There’s a great Van Dyke Parks quote from Paul Zollo’s book Songwriters on Songwriting, where Parks says something to the effect of “if you can’t strip away the arrangement/production of a song and still have something interesting, then it’s probably not a very successful composition.” For Parks, this is a particularly great artistic statement, because for all of the weirdness of an album like Song Cycle, it’s apparent that the tunes have structural integrity. It’s for this reason that Parks playing “The All Golden” alone at the piano is just as interesting when removed from Song Cycle’s warbly arrangement.
This concept of creating songs that have maximal impact even with minimal materials seems to be a large part of singer-songwriter Torres’ (a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott) work. On her self-titled debut album, Scott presents a set of tunes that revel in the minimal due to her prowess as a writer/performer. Even when she opts for stranger production aesthetics, like on the alternately spooky/sultry “Chains” or album highlight “Waterfalls,” Scott keeps it spare and lets her songs speak for themselves, making the more adventurous tunes on the record just as effective as solo voice and guitar numbers like “Jealousy and I.”
While Scott’s work sounds absolutely nothing like Van Dyke Parks, it seems that both artists’ music is driven by the same guiding principles. The combination of Scott’s dedication to her formal craft in conjunction with the beautifully spare western ambiance of her arrangements makes for a fascinating listen that finds Parks’ philosophy embodied and transparent in Torres’ modern minimal sound.
Torres is out now. You can stream the record in its entirety below via Bandcamp:
• Torres: http://www.torrestorrestorres.com
Airways Blvd. [EP]
“My generation taught me simple hatred.”
Jon Waltz is a young MC from Memphis, TN, the breeding ground for party monsters like Juicy J and average-ass crack rappers like Yo Gotti, and the town that basically invented the trap beat, which very quickly became boring and played out. Memphis is a pretty rough town (their basketball team’s motto is Grit and Grind); it was the site of MLK’s murder and the ensuing riots. Recently, it played host to a Klan rally. Very few people live downtown, even fewer of the people who do are white, and the main attraction there is an ugly, hedonistic stretch of road, where neon-lit dive bars vie for attention by yelling at you as you try and cross the street, beckoning with toothless grins. Read the local paper and watch the news: the amount of negativity that people possess can get pretty overwhelming. This unanimous obsession with darkness and death infects every aspect of Memphis’ rich music history: blues music is about how much your life sucks, rap music is about how much life sucks but you’re going to make it, garage rock is about how boring and suckish being alive is… the list can go on. In fact, half the reason this piece is so negative is because I’m listening to Waltz’s new EP while writing it.
It’s only natural for someone like Waltz, who obviously possesses considerable talent and a keen ear for good beats — most of which are produced by Zayd, who’s washed out, filtered sampling is good enough to stand by itself — to become frustrated with the gloomy, pessimistic Memphis attitude. His rhymes reflect this on standout tracks “Coming Down” and “Bang,” where he talks about taking drugs and dealing with women with the same lethargy of The Weeknd and laments the difficulty to break the endless cycle of monotony that currently exists in the world of hip-hop. Although Waltz takes clear cues from rappers who are successful because they stood out — elements of Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Danny Brown can be found in his voice and production — I get the feeling he’s not trying to emulate them, but rather uses these larger-than-life MCs to develop his own sound. Waltz’s intention is clearly to break away from trap music, where the rest of Memphis is currently wallowing in it’s quagmire, and we can only look to the future to see how he succeeds in this respect.
What precisely makes a sad song sad? Harmony? Melody? Is the aural texture most important? Or can a potent libretto overpower compelling sounds? What if the separate components of a song are at odds? Do contrasting humors merely cancel each other out, like a balanced emotional pH, or do they concoct something new?
The good songs, of course, make something new. Musical alchemy. While it’s tricky to tease out a song’s commanding element, the video for “Falling” — by L.A. band Bouquet, premiered here in association with MOCAtv — demonstrates how a hymn with emotional tension can surpass a track plainly “happy” or “sad.” Behold, firstly, the purity of Bouquet’s vocals by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs (formerly of San Francisco folk group, The Finches), their optimism, open clarity. When the tempo picks up, the singer leans into her words, as if she can’t wait to dive deeper in. It’s a subtle effect, but strong, as her delivery quite literally “falls” forward. But what can be good about falling? Falling in love, sure. Or exhilaration, a roller coaster drop. And let us not forget the warmth sometimes found in a plunging, molasses dive, as the legions of shoegaze have often showcased.
And yet the falling that Bouquet describes is different. “Something… there’s something wrong” is the lyric that kicks off the tempo change. It “colors everything,” she says. An insightful listener should discern the apparent disconnect between the tone of the track’s lyrics and its content. We find a woman eager to sound coherent and frank, but her message is one about faltering. Over time, her excitement becomes less convincing, until it’s almost desperate; eventually, it seems to be nothing more than anxious self-assurance, a mask of denial, even as she knows something has gone terribly off course. While Bouquet sounds emotionally bright, crisp, their message leads instead to something dark, something somehow much more honest.
It is a testament to the complexity of human emotion that we demand complex songs. Thankfully, every once in a while, we get a band who can deliver. Sometimes falling really does feel exactly like this.
Bouquet is releasing their first physical musical object (a marbled 7-inch vinyl) at All Tomorrow’s Parties, today (May 10) in Camber Sands, UK, where they will perform.
Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire
“Noble Drew Ali”
There was a brief period after Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s last release, Power and Passion, where fans would’ve been right to worry that the African-medallion-rocking, cheap-vodka-chugging, fat-girl-fucking BK MC was losing his edge. It’s not that he never had catchy hooks or a melodic delivery before, but suddenly it seemed like he was somehow dumbing it down. Not for nothing, but the EP (which marked his major label debut) being listed on iTunes and Amazon under artist name Mr. MFN eXquire didn’t help his case any either.
Fear not though, dear listeners. Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire (“and don’t forget the Muthafuckin’”) was right there with you in your moment of doubt. The artist came clean about his major label debut in a recent Interview Magazine feature, stating, “I mean, honestly, Power and Passion was a reach for me. It was the first time that I ever wrote and tried not to be good. I mean, I’d look at it like I was on a major [label] now kind of thing. I’d look to other rappers to see what they’d be doing and they’d never talk about shit. So, I’d find myself trying to rap and not talk about shit on purpose. And that’s really not me, you know.” He also affirmed his return to form with “Draped in Gold,” the first single off his upcoming Kismet mixtape. And now he’s re-affirming it with a song named after the founder of the Moorish Science Temple of America, perhaps carrying on in the tradition of “Galactus,” the Lost in Translation single that lyrically had little to do with Jack Kirby’s world-devouring Fantastic Four villain but did him justice nonetheless.
• Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire: http://lifeispassion.com
• Universal Music Group: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Documents/ES…
Oh my god, how good does key lime pie sound right now? Or one of those key lime pie yogurts? Or even a lime popsicle! Yeah, I know, that’s what the warm weather and this fresh album from minimal/ethereal/instrumental hip-hop producer Color Plus will do to you.
Just like the pie, Key Lime is dominated by soft, soothing textures and is epitomized by a base layer of acidic flavor. Color Plus’ subtly sour beats rest under scoops of fluffy synths atop a bed of flaky, buttery tape hiss.
Drool over the whole thing below, and buy the whole thing for only a buck on Bandcamp.
• Color Plus: https://soundcloud.com/colorplus