A bedroom songstress from Estonia, Maria Minerva has been making changes in recent years from hazy wafting jams to more clinical upended pop and dance. “Cabaret Cixous” was a major release for her, the first step out of limited-cassette territory, released by the always ear turning Not Not Fun label.
Maybe it’s the title that tips me off, but some of her “pop” songs here seem to share a sort of media collage kinship with Cabaret Voltaire in spirit if not sound. But it’s a modern update made in digital solid-state – new age samples backed with industrial clangor, serving many stylistic ends from track to track. Her voice is always hissing and panning and out of flux, veiled in digital sheen.
Where does this music belong? On vinyl and compact disc and cassette, and in little white earbuds, sure, but really it’s best where it was primarily made; on the lappy. This is the sound of growing musicians on the internet, where anything and everything can be explored and fashioned together. Like many artists on Not Not Fun, Maria Minerva is in a sea of style appropriators creating with abandon. Her prolific activity only allows us better access to her otherwise open/private world. -Wade
Konono Nº1 used makeshift mics and placed them on a number of simple thumb pianos to create raw but beautiful sounding amplified percussion, backed with joyous cries and traditional drumming. An African guitar band they are not, but another music style worth investigating, definitely so. These swirls of grooves went unheard for a time, and have only recently surfaced in the previous decade.
For those of us who turned to Africa looking for new sounds and inspirations, King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti may have been quite a jump. This music was deeply political, and could be heavy, in contrast to its uplifting grooves and non-confrontational delivery. It was guitar music, but so un-rocking and unrelenting in groove that it set a new template for some of the more interesting groups of this last century in the U.S. You can call it cultural appropriation, except our last batch of boundry-pushing musicians come across as inquiring, collegiate, and earnest in their borrowing… Understanding and respect of culture is taken away, basically, along with these mined musical forms. An empathic give and take.
Konono Nº1 are not a guitar-pop band, but they are one of those recently appropriated sources, all minimal groove, all positive vibes that keep on giving from front to back. This is an album that can send you on a journey, so get ready to be wowed and altered by music still yet to be fully heralded. Worth picking up. -Wade
A change of attack was needed for Scritti Politti when pop form went back into vogue. Green Gartside ditched the first version of his group to work with session musicians, crafting perfect pop on top-of-the-line equipment. No longer presenting the jumble of styles heard on earlier singles, Scritti 2.0 would be crisp, clean, and pristine beyond recognition.
Green’s own living habits changed to reflect his new music as well. Originally a squat-dwelling punk with circles under his eyes, Green had kicked speed, started a workout routine and took much better care of his hair. He made the switch from ripped up blazers to sweaters and track suits. He still waxed lyrical of far-left ideals, but these statements are much more esoteric in this new pop format… It’s easier to focus on his vocal ability now, all saccharine-sweet in the mix next to sleek and dizzying sequencer beats.
All across the country, the U.S.A. played “Perfect Way” and “Wood Beez” on the air? It’s strange messages were pressed overseas by someone who once thought of himself as a Marxist, but the singles pressed beforehand with his first group were much harder for the average listener to swallow. Half listening, Scritti here sound like a rather innocuous pop act… but what were they subjecting us too beneath this shiny new surface? Hearing the contrast between the Rough Trade material and this monolith of a hit album is startling, but it’s similarities even more so. -Wade
A lot of compelling story arcs claim that the big-time minimalist composers and Krautrock participants had stake in the creation of House or Techno. Maybe, MAYBE these eggheads stumbled onto the formula, just by nature of building music up from scratch in such small parameters, but these instances were generally closed off from actual American dance participants. Folks who saw Disco fall from charts after the Demolition saw dance music go underground, as the rise of DJ culture became more prevalent, and the Chicago/Detroit/Paradise Garage history unfolded in front of them. Lotsa moving parts involved.
But hey, the general modus’ of DJing in those days was far from the stifling mixes of today’s more massive EDM festivals. The rules weren’t set, actually, in those lofts in warehouses. Frankie Knuckles made smooth, silky and seamless mixes from a variety of records (a VARIETY of records) and machines, while Ron Hardy made jarring, physical mixes rendering songs almost unrecognizable from their source material. A few of those early House and Techno pioneers had a copy of “E2-E4” laying around, to be sure, maybe next to some Phillip Glass, or that guy who came up with “Drumming”… Steve Reich.
Manuel Göttsching was a member of Ash Ra Temple and was known to immerse himself in electronic work ala Schulze. “E2-E4” has the stark feel of a Chicago record, maybe, but it’s not dance floor optimal. But then again, if Larry Levan could play it in the Garage, and he could make anything work, then it doesn’t matter. If this COULD be a template for dance music, then the propulsive rework of “Sueno Latino” COULD assert it into dance history proper. Sampling creates that backdoor to history. -Wade
Cameron Stallones, the man behind the wonderfully weird vibes of Sun Araw, gave us a more “sanitized” sound on “The Inner Treaty.” But don’t flinch, he hasn’t let his hot and dubby drone-rock go the way of sterilized studio work. Instead, he’s gone to the moon. And if you didn’t know this from Scientist, space is also a place to get dubwise.
