Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (February 2016)

Matmos Ultimate Care II 1

Kedr Livanskiy – ‘Razrushitelniy Krug (Destructive Cycle)’

Prefacing her debut EP January Sun – which arrived 19 February on 2MR, the label founded little over a year ago by Mike Simonetti, formerly of the Portland and Los Angeles-based synthpop and Italo-disco label Italians Do It Better – the middle of January saw Kedr Livanskiy release ‘Razrushitelniy Krug (Destructive Cycle)’. The name of the project is Russian for ‘Lebanese Cedar’, and it is the work of the twenty-five year old Moscow artist Yana Kedrina.

Kedrina is passionate about electronic music, and has cited influences from Autechre and Aphex Twin to Inga Copeland and Laurel Halo, which cohere alongside an appreciation for the noise of Death Grips and the mid-1990s, alternative rock, MTV leanings of Mazzy Star. She has studied at the Moscow School of New Cinema, while a couple of years ago, following a few gigs in Moscow and a trip to Yalta, she and a small group of friends established the collective John’s Kingdom, which functions as a DIY record label and an outlet for art and videos.

She also shows a literary turn of mind, depicting reading Washington Irving as an adolescent in between listening to The Cure, while on January Sun she quotes from ‘Winds of May’, one of the short poems that make up James Joyce‘s Chamber Music. While Joyce in Ulysses elaborated on an anecdote connecting the title of his collection with the tinkling of urine in a chamber pot, the thirty-six love poems in Chamber Music are characterised not by coarseness or by his later profusions of language, but by a youthful ardor and a classical delicacy.

‘Razrushitelniy Krug (Destructive Cycle)’ shares these qualities. Borrowing the skittish beats of Aphex Twin’s ‘Xtal’, a throbbing warmth permeates the heart of the record: the sound of circuitous walks along dark city streets lit by an inner flame and existing on an emotional threshold, as simple synth patterns bounce and linger against Livanskiy’s echoing, encompassing, night time vocal. January Sun closes on an a cappella version.

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Matmos – Ultimate Care II Excerpt Five

Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt’s latest album consists of a solitary thirty-eight minute track whose surging sloshes and queasy blips and beeps are drawn entirely from a Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine. The project most clearly resembles the duo’s 2001 album A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, which sampled medical procedures such as plastic surgeries, liposuctions and orthopaedic bonesaws, and the length is meant to mimic the washing machine’s full cycle – ‘You don’t get to pick this part or that part. You commit to thirty-eight minutes of this sound’, as Daniel has said – although after first leaving the machine to its own devices, they began rubbing, stroking, and drumming upon its surfaces, and using transducers to feed it with samples, processes in which they were aided by Dan Deacon, Max Eilbacher and Sam Haberman of Horse Lords, Jason Willett of Half Japanese, and Duncan Moore of Needle Gun.

Schmidt tumbled upon the conceit lost one day in the Whirlpool’s rhythms, noting ‘It was a self-contained, very simple idea, but once you start examining anything, it gives and gives and gives. The shit writes itself as soon as you’re actually paying attention’. Ultimate Care II was released on 19 February, with four official videos uploaded as excerpts across the past five months.

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Rihanna – ‘Work’ (feat. Drake)

Released in the hours before Anti, Rihanna’s eighth studio album which leaked out into the world at the end of last month, ‘Work’ initially received a lukewarm response, with some listeners put off by the repetitiveness of the hook and by the alleged insensibility of some of the lyrics. But the track bubbles and spits and finds Rihanna at her expressive, idiosyncratic best: beyond continuing the lustful and emotionally strained saga of her songs with Drake, ‘Work’ is performative, Rihanna drawling in Jamaican creole and pushing through the beat as she reminds us what it takes to be an artist. The song’s video arrived on 22 February in two versions, the first by Director X, the second by Tim Erem.

