I reviewed Julianna Barwick’s wonderful new album Nepenthe…
Describing how Barwick’s music sounds is easy enough; it’s all abstract haunting vocal loops which are sublimely weightless and uplifting as the enveloping strands of vocal layers take on a mesmeric drone like quality. Describing what it feels like to listen to her songs on the other hand is a much more difficult question, and it’s the question which matters most because that description of her sound could just as easily be applied to some tacky new age spiritualist compilation or, perhaps even worse, Enya. The difference to me is that those examples seem very much like products engineered towards a target market, whereas Barwick’s ghostly creations feel overwhelmingly genuine; each arrangement a primal purging of tangled emotions seemingly untethered from the physical world – just pure soul and impulse.
“Staring at the world, have you figured it out yet”
The coming-of-age genre has always been a strong tradition of classic cinema, but it’s never really struck as strong a conceptual chord for the LP. Listening to Comfort Songs it’s tough to figure out why that is though, cause this is a perfect soundtrack to angsty development. Technically the third album by LA based 21 year-old Tyler Taormina & friends (albeit their first full release), it’s full of big ideas which are executed with a sort of admirably ramshackle naivety and an emotional tone which is fluctuant to say the least; bouncing regularly between awe and confusion; anger and sorrow; ego and ineptitude; it is drinking in the whole world and immediately throwing it all back up.
Musically speaking it absorbs what to me (and probably a lot of early-mid 20s music nerds) feels like a tangible spirit of youth; the wiry guitars and Taormina’s spirited but uneven yelps are built from a template of classic 90’s emo. On top of that the group make use of delicate piano strokes, brass wails and well placed strings to ensure there’s an elegant sadness shot through and everything takes on this interesting middle ground of youthful exuberance and stately maturity – like Braid meets Low or American Football mashed up with Bark Psychosis.
I’ve only ever been vaguely familiar with noise trio Locrian. Mainly due to them being a 30 limited run CD-Rs a year kinda band that are impossible to keep up with, and they never really impressed me enough to try. This is some Grade-A noise right here though. Somehow they find an amazingly propulsive little melody in among really dense droning synths and monolithic drum patterns, and it’s a perfect counter to those painfully asphyxiated raw vocals. All in all it’s just totally fucking monstrous. I’m off to to check out the album right now.
Here’s a surprising and brilliant collaboration that I can’t believe I didn’t know about until today. Pint sized queen of pop Kylie gets all breathy and ethereal over the glitchy ambience of Icelandic folktronica troupe múm. I would love a whole album of this.
10 years! This is one of the first albums I really got. I remember going into Virgin Megastore on the high street clutching my paper round money and buying it along with the first Funeral for a Friend album. As a 15 year old just trying to find my feet with discovering my music tastes this was a huge purchase. I had loved Your Favourite Weapon quite intensely, but I didn’t really expect what I heard on first listen to this follow-up. The FFAF album was quickly discarded and I listened to nothing but Brand New for months. The gentle ambient ripples of Tautou that opens the album had a quiet grace I was unaccustomed to getting from my pop-punk/emo/screamo collection, and even as it creeps louder the displaced vocals made it sound, to my young ears, like something completely new. There are still hints of the youthful angst of the first album there but it’s channeled so much better with a dark subtlety dripping through the whole album, songs like Play Crack The Sky and The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot really opened me up to the idea of slow morose music being something I would want to listen to in my later life, rather than the more metal influenced stuff I was into at that point. Jesse Lacey’s heartbreaking turns of phrase and the beginning of his toying with more vivid and macabre imagery stoked my own tendency to obsess over specific lines in songs. I’m so glad that they’ve gone on to continue being a creative force, and I think now I would have to list The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me as my favourite of their albums, because it’s much more fully realised, but this will always be their most important for me. There are a whole bunch of albums I could point to as a big influence in my tastes, but this is the number one. Without it I probably wouldn’t have a music blog to write this. Let’s all go back and listen to Deja Entendu again.
Throughout his career, Kanye West has proven himself to be perpetually paradoxical. True to form, Yeezus is one of the most brilliant and vulgar albums of recent times, as its ten tracks perfectly sum up the baffling dualities of the man.
