Noël Akchoté (featuring David Grubbs)
Carlo Gesualdo Madrigals for 5 guitars
If there’s one thing that almost universally unites most experimental musicians and fans, it’s the work of late Renaissance composer/murderer/nobleman Carlo Gesualdo. Most people who have had to sit through a music history course just remember this guy as that royal composer dude who brutally murdered his wife and her lover and then got away with it because of his elevated social/political status. However, an equal number of people (especially the more experimentally inclined) often get fascinated with how forward-looking and beautiful his compositions were. In addition to breaking actual moral laws, Gesualdo broke all sorts of tonal/contrapuntal rules characteristic of the Renaissance as well. As a result, he created a highly expressive style that used tonal harmonies in non-functional ways. Gesualdo’s use of harmony was so radical that it would take everybody else until the late 19th century to fully catch up.
In many ways, Gesualdo’s tonal language has a lot in common with the work of David Grubbs and Noël Akchoté. In both cases, these modern artists revel in the possibilities for dissonant movement while working within traditional song-like structures akin to the madrigal forms that Gesualdo subverted. It’s clear that Akchoté realized this when arranging these pieces for five guitars, and consequently the highly idiomatic results sound like they could fit in on any of Grubbs’ solo releases or on a number of his chamber pop-leaning label mates’ albums. It’s a humbling reminder that, despite experimental pop’s often radical sound sources, we often aren’t too far tonally removed from the music of bygone eras.
You can stream the excellently recorded performance of these works courtesy Radio France right here (the music begins around 12 minutes in). David Grubbs has a new non-Gesualdo album coming out via Drag City on April 16.
As “Spectrum Shock” rattles the primitive gaggle of cave-biker snots outside the Manhole bar, the establishment is burning to the ground, and mistaking it as a biker-bar in the first place was clearly grave. Shaking from the inside-mind, Den rips down the long and treacherously deserted highway, throwing back all sorts of booze and yelling at the bottles as they break. High enough for the riff, they throw up hands and slide signature Den gestures at each other, shouting slack jaw gibberish between the roars of their bikes. Approaching the first car, they spot a chicken truck — they pour out most of the clear booze in the back and set towels on fire under the birds. Out of her mind, one gang member leaps from the back of a bike, clutches onto the side panel, and opens up the doors: cage-by-cage. She takes two birds, snaps their necks, and tosses them to her lady on the bike, who puts them in her saddle bag. And jumping back onto the bike, like from a window to a horse, another Den member pistols out a front wheel, and the truck goes skidding off the road, escaped chickens flapping and feathering away from the highway. Looking back, there’s no fire, only a pit of flickering light off to the side.
Riding up the mountaintop become chillier, and leather stenches the misty night air. Ponytails and missing teeth. A fire is started and the chicken roasts. One takes the gizzard and retro ingests it. Another makes jewelry out of the beak and feet. Taking embers from the fire with her bare hands, one of the bikers tosses the fiery-hot balls at the rest sitting at the fire and shouts in tongues and falls into their troth of drinking or bathing water, flailing around. Her yelling echos throughout the cave behind them and roaring comes back out, proceeded by a large cat of some kind, and it jumps at them straight into the fire, catching itself ablaze and being speared until it stops twitching. And as the undead were to rip open a human to eat, so do Den, as they come down off their “Spectrum Shock,” and full circle with the life they wish to lead.
• Retrograde Tapes: http://retrogradetapes.blogspot.com
Cannibal Ox are back, buds, and I’m real, real pleased to say that not much has changed since those long-gone-now, so sepia-toned days when The Cold Vein monopolized your headphone space. The Harlem duo’s 12-year hiatus contained the end of their former label Def Jux and the ascent of their former producer/living rap deity El-P to the highest rungs of the Ladder of Cred (who else is already drooling over Run The Jewels??), but MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Mega(llah) seem up to the same old, same old: trapped in an aural urban wasteland, wading through a thick layer of pigeon shit, shouting down alleyways, lifting four middle fingers up to the skyline. Their second full-length album hits sometime this year. In the meantime, we get the three tracks of the Gotham maxi single to tide us over.
