« December 2008 | Main | February 2009 »

January 29, 2009

Never Fear


At long last, Pitchfork (which seems to have sorted out a pesky server error) has published my double review of two amazing new Optimo-related projects: JD Twitch's 60 Minutes of Fear (RVNG) and Optimo proper's Sleepwalk (Domino). The first is a mix of hardcore punk (in the loosest possible definition), with a 10" of exclusive edits to accompany. The second is a mix of horizontal narcoticism, something you might conceivably call ambient/not-ambient.

I'll admit to a certain feeling of vindication that Twitch's "punk" set features five artists whose work I included in a list of my own 20 favorite American hardcore records for London's Fact Magazine; despite the fact that the list was intended as a personal, and not canonical, selection, it caught a fair amount of flak from gatekeeping bloggers whose tastes ran in opposite directions. So it's nice to see that I've got Twitch in my corner when it comes to a preference for the avant, the errant and the undone.

In any case, both records are stunning, and well deserving of your time and attention (and, if I may be so bold, your hard-earned money).

Sadly, I missed Twitch's appearance at Portland, Oregon's Nightclubbing party last Tuesday--inauguration night, as it turned out. Apparently Holocene was full of partying Dems who hoisted a cardboard Obama cutout on their shoulders to "crowd surf" during the unhinged dance party. We knew Obama could body-surf; now he crowd-surfs too? Somehow I'm not surprised.

January 21, 2009

Looking Back


Slightly behind schedule -- yesterday was allegedly "Hope Day One," after all (at least, according to the Jon Stewart Show) -- here's that Resident Advisor wrapup I promised a while back, in which Peter Chambers, Ronan Fitzgerald and myself wax lyrical (or should that be "Skratch lyrical"?) on the state (and statelessness) of dance music in 2008. Check the whole shebang here.

January 19, 2009

Purple Wow Sound


Joker. What a name. I hate clowns, have never been much of a Batman fan, and find "Trickster" theorizing stale. But damned if the alias doesn't fit the 19-year-old Bristolian perfectly. Channeling Prince and old Death Row in equal measure as dubstep and dub proper, Joker makes pretty much the freakiest dance music on the planet right now. His synths are as garish as an explosion in a sequin factory; his beats swing so precariously one suspects that a harness (or perhaps a two-week detox) might be in order. For a concise (and free) introduction to his impish, irresistible sound, try the Purple Wow Sound Mix, recently posted at Fact Magazine (scroll to bottom of post for the link). (A tracklisting posted here may or may not bear some resemblance to the actual selection.) This isn't wonky, it's FONKY.

January 12, 2009

Do the Kinky Larynx

I rarely write about pop music, so enjoy this once-in-a-blue occasion as I dissect the recent history of Antares' Auto-Tune for Rhapsody.

My only regret was that we don't carry Delfin Quishpe in the catalog, but you can (and should) check him out regardless. If there's a finer electro-cumbia anthem about Ecuadorean immigrants perishing in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and the ramifications for loved ones at home, I certainly haven't heard it yet.

Stream in Your Bean


I should have mentioned with yesterday's post: in my capacity as dance/electronic editor at Rhapsody.com, I created a pretty nifty playlist of 35 of my favorite songs of the year. You can listen to it here.

January 11, 2009

2008, All Wrapped Up With A Bow On It


Finally, at long last, my tops of 2008.

After doing these for Pitchfork, the Wire, eMusic, Rhapsody, Fact, Bleep, Phonica and Resident Advisor, it all just becomes a blur. I won't pretend that the whole listmaking process doesn't frustrate me, in part because it's so transparently subjective, yet dressed up in objectivity. (It's no secret critics tailor their ballots to certain publications; I know of at least one magazine that specifically asks its contributors to shortlist only artists and albums that fit the magazine's perceived mandate. Extracurricular listening, presumably, remains between you and your wife, or your drinking buddies, or your shower curtain—though hopefully not at the same time.) And while it's one thing to compare two techno tracks, how do you reasonably weight the merits of, say, Klangwart against Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog (my apparent token "rock" record this year).

