"It Is Happening Again": Tim writes about songs from 2017

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"I'll see you in 25 years"

Tim F, Monday, 11 December 2017 12:52 (two years ago) link

Taylor Alxndr – Nightwork
At its best house understands many secrets, but few are as central to its economy of desire as the sad truth that lust is rarely as hot as when it is both helpless and hopeful, envious and acquisitive, caught permanently between mindless optimism and realist dejection; and where better to be confronted with your own grasping inadequacy than on the dancefloor, where thirst traps wear their maybe/maybe-not quasi-attainability like perfume? For the frequent dancer, that urgency is regularised and dulled into submission, until you barely even register brushing bare shoulders with the could-be-love of your life every five seconds or so. Or maybe being on the wrong side of a sexual currency rate swap is a young person’s game: as I get older, that poignancy is something I remember often but now rarely feel. But the music doesn’t necessarily change as we change, and house sometimes whispers that maybe there could be some worth in feeling less happy than I mostly do.

“Night Work” conceives of desire – both desiring and being desired – as a feedback loop, Taylor watching you watch Taylor watching you, Taylor watching herself and asking if she is good enough for you or too good for you, trapped by the ritual of watching and being watched. And the song feels like ritual, its constantly rising and returning synth trills and stiffly formal handclaps never breaking a sweat, Taylor’s voice never rising above a low, throaty androgynous croon as she questions the point of a game she knows she is bound to repeat. “When I go out each time it always hurts / because you never think to put me first / and I would like to somehow know my worth / ‘cause I’ve been putting on that night work”: the work of being wanted is work unacknowledged and frequently unpaid, and “Nightwork” wisely chooses not to over-glamourise the oldest and most familiar of all gig economies; there’s glamour enough in the song’s sighing repetition, its tired admission that whatever becomes of tonight, tomorrow it’ll be back to the grind.

Tim F, Monday, 11 December 2017 12:55 (two years ago) link

it’s the most wonderful time of the year

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Monday, 11 December 2017 14:14 (two years ago) link

Got me ticket, I'm on board for this

♫ very clever with maracas.jpg ♫ (Le Bateau Ivre), Monday, 11 December 2017 15:10 (two years ago) link

Kelly Lee Owens- More Than A Woman

Kelly Lee Owens’ debut album this year straddled a particularly of-the-moment seeming line between techno abstraction and pop form by finding the point where both converge on their way towards a third thing, the gauzy smear of the ambient dream-pop interzone. That the entire aesthetic gamble can be near-exhaustively described by reference to a single precedent in the form of the Aphex Twin remixes of Seefeel’s “Time To Find Me” comprises both the album’s considerable strengths and its parameters (limitations, if you’re feeling nasty).

Against that backdrop, a cover version of Aaliyah’s “More Than A Woman” could be expected to be some form of aesthetic virtue-signalling, borrowing the cred of Tim and Baby Girl while reinforcing the singularity (or, at least, specificity) of the performer’s sonic vision - we have a very exact blueprint for this in the form of The XX’s cover of “Hot Like Fire”. But that’s a theoretical cover version we can’t critique, because Kelly’s “More Than A Woman” (recorded in 2014 but properly released this year, together with an utterly ignorable masc4masc 2017 remix from Owens which I propose to disregard) is, if anything, closer to the original than it is to Kelly’s subsequent work.

“More Than A Woman” seems beloved now far beyond what I recall of its original impact, a phenomenon I attribute to it being remembered as Aaliyah’s final, posthumous single, rather than just another great track on one of 2001’s very best albums; for my part I have always found the music’s odd jauntiness (the guro scrapes, the woozy explosions of strings) productively jarring, sitting oddly against Aaliyah’s typically mysterious, increasingly reverse-echoed vocal performance. Perhaps the music’s slight chintziness was always a deliberate misdirection in any event: Aaliyah sang this tune and the much darker “We Need A Resolution” as if they were kissing cousins, her love-frustrations and communication roadblocks (“...Resolution”) a mirror image and logical consequence of her endless over-abundance.

Kelly’s strategy - and it’s a good one for a cover version that can’t even expect to compete with its source material - is to rather straightforwardly collapse the sonic distance between the two tunes, again by reference to a thoughtfully-chosen third property. Timbaland’s low-end gurgles and fleet-footed rhythmic friskiness are transformed into an ominous bass line glowering with a radioactive menace and fitful, depleted-sounding syncopation all straight from Wookie’s darkside garage classic “Down On Me”, while synth arpeggios nervously keep time and strings flair with ectoplasmic spectraility

Kelly can’t compete with Aaliyah vocally, but her thin, multitracked performance over such a faithful-yet-enervated arrangement nevertheless underscores a truth of the original, which is that Aaliyah’s sounded like a ghost on the track even before she unexpectedly passed away. More than a woman, less than present, always somewhere ahead. This cover can’t bring me closer to Aaliyah’s version, but I find something seductive in its precise measurement of how far away I remain.

Tim F, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 11:27 (two years ago) link

Ohhhhhh yeah! Greatness

moullet, Wednesday, 13 December 2017 15:32 (two years ago) link

That the entire aesthetic gamble can be near-exhaustively described by reference to a single precedent in the form of the Aphex Twin remixes of Seefeel’s “Time To Find Me” comprises both the album’s considerable strengths and its parameters (limitations, if you’re feeling nasty).

hell yeah this is the stuff

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Wednesday, 13 December 2017 15:49 (two years ago) link

great write up, thanks!
really enjoyed this whole album

nxd, Thursday, 14 December 2017 10:28 (two years ago) link

Yemi Alade - Mon Lo

Floating like a butterfly, stinging like a b-girl: “Is this the type of love you warned me about?” Yemi asks with deceptive sweetness, before declaring “I think I’m hotter, hotter than all of the girls you hit up for your IG…. I’ve been waiting, waiting on you, praying someday that you’ll be true, I'd seek to give my life for you, I’d die for you, I’d seek to kill for you…” All delivered in a tone of honeyed regret, disappointment as soft and subtle as a slow exhalation, as what sounds curiously like a bagpipe wails disconsolately somewhere in the background. I used to get this kind of lachrymose pop vapour hit solely from Jamaica; the fact that now it seems to come more often from Africa is probably only a sign of how ruthlessly the latter has stripmined the former in order to give voice to the universals of lust and heartache.

At the outset, I was fully prepared for the lilting “Mon Lo” to be a deliciously gentle mid-tempo jam, the kind of tune which works best when your feet are resting at a point higher than the rest of your body. Had it just continued in that bittersweet, wistful vein, it probably still would have merited a write-up. But Yemi has other ideas, so, after a delectable, languorous chorus, the track veers into a captivating instrumental breakdown that turns out to be the song’s real chorus: a wordless, arpeggiated refrain redolent of EDM, only EDM rescued and redeemed by Nigeria, bouncing in time with the tune’s libidinal energy, and bursting with lightning-speed synthetic ripples like butterflies in your stomach.

