Everywhere at the End of Time – Stage 3 (2017)

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: A First Reaction (I am not minded to spend my evenings typing as well, ok?)

With a drastic left turn, this is the first time the album artwork in this series has created a properly constructive link with the music. The form behind the shapes and mess has become almost indecipherable; your mind is drawn away from the base towards the gorgon coils and the daubed darkness. It’s teasing at the fringes of appreciation: the first track is a good example of this idea, with its briskly spinning but still tuneful strings swaying behind the sped-up blurting horns. The experience of believing that your reaction and enjoyment is as usual, struggling against too-tangible reminders of depreciation. Agree with the slightly snotty Norman review’s point about LK riffing on the almost cheeky continuity or similarity of Caretaker projects here – like a desperate clawing at the most solid memories (standards from An Empty Bliss bustle against riffs on previous EATEOT cuts until they become confusedly inseparable; titles like “Libet Delay” and “Aching cavern without lucidity”). There’s even some sickly self-similarity over onto the second side, including the final track, which goes down like a sinking titanic.

The A-side, at least, departs from the more lucid explorations of departure on Stage 2 (the excursions into nocturnal trepidation in particular). This is more cerebral, locked-in. There is a greater emphasis on noise and fuzz, particularly the illbient gramophone echoes towards the end of the first half: self-interrupting blass bluster like Ahnnu tones slipping out of their groove. Penultimate track on this side is a willy wonka hallucination of dangling bells, like B1 which shivers with unease beneath a dusty surface. Illbient is a particularly interesting and novel comparison here which brings up the sensation of the Caretaker as a sort of residually parallel hip-hop instrumental project (pulling chopped samples from the darker ages of jazz). Does create the sensation of intoxication rather than memory degradation at points.

Tracks like the last one on the first side and even B1 and B2 are quite straight-laced, departing from the narrative (but for B1’s hypnopompic abortive conclusion). Feel like I’m being outflanked, looking for consonance with the past where there perhaps isn’t any. B2 does revive the haunted ballroom with its piped, miasmic piano jaunts. The percussive skipping at the end was a real shock that segues perfectly into the wailing Gorey absences of B3 (a silent tap on the shoulder; the still-terrifying dream in Amour).

B6 is “An empty bliss beyond this World” which projects that project’s lullaby melodies through that thick, haunted-ballroom fog. Quietly ties in the cautionary luminescence from the beginning of the B-side, too; with some tumbling tones that sound like they’re from a xylophone or the mall at the end of Eyes Wide Shut after everyone’s left. The night-feverish “Libet Delay” constitutes the first real hit of poignance at the impending demise of the Caretaker project (making me realise that this had been lacking in the series’ actual music until now). This one’s emblematic, at least of the album that I expected.

Lacks the arc and structural conspicuousness of which made that instalment one of my highlights of this year. Despite a clear constructive strategy, it’s harder to see this as a standalone piece because of its context within the series (and the fact that it follows what I think are two more satisfyingly distinctive projects), but this is probably his most overtly personal release, and it features some of the standout textural explorations of this series in its forced intermixture of source and slippage. Typing is helping in my abandoned house on a Friday night.

Etched information in the central space after the grooves is almost illegibly small this time, like he’s goading us to play the B side first (an experiment for another day). You just have to remember that the later side is the one whose label’s grey shades can only be distinguished while they spin.

Probably the My Struggle: Book 4 of EATEOT.

7

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Halogen Continues (2017)

Sigurbjörn Þorgrímsson died six years ago; Trip have put out this retrospective comp. Aims to cover the idiosyncratic sweep of these scattershot releases (apparently he recorded more under other aliases and in groups). RA points out in their review that the label itself is testament to SÞ’s incubation of a national dance music scene in Iceland, with Bjarki among others on its roster.