On the title track, Vast and Vordul vibe together as viciously as ever, the former all patience, the latter all blunt force. Vast’s rhythmic dynamism and crisp articulation transform would-be clumsy lines like “You can get a facelift with a box cutter/ That’s Mad Cow, son” into nuggets of menacing New York wisdom. Vordul’s chorus booms assertions of dominance “even when struggling at the bottom,” while his double-tracked verse blends “roof” and “ruthless” into a perfectly marble-mouthed homophone. Producer Bill Cosmiq doesn’t stray too far from the El Producto template; his synths and strings howl over a boom-bap kick+snare shuffle as thick, almost trombone-like pulses punctuate the mix. Check out “Gotham” below or hear the maxi single in full here. If you’re into owning digital copies of things, you can cop it from Amazon — or you can wait it out for the full-length sometime soon (I hope).
“Whatever Makes You Happy”
Some loops feel like they should go on forever. As in, it would be perfectly alright if said loop would be the only constant variable in an increasingly dynamic and confusing world. Everybody else would go on, walking parallel to cars and trains and airplanes, all doing the same monotonous task they do every day, content in the knowledge that there is one simple aspect of their lives that they can enjoy without change. Adam Worthan’s music is exactly that: a comfortable afternoon lying underneath the rain in a sunroom, sinking into a comfortable corduroy couch with your dog, absentmindedly sifting through photo albums that date back to your childhood. Some images trigger memories, some don’t. Today is a day for you; so sit back and enjoy it. Whatever makes you happy.
• Adam Worthan: http://adamworthan.bandcamp.com
M. Geddes Gengras
If I were to use the MPAA film rating system, I’d give SYSTEMS 0 a G rating. There’s nothing necessary dramatic about it. And in my mind, even though it’s overwhelming in worship, there’s nothing really preventing your imagination from wandering while listening. As 2001: A Space Odyssey did for the G-rating, M. Geddes forces this notion right back into the minds of listeners through complete exploratory imagination. The mystery behind Cirque du Soleil is hidden within each heart beat at the center of SYSTEMS 0.
SYSTEMS 0 is actually Ged’s follow-up to last year’s 905 Tapes triple release SYSTEMS 1, which is equally nasty. Both are huge undertakings, so prepare for a hell of a lot of mazed-out bleep-praise. If you don’t currently see wires when you close your eyes, you will by the end of SYSTEMS 0. So fry yourself out on this young prequel, and feel the mechanics of M. Geddes Gengras’ GREEN MACHINE. Also, this dude is AWESOME.
• M. Geddes Gengras: http://mgeddesgengras1.bandcamp.com
Hus Kingpin & Rozewood
Tokyo Tower Mixtape
Long Island contains many a village like Hempstead (home of Hus Kingpin) and Amityville (home of Rozewood), where scenes of abject poverty and lavish wealth are found mere blocks from one another. The close physical proximity of these disparate worlds and high frequency of their intermingling are quite possibly a few of the reasons Long Island has such a rich tradition of street-savvy poet/griots whose voices are every bit as laid back as their stories are crime-laden (Roc Marciano, Prodigy, Grand Daddy I.U., Erick Sermon, and Rakim all come to mind). Thematically, the Tokyo Tower Mixtape is deeply rooted in this tradition. And while conceptually this might not be the most original release of the year — in fact, fellow LI MC Ryu Black dropped a “Japanese vacation” concept album of his own back in 2011 — it is a solid mixtape that has me excited to hear the duo’s forthcoming debut album, $100 Taper.
As for the artists themselves, I was already familiar with Hus Kingpin from his work as one half of Tha Connection, who collaborated with Roc Marc on “Strive.” Hus and Roc also got together for “Warm Hennessy.” Rozewood, on the other hand, I hadn’t heard until now, even though like Hus and Tha Connection, he’s previously released music on Digi Crates. To my surprise, though, he definitely holds his own. Actually, his solo cut “Midnight Run” is one of my favorite tracks on the whole tape, possibly because it makes direct reference to the clash of classes mentioned earlier.
• Digi Crates: http://shop.digicrates.com