This swerve transforms the song, and once heard it creeps back in time to retroactively transform the song’s opening stretch into sheer anticipation, the song itself into a kind of banger of resilience, Yemi gazing sorrowfully at the past and present while the music gestures towards the next hopeful romance. The music knows more, or perhaps chooses to know less, than Yemi herself. Lovers will disappoint, she warns; but wrapped around her is a sonic insistence that that is where all the fun is to be had.

Tim F, Thursday, 14 December 2017 12:09 (two years ago) link

Maroon 5 ft. SZA – What Lovers Do

The following kind of clarity is rare for me, but I can distinctly remember my happiest moment of 2017: I was at an outdoor festival on a mountain in the Victorian Alpine district on an unseasonably cold February evening (Nb. February is a summer month in Australia), near the front of a large and rather inebriated crowd on what passed for a dancefloor, when the DJ (to use the title expansively) dropped what I subsequently discovered was Neiked’s “Sexual”. I think I’d heard this tune several times prior – in the gym change rooms perhaps, or in 24 hour convenience stores – but if so it must have struck me as pleasantly ignorable, yet another vaguely post-tropical European pop song of uncertain ancestry and with no-longer-really-risqué lyrics, lazily occupying a broadly accommodating summer jam niche.

Whatever the case, in that moment – and, well, there may have been other factors at play – it sounded like the best song I had ever heard, and I danced with a relatively new-minted friend who in that moment was the best person I had ever met, and vamped along to the lyrics and generally felt much younger than I was or am. Then the DJ played Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and everyone got very demonstrative over what is the closest thing that Australians under 40 have to a homegrown equivalent of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”.

Coming down from that mountain, I think I listened to “Sexual” about five times a day every day for a month. Reader, the only thing that prevents that song from being my song of 2017 is that it was released in August 2016 (which begs the question: where the fuck was I last year). It’s difficult to articulate the precise steps that result in the alchemical transformation of a really quite modest piece of dance-pop fluff into something so adorable, so admirable, though a good deal of the magic resides, I suspect, in the song’s narrative economy, cleverly designed to ape the progression of a seduction that turns out to be marvelously straightforward and easily-won by virtue of its mutuality: it’s in the build from tentative first verse and chorus to more-confident second, to hyperactive middle-eight and finally to triumphant third chorus, before the abrupt closing, as everyone involved tries to work out where their socks ended up. Another investigative angle might note simply that it’s the most breezy pop song since Usher’s “Show Me” (actually, more so).

“What Lovers Do” is not “Sexual”, but rather a fairly rubbishy, half-hearted facsimile of it, the One Tree Hill to its Dawson’s Creek, with ridiculously facile lyrics, supremely forgettable verses (but see below) and a strong whiff of no-one involved really understanding what kind of pop song they’re trying to make, let alone caring. I also happen to think it’s marvelous, and it provided me with what was probably about the twentieth happiest moment of my 2017 whilst on a beachside walk in Sydney circa a month ago. “Tell me, tell me if you love me or not, love me or not, love me or not? I’ll bet the house on you, am I lucky or not, lucky or not lucky or not?”, Adam Levine sings as portentous (of pleasure) synths rise in the background. Improbably, these words become a mantra to live by, a sign of my deteriorating taste or brain or who knows what. And that’s just in the silly, tossed-off verses.

“What Lovers Do” can shed a lot of light on what is so seductive about the “Sexual” style, because its general mediocrity allows the key attractive components to really shine. So let’s talk about the chorus. “Ooh ooh ooh ooh oo-ooh, been wishin’ for you, oo-oh, oo-oh, tryin’a do what lovers do! Oo-ooh!” This is delivered in a frankly preposterous falsetto that for reasons known only to god completely destroy me. Maybe it’s because this is Adam so openly courting ridicule at best, and I appreciate the gumption of this supremely public protestation. Or maybe it’s just that it’s all delivered over this low-slung disco groove ripped entirely from “Sexual” and my own taste immune system is powerless to resist this particular form of attack. And I must admit that I feel compromised by the essential easiness of both these tunes, the way they seem to go out of their way to make space for listeners rather than bowl them over in typical 2010s style.

But if it’s not just my own weakness, maybe the secret of both “Sexual” and “What Lovers Do” is that they both (to different degrees of success) tap into a certain kind of performativity of desire which, at its core, is not sexual at all. Both songs, for me, feel indicative of an (instagram) era where purported attraction is staged as a way of signalling turbo-charged friendly affection, where a kind of outrageous intimacy is the chip we deploy to bid up our on-the-record protestations of collegiate fidelity – on the dancefloor, but also in general. These songs are ridiculous, which makes them perfect ciphers for the special ridiculousness of camaraderie, of over-investment in just how much we love the people around us. In other words, I listen to this song and all I want to be doing is tryin’a do what good friends do.

Tim F, Thursday, 14 December 2017 12:52 (two years ago) link

Prime thread. (He said, simply.)

Ned Raggett, Thursday, 14 December 2017 16:57 (two years ago) link

bookmarked, of course

Karl Malone, Thursday, 14 December 2017 16:59 (two years ago) link

great work as usual Tim

In a slipshod style (Ross), Thursday, 14 December 2017 17:00 (two years ago) link

lol thank you for putting into words my shifting feelings about "what lovers do"

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Thursday, 14 December 2017 17:14 (two years ago) link

as well as my totally unshifting feelings about "sexual," which is an amazing song

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Thursday, 14 December 2017 17:16 (two years ago) link

thraed of neiked's "sexual"

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Thursday, 14 December 2017 17:28 (two years ago) link

that last one was especially for my fb sexual crew

Tim F, Thursday, 14 December 2017 19:36 (two years ago) link

Saw Yemi Alade in a late-night gig in DC this year. Yes to your description...

curmudgeon, Thursday, 14 December 2017 19:53 (two years ago) link


human and working on getting beer (longneck), Thursday, 14 December 2017 21:38 (two years ago) link

Bicep - Vale

It’s easy to grasp why Bicep are so rated, and then, having done so, to promptly underrate them, to handwave away their appeal with a slightly impatient accession to the obvious. If it doesn’t need to be stated, why state it?

There are a whole bunch of interconnected reasons for this, I think, many of them a matter of context. One is that the duo’s slow, steady ascension to the top of the Mixmag heap has been so unsurprising, so foreseeable, a gradual process of their own tropes and the broader festival-driven environment aligning through a series of minor tweaks to each. Another is simply that they’re British, and there’s something a bit unseemly and 1993 about lionising a pasty white male duo from the isles making heavily melodic mainstream dance music, in an era when at least parts of the surrounding cultural ecosystem finally seems capable of fostering and promoting other narratives.

The sonics feed into this. Listening to this year’s belated debut album, I am put in mind of Future Sound of London’s Accelerator, Spooky’s “Little Bullet Pt. 1” and The Drum Club’s self-titled album, all great but largely unremembered (“Papua New Guinea” aside) pitstops in the development of UK prog house, whose successive attempts at melding together longform structures, trancey melodies and graceful percussion all staked a fleeting claim on the crossover middlebrow. Bicep’s recent Radio 1 Essential Mix, which for long stretches sounds like an update of a Sasha & Digweed Northern Exposure set, hardly helps matters.

