Monday, 21 November 2011
Artist: Hollow Pigeons
Hollow pigeons is the moniker of Ryan de la Cruz, a prodigious beatsmith hailing from Toronto. Building on the successes of his first EP, Letters to Kiko (2011), Birthdays mixes the reverb-washed sounds of dream pop with skittering hip-hop beats, amidst other influences, some more prominent than others.
Birthdays is full of the nostalgic sounds of youth; all of the sights, sounds and smells condensed into a four-track EP. The whole listening process itself is not at all unlike looking back at the days spent in the playground at school and at house-parties getting drunk for the first time. All of these memories fade into a haze, just as Hollow Pigeons' beats have already begun drowning in the swampy depths of the brain. Any sense of these events as temporal and spatial go straight out of the window and are replaced by only the thin glossy film that envelopes them.
In this way, Birthdays is this film that is impenetrably wrapped around the body of our memories, any omitted memories simply filled in by reverb, giving a pleasantly ethereal sheen to the days of our youth and washing over the moments we'd rather forget. But anyway, a birthday should be about celebration! And there's plenty of that here. The joyous "You(th)", probably my favourite track from the record, sounds so gloriously happy that the beats sound like a train almost ready to shake itself off its tracks, the vocal sample dances around unable to help itself from playfully pitch-shifting around the place while the hi-hat fades and pans like it's running in circles around the room. Meanwhile, "Lullabye" shows a completely different side to Hollow Pigeons, without unsticking itself from the cohesion that the EP displays; it is the soundtrack to running outside into the snow naked, lying on the grass on a cool summer night getting bitten by midges or swimming in a river in the spring darkness. It doesn't get much more euphoric than this.
3) More Affection
Saturday, 19 November 2011
Album: Pilot Talk
While I'd bet that a lot of this blog's followers have already heard this record, I feel it's almost my duty to enlighten those who haven't yet been blessed by the sounds of this hip-hop masterpiece. I like to think that I'm a person who doesn't just carelessly throw words around, and I genuinely do think that this is one of the most solid and cohesive examples of a great hip-hop record that I've ever heard. Every aspect of the record works incredibly well; Curren$y's rhymes are simply unparalleled by any other MC, while Ski Beatz offers up some of the freshest, crispest beats one could ever hope to hear. If you can listen to the first three tracks of Pilot Talk and deny that they form one of the strongest openings to any album, then you are on a very different page to me musically.
I suppose the first point to talk about with any hip-hop record is the lyrical prowess of the MC behind the project and Curren$y consistently delivers pure quality on Pilot Talk. One of the most interesting aspects of Curren$y's lyrical style is his unique use of phrases and expressions that can only really be understood after hearing several of his mixtapes. From unusual observational expressions of everyday things to really abstract metaphors, Curren$y effortlessly creates a dictionary of his own, personal language (or "Pilot Talk") that reveal new details and meanings on every listen. Subtle humour is also peppered throughout Pilot Talk, and Curren$y's delivery alone has often had me laughing out loud at his understated wit and, at times, bombastic sense of humour. While there is a plethora of examples that I could give of Curren$y's best lines, there are so many highlights that it would be more productive to get your teeth into Pilot Talk (and ideally his other mixtapes) as soon as possible to unravel the complexity of the Jet lingo.
During his already long career, Curren$y has been involved with a number of labels, most notably Master P's No Limits and Lil' Wayne's Young Money and during this time he has spitted over a variety of beats. Having heard this record first and subsequently delving further into his history, it really hit me that Curren$y's partnership with Ski Beatz on the Pilot Talk series (the third installment being in the pipeline at this time) is as close to perfect as I have heard in a producer-MC relationship. Ski backs Curren$y with smooth and polished beats, which range from the huge brass sounds of "The Day" to the heavy-hitting steel drums of "Audio Dope II" and the stadium-sized riffs of "Example", Ski offers variety while managing to keep a certain languid quality throughout, making Pilot Talk a really cohesive effort.
