Back in August 2013, the enigmatic producers behind LAMPGOD & **Ł_RD//$M$ claimed a spot on our EUREKA! roll call with their outstanding debut collaboration, **$$EXT8PE. Released on the Brooklyn-based label Bootleg Tapes, the duo shamelessly tangled everything from late-evening soul ballads to música popular Brasileira by using a range of techniques that exquisitely reframed the unlikely tracklist they had chosen to interpret. The resulting **$$EXT8PE emerged as a catalog of sample-based black-market pop, dripping in internet porn sleaze; it bared a gritty aesthetic that seemed custom built for yet another year of cassette proliferation while setting high expectations for the label at hand.
On their first official release, C L E A N E R S demonstrates a like-minded interest in expanding Bootleg Tapes’ slowly evolving identity. By transforming that scuffed, lo-fi tinge into a restless current that embellishes the potency of its source material, Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 is every bit as intriguing and unpredictable as **$$EXT8PE, if not more so. Like the LAMPGOD & **Ł_RD//$M$ effort (which preceded recordings by DIL WITHERS, Mattron, and Susan Balmar), this album employs a disorderly pack of samples to invoke some kind of vintage pop-culture recall, with a handful of “where do I know this from?” half memories.
Spread across two 20-minute tracks, these cuts are spun about an elongated vortex of staggered percussion sequences, dislocated melody, and surface crackle. But the album’s format is by no means a constraint; it allows C L E A N E R S to elaborate further on the aesthetic similarities that exist within each sample, regardless of how detached they might be in their original context. This permits the act to illustrate compositional ideas through a well-defined number of layers, which interact by way of percussion, refrain, and rhythm, as well as a varying degree of tension that fluctuates according to the samples’ content. My favorite example of this comes on “TIJUANA BIBLES,” where that Casablanca dialogue between Sam and Rick is cut just before a patchwork of vibrations, metallic clatter, and chanting; R: “You played it for her, you can play it for me.” S: “I don’t think I can remember…” R: “If she can stand it, I can! Play it!” S: “Yes, boss.” KSSSHHH, HHRRRMM, WHIRRR.
The impact of each sample varies drastically between sections, but the transition always sounds precise and calculated, as though the listener’s response is destined to be one of curiosity: How can two unrelated snippets work so well together within such rough surroundings? Take Paul Anka’s “Far From the Bright Lights of Town,” which is chopped up, screwed, and looped so that it merges with the cacophonous intro on John Coltrane’s “I Love You” — it’s disorientating, sure, but it sounds like the tracks were made for each other. Organizing a distinct, rhythmic drift while maintaining that degree of astonishment should be the objective of any good mix, and C L E A N E R S pulls that off without exception.
Even the less identifiable excerpts find a snug home within the layers that are forged here, starting with an oriental tune at the beginning of “SLUMTOWN SYMFUNNY.” The vocals are draped across a mechanical jewelry box loop, which transforms an accompanying sound of wine glass chime into a brisk, percussive motion. These sections prove to be essential. They give the album its pace by driving each fragment through an otherwise hazy, static series of drones. On that first side, a snippet from “Lullaby of Birdland” by Perez Prado seeps into the mix, easing in after a dramatic barrage of horns collide full pelt with a flurry of bongos. The drums operate as a compositional thrust that breaks the track up texturally without disrupting its flow; any sense of supposition is then torn apart when the needle drops to reveal some rendition of “All At Once You Love Her” from Richard Rodgers’ Pipe Dream. It’s a maddening progression that still manages to amplify a feeling of respect for the album’s source material, which on this occasion hasn’t been arbitrarily split up and relabeled under porno search results. Instead, each sample operates as a living, breathing part of the artist’s creative conscious, a singular oozing stream of glorious sound.