Songs:Ohia – “Being In Love” (2000)
“Being In Love” takes the teenage romanticism (or dramatism, if you prefer) of love best exemplified by The Cure’s ‘Disintegration,’ and transports it to a simple guitar, organ, melodica and Casio-solid electronic rhythm section singer-songwriter presentation. I know that might not sound like a recipe for sure-fire success; but this is romanticism that feels honest, the plaintive earnestness earned, and it has the good fortune of being well-matched musically. I’m not the same love-lorn fellow I was at age 20 when I mix-taped this track for a girl (or two), but it overcomes my tendency toward emotional demystification of my own past, and still hits home.
Kode9 & The Spaceape – “Quantum” (2006)
To the casual follower of the Hyperdub label, Burial’s work looms large. However, Kode9 & The Spaceape’s album ‘Memories of the Future’ is almost equally appealing. Existing in a less hazy/rain-drenched landscape of sharper shapes amidst the cavernous dub, propelled as much by The Spaceape’s vocal contributions as Kode9’s beats, this music lives up to the album’s name. It sounds like a future that knows the past, a futurism that isn’t about pretending to exist ex nihilo. [Kode9 & The Spaceape are featured in an appropriately spooky, rich mix, ‘Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris,’ at Musicophilia.]
Pascal Comelade & Robert Wyatt – “September Song” (2000)
Pascal Comelade has made a lovely career of making smart music with toy instruments, and this collaboration with Robert Wyatt brings out the sweetest warmth from both. Nostalgic, whimsical, and simple, this song is the sound “golden days” captured perfectly. [Robert Wyatt is featured in varied contexts in several mixes at Musicophilia.]
Fever Ray – “Dry and Dusty” (2009)
I have Jon at Portland’s Anthem Records to thank for The Knife. In curmudgeon mode, I’d written them off, guilt-by-association with that farming implement-entitled nexus of hipster ephemera–to my loss. Jon got me to listen to ‘Deep Cuts,’ and I was instantly won over–the warmth, the electronic buzzing, the wonderful melodies, the taste of experimentalism: who could resist. ‘Silent Shout‘ was released the next year, and while I missed the pop sensibilities at first, the album now strikes me as a classic of the genre. Fever Ray is the Knife in all but name, with little appreciable fall-off from the main body of work despite being the work of 1/2 its personnel–it’s no singer-songwriter side-project or noodley indulgence. That multiple-personality-disorder vocal approach is as haunting as ever.
Anja Garbarek – “Stay Tuned” (2001)
You’ve got to be doing something right if you make a sufficient impression to draw both Robert Wyatt (known for working his Midas’ touch) and the sadly elusive Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) to work on your album. Neither appears on this track, but the Spirit of Hollis is evident; and Wyatt payed the further compliment of covering this track brilliantly on his last album. She seems to be regularly compared to Stina Nordenstam and Bjork, but I’d hardly take that as an insult. This track begins a nicely spooky build of organ, nearly-spoken vocals and electronic-interference noises, but the clincher is the ecstatic release into its lush, seductive chorus (of sorts). [Anja Garbarek appears on the Musicophilia mix ‘Tall Stories of Evil Gris-Gris‘.]
Pinch – “Brighter Day” (Instrumental) [AKA “Qawwali”] (2006)
I’m not well versed in British electronic music between the early 90s and the present day, so when I hear “dubstep” I hear the dub more than the step. This spare, spacious cavern of a track fits right in with its dub roots; or the work of Pole or Deadbeat and their insectoid, deconstructed dub; some imaginary reduced-fat Timbaland; or even something like post-punkers Grey or Shriekback or early Front 242. I love well-used space in a mix, and this instrumental version uses it deftly, and achieves a stillness-through-motion that echoes the Qawwali music from which it ostensibly draws inspiration.
Jaylib (J Dilla & Madlib) – “Raw Shit” (2003)
Nothing touches ‘Donuts‘ for me. But even though I’m not a huge Madlib fan, I’ve come around to the “Jaylib” collaborations between he and Dilla. This track has a little of the feeling of both, succinctly capturing the chopped playfulness of J Dilla, and bounces along confidently with a catchy vocal hook (featuring Talib Kweli sounding as good as I’ve heard him) and a great organ sample. [J Dilla is featured here and here in very different contexts at Musicophilia.]
Les Attaques – “Deth” (2005)
Since 2000, Les Attaques have been drawing from the scuzzier side of the well from which Portland/NYC’s Italians Do It Better collective draw today, and with equal success. They pull together ice-queen vocals, DNW/Italo synths, Factory Records bass, earlier motorik German sensibilities, and bones-exposed disco-house beats with aplomb, crafting something that is definitely homage, not facsimile, imbued with a ghost of the past but not aping it. This track is the definition of a slow burn, sonically strip-teasing you with one slowly revealed element after another, achieving a dirty-beautiful ecstasy.