For my part, such resemblances comprise a great deal of the charm: Bicep’s echoes of a lost consensus of middlebrow, middle-class dance tropes is about as effective a form of drug-memory laced wistfulness as I’ve found, and the particular contours of their revivalism allows a combination of toughness and intricacy that sidesteps many of the stylistic debates that have haunted dance music for the past two decades or so, mostly by pretending they never happened.

The specifics count here, in particular the way that Bicep combine house and percussive syncopation in spiky, mid-tempo breakbeat (“Glue”, “Spring”) or even 2-step (“Opal”) grooves underpinning their drawn out melodic spin-cycles: these tunes are rollers in a way I rarely hear these days, inviting a curious mixture of tension and relaxation, the rhythm fascinating despite its repetition. Or perhaps the spiked rhythms are less interesting in themselves than in the interpenetration between them and the melodic detail (burbling basslines, chiming bell chords, a disconsolate diva’s wail), each delicately jabbing into the other’s spaces in a manner that can sound like two 3D printers making love.

According to crossover album-dance logic, “Vale”, the album’s sole vocal cut (sorta; it sounds like a dance tune sampling some other pop tune, to be honest) should be some kind of ostentatious genre excursion. And it does feel a bit slower than a peaktime Bicep track, though this is mostly an aural illusion: despite rolling at a house tempo, the tune’s stalking, three kicks per bar rhythm feels measured and feline. In every other respect it’s a perfect expression of the Bicep formula: the stiff, stop-start groove sounding like an engine revving up and backfiring, the bass spurts and eerie synth chords gradually rising and choking the tune in a kind of nostalgia-for-comedowns-past portentousness.

The breakdown is magical: an Arctic sea of duelling synth-pipes into which that rolling groove plunges and seeks to carve a course. As with all the album’s most banging moments (see the aforementioned “Spring”, “Kites”, “Rain”, Aura”), there’s a machinic austerity at work here, a sense that Bicep have captured techno’s feelings about itself in the absence of human interference. Like most any romantics of robotic emotionalism, it’s an entirely fictional allusion, but it’s one to which I’ll happily to succumb.

Tim F, Wednesday, 20 December 2017 10:39 (two years ago) link

nightwork is amazing (as is the write up). immediately shot to one of my favourites of the year. tired, resilient and weary, of the streets, and hallway stairs.

also i know not strictly part of this year’s write up but i hadn’t heard sexual before and my god.

sir dumblebee hitler the first (Fizzles), Wednesday, 20 December 2017 10:42 (two years ago) link

OneMind - Early Daze

There are many things I miss about mid-nineties jungle, but one aspect that’s hard to put into words is the curious emotional ambivalence its best tunes so often imparted, that oxymoronic mix of steel-eyed alertness and paranoia with melting dreaminess. At its expansive mid-nineties pinnacle, in exploring literally-never-before-heard sonic hinterlands, jungle also frequently pioneered what you might call emotional between-states: violently happy, gently murderous.

“Early Daze” - a tune which seems happy to call back to just about every era of jungle’s history - channels that ambivalence in part through its frequent return to that most inscrutable of breaks, Apache, those high-pitched, quicksilver bongo hits somehow evoking (or invoking) the unbearable lightness of being even as they slugs you across the jaw. It’s a broader theme, the tune expertly navigating the intersection of light and dark previously trod by Photek’s “The Water Margin” or Metalheadz’ “Angel”: disembodied diva sighs swirl around airy rave chords and compressed, late nineties d&b bass bleeps. But most of all this vibe resides in the rhythm, delicate but sharp, and endlessly mutating; the way it ceaselessly cycles between motifs, seeming to up the ante with each frenzied hop, as synth riffs sizzle and fall like acid rain around it.

Tim F, Wednesday, 20 December 2017 21:16 (two years ago) link

Carmen Villain – Planetarium (Gigi Masin Remix)/(Gigi Masin Alternate Version)

The original “Planetarium” is spectral in both senses of the word, an impressionistic vapour of piano fumbles and sighs and Carmen’s own voice, sometimes spoken word and improvised, sometimes angelic and choral, somewhere between Jane Siberry’s “Sweet Incarnadine” and Julia Holter’s “Hello Stranger”, and like them capturing a siren-like prettiness-in-absence, the whispers of a dream whose details slip further away the more you try to fix it in your memory.

A perfect song, then, to be tackled by Gigi Masin, producer or co-producer of some of the most memorable forgettable-ambient music of the past few years (without even tackling his 1980s work). Gigi’s first take starts by playing Carmen’s voice backwards over glowing, echoing chords, before the glossolalia reconciles into the gentle, probing question, “Sometimes we get so lonely, are you lonely out there?” From there the tune gradually spins itself into a soft, motoric E2-E4 synth chug festooned with Carmen’s sighs and talking cure rambling, soft and heavy and close to the mic: “One day, I will give myself a glowing review: ‘Well done, your mother must be sooo proud… of how good you are… at pretending… pretending… pretending… you should be satisfied...’” Eventually, the tune decides to become a house epic, intermittent Orbital-esque synth bleeps and sprinkler system percussion hovering four feet above a becalmed dancefloor.

Gigi’s “alternate version” takes the tune in the other direction, returning to the ambient-as-perfect-instagram-filter nourishment of Talk to the Sea and the Gaussian Curve albums: slowly descending piano chords letting the air out of the world, as wind instruments and guitar and strings all moan softly in the background; the song an ice sculpture would hear in its head as it quietly melts into the floor. Now the effect is closer to the Kate Bush of “Snowflake”, its gentle repetition evoking a kind of meditative, satiated sadness, a state of depression so attractive in its formal loveliness that you could easily drown in it.

Tim F, Saturday, 23 December 2017 06:05 (two years ago) link

this was goooorgeous

shackling the masses with plastic-wrapped snack picks (sic), Saturday, 23 December 2017 07:23 (two years ago) link

Hadn't heard those Gigi Masin remixes before, for new stuff I think I prefer his contribution to Dekmantel 10 Years. Something about the breathy vocals and spoken word on this...

MikoMcha, Saturday, 23 December 2017 09:25 (two years ago) link

Thanks for writing these Tim.

Mercer Finn, Thursday, 28 December 2017 12:17 (two years ago) link

ditto, thanks tim! Great reading

nxd, Thursday, 28 December 2017 15:40 (two years ago) link

yes this hellyear was now worth it

Listen to my homeboy Fantano (D-40), Thursday, 28 December 2017 19:03 (two years ago) link


etc, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 23:30 (two years ago) link

PVRIS - What's Wrong

If one was genuinely trying to create a 2017 equivalent to The Cure’s most outrageously lurid-yet-successful attempts to seduce the world through self-disgust (rather than just record straightforward homages to Disintegration; I assume there are bands that do this but don’t know who they are?), what sort of stylistic coordinates would be proper to invoke so as to give your glittering gloom-pop a decent equivalent chance of crossover to broader ears?

