Future Brown Future Brown

[Warp; 2015]

Styles: omnivorous club, grime, dancehall, reggaeton, rap, super group
Others: Nguzunguzu, J-Cush, Fatima Al Qadiri, Kelela, Tink

Our modern metropoleis nobly and indignantly rise out of mud and desert, out of jungles and from islands — they rage while colorful flags fly outside the windows of high rises. It could certainly be argued that each metropolis, despite their uniqueness of character and individual vibrancy, has a stretch of road or a chunk of building that looks about the same — from Tokyo to New York City, Dubai to Bangkok. Either (1) the streets where suffering happens can look about the same, or (2) the streets where commerce happens, where much of fashion happens, look about the same because you see the same logos, the same brands, the same commitment to certain transcendent market experiences. You’ll also see the same cultural groups that work to comment on the state of the metropolis: the same white room with the same gallery installation that appropriates (x) logo, the same sweatshirt with Zizek’s face and motorcycle flames screen printed on it, the same Hood By Air salad bowl. But, while experiencing our planet’s cities, you’ll also begin to hear the prismatic calamity that is the world’s music, and you may begin, for a moment, to understand what makes Mexico City or Berlin or New York or Los Angeles different and unique. You may start to mix them together into unknowable, strange patterns. Maybe you’ll hear how the Sia song evokes the feeling of meds and trashed romance in a steamy Barbadian heat, Rihanna’s weather — or, you’ll hear the crystallization of sugary self-love, that inward shopping spree that helped you purchase acceptance, letting go, and British escapism in the new Hannah Diamond song. And shit, you can even watch a YouTube video of Yuki Koshimoto’s tambour spacedrum playing — a video shared around and loved by many neon-painted “world music” fans and listen to Nguzunguzu’s Perfect Lullaby vol. 2 — a mix loved by contemporary clubbers — and discover their relationship, the weird social overlap, the geographic intertwinement occurring via the Japanese ancestry of the player (Koshimoto), the Swiss design of the Hang instrument (PANArt Hangbau AG), and the culture-fused beats of the artist (Nguzunguzu). Often, metropoleian genius is found in the creative manipulation of the aesthetic history of these geographies, by recombining them with the infinitude of personal, perceptual meanings, non-meanings, understandings, wisdom — whatever.

Despite their name and prevalent use of sonic histories from many of the world’s coolest cities, Future Brown’s self-titled debut is not a work that progresses these sounds into utopian futures, dystopian futures, or really any future. Future Brown is a “super group” and is considered such for a reason. Fatima Al Qadiri, Nguzunguzu (Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda), and J-Cush are all active individual artists and essential players in polymerizing gallery-style presentation with countless subgenera of electronic dance music; they score runway mixes and art openings, frequently collaborate with designers and visual artists, and form the backbone of label Fade to Mind’s proper music releases. Nguzunguzu’s Skycell helped fuel the ascension of a more cinematic style of grime, and their production work with M.I.A., either on tour or in 2011’s Vicki Leeks, helped popularize and proliferate certain strands of world music and net-aesthetics to much larger audiences before the great “conceptual turn.” I consider Al Qadiri’s Desert Strike to be her to-date opus — its vibrant, sweeping synthesizers, choirs, and tight concept pushed the metallic Fade to Mind beat style into more complex listening planes. Also, her Hyperdub debut Asiatisch had some killer tracks despite its thin use of Shanzhai Biennial’s corporate entity concept, which uses tactics of faux-branding to diffuse already non-existent American/European insight into Asian cultural import (apparently, it’s “COMING SOON”). Also, J-Cush freaking runs Lit City Trax. With all that considered, their decision to collaborate seems like more of a decision to have some fun, push the fashion, and feature some vocalists they love and respect.

