Backwoods Home Magazine #81 - May/June 2003
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It is the score of a city, with all its flashing lights, and the score of a countryside, with bonfires, bullfrogs, acres of black sky. Thank you Michael Barclay. That this collaboration between Diplo, Skrillex and Justin Bieber feels neither manic nor demented, that it doesn't pander. That it moves with such purpose. Some may be turned off by its palette of sounds - EDM, mainstream dubstep - but pop music shifts and slips; if you wish to track its treasures, you need to shift as well. You need to let your bias slip. This is music for moving to but it's also a kind of refracted blues.
Bieber seems mournful, he seems almost lost, and that lostness gets chopped and subdivided, syncopated. When he calls out to his absent lover that calling gets manipulated, twisted into a kind of woodwind or birdcall. It's Justin's voice inside that "flute" hook. You can try to sing along. Majical Cloudz - "Downtown" [ buy ] A love-song that seems painted like a line across the horizon. A straight line, steady and even, almost indiscernible. Montreal's Majical Cloudz make their songs from synths and loops and then the sturdy baritone of Devon Welsh's voice. It is sturdy even when it is smitten, even when it's dotty.
There is a reckless swoop to the way he sings. But devotions like these mend wild pleasure with quiet, almost heartbreaking sincerity. Perhaps it'll pass. Perhaps, one night, that clear horizon will disappear into a black sky. Welsh knows it could; he's a fool undeterred. But Badu seems to have more remove from the situation; she's less forbearing with her recollection of her ex and his habits.
She's funnier. And yet besides her evident wit, Badu imbues "Hotline Bling" with something else as well. There's a certain melancholy: old, cold melancholy, a wound scarred-over.
OK, Drake's video is still tops. Although Boucher kept working on "REALiTi", releasing another version on Art Angels , I'm much fonder of the demo - organic, darkly tropical, with "I'll Remember" 's synth strings and "Oblivion" 's sense of guarded momentum.
But the New Jersey MC has a gift for delivering rhymes: each of "Trap Queen"'s lines rises and falls in a tidy arc; each one feels like a hook. Mix this with airy synths, chords poised at the edge of dancing, and you have a trap song meant for repeat and repeat and repeat, for wafting out the lowered window of a million passing cars. Sheer Mag - "What You Want" [ buy ] Emma wrote: This song sounds like it feels to wear your jean jacket and tough-guy sunglasses for the first time since the endless drag of winter; it sounds like you felt the first time some beautiful party genius taught you to call it a JJ instead of a jean jacket, to say "blaze a jang" instead of "smoke a joint.
Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud - "Wana Le Nouveau" [ buy ] Music of the Sahara desert's after-dark, as an unwed woman sings over a group of men's low chant. There is a certain courting to these songs, I understand; this is not primordial music, nor prayer, it is as modern as ringtones, sung by young people kicking up dust. Inamoud is married now, she no longer sings, but maybe some of these men are still chanting their sigadah , thinking of her voice, remembering how it sounded in the air.
Only if you like pop music, pop for sugar rushes in the blood, the simple satisfaction of a widely shared thrill. Only if you can admire a pop song that uses saxophone for all its velocity, saxophone or maybe synth-saxophone, it doesn't matter.
Michael Feuerstack - "Clackity Clack" [ buy ] A song that unfolds like a tired-out fist, drums precisely stumbling. While I'm mixing metaphors: the fiddle's a magician sawing your assistant in two. Dilly Dally - "Desire" [ buy ] Hot and heavy as a fever: the shriek of guitars, Katie Monks' rippling lust, grunge incandescing in the dark. A song against white supremacy and all the ways it is upheld. Young Galaxy - "Body" [ buy ] Sumptuous dancefloor music - blurring glitter in the black of night. Sounds flicker and skitter as Catherine McCandless sings about absence, presence, the physical fact of an unreliable body.
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Just a tower of sounds, full of reach and wobble. Full disclosure: Young Galaxy commissioned me to write a short story to accompany their terrific record. CHVRCHES - "Empty Threat" [ buy ] CHVRCHES' songs like long columns of jewels, staggered gems, dotted lines on a night-black road, gleaming headlights on invisible hills, cats' eyes, cats'-eyes, one harvest moon and another harvest moon and did you know eclipses occur in sequence, regular sequence, once every xx months.
Issue #81 of Backwoods Home Magazine. May/June, 2003
Kiiara - "Gold" [ soundcloud ] Want and desire already cut up by disappointment, frustration. Snaps and droplets, space and reverb, the bone-on-bone blossom of a knee-on-knee collision. Emma called it like pure electrical current; hums through you head-to-toe, too dangerous to grasp bare-handed. Gonzalez is a singer-songwriter from Sweden but here he is deeply indebted to West African guitar music, Touareg song circles, riffs and handclaps born in the desert.