In the case of PVRIS, already purveyors of a remarkably succinct and efficient mechanised post-emo-pop heavily influenced by Paramore’s second through fourth albums, streamlining hardly seemed necessary – if anything, over-slickness seems to me likely to play against a band like this commercially, losing the original appeal and fans without coming anywhere near close enough to actual chart-pop to win a replacement audience. In any event, it appears that they failed: I never hear about this band’s 2017 album either in my personal channels or in the wider world, so whatever impact it has had was probably a quiet thud on the floor as it fell between two stools. But I love it in all its streamlined Apple Music Playlist About Teenage Depression glory.

To me, “What’s Wrong” seems too monumental to easily wear the tag of “slick”, but I think I’m wrong on this, and it’s telling that the first song it made me think of was Taylor’s “Style” (itself a bit of a genre excursion for the artist involved). Every element here feels sculpted for current (or at least the last half decade of) proclivities: the “oh oh oh-oh-oh” backing vocals, the chugging one-note bass that rises from verse to pre-verse, the descending guitar riff that sounds like a synthesizer (or is the other way around), even the insectile chitter of the hi-hats in the bridge. This is misery mainlined, all extraneous processes jettisoned to leave only the purest hit of disaffected youth, expressed in a musical and lyrical language of utmost universality. As someone with relatively generic emotions, I appreciate the ease with which PVRIS are able to translate quite specific concerns into a kind of adolescent lingua franca – albeit not in a manner that has necessarily translated into great popular success. But this sounds like the kind of song that does surprisingly well amongst rock fans in Europe and South America.

If singer Lynn Gunn loses anything to Robert Smith or (pre-2017) Taylor in the wallowing stakes, it’s that she doesn’t spend much time on florid description; nor does she even fully adopt Hayley Williams’ more stripped-backed penchant for running with a metaphor. Instead, nearly everything is melodramatically declaratory: “Take the mirror from the wall so I can't see myself at all / Don't wanna see another damn inch of my skull.” On the other hand, I love her declarations, which in themselves seem to reject florid description as the preserve of people with more imagination than pain – or as she puts it more bluntly, in a broad-spectrum sub-tweet hidden in a chorus: “Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable.”

Tim F, Tuesday, 2 January 2018 23:41 (two years ago) link


flamenco drop (BradNelson), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:00 (two years ago) link

ah holy shit what have i been doing not listening to the new pvris album all year

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:40 (two years ago) link

brad I had assumed you were disappointed and didn't want to talk about it!

Tim F, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:53 (two years ago) link

surprise (or not) i LOVE IT

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:53 (two years ago) link

there's something going on in "what's wrong" that makes me think of late-'90s pop? idk why, gettin' weird slow disco goth jennifer paige vibes

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:56 (two years ago) link

this has been bugging me quite a bit, I feel like that feeling when you've been swimming and have water in one of your ears and then suddenly it slips out and it's like "welcome to realiti"

Tim F, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:57 (two years ago) link


Tim F, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:57 (two years ago) link

Lynn covering "Crush" would be goth ultra plus one

Tim F, Wednesday, 3 January 2018 02:57 (two years ago) link

tbh i had trouble getting into it a bit & wasn't sure if maybe it was too subtle genre-ist for me which is a hypocritical expectation coming from me obv

esp because all that really means is i wasnt giving it enough time to really get a handle on its surfaces

Listen to my homeboy Fantano (D-40), Wednesday, 3 January 2018 07:24 (two years ago) link

i listened to Neiked - Sexual like 500 times today thx Tim <3

flopson, Thursday, 4 January 2018 04:35 (two years ago) link

Welcome to the Sexual Club, flopson.

Someday everyone will feel the way that we feel.

Tim F, Thursday, 4 January 2018 13:37 (two years ago) link

Octo Octa – Hidden Truth

Octo Octa’s Where Are We Going? was one of my favourite albums of 2017: a deep house album achieving a rare combination of grace and drive, it is sensual yet melancholy, sleekly propulsive like the best efforts from The Art Department (compare the gorgeous “On Your Lips” to that duo’s “Vampire Night Club” or “I C U”), yet gesturing towards the expansive sense of becalmed drift more readily associated with DJ Sprinkles. The album’s track titles underscore this aim: “Adrift”, “Until The Moon Sets”, “No More Pain (Promises To A Younger Self)”. If describing house as “redemptive” seems largely reflexive at this point, an unexamined metaphorical impulse drained of almost all its meaning, Octo Octa achieves perhaps the most that can be achieved at this late hour, spooling film after film against the wall of our nostalgic recollection depicting those moments from our pasts when that description seemed literally true, that this music could restore and protect and nourish us and make us whole.

“Hidden Truth” is the b-side to a non-album single, and its title is typically evocative and accurate: the cricket chirp percussion, the softly slashing snares, the amorphous, quavering synth chords and the warmest of all bumping basslines creating a ten-minute grid that could be a transparent temple, a place of acquiescent submission to the inevitability of the groove’s progression; perhaps the hidden truth here is the necessity of this submission, the almost religious ecstasy of demanding nothing from this groove but to bask in the glow of its own firm self-regard. Like the best moments on the album (“Preparation Rituals”, “Where Are We Going Pt. 2”), there’s something almost trance-inspired about the tune’s fluttering melodies (if it helps, listen to Octo Octa as an othered, americanised risposte to the festival triumphalism of Bicep), but “Hidden Truth” is even more rigidly subservient to house’s boxy structures and strictures, and I delight in the monumental predictability of every sound arriving and disappearing at precisely the moment which was always intended for it from time immemorial.

That this makes the tune amongst my favourite of her efforts probably says less about Octo Octa’s craft than about my enjoyment of it. Meeting in the middle, we could propose a certain paradoxical inverse relationship between relaxation and tension in Octo Octa’s house grooves: the more the rhythms lean into funk, the more they roll, the more they seem to evoke a particular time and place, a kind of topography and geography of meaning; whereas these sterner, sharper efforts create a space of pure emptiness around the body, a blank slate, an erasure and foreclosure of what is in favour of a notion of what could be that is too wide-open for content. Where are we going? Perhaps the most we can ask from house now is to induce in us a state of always arriving home to a place that is, precisely, in the middle of nowhere.

Tim F, Thursday, 4 January 2018 16:33 (two years ago) link

I'm sorry I just found this thread.

self-clowning oven (Murgatroid), Thursday, 4 January 2018 16:40 (two years ago) link

Little Big Town – Lost in California

Little Big Town themselves refer to “Lost in California” as “Hillbilly Sade”, one of those annoyingly evocative encapsulations that artists and bands sometimes stumble upon which then forever determines and pre-ordains all of your critical reactions; or all of mine, at least. In truth, “Lost in California” doesn’t really sound like Sade (and certainly not a hillbilly version thereof), though the idea is not totally off-base: what the country group gestures towards with this tag, I think, is the idea of a kind of surface-level smoothness harbouring hidden depths, the sense of immense concentration and effort expended to create a mirage of languorous ease, so as, in turn, to suggest that concentration and ease are not in fact always opposites, but both necessary components of any kind of absolute presentism, any total being-in-the-moment, which is the Sade-like state (think “Cherish the Day”) which “Lost in California” seeks to invoke. But anyone expecting a literal country-meets-soul collision may be disappointed.

