Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (August 2015)

Chance Lil B

With so much excellent music released over the short course of the past few weeks, Culturedarm’s songs of the month for August features largely new works and related compositions. July’s list and a couple of Cultureteca pieces discussed in turn Dr. Dre’s Compton and Robyn’s latest project as part of La Bagatelle Magique: both albums, appearing in full on 7 August, have continued to receive much listening time. In addition to these, August has been all about Chance The Rapper, Lil B, Julia Holter, John Cage, Robert Wyatt, Liz Harris and Helen, Oneohtrix Point Never, Young Thug, Van Morrison, and Joanna Newsom.

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Lil B x Chance The Rapper – Free (Based Freestyle Mixtape)

A busy month for Chance The Rapper commenced on 5 August with the release of Free (Based Freestyle Mixtape), a freestyle album by Chance and Lil B. First indicated just a couple of weeks earlier, on release day Chance introduced the tape via Instagram, writing ‘It’s called #Free and yes it’s real. Conceived from magic, love, acid and bases. We made this the moment we met.’

This read like an ideal partnership: if Chance’s rhymes tend to be more tightly wrought, and develop to fleeting crescendos where Lil B’s compositions abound in space, still both rappers share what is a fundamentally improvisational approach to rhythm and vocalisation, always navigating their words through songs by turns enthusiastically unconstrained and surprisingly sober. And Free more than meets any expectations, full of fun, energy, and optimism, the interplay between Chance and Lil B always lively, with lush loops courtesy of producers Uptown Greg, Keyboard Kid, Gigglebox, and Nate Fox.

Chance The Rapper & Noname Gypsy – ‘Israel (Sparring)’

Then on 12 August Chance and fellow Chicago rapper Noname Gypsy released the track ‘Israel (Sparring)’. Noname Gypsy takes the last verse on the opening track of Free (Based Freestyle Mixtape), titled ‘Last Dance Based Freestyle’; and she and Chance previously collaborated on the wonderful ‘Lost’ from Chance’s 2013 mixtape Acid Rap.

This conjures a similar atmosphere, with mellow production courtesy of Cam O’bi, and lyrics which move to and fro in quiet contemplation. The song builds its momentum from the Genesis account of Jacob wrestling with the angel – the accompanying artwork is of Gustave Doré’s engraving Jacob Wrestling with the Angel from 1855 – and with the repeated line ‘Sparring is training’, the theme is personal growth through life’s challenges, be they related to racism, romance, or career, with God cast both as support and as a source of uncertainty. With references from Plato, to The Temptations, to the film Training Day, Chance also considers his impending fatherhood. And the playful back-and-forth as the ‘Israel (Sparring)’ fades out consolidates the song’s thorough embrace.

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Julia Holter – ‘Feel You’

Julia Holter released the official video for ‘Feel You’, the first song from her upcoming album Have You In My Wilderness, on 9 July. It features a baroque opening performed on what sounds like the clavinet – a distinctive impression which also introduces Van Morrison’s similarly buoyant ‘Everyone’ – and swells with cooing vocals and punching percussion, as Holter begins, ‘My first thought was there are / So many days of rain in Mexico City / A good reason to go / You know I love to run away from sun’.

‘Feel You’ circles and surges, full of momentum; and beyond Holter’s pristine voice, at the forefront of the mix, and the refrain which places her at the centre of the image, ‘It’s impossible to see / Who I’m waiting for / In my raincoat’, she subsumes herself in the life of the song. She is an iconic lady in the rain, red and damply elegant; and at the same time a barely-there man in a brown macintosh. But despite the threat of rain and a frozen stare, this is a warm piece of music, which has been perfect listening over the summer. It builds to an intriguing spoken-word passage. And the video shows Holter taking things easy with her dog. Have You In My Wilderness is due out later this month, on 25 September.

Julia Holter – ‘Sea Calls Me Home’

And after announcing a world tour – to begin in the United States in early October, extending across Europe and Japan before coming to a close in December in Australia – on 26 August Holter shared the audio for ‘Sea Calls Me Home’. A reworking of a song first issued back in 2010, ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ burst brightly out of its gates, harpsichord and whistles and pounding drums giving way to a scuzzy jazz break, as Holter repeats ‘I can’t swim / It’s lucidity / So clear’. The song is an ode to the ineluctable call of the sea.

