Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (December 2015)

ASAP Ferg 2


Last February the artist hitherto known as Antony Hegarty announced HOPELESSNESS, described as ‘an electronic record with some sharp teeth’, with co-production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, and to be released under the name ANOHNI this spring. In a fan interview published in October, ANOHNI further characterised the album as a significant departure from the chamber music of Antony and the Johnsons, depicting instead ‘a dance/experimental record with quite a dark thematic undertow’. And in an early December interview with Noisey – politically minded, espousing the need for urgent conversation on growing disparities of wealth – she expounded on the new name for this project, noting:

‘I really decided to start using it a couple years ago and it’s just been a slow process of sharing it with more people, and now I’m kind of pretty much full-time ANOHNI, so that’s good. I just wanted to honor that part of myself. I’ve always been very clear about being transgender, and talking about it in my work, but I wanted to just take a spirit name, so I did it.’

The turn of the month saw ANOHNI preview the first track from HOPELESSNESS, a protest song entitled ‘4 DEGREES’ that she introduced to her live repertoire earlier in the year. The title refers directly to a study published in the journal Science at the end of April, which argued ‘If manmade greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current record-breaking rate, leading to a temperature rise of more than 4C by the end of the century, 16% of species, or one in six, face extinction’. And the song was released to coincide with the start of the Paris Climate Change Conference, which after a couple of weeks concluded with world leaders agreeing steps to halt the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C above pre-industrial levelsANOHNI wrote.

‘In solidarity with the climate conference in Paris,
giving myself a good hard look,
not my aspirations but my behaviors,
revealing my insidious complicity.

It’s a whole new world.

Let’s be brave and tell the truth as much as we can.

Anohni x’

‘4 DEGREES’ agitates towards a recognition of our state, in which we instinctively and explicitly lament the idea of environmental destruction, while acting without change: as though we believe that claims of widespread flooding and mass extinction are little more than scaremongering, or at least issues that we in our own lives will never have to face. ANOHNI takes our behaviour to its logical conclusion, enunciating a desire to see ‘dogs crying for water’ and ‘fish go belly-up in the sea’. The music is tense and swelling, with clipped strings and muted brass against the steady pounding of drums, Antony’s voice reaching a falsetto as he stresses ‘It’s only 4 degrees’.

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Peaches – ‘Rub’

On 2 December Peaches gave us the music video for ‘Rub’, the title track from the album she released in September. Directed by Peaches – alongside the ‘skeptical queer eco-feminist’ multimedia artist A.L. Steiner, and the comic performance artist Lex Vaughn, who is also one of the many stars – she’s calling it ‘the most insane Peaches video ever’, and it is easy to see why. Lines like ‘Circle jerk girls who spray / We’ve got a male in the middle and we bukkake’ and ‘Can’t talk right now this chick’s dick is in my mouth’ receive a full and glorious enactment.

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Robyn/La Bagatelle Maqique – ‘Love is Free’

‘Love Is Free’ was the first track Robyn released with La Bagatelle Magique, the project which pairs her with keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt and the late producer Christian Falk. Featuring Maluca, the single premiered on Annie Mac’s BBC radio show in June, before the mini-album of the same name arrived in August.

Love Is Free continues to grow stronger with every listen, and now the single has received a video to call its own. Directed by SSION – the pseudonym of Cody Critcheloe, a joyous musician in his own right, who over the last couple of years has served as the directorial vision behind videos for Perfume Genius, Kylie Minogue, and the fashion brand Hood By Air – it shows Robyn and Maluca cavorting at night, increasingly messily through a series of luxe film sets and photo shoots. Robyn and SSION discussed the process behind the video in an interview with i-D. Citing influences from The Truman Show to Singin’ in the Rain and early 90s MTV, and discussing the use of bees, Marc Chagall, and a scene from The X-Files, Robyn said:

‘Well you know how things that feel hyper real also can feel totally disintegrated at the same time? It´s an old idea, maybe as old as our entire consciousness. I wanted to make the video as a trip through a physical space that also felt fluid and loose, because that´s what the song is for me; it´s concrete and at the same time made from an unconscious place.’

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Waxahatchee – ‘La Loose’

‘La Loose’ is one of Waxahatchee‘s dreamiest songs, her usually assertive voice subsumed into the mix, which lilts and whirs and finds itself gently sustained by cooing backing vocals. The third single from Ivy Tripp, the video for ‘La Loose’ came out on 2 December, and was directed by Naomi Yang, who said:

”La Loose’ is a song of love and longing, though dark at its edges with feelings of ambivalence. I wanted the video to be a visual equivalent to the song lyric, ‘a charming picture of hysteria in love’ – a spinning emotional kaleidoscope of desire and rejection, adoration and anger, hope and despair. For this reason I set the video in mirror-twin locations: an abandoned, haunted amusement park and a thriving farm out of a beautiful dream.’

* * *

A$AP Ferg – ‘Tatted Angel’ and ‘New Level’ (feat. Future)

While Ferg has retained a profile over the course of the year via several collaborations, the time he has devoted to his writing is evident on ‘Tatted Angel’, a profoundly stark song featuring production by Hit-Boy. Over a gleaming loop, Ferg plots his future successes and the sort of partnerships that might propel him towards the realm of rap’s biggest stars, while stressing all of the strains and struggles that come with the level of fame already within his grasp. He raps on friends ‘turned to awkward niggas’ as they lust after his money, laments breaking up with a ‘good girl who had my back’, and expresses feelings of guilt for having made it while others stay stuck or worse.

