Wednesday, 26 January 2011

'Ordinary Things': The mutant garage beast grows and grows

XXXY, a producer from Manchester, makes the kind of warm'n'glitchy future garage that so brazenly appeals to my senses, as if he's hooked me up to some electrode brain scanning contraption that measures the exact pitches, frequencies, chopped beats and head-nod-ability that I'm genetically programmed to vibe off.

'Ordinary Things' is apparently the b-side to his track 'You Always Start It', already sold out on the Ten Thousand Yen label, but I marginally prefer it to the main event - it's not the most original or groundbreaking of tracks, but somehow it ticks all the boxes to become the quintessential sound of this microgenre. Not that it's formulaic by any means - you'd have to be a chronic neophile to believe that this sound has reached such a tipping point - but it goes where you want it to go, propelled on by a gently modulating chord progression and some seriously funky breaks towards the end.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Car-crash pop: Chillwave is serious business (sort of)

In a recent post, I mentioned what I find to be the compulsive-yet-repellent character of the hypnagogic-chill-fi-whatevs-scene, with reference to Hype Williams. Annoyingly, someone from the insanely high-quality Fact mag just wrote a bunch of stuff about HW that congealed many of my thoughts about the band into half a sentence and then went on to say something far more interesting.

Anyway, a couple of other quotes I CTRL-Ced lately have helped me to articulate just what it is about these bands that makes me feel - well, not exactly compelled or repelled, but somehow uneasy.

The first comes from the esteemed yet divisive Simon Reynolds, who wrote a piece for the Village Voice called 'Leave Chillwave Alone'. The title is misleading 'cos it's essentially Reynolds hatin' hard on chillwave for 500 words. But hey:

In "Hardcore Pops Are Fun," from 2006's House Arrest, Ariel Pink provided a kind of hymn/manifesto for this generation's ahistorical omnivorousness: "Pop music is free/For you and me . . . Pop music is wine/It tastes so divine." But he still had a foot in '90s irony ("Hardcore Pops" was actually recorded in 2001). Archness gets burned off completely in the music of those that came after him, replaced by an earnestness that aspires to spirituality.

Reynolds has picked up on the surprisingly irony-free take on New Age sounds, 80s MOR and AM radio drivel we've been hearing over the past couple of years, largely produced by timewarped dudes in stonewash denim.

Where Ariel Pink's music is ironic and arch (often annoying attributes in themselves), his numerous musical disciples have dropped the humour in favour of a more ambiguous attitude, one that's impossible to read: not joking, yet not serious.

Reynolds goes on:

Earnestness is one of the defining attributes of "digimodernist" culture identified by the theorist Alan Kirby—other hallmarks are "onwardness" and "endlessness." On Altered Zones and its constellation of blogs, the flow is relentless: What matters is always the next new name, the latest micro-genre, another MP3 or MediaFire. Artist careers likewise are a continuous drip-drip-drip of releases, a dozen or more per year—there's no reason to edit or hold back, every reason to keep one's name out there.

He points out that where Pitchfork is firmly rooted in a pre-internet conception of music and its industry accoutrements (live shows, albums, reviews and criticism), its sister site Altered Zones is run by a mostly younger generation of bloggers, who tend to see tracks as a steady flow of 3-minute experiences: on and on and on.

Reviews are irrelevant; the critic's job of assessing and archiving is hopelessly out-of-date. Songs are almost impossible to own or play physically (often existing only on cassette or VHS) and disseminated indiscriminately through the infinite reproducers of copy>paste and rightclick>saveas.

Chillwave sounds like the past, but exists only in the present. And when the track ends, it belongs to the past too, making way for the next track from the future. Onward, endless.

Back to that earnestness that aspires to spirituality:

"This reality is twisted, but for me it's really fascinating because seeing past the deranged hypnosis, or merging with it, can also represent our human potential," the experimental musician and hypnagogic hero, James Ferraro, told [David] Keenan [of the Wire magazine] back in 2009. "So it inspires me in that way. KFC, TV et cetera are perfect examples of dark energy temples that alter people's reality in a psychotic way, but it also shows the power of dreams and it is a testament of our ability to plug into our dreams and experience them on Earth."

KFC as a dark energy temple? Personally, feeling lost somewhere in between the P4K and AZ mentalities, my natural assumption is that Ferraro is just dicking around, talking pseudo-spiritual rubbish for the lulz. But I think the truth is he doesn't know - or care - either way. Earnest or ironic, lulz or serious business, the chillwave attitude encompasses everything and nothing.

Tim Burrows from The Quietus goes on:

The attempt to suggest that KFC – an admittedly necessary purchase at various kinds of time-poor/inebriated/frivolous states – has some kind of new age, transformative significance sums up the scene quite well. There is a refusal to look beyond what has been already experienced, a kind of kick back and ignore attitude that, if anything, does not make it unique. It makes it our cultural norm.

