James Blackshaw & Lubomyr Melnyk
Important Records’ press materials for The Watchers call the collaborative LP “historic,” and I don’t think this is a hyperbole: James Blackshaw and Lubomyr Melnyk may have created a Holy Grail of Shred. “Holy” in that the album contains four gorgeous, pastoral duets for 12-string guitar and piano. “Shred” in that these performers can play their instruments with insane speed and technicality. If you said “Mukqs, name for me 20 digits that perform with more precision than most other digits worldwide,” I could reasonably select the 20 fingers of these two men. But that’s just one part of the package: both have proven themselves brilliant composers over the course of their prolific careers.
How’d the stars of shred ever manage to align like this, you ask? According to Blackshaw, he first witnessed a Melnyk set at a festival in 2008 and the two became quick buds (virtuosbros), eventually coming together in early 2012 to record this album’s improvisations over the course of one six-hour session.
On the album’s last track, “Haftorang,” we hear Blackshaw and Melnyk cycle together through descending chord progressions and take turns discovering new melodies, all while cramming each beat with a deluge of cascading notes. The result is a dense, post-minimalist shimmer of tone and texture — a new incarnation of Melnyk’s trademark “continuous music” with two times the fingers keeping the waves rolling and pulsing.
Allow Important Records to continue taking over your life and your bank account and order The Watchers on LP or CD. It’s available now.
Back in the day, when my friends and I grabbed for quarters underneath the couch cushions — occasionally coming up with nothing more than stale Cheerios — and considered the possession of those magical silver coins a sign of great wealth, we would waste them all at this arcade at the south end of Lake George. The lights inside hardly ever worked, and the guy who owned the place had blacked out the windows, so the only light we saw for hours on end came from the fluorescent blinking machines that each blared 8-bit-gangster rap from tinny speakers. High scores merited spiraling arpeggios that seemed to hit the ceiling and bounce in every direction.
There was one game that nobody could seem to master, though. It sat in the corner, behind a large racing simulator with a broken yellow plastic bucket seat, Dalmatian-spotted with blackened gum stains. Dubbed “C.L.A.W.S.,” it was a two-player adventure, with both gamers handling joysticks and a pair of shiny, red buttons. I remember how my best friend and I took turns at handling the two different roles: one of us drove a yellow convertible, viewed from the top down, through the streets of an alternate-reality San Francisco, a city experiencing a renaissance of debauchery and loose morals underneath violent neon billboards straight out of Blade Runner. The other player, a girl in a red-pixelated dress that blew mechanically in the wind, sat on the back of the car and operated a sub-machine gun-type thing that shot out a mechanical claw (this was all represented stylistically on the side of the arcade machine). The object of the game was to use the claw to steal jewels held by wizards who roamed the street and hid in the alleyways. This was quite difficult, because you had to simultaneously avoid all the other cars on the road as well as pedestrians. If you mis-aimed, you could accidentally tear off the head of an unassuming man in a suit, and then the severed head would trail behind the car, still attached to the car arm, spraying gallons of flashing blood onto the tarmac. Then the police would come and you had to evade them.
Needless to say, we wasted dozens of quarters trying to get the prize at the end of the game: a box at the end of an abandoned pier that could only be opened using 12 of the magic gyms. I’ll never forget that fateful day, after hours of sweating into our t-shirts, when we finally won it.
Standing there, a group of boys and girls all cheering us on, we watched as those monumental letters announcing our victory flashed across the screen, and we entered our esoteric three-letter code to represent our high score into the game (we had already agreed on a title: GOD). But then something unexpected happened. A seamless drawer concealed underneath the coin slot slid open, and within it lay a 12-inch LP recording of the game’s soundtrack, performed by C.L.A.W.S. himself and released by Ecstacy Records.
• Ecstasy: http://theecstasyblog.blogspot.com
Five weeks before his ∞th birthday, James Ferraro sits behind his desk, overlooking a parking garage in downtown Alien-Nopork, NY. The cell phone in front of him buzzes with potential music collaborations and proposals about placing ads on his stage attire. A rival producer wants his best brand connections and wants to give him nothing in return. Ferraro bristles. He holds a Cuban cigar in his hand. Smoking is allowed.
“Well, shit, being as I own the building,” he says, laughing.
Back in the office after his vacation on a 154-foot rented yacht named Baby Mitsubishi, he feels that relaxation slipping away. He feels pulled inward, toward his own most valuable and destructive traits. Slights roll through his mind, eating at him: avant-garde done incorrectly, eco-terrorist, absentee holy figure. Ferraro reads the things written about him, the fuel arriving in a packet of clips his staff prepares. He knows what people say. He needs to know, a needle for a hungry vein. There’s a palpable simmering whenever you’re around Ferraro, as if Lil IceBunny is still in there, churning, trying to escape. It must be strange to be locked in combat with the ghost of your former self.
Smoke curls off the cigar. He wears slacks and a plain white dress shirt, monogrammed on the sleeve in white, understated. An ID badge hangs from one of those zip line cords on his belt, with his name on the bottom: Prince James Ferraro, just in case anyone didn’t recognize the owner of one of the largest franchises in a struggling music industry. There’s a shudder in every child of the 80s and 90s who does the math and realizes that James Ferraro is turning ∞. Where did the years go? Ferraro has trouble believing it, difficulty admitting it to himself. But he’s in the mood for admissions today, and there’s a look on his face, a half-smile, as he considers how far to go.