The very act of ranking rankles, and frankly, I'm simply not very good at it. My lists reshuffle like the flip-boards at Grand Central Station, tumultuously and at regular intervals. Objectively speaking, I don't consider this list anything more than a list of quality recordings released in 2008; more subjectively, it's a snapshot of my moods over the past couple of months. I know my moods well enough to know that no list I ever make will be "accurate" to anything other than an hour's mindset. Anyway, my "methodology" as such consisted in creating lists for albums and singles in an Excel workship, and continually revising over the course of two months. For the singles ranking, I divided singles into three main pools, and then tried to rank internally within each, with a slush pool of "Honorable Mentions" (what a horrible phrase) accommodating anything outside the top 50. Inevitably, though, certain last-minute entries (several Hyperdub releases, Pepe Bradock's International Pony remix) ended up in the appendix that probably should have ranked far higher.


In spite of all the hand-wringing, I think I enjoyed the listmaking process more this year than ever before. Mostly for a lot of personal reasons, involving family, geography, immigration laws and the day-to-day, I found myself strangely disconnected from music, at least as I was accustomed to experience it. I didn't feel like clubbing much. It didn't help that house and techno, which I'd somehow drifted into as my almost exclusive critical (and fanboy) niche over the past couple of years, weren't at their best this year. Don't get me wrong: just because there's lots of shitty minimal about doesn't mean that house and techno are done. Quite the opposite—I think the growing doldrums are inspiring some of the best producers to get out there and show what's possible, and I think 2009 should be a really interesting year, provided you know where to look.

Anyway, it was in the process of beginning to assemble my year-end lists, in early November, that I started listening wider and deeper than I had all year. Moving with my girlfriend to a new apartment, in Berlin, helped—finally out of the living-room-less cavern of my Barcelona flat, here I was in a cozy, wood-floored place, an honest-to-god living room with a couch and space for all my gizmos and gearboxes, that sounded great, accommodated friends, and made me finally glad I spent an obscene (for me) amount of money on studio monitors last year.

Gradually I began to feel excited about music again—not just as an abstraction, as something to line up for the year-end list, but as a daily ritual, solitary and social both. Some of my blinders fell off—I stopped listening as a DJ, or as someone with an investment in genre, or someone with an axe to grind, and I just started listening. The surprises were pretty awesome, from Thomas Brinkmann's gothy When Horses Die to Jasmina Maschina's unbelievable ambient-folk outing, The Demolition Series (Staubgold). The more I listmade, the more I listened, and the more I listened, the more I revised my lists. My "Promo 2008" iTunes playlist tells me that the music I received since January 1 would take me 30 days of listening to get through. (Actually, it'd be much more, given the vinyl promos unaccounted for in that total, and the trove of MP3s I lost in a March hard-drive crash.) I won't pretend to have listened, really listened, to a fraction of what came across my desk this year. (And I'm pleased and a little proud that a goodly proportion of my year's favorites are things that didn't come to me via publicist.) So consider this just a snapshot of what moved me most, out of all the music I was lucky enough to come across. As for the rankings, the salt shaker's right there, so on with the feast!