To finish, some words from the Hot Spitta himself:
"Tearing through the city, snatching bitches, top of the building, King Kong ain't got shit on me."
2) Audio Dope II
3) King Kong
4) Seat Change (featuring Snoop Dogg)
6) Roasted (featuring Trademark & Young Roddy)
7) Skybourne (featuring Smoke DZA & Big K.R.I.T.)
8) The Hangover (featuring Mikey Rocks)
9) The Day (featuring Mos Def & Jay Electronica)
10) Prioritize (featuring Nesby Phips)
11) Chilled Coughee (featuring Devin the Dude)
12) Address (featuring Stalley)
13) Life Under the Scope
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Artist: Os Mutantes
Album: Os Mutantes
As of late, I've been listening to a lot of MPB, Bossa Nova and Tropicália, and when I think of Brazilian music, Os Mutantes are usually the first band that come to mind. The group's first, self-titled record Os Mutantes is the perfect place to start for the uninitiated. Perhaps the best description of their sound that I've heard to date is "imagine the Mamas and the Papas singing in Portuguese and adding psychedelia and samba to their harmonious pop tunes." And while this is obviously a simplification of what is a beautifully varied, joyous and at times naïve record, the whole 60's sunshine vibe is omnipresent alongside buzz-saw guitar work.
My first encounter with Os Mutantes was through a Tropicália compilation that I borrowed from a friend, and from the moment that the sloppily distorted seven-note guitar riff came through the speakers, it was love at first listen. It felt the same as the first playing of other classics like The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), The Beatles' Revolver (1966), or Les Rallizes Dénudés' '77 Live (1991), and comes across as Brazil's answer to these early experimental psychedelic records.
As proponents of the now legendary Tropicália movement, Os Mutantes' music was created under the extremely oppressive, authoritarian military government that controlled Brazil following the 1964 coup d'état. Amidst the chaos, a group of activists, musicians, experimentalists and hippies formed the Tropicália collective and for a brief period, were at the epicentre of an explosion of creative forces in São Paolo.
I think that an artist's best work is often created whilst in a state of oppression, whether through personal pressures, or a greater political struggle. In one form or another, I think all art is a vision of what could be. Os Mutantes' vision is one of peace, love and partying and I, for one, am with them all the way.
1) Panis et Circenses
2) A Minha Menina
3) O Relógio
4) Adeus Maria Fulô
6) Senhor F
7) Bat Macumba
8) Le Premier Bonheur du Jour
9) Trem Fantasma
10) Tempo no Tempo (Once Was a Time I Thought)
11) Ave Genghis Khan
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Artist: Smoke Jaguar
Album: Live at the Halt
Label: Nyali Recordings
Having just moved to London, it's been a while since I last wrote. The whole process of packing my room into a car and unloading it in an unfamiliar place has taken up a lot of time. Taking the past two weeks to adjust to my new surroundings and to socialise with groups of new people has also meant that I haven't been listening to as much music as I usually do, so instead of sharing something I just found out about, I thought I'd share something which I've been listening to for some time already.
Smoke Jaguar is a Glasgow-based guitar-duo specialising in reverberating layers of noisy fret scrambling and squealing feedback. I think that the best way to describe it, would be like an even more densely heavy interpretation of metal than Boris' Boris at Last: Feedbacker, working largely from the same palette of excessively distorted and reverb-drenched, but removing any sense of a consistent attention to rhythm. Instead, Smoke Jaguar take these obvious Japanese psych influences and carve a line from them to more British-sounding harsh noise, keeping true to the guitar-heavy setup of the former.
While it's definitely not an exaggeration to say that the Smoke Jaguar is overloaded, extremely heavy and atonal, their sound is also very pure, with minimal effects being used and the focus undoubtedly being on the interplay between the two instruments and amplifiers. The pedal-twiddling tendencies of so many in the noise-fold is completely eschewed on Live at the Halt and as a result, the album sounds more energetic, like pure electrical forces bouncing back and forth between the performers and their instruments. And this certainly isn't "harsh" in the sense that it aims for aural discomfort either; Live at the Halt is a subtle beast, revelling in the delicacies of the two instruments throwing harmonic drones back and forth between one another like fire-spitting dragons.