In any event, we don’t need to stretch so far to arrive at a precedent for this gorgeous, seductive concoction, as I’m reminded more readily of the soft blushes and bruises flowering across the surface of the relaxed adult-contemporary pop of Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing: the dreamlike expanses of “I Love You”, the purple lightning sparks and shadows of “Sweet Surrender”, perhaps most of all the way the soulful yearn of “Witness” was set against an ambient hum that could have been sampled from Talk Talk’s “After The Flood”.

On “Lost in California” the resemblance is immediate, with an achingly slow fade-in punctured by a drum machine’s fitful stutter, less a beginning than a resumption, as spidery guitar runs announce with great and commanding clarity that this song is going to be a fever-dream wander through a stark expanse of joshua trees. And sure enough, Karen Fairchild opens gently with: “There’s a long stretch of desert through the canyon…” It’s in the way the guitar and keyboard stabs blend and dissolve into each other, and in the gently ascending synth or fingerpicked arpeggios over a tidal bass groove in an extended, please-don’t-end outro; throughout, the sound of the sound is so tangible and viscous, it’s like a delightful film swirling over the melody, every moment sounding pre-stained with something like sepia; or maybe it’s like how the haze of hot air over a summer road is always more intense, more intensely rippling, in the memory of lost summers gone than in whatever reality can muster.

The resemblance extends to Karen Fairchild’s vocals, all delicate phrasing and long smooth sustains and a certain knowing understatement, wisely creating space for the arrangement to carry much of the emotional heft, so that Fairchild can position herself as a bemused observer of her own fantasy. “Whisper in my ear / dreamin’ disappear / say you’ll take me / where the world unwinds / lost in California…” I doubt there’s anything intentional (even indirectly) in that resemblance, which if anything runs the other way around despite what a historical chronology would suggest: that state of bemused satiation seems to me more a country trope than anything else. It’s the situation of this desired state within a context so yearning, so fragile, so redolent of an ache for something lost (in a space, in a state, yes, but also in time) that makes this song so startling and so singular. For there lies the further turn of the screw that both Sade and her hillbilly followers understand, which is that we are or were only ever “in the moment” when looking back: our present only emerges into view, only flourishes to take up the entire screen, when it is already in the rearview mirror.

Tim F, Thursday, 4 January 2018 18:36 (two years ago) link

^^^ this is the best song in the world. i had no idea they considered it "hillbilly sade," little big town otm (in a more or less indirect way)

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Thursday, 4 January 2018 18:38 (two years ago) link

Wau @ "Lost in California" & that description. Had missed it as it wasn't one of the singles. Had also missed that Octa Octa track (a b-side!); glad to see someone make a DJ Sprinkles comparison as I was a little worried by own comparisons were lazy biographical pattern recognition rather than on any sonic merit.

etc, Saturday, 6 January 2018 01:33 (two years ago) link

I haven’t popped by the boards in too long but I’m up early on a Saturday and saw the annual Tim thread and am suddenly very grateful to dig back into all 5he music I didn’t hear last year.

no longer in MTL (Alex in Montreal), Saturday, 6 January 2018 11:14 (two years ago) link

best song i listened in 2017, no doubt.

Nourry, Saturday, 6 January 2018 16:22 (two years ago) link

this is the best song in the world

I want to poll all the songs brad has said this about

Simon H., Saturday, 6 January 2018 17:04 (two years ago) link

i have a running spotify playlist though obv it’s not exhaustive bc i say it probably once a day about a different song (literally just did it in another thread)

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Saturday, 6 January 2018 17:07 (two years ago) link

Hope Tim will do "Jupiter Drive" next - picked up on this from his poll nominations and OMG

Jeff W, Saturday, 6 January 2018 21:48 (two years ago) link

Dream Team do Passinho – Oi Sumido
MC Hariel & MC Kevin - Coração Na Geladeira
Heavy Baile ft. Tati Quebra Barraco & Lia Clark – Berro


It’s difficult to get a clear sense of the parameters of funk carioca these days: it’s a style whose composition increasingly feels one part generic (in the sense of obeying the rules of genre) to two parts whatever the creators feel will work. This hasn’t necessarily unleashed Brazil’s creative animal spirits: as far as I can tell, most of the time “whatever works” is some mixture of influences from rap, dancehall, reggaeton and cumbia, and it’s not clear to me that down this path lies anything particularly more exciting than what might emerge from a further intensification of the scene’s by now well-established genre-tropes. Rather, the less world-shattering (but still occasionally exciting) upshot tends to be just a diverse wealth of vaguely familiar ideas being thrown at the wall in order to examine what sticks.

In the case of “Oi Sumido”, the resulting composite mostly codes as svelte, slinky latin-pop which, if more of it were in English, might even do quite well in the era of “Despacito” and “Havana”. With its florid eastern melodies (cannily flute-assisted in what undeniably was the year of the flute in pop), breathy vocals and driving cumbia beat (occasionally giving way to dancehall-driven interludes), the track embodies a certain seductive professionalism that reminds me of Anitta’s excellent and vaguely similar “Bang” (from 2015, but I only discovered it this year), or the kind of pan-european dance-pop that Alexander Stan regularly pumps out, perhaps most of all and most obviously J Lo and Wisin & Yandel’s “Follow The Leader”, 2012’s most underrated pop tune. As with the aforementioned, this is undeniably club (or bar) fare, internationalist in tone and easy to leave behind once it has served its purpose, but I find that to be a purpose I have need of serving with surprising frequency. Most of all, “Oi Sumido” gleams with the confidence of a job well done, taut and muscular yet with glitter dabbed in all the right places sufficient to make me wonder if a great boiling down of all pop music stock into a kind of trans-jurisdictional Esperanto isn’t the way to go after all.


Less professional but more intriguing, “Coração Na Geladeira” is funk-as-rap whose magpie ecumenicalism (naively? knowingly?) lands on a perfect combination lock formula of familiarity and estrangement. It commences unassumingly enough, a reggae lilt punctuated by little grunts over which MC Gudan offers the kind of sing-song rap that (for a non-Portuguese speaker) gets most of the way on its nasal intensity and sheer profusion of syllables alone. Then the tune pivots to a metallic thrum somewhere between Spanish guitar and harpsichord, tapping out a perverse melody that lands “Coração Na Geladeira” somewhere between TLC’s “Silly Ho” and Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” – less groundbreaking than the former and less perfect than the latter, perhaps, but nonetheless I find myself captivated by its louche tiptoe crawl, its weird combination of testosterone and fragility (for more in this general lane, check MC Gudan & MC Don Juan’s “Boca de Pêlo”).