John Cage – ‘Experiences No.2’ (Vocals by Robert Wyatt, Lyrics by E. E. Cummings)

On 7 August, Holter linked via Twitter to a beautiful piece of music composed by John Cage, writing ‘it is at moments after I have dreamed of the rare entertainment of your eyes’.

The lyrics are by E.E. Cummings – a continual source of inspiration for avant-garde musicians – with the vocal taken by Robert Wyatt. ‘Experiences No.2’ appeared on Voices and Instruments from 1976: a split album, with compositions by the saxophonist Jan Steele across the first side, and by Cage across the other. This is the first of two songs on Cage’s side to feature Cummings’ poetry, with ‘Forever and Sunsmell’, with vocals by Carla Bley, coming later on the record. Voices and Instruments was the fifth of only ten albums released on Brian Eno’s Obscure Records label.

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Helen – ‘Motorcycle’

A couple of years ago, in September 2013, Liz Harris – better known as Grouper – released a single courtesy of her noisy, dreamy, fuzzy pop band Helen. With Harris alongside Scott Simmons and Jed Bindeman, the single showcased the songs ‘Felt This Way’ and ‘Dying All the Time’.

Back in July, Helen announced their debut album, The Original Faces, which was released just last Friday. At the same time they unveiled a new song from the album, ‘Motorcyle’. Harris’s voice, accompanied by backing vocals, drifts through amidst thick guitar distortion, which still finds time to diffuse and fade out on a track coming in under two minutes.

Helen – ‘Violet’

Then on 13 August, ‘Violet’ emerged fondly reminiscent of so much indie good stuff from the 1980s and early 1990s: Sonic Youth, The Cure, Pixies, Cocteau Twins, and Pavement.

Helen – ‘Covered in Shade’

Finally, coinciding with their album’s official release, on Friday Helen offered us a video for ‘Covered in Shade’. Directed by Jamie Potter, the film shows the band frolicking on the beach, with dandelions over their eyes, and by a grave with Harris’s pet dog. This is such a pleasant and timely trip.

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Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘I Bite Through It’

Following Oneohtrix Point Never’s oblique announcement – materialising via a questionnaire with a humanoid alien named Ezra, backdated blog posts, and a lone trek through an unearthed movement dubbed ‘hypergrunge’ – on 18 August of Garden of Delete, due out on 13 November, Oneohtrix has continued to tease the new album. Three short videos appeared on Warp Records’ YouTube account: ‘g.o.d. gun’, ‘g.o.d. drone’, and ‘g.o.d. flame’. And on Thursday, a blank video via Oneohtrix’s own YouTube afforded Garden of Delete‘s first full track, which is titled ‘I Bite Through It’. Punishing bursts of techno and puncturing beams of digital noise are briefly offset by gentle Spanish strings.

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Young Thug – ‘Freaky’

Here’s an unreleased Young Thug track from earlier in the year which I’ve been listening to a lot over the past weeks.

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Van Morrison – ‘Cyprus Avenue’

With Van Morrison performing on Cyprus Avenue in east Belfast last Monday to celebrate his seventieth birthday, it’s best to let him take it all away with his namesake of a song. But another word from Lester Bangs:

‘A man sits in a car on a tree-lined street, watching a fourteen-year-old girl walking home from school, hopelessly in love with her […] He loves her. Because of that, he is helpless. Shaking. Paralyzed. Maddened. Hopeless. Nature mocks him. As only nature can mock nature. Or is love natural in the first place? No matter. By the end of the song he has entered a kind of hallucinatory ecstasy; the music aches and yearns as it rolls on out. This is one supreme pain, that of being imprisoned a spectator. And perhaps not so very far from “T.B. Sheets,” except that it must be far more romantically easy to sit and watch someone you love die than to watch them in the bloom of youth and health and know that you can never, ever have them, can never even speak to them.’

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Joanna Newsom – ‘Sapokanikan’

And last but by no means least, on 10 August Joanna Newsom announced Divers, her fourth studio album, due out on 23 October. With the announcement came the video for ‘Sapokanikan’, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

I discussed the song on the day of its release, and in depth with regard to its themes and references. So to further the discussion, here are a couple of early performances of the piece, which Newsom first added to her live repertoire in the late summer of 2012: one from Treasure Island Music Festival that October in the San Francisco Bay; the other from Pitchfork Music Festival the following July in Chicago.