Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (January 2016)

Aristophanes 1

Laura Gibson – ‘The Cause’

After a string of critically acclaimed albums, If You Come to Greet Me and Beasts of Seasons followed by La Grande, which was released on Barsuk and City Slang back in 2012, the Oregon-born singer-songwriter Laura Gibson packed up and moved to New York City, planning to complete an MFA in Creative Writing at Hunter College. But in the midst of her studies, on 26 March 2015, her apartment was one of those that succumbed to the gas explosion on the Lower East Side which killed two, injured nineteen, and destroyed four buildings between East 7th Street and St. Mark’s Place. Laura escaped unharmed, but suffered the loss of her belongings, including her musical instruments and notebooks.

Finishing her second semester between friends’ couches and guest rooms, she embarked on Empire Builder, an album’s worth of material which takes its name from one of the busiest long-distance trains in the US, its journey from the Pacific Northwest through the Rocky Mountains to Chicago the first leg of Laura’s move to New York. Empire Builder is scheduled for release on 1 April, the grand vistas and passenger point of view implied by the title entwining with a more personal narrative which bears traces of strife and loss: using the rubble as a sort of palimpsest, she endeavoured to rewrite lyrics, while having lost her guitar, along with her co-producer John Askew she decided to build structures of songs around scratch tracks from early demos.

‘The Cause’, the first song from Empire Builder, released on 21 January, is the fire pit through which Gibson sustains and refigures herself in the face of unrelenting fate. Her limpid voice lilts over the steady rattle and industrial clang of the percussion, as she warns, ‘Won’t you wake up / Or trace the plumb line to your death / You’re fine, you’ll see / What has love done / But to drag a dead deer by its horns / From the passing lane’, and in the second verse the song really starts to swing before a swirling break. Sustained by strings, Gibson gives herself, her lovers, and her followers up, ‘You belong to the cause’ a gentle invocation in the chorus.

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Kanye West – ‘No More Parties in LA’ (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

At the threshold of January, Kanye counted us into 2016 with ‘FACTS’, by the end of the month Swish had been retitled Waves with 11 February posited as the release date, and as his upcoming album continues to take shape, in between we heard a couple of new songs, the staggered release of ‘Real Friends’ on 8 January followed just over a week later by a full version of ‘No More Parties in LA’.

Work on the track extends back to the sessions for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and to a beat put together by Madlib which samples the 1970s funk of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Junie Morrison. Over this groove, in their first collaboration, Kanye and Kendrick Lamar unfold a tale of women and riches, contrasting greed, superficiality, and unhealthy habits like pancakes and burgers at 4 am with the need for financial security and the pleasures of increased access to nice things. Kendrick’s winding logic – ‘She said she came out here to find an A-list rapper / I said baby spin that round and say the alphabet backwards / You’re dealing with malpractise, don’t kill a good nigga’s confidence / Just cause he a nerd and you don’t know what a condom is’ – complements Kanye’s declarations of love – ‘I be worried bout my daughter, I be worried bout Kim / But Saint is baby Ye, I ain’t worried bout him’, ‘And as far as real friends, tell all my cousins I love em / Even the one that stole the laptop, you dirty motherfucker’ – and Kanye’s flow has never sounded more confident and composed, while the soulful sound of Junie Morrison’s clipped voice, as from the first line of ‘Suzie Thundertussy’ he sings ‘Los Angeles is a lonely sort of place’, carries just enough of a sense of the Hollywood conjured by Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.

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Animal Collective – ‘FloriDada’

The sweaty and squelching, disorientating and slightly surreal jubilation of Animal Collective’s ‘FloriDada’ finds its perfect match in this video directed and produced by the Brooklyn-based collective PFFR, animated by kyttenjanae and Caleb Wood, and edited by Jon Philpot. With a warning that it might trigger seizures, it depicts worlds crashing together and the conjuring of life in a squiggling, seminal ‘Sunshine State’. Music and video play like a cross between The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Murder Mystery’, with its rapidly overlapping narrative voices, and the sensuous robotics of Björk and Chris Cunningham’s ‘All Is Full of Love’, tuned to the present day and to the unique sound palette of Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and Geologist.