There are, broadly, three approaches on show here: skittering and acidic IDM excursions, evolving techno-tinged suites, and blissful ambient pieces. The immediately ear-catching standouts come in the second group: ‘Borealis’ is structured with the linear but weaving flow of a chase sequence or a cut from a Wipeout soundtrack, but the queasy synth tones and mechanic percussion kind of remind me of the synthetic nightmares on The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual. ‘160 Techno’ has the same vibe of pursuit but sounds more urban and nocturnal like that Studio OST album from a couple of years ago; obviously its a lot more in your face, with some big-beat synths and a few ankle-breaking rhythmic shifts which skid through hardcore and breakbeat territory. ‘303 Ambient’ is the third triplet with its low-key start which crashes into a massive techy beat and starry synths.

Of the more cerebral cuts, ‘Lag 24’ is pretty distinctive with the interplay between its Mika Vainio-esque fuzz blasts, bouncy reverbed synths and impatient polyrhythms. ‘Lag 9’ sways, running in circles as the percussion plays catchup with itself. ‘Lag 8’ is good evidence of the compositional juggling-act going on with these shorter cuts; synths are often more percussive than melodic. Almost feels like the guy’s hammering everything out on an MPC at times.

The ambient pieces are generally pretty gorgeous. ‘Autofloat’ follows ‘Borealis’ with an equally playful ease but pushed through ebbing and flowing synths; it’s got the wonder of a particularly well-lit view of the night sky. ‘Bliss’s stupefaction is more new-age, maybe Jarre via Lopatin; it’s crisp but kinda sleepy, less immersive. The more abstract closer ‘Halogen Continues’ is perhaps the grandest and most beautiful, ending things with quite a poignantly elegiac note given the comp’s provenance.

Throughout a sense of wunderkind and almost amateuristic virtuosity, like the music is happening while you’re listening to it. Distinctive throughout despite ranging from crowd-pleasers to more leftfield tinkering. Perfect album art too given the otherworldly wonderment behind much of the ambience that sometimes serves as a floor for the beats and sometimes envelopes everything. HC is a nice testament to the variety in the talent the guy clearly had; feels like an anthology. Good for a boring train journey too.

8

Black Origami (2017)

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Opener ‘Black Origami’ skitters and bangs with cascading chimes, breathy female vocals, scarab percussion, sonorous bass. Some North African sounds in the synths are joined by thumping hand percussion and claps – encircling instrumentation, reminds me of the inclusive medley of Africa Express’ rendition of Terry Riley’s In C. It’s a statement of intent as far as instrumental diversity goes, expanding the palette from Dark Energy but retaining that propulsive and relentless drive derived from footwork, a genre which Jlin seems to have transformed almost beyond recognition.

Love the mechanically rapid toms and serpentine shakers on ‘Enigma’ – succinct summation of the power of combining manual sounds and mechanical production. Looped vocal sample definitely cleaves to the DJ Rashad archetypal footwork style. Far more stripped back melodically with plenty of negative space, which reminds me of more British bass music trends like SOPHIE’s skeletal pop madness.

Middle Eastern synths on ‘Kyanite’ and perhaps South Asian vocal samples, although its hard to say given how fragmentary they are – poring over the sounds, some mysteriously partial some perfectly and entirely captured and repurposed. Gut-tightening revved synths introduced near the end, enhancing the aggressive feel of this opening stretch; does have that rollercoaster feel of entertainment done to you. These opening three tracks are distinct mostly in the geographical traditions they evoke. There’s a lot of similarity in the linear structures; they’re more like a sequenced stretch, an evolving kaleidoscopic trip for which we remain sharply awake.

‘Holy Child’ opens the B side with the surprisingly distinctive stamp of William Basinski on the sampled vocals (they do remind me of the mood on his recent, meditatively funereal release A Shadow In Time), which are much more foregrounded giving the track a more distinctive melodic component; the same distinctive approach is inflected in a more cerebral, less physical direction. ‘Nyakinyua Rise’ splits this difference in Jlin’s sound by shifting completely in the other direction, being almost completely percussion and bass – thumping snares and bruising shouts – until about halfway with the arrival of a vocal which could be sampled from a Japanese combat video game. It’s easy to sit here and narrate the album’s compositional diversity and complexity, but the effect of Jlin’s painstaking editing is to keep BO fresh in a way that few footwork albums or comps succeed at.

