two-note motif, repeated in unison by various members—last the entire composition. These components do not develop or transition, but hold their center as the work moves around them. New motifs and accompaniment enter but do not threaten the others’ primacy. The piece swells impossibly, rising incrementally over the duration, unwinding and opening.
Annette Peacock - I Have No Feelings
[This review originally published on Tone Glow where a download of the album is available]
Annette Peacock’s greatest talent is the swerve. Her 1972 solo debut I’m the One begins boldly with its title track. “I’m the One” moves quickly from abstract fields of sound to a deep funk pocket to something like a game show theme, and finally climaxes with Peacock’s Moog-processed voice featured over a blues shuffle. The turns are remarkable for their groove, a musical virtue which Peacock all but gave up after the deflated reception of her frankly excellent 1979 album The Perfect Release. Her ironically titled, self-released I Have No Feelings (1986) might be her strongest thereafter, using ballad in a vibrant stew of collaged sounds and lyrical imagery. Ideas slosh around here in a thick melange, slowly moving towards an ever-diversifying blend. The album’s gorgeous cover is by Alfreda Benje. Benje’s work has also adorned many sleeves for her husband Robert Wyatt, a musician whose most abstract and pointillistic compositions are echoed here.
Saturated in a deep, rich blue, few events across this album rise past the surface, instead presenting a dense liquid body worth wading through. The orchestrated, melting delivery of the line “I have no feelings/ I feel no pain,” calls to mind the lush hopelessness that Billie Holiday and Ray Ellis provided on Lady In Satin—a heartbreaking murmur, falling apart. “A Personal Revolution” provides one of the album’s clearest moments, with Peacock calling for women to strategically withhold sex from men. She begins the song brilliantly with the solemnly chanted mantra, “No nookie til the nukes are gone” then delivers a direct, spoken call to action: “Women have power over men both sexually and numerically/ I’ll leave it to your discretion.” The demand sounds humorous and perhaps politically impotent until Peacock (in her brilliance) states a decisive, admonishing “no” as the track begins to fade, exemplifying for her troops the very real moment of sexual denial. Sex, politics, and sorrow are often at the crux of Peacock’s work. On I Have No Feelings, these themes are essayed from a knowing and sensitive perspective.