skykicking - may

happy second birthday!


Sunday 26

My favourite bootleg for the past few weeks has been the one that mixes the vocals from Brandy's "What About Us" with the music from X-Ecutioner's "It's Going Down" (in my head I've been calling it "What About Going Down", but I'm not sure if that's its official name). Brandy's performance and the X-Ecutioners' arrangement are the parts of their respective songs I like least (which makes me wonder, what would the guy from Linkin Park rapping over Darkchild production sound like?), but this bootleg is wonderful wonderful wonderful.

1) It rocks. 2) The songs complement eachother. 3) What I like about all the good pop vocals + rock riffs bootlegs is how they make rock music into dance music. If "Hard To Explain" is already half disco as Tom might attest, then adding Christina only heightens the effect - this is rock as propulsive groove, shorn of all its "dangerous" elements that in retrospect are largely located in the vocals. See also "Smells Like Booty", where the quintessential teen angst anthem emerges as a bouncy pop anthem little more (but also nothing less) than a steroid-enhanced remix of the original "Bootylicious".

What these bootlegs seem to articulate to me is how much riff-centric rock is ultimately about energy, and how the nature of that energy (affirmative, destructive, ephemeral) is largely contextual. You can hear this most easily on the 2 Many DJs compilation, where The Stooges, Wildbunch and Velvet Underground are nestled in with pumping electro and sound perfectly at home, the huge psychological divides existing between the styles blurring into meaningless stylistic affectations. One person's howl of anguish is another's girlish squeal. The riff, like the dance beat, is there to ensure that the party continues regardless.

On "What About Going Down" the styles are blurred further by the presence of hip hop beats in "It's Going Down" (in a way "It's Going Down" is already a bootleg on a broader, stylistic level - albeit a largely unexciting one). This stylistic hybridisation comes in the most distasteful possible form: nu-metal. But what is distasteful about nu-metal, really? Is it the guitar riffs + beats equation? Surely not - the answer to that equation is pure energy, and there's nothing wrong with that (it's why the 2 Man DJs compilation makes for such fantastic, fascinating listening).

Most likely it's all the context that surrounds the nu-metal - the need to counterract its party atmosphere with extra doses of angst and whining. When nu-metal is least self-conscious about being dangerously close to pop - Linkin Park at their most boyband-like (eg. "In The End") or Andrew WK, to stretch the definition - it's also at its least offensive and most enjoyable. By simply removing the vocals, bootlegs can neatly excise said distasteful elements, and suddenly all the complaints about nu-metal's wilful stupidty seem empty. Can we object to simple, hard-hitting riffs? Do we have a problem with a good, solid beat?

Replacing the whiny vocals with pop-friendly divas is the masterstroke. Like the riffs they're laid over, pop vocals can frequently be largely blank signifiers (replacing flexible energy with an accomodating hummability); melisma excepted, there's not that much that really distinguishes most pop vocals beyond straightforwardness. I suspect this is why bootlegs like "A Stroke Of Genius" or "Smells Like Booty" can be so successful among music fans who profess to hate pop - it's not just the irony factor, but also the unspoken acknowledgment that, divorced from their traditional setting, the inherent offensiveness of pop vocals are much harder for the pop-hater to locate.

It's certainly not a case of the vocals becoming less pop - away from their stylised musical origins and set free upon the rough swells of guitar rock, r&b/pop vocals sound more giddy, more irrepressible, more "universally pop" if that means anything. It doesn't make them better or worse, but it gives familiar choruses a nice new flavour, a new urgency. Brandy really does sound better though: with the nu-metal swing replacing the original's lumpen pound, "What About Us" is now bitchy (and bitchin!) rather than leaden and resigned. It may just be that she's been sped up a bit, but she nonetheless sounds vital and revitalised. Sadly, at this point in time a Sugababes-style conversion sounds unlikely.
eleven-forty-eight pm


Saturday 18

Seeing New Buffalo live (supporting Gersey a few months ago) left me ambivalent - plaintive female-fronted indie-pop with droning keyboards and organs that sounded like a great idea but came across a bit... eh. On a whim though I bought their EP About Last Night the other day, only to discover that on record New Buffalo are quite a different proposition.