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Susanna – ‘Burning Sea’

Susanna Wallumrød‘s upcoming album Triangle – the solo follow-up to 2013’s The Forester, although in the meantime she released Meshes of Voice with Jenny Hval in 2014, and won the 2015 Radka Toneff Memorial Award, a biennial prize in memory of the outstanding Norwegian jazz singer – is due out on 22 April via SusannaSonata. An accomplished bandleader, lyric writer, composer, and record producer, on ‘Burning Sea’, the first single from Triangle, she interrupts a wailing, swirling, distending drone and over fuzzy guitar strums repeats, ‘I belong to the darkness / I belong to the sea / I belong to the wicked / I belong to thee’. She has described the song as:

‘the experience of giving in to something, surrender, and feeling trapped at the same time, both wonderful and dangerous. I wrote this song in LA where a lot of the material for the album came to life. I am very fascinated by the sunny, beautiful and urban in combination with the pumping undercurrents of creativity in that city.’

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Gun Outfit – ‘Expansion Pact’

On ‘Expansion Pact’, from the Two Way Player EP released on 12 February, Gun Outfit unfold an easygoing discord. Recorded last summer in Brooklyn, the record finds Daniel Swire, Carrie Keith, and Dylan Sharp joined by David Harris (Milk Music) on bass, Joe Denardo (Growing/Ornament) on guitar, and Will Lawrence on electric piano.

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Towkio – ‘Clean Up’ (feat. Chance The Rapper)

Towkio’s debut mixtape .Wav Theory, which dropped last April, was one of the most overlooked releases of 2015, a blissfully exuberant blend of funk, jazz, soul, and futuristic synths which found its own voice while striding happily alongside the works of his Chicago friends and contemporaries Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, and The Social Experiment, all of whom feature on the record. I touched on ‘Clean Up’ in last September’s ‘Songs of the Month’ and the track, produced by Peter Cottontale and Nate Fox, now has a music video, a sped-up showcase of Chicago footwork.

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Maluca – ‘Mala’

Growing up in the Dominican neighbourhood of Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, sustained by the Latin music of bachata, cumbia, merengue, and mambo, stage fright beset the early part of Maluca’s singing career, until a chance meeting with Diplo in 2009 led to the single ‘El Tigeraso’. ‘El Tigeraso’ was subsequently released as an EP, accompanied by remixes from the likes of Sticky K and Nguzunguzu.

We last saw Maluca alongside Robyn, as the featured artist on last summer’s La Bagatelle Magique single ‘Love Is Free’. The song’s video arrived in December, directed by Cody Critcheloe, finding Robyn and Maluca cavorting between film sets and photo shoots on which everything appears vividly coloured and slightly off kilter. Now Maluca is back with ‘Mala’, her smoky multilingual vocals enthroned atop production by K.R.O.S.S. which squelches on stilts.

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – ‘Existence In The Unfurling’

Marked by the amiable mechanics of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s voice and her continued mastery of the Buchla Music Easel, ‘Existence in the Unfurling’ whirls and reverberates through the undergrowth up to the tree tops, to interstellar space and back again. Growing up on Orcas Island in the northwestern corner of Washington state before studying at Berklee College of Music, Smith has released four solo albums and other assorted works since 2012, many of which feature the human sounds of Buchla’s intuitive analog synthesizers. ‘Existence In The Unfurling’ is set to feature on EARS, due out on 1 April. Smith previously contributed sound design on ‘Boys Latin’ from Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, and following a stay in Europe is set to tour the United States from late April through May in support of Animal Collective.

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Lust For Youth – ‘Sudden Ambitions’

Lust For Youth, the Copenhagen three-piece comprising Hannes Norrvide, Malthe Fischer, and Loke Rahbek, are preparing for the release of Compassion, their fourth album due out on Sacred Bones on 18 March. From their beginnings in gloomy drone soundscapes, the band have emerged to craft lush synthpop which indiscreetly wears its influences – particularly those of British acts like The Cure, New Order, and Tears for Fears – yet still sounds decidedly contemporary. Perhaps it is Lust For Youth’s unfettered mastery of 80s pop, or maybe we have been lacking the sort of sweepingly earnest anthem which the band has provided with ‘Sudden Ambitions’. The video, shot in the form of hand-held closeups and showing seagulls, swans, and a local swim team practise in the band’s home neighbourhood of Amager, Copenhagen, was directed by Frederik Valentin and made available on 18 February.