I don't have anything against chillwave. I like a lot of it. But as I said, it repels as much it compels me. Car crash pop. Slow motion car-crash pop. Abject slo-mo car-crash pop.

Here's a great video...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Rounding up to move on: James Blake, Hype Williams, Teengirl Fantasy

Once again it has been too long since my last post. I am my own worst enemy.

To ease myself back in, here are a few nuggets of audio joy, all of which I have been rinsing this week through my fucking awesome new soundcard. Even with lame Logitech speakers the following tunes sound heavy like a first day period, as Janet Jackson once said.


James Blake, 'Wilhelm's Scream'

[Had to choose a different video as the Radio 1 version is too wide]

This looped refrain has been pulsing through my brain on and off for the past week now, but the real joy is when I get home and stick it on and am reminded of how damn classy and 'mature' the production is. A lot of people seem a bit surprised/confused at the sound of JB's album, which is so sparse it makes the XX sound like Wild Beasts, but after you get over your initial shock at how many moments of pure silence there are, you start to warm up to all the little production treats scattered throughout. Not to mention his voice - one of my favourite games over the past couple of months has been informing people that 'Limit To Your Love' is not a sampled vocal...

Also I have to briefly boast about seeing James Blake at Plan B last Friday, which @Dummymag pointed out was pretty much a 'We were there' moment. Again, the voice is proper spine-tingly live, plus hearing the bass out of the venue's Funktion One's made 'Limit To Your Love' a quite literally visceral experience. Excited to hear that he's planning a residency in February at a church in King's Cross.

# 2

Hype Williams, 'Rescue Dawn'

Yes, yes, I know hipsters were on this 4real like waaay back in 2010 but I haven't blogged for ages, 'kay? So I've been listening to the elusive duo's album (released on De Stijl) for a while now, having been slipped the promo ages ago and utterly failing to act upon it. It's called Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite, And Start Gettin Reel.

Initially the whole concept of Hype Williams made me feel a bit sicky, partly because of the extreme alt.coolness of it all, with its pixellated visuals and anti-aesthetic aesthetic. Strong Dalston vibes emanate throughout, combined with not so much the 3am night bus atmosphere we've had from so many great records of 2008-10, but more a 7am 'oh my God, why am I still awake' feeling, which marries perfectly with the dubious 'hypnagogic pop' label defined by David Keenan of the Wire (hypnagogic meaning the state between awake and asleep). See also, #3 of this post.

Also, something about the warmth of the warped cassette effects, twisted vocals and repetitive infinite loopiness all came together to take me back to being a carsick 7-year-old on the way to Gatwick at sunrise (really). In particular I recall a tape we had in the Renault 21 of Chris Rea's Road to Hell, the cover of which most chillwave bands would kill to have come up with, and which had some sort of profound effect on my developing only-child psyche as it whirred round on its own infinite loop. Listening to the opening track of that album now, I think I get it. It's amazing.

Anyway, Hype Williams' woozy conveyor belt of barely there vocals and distant reverbed drums finally sank in just before Christmas and I learned to accept the fear and love them anyway. I also really enjoy the track names, which sound like placeholder project titles on Logic that they never bothered changing ('Rescue Dawn', 'Rescue Dawn 3', 'Untitled'). It adds to the digital-DIY feel of their of pixellated home videos, which of course works in perfect ironical symmetry with the band name.


Teengirl Fantasy, 'Make The Move'

Yes, I KNOW, I know you've heard them and that 'Cheaters' was Fact mag's top song of 2010, I know all this. But I haven't blogged for a while and I'm seeing them at White Light tomorrow. After being informed that I missed the best show evah at XOYO a few months ago, where they supported Oneohtrix Point Never, I am looking forward to catching up. Sadly Becoming Real has now been demoted to DJ support, when I was expecting a live set of some kind. I dunno, a lot of new artists are having trouble working out how to do show-and-tell with their music now that everyone is a bedroom producer. Do you just bring in loads of musicians and mates to trigger sequencers and hit floor toms? Er, apparently so. But it seems a bit pointless. I applaud James Blake for having found a way round it (i.e. playing piano and singing, with live drums and a bit of looping thrown in).

So Teengirl Fantasy: another 7am 'why am I still awake' album, so much so that it's actually called 7AM. This time I don't feel carsick, just blissed out and over-tired. To me, this kind of beautiful glitchy techy music has a sort of cleansing quality to it, as though all those modulated crackles and stutters are washing out my furred-up insides like ice cubes spiked with bleach, or sugar-free lemonade... am I over-emoting that? Probably. But that's one of the pleasures of dancing about architecture, don't you think?