This is an amazing disc. It's partly due to the fact that Sally Russell (who basically is New Buffalo) gets major production help from Darren Seltman of The Avalanches fame. You get the idea immediately from the woozy crush of sickly strings that start off first track "16 Beats", which could be My Bloody Valentine's "To Here Knows When" constructed out of vinyl rather than guitars. Indeed, About Last Night largely sounds like Since I Left You at its least ecstatic and most psyched-out, charting fragile yet utterly alien soundscapes that often outclass their closest points of comparisons (Broadcast, Insides, Pram).

The other part of the equation is Sally herself, who sounds so much better backed by these arrangements that it's hard to believe it's the same singer I saw live, though the style is exactly the same. She has a deceptively plain, almost weak voice in the classic indie style, but she very subtly multitracks it, creating a non-harmonic choir of vocals that aren't ethereal so much as inhuman in their sonic diffusness, more like a force of nature than a person.

Her songs, however, are crushingly human. "Why can't I play my songs for you?" she sighs on "16 Beats", acquiescent, a wingless suburban angel. Tellingly, the cover of the album is rendered in the same vivid colours as Since I Left You, but replaces the thrilling sea adventure with the poignant staidness of the family home. And there's a real sense that Russell's songs are constrained by the smallness of the world, suffering from a meekness that they do not realise isn't universal. The shutters on her horizons do allow her a certain level of startling directness - some moments on About Last Night remind me of Cat Power without the emotional exhibitionism, or Juliana Hatfield without the attitude.

The starkness of the songs is at thrilling odds with the arrangements. "About Last Night" gradually coalesces from swirling, Pram-like jazzy abstraction (woodwinds, piano tinkles, orchestral fumbles) into heartbreakingly beautiful electronic pop. "This Is More" - with its sighing arias from "Electricity" - could be Cornelius if the latter's infatuation with pop-noise (rather than noise-pop) was a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Closer "Just A Little Time" drifts in a sea of gorgeous electronics, as beautiful and unsettling as Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights", before settling into a coda that does as much as The Avalanches' "Extra Kings" to evoke the sound of rain in heaven. For Russell, the arrangements act as layers to her songs, which she can peel away or wind around herself at will. Unlike the largely aural wonders of Since I Left You, it's the delicious tension between the sound and the song that makes About Last Night so captivating.
four-thiry-nine pm

For my birthday last Wednesday (so yeah, I'm twenty now) I got a cd burner. I am, as expected, quite enamoured with it. Thus I present to you my first compilation (it's all microhouse, duh):

01 Crane AK - Supermarket
Seems everyone's going pop these days. Well okay, "Supermarket" isn't exactly "pop", but compared to the near immobile interlocking patterns of Crane AK's album Pink Eyed Pony it's a chart hit. Or at the very least it's a homage to the sensuousness of microhouse's minimalism. Its brittle electro pulse, dreamy synth strings and ever so subtle blips and burps give to the track an almost childlike quality - no, it doesn't consciously evoke childhood like Boards Of Canada; rather, everything is so carefully rendered that it sounds like something that was nurtured into being. This is a track with two very loving parents. Combine this with a Japanese vocalist murmuring "Your world might be a supermarket... your love might be a candy store..." and you get something approaching the kitschadelic effervescence of Biftek. Which makes me realise that Biftek were doing this sort of luscious microhouse-pop when we didn't even have a name for it. Did y'all check out Biftek like I told you to?

02 Anna Kaufen - Who Cares?
"Anna Kaufen" is in fact a pseudonym for "Akufen". I can't tell if this is supposed to be a more feminised take on his other work, as it largely follows the same (excellent) formula as his album My Way. Tiny spurts of noise and music are deftly woven together into a startling patchwork quilt of oddly complementary sounds. I've yet to work out how to articulate the specialness of Akufen's approach (and maybe that's why this description sounds a bit flat when I read over). What does stand out with "Who Cares?" is how laidback it sounds, its flow rickety and schizophrenic but not as self-consciously as on the album, even when bursts of what sounds like Destiny's Child start to appear half-way through. In some parts the groove even attains that sort of distracted jazzy reverie that Herbert does so well. Proof positive of how quickly and calmly house can assimilate anything.