Buzzsaw synths on ‘Hatsheput’ recall the revving on ‘Kyanite’, though they’re much more foundational here, playing with that balance between fragmented and holistic sampling (which I usually associated mainly with percussively looped vocals, in footwork) (actually those ‘Kyanite’ revs do return; ‘H’ is probably the least distinctive track on BO.

If the album’s first half – with the exception of standout ‘Holy Child’ – finds ways to adapt and tinker with the same formula, the same new musical vocabulary, the second half brings it back with a crashing series of diversions and deviations which ramp up into an explosive finish. Short centrepiece ‘Calcination’ skulks with dubbed-out echoes which are transmuted into the to the fidgety atmosphere of ‘Carbon 7 (161)’; here spacey synths and rolling drum presets nod to Pearson Sound and Mark Pritchard (goes to show, with ‘Enigma’ especially, how much of an understated influence UK bass music has on BO).

‘Nandi’ shudders with opening M.I.A-style vocal blasts, increasing the building sense of threat since BO‘s midpoint with some percussion slathered in echo and reverb. We’re then attacked with the album’s violent zenith, Holly Herndon-collab ‘1%’, which finds a way to make US dubstep sound relevant in 2017 by dispersing its trademark peak/trough structure across an unrelentingly linear assault. Cartoonish and video-game samples, dial tones and answerphone messages, and a creepy vocal from a young girl play off each other perfectly in a Nintendo nightmare, a Bullet Hell abstraction.

‘Never Created, Never Destroyed’ does the same thing for trap, dialling down the genre’s obnoxious predilection for weapon-sound samples into the most fragmentary and suggestive shards, while tumbling through complex rhythms with the kind of spontaneous playfulness that made Aphex Twin’s inclusion of Jlin’s stuff in his recent DJ sets unsurprising (the vinyl release appears to have two different takes on this track, too). It’s hard as nails, a perfect gritty counterpoint to the fantasy madness of ‘1%’. BO leaves us with ‘Challenge (To Be Continued)’, whose title seems to reference Jlin’s opinion that music should be progressive and difficult to make. It’s an absolutely orgiastic cacophony of percussion, with some synoptic (there’s an elephant on it) cross-polination of geographical influences  and a return to the encircling communality of the album’s openers through human shouts and whistles.

This is a big step up from DE: the template is expanded and enriched while remaining distinctive, pushing African, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern and South Asian sounds through the structural signature of footwork. It’s out on Planet Mu and I think the buried influences of UK bass and IDM have been underplayed; BO makes a convincing case for footwork as a central and connected piece in the jigsaw landscape of contemporary Western electronic music. It balances ascetic precision with an omnivorous and maximalist palette, tweaking and adjusting its way through 44 minutes of extremely fun and pumped up bass music. It’s hard not to gravitate especially towards the more eye-catching 5 or 6 bookending tracks (as well as ‘Holy Child’) but the parabolic flow of BO gives it a lasting appeal as an album played the whole way through.

9

This Old Dog (2017)

 

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Mac’s back, on Captured Tracks.

Early singles This Old Dog and My Old Man suggested a melancholy and contemplative comedown after the slightly lurching romance of Another One. MOM swings out in the wise charm direction of Brother (see later the brotherly Salad Days jangle of One Another). It’s like the spirit of Salad Days blown into the images of KV’s Pretty Pimpin’ and left to cool to a cinder.

It shuffles into TOD which is more moonlit and almost grizzled; probably a better look for gloomy Mac in 2017, with his weary reaction to carefreedom refined to a reflection upon changeability and persistence (apparently there’s an over-arching narrative here about his dad, but on the rumbly bus back from Ox I can’t really be bothered to pick it out – actually it does come out nicely in the BoC-synthy ballad closer). All interesting but just fine (La Blogotheque did quite a good show with Mac playing these first two in a Parisian park, failing to converse with locals).

Baby You’re Out is funkier (Lough bemoaned the upstroke percussive blobs but I like the dominant skippy jaunt), and has a singalong hook that will go down well among the Being Mac Demarco crowds at the summer festivals. For the First Time starts sultry but ultimately feels like a dirge – however, the queasy Chamber-of-Reflection synths are the first glimpse (in the tracklisting) of the alternate-future TOD glimpsed in the album’s best single, On the Level (Homeshake has cut ties with Mac now, I believe, but still see the parallels with some of the best tracks off his effort this year). Comes in third-to-last, one of my favourites of the year – it’s almost garishly simple but still maintains a rolling determined groove (in the lyrics too).