As I hinted at the top though, I can’t help but suspect that funk’s greatest surprises remain bound up in its original sonic formula, though not necessarily in a purist sense. I only recently discovered Heavy Baile’s “Berro” in a packed gay bar in Buenos Aires, and was surprised and impressed to realise that seemingly everyone there (except me) knew the words. Through subsequent interrogation I concluded that (a) Spanish speakers will happily learn all the words to Portugese tunes if the song bangs; and (b) this is especially true at gay bars when dealing with funk that flirts with gay culture (see below). “Berro” is archetypal funk carioca resituated within a maximalist pop aesthetic (think Britney’s Blackout, I guess), its kitchen sink meets backfiring car percussion rolls and tuba bass hits interspersed with moaning synth chords and flutes (again), while Tati Quebra Barraco and drag queen Lia Clark holler at the top of their lungs on top – fitting, since “berro” is “bellow” or “shout” in Portguese (actually Lia doesn’t really shout, perhaps “declaims” is a better verb for her contribution).

I am fascinated by this queer turn in funk (which, to be clear, I am no expert on), mostly because funk always struck me as such a macho genre even when the MC was female. But, then, of course, “Berro” is barely less macho then the norm really, and perhaps it’s precisely because of the steroidal excess of funk’s signifiers that it makes such a ripe target for queer recontextualisation. Funk’s lewd sexuality was always already at least in part a parody of sex, just as gay culture tends to treat its sex-obsession both jokingly and deadly seriously. Here that vibe of parody executed with deadly earnestness is taken to its logical conclusion, the music’s militaristic fervor demanding complete bodily submission to the beat, to the dancefloor, to hedonism at large – more succinctly, it’s ballroom with a better groove.

(NB. If you like “Berro”, Heavy Baile have a bottomless trunk of heavy-hitters, though not all riding this particular vibe; check Tropkillaz & Heavy Baile’s “Toca na Pista” and, in particular, Heavy Baile’s “Catuaba; alternatively, if want more queer funk, check 2018 contender “Que Tiro Foie Esse” by Jojo Maronttinni)

Tim F, Saturday, 13 January 2018 02:06 (two years ago) link

Uhh that last clip link is wrong, here's the "Berro" clip:


Tim F, Saturday, 13 January 2018 02:08 (two years ago) link

Ahhh, Godheadz thread as always, thanks so much. This last pst reminds me---lots of fab Cameroonian rap videos with Frank's comments here, in his most recent Singles round-up (that I've seen) https://koganbot.livejournal.com/367967.html

dow, Saturday, 13 January 2018 02:17 (two years ago) link

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill (Avalon Emerson’s Gilded Escalation)
Octo Octa – Adrift (Avalon Emerson’s Furiously Awake Version)


Like many I suspect, I was won over to techno artist Avalon Emerson by 2016’s ruthless yet beautiful “The Frontier”, one of the most effortlessly spellbinding techno tracks in recent memory. The crush was sealed by her Beats in Space podcast from that year, and in particular her decision to kick it off with her edit of Bjork’s “I Miss You”, Emerson treating the song’s ostentatious faux latin groove as if it was a techno track. The gesture underscored the air of perversity, and in particular rhythmic perversity, that characterises Emerson’s approach: if she frequently seems to operate in epically expansive terrain, this is less because ostentation is its own reward (though it can be) and more because doing so allows her space to indulge an impressively wide and unpredictably variety of impulses whilst remaining somewhat on-brand. What sounds like Avalon Emerson? Something big and bold that refuses to stay in its lane.

In its original form, “Sugar for the Pill” is Slowdive idealised, a gentle ballad seamlessly marrying the beauty and otherworldliness that (for the most part) separately characterised the band’s disparate first incarnation highlights. But if like me your standard Slowdive go-to is Pygmalion, then the song and other recent Slowdive efforts can seem like a charming tiptoe backwards into “mere” dream-pop. For her remix, Avalon Emerson ups the ante, retaining the tune’s floating gorgeousness but recasting it as a transmission from another galaxy, its seductive allure complicated by exotic estrangement. The tune seems to spin itself out of nothing, echoes and breaths slowly coalescing into a kind of permanent-intro (or extended middle-eight), suspended tension circling, circling, circling with the hesitation of waiting for something to start or perhaps for it to finish.

Finally, the vocals arrive, punctuated by a tentative, exploratory breakbeat rhythm probing the empty spaces in the arrangement. If the track settles into a groove of sorts, it’s more by virtue of its stubborn refusal to break its own spell, the calm piano chords and spiraling synth solos and glittering guitar and shuddering dub bass holding together in the most delicate of spiderwebs. The closest precedent for the sound Emerson concocts here might be “Desire”, an early 90s breakbeat techno sob-fest from Carl Craig alter-ego 69. At a broader level, Emerson’s reimagining of Slowdive’s original strikes me as something like how Carl Craig would have approached the task, throwing out any stylistic rulebook and simply asking, “what does this tune want from me?”


“Adrift” is less startling, but it makes for better dancing: an endless downward plunge into the mysterious heart of the groove. Where Octo Octa’s original is (like much of her work) rich and mysterious and hypnotic, Emerson’s appropriately-titled remix is wide-eyed and white-knuckled, a bumpy ride across a percussive groove so nuanced, so tactile that while listening I can’t help but experience the beats as rattling off different parts of my body. The drums here are just amazing, a complex weave of hand percussion and sharp snares all filtered through dub echo and filling up every available space in the arrangement with rhythmic detail. Halfway through “Adrift” wanders into a kind of graceful machine breakdown (dissolution?) that then continues for the balance of track, and turns out to be not a detour, but the original’s groove culmination.

In part, this is what can make Emerson seem like a techno producer even when (as here) she is technically operating in a house idiom: Emerson’s grooves frequently feel dangerous and unpredictable, complex contraptions threatening to fly apart at any moment but sustained by a commanding internal logic. On “Adrift”, that sense of danger inheres counter-intuitively within an arrangement so perfect that it’s tempting to describe it as pretty, creating in the listener and dancer the contradictory impulses of wanting to succumb to the groove but feeling no choice but to remain furiously awake.

Tim F, Sunday, 14 January 2018 02:41 (two years ago) link

Been on an Avalon Everson kick since yr FB post a few months back - the BiS set and the Printworks set in particular, plus she's as delightful with lists as with set selection:




etc, Sunday, 14 January 2018 06:51 (two years ago) link

Just saw the Onemind Early Daze writeup above. Big up, as the Metalheadz bredren would say!

the article don, Sunday, 14 January 2018 12:07 (two years ago) link

I can't remember where I saw someone point out that one side of the newest Avalon Emerson release on Whities sounds a bit like the Crazy Frog advert from a decade ago and now I can't unhear it, but that and these are great

boxedjoy, Monday, 15 January 2018 11:45 (two years ago) link

one year passes...

