Category Archives: Electronic

“Ex-Ravers”

face tat
Zach Hill
Face Tat, 2010

More toe-cutting and thumb-busting today with an idiosyncratic Zach Hill banger. This is the stuff I love most, when experimental artists wrangle their sound into something vaguely resembling songwriting. Face Tat is full of this approach — nontraditional electro/rock hybrids with verses, choruses and weird lost bridges. The pop-friendly pieces are all here, you just gotta look for ‘em. Hill is best known for Hella and Death Grips but his solo material has always been my favorite, and I still play this one regularly 5 years on.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Ex-Ravers.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Music is My Radar”

blur
Blur
The Best of Blur, 2000

Blur were always more of a singles band to me. I’m hard-pressed to name an album I love all the way through, but at a moment’s notice I could probably write a list of 20 great songs spanning their entire career — “Girls and Boys,” “Tender,” “She’s So High,” “End of a Century” and “Coffee & TV” would be just the tip of the iceberg. So it’s fitting that when it came time to bang out the requisite greatest-hits bonus track in 2000, “Music Is My Radar” was unsurprisingly awesome. They pulled off a neat trick with this one: the bounce of their early, class-conscious pop crammed right up against the later experimental stuff. And I want to get excited for the new album too — after all, Graham Coxon is back for the first time since 1999. At the very least I’m sure we’ll get a few more gems to add to the collection.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/18%20Music%20Is%20My%20Radar.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Push the Sky Away”

cave
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Push the Sky Away, 2013

I certainly like Nick Cave, but I’ve never felt compelled to love him. I’m fascinated by a tendency I’ve noticed in his best work though: the ability to capture a beautiful notion — the idea of God, the thrill of falling in love, the aspiration of the self — before sentencing it to a slow, miserable death by melancholy. You hear the same principle at work in “Push the Sky Away.” Lyrically, this is motivational, no-limit, follow-your-dreams stuff — you’d almost expect to read these words in a self-help manual. Musically, of course, it’s a different story: dirge-like keys, atmospheric loops, a creepy children’s chorus. The effect is memorable — beautiful and spooky at all once — but sometimes you wanna tell the guy it’s okay to ease up.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/09%20Push%20the%20Sky%20Away.m4a]

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“#CAKE”

palaces
Shabazz Palaces
Lese Majesty, 2014

I read a quote once — but wait, there’s more! — and it went something like this: “All the best novels teach you how to read them.” I found that pretty intriguing, because A) what the hell does that really mean, honestly? and B) whatever it was supposed to mean didn’t really seem to apply to the book it was referring to. I’ve since forgotten which book that was, but in scratching and crawling, kicking and clawing, I think I’ve grasped some semblance of meaning in the years since. Whatever effect a work of fiction works on you — it can only be whatever it is. Any relevance divines itself. And maybe, just maybe, incoherence can be a means to that end. Is Shabazz Palaces some of the best music? Well, the answer is subjective. But I don’t think anyone can deny that this is music without precedent. No one can tell you what to do with this, because nothing like it has really existed before. And whatever you can take from it is going to be valid, if only for you. No one’s gonna hold your hand on this one.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/12%20%23CAKE.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Stonemilker”

square-200
Bjork
Vulnicura, 2015

And just like that, Bjork is back. She’s a monolith, isn’t she? An artist we’re accustomed to hearing little about for long stretches of time, giving her the energy and space she needs to do whatever she does next, while we (some of us, anyway) wait patiently for her next big move. That’s been the arrangement for more than 20 years, and it was supposed to be the arrangement for Vulnicura too. Then in true 2015 fashion, a disruption: the album leaked almost as soon as it was announced, release plans for March were scrapped, and the project was rushed to iTunes. In a way, the element of surprise is strangely fitting — Vulnicura is a song cycle exploring the dissolution of the singer’s relationship with artist Matthew Barney, each track an emotional milestone around the breakup. It’s clearly not a loss she was expecting, though opener “Stonemilker” (written 9 months before the split, according to liner notes) smells trouble ahead. “Show me emotional respect/I have emotional needs,” she pleads in the frankly broken, open-hearted chorus. “Find our mutual coordinate.” Her immeasurable loss has been transformed, somehow, into a listener’s gain.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Stonemilker.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Damage”

faith_in_strangers
Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers, 2014