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Aristophanes – ‘If The Flowers Leave’ and ‘As You Want’

Following the heady ‘End Of This World’, the jazz-lounge ‘Left And Right’, and her star turn as the vocalist on ‘Scream’ from Grimes’ Art Angels, Aristophanes has released the No Rush to Leave Dreams EP, a beguiling combination of cool jazz and noisy trip hop, with bubbling and breaking drum patterns, woozy bass, steadying handclaps, and the Taiwanese rapper’s breathy vocal delivery which shifts seamlessly from slinking elegance to something more urgent and intense. The EP’s opening song ‘If The Flowers Leave’, the first of three SonicDeadHorse productions, is indicative for its array of textures – A Love Supreme in the intro seguing into a middle section of mellow synths before the raucous close – and the follow-up ‘As You Want’ is especially beautiful when the instrumental opens out over the last 30 seconds, and by this point you’ll be utterly captivated, far from rushing, playing the seven songs over again in the hope of never having to wake.

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Pusha T – ‘M.P.A.’ (feat. Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and The-Dream)

With an introduction courtesy of The-Dream – who this month released the visual album Genesis as a Tidal exclusive, a meditation with religious overtones described by the artist as ‘variations of my random dreams […] symbols, the face of my soul’ – and a hook featuring Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, ‘M.P.A.’ could have proved a surfeit of star names. But the production from West, Che Pope, and J. Cole is decidedly restrained, and it allows Pusha T’s vision to come to the fore, the song – the acronym standing for Money, Pussy, Alcohol – the most hypnotic cut from King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude.

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Frank Sinatra – ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’

‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ was written by Cole Porter for the 1936 MGM musical Born to Dance, which starred Eleanor Powell and James Stewart, and saw the piece performed by Virginia Bruce. It was nominated for that year’s Academy Award for Best Song, but lost out to Fred Astaire’s version of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ from Swing Time, in a category that also included Bing Crosby’s take on ‘Pennies From Heaven’.

Frank Sinatra first tried his hand at ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ on his weekly radio show in 1946, as the second part of a medley whose first part was ‘Easy to Love’. But the song became Sinatra’s own ten years later, in an arrangement by Nelson Riddle for Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! – the fourth album of collaboration between singer and arranger, following Songs for Young Lovers, Swing Easy!, and In the Wee Small Hours. With its driving crescendos inspired by Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, Sinatra came to call this arrangement ‘Nelson Riddle’s shining hour’. And it soon became a mainstay of his live shows, as here in 1971, with Sinatra performing from London’s Royal Festival Hall for a special which aired on CBS.

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Grimes – ‘Kill V. Maim’

Portrayed by Grimes as written ‘from the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt II. Except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space’, the most snarling track on Art Angels this month received its accompanying video, drawing from anime and a realm of feature film somewhere between Blade, Black Swan, and Enter the Void, as Grimes adorns wings, fangs, and orange and blue curls, and pops and prowls in the subway, commands the microphone at a bloody rave, and rides vertiginously through neon city streets.

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Chance The Rapper – ‘Pusha Man/Paranoia’ (feat. Lili K and Nate Fox)

While the ever beneficent Chance The Rapper has released plenty of music over the last twelve months – whether as part of The Social Experiment, in other collaborations, or ‘Somewhere in Paradise’, with the suggestion that he is currently hard at work alongside Kanye West – a combination of looking forward to his new solo record and anticipating the summer has had me listening to ‘Pusha Man’ and ‘Paranoia’, the two songs that make up the second track on Acid Rap. ‘Paranoia’ more readily evokes the heat, but I’ve been especially appreciating ‘Pusha Man’: sometimes when you’ve listened to a song so much, the intonation of a certain line, even of a handful of words, can become strangely resonant, and without knowing anybody by the name or breaking into dance, mentally I’m somehow attuned to ‘Shouts out to Nate, I jackball and I bop, I flex’.

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Bonnie Prince Billy – ‘When Thy Song Flows Through Me’

‘When Thy Song Flows Through Me’ – one of the twelve BBC session recordings to have been compiled for Pond Scum, released on Drag City on 21 January – was originally issued back in 1998 on Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Blue Lotus Feet EP. The song was one of five on that record whose lyrics were taken from the Cosmic Chants of Paramahansa Yogananda, the yogi and guru whose English translations largely introduced the West to the art of the Indian devotional chant. Here handheld shots of nature, in a video directed by Ryan Daly, echo ideally Oldham’s graceful repetitions.