One Another, again, is a minor SD cut. Still Beating is interestingly fragile but also feels brittle and fillery. Sister is an afterthought, a non-centrepiece. It’s followed by Dreams from Yesterday which infuses some of Mac’s mid-period stoner bliss into the dusky percussion of the opening singles. There’s also a slight return of the synths, picking up the string and unspooling towards On the Level (it’s coming). It’s better as a song than the others in this middle section but it still has that victory-lap sensibility which makes this a pretty arid central section.

Morning light on A Wolf Who Wears Sheep’s Clothes; reads like an apology for (both senses) the album (“just trying to keep it light sometimes casts a shadow”). Has some of the upstroke pep of Baby You’re Out. One More Love Song starts like a return to that snoozy middle but it does have a nice piano-led hook (will take this over For The First Time – Mac I might just trim an EP out of your flabby album).

I’ll keep On The Level. “Boy, this could be your year…” Actually if it didn’t have such a great groove I’d be coming back more often to Moonlight on the River which has a weird meditative depth, an elegant hook and a discordant, valedictory fuzz-out. “It’s so strange / deciding / how I feel about you.” Almost summative enough to tie everything else together.

It’s not that the jig is up – Mac is always a good songwriter and I’m always happy just to sit with him. Last couple of projects have appeared a little naked without the proper Album clothing. Plenty of filler (how? without MOTR it’s 35 minutes), some variety that mostly seems to promise disappointingly unrealised sounds. Pleasant but I don’t really need it.

5

People Pleaser (2017)

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This on Oren Ambarchi’s Black Truffle label. Jazz drummer does concrète and sandbox sampledelia. Sounds like an Olivia Tremor Control and Sunburned Hand of the Man collab for Leaving Records. Open and exciting yet still pretty strange.

Abrasive and intensifying opener ‘Doubletrouble’ has synth screeches shot through with  elastic, tumbling drum fills. Slams into the paranoid, sweltering drones of ‘Creeper’, fidgety Necks cymbals and voice tape samples culled from the ether. Distinctive start – caustic and careering, perhaps the technicolour chaos of Black Dice.

‘Fognap’ winds into life with a looping, brassy sample which sounds like it’s come from the soundtrack to an old cartoon, Raymond Scott-ish. Then it crumbles, hanging with sparse chimes and fragments; lazy recorded interviews and breathy reverse vocals. ‘Slimcake’ later reconstitutes these sounds as a mournful, hovering mist.

PP swings between scavenged sampling and blasts of instrumental improv. ‘Khmerfrays’ (like the later cacophonously oscillating ‘Switchstance’ and the pressure-heated squall of ‘Whackjob’) resorts to the latter, but micro and contained, like it’s a spinning toy flashing in your hands. ‘Easylay’s’ choral depth and thin noise could almost fit on async.

‘Signlanguage’ sounds like drunk Madlib; there’s something kind of amusing in the way the polyrhythmic arrangement peters out into an insistent knocking that is bluntly metronomic (like why were you enjoying that).

‘Whackjob’s’ later scarab scuttling and sampled yelps are a lipcurlingly weird combination. Like a half-broken VHS player that runs on hamster wheels turned by metal cockroaches. ‘Headzdropa’ is only a 30-second interlude but it’s one of my favourite tracks here; it starts like ‘Signlanguage’ but swoops into a morning-TV trumpet jingle. A lot of the noise blasts on PP are technological, like cross-interference of waves.

We’re unceremoniously kicked out the album’s back door by the analogue rattle of ‘Snowdown’. Tumbling through the output chute of a steam-driven engine that produces very bitter sweets.

Not especially substantial but it’s fun to bounce around in for 30 minutes. Bit like the cover: colourful but modal, and with a sort of unflatteringly proficient technicality underpinning it which makes me think of Jim O’Rourke.