1. Ricardo Villalobos, Vasco (Perlon)
2. Lucky Dragons, Dream Island Laughing Language (Marriage)
3. Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid, NYC (Domino)
4. Osborne, Osborne (Spectral)
5. Thomas Brinkmann, When Horses Die (Max Ernst)
6. Juana Molina, Un Dia (Domino)
7. Hatchback, Colors of the Sun (Lo)
8. Jasmina Maschina, The Demolition Series (Staubgold)
9. Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair (DFA)
10. Bruno Pronsato, Why Can't We Be Like Us (Hello? Repeat)
11. Newworldaquarium, The Dead Bears (NWAQ/Delsin)
12. Various, Soundboy's Gravestone Gets Desecrated by Vandals (Skull Disco)
13. Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit, Secret Rhythms 3 (Nonplace)
14. DJ/rupture, Uproot (theAgriculture)
15. Mike Monday, Songs Without Words (OM)
16. The Mole, As High as the Sky (Wagon Repair)
17. Kelpe, Ex-Aquarium (DC Recordings)
18. Klangwart, Stadtlandfluss (Staubgold)
19. Four Tet, Ringer (Domino)
20. Capitol K, Notes from Life on the Wire with a Wrecking Ball (Faith and Industry)
21. Andy Stott, Unknown Exception (Modern Love)
22. Flying Lotus, Los Angeles (Warp)
23. Shed, Shedding the Past (Ostgut Ton)
24. Petar Dundov, Escapements (Music Man)
25. Dave Aju, Open Wide (Circus Company)
26. Luke Solomon, The Difference Engine (Rekids)
27. Moritz von Oswald & Carl Craig, Recomposed, Vol. 2 (Deutsche Grammofon)
28. Stefan Goldmann, The Transitory State (Macro)
29. Deadbeat, Roots & Wire (Wagon Repair)
30. Tape, Luminarium (Häpna)
31. DJ Sprinkles, Midtown 120 Blues (Mule Musiq)
32. Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, Party Intellectuals (Pi)
33. Daedelus, Love to Make Music To (Ninja Tune)
34. DJ Dolores, 1 Real (Ziriguiboom)
35. Koushik, Out My Window (Stones Throw)
36. Luomo, Convivial (Huume)
37. Zomby, Where Were U in '92? (Werk)
38. The Bug, London Zoo (Ninja Tune)
39. Neil Landstrumm, Lord for £39 (Planet Mu)
40. Sunken Foal, Fallen Arches (Planet Mu)



1. DJ Koze, "I Want to Sleep" (IRR)
2. Invisible Conga People, "Cable Dazed" (Italians Do It Better)
3. Move D, "Drøne" (Modern Love)
4. Zomby, "The Lie" (Ramp)
5. Rustie, "Zig-Zag" (Wireblock)
6. Sety, "Morgane" (Circus Company)
7. Zomby, "Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)" (Hyperdub)
8. Tobias., "I Can't Fight the Feeling" (Wagon Repair)
9. Los Updates, "Pictures of You (Tobias. Remix)" (Cadenza)
10. Joker & Rustie, "Play Doe" (Kapsize)
11. Ricardo Villalobos, "Minimoonstar" (Perlon)
12. Mike Dunn, "This Here Is House Music"/"I Walks With God" (4th Floor)
13. dOP feat. Sibiri Samaké, "Foly" (Minor Modern)
14. Sascha Funke, Mango Cookie (DJ Koze's Pink Moon Remix)" (Bpitch Control)
15. Scuba, "Twitch (Jamie Vex'd Remix)" (Hotflush)
16. STL, "Zeitsprung" (Something)
17. Stimming, "Kleine Nachtmusik" (Buzzin' Fly)
18. Shed, "Warped Mind" (Ostgut Ton)
19. Thomas Melchior, "Choir" (Cadenza)
20. DJ Sprinkles, "Midtown 120 Blues (Kuniyuki Dub Remix)" (Mule Musiq)
21. Flying Lotus, "Roberta Flack (Martyn's Heart Beat Mix)" (Warp)
22. King Midas Sound, "Lost (Flying Lotus Remix)" (Hyperdub)
23. Louis Guilliaume Soulpoint I + II (SD)
24. Mark E, "Slave I" (Running Back)
25. Martyn, "Natural Selection" (3024)
26. Martyn, "Natural Selection (Flying Lotus Cleanse Mix)" (3024)
27. Move D + Benjamin Brunn, "Honey," (Smallville)
28. Paul Brtschitsch & Cio D'Or, "Safran" (Broque)
29. Paul Frick, "Steal My Heart" (Kalk Pets)
30. Professor Genius, "A Jean Giraud #4 (Brennan Green Remix)" (Thisisnotanexit)
31. Jose Gonzalez, "Killing For Love (Todd Terje Mix)" (Peacefrog)
32. Radio Slave, "K Maze" (REKIDS)
33. Shackleton, "You Bring Me Down" (Skull Disco)
34. Touane, "Cangarooing" (Persona)
35. Thriller, "BBQ"/"Genie" (Thriller)
36. Pepe Bradock, "Mandragore" (Atavisme)
37. Jackmate, "Buccaneer" (Phil E)
38. Kassem Mosse, Untitled A (Workshop)
39. Kuniyuki ,"All these Things (Kuniyuki Dub Remix)" (Mule)
40. Pigon, "Kamm" (Beat Street)
41. The Black Dog, "Train by the Autobahn (DJ Remix by Robert Hood)" (Soma)
42. Scuba, "Hard Boiled (SCB Remix)" (Hotflush)
43. Slap, "Eden Now (Villalobos Remix)" (Macro)
44. Sun Electric, "Toninas (Ricardo Villalobos Rmx)" (Shitkatapult)
45. Tom Demac, "Long Way Down" (Four Twenty)
46. La Horse, "Cyanide and Happiness" (Fondation)
47. Luke Solomon, Robots" (Rekids)
48. NSI Squelch EP (Non Standard Productions)
49. Osborne, "L8" (Spectral)
50. Dave Aju, "Crazy Place" (Circus Company)


