“Q.U.E.E.N.” (ft. Erykah Badu)
A Prince-y empowerment anthem for the ladies of the #expressyourself generation, “Q.U.E.E.N,” Janelle Monae’s new single from her forthcoming The Electric Lady LP, is all about declaring independence from shade, sin, and shame. Against a backdrop of squirmy synths and funk guitar, Monae breaks down the paradigms of modern womanhood. “Is it peculiar that she twerk in the mirror?” she says, adding, “And am I weird to dance alone late at night?” “Naw,” go the frequent responses, coaxing the song’s carnality in return. The song contains the same mercurial arrangements you’ve come to expect; frilly funk slowly steps aside to make way for hip-hop, only to drift off into jazzy territory. Midway through, who should stop in but the first lady of neo-soul herself, Erykah Badu, who uses the song’s catchphrase (“the booty don’t lie”) as a lead-in for a soulful jam combining bass, bongos, trumpets, and — oddly but fittingly enough — cinematic strings. “Q.U.E.E.N.” plays with the same musical free-associations of past Monae smashes (“Many Moons,” “Cold War”), fueled by the sensual stirrings pulsing at its core. The track may not be as immediate as “Tightrope,” but what it lacks in instant pop appeal, it makes up for with solid grooves and an earnest ideology.
After releases on Root Strata, Mexican Summer, and Immune Recordings, Gregg Kowalsky and Marielle Jakobsons of Date Palms drop The Dusted Sessions on June 11 via Thrill Jockey. The core duo, who together have long shaped cosmic carnatic drones into the deepest East-meets-West compositions on the scene, has incorporated electric guitar, tambura, and (more) bass into their new material; “Yuba Reprise” demonstrates the benefits of the maxed-out ensemble. Hear guitarist Noah Phillips twinkle in the upper register before settling into a low-end rumble with Ben Bracken’s bass, while tambura player Michael Elrond grounds the mix with some additional resonance. As Kowalsky and Jakobsons overlap airy, gorgeous licks on Rhodes and violin respectively, the textures thicken and the vibe inches toward ecstasy. (Jakobsons could play literally anything on violin — “Chopsticks,” “The Entertainer,” “Toxic” — and I would sit there rapt and smiling.)
Pre-order The Dusted Sessions on LP or CD from Thrill Jockey. Bring it into your home and let it bring you down to the bottom of the Yuba River for 44 minutes of wide-eyed self-discovery.
We Are Failed
Russel M Harmon (a.k.a Russel.M.Harmon) lives in Reykjavik, Iceland, which is an awesome place to live if you make the kind of music he makes: bleak, electronic soundscapes occasionally accompanied by ice-cold beats that sound more like satellites and arctic radio coms than an MPC. Originally released in September 2012 during one of Iceland’s three yearly winters (winter, winter, winter, summer), We Are Failed builds slowly and purposefully, allowing the listener to soak in the atmosphere of the song before amping up the white noise and intensifying the drums (such as on “Without You, I’d Cease”). Here it is re-released with new artwork and a full side of remixes by the professional Rano Tapes. Refined to the point of being clinical, this is not impressionistic music in the least. Rather, it plays like an album of modern architecture, purposefully constructed and painted within the lines, but using Harmon’s emotive palette of grays and blues. Dig “Tragedy Fractures” for a dramatic dance number from about as far north as music can go and still be danceable.
They Might Be Giants
“Call You Mom”
Okay guys, I’m gonna be real with you: it is hard being a They Might Be Giants fan. I’ve spent a good part of my adult life trying to convince people that this band rules, but it often falls on deaf ears. Once, I went so far as to give a group of uninitiated friends extra tickets to see TMBG, only to have said friends leave a few songs into the show. I think part of the reason TMBG seem so impenetrable is because of their singular ability to tap into an emotion a friend of mine once described as “happy sadness.” The band’s music is often unapologetically silly, but lurking underneath even the goofiest moments is an undeniable sense of melancholy. These sentiments of John Flansburg and John Linnel’s are far too uncommon in an age where ironic appropriations of other decade’s music are considered cutting edge. That’s not meant to be a criticism of genres such as vaporwave, but I think that this modern irony/cynicism may partially be why the Johns’ new music is often overlooked or pigeonholed, despite the fact that their last two albums are quite possibly some of the best of their career.