7

DAMN. (2017)

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TPAB is not an album I have especially returned to, especially in comparison to the year after GKMC. I think it was partly slightly overrated (eg. Tupac etc.), but partly also the fatigue of Big Projects. Also not listening to as much hip hop as I used to.

First listen came a few days after trying Joey Bada$$’ new one. Sadly neutered though earnest, but funny that he is moving in a direction so influenced by TPAB at a time when K himself is explicitly turning his back on all that. (see ELEMENT.)

Best, throughout, is the variety of flows, tones, accents. He’s like Stanley Kubrick trying on all different outfits, the kind of chameleonic restlessness that comes only with legitimate superiority.

Leads off with the ‘provocative mystery KL’ on BLOOD. Chance and risk, then universal determinism of DNA. “My DNA not for imitation” and K’s flow is ridiculous after the beat switch. Angry banger of the year and replayable forever.

“I got so many theories and suspicions.” YAH. Niece and “Uncle Kendrick” is touching . Introduces theme of Israelites, connects to refutation of genetic basis of race (“that word is only a colour / that ain’t facts no more”). Reflecting wider universalism back on DNA. like Piñata‘s Shitsville.

ELEMENT. sparse brag track with a depressing hook. Lonely at the top but he’s not making friends. Sounds better than when Kanye does it but it’s more interesting than enjoyable. “Last LP I tried to lift the black artists / But it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists” going after the competition here; definitely with Myke on D. being conscious territorial expansion.

FEEL. ducking and diving over spacey urban melancholy beat. Kind of ‘Sing About Me’. Breathing more prominent, (c/ back end of DNA.) live tangible frustration. Ain’t nobody praying for me, this like the introspective hangover after ELEMENT., or what’s really going on in his head while he raps on E. (like The Art of Peer Pressure after Backseat Freestyle) “Feel like only me and the music though.”

LOYALTY. is somewhat boring all considered, though Rihanna shows up. PRIDE. Sounds like Homeshake; unlike YAH. the lazy rhymes only work because they fit the sultry beat, which is still an arresting show of confidence. Contrition and conditionals, like the irony of HUMBLE. (together encapsulate the difficulty of living up to the standards the religious subtext is posing) Still w/ LOYALTY. a less satisfying pair.

Warmed a lot to HUMBLE. though it’s still not exactly singalong. Mike Will made all the best beats on D., this one for Gucci Mane apparently which validates Myke and helps cement K’s ascendancy. “Get the fuck off my stage” Wyndham Lewis! Best line on D.: “watch my soul speak / you let the meds talk.”

Hear D’Angelo in LUST. hooks, lyrics (“it’s that new new shit!”) tease us for waiting. Stop-starting bars like making a virtue out of failure. Doing enough. (“whatever you’re doing just make it count” — specifically female perspective is interesting)

LOVE. shoots for soft but almost verges on weak, though catchy. Supposedly directed but distinctly about himself still. “keep it 💯” impossible to background millennial vacuity but the deflationary tone fits. Weakness and compromise.

XXX. might sneak in as the best song. Storytelling with the crazy beat switches and energy of DNA. The swerve into the gun control line after the violence and police sirens. Sequencing is great on D. — people say this is scattered but it’s clearly focused. “you close your eyes to look around”

Return to determinism on FEAR. More teasing: backwards lyrics also still just sounds like a good hook. “I beat your ass if I beat your ass twice and you still here” violence and futility of male authority (Trump era classic says TMT). Death itinerary is haunting. “I’ll probably die because that’s what you do when you’re 17”. Compares himself to Job; past fears of losing it all, difficulty of looking back inc to past work (Section 80 ref). Connects to DNA — it’s a weird perspective but no one else is pushing it I spose.

Maybe singalong light of Chance on GOD.? Smallest gap w the competition here, (some of the worst singing) though I do like “this what God feel like!”

Ends DUCKWORTH. Dilla-esque best. “Once upon a time” painting again. Giving people what they want here. Still “family history” but sense of individual transcendence through coincidence and choice — back to BLOOD. and I like the Finnegans Wake tape circularity.