Andy Stott picks the best fucking album art. You see the cover for Faith in Strangers above, but take a look at this. This. And this too. The guy has his aesthetic nailed down, that’s for sure: sleek, stark, dangerous but well-appointed. 2012’s Luxury Problems had perhaps the ultimate Andy Stott album title — it was the sound of shit breaking down, as heard from the most expensive seat on the Titanic. “Damage,” from the new album, is a fitting follow-up: knotty, clanging percussion, a relatively leaden tempo, a three-note bass melody torn from some larger, more elaborate production. Minimal, abrasive, selective … luxuriant. Proceed at your peril.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/07%20Damage.mp3]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Ja Funmi”

ksa
King Sunny Ade
Juju Music, 1982

I must confess I don’t know too much about King Sunny Ade, the jùjú genre or Nigerian culture in general. My understanding is that Juju Music, KSA’s major-label debut, made quite a splash in America when it was released in the early ‘80s, paving the way for the minor Afro-Pop wave that followed. It’s not too much of a stretch to listen to “Ja Funmi” and understand how this music, or music like it, would’ve captivated Paul Simon, David Byrne and other white artists of the time. (I’m probably getting the influences all wrong — in theory, Graceland was built more on South African sounds, and Talking Heads were Fela Kuti devotees. Still, for an uninformed WASP, the similarities are clear.) What’s fascinating about this record, and even more so follow-up Syncro System, is the way KSA successfully integrates his singular guitar sound with modern-for-the-time production: drum programming, deep bass and a pristine mix that sounds phenomenal through a good set of speakers. Since Ade’s playing is inimitable, the music has aged remarkably well and continues to be popular among “world music” fans and crate diggers alike.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Ja%20Funmi.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Renata”

holden-inheritors
Holden
The Inheritors, 2013

James Holden’s The Inheritors was one of the most fascinating records I heard in 2013. By turns inventive, engaging and exhausting, it has also proven to be one of the hardest to shake. Long a respected electronic musician, The Inheritors represents a foray into more organic instrumentation for Holden. The net effect is something akin to the relentless attack of the feistiest krautrock, with all the experimentation and none of the traditional rock signifiers. Shimmering and explosive, “Renata” is the closest the record has to a traditional four-on-the-floor stomper. And yet even at its most conventional, with all of the build-ups and breakdowns, “Renata” can wear you out. As the album title alludes, this is music willing to outlast its audience in every sense of the word.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Renata.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Night Tracking”

jacques_greene
Jacques Greene
Phantom Vibrate, 2014

I don’t always listen to house music, but when I do, I want it to sound like Jacques Greene. My intro to the Canadian producer/DJ came in the form of his unforgettable 2011 Radiohead “Lotus Flower” remix, a standout in a series of frankly lackluster offerings from more prominent names (Caribou, Jamie xx, et. al) as part of that year’s “TKOL RMX” debacle. Since then I’ve kept tabs on his R&B-leaning, dancefloor-ready singles, which strike me as just interesting enough to appeal equally to production heads and mainstream fans alike. “Night Tracking” closes out the recent Phantom Vibrate EP on a melancholy note, a succession of subconscious melodies fighting for attention under a prototypical house beat. I’d accuse the whole thing of being a little too simple, were it not for the fact it’s been rattling around in my head all week.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Night%20Tracking.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“The Jig is Up”

el-p
El-P
Cancer 4 Cure, 2012

I would not wanna spend a day in El-P’s head. The Brooklyn-born underground hip-hop icon has built an impressive career out of oppressive materials. His dense, obsessive, caustic production has been a fixture on the scene for close to two decades, so singular I can honestly say I’ve never even heard an imitator. That goes for the wordplay too: agitated and rife with sci-fi paranoia, he belongs to that rare breed of hip-hop lyricist devoted almost exclusively to world-building. As in all art, it’s hard to tell where the persona ends and the person begins, but I suspect “The Jig is Up” betrays more than a hint of autobiography. “Why don’t you just admit the truth/That you’ve been trained to withstand pain/And that’s the only way my crazy is not killing you,” he pleads with a would-be lover. “I wouldn’t wanna be a part of any club that would have me/You must out of your goddamn mind.” If you think consuming an entire album pitched at this same level of self-loathing is too much to ask, imagine what it feels like to live there permanently.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/08%20The%20Jig%20Is%20Up.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Bite the Thong”

