Is this a bagpipe club track (DJ Coquelin & MC Cloarec)? Can you hear the sirens (Babyfather)? Could u imagine choking to death at Red Lobster (James Ferraro)?
Amidst a crushing political apparatus at work, a renewed meaning of club terrorism, and contentious movement around neoliberal policies, the music world in the last three months jerked about in stuttered, haphazard ways. Of course, the headliners tended to dominate and overwhelm through the theatrics of Apple Music, TIDAL, and others, but any sense of cohesion remained elusive. Even this list of Q2 favorites happily limped along without the usual nods to Radiohead, Beyoncé, or Drake (who are all shortlisted below).
Instead, our favorite picks from quarter #2 reflect miniature worlds (Foodman), entropic forces (Mitski), and graceful flourishes (Ytamo); rhythmic brutalism (Puce Mary), negative-space painting (M.E.S.H.), and exclamations of pain and joy (Jessy Lanza). They’re filled with ghosts (Xiu Xiu), shamanic cyborg chants (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith), and mussed tears (Karl Blau) — at once futurist (Andy Stott), post-Futurist (Burberry Perry), and modern/old (William Tyler): a contemporary aesthetics-in-motion (Tim Hecker).
Before getting into the list, we’d like to once again acknowledge some of our favorites that didn’t quite make the cut. Find these below, and then check out our favorite 22 releases of the last three months.
Shortlist: Julianna Barwick’s Will, GAIKA’s SECURITY, Lee Gamble’s Chain Kinematics, Drake’s VIEWS, Kamaiyah’s A Good Night in the Ghetto, James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, Steve Gunn’s Eyes on the Lines, Mukqs’s 石の上にも三日, AceMo & Fugitive’s Gold & Silver, Lil Uzi Vert’s Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, The Body’s No One Deserves Happiness, Parquet Courts’ Human Performance, Beyoncé’s LEMONADE, DJ Marfox’s Chapa Quente, Prurient’s Unknown Rains, Euglossine’s Canopy Stories, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, ANOHI’s Hopelessness, City’s HVMIX005, ANGEL-HO’s Red Devil, Elucid’s Save Yourself, Constellation Botsu’s ちゅざけんなッズベ公！！, Fear of Men’s Fall Forever, Moonface and Siinai’s My Best Human Face, Bardo Pond’s AcidGuruPond, and Deakin’s Sleep Cycle.
Oh No finds Jessy Lanza doing her R&B thing (“Vivica”), her Detroit thing (“VV Violence”), a dash of Art of Noise 80s ballad thing (“I Talk BB”), and plenty of other things. More importantly, all of Lanza’s things grow together here into a complementary, bona fide Jessy Lanza thing. Each song walks the uncanny line between earworm and deep cut, combining with playful ease a knack for catchy songwriting, a broad framework of influences, and a unique approach to digital production. So, because I’m worried Oh No might be framed as a “crossover opportunity” for Hyperdub, I’d instead like to count it with Double Cup and Black is Beautiful as one of the dubstep- and bass-focused label’s strangest and most interesting releases. With nothing but mad respect to Kode9 and Burial, UK bass music crossed over years ago; the point is to push it further outside of itself and into the unknown, as Hyperdub has earned a reputation for doing. If the label is known today for journeying beyond the purism of club musics past into the more-than-club music sphere, Oh No touches the surface of something more than electronic, more than pop, and at times, nearly more than human. When Lanza does her thing as well as she does it here, it’s a thing that dances beyond all the lonely anxiety of classification. Oh No is an exclamation of pain and joy, and my favorite pop record of the year… if you can call it that.
It’s summer — or thereabouts — where I live, and sitting on my porch, listening to MI WO, I realize my whole backyard is grooving along. Typically brazen and obnoxious, the Carolina wrens have sunk their song into the synthetic harpsichord melody of “Autopoiesis;” each droning bee, usually so buzzed out on pollen, hums along to the burbling rainbow cauldron of “Human Ocean.” Despite its cybernetic bird calls and plinking rhythms, MI WO still feels natural, a prosthesis so seamlessly attached to the world of my backyard. Even the timid family of deer that scarfs down my hosta bobs along to the melancholic “You Me” and sheds a tear or two over that last decaying note on “100 Bird Stories.” She’s so dexterous, handing out colorful, cascading melodies right before drifting into warped and woozy atmospherics. It’s all so gentle and inviting that this must’ve been what Eden was like before they messed it all up. Yeah, this whole spot is alive, brought together by Ytamo’s “comfortable mastery” and playful spirit. She’s that “easie Philosopher” Marvell talks about, filling in the space between humanity and nature with a single graceful flourish.
