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
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".
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.
"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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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):
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?
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.
Codec & Flexor - Crazy Girls
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.
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!
Sascha Funke - When Will I Be Famous?
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.
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).
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.
Coloma - Transparent
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.
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.
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.
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
Codec & Flexor - Crazy Girls ...But if we must venture on with this
eighties revival, please please please let more
records be like this.
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
- 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
know the way to my heart, and it's through my record
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