That’s not at all a problem. I can see myself putting on the record when I’m driving a friend into town from the airport — ideal for when I need something to essentialize a mutual cultural understanding to begin easing into a heavy night of catching up and drinking. Sure, the tracks themselves exaggerate globalism to a nauseating degree, but the artists’ signature sounds paired with drill, bop, and grime vocalists makes for a novel cruising record. Perhaps the overall experience can, at times, amount to something that can be easily “repped” amongst those who aren’t expecting anything other than a collection of tracks assembled into a 37-minute stretch of sound — repped by those who might enjoy “wearing” music like a kind of rad shirt with logos plastered all over it (sometimes me). The album is full of talented features stuffed sterilely into what feels like a long listen: these are incredible vocalists with rich, independent histories and discographies. Despite the deep head-nodding that’s initially summoned from “Talkin Bandz,” Shawnna’s verse turns to plastic when DJ Victoriouz’s chest-pumping hook brings it all to into a half-satisfying, dud drill environment. To make room for the vocal features, the actual, physical mix of the record is squashed. The once tight production on Al Qadiri’s synth work — those deep swells, bells, and steel percussion — buzz around illegibly underneath already complicated vocal runs. Luckily, the group’s seasoned kick design, an effort I can only assume to be resultant from Nguzu or J-Cush, helps add a bit of dynamic dimension by creating small pockets of rhythmic intensity underneath the ceaseless presentation of new textures. The messiness shows most on “MVP,” a once pristine instrumental track that flexed a crisp, clean feel when it premiered in 2013 as “Marbles,” the soundtrack to Telfar’s “extremely normal” advert. On their debut, the track is rendered as the backing beat for a tired, fuzzy hook from Tim Vocals that sounds like it was shoddily recorded, a misstep only half-reconciled by a great verse from 3D Na’Tee.

The album’s strongest run is the “Vernaculo” / “Dangerzone” back-to-back; the former gives us an incredible performance from New York vocalist Maluca, whose pop-reggaeton delivery calls to mind early Kevin Lyttle (think “Turn Me On”) and K Rizz. While I thought the track’s logo-laden, “capitalist surrealist” video that premiered at Art Basel was sleepy, the track itself has enough energy to pop-off excellently in DJ sets throughout 2015. “Dangerzone” provides some mid-album space with its down-tempo, Noah Shebib-like atmosphere; a nice Kelela and Ian Isiah duet is supplemented with flittering clicks and virtuosic percussion sequencing. Regardless of these moments, I was often skipping ahead in the album only to back-tread to revisit tracks I only half-remembered; I just couldn’t get situated with the album’s flow. After all, this is a collection of producer tracks featuring vocalists, a fact that makes reviewing it as an “album proper” difficult. I’m sure I’d certainly feel any single one of these tracks in its proper context — the car or the club. As a straight-ahead listen though, it’s oddly paced. This feeling is exaggerated in album closer “Wanna Party,” that fantastic, age old track I feel like I’ve been listening to for years now, which makes for a pretty disappointing finale. Also, the listening experience tends to range from viscerally enjoying the tracks within certain contexts, admiring the artists’ individual creative output (and thus not treating the group as an individual entity), and critiquing how and why their music genuinely disappoints — an experience that’s honest enough for me to not want to touch the group’s recent “criticism scandal” with a ten-foot pole.

So, those “futuristic” qualities of Future Brown don’t necessarily exist in the global space emphasized by their music. Rather, the artists’ gender equality and representation of various underrepresented vocal styles is the most utopian statement given. A radicalism is provided through their signature sounds semi-comfortably co-mingling with the numerous, disparate identities included in the album’s features — their ease of collaboration with each other and with the gamut of these talented voices helps to create their intended effect of encapsulating a color with no “definitive shade.” The primary conceptual dimension that has been repeated throughout the group’s recent press interviews has involved describing their namesake — “Future Brown” — an interesting idea coined by DIS Magazine founder Solomon Chase. Given the sterility of the music, however, the “artificiality” of the conceptual color itself can’t be ignored. We’re given semi-abstracted versions of genre reassembled to create novelty, an act that adds to the feeling that these are friends, artists making beats together, throwing paint on white walls, in cities that rise out of mud and desert, out of jungles and from islands — they rage while colorful flags fly outside the windows of high rises

Links: Future Brown - Warp

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