In case you need some help deciding what to vote for in this year’s ILM poll, I wrote about some of my favourite songs of last year on Facebook (nb. each of this songs or otherwise the excellent album whence they came is nominated):

Blick Bassy - Ngwa
Bassy’s latest release 1958 (a concept album about Ruben Um Nyobe, the 1950s Cameroonian anti-colonial leader who addressed the United Nations seeking independence for Cameroon only to be killed by the French army) is excellent throughout, but I nevertheless frequently struggle to make it past this first track, a stunning collision of Bassy’s tremulously soulful voice and a synthetic string/horn throb reminiscent of Phillip Glass (or, for a closer analogy both stylistically and chronologically, last year’s masterful Djarimirri from the sadly departed Gurrumul). “Ngwa” is as perfect an opener as I can imagine, at once hushed and serene and incredibly tense, embodying a restraint that whispers of impossible violence if the arrangement were somehow to let go of itself. Instead the arrangement revels in its own suspension, leading into a wordless, elegiac, horn-assisted chorus, and then to a second verse whose arrangement barely rises above a dull thud like a broken computer fan, the sound of erasure and repression literalised.

Kelsey Lu - Rebel
Both ghostly and studied, “Rebel” could not be a more perfect evocation of Kelsey’s pretension. I mean, how is this for an opening verse: “Rebel was your middle name / When you were a young girl / Living free in the '60s / Black boots, mini-skirt, blonde curls / Then when you went to art school / Breaking hearts and all the rules / You met the man of your dreams / To society, he was unconventional / But you didn't mind being outside.” It’s ripe for pillorying. But Kelsey conquers through… not conviction, but a certain self-belief that seems always to carry her through to the other side of her own Hail Mary passes; Kate Bush would be proud. Between pizzicato cello and sighing violin, Kelsey’s vocal delivery is both precise and generous, unspooling the tale of her parents’ relationship with a delicate refusal to frame their lives or choices as good or bad or, really, anything other than just things that happened. It’s that portentous blankness that makes “Rebel” thrilling to me, invested with resonance but not staking a position, as if Kelsey is content to observe from the sidelines and allow her parents to pronounce a verdict on themselves.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah ft. Saul Williams - I Own The Night
Almost impossible to extract a song from the year’s most astonishing and by-far-best album, but this track felt most like a single, so here we are. Nominally a jazz song (like Scott is, nominally, a jazz artist), “I Own The Night” is part multitiered percussive frenzy, part slam poetry, part eerie aurora borealis of synth cloud, part striated cloud of trumpet, and most of all the most alchemically unique music since (and this was the very first reference point that sprang to mind when I first listened) David Bowie’s Blackstar. In a year replete with fascinating and satisfying modern jazz fusionism, Scott’s seemingly idiosyncratic realisation was that there is a space beyond the mere cross-hatching of jazz instrumentation and several decades of rhythmic innovation in dance music, that these two stylistic dynamics could instead be creatively set against each other, could warp each other beyond recognition. Listening to this, it’s as if the arrangement itself is being transported into the future by hyperdrive.

Ciara - Thinkin Bout You
“Thinkin Bout You” basically exhausts its small quota of ideas within the first 25 seconds: a winsome synth-disco riff over which Ciara sighs with her trademark breathy (haters will say low-energy) understatement, and uh, that’s it? From that point onwards there is nothing new, just further reiterations of the original idea subjected to various levels of EQ and volume adjustment. So, of course, therein lies its genius. Not since “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” has a pop song so fully understood the absolute emotional coincidence of the earworm (that refrain that keeps you up in your bed at night) and that one hook-up whose hooks on the brain are unexpectedly resilient; not since Electrik Red’s “So Good” has a pop song calibrated so precisely the sense of desperation and slight resentment that situation induces.

Roisin Murphy - Incapable
Compared to her arch-rival Alison Goldfrapp, Roisin’s stylistic shifts are less wild mood swing and more the graceful tracing of a constellation around a central idea that itself remains incompletely articulated. Is there a perfect Roisin (or Moloko) song? You could make a case for “Forever More”, perhaps, or “Dear Diary”, or “You Know Me Better”, but each nomination somewhat cancels out the others. Whatever the case, I’d like to nominate “Incapable” as the most Roisin of her efforts. The hypnotically gentle deep house groove is an excellent but thematically lesser part of this equation, its main purpose being to not distract from the song’s central purpose, which is to explore more directly than ever before the essential paradox of Roisin’s persona, that impossible mixture of coy intimacy and icy reserve emulsified through camp glamour. “Never had a broken heart / Am I incapable of love?” she declares and asks, and it’s part-diagnosis, part-warning, part-challenge: the unspoken corollary is that you or I might be the one that succeeds, but in the more likely case that we fail utterly, we can enjoy the hell out of trying. Ideal deployment: flirtation on the dancefloor.

Erika De Casier - Intimate (Club Mix)
Erika’s album Essentials is maybe my favourite R&B album of the year, a gentle and luxurious exploration of the spaces between Sade, g-funk and Aaliyah, all artfully-artless understatement and pillowy sounds. This though, is something else, something I had concluded I might never actually receive on this planet and in this lifetime: the perfect jungle ballad (give or take Janet Jackson’s “Empty”, but for me that’s more the apotheosis of Miami Bass). Featuring the most thrillingly tactile d&b drums since Roni Size’s “Share The Fall”, “Intimate (Club Mix)” also recalls that amazing mid-nineties moment of ambient-jungle: Neil Trix’s “Gesture Without Motion”, Foul Play’s “Being With You”, E-Z Rollers’ “Rolled Into 1”; Adam F’s “Circles”. As the beat ratatats underneath, gaseous clouds of synths float towards the ceiling and windchime riffs run up and down your spine, while the nearly imperceptible sub-sub-sub-bass gestures towards continental shelfs very slowly making love beneath your feet. But it would all be for nothing without Erika’s incestuously intimate (trust: the song title is not fucking around) vocals. “Just us, up to no good” she whispers, making it all sound so irresistible, so inevitable that resistance would just be rude.

Busy Signal - Balloon
“Balloon, balloon, balloon, balloon.” When I’m not listening to “Balloon” (and I had to turn it off to write this sentence) I feel like its unexpected offering of Busy singing about the multitude of balloons at (it seems) a wedding is personally very relatable, gesturing towards that vague sense that maybe you’re focusing on the wrong things; taking pleasure in the surface ephemera rather than forging deeper connections. But once I turn the music back on, this idea falls away, because this song is the furthest thing from elegiac: Busy is really fucking excited about all these balloons. I’ve mostly struggled to strongly connect with dancehall these past few years, hoping its obsession with sickly sweet “summery” synth work-outs (too much current actual-dancehall sounds like an imitation of Ellie Goulding’s fake-dancehall 2013 non-hit “Burn”) would work itself out of Jamaica’s system, to no avail, but there’s always the odd exception that proves the rule; “Balloon”, compulsive and silly and joyous and bug-eyed and irresistible, couldn’t be more exactly what I wanted.