03 Codec & Flexor - Crazy Girls

04 Kaito - Air-Rider
Kompakt themselves have described Kaito's aqueous swirl as "neo-trance", which is a worrying but probably accurate description. On songs like "Beautiful Day" and "Everlasting" Kaito updates the luvved-up softcore sound of "Age Of Love", Jam & Spoon, early Sasha & Digweed and the Orbital of "Belfast" and "Halcyon" for a post-Basic Channel generation. The result is smudgy, hypnotic poignancy, all aching melodies and spangly vapor trails, yet informed by the warmth of the dub and house derivations from which it has sprung. "Air-Rider" is slightly lighter on the melodic drama than "Beautiful Day" or "Everlasting" and is thus closer to Kompakt's general brand of melancholy tech-house. It's neither a good nor bad move overall, but rather an intriguing shift, a subtle unfurling. "Air-Rider" understands the secret behind Kompakt's soft-percussiveness: its wool-wrapped chord-riffs construct an achingly physical anatomy of regret, revisiting over and over the sensation of a tear hitting your cheek like a hammer to the heart.

05 Phil Stumpf - Du Kannst Nicht Tanzen
Apart from having an excellent title, "Du Kannst Nicht Tanzen" distinguishes itself through its economy of scale. The growly runt of the microhouse litter, it moves from its first faltering, fitful house beat into the most raunchy, filthy bass splurge ever with such little pomp or forward planning that it threatens to become a German take on "Where's Your Head At?" Instead, it's a delectable hypothetical Kraftwerk-on-poppers scenario that rivals even M. Mayer's "Hush Hush Baby" for creepy genteelness. And it's all only three minutes long = good pop = send this to number one, please!

06 Sascha Funke - When Will I Be Famous?

07 Thomas Fehlmann - Making It Whistle
In which the ol' techno hack proves he can run with the pack - this Kompakt release is more defiantly, um, Kompakt, than anything I've heard ever, to the point where it's almost definitive. Glitchy, restless house patters, burbly melodies, warm amniotic bass and a general air of mournful distraction render this an unbearably lovely epic. I'm feeling a bit inarticulate, so, um, just find it asap.

08 Decomposed Subsonic - Blaue Loewen
This glut of twitchy house-pop with polite German male vocalists would become a bit wearisome if it wasn't all so fucking brilliant. "Blaue Loewen" is another to treasure: odd and yet strangely "up" and danceable, despite the bevvy of weird moments (at one point the track goes into a succession of joyful explosions), gifted with sexy, breathy mumurs of sweet nothings - literally, if you don't speak German. At the heart of this mini-genre is a what-if: what if it had been Kraftwerk and not Donna Summer who sighed erotically over "I Feel Love"? And what if this had inspired not house and techno, but rather an endless reign of dance-friendly electronic pop throughout Europe? Whatever, this trend of lovestruck household androids is a nice counterpoint to the harsh flatness of vocals in nu-electro (ie. you should check this stuff out if you enjoy nu-electro, but also if you don't enjoy nu-electro).

09 The Bionaut - Theme From "Please Teenage"
A slightly odd addition, as the frisky breakbeat programming and twinkly electronics put this closer to halcyonic pleasures of Plaid and Mouse Of Mars, or the pastoral charm of Ultramarine. But The Bionaut (aka Jorg Burger, aka The Modernist, aka Geometric Farms) has done as much as any to kickstart the textural concerns of Kompakt/microhouse/etc, and apart from its syncopated slipperiness, the glowing tones of "Theme From "Please Teenage"" are as apt as you could wish for. It's also a wonderfully Martian slice of electro-pop, bringing to mind visions of alien livestock grazing in rainbow fields.

10 Coloma - Transparent

11 Superpitcher - Heroin

... I'm quite proud of it - it flows pretty well and I've already listened to it quite a few times in a row without tiring (requests for copies will be considered). In summary, cd burners = goodness.
three-twenty-one pm

Tuesday 14

Farben - Farben Says: Love To Love You Baby
Talk about setting the bar high. Luckily for Mr. Farben AKA Mr. Jan Jelinik, this is scrumptiousness of the highest order, leaving the stuff on his ~scape album for dead. What does he do that's so lovely? Quite simply, assembling clicks, cuts, snaps, burbles, ambient tones and discordant slow-mo rhythms into music that's so crystalline, so minutely perfect, it's suggestive of an hitherto unimagined closeness, a direct physical relationship between the music and the body. Microhouse that forgets to be house... plain micro, maybe? Whatever, it's the microscope image that's important, the idea of otherwise invisible aqueous swirls and molecular profusion suddenly unfolding themselves in delicate and random patterns of biological fraternisation.

Or maybe this is more like one of those tiny cameras traveling into the body of surgery patient - these sounds are almost painfully intimate, like a velvet-gloved hand gently stroking the inside of your rib cage.