TRACKS AND EPs, HONORABLE MENTION (and I know I'm forgetting a lot)

Adam Beyer & Mathew Jonson, "Big Dipper" (Wagon Repair)
Ane Brun, "Headphone Silence (Henrik Schwarz Remix – Dixon Edit)" (Objektivity)
Barem, "Tr--s de Nuil" (Minus)
Burger/Voigt, "Wand Aus Klang" (Kompakt)
Byetone, "Plastic Star" (Raster Noton)
D. Dozzy & Nuel, Untitled EP (Aquaplano)
Daso & Pawas, "Det" (Spectral)
Deadbeat, "Grounation (Berghain Drum Jack)" (Wagon Repair)
dOP, "Lighthouse" (Orac)
Gadi Mizrahi, "I Know" (Wolf + Lamb)
Imps, Strategy Remix (Mule Musiq)
International Pony, "The Royal Pennekaums" (Columbia)
International Pony, "Bubble in the Bottle (Pepe Bradock Remix)" (Columbia)
JC Freaks, "The Rock" (Mojuba)
Justin Martin, "My Angelic Demons" (Buzzin' Fly)
Kate Simko, "She Said" (Spectral)
Kode 9, "Bad" (Hyperdub)
Knowing Looks, "Uzbekistan Love" (Musique Risquee)
Luciano & Mirko Loko, "Mousa Big Band" (Desolat)
Luomo, "Love You All (feat. Apparat)" (Huume)
Margaret Dygas, "See You Around" (Non Standard Productions)
Matias Aguayo, "Minimal (DJ Koze Remix)" (Kompakt)
Mike Monday, "I Am Plankton" (OM)
Millie & Andrea, "Black Hammer"/"Gunshot" (Daphne)
October, "Raw" (Caravan)
Osborne, "Downtown" (Spectral)
Pete Namlook, "Subharmonic Atoms" (Macro)
Quarta 330, "Sabacco" (Hyperdub)
Radio Slave, "Eyes Wide Open" (R&S)
Redshape, "Robot" (Music Man)
Robert Hood, Hoodmusic Vol 3 (Music Man)
STL, "Mullard Drive" (Something)
Tuomi, "Expense of Spirit" (Macro)
Vindicatrix, "Private Places (Shackleton & MM Version)" (Mordant Music)
Zomby, Zomby EP (Hyperdub)


January 10, 2009

Editing Is Essential: Or, Doing More with Less


I haven't talked much about the intersection between music criticism and music production—that is, the fact that I'm making music as well as reviewing it. That's not to say I haven't promoted my own efforts on this blog, but I haven't really elaborated on the overlap (or the divide, as the case may be). In large part that's because I haven't figured it out yet. There are a host of thorny professional issues regarding conflict of interest—for instance, with every release on a new label or remix for a new artist, I'm likely narrowing the range of artists and labels I can cover in good faith—but what I'm less clear about is how the act of making one's own music, the day-to-day habits and rituals, impacts the day-to-day habits and rituals of listening to others' music.