Yola - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Yola’s basic idea - a climactic fusion of country and soul - is not original per se, given it doesn’t really stray too far from its largely-familiar Patsy Cline blueprint. Nevertheless, her full-bodied sound somehow felt novel last year, and she made the most of it by performing the hell out of a series of songs whose grandeur and compositional neatness turned them into instant standards (see especially the charming “Shady Grove” and “Ride Out In The Country”). In that context, covering an existing standard should be a redundant manoeuvre, and mostly it is: Yola is the last performer who’s gonna transform “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” into something utterly different to what it already is, but that in itself is a blessing of sorts. Largely faithful to the original’s piano strut, Yola simply leans hard into the wearied grain of her massive voice, giving lines like “You can't plant me in your penthouse / I’m going back to my plough” a kind of lived-in resonance that Elton didn’t even attempt (not that I have any issues with the original’s ghostly smoothness). And where Elton unveiled a camp choir of overdubbed vocals for those vertiginous jumps to the “BLU-U-U-UES! AH-AH-AH-AHHH!”, Yolo walks that astral pathway all by herself with an assuredness that makes the original’s extremities less jolting and more inevitable, as if Kansas and Oz were always already on the same side of the rainbow.

Emily King - Teach You
As an overarching aesthetic principle, politeness rarely wins anyone critical plaudits (except, if you’re exceptionally commercially successful, in the form of Grammy Awards), perhaps precisely because it appears to cost nothing: it seems perverse to devote the effort to observe and appreciate the skill and discipline with which the best polite artists must marshal restraint, poise and calibration to make everything appear so easy, so unexcitingly pleasant. King’s Scenery is like a version of k. d. lang’s Ingenue that didn’t set the world on fire: sumptuous and refined, with every edge carefully sanded away until the songs seem to swell naturally but also imperceptibly, matching the singer’s breathy gentility and offering the kind of enjoyment you might get from watching plants grow. “Teach You” was the year’s sweetest confection, its gently-syncopated cello thrum, stuttering drum machine and faintest flicker of mandolin tiptoeing toward a kind of Jamaican lilt, as King ever-so-thoughtfully takes an inattentive lover to task. It’s the loveliest sort of lesson, and it bears repeating a lot.

Octo Octa - I Need You
Octo Octa’s 2019 album Resonant Bodies is a riot, a cheerfully brazen throwback to energetic early nineties house that can make sampling Ya Kid K seem like a noble statement of purpose. But this earlier single from the beginning of the year was something quite different and rather more serious, capturing the producer (and, incidentally, truly excellent DJ) at her most grandiose and awe-filled. The combination of flooding tides of synth strings and cooing vocals with a seemingly winded, slowed-down stop-start breakbeat rhythm recalls the starry-eyed optimism of Orbital’s “Halcyon (& On & On)” or Future Sound of London’s “Papua New Guinea” without ever succumbing to nostalgia, perhaps because, like those tunes, it feels pre-engaged with the fleeting nature of its own joy. “Dance now,” it seems to say, “because you may never feel this way again.”

Roy Kinsey - Fetish
Kinsey’s Blackie was my favourite rap album of 2018: like prior fellow travellers such as Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city or Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06, it felt simultaneously knotty and mysterious on the one hand while irresistibly enjoyable on the other, even as it unflinchingly examined the hypocrisies of a society that places (often tragic) conflicting demands on young black men. What the album did not do was openly reckon with Kinsey’s queerness, a topic that by contrast is so frequently front and centre on the rapper’s 2019 singles that it almost suggests some sort of personality transformation in the interim. But “Fetish” is very much of a piece with the Kinsey’s prior work: minor key and melancholy, an undercurrent of slyness almost suffocated by an unrelentingly grim honesty. And there’s continuity in subject matter, too: here Kinsey raps about white gay male objectification of black gay men, and the psychic wounds it inflicts at levels both cultural and personal (“Showed up to the apartment / participated in nonsense / soon as my drawers dropped / heard ‘ooh I love big black cock’ / my body kept going / even when my heart stopped”), with the same wry awareness and self-awareness that he brought to stories of police brutality such as “Great Aggin”. Here, as always, Kinsey refuses to spare himself; he knows that gay culture will let him down, and presents his compulsive (re)engagement with it as near as fetishistic as the desires of the white men who sleep with him.

Sir Babygirl - Haunted House
Shrill and panicky, “Haunted House” viscerally imagines adolescent socialising as a kind of Groundhog Day, where one is repeatedly confronted with one’s social awkwardness and isolation, watching as if from outside yourself the same faux pas, the same crushing embarrassments. “I’m running to just hide and I’m hiding just to breathe / and around every corner is the same night on repeat”: Sir Babygirl’s singing over an indecently extroverted string-riff assisted synth pop arrangement is breathless and shallow, as if she’s observing and reporting (but powerlessly) from the state she describes, then turns almost ugly as she wails “I can’t wait to lose all my friends in one night!” Almost as stressful to listen to as it is compulsive, “Haunted House” forecloses the possibility of a past or future - all the song is prepared to allow is an endless now observed in painfully sharp detail, so suck it up and act pretty if you can.

Tim F, Monday, 13 January 2020 07:05 (eight months ago) link

Love this. Especially the write up of Balloon, which will surely be top 10

doorstep jetski (dog latin), Monday, 13 January 2020 10:07 (eight months ago) link


breastcrawl, Monday, 13 January 2020 11:47 (eight months ago) link


And just to add, 'Atlantis (I Need You)' would surely be the other key track to mention as the spiritual precursor to'I Need You' ;)

MikoMcha, Monday, 13 January 2020 12:43 (eight months ago) link

Sir Babygirl released such a fun album.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 January 2020 12:49 (eight months ago) link

didn't follow roy kinsey last year after really enjoying blackie, but good to know he's still making excellent songs.

culture of mayordom (voodoo chili), Monday, 13 January 2020 15:46 (eight months ago) link

Omg balloon thank you. I hadn't heard it til now

or something, Monday, 13 January 2020 17:34 (eight months ago) link

Sorry - I’ll try to make a more eye-catching thread next time.

breastcrawl, Monday, 13 January 2020 18:37 (eight months ago) link


budo jeru, Monday, 13 January 2020 19:50 (eight months ago) link

Aplogies breastcrawl, I'm a lazy dilettante at the best of times

or something, Monday, 13 January 2020 20:09 (eight months ago) link

I don't know how I miss things sometimes

or something, Monday, 13 January 2020 20:10 (eight months ago) link

More balloons maybe

or something, Monday, 13 January 2020 20:11 (eight months ago) link

Anyway, balloons to all that. I love the write-ups, Tim, some wonderful songs too.
Checking out the Blick Bassy album has become even more urgent, and on the basis of “I Own The Night” it seems I should try the Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah as well.

The Kelsey Lu is low-key one of my favourite albums of the year and I Iove the Club Mix of “Intimate”, and to a lesser extent “Incapable” and “Teach You”. “Thinkin Bout You” has never really worked for me though. Can’t get over how derivative the melody sounds.

breastcrawl, Monday, 13 January 2020 22:16 (eight months ago) link

The Scott album is amazing! And if you can see him live, definitely go.

rob, Monday, 13 January 2020 23:22 (eight months ago) link

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