2011’s Join Us easily ranks among Lincoln and Flood as one of TMBG’s most consistent records. It found the band experimenting with electronic production while tightening up their power pop prowess. Lyrically, Join Us was both subtly defensive and dark with songs like the the scathing “You Don’t Like Me” nearly reading as TMBG’s playful defense of their career-long aesthetic.
If Join Us was the band’s defense statement, then 2013’s Nanobots is the group’s full embrace of themselves. This time the electronics/expanded instrumental palette of Join Us often goes hand in hand with the more overt power pop moments, and a sense of goofy weirdness pervades through everything. There’s also a handful of miniature songs reminiscent of Apollo 18’s “Fingertips” suite. However, unlike that work, the miniatures on Nanobots are less radio rock deconstructions and more Maher Shalal Hash Baz-esque exercises in the ability of brevity to convey emotion.
Then there’s “Call You Mom” which boasts unabashedly E-Street Band-esque arrangements and a classic pop chord progression. While the track may have some of the more straightforward production of the record, it’s lyrically a perfect distillation of the band’s “happy sadness.” Despite it’s clever wordplay and uptempo accompaniment, “Call You Mom” is a cutting portrait of emotional immaturity and social awkwardness ruining a relationship. So, put your preconceptions aside, take TMBG’s advice and “join them.”
Nanobots is out now via the group’s own Idlewild Records. You can listen to “Call You Mom” below:
• They Might Be Giants: www.theymightbegiants.com
the orange tape
Reckno ran out of yellow copies of the orange tape, but now the orange tape comes in pink!
Yes, I am talking about cassettes, but no, none of them are orange — at least the plastic part isn’t. dtpcu, who’s called a “nomadic super weirdo” by UK cassette label Reckno, has dubbed his/her/their newest release the orange tape and has filled each side with dense, mystifying collages of sound. dtcpu cuts detailed samples of polyrhythmic pop and pitch-shifted recordings of pre-teenage conversations with X-ACTO blade precision, then slops on glue and sticks them on a floating backdrop of noise and drone.
Each 15-minute side of the orange tape is filled to the brim by one of these colorful collages; get your pink one now!
PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises
Home™ / ClearSkies™
PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises, an “applied genetics” corporation from Hong Kong (and also the umbrella entity for subsidiaries Macintosh Plus, 情報デスクVIRTUAL, Laserdisc Visions, Fuji Grid TV, Sacred Tapestry, and more), has just unveiled its first project under its own name. Unsurprisingly, it’s PrismCorp’s grandest statement yet: a two-album suite called Home™ and ClearSkies™. If last year’s album by 情報デスクVIRTUAL could be considered bold for the extremely minimal editing of its source material, then what could be made of these albums, which feature even less artistic manipulation?
Throughout the 39 tracks — yes, this is yet another endurance test — PrismCorp takes the bland sounds of resort music MIDI jams and keyboard demo sequences and drags them into an aesthetic domain. But not kicking and screaming: these tracks are harmless, no matter what the context. What changes, however, is the audience’s perceptions. This is simulacrum, with no apparent “substance” to be found in both the original and the recontxtualized, unless that substance is the packaged escapism and dollar-bin emotions designed specifically for the spa goers, wellness seekers, and luxury elite. What’s left, then, is a feeling of vacancy, utility folding under a seemingly indifferent/anti-aesthetic hand, where even our homes and the clear skies are designated as mere goods for PrismCorp’s virtual product line, our emotions pre-determined, tailored, and ultimately manipulated without our knowing. Welcome Home™.
Home™ and ClearSkies™ are out now on Beer On The Rug. Several videos, including tracks that weren’t released on either album, can be found at PrismCorp’s YouTube channel.