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Sángo – ‘Life Without God Is Nothing’

On ‘Life Without God Is Nothing’ Sángo, the Seattle-based, Soulection-affiliated artist who has typically made good use of samples from Brazilian music, allows a fragment of conversation to open out into a hypnotic loop of pitched-up soul, sustained by cut-off chants and drumbeats which lope and stutter.

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Billie Holiday – ‘You Go To My Head’

Back in the early 2000s, Delko Music issued on the cheap in the United Kingdom a series of four-disc box sets devoted primarily to the stars of early jazz, with occasional forays into blues and country. The music on the sets resided in the gaps left by official releases, but it often drew from major label recordings and was of a remarkably high standard, each box including an extensive booklet which detailed the history of the cuts and the life of the artist.

The Billie Holiday box set, entitled The Lady Sings, covered music she recorded between 1935 and 1949 on the Columbia subsidiaries Brunswick, Vocalion, and OKeh Records, on Commodore, and on Decca. While I owned some of her later albums like Lady in Satin and Songs for Distingué Lovers, it was with this Delko box set that I first fell in love with Billie Holiday. The second disc, subtitled and featuring ‘Strange Fruit’, was my favourite, opening with ‘A Sailboat in the Moonlight’, closing twenty-five songs later with ‘Night and Day’, and including ‘You Go To My Head’, which finds Billie in a lilting stupor, lingering long after the beat, intoxicated by the bubbles in her glass of champagne, a sip of sparkling burgundy, a kicker in a julep, and the thought of her lover.

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Robbie Basho – ‘Khalil Gibran’

Robbie Basho is often described as the most elusive of the trio of steel-string acoustic guitar players who, beginning on Takoma Records in the 1960s, sought to elevate the perspective of the instrument. John Fahey and Leo Kottke won quicker acclaim, Kottke at least managed to maintain a steady stream of performances at folk festivals, and then Basho died unexpectedly in 1986 at the tender age of forty-five years old upon a strange visit to his chiropractor. Many of his records fell out of print, and he was known as much for his quiet mysticism, and for his attempt to imbue American composition with the spirit and substance of the South Asian raga – a form for melodic improvisation which emphasises moods, times of the day, and the passing of seasons – as he was for his own music.

Basho’s thirteenth and penultimate album, Bouquet was released independently on Basho Productions in 1983. The blurb on the back of the record stated:

‘Gathering diverse flowers of love from the gardens of the world, guitarist/singer Robbie Basho – long admired for his musical abilities, and international flavor – offers this Bouquet: a new array of songs capturing delicate shades of love in universal expression.’

Some of the songs on the record, like ‘Khalil Gibran’ which had first appeared on Zarthus in 1974, were reworkings. Characterised by Basho’s rich voice and restless embrace, Bouquet has now been reissued by Grass-Tops Recording, who removed some of the old tape hiss, and released the work with four bonus tracks on 22 February.

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David Lynch and Marek Zebrowski – ‘Night (A Landscape With Factory)’

After meeting at the Camerimage Film Festival in Lodz, Poland, David Lynch and the composer and pianist Marek Zebrowski began collaborating towards Inland Empire. Many scenes from the film were shot in Lodz using local actors, and aside from acting as the project’s music consultant, Zebrowski initially served as Lynch’s translator. Striking up a friendship based and their shared passion for musical experimentation, Lynch invited Zebrowski to his Los Angeles studio, and between 2004 and 2006 the pair recorded the four pieces which make up Polish Night Music, which run between thirteen and twenty-seven minutes in length.

The album was released in late 2007, shortly after The Air Is on Fire, minimal by way of comparison but sharing much of that record’s dark, pervasive, typically Lynchian paranoia. Last November, Polish Night Music was reissued on vinyl courtesy of Sacred Bones.