If you picked up “On Patrol” or his collaboration with the legendary Congos then you’ll be ready for this one, though it is sparser to start instrumentally. It’s in the space between that he’s allowed his work to breathe and get weird(er). Opener “Out of Town” seems stretched to it’s furthest nth listenable, with reverberated vocals bounding in to keep you hanging on. As the album goes along the space closes in, until you reach the undeniably catchy and squiggly “Like Wine,” ending side one.
Cameron’s enthusiasm for his own decadently interesting tunes are exclaimed in simple statements of “Alriiiight!” and “Yeeeeaah!” throughout the disc. If each Sun Araw album could represent a time or place, they would actually all be considered very now and very near. “The Inner Treaty” is another beautifully contorted act committed to vinyl; Sun Araw brings a fizzing concoction of musical updates to your stereo. Reason to cheer! -Wade
It’s the work of Eno and Klaus Schultz fleshed out without ego, for the satisfied id’s of post-rave home listeners. Well, Boards of Canada are actually not those guys, but two fellows from Scotland recording for Warp around the second half of the Nineties on…
Along with the likes of Aphex Twin and contemporaries on the Planet Mu label, Boards of Canada made music that seems to work best before and after dancing, or any space between for that matter. Such is modern life. Prompt command line:
Actually, “Music Has the Right to Children” has a number of sketches as opposed to straight ahead dance tracks like opener “Wildlife Analysis” and “The Color of Fire” that show very different moods using the same equipment. These songs go any direction they please other than directly heavenward.
But don’t get the idea that this is purely ambient swirl working within techno parameters, though. Many of these songs are up front and fully formed, just not quite dance floor optimal. Give “Rue The Whirl” a spin and the downtempo vibe of Boards will be apparent. -Wade
A culmination of noise, Bossa Nova and The Face have wrought the career of “pop musician” Arto Lindsay. He made a big splash as one of New York’s favorite noisemakers in the three-piece of DNA. His Latin roots set in more firmly later on, when he fronted Ambitious Lovers and began work on his solo albums.
Arto became comfortable making sultry Brazilian music and made exception to cover Prince’s “Erotic City” plenty of times in the 90’s. “Invoke” shows Lindsay treading new ground away from his jet-setting idea of soul and into cerebral mood music of sorts… With his newfound confidence in sampling abilities, he plays with these forms as much as he did earlier with Brazilian crooning and detuned guitar. It’s a pretty tall order, but in Lindsay’s hands these styles come together well. Not that he’s some fancy fashioner; Arto remains earnestly self-taught and his stints in North and South America lead to genuine results and a modern, international sound.
The real standouts seem to sound as lush as luxury in NYC. “Ultra Privileged” and “You Decide” are bright tracks of mood music. Arto’s signature guitar work has been subdued from terrible noise to playful chirps, asserting itself into many song rhythms. More a studio effort than a document of his live abilities, “Invoke” is, in short, an Arto album to hear while drinking wine and wearing silk pajamas, particularly with a hip lover. -Wade
Ten years old! And hardly a blemish on this self-titled LP by everyone’s favorite party group of NYC hipsters. James Murphy (alleged Mark E. Smith impersonator, former Six Finger Satellite sound guy) did most of the work on these tracks, with a little help from his friends and future live players.
Spotted with hits, tracks of mashed up genres come together in a mix of dance, punk and psychedelia drenched in electronic residue. After the release of the totally-meta “Losing My Edge” single, Murphy still had opportunities to sport irony and pretension. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” kicks side one off and from there takes you to the bonafide pop of “Tribulations” and the Suicide-esque pummel of “Movement,” which probably has the most lyrical heft of the record’s time:
“It’s like a movement/without the bother of the meaning
it’s like a discipline without the discipline of all the discipline”
Bands have to try so much harder these days, not to succeed, but to avoid pastiche. Or in LCD’s case, work to rise above it and approach music making in earnest. What can all this familiar music mean? Or, what can it be perceived to mean? Real or imagined, these are the pitfalls that LCD manages to dance around. And you get to dance around too, especially on “Thrills,” “Disco Infiltrator,” etc;
Hardly being lumped in with other dance-rock diminished returns of the day (and there were a lot of them, oh boy), LCD’s first release manages to harken back and still sound fresh. And moments like “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” shows that Murphy is just as good a songwriter as he is a studio head. He loves his music, and if you like his long list of refs and citations, chances are you probably will too. -Wade
Coming out of nowhere (actually, rural Pennsylvania), Black Moth Super Rainbow are quite an enjoyable anomaly. Working with samples, synths, vocoders and a living, breathing rhythm section, BMSR produce a sort of electronic psychedelic pop informed by all sorts of contemporary sounds.
