Imagine this wannabe’s good fortune to have spent Saturday night with three of the ten (or five, or four) finest rock crit pros currently drawing a paycheck. Dan Weiss, Jason Gubbels, Robert Christgau huddled together around a coffee table - while I sat mostly (hardly) silent and took in whatever the hell they had to say. Even the Miley chatter was worth the time (an implied takeaway? meh, plus she couldn’t rock Alexis Krauss’ gam stockings even if she wanted to). Too much was said to relay accurately, and besides - is that blog post material? No - definitely not. But honoring their form probably is. So, here goes: a handful of entries written in the spirit of Tuesday’s New Releases, Listening Notes - Ultra Brief, and the Consumer Guide. Warning: since I don’t intend to make a habit of serving up nugget reviews, I’ll forgo the autism of decimal, star, or letter grades in favor of a new system of classification: Whatever The Hell I Want At The End In Bold Letters.
Darkside: Psychic (Matador, 2013)
Though my month+ as a Brown grad student has proved you can’t unite hipsters in much more than the disunion of ironic nominalism, feel entitled to accuse me of cheerleading recent grad and namesake Nicolas Jaar - whose official debut (if you discount the Error 53 Random Access Memories Memories, and you shouldn’t because it’s more functional than its source code) as half a duo named Darkside is the fall’s most compelling - if not best - release. There’s not a lot to compare the whole of this to: with creepy synth atmospheres, torpid rhythms that usually crawl but can put all four on the floor when necessary, and a vocalist in Dave Harrington who can’t decide between tuned falsetto and a Brad Roberts/Ian Curtis knock off (see: “Paper Trails”) - to hear these eight songs (yes, songs) in sequence is to sift through a dumpster of discarded genre-pieces… in the dark. Random Access Memories, you’ll recall, was also variously described as a try-everything pastiche, a neo-yacht club apotheosis, and/or the inevitable synthesis of IDM and shitty white music from the 70s - which you could call Intelligent Disco if ID weren’t too generous an acronym for a limp protraction compensating in neon pumps. In other words: twice as long, not half as interesting, and polished to a sheen of near invisibility. So don’t buy the comparisons (or that Daft Punk album either, were you considering it). Instead, let’s strip it all back - literally: if you scrape off of Darkside its homages, flirtations, studio clanks and bumps and whirls, you’re left mostly with some real, sexy funk rhythms. Jaar could’ve used this touch to help his earlier work get up or get down with its (truly, shockingly, Brooklynian) bad self. But, oh well. We’re lucky he (or maybe this Harrington guy, who lays it all down) got around to inventing it. It’s not perfect. The vocals and their variability can grate. But it is new, and a presage - one can hope - for more like it. In case I’m right, I’ll name it now and reap all the credit: Intelligent Funk, or IF: an acronym that suits the potential here just fine. I Know You Don’t Want To, But Try Going Mainstream!
Sleigh Bells: Bitter Rivals (Mom + Pop, 2013)
The night I visited Bob Christgau, he mixed this record into a five-CD changer and played at random. When “Sing Like a Wire” cued up, someone asked “They cut a pop record. What would you even call this?” Eight of us sat around for a few seconds, silent, unsure. Kinda tipsy and (for that) not altogether worried if I was wrong, I giggled “Candy Metal…” The Dean loved that - and told me to wrap 300 words around it, get it published somewhere online, and make a few bucks. Well, in the interest of killing yr idols and fucking off their advice, I’m… writing this for free. Uh, take that, old man! Anyway, Candy Metal is what this record is - or Metal Candy, which sounds like an actual and malignant confectionary. Producer Derek Miller announces as much with the album’s first noise: one of those hypersex fluorescent anime girls squeals “Hi!” and draws two katana blades on your unsuspecting ass. Think Lollipop Chainsaw for your ears, or just take a look at the cover. Krauss, for her part, coos, flirts, commands, shrieks, yells (really, either extreme in the dominance/submission domain - take your pick, honey) over a paradox of bright synth, hand claps and metal riffs. This only reinforces my gut feeling they should’ve called themselves Slay Belles. Anyway, too much will give you a belly ache, or even (in my case) have you grinding into a fresh new cavity. But a spin or two after dinner? Delicious
Danny Brown: Old (Fool’s Gold, 2013)
Maybe Chance the Rapper made this possible for me: but Danny Brown’s cartoon Emergency Intercom yell - which “Torture” and “Lonely” reveal definitively as affectation - is starting to sound as improbably charming as the man himself. For one, he’s toned it down considerably; for another, it compliments a rapper whose content more-or-less aligns him with the good guys. Not that a man with one thousand ways to pour a little codeine down our throats (not to mention a man with a tooth gap that overwhelming) qualifies as a role model - but considering rap’s other candidates (ones with actual cred - sorry Homeboy Sandman and Aesop Rock), he’s not far off. He wants young black men off drugs and out of jail, and spits best when he’s eating pussy - as if to say, hey guys, you should try this oh my god it’s so fun you’ll love it nom nom nom. Not feminism, but not not feminism either - which is big. He’s also wicked smart, in case his derivative sense of humor maroons that fact out in left field. For instance: I can think of (or have read about) more than half a dozen reasons he titled this album Old: he got into the rap game late, and is aging sooner than his contemporaries; the first half of this record is a relapse into the old Danny Brown sound, from before the XXX breakthrough; there’s an homage both to old school rap beats (retrofitted by Paul White to sound somehow fresh out of new Brooklyn) and to his oft-cited forerunner, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. And on. That he splits the album in half, and contrasts Side A’s “Old” to Side B’s “Dope” Stuff recalls in some manner the kind of self-analysis Bob Dylan tried in with Self-Portrait. Note I said ‘tried.’ Another Self-Portrait, But Fur Cereal Doe
Oneohtrix Point Never: R Plus Seven (Warp, 2013)
Dan Weiss dispatches this record with a marginally positive review - and right now it’s the most insightful thing I’ve read about music this year: “Not a bad album, just a good one that’s been broken into pieces so small that they’re impossible to glue back together.” Right-o, but I’m mostly OK with Daniel Lopatin’s dada reducto ad infinitum insofar as it’s learned and intentional. Here, listenability is sacrificed in the pursuit of crafting a junk mimesis of first world infotainment and consumerism. Hear me out: this record is a panorama of sounds that don’t comfortably contrast: pipe organs with early-to-mid-80s video game bleeps and sitcom scores; unintelligible but emotive human vocalizations with Doppler ringtones, static bursts, etc etc etc - they flit as singular moments in a vast whole that - while self-contained - nevertheless fractures, impales, interferes, recontextualizes, and ultimately destroys itself in contradiction. What we’re given is the aural equivalent of 140-characters or less: one million tweets of genuinely incompatible and therefore collectively meaningless individuations. You hear everything and understand none of it; Claude Shannon’s information entropy arcing nearer to the 0. Accordingly, Lopatin gives us the kind of hints we need: the impossible and forced addition of r to 7 (not just the simple difference between letters and numbers, but also the depiction of mirrored congruence); song titles evoking the intangible third way of obvious binaries (“He She,” “Zebra,” “Chrome Country,” the last of which could also be a place where “Americans” live); and others attempt to describe this state of affairs (“Inside World,” “Problem Areas,” a static, “Cryo,” “Still Life”). Take a look at his newest music video if you want some more proof. After that, listen to the album - which is only sorta good but also unbelievably brilliant. How’s that for a contradiction? Cottage Cheese
Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (RCA, 2013)
Is Oneohtrix Point Never right about America? Yes. Is justice still possible? No