This is a lot of fun, thought-provoking in all the usual ways but with new things to say, and consistently ‘impressive’. Lower stakes than TPAB sure but I remember thinking he’d do well to pick out a new line and he has. There are lows, but they are passable on their own terms as well as failing to detract from D.‘s success as an Album. (this being D.‘s greatest strength, interesting to me because the relative suppression of narrative through-line and the stylistic variety of the tracks point more to piecemeal streaming appeal) Probably a desert island disc for 2017.

8

async (2017)

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Mego feel all over this. Something abrasive and indigestible about the electronics and timbres; difficult to let it fall into the background. (and the cover)

Solaris vibes from the organ on ‘andata’ (returned to on, er, ‘solari’) but thickening swirl of electronic fuzz and rippling synths creates a new sense of claustrophobia; a bit of Drøne’s Reversing Into The Future in there at the end. Gusty, like when a strong headwind pushes your breath back down your throat. (‘solari’ is dreamier, not far away from a Peter Strickland soundtrack)

Arrhythmic plunking on ‘disintegration’ – strange title for a track that slowly assembles itself with added instrumentation; sense therefore of construction through breaking away – metronomic percussion like slow work of a chisel. (this is a recurring trope [abstracted on ‘ZURE’] – all recalling Alva Noto’s Vrioon…) Half-life. Eerie inseparability of manual and electronic elements. Suggestibility of visuals (slow pursuit on foot) not surprising after RS’s great work on …The Revenant OST.

‘ZURE’ introduces a hint of noisy, processed field recordings which becomes lucid on the hypnotic ‘walker’, a highlight: steps on frosted grass, leaves, stones, puddles among drones, wolf call synths and gong hits. Brittle particularity of that Kim Myhr / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Jenny Hval album from last year. Builds on sense of algorithmic assembly (see raindrop cymbals on ‘tri’) to introduce stronger suggestions of unpredictability: how intentional in recording? Here and all over a the beauty is in the arrangement, the life and death or artificial animation of sounds colliding.

Abrupt tumbling synths on ‘stakra’, which glitches (Haunt Me) and floods without adding momentum. Return to manual arrangements on ‘ubi’ with a sonar pulse wandering between l and r channels, bouncing around persistently beautiful piano steps. Again juxtaposition of building tension and metronomic consistency, like monitoring a bodily pulse under flowing thought and feeling.

Then ‘fullmoon’ recording: “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times…” Suggestions of decay and finitude begin to take shape after recalling RS’s recent survival of cancer. Drones return as different languages loop over each other; sense that they are saying the same thing confirmed by “finie de la vie … combien de fois…” Everyone everywhere is having the same experience, in the same situation, seemingly incomprehensibly separate but in fact identical. After the mood a has established these speeches wash past you not with the whiff of gimmick but an unsettling chill.

‘async’ blurts in with Greenwood polyrhythmic col legno and wooden string strikes. It’s a bracing rush but the incongruous sequencing feels a little too studied and chin-strokey here. Those Mego raindrop cymbals on ‘tri’ suddenly cut into a glitching light-show, like petrifying midi-fication. Weird poem (apparently David Sylvian reading Tarkovsky Sr.) on ‘Life, Life’, again universality; “and this I dreamt, and this I dream, and sometime this I will dream again…” “to one side of the world” “to wonder I dedicate myself on my knees like an orphan” “dreams, reality, death, on wave after wave.” Huge and particular images of pervasive beauty of humanity. (sincerity without pomposity) If everyone listened to this we could collectively forget Cloud Atlas.

‘honj’ far-eastern zither (guqin?) treated with echo and gentle rain. Dislocated eclecticism of that Olivier Alary record. Beautiful washes of ‘ff’, thin synths like a finger round a glass, respiratory flow of Soliloquy for Lilith.

a bottoms out into ‘garden’, echoes of the opening organs like the view of Kris from among the weeds underwater.

Constructive variety (asynchronous, perhaps) but tonal consistency; strange melancholy, persistence but fragility. Really the sort of album I’ve been waiting to hear, with some slightly less satisfying experiments and occasionally wobbly sequencing. A crisp and sobering experimental album.

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