jj doom
JJ DOOM
Keys to the Kuffs, 2012

Some days you cry in the car, some days you “bite the thong.” I’m pretty sure Robert Frost said something similar once. The underthings supplicant in question here is MF DOOM at his MF DOOMiest, spitting slow over a nauseated soundscape from TV on the Radio collaborator Jneiro Jarel. DOOM’s been exiled in England for years thanks to some unidentified immigration drama. In 2012 he funneled his frustration into a full-album collaboration with Jarel, and it’s arguably the strongest thing he’s done since Madvillain. JJ’s synth-heavy, future-fearing production proves to be a worthy match for hip-hop’s weirdest vocab whiz. For maximum impact, see also: “Gov’nor,” “Rhymin’ Slang” and “Winter Blues.”

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/04%20Bite%20The%20Thong.mp3]

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“Hands”

200px-Four_Tet_-_Rounds
Four Tet
Rounds, 2003

“Hands” is the sound of Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, playing to his strengths as a composer and found-sound stylist. Building up from a child’s heartbeat to blurry, chopped cymbals and simple piano, this quiet song surprises with its capacity to hold our attention. Eventually a direct drumbeat enters, the perfect foil. And while I’m sure the process of locating and shaping these sounds was anything but, the end components are fairly simple and easy to identify. Naturally occurring, organic sounds that have been electronically manipulated; a robot approximation of free jazz, as conceived by someone who’s never actually heard the music before. I can’t say I like everything Hebden puts his name on, but when he’s on he’s on.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Hands.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Jacquard Causeway”

boc

Boards of Canada
Tomorrow’s Harvest, 2013

Unlike many Boards of Canada devotees, I didn’t lose my shit over Tomorrow’s Harvest, last year’s comeback album from the influential, Edinburghian ambient outfit. My interest in the group skews more toward their warmer, earlier work; Harvest ran a little too ‘80s-horror-flick cold for my blood. But BoC are too in command of their form for the entire project to be a wash, and “Jacquard Causeway” still sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. As a failed drummer in a former life, I’m a sucker for weird, fucked-up drum patterns; you could lock me in a room with the “Causeway” beat on repeat for hours and I’d be happy as a clam. BoC know what they’ve got here, taking plenty of time to build and contract repeating synth phrases around that plodding, irregular heartbeat. It’s the album’s longest and most replay-worthy song.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/04%20Jacquard%20Causeway.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“The Wanderer”

zooropa_u2
U2 w/ Johnny Cash
Zooropa, 1993

History will prove there was nothing wrong with the albums U2 made in the ‘90s. Not just Achtung Baby but Zooropa and Pop too — nothing wrong at all. Sure, each album bore with it attendant overhype, ambition bordering on the unseemly, a too-healthy dollop of ego and of course … Bono, always Bono. But those who complained should’ve saved it. The real reputation damage would come later, as anyone who’s heard their last three albums can attest. No, ‘90s U2 had balls, and after scaling the pop world the decade prior, they’d earned the right to care more about art than charts. Take Zooropa closer “The Wanderer,” a synthy, quasi-Western spiritual with Johnny Cash on lead vocals, struggling to survive in an apocalyptic world without God. This was before American Recordings, before it was chic to love The Man in Black again. Historical proof of a time U2 when wasn’t afraid to take a risk — days that are long gone now.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/10%20The%20Wanderer.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Me Yesterday//Corded”