For ‘Tatted Angel’ is also a dirge for A$AP Yams, who died back in January, and whose passing also hovered over A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP. The pain is tangible when Ferg rhymes, ‘Sometimes I wish Yams was never using / When we toured in UK I knew I’d lose him’, before moving into the chorus, which brilliantly encapsulates the theme, ‘Tatted Angel, I’m cuffed to hell with diamond bangles’. The track is an instant classic.

‘Tatted Angel’ arrived on 5 December in a version of two-and-a-half minutes, before the full track with added verses appeared six days later. Ferg’s first solo release for over a year, following the Ferg Forever mixtape which arrived at the end of November 2014, it was also the first sample of his upcoming album Always Strive and Prosper. And on 18 December Ferg hurried ahead with ‘New Level’, featuring Future.

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Chance The Rapper – ‘Somewhere in Paradise’ (feat. Jeremih and R. Kelly)

Taylor Bennett – Broad Shoulders

Jeremih – ‘Pass Dat’

On 13 December Chance shared ‘Somewhere in Paradise’, featuring Jeremih and R. Kelly, and co-produced by The Social Experiment and Corin Roddick of Purity Ring. This is heavenly music alright, held aloft by percussion and trumpet, and having been part of his live repertoire since 2013, it certainly has an Acid Rap vibe. But a couple of years on, perhaps some of the lyrics on ‘Somewhere in Paradise’ are now too modest: instead of running to become Chicago’s mayor, a Kanye/Chance ticket for 2020 would surely be hard for voters to pass up.

On the evening of 12 December, Chance and Jeremih had given the song its official debut, performing ‘Somewhere in Paradise’ on Saturday Night Live – with Chance becoming in the process the first independent artist to guest on the show. Then on 14 December, Chance’s younger brother Taylor Bennett dropped his debut album, the wonderfully exuberant Broad Shoulders, premiered by Rolling Stone, and eschewing samples while featuring Chance, Donnie Trumpet, Brill, and more. Meanwhile Jeremih marked the start of the month with the audio for ‘Pass Dat’, the fourth single release from Late Nights.

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dvsn – ‘Too Deep’ and ‘Hallucinations’

Two more songs arrived this month courtesy of dvsn, the unidentified Toronto vocalist who is working with the producer Nineteen85 to give us these glorious sounds of deconstructed soul.

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Arca – ‘Urchin’

Kelela – ‘All The Way Down’ (feat. GAIKA, Kahn Remix)

And more too from a couple of the year’s most remarkable breakthrough artists, who both recently issued new records – Arca’s Mutant arriving on 20 November, while Kelela’s Hallucinogen, with Arca contributing to the opening track, appeared on 9 October – but resolutely refuse to let up. Arca ended the year with the dark sweep of ‘Urchin’, while Kelela teamed with GAIKA and Kahn for a Christmastime remix of Hallucinogen‘s ‘All The Way Down’. GAIKA released one of the most vital mixtapes of the year with his debut Machine in November, and here adds vocals to Kelela’s track.

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Björk – ‘Mouth Mantra’

Premiering on Dazed on 4 December, Björk released the video for ‘Mouth Mantra’, Vulnicura‘s penultimate track. The video is directed by the filmmaker Jesse Kanda, who has collaborated extensively with Arca and with FKA twigs, and it starts off inside Björk’s mouth, with her tongue and teeth warping and curving into peculiar landscapes. In the final third the camera pulls away to find Björk pulling and thrusting in ecstasy, in an outfit wrapped and hanging with bandages.

Along with the groundbreaking Andrew Thomas Huang-directed videos for ‘Stonemilker’ and ‘Black Lake’, ‘Mouth Mantra’ – which like ‘Stonemilker’ is apparently also going to be available in 360° – will be part of an upcoming virtual reality app. In the words of the artists:

Björk: “i am so extremely grateful to jesse to be up for going on this journey …. it was brave of him to take it on and i feel spoiled having witnessed him grow , making hi tech mouth models and inventing cameras all to match a little therapeutic song about the throat . his dedication and devotion is overwhelming !!!

i am especially grateful for those sassy dancefloor moments we managed to squeeze in there aswell : true magic !!”

Jesse Kanda: “If there’s one thing I’d like for people to take away from this video, it’s the power of vulnerability. That is what Björk’s album Vulnicura is all about to me, and hopefully this video reflects that. It’s about having the courage to express yourself and seeing yourself in that mirror. Doing something that scares the shit out of you and sharing it, growing from it, spreading love and courage to others and making the world a warmer place to be and relate to each other.

Making this video was as much a terrifying horrific experience to me as it was a dream come true and pure ecstasy. It was a year-long roller coaster which triggered and ran parallel to some major growth in my own self as well. I have no words to express how grateful I am to Björk for this extremely intimate creation and her love. 

Thank u everyone on the team who made this possible – the miraculous John Nolan and his team for the animatronics, beautiful warrior Inge Grognard for the face art and support, ever loving Juliette and Hannah at Prettybird UK, beautiful warm womb crew in Iceland and London, everyone at Dentsu Lab Tokyo and Rhizomatiks Research, lovely Ellie (Ellie Grace Cumming – Fashion Director of AnOther Man) and Pegah (Pegah Maleknejad – Fashion Assistant), Derek and Andrew at One Little Indian, and my sister Alejandro of course for the beats and looking at it million times with me. Also my computer for not melting down!”‘

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Grimes – ‘Fifteen Minutes To’

Grimes is giving at Christmas: last year she made a present of ‘Christmas Song II’, a collaboration with her step-brother Jay Worthy, the follow-up to their first song together which was released as a Visions bonus track. This year she filled our stockings afresh with ‘Fifteen Minutes To’, an unreleased song ‘probably pre halfaxa’.

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