Kraftwerk – “Antenna” (1975)
I mostly try to share things at least some of you might not have heard. But sometimes, hearing a track that’s become embedded in our mutant musical DNA without setting out to do so can be just as amazing. That’s the feeling I’ve just had, hearing “Antenna” at complete random, not having put on ‘Radio-Activity’ in at least a year. Maybe there’s nothing left to be said about music upon which multiple genres are founded–this is as much the bedrock of modern music as James Brown, and hip-hop MCs in the late 2000s are declared geniuses when they have the insight to borrow heavily from the grandchildren of the disciples of Kraftwerk. The Knife, probably my favorite modern group to get started this decade, live and breath in the radiowaves of this album. Even my beloved OMD, themselves now well and duly canonised, were but a minor homage (however wonderful) when they aped the album outright eight years later to make ‘Dazzle Ships’. But there’s no need to say anything really, when thirty five years on, the music still sounds like the future. Simply resplendent (the track, the whole album), and worth being reminded of now and again.
The Suburbs – “Ghoul of Goodwill” (1981)
Minneapolis’ The Suburbs are a unique hybrid of American, even Mid-Western, qualities and European sensibilities that leaves them sounding like little other “post-punk” music, fitting neither nascent “indie rock” qualities nor glitzy “New Romantic”. They’re not at all slavishly tied to Euro heroes like Roxy Music or contemporaries like Visage or The Only Ones, but they possess a similar elegance. They combine this elegance, most singularly expressed through their unique use of piano (not synth) as a principle instrument, with muscular rhythm and wit. Their 1981 album ‘Credit In Heaven’ is one of my favorite of that year. [The Suburbs are featured on several mixes, including two ‘1981’ discs, at Musicophilia.]
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.]
Death Comet Crew – “Exterior Street” (1984)
Rammellzee posesses a rhythmic fluidity and a full-force speed that made his MCing pretty damned advanced for the early days of hip-hop. And it fits the post-punk-ish artiness and darkness of this Electro/hip-hop track. The combination adds up to a manic, tense, sharp, and fiery concoction. Certainly it doesn’t feel like party music, unless it were a celebration of an apocolypse.
Nico – “Frozen Warnings” (1969)
Neither Nico’s contributions to the Velvet Underground, nor the lovely ‘Chelsea Girls,’ could suggest the breathtaking mystery and utter timelessness of her first two incredible albums, ‘The Marble Index‘ and ‘Desertshore‘. Those records might also be the best examples of prime John Cale at the crossroads between his avant-garde and drone-based experimental work, and his “friendlier” singer-songwriter work. Dark doesn’t come close to capturing the shimmering depths of this work; and from a purely sonic standpoint, this is minimal but careful production at its finest, surely influencing later masterworks like Talk Talk’s beloved couplet or Arthur Russell’s more introspective work. This track is relatively “pretty,” but even the more challenging tracks remain stunningly beautiful and emotionally gripping. [Nico is featured on one of my favorite mixes at Musicophilia.]
Miles Davis – “He Loved Him Madly” (1974)
Don’t miss this one. This is deep, intense listening, and it won’t grab you if you don’t have the attention (and about half an hour) to devote. But I promise, it rewards the effort. This is beyond the cosmic-exploration of the Germans we love; this is an exploration of the infinite spirit, the depths of mourning, the heights of love. It is minimal, subtle, undulating, meditative, careful, above all beautiful. Anyone who questioned Davis’ motives for “abandoning jazz” and going fusion couldn’t have maintained that incredulity if their ears were open to the sheer expressiveness of this music. This wasn’t booty-funk, this wasn’t stoner-rock, though its elements are guitar, flute, drum kit, keyboards, electric bass, and echo effects: this is simply, utterly human music. Give it the time, give it your ears, and it will build itself slowly through you. [The glory of “Judas” Miles Davis is featured here, here and here at Musicophilia.]
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‘.]
Emmanuelle Parrenin – “Topaze” (1977)
I can guarantee you’d never match this track to its cover. Parrenin’s ‘Maison Rose‘ is an odd one, but fascinating: mostly pastoral in the Drake/Bunyan vein, but with bits of an edge that remind me a little of Laurie Anderson or Brigitte Fontaine or Linda Thompson; quite lovely and worthwhile. And then there’s this track, that seems like it’s from another album; but also from another time and place: abstract wailings ostensibly derived from a hurdy gurdy (the link with the rest of the album) are wrapped around a booming, single-note bass tone and then. . . holy shit, that beat: all echoed, sliced up, turned around, and utterly cool. Where this came from out of this artist, I don’t at all understand; Like a cousin to This Heat’s ’24 Track Loop, it’s simply out of nowhere. I’ll leave it for you to supply what genres it anticipated and by how many decades. All I know is, I can get completely lost in this beat, on repeat.
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.
The Beat – “Mirror In the Bathroom” (1980)
This is UK Ska Revival at its best, in my opinion–borrowing heavily from 60s ska but not slavishly imitating it, pushing the artform (without breaking from it, as with Specials AKA or Fun Boy Three). There’s an itchy urgency to this track, with its perfect beat and double-time rhythm guitar, with that booming echo-drenched guitar line doubling up the careening bassline. It all adds up to the coolest take on paranoid (drug-fueled?) narcissism/obsession I can imagine. Catchy doesn’t do it justice–this is infectious. [The Beat are featured in a ‘1981’ mix and a ‘Post-Punk Miniatures‘ mix 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.
Big Black – “Steelworker” (1982)
Albini was already doing his dark weirdo shit in ’82, and while you’d say it’s post-punk in the big umbrella, he’s doing something that sounds pretty unique–rooted perhaps in Suicide’s bare-minimal synthetic beats, but with unabashed single-note distorted guitar (if not to say “soloing”) over it, and lyrics that are more brutal and less comic-book violence. Not everyday listening, but compelling if you can get in touch with a little anger.
Jeru the Damaja – “Ain’t the Devil Happy” (1994)
Though it’s a little unfair, “conscious” has come to be a near-synonym for “soft” or “hippie” or “not real” when it comes to hip-hop. Jeru, though, is conscious like hip-hop forefathers the Last Poets or Gil Scott-Heron were conscious: politically conscious, sociologically, spiritually, economically: not “foolin around”. Jeru felt no reason to compromise between brains and musical brawn. So also like those forefathers, he achieves the rare feat of political music that matters as much for its music as its message. Spare and efficient, “Ain’t the Devil Happy” is not the least bit dated, like even plenty of other musically enjoyable mid-school hip-hop.
With its James Brown-based beat and Tracey Thorn (Everything But the Girl and post-punk tweesters Marine Girls) vocals, though it’s dated slightly, this track is still a winner. For me, though, its impact is heightened greatly by this technically unbelievable single-shot, single-take Michel Gondry video, one of the first videos I ever remember finding simply enthralling. Typical of Gondry when given emotionally meaningful material, his faux-lo-tech wizardry transcends the technical fascination and comes to reflect its subject matter in a way more honest and accurate than any more straightforward presentation ever could. UPDATE: Argh, embedding disabled for whatever reason, so a link instead–worth your while.
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.]
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.