Burberry Perry’s debut release is like a crystalline broadcast from an alternate Earth, one where Steve Reich and Brian Eno were as seminal influences on rap music as James Brown and Sly Stone. Vocally, Perry’s work is post-Futurist — or post-Thugger — with distinct bop undertones; lyrically, he’s engaged most closely with observation and appreciation of the mundane, the everyday. Musically and spiritually, however, Perry eschews the club for the cosmos. The tension between these disparate modes is exquisite, and their effect on the listener is thrilling, intoxicating, transcendent even. On songs like “Ride” and “Happy,” physical impact is loosely equivalent to a dolly zoom; the distance between form and function is tangible and staggering, not to mention deliciously vertiginous. While most other artists in the rap world are overly concerned with material goods as a symbolic reflection of status, Burberry Perry, on the other hand, seems to understand that sometimes a vehicle is just a vehicle — a means rather than an end. And while Perry claims that he “just [wants to] be happy,” it’s clear that he’s content for now, simply riding for the feel of it.
Plays the Music of Twin Peaks
There’s something a little too modest about Plays the Music of Twin Peaks as an album title. Sure, it’s a helpfully matter-of-fact description of Xiu Xiu’s most harrowing album to date, yet it obscures just how much Jamie Stewart and co. have taken their famous source material and made it their own. Faithfully reproducing the soap-operatic melodies, disturbing ambiences, and unforgettable walking bassline that burned the soon-to-be-reborn TV series onto the collective consciousness, they’ve built an otherwise original album that merely uses the show’s mythology as a vessel into which they pour their own neuroses, fears, traumas, and conflicts. They’ve embellished on the distinctive Badalamenti score and added powerful no-wave/post-punk/new-wave/ambient material of their own, demonstrating that, in fact, the highly subjective makeup of Twin Peaks means that any act with just the right amount of ingenuity can stamp its soundtrack with their own particular identity. And it’s precisely this stamping-of-identity that ends up being more faithful to the show than any straight-up covers album could ever have been, since, if nothing else, the logging town of Twin Peaks was mysterious, equivocal, and vague just so we’d be forced to fill it with our own ghosts.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith doesn’t slack on her modular ambient synesthesia. Although the watercolor soundworld of EARS has the kind of classic drip that just begs to get cranked through your earbuds as your head hits the pillow, what really lifts it into the ether is the poise with which Smith delivers us our utopia. Between those shamanic cyborg chants, the trickling synth fantasia, and that nocturnal saxophone hum, EARS is a remarkably precise work, less non sequitur dreamscape than vivid, ponderous boat ride. Even if the lyrics on EARS trend closer toward glossolalia than overt personal narrative, Smith creates genuine moments from her metaphysical stream of the surreal, respiting but journeyed, familiar yet new. EARS is brisk to listen to, but before long, it’s tunneled into your head, aligning your memories with its own, casting out visions of a spiritual vista as thick with underbrush as it is clear in the night sky. Turn the lights off, feel the room grow.
The Spiral, Frederikke Hoffmeier’s third solo album for Posh Isolation, marks a rotating core of pained evocation — a cold but deeply human terror elegantly, solemnly fascinated with suspended tension fading into sonic blood — aural lore, the “Slow Agony of a Dying Orgasm.” An exhilarating tome of cosmic menace, the works forgo rhythmic brutalism in favor of a devouring anxiety that evolves within long intervals of empty space. The compositions breed within these open plains. Gleaming blinks dim in the expanse. Woodblocks and burnt Shakuhachi pivot and reverberate against rusted metals. Suspended howls grate in awful grandeur — scorched Demon Masks, charred Oracle Bones lie thrown about in ceremony as the characters “peel themselves like oranges.” Recalling Toru Takemitsu’s grim score for Ran and all the images contained therein, her lurching strands of feedback ring over half-animal forms. A wicked court music is revealed; her commitment to the horror is total.