flylo
Flying Lotus
Until The Quiet Comes, 2012

Flying Lotus, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, is hands-down my favorite producer right now. His work touches on multiple, seemingly disparate corners of the exploratory musical universe: the bass and drive of post-Dilla hip-hop; the energy and fuck-it attitude of free jazz; the precision and programming chops of IDMers like Aphex Twin. “Me Yesterday//Corded” opens with muffled vocals, plodding keys and what sounds like a hydraulic chassis for a drum bed. At the halfway point, the whole thing explodes into the kind of woozy, beautiful beat science Ellison built his name on. As in his best work and that of the artists who’ve inspired him, any semblance of coherence is an afterthought.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/17%20Me%20Yesterday__Corded.m4a]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Other Side (Stuck Together Remix)”

atoms
Atoms for Peace
Single, 2012

You could make the case that Thom Yorke’s place in popular music is not what it used to be. Reaction to the most recent Radiohead record was relatively modest after almost two decades of unfettered praise. And while his surprise DJ gigs still rate as blog fodder, 2013’s The Eraser-meets-Afrobeat Atoms for Peace excursion got a similarly quiet reception. With attention drifting to younger artists, Yorke has quietly and convincingly branched out as a remixer. Here, aided by longtime producer Nigel Godrich, he reshuffles Amok standout “Stuck Together Pieces” as something darker, more thoughtful, and ultimately more rewarding. It’s the best Atoms-branded bit thus far, and proof that our favorite, most established artists still retain the capacity for surprise.

iTunes/Amazon

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“Can’t Do Without You”

Caribou-Our-Love
Caribou
Our Love, 2014

Summer’s almost over, sad to say, and if you were worried yours might come to an end without an encapsulating single, help yourself to mine. Based on the advance hype, Caribou’s forthcoming Our Love appears, finally, to be the club-ready record Dan Snaith has been building toward his entire career. He’s certainly pushed the button before (most notably on 2010’s Swim and with solo project Daphni), but never this hard. “Can’t Do Without You” is four minutes of perfectly modulated, professional-grade sugar rush, and it sticks from the first listen. Don’t take my word for it though – press play and make it your own. You’ve still got a whole week left.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Can’t%20Do%20Without%20You.mp3 ]

iTunes/Amazon

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“Iambic 9 Poetry”

Squarepusher_-_Ultravisitor
Squarepusher
Ultravisitor, 2004

Who or what exactly is Squarepusher? After 20 years, the question is more open now than ever. The UK’s Tom Jenkinson first stood apart from his ‘90s IDM peers by virtue of musicianship – he didn’t just program acid-house drum breaks, he played them live. That skillset leaves Jenkinson a lot of rope at times, but also allows for moments like “Iambic 9 Poetry,” a track I’d file under “truly sublime.” Keep in mind that everything you’re hearing here – drums, bass, keys and whatever else – is being played by the same guy, essentially jamming with and against himself. The end result is a musical masterclass in building and sustaining mood.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/03%20Iambic%209%20Poetry%201.mp3 ]

iTunes/Amazon

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“XTAL”

Aphex Twin
Selected Ambient Works 85-92, 1992

This one hit like lightning the first time I heard it, and that was from streaming a 30-second sample on CDNow back in summer ’99. Careful readers will note I was already several years late to the party at that point, but “Xtal” is nothing if not timeless. I’m willing to bet on the same magic in 2014. In his prime, Richard D. James laid the foundation for much of what was to become popular in late-90’s electronic music and still is today. If there’s a prettier piece of ambient techno/electronic/IDM/whatever floating around out there in the ether, I’ve yet to hear it.

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/14312140/01%20Xtal.mp3 ]

iTunes/Amazon

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“SOUPA”

blu_york_jdj

Blu
NoYork! 2013

While you may not know the name, L.A. underground M.C. Blu has developed one of the strongest voices in hip-hop over the past decade, following his internally-rhyming muse for better and worse through any number of abrupt stylistic turns. Here we have him diving headfirst into a gorgeous Samiyam beat: asphalt-radiant and shimmering, “even when the sunshine dies.” He’s equally at home over classic soul, half-baked home tapes and West Coast beat-scene freakouts. “Soupa” splits the difference to divine something fierce and new.

iTunes/Amazon

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