So, our film editor/writer/fellah Benjamin Pearson recently notified the TMT staff, “Really digging the plus-size fashion ads [on the site]. Feel like it’s progressive of us. Except when it shows up at the same time as the McDonald’s ad, and then I think, maybe our readers aren’t doing too well? Should we post more Choco tracks that are good for working out?”
So, the first in my series of workout jams is this here Fort Romeau (Michael Norris) banger, “SW9.” The single came out this year, but he released a full album on mega fat-burning label 100% SILK last year (which is still for sale). However, Ghostly International’s sister label Spectral Sounds is taking Norris’ deep house sweat to the finish line. So sprint your lunch hour on the treadmill today, and feel that “SW9” gain.
“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