On 18 May, Kanye performed two new songs on Saturday Night Live, two tunes which stopped the internet dead in its tracks. ’Black Skinheads’ and ‘New Slaves’ showcased a leaner, more aggressive and militant side to West’s music; the caustic beats and stark minimalism of the melodies offered a perfect canvas for him to make a big statement. The lyrical content seemed to match as well, most notably his widely de-constructed calling out of the privatised prison system, and in recent interviews he has spoken of starting movements and placed himself in the tradition of politically motivated artists like Gil Scott-Heron. It seemed he was tapping into something big, and like many others, I was ready to be blown away by the brazen, primal voice of disenfranchised black America (as we all know, he has previous). This should be where it all falls into place. The potential has always been there – his dissatisfaction with materialism, disavowal of hip-hop’s culture of violence, and wry observations of institutionalised racism have long been tomes of his verses. Sadly, this is not quite that record. Despite being an impressively abrasive album for a multi-million selling rap artist, it also feeds back into many of the frustratingly puerile aspects of the genre which he has always seemed keen to distance himself from. Almost too much so, but I’ll get to that.
And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees
I’ve been re-visiting this Johann Johannsson album quite a lot recently, and more so than I did on it’s initial release I think it stands up as one of the most essential albums in the post-classical field. It strikes a really great balance between subtle ambient shifts and grandiose classical swells, and has these really haunting melodies which worm their way into my head in a way that not many others in this genre do. The short film which it was recorded for is also really good.
This Chihei Hatakeyama song is stunningly mesmeric. I need to admit that not many songs can hold my attention beyond the ten minute mark these days never mind twenty, but this keeps pulling me in deeper as it goes on. Gorgeous drones.
“I’m just happy to be making music and happy to be performing for y’all. You know for this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio, we ain’t got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music. Y’know like back when I used to make albums and shit like a couple years ago whatever we’d go away work on an album for like 5 months or something, then we’d always have to hold the album until like August or September, til the perfect moment and shit. Cause uh I think it mean you gon’ sell more cause you get more audience in radio and shit. But honestly at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more. And, honestly, at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records. I’ll drop it when I want and I’ll sell more records…Because at this point, I don’t really care about outside opinions.”
I’m getting really quite psyched about Yeezus. It seems Kanye has gone mad with his own power in the best possible way, and it sounds like it might be really fucking great. This new song is.
Agree with almost all of this. Would only quibble with people not liking to be told what to think about music. I think for a lot of people who in the past would have engaged with traditional (or old fashioned or however the hell one wants to refer to it) journalism having someone critique the music they’re exposed to isn’t necessarily an objectionable occurrence, but it is simply drowned out by the constant wave of other forms of music media. The way in which it’s delivered to people mirrors the way in which they utilise the social nature of music. It effectively epitomises the use of music by many (by no means all) as a status symbol, or as a crucial part of personal brands/images. It comes across as though for a lot of music ‘fans’ who naturally rely on the internet, they now engage with their music in the same, shallow, disposable manner that is usually observed as characterising more casual listeners of Radio 1, NOVA-esque outlets, albeit through different, more accepted mediums and with different, more accepted pretensions.
I think that’s a valid point to pick up on definitely, what I mean to say with that is that perhaps a lot of people don’t think that they need someone to tell them what to think about music. As you rightly say, that’s largely a by-product of the way in which we engage with music writing these days - there’s an overwhelming amount of media so most people have one or two sources where they pick up new music, whether that’s pitchfork or radio 1, it shapes their tastes mostly without them realising it. That also applies mainly I suppose to younger generations for whom picking up a music mag and actually reading it was never a notable method of discovery for them, and who do tend to use their musical tastes as a shorthand personality and harness that knowledge as a form of cultural capital. And I think that’s potentially where the desire for proper thoughtful criticism is vacuumed up, people want to know a little about a lot. If they’ve heard a few songs by every buzz band about then that is of more use to them than having a real overview on the political impact of underground hip-hop or something significant like that. Incidentally, I wrote a uni essay last year about the way in which Pitchfork appeal to this need to hoard cultural capital and use it to their advantage, even if they do feature a lot of good writing. I may cut some of the academic rambling out of it and post it on here at some point.