Speaking of uncomfortable intimacy, there's Michael Mayer's Immer mix-cd, which is like this with the "-house" added back on, its brittle synth tones and warm bass flushes seemingly in deep private conversation with my folicles and glands. I absent-mindedly noted elsewhere that I was looking for music that would seem to have an effect on the surface of my body, either scraping or caressing my skin as much as my ears. About the closest I can come to capturing the "micro" in "microhouse" is to say that it's the music that attempts to do both.
eleven-forty-eight pm

Codec & Flexor - Crazy Girls
...But if we must venture on with this eighties revival, please please please let more records be like this.

"Crazy Girls" doesn't actually sound like, ahem, crazy girls. It whines less, for a start. Instead it's another bout of grindingly great sexy-neurotic house-pop (see also: Closer Musik's "You Don't Know Me" and Phil Stumpf's "Du Kannst Nicht Tanzen". See the latter as frequently as you can get away with, preferably in some shady red light district after a couple of vodka shots). The bass is the place in this number, bouncing balefully underneath the rigidly ticking house beats with the uncertain yet dogged persistence of a kindergarden rendition of Shakespeare. This is one of those house records that throw house's metronomic qualities into doubt, not by introducing syncopation - though there's enough stiff-jointed snare action to satisfy the hardest 4/4 hataz - but by making the metronome pound sound like such a challenge, a chore requiring the kickdrum's complete concentration.

"Crazy girls...make my heart...go du-dum dun-dum dum." It's the one message that comes through loud and clear out of the patchwork of cut-up samples and random voices that float across "Crazy Girls" like shiny oil on the sea surface. It's advisable to forgive Codec & Flexor their lack of focus; they might not have their manifesto ironed out, but they know what's important. D-dum dun-dum dum.
eleven-twelve pm

Interview with Hyperdub's Kode-9
Man, is this guy on point or what? Class answers from start to finish, bang bang bang bang bang.
ten-forty-one pm


Sunday 12

Coloma - Transparent
The click as tentativeness. On "Transparent" Coloma marry quietly claustrophobic microhouse beats with an aching vocal as big as the sky because they know, they know that pangs of the heart are caused by pressure imbalances between interiors and exteriors. "I'm transparent, someone you've seen through" Rob Taylor sighs, high-pitched as in high-strung, his voice a quivvering string of restrained tension as above and beyond him music box tinkles and ocean-deep ambient chords drift and pause, aware but unconcerned that they have deviated somewhat from their natural home on Bjork's Vespertine.

Coloma know the way to my heart, and it's through my record collection. "Transparent" oscillates with the chill austerity of early Bel Canto, shimmers like something on 4AD, soars like Martin Gore. If it's eighties, then it's the diametric opposite to the emotionless facade of the current eighties revival; like No-Man, Coloma's largesse of emotion is just too much for the wised-up kids of today to bare. Unlike No-Man, Coloma don't revel in grandeur for its own sake, instead drawing their panoramas into the close darkness of confined spaces - entire worlds constructed inside empty wine bottles.

Eagle E & Doc B - Pure Rumours
Oh, so you think you know epic? In just over five minutes "Pure Rumours" swings and pivots around every angle you can throw at it, a hyper-speed tribute to all that is great about the Jamaican-British tradition. It's garage, clearly, but it's so much else: the enormous ska horn breaks, the eerie ambient flushes, the mournful ragga vocals, the hyperspeed rapping and poptastic hooks give "Pure Rumours" the feel of something bigger, something impossibly broader. Even the beats themselves flex and rattle with unexpected triple-jump vigour and grace, as if aware of how much ground they have to cover. How do you get from the mushily whimpered "Please, mister officer, let go of me arm," to the cheerfully instructive "Ladies, bounce if you understand!" within the one song? Construct one hell of a flexible groove.

Oxide & Neutrino - Shoot To Kill
And the epics keep coming. Even more than So Solid Crew, O&N have taken their self-made niche of icy, glossy, neat, nasty 2-step and really made it their own. "Shoot To Kill" surpasses even the impossible heights already scaled by the likes of "Execute" and "Up Middle Finger", boasting searingly cold piano motifs and lachrymose strings over the most tactile, gorgeously programmed beats you can imagine (sort of like Herbert going 2-step). Contrast this with the sludgy bass, coruscating phased acid and Neutrino's angry Skibadee-baiting rap, and it's clear that O&N embody that endlessly mysterious contradiction within garage: even when the worries in the dance turn the music ugly, it's still a breathtakingly beautiful sound to behold.
eleven-oh-nine pm


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Change You

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