Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (July 2017)

Olga Bell – ‘Special Leave’

Service members in the United States military can accrue special leave for serving in hostile environments for extended periods. If they spend a continuous period of at least 120 days in situations which expose them to the threat of imminent danger, they can accumulate and retain up to 120 days of leave by adding their ordinary leave to their special leave allowance. Intended to provide ‘relief’ for spells of lengthy and stressful deployment, special leave is therefore pitched somewhere between a necessity and a thank you.

For the Fourth of July, Olga Bell released a surprise EP entitled America on One Little Indian. A companion piece to last year’s Tempo, it features two variations on the anxiety-ridden elegy of a title track, in the form of an instrumental and a swirling remix by Kahn, the new song ‘Special Leave’, and ‘Cab Driver’, which finds Bell dwelling over the phrase ‘The cab driver’s scanning my face’ following a ‘perfectly normal, wordless exchange’ which ‘slipped eventually into this thing about camaraderie, loneliness, iteration and uncertainty’.

A dial tone, a military drum roll, and a lone dense thud hollowly reverberating – sounds which seem to imply but exist outside the presence of people – lead us in turn into ‘Special Leave’, a song which Bell has described as about wars and tours, and ‘how two fundamentally inverse-feeling beats coexist’ and colour a shared melody. ‘When I get home I want you to be waiting at the door’, Bell uneasily intones, as synthetic and space-oriented squiggles and blips contrast with more organic and domestic sounds like rattles and light rapping on wood or plastic. Before a shuffling drum pattern takes up the theme, the sense is of an artless recollection of foreign sands and boundless oceans, a feeling which blends seamlessly with disquiet over the future. The idea of needing someone, of loving someone remains, but with a caveat, ‘Yeah I’m broken, don’t you doubt it’.

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Shabazz Palaces – ‘Dèesse Du Sang’

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Playboi Carti – ‘Magnolia’

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Sevyn Streeter – ‘Anything You Want’ (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Wiz Khalifa, & Jeremih)

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Yaeji – ‘Therapy’

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – ‘An Intention’

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Sports Coach – ‘Wave II’ and ‘Stretching’

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Ariel Pink – ‘Time To Live’

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Joanne Pollock – ‘Expect Me’

From Stranger, the debut album by the Toronto-based artist and one half of Poemss, ‘Expect Me’ finds Joanne Pollock lithe but never pliant. Over humming and glistening synths, squelching and rubbery bass, and spacious, stop-start beats she carefully carves out her own territory, managing distance, shifting and stretching free of restraints, replete with warnings and admonishments, ‘If you’re not going to hear what I say / What d’you ask me for?’ and ‘You expect me to be there / With a perfect smile / Do I get to choose?’.

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Mount Kimbie – ‘Blue Train Lines’ (feat. King Krule)

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Danny Brown – ‘Lost’

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Balmorhea – ‘Sky Could Undress’

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Phoebe Bridgers – ‘Motion Sickness’

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Branchez & Big Wet – ‘Turn Up On the Weekend’

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Blanck Mass – ‘The Rat’

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Psychic TV – ‘Cold Steel’

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Raymond Scott – ‘Three Willow Park Montage No.1’ and ‘Portofino #4’

Composer and inventor, iconoclast and electronic music pioneer, the humble yet remarkably wide-ranging career of Raymond Scott began in 1931 when he graduated from the Juilliard School of Music where he studied piano, theory, and composition. He began playing as a pianist for the CBS Radio house band, and in 1936 banded together with several of his colleagues to form the Raymond Scott Quintette – his own branding, because even though the band was a six-piece he thought ‘Quintette’ sounded crisp and free from carnal connotation.

Composing by ear, interpolating bits of classical music, meticulously reworking pieces and eschewing improvisation once he regarded them as complete, Scott’s Quintette produced unusually loaded, lively, and whimsical jazz, with sudden changes in tempo and marked textural shifts, and elaborate song titles, such as ‘Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals’ and ‘Bumpy Weather Over Newark’. Popular with the public but sometimes scorned by the critics, in the 1940s Scott sold the publishing rights to Warner Bros., with Carl Stalling adapting snippets which became the indelible soundtracks to a host of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck films.

A trailblazer in the realms of silent music and multitrack recording, an accomplished producer and innovative engineer, Scott subsequently devoted himself to nascent forms of electronic music. Under the umbrella of his Manhattan Research Inc., he devised and built some of the world’s first synthesizers and sequencers, including the Electronium, a generative music machine which relied on algorithms. By his own estimation, he spent eleven years and close to a million dollars on the project. As early as 1949 he could contemplate a future where:

‘Perhaps within the next hundred years, science will perfect a process of thought transference from composer to listener. The composer will sit alone on the concert stage and merely ‘think’ his idealized conception of his music. Instead of recordings of actual music sound, recordings will carry the brainwaves of the composer directly to the mind of the listener.’