I don't have any doubt that my listening habits are changing. A good part of this is a product of the times and the technologies. I spend most of my waking days at the computer, which serves as my primary musical interface. If I buy a CD or receive a promo, it gets ripped straight into my iTunes folder—currently, 513 gigabytes in size, offering 166 straight days of listening. I still buy vinyl, both for DJing and home-listening purposes. (For the former, vinyl is a necessity—I haven't yet dipped my foot into the waters of digital DJ programs, though I anticipate getting up and running with Traktor Skratch shortly, if only for curiosity's sake.) But I don't find myself playing vinyl that much, aside from when I (all-too-infrequently) practice. What can I say, I'm lazy: cuing up an MP3 is far easier, even if I have to download it first. (I'm reminded of one Christmas from my childhood when my parents gave my brother Harry an LP of the Star Wars soundtrack. "Perfect!" said Harry. "Now I won't have to get up to change the record, I can just play one side after the other!" Younger readers may be unaware that the record players of yore allowed you to stack records yea-high, with each new platter coming on automatically after the previous side had finished. In any case, I remember my parents' scorn at what they perceived as extreme profligacy on poor, convenience-minded Harry's part.)

Anyway, all this surplus means that I skip around a lot, and between blogs, forums and random discoveries online, there's really no excuse for feeling bored with the music at hand. I'm lucky: I get paid to sit in my living room and flip through MP3s (provided, I suppose, that I have something mildly interesting to say about them). Any critic worth his or her salt needs to be aware of his/her privileged and unusual position, and the way that position impacts his/her adjudications. That's basic. But increasingly, I think that any of us who call ourselves music fans would do well to think about the lived context of music—the when, where and with whom (not to mention what formats on which devices, via which media channels). That's why I'm fascinated by Michelangelo Matos' Slow Listening Movement, which was the inspiration for this post in the first place.

The conceit is pretty simple: Inspired by Alice Waters' "Slow Food Movement," Matos (an editor and freelancer with a voracious musical appetite and admitted obsessive-compulsive tendencies) decided to make a few restrictions for 2009. Upon the purchase of a new CD, he'd have to listen to it in its entirety before buying a new one. Same goes for downloads, legal or no. He shields himself from the onslaught of promos with still more proposed rules of behavior—rules he admits he'll follow only as long as he can, owing to their severity. (Life is life, after all.)

Matos writes, "SLM isn't really about spending more time with less music," which strikes me as odd, because that seems to be precisely one of the pillars of his project. But maybe he's onto something, because what I'm getting out of the blog so far isn't necessarily more insight into any given song or album, but rather a far greater understanding of Matos' listening process, the tics and givens that frame the soundtrack of his everyday life. Part criticism, part ethnomusicology, you can't read it and not start thinking about your own habits, and maybe even the rules you've set in place without realizing it.

To bring this back to the beginning, how does music-making affect listening? Does it make me a more attentive listener? I put dozens, scores of hours into a given track. I wish it were otherwise, frankly—one might be less inclined to persist with ill-conceived ideas if one hadn't invested so bloody much time in them. My skill level and my compositional inclinations necessitate many hours of chasing details. Maybe a more spontaneous process would permit a more objective, disinterested assessment. (If I ever do manage to bang something out in a matter of hours, I'll let you know how that goes.)

But I do wonder if that extreme focus isn't giving me new ears. It makes me more critical, sure: there's always an "I could do that" feeling when you hear someone you think, frankly, is getting away with something. And I find myself becoming more impatient with house and techno tracks that stick to the formula without distinguishing themselves in sonics. Maybe it's just because I haven't found the means to craft the sounds I want to make, but I find myself searching more than ever for the otherworldly sound, the dark shadow that runs through a song without ever revealing the shape that made it. Translating that into my own music is another question—but it's a start, this turning the world on its ear.