Matthew Herbert – “Rendezvous” (2006)
Matthew Herbert can get a little polemical with his conceptualizations of his art; but fortunately for the listener (though he might disagree) whatever meta-concepts Herbert carries with his art, very little of it encumbers the music. He can sample a McDonald’s wrapper and call it an observation on food politics; but it just sounds good to me, all technical innovation and political conceits aside. That’s why this track seems to me to be what Reich is trying to achieve with his choral-sampling work, but never really has: where Reich can’t escape his ideas and isn’t the master of contemporary sampling methodology (much as he contributed to its infancy), Herbert isn’t afraid of beauty as an inherent good, and he has the chops to match his techniques to his ambitions. This certainly isn’t house music (even by Herbert’s stretched definitions); but neither is it a severe, cold choral abstraction like Ussachevsky. “Rendezvous” brings electronic dance music’s warmth to choral music’s structural nuances and creates an immensely listenable, immediate sort of high art in this score for a ballet. [Herbert is featured here in a sultry Bill Evans-like idiom in a mix at Musicophilia.]
Karla Schickele – “Room For Me” (2001)
Karla Schickele (of Beekeeper, Ida, and K.) is one of the few singer-songwriter voices of the 90s/00s who’s stuck with me (along with Low). She works in many ways within the paradigm, focusing on piano, spare banjo or guitar, small percussion instruments; but there’s always a quality to her music I can’t quite pin down that is anything but the sort of softness one expects from this music. There’s an angularity, a geometric quality, a vivacious intellectual quality to her musical concepts that is subtle (especially on this track, from a self-released ‘Overnight’ EP) but comes through with repeated listens, especially on her piano-based tracks. Small repeated pieces fit together in her music like tiny living clockwork. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with being “pretty” when it’s this well done.
Björk – “Domestica” (2001)
Björk has had innumerable boxes and re-packagings and CD2s, but she’s yet to do the most obvious and essential thing: a b-sides compendium. Which is a shame, because she’s got at least one very strong album’s worth of non-remix b-sides. This is a personal favorite, an ode to the “mundane,” simple things in life, unabashedly celebratory, with some of her warmest production for fans of fuzzy electronics. [Björk is featured here with a lullaby, here with an instrumental percussion piece mixed with Vivaldi, and here with Robert Wyatt in a duet with Indonesian Kecak at Musicophilia.]
Low + Dirty Three – “Down By The River” (2001)
As low has subtley thawed their musical tendencies and expanded their emotional qualities over the last 15 years, one byproduct has been that they’ve become one of the most successful “cover bands” around, able to make a piece their own. Here they stretch out Neil Young’s murder ballad into a itchy, dark burn for nearly seven minutes before purifying into their Carter Family-like emotional immediacy, making the song sound both experimental and like an Appalachian traditional. I’m not so keen on Dirty Three normally, but Low gives them a solid center around with their loose style fits effectively, adding a great deal of atmosphere. [Low is mixed here, here, and here at Musicophilia.]
9th Scientist – “Do You Love Me?” (2004)
9th Scientist is carrying the torch strong for those who love mid-school sample-based hip-hop, but he’s not living in a DA.I.S.Y. retro world. He takes it Southern slow (Atlanta, not Houston or New Orleans), with an unhurried delivery, and for him “consciousness” is not an aesthetic, but a life’s pursuit. Musically his strongest suite is production, where he’ll appeal to fans of Dilla, with simply utilized, unpolished soul/funk loops. This track uses a perfect sample, sounding almost like a heartbeat echoing the intensity of an ode to a lifelong (possibly estranged) friend. Check him out here, pick up a new album here.
Daniel Menche – “Jugularis, Part 2” (2006)
You may want either headphones or very loud speakers for this one–laptop speakers aren’t going to cut it. It’s a visceral experience, an instrumental you could almost call “NSFW”. I don’t really know the school Menche is coming from, I’m not keyed in to whatever “scene” he represents (Portland’s under-the-underground). To my ears, he’s a clear extension of musique concret, ‘Metal Machine Music,’ Bernard Parmegianni, Brian Eno. This is Burundi or Kecak played by a dark metal band, run through about ten digital delays; Steve Reich’s percussion pieces on a bad drug. It’s shaking, skittering noise, it’s maximalist-ambient, a monolith ringing out subharmonics–whatever–I just love it. You will likely love it–or loathe it.
His Name Is Alive – “One Year” (2001)
His Name Is Alive is never the same twice, for better or for worse. Starting as 4AD-style acoustic vampire pop (or something) and passing through vibretto-less female-vocal bent Beach Boys deconstructions, I gather His Name Is Alive lost a lot of listeners with this one by doing the only thing that is too left-field for the lifelong left-fielders: making almost-straight-ahead contemporary R&B pop. If you listen a little closer, there’s actually still plenty of weird there; and HNIA hardly set the charts afire with this one. But I love it on its own terms: fun, catchy, sophisticatedly understated, Top 40 one universe over from our own.