Cited as an influence by Bob Moog of the Moog Synthesizer, the resurfacing of Scott’s recordings since the early 1990s continues today to strengthen his reputation. His work has appeared in Ren & Stimpy and The Simpsons, and has been performed regularly by the Kronos Quartet. At the beginning of the 1960s, Scott moved his base of operations out of his sprawling Long Island basement to a nearby industrial park. Earlier this year saw the reissue of Soothing Sounds For Baby, an experiment from this period originally released on Epic in 1963.

Now – again thanks to the ever inquisitive Dutch record label Basta Music – this most fruitful spell of Raymond Scott’s career has been comprehensively documented, with the release of the anthology Three Willow Park: Electronic Music from Inner Space, 1961-1971. Across 61 tracks and 3 LPs, we get a first-hand glimpse of Scott in the studio, using his Electronium alongside a dizzying array of generators, oscillators, sequencers, and drum machines, as he devises short pieces which bring together elements of bebop and cool jazz with fledgling forms of ambient and proto-techno. ‘This is a sound’, Scott says at the start of ‘Three Willow Park Montage No. 1’, before launching into a series of dissolving, ping-ponging, beat-driven loops, while on a variation of one of his better-known tracks ‘Portofino’, with its shimmering synth line, tremulous chorus girls, and wistful saxophone solo, Scott frolics gracefully by the sea.

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Lydia Ainsworth – ‘Afterglow’

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Jlin & Zora Jones – ‘Dark Matter’

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Cina Polada – ‘Gloom’

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Future – ‘You Da Baddest’ (feat. Nicki Minaj)

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Photay – ‘The Everyday Push’

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Rhye – ‘Please’

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Empress Of – ‘Go To Hell’

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Charli XCX – ‘Boys’

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Tyler, The Creator – ‘Boredom’

Even when stoking controversy through the content of his lyrics – and receiving dubious travel proscriptions as a result – Tyler, The Creator‘s music has always been characterised by a certain exuberant generosity, not always easy to reconcile with songs that veer between verbose braggadocio and themes of loneliness and depression. On his new album Flower Boy, Tyler finds harmony in the spaces between, with a quieter but more discrete and varied palette, and a more languid, placid, summertime outlook which seems capable of dispersing the clouds which would clutter his mind.

Some of that generosity has extended to the release schedule of Flower Boy, which arrived on 21 July on the back of four singles in less than a month. Punctuated by the strident and declarative ‘I Ain’t Got Time!’, ‘Boredom’ and ‘911 / Mr. Lonely’ are of a piece. The latter finds Tyler channelling the sort of lo-fi ennui and existential isolation plied by Ariel Pink, as he funnels some of the sounds, atmospheres, and pop-cultural ephemera of the past into an iconography of youthful identity. ‘Boredom’ is more anxious still, with lyrics which depict a grumbling stomach and the walls closing in, but the mood is offset however marginally through its elevator synths which give way to delicate chimes and ornate flourishes, and its shapely hook courtesy of Anna of the North and Rex Orange County.

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A$AP Twelvyy – ‘Diamonds’ (feat. A$AP Rocky)

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e.m.m.a. – ‘Bijoux de Diamants’

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Waxahatchee – ‘Recite Remorse’

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Knox Fortune – ‘Lil Thing’

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Mhysa – ‘spectrum’

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Lakuna – ‘The Very Next Day’ and ‘St Paul’s Piano’

Uploaded to YouTube by 4AD towards the end of the month were two tracks by Lakuna, the onetime electronic instrumental project of David Narcizo. After Throwing Muses disbanded around the turn of 1997, Narcizo – the group’s drummer – embarked on Lakuna with guest musicians including his wife Melissa on piano and keyboards, Kristin Hersh on guitar loops, and Bernard Georges, Tom Gorman, and Frank Gardner variously on bass. Following the 12-inch singles ‘So Happy’ and ‘The Very Next Day’, in 1999 Lakuna released its only album, Castle of Crime, looping samples of old and obscure music to forge loosely loping, gently rolling ambient soundscapes.

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Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘Andata’ (Oneohtrix Point Never Rework)

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Zola Jesus – ‘Soak’

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Patricia – ‘The Words Are Just Sounds’

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Madeleine Peyroux – ‘La Javanaise’