A real rollercoaster-ride of a performance, the duo begin by trading-off feedback screeches before dropping into a more structured droning passage, at which stage something that could be very loosely described as a riff begins and a drumkit drops in for the middle-section. Then the droning gets a lot more intense, with both guitars descending into monolithic low-end noise-machines, before a Scotsman shouts "You've got balls" at the band repeatedly to round things off. And if that's not a good reason to buy this, then I don't know what is.
Monday, 29 August 2011
Album: Tuva, Among the Spirits: Sound, Music, and Nature in Sahka and Tuva
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
I always think that despite the vast array of genres we have over here in the West, indigenous music is something completely outside of the structures that we've given to modern musical styles. Even more so than harsh noise or lowercase music, indigenous music seems to me more alien than any other sound in the world. The music of primitive cultures often serves a purpose, be it religious or for pure practicality (such as attracting animals using calls), and in a culture where music is used almost solely for leisure or entertainment, this can be a hard concept to fully grasp. I find this thought uplifting, because it affirms that music is not something that has sprung up out of society or civilisation, but out of a far more primitive part of ourselves as animals. Music is innate in us as human beings, not brought about through cultural conditioning.
I've already posted another album of Tuvan folk music, which was also released on the absolutely fantastic Smithsonian Folkways record label, who have released hundreds of records exploring the indigenous music of cultures from all over the globe. Tuvan music is very special both to me personally and to the history of music as a whole. The music of the Tuvan people is primarily vocal-based and ranges from bird calls and animal imitations to stringed instrument pieces and vocal drones. Obviously a huge point of interest is the unique singing style called "throat singing", "overtone singing" or "harmonic singing", which essentially allows the throat singers to sing two notes at once. The actual mechanics behind throat singing are very complicated, but in simple terms, it's achieved by manipulating the voice-box and changing the shape of the mouth to create overtones (there's a full explanation on Wikipedia). The resultant sound is unlike anything else, and in many ways like an imitation of the harmonics of the wind.
This knack for imitating sounds from nature is something that the Tuvans are especially good at, and this CD reflects that, with several tracks showing the peoples' beautiful emulations of natural sounds. The track "Harmonics in the Wind" is like a jam session with the wind, with what sounds like a xomuz (Jew's Harp) player and another stringed instrument (could be either an igil or a byzaanchy) mimic the harmonics of the wind and try to tune their playing to the tuning of the wind. On another track, "Xomuz Imitating Water", a xomuz player improvises along to the sounds of a stream, copying the little sounds that the water makes with his xomuz to convincing effect; it's like two great improvisers meeting to play together, only one of them is nature itself.
I personally prefer this compilation to the one I previously posted, Tuva: Voices from the Center of Asia . This is partly do with the fact that I much prefer the pieces on this disc and the way that they are arranged, but it is also because the quality of these recordings are far better. This is to be expected, as the material for this CD was recorded 12 years later, and obviously the equipment that can be taken out into the field had vastly improved. While recording quality may not always be of great importance, when it comes to field recordings, especially field recordings of Tuvan music, it is paramount that the spaces around the performer be properly audible, and here it's possible to hear every bird, every rustling tree, and every drop of water that falls around the recording space.
Tuvan musicians will travel far to find the perfect acoustic spot for performance, and these recordings let you sit right next to them in the caves, on the mountains and by the streams of rural Siberia.
I won't post a download link for this one, because I've seen the people from Smithsonian Folkways scouring the web to remove links. Since Spotify is now available in the US and a lot of other countries, try downloading that to listen to it. If all else fails, you know where Google is.