“I… I always thought I would die young,” he says, leaning up to rap his knuckles on the rich, dark wood of his desk.
He has kept this fact a secret from most people. A fatalist obsession didn’t go with his public image and, well, it’s sort of strange. His mother would get angry with him when he’d talk to her about it. He just could never imagine being old. He seemed too powerful, too young, and death was more likely than a slow decline. The universe might take him, but it would not permit him to suffer the graceless loss and failure of aging. A tragic flaw could undo him but never anything as common as bad knees or failing eyesight.
Later that night, standing in his kitchen, he squints across his loft at the television. His friend Vinh Ngan catches him.
“You gonna need to get some glasses,” Ngan says.
“I can see,” Ferraro says.
“Don’t be bullshitting me,” Ngan says. “I can see you struggling.”
“I can see,” Ferraro insists.
The television is built into the modern stone fireplace in his sprawling downtown condo, the windows around them overlooking Red Bull Avenue. An open bottle of Pahlmeyer merlot sits on an end table. Ngan is in town for an upcoming show. They’ve been talking, about Ferraro’s birthday and about the changes in his life, all seeming to happen at once. Ferraro feels in transition. He moved out of his house in Dubai and is moving into a new one in Florida in three weeks. He’s engaged. Inside he’s dealing, finally, with the cost of his own competitive urges, asking himself difficult questions. To what must he say goodbye? What is there to look forward to? Catching an introspective Ferraro is like finding a spotted owl, but here he is, considering himself. Ferraro relights his cigar. It keeps going out.
“Listen,” Ngan says, “Father Time ain’t lost yet.”
The idea hangs in the air.
“Damn,” Ngan continues. “∞.”
He shakes his head.
“Can you believe it?” Ferraro says quietly, and it sounds like he’s talking to himself.
P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thug) [mixtape]
To no one’s surprise, Lil B has just released a new mixtape. It’s called P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thug) , and it contains 27 tracks. Funny song titles include “Alota Bitches” , “Keep Strippin” , and “Keep Saggin” , but the most hilarious has to be “Marry Me” . I’m listening to “Emotional Player” right now, and it’s really raw and classic ! The mix is the follow-up to Pink Flame , which once again proved just how #BASED Lil B is. Will P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thug) have the same effect as OK Computer ? Can P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thug) possibly be as strong as Siamese Dream ? Listen to find out.
Download P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thug) right here or stream below. If you like what you’re hearing, definitely consider LISTEN TO THIS OR TASKFORCE WILL GET YOU~! . It’s the right thing to do.
• Lil B: http://www.basedworld.com
The Big Ship
When a band names themselves after a track on one of Brian Eno’s most lauded albums, it should be expected that said group would specialize in a particular brand of sophisticated ambient art pop. Well, Chicago’s The Big Ship are just that band! The group openly worships Eno (check their Twitter moniker for yet another example of this), but sonically they more closely resemble Bad Timing-/Eureka-era Jim O’Rourke with a dash of doomy post-rock drone. Like O’Rourke, these two boys love interlocking repetitive guitar parts that expand in texture as their works develop. Interestingly, O’Rourke often openly admitted to treating the aforementioned Drag City albums as musical melting pots for his deep array of obscure 60s and 70s influences. In a way, the stitched-together approach of an album like Eureka was a sort of precursor to hypnagogic pop, with its attempts to marry such disparate influences as Burt Bacharach, minimalism, and Ivor Cutler in order to create a completely new work out of the fuzzy memories of old.
It’s clear that nostalgia is also an important part of The Big Ship’s aesthetic as well, and in the video for “A Rabbit” (one of the most exquisitely song-oriented tracks off their excellent debut full-length for Hausu Mountain [disclosure: Mukqs is involved with the label]), director Nick Ciontea makes a direct reference to this by processing what looks like old family video footage. The effect of the processing often gives the viewer the sensation of watching a videotape of another videotape being played back on a VCR. I can’t help but wonder if in a way this reflects The Big Ship’s seeming love for 90s experimental art pop and, in turn, those artists’ love of prior generations’ forward-thinking art songs. Near the end of the video, images get blurred and distorted to the point where everything looks like a beautiful blurry mess. This implicitly reminds us that original influences, though still present, often get blurred when passed through generations of different artists. When the referential art of a man like O’Rourke becomes the source material for a band like The Big Ship, you get a very pretty song and video just like this.
The Big Ship’s debut album A Circle is Forever is out March 26 on Hausu Mountain. You can watch the video for “A Rabbit” above.
“La Musica de Harry Fraud.” Every time you hear that two-second snippet, you know you’re in for something good. From the commercial heavy-hitters (Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross) to the Marijuana MCs (Curren$y, Smoke DZA), to New York’s hip-hop champs, young and old (Action Bronson, Kool G Rap), Fraud’s classy, brassy samples are beloved by all. On his latest mixtape, Adrift, Fraud doesn’t call upon one or two of his pals for rhymes; he enlists an entire fleet of flowsters. All of the aforementioned names are featured on the 23-song tape. But wait, there’s more! You’ve got tracks featuring Pusha T, Danny Brown, Fat Trel, and even Mac Miller, as a treat for the kiddos. The varied performers are united by Fraud’s keen eye for rich orchestral samples and commanding drums, and despite the over-stuffed guest list, Adrift never threatens to sink under its own weight. Just be prepared to hear “La Musica de Harry Fraud” A LOT.
• Harry Fraud: http://www.harryfraud.com