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Iggy Pop – ‘Gardenia’

Whether with The Stooges or on solo records like The Idiot and Lust for Life, the best Iggy Pop songs have tended to eschew his on-stage reputation for reckless blood and debauchery. Even a song like ‘Gimme Stranger’ is a model of restraint either side of its yearning freakout, and it is precisely this restraint which gives his music its queasy tension and propulsive sense of rhythm: great music can conjure patterns and pulses without making them explicit.

For Post Pop Depression, scheduled for release on 18 March, Iggy has joined forces with Josh Homme and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys. Self-financing the project, Iggy and Homme worked up the songs together from last January, drawing upon poetry and philosophy, questions of legacy, and Iggy’s past, particularly the time he spent with David Bowie in the late 1970s in Berlin. The album’s nine tracks were recorded over a few weeks at Homme’s studios in Joshua Tree and Burbank, the QOTSA frontman producing while Fertita took guitar and keyboards and Helders played drums. For a brief upcoming tour, the four men will be joined by Matt Sweeney and Troy Van Leeuwen.

Iggy has summarised the theme of the record as ‘What happens after your years of service? And where is the honor?’. Its first song ‘Gardenia’ debuted on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on 21 January, tremulous guitar, droning keyboard, and stomping percussion allowing Iggy to draw out his lyrics in a tone that shifts from crooning awe to agitated declamation. The immediate reference may well be to Billie Holiday, who routinely performed and took publicity photos with a cluster of white gardenias in her hair, and the song plays as a proud ode to the shabby and forbidden creative impulse: ‘You should be wearing the finest gown / But here you are now / Gas, food, lodging, poverty, misery/ And Gardenia’, Iggy sings, and more obliquely ‘When you turn the lights on / There’s always a catch’ and ‘All I wanna do is tell Gardenia / What to do tonight’.

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Moro – ‘Arrepientanse’

NON Records is a collective of African and African diaspora artists, who work primarily in the field of electronic music with the stated aim to ‘articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power’. Over the past month the label has released the new EP San Benito by the Argentinian musician Moro. ‘Arrepientanse’, which in Spanish means ‘repent’, stands out for its howling voices, growls and barks which strike out from the engulfing forest before dissipating into the electronic machine, and clattering rattles and drums. Moro describes his music as an attempt to combine the essential rhythms of overlapping South American forms, accompanying his record with a brief treatise on the cultural development of Tango in Argentina:

‘Argentina’s population is made primarly of european immigrants and their descendants, from Spain and Italy first, but also Poland, Russia, Turquie, Germany. Of course our land was already occupied by natives, which in the firsts stages of the country were violently murdered and taken away from their territories, territories which they still claim as their own to the government, territories which still get them killed. Of course some of them have made their way into entering today’s society, but it is far from good.

Apart from these 2 groups, Argentina’s population was born with african enslaved people. This last group is usually hidden in history books. During the last half of the 1800 my country started a White Country project. Buenos Aires, once made by 30% African people, was filled with European immigrants. Black men were sent to wars and lots of the black community died because of yellow sickness. As a result of that, White European men started having families with Black (by that time free and totally poor) women. Thats how black was turned into mixed, and african heritage was then started to be on purpose ignored by the government.

My country’s musical culture is probably best known because of Tango, both music and dance. Tango started to get popular in the 1900, by that time really few african population was left. Tango was born from Candombe, Milonga, Rumba (All afrosouthamerican rythms) and the mix with the white/mixed population. Of course the african part is completely erased/hidden and the development of the genre went on the european side, therefore less rhythm and more romantic/harmonic type. In the 2000, some groups started doing what was then called Electronic Tango, which is no more than House rhythm with Tango aesthetic. Argentina’s white European wanna be culture more interested in aesthetic forgot the most important thing about Tango and what made it stand out in the first place, which is its rhythm.

I was born here, in this land and close to this River (Rio de la Plata, place were all the slave ships entered and went from Argentina to Uruguay) Land and water make us who we are, I feel one of my duties is to go back to the African part of tango, to reclaim the rhythm and to make it important and visible again.
As part of this duty I’m making this genre I decided to call Ramba (Which is the mixture of Argentinian/Uruguayan/Cuban and all the rhythms that share the same DNA and most important CLAVE, or as we call it, Madera.
– Moro’