Tracklist (track name followed by artist name, where artist name is not noted, the artist is unknown):
1) A Reverberant Valley
2) Sakha Animal Imitations - German Khatilaev & Klavida Khatileava
3) Tuvan Round-up
4) Fantasy on the Igil - Kaigal-ool Khovalyg
5) Birds and Bird Imitations - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Alexei Saryglar
6) Xoomei on Horseback - Kagail-ool Khovalyg & Anatoli Kuular
7) Borbangnadyr with Steam Water - Anatoli Kuular
8) Xomuz (Jew's Harp) Imitating Water - Anatoli Kuular
9) Home on the (Mountain) Range
10) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Imitation of Wild and Domestic Animals) - Albert Saspyk-ool
11) Ang-Meng Mal-Magan Ottuneri (Reprise) - Alexander Chambal-og Tulush
12) Harmonics in the Wind
13) Sonic Landscape - Grogori Mongush
14) The Legacy of Ancestors - Tos-Khol
15) Cave Spirits
16) Kyzyl Taiga (Red Forest) - Kagail-ool Khovalyg
17) Talking Xomuz - Anatoli Kuular
18) Chiraa-Xor - Kagail-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular & Sayan Bapa
Artist: The Bilinda Butchers
Single: Half Open
Label: Beko DSL
I'm pretty quick off the bat with this one; the new Bilinda Butchers single, released today on the Beko Digital Singles Label. Those who know me will know that I adored their EP Regret, Love, Guilt Dreams  (which I reviewed on here pretty recently) and that it was love at first listen. Well, fans of the band won't be disappointed as they clearly don't plan on resting on their laurels any time soon.
Interweaving synth hooks, nostalgic soundscapes, lyrics about love and loss, swathes of reverberation and noise washes make up the A-side, "Half Open" a slow-dance through a crumbling relationship which is mirrored by the music's constant builds ands falls, which eventually give way as the words "hold on until you're gone" echo off into infinity and the coda kicks in for an epic one minute epilogue.
"Seafoam Green" is a different beast altogether, with a milky texture and a languid tempo; it's music that is happy to float on the top layer of your consciousness and ebb and flow along of it's own accord. The sounds of tidal pulsing in the background, seashells put to your ear, dry kelp brushing the sand, sunburnt synthesisers, aqueous guitars; all part of the effect that brings you closer to the events of this track, themselves captured in sun-bleached high fidelity.
God Bless The Bilinda Butchers.
1) Half Open
2) Seafoam Green
Thursday, 25 August 2011
The first release in a double compilation by one of my favourite Japanese alternative rock bands Supercar. The great thing about this album (and it's counterpart, B ) is how to shows the fluid progression from the early britpop influenced records through to the electronic experimentalism of Futurama  and Answer .
As the title suggests, A is a singles collection of all of the A-sides of the band's career. Friends of mine often wonder why I'm so fond of Supercar, and true, on the surface they do kind of sound like a bunch of Japanese teenagers imitating their Western idols, but if there's one thing that this record shows more than anything, it's that their singles of were of consistently high quality, even in the early days, where the compositions are far from simple and they come off like a shoegaze band with a high budget, bundles of ambition and a penchant for epic orchestrations (see the track "Planet").
In spite of the fact that the band really wore their influences on their sleeves pretty heavily for the first half of their career, as soon as the Futurama-era tracks kick in (with "Fairway"), it's clear that the band are going far deeper into their music, and digging up some really bizarre and unique stuff, like bookending an electro-pop track with samples of African drumming. The synth programming on Highvision  and Answer is sublime, and examples of it can be heard towards the end of the compilation, with the space-age beauty of "Yumegiwa Last Boy", "Aoharu Youth" and "BGM" punctuating the latter sector of the record.
If you've yet to become acquainted with Supercar, then this is probably the best way to do so. Here is some of the band's greatest moments in a compact package that serves as a great glimpse at the band's ten-year history.
1) Cream Soda
5) Sunday People
6) My Girl
7) Love Forever
9) White Surf Style 5
11) Yumegiwa Last Boy
12) Aoharu Youth
15) Last Scene
16) Wonder Word