On “Dandelion Gum,” a mid-period release, it all comes together in the best possible ways. “Jump Into My Mouth and Breath The Stardust” is meditative with it’s acoustic guitar samples and sounds somehow folky, despite vocoders heavily transforming vocals. “Melt Me” is a pure sugar rush for your speakers with fat electronics, maracas and a killer bass line. And “Rollerdisco” sounds as if it was disco-edited library music from a PBS channel; hipped-up space age material reminiscent of Stereolab.
Side one is chock full of these meshed, unique tracks. Side two has a few detours; many of the songs are simple demos or snippets. One is even called “Untitled Roadside Demo,” and just off the cuff you can tell that the players here have found something special with each other. Recommended if you’ve ever liked a Ghost Box release, The Books, or library music in general. – Wade
If I was hard-pressed to name a group important in music after the turn of this last century, live or on record, then Black Dice would probably make that list, near the top. Not quite affiliated with any subculture in the DIY/noise/hardcore contingent, they have always been carving their own path, going after what sounds good to their particular ears.
That’s good, because taking a feedtube of straight punk, or avant-garde, or whatever “out” material that’s lying around is a sure way for a group to marginalize themselves these days. The Black Dice instead listen to Carly Rae Jepsen or Cheap Trick or AC/DC or a local Disco station around Brooklyn… And that’s how we see what’s beneath all the tones, feedback and strange electronic romp; skewed and fragmented pop and rock hooks otherwise recognizable across America.
So here on “Mr. Impossible,” the last offering we have by the Dice who are now a trio, we have probably their tightest and most accessible album to date. It can still have people running from a room, but the hooks made by their strange machines are all live, and sometimes they can swing, even appearing conventional at times. And there be lots of hooks! Opener “Pinball Wizard” could rival the Peter Gunn theme if 30 seconds of it were inserted into some new crime series. “The Jacker” is a whirring, back-to-the-start groover that eventually breaks out and escalates wildly. And “Spy vs Spy” harks back to their older material; more cerebral, full of druggy loops.
It’s quick and easy to compare the Black Dice at a glance to the No Wave camp of artists that made NYC home. And the ultimate aftermath of that: groups and individuals working with anything, taking shape and eventually regressing/progressing to either rock-out or groove. Yeah, Black Dice do that, but it’s a new century and there are new forms to mesh. -Wade
21st Century music has led to some pretty interesting permutations. Sounds and rhythms and equipment that was forsaken by underground rock purists (in America) suddenly didn’t register as taboo anymore with a younger generation hungry for new styles to consume.
Like labels Olde English Spelling Bee and DFA, the work put out by the California tastemakers of Not Not Fun and their dance-oriented offshoot 100% Silk mix the spirit of underground autonomy with adventurous production. Not Not Fun’s founder, Amanda Brown, releases albums under the name LA Vampires, and produces one-off projects with many of the her labels stablemates.
On “Freedom 2K” she took a shine to house producer Octo Octa, who makes sleek and shiny tracks in comparison to other label affiliates. Whereas previous LA Vampires output was murky and bubbly, a fringe dance interest, this album can be seen less as an outsider work and more like something you might really hear in a high-end club. Tracks “Wherever Boy” and “Freedom 2K” are lush, golden tracks for clubbing. “His Love” and “Found You” may be just as suitable for a chill-out room or home listening as they are on the floor.
Slender beats and hardcore bass shifts all over, “Freedom 2K” is a great introduction to an underground label that that doesn’t see dance-music making as a curiosity, but as a future. -Wade
When one pushes synthetic sounds to the realm of unreal and back again, what else is left to do? Brian Eno’s work behind an engineering board had taken him far and far out by 1990… The exciting world music he had envisioned did not match the world music found in the New Age marketing-niche of the previous decade, and albums bearing his name seemed to carry his signature thumbprint, even when thoughts of strong structure more or less faded away with each LP.
On “Wrong Way Up” the studio still acts as the lead instrument, but song structures make a return. And who better to help Eno return to strange but impactful songwriting than musical-foil John Cale? All sorts of beats and chirps assembled throughout these tracks are meshed through Cale viola, not to mention any sort of instrument the duo could get their hands on. What they come up with most of the time are musical figments riding chopped and screwed grooves.
Lyrics are not esoteric but definitely familiar to fans of either Eno or Cale; impressionistic views presented in a pop context. The results can be surprisingly affecting like on “Cordoba” when repetitious mentions of buses and stations highlight an obvious separation, or on choice single “Spinning Away” with it’s constant citing of colors and shades.
Eno and Cale are to pop what they were to Rock… That is, artsy. And like Duchamp’s urinal, placed the wrong way up. -Wade