I, uh, also wrote about this song as the sci-fi story of a summer planet. This playfulness makes up for the lyrics, where Bieber's like a hacky, misogynist stand-up comic. There's also something fascinatingly 'off', mildly clumsy, about the song's undergirding sound: that ticking clock, vaguely threatening, all of us trudging slowly toward death.
Julia Holter - "Feel You" [ buy ] With stately strings and harpsichord, perfectly composed drums, Holter sounds as if she's standing at the crossroads between Haim's San Fernando pop and Judee Sill's Laurel Canyon folksong. Basia Bulat - "Infamous" [ pre-order ] A fizzing rocket, a fiery roman candle, a singer celebrating as her heart breaks in two.
But a song like "Waste the Alphabet" is much more than the sum of its influences: it's poised and catchy, thrilling, spinning on the head of a pin.
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And boasting one of the guitar solos of the year. Not because Flowers has the same gift for language - even a gem like "Between Me And You" has some lyrical clunkers. But the production is great and, more important still, the songs themselves are splendidly formed. Arcing verses, flowering choruses, small details that reward multiple listens; "Between Me And You" deserves a thousand jukeboxes, a million slow-dances, maybe even a couple tattoos. Apprehensive, chafing, Kafka's Metamorphosis re-interpreted by Tom Petty.
It seems like music for a road-trip but properly, probably, it's custom-built for a nervous breakdown. Rozi Plain - "Actually" [ buy ] What humble genius is this, mellow and pipey? This winter I will just curl up around Rozi Plain's voice, her magnificent bassline. David Bowie - "Blackstar" [ buy ] Ten minutes of sound that probably represent David Bowie's most future-facing music in 20 years. Luscious saxophone curls around Bowie's doubled and uncanny voice, mingling with thin synths, off-tempo guitars, flute, stabs of dub and acid house, complicated stop-start drum patterns that make it seem as if there's a Replicant at the kit.
And yet "Blackstar "is seamless: I can't quite decide if it makes me feel bewildered or calmly, confidently serene. Julien Baker - "Something" [ buy ] What a break-up song. The sound of a heart just emptying out. The Acorn - "In Silence" [ buy ] A song of funky, uncanny folk - shaded voice, prowling bass, - and then suddenly the balance is upset, the avalanche triggered, all the air in the room rearranged by an exhilaration of drums.
Tirzah - "Make It Up" [ facebook ] Tirzah sings in hopscotch sing-song over a skipping, spiritless vocal sample; she's asking her absent lover to come home but it's not clear that Tirzah really cares, that she even truly minds. The song's not about that loving entreaty, in the end: it's about the confusion of the thing, Tirzah's dazed presence and this dry, mesmeric mantra. Produced by Micachu's Mica Levi.
Jamie xx - "Gosh" [ buy ] At first it's a bit like a Jamaican 45 crossed with a washing machine, but soon the clatter gives way to a warm, lazy keyboard melody - noodly and sunset-toned, drawn from a different landscape than the rest of Jamie's work. A balmy breeze; an unexpected guest; dumb contentment, floating in on a cloud.
Their version is winsome and jangly, with a thin line of synthesizer. Thanks, Charles Steinberg. Christine and the Queens - "Saint Claude" [ buy ] French pop with the interesting time-honoured tactic of making the chorus en anglais - a break from what's come before, a change of affective key, a switch from frilled and elegant to something a little clumsier, vulnerable.
The words themselves aren't great, or those soppy strings, but "Saint Claude"'s full musical landscape, that sunlight dancing on ice - it's enough to make this track compulsive, a little treasure. All Dogs - "That Kind of Girl" [ buy ] Jeff wrote, nouveau-nineties gold that perfectly balances catchy riffs with heavier bursts of fuzzy catharsis. I wrote something dumb about songs as physical things. Fact is, this is raw and open, proud, loud voices and surging guitars.
Thanks, Hamza. Demi Lovato - "Confident" [ buy ] Lovato's swagger, the mountains of horns, percussion like a marching band, a crowd at an arena. And also: fingersnaps, glitches, "Beautiful People" 's gallop of pounding tom and overdriven bass. Janet's first new song in seven years is absolutely sweltering. It'll steam up your windows, it'll tangle in your sheets. Hear a heart's bass guitar, a singer's rayed voice, a cannonade of bass and tom.
Hear electric charge, raining harmonies, something like a melodica. Some songs you can sing; others you need to duck underneath.
Four volumes of freestyles - 1 2 3 4 - with more yet to come. If only Lil Tunechi were releasing work this giddy and alive. Ian William Craig - "Either Or" [ buy ] Distorted voices, tape whirr - this startling record like a clouded, indecipherable chorale. How do you make a song neither straight-ahead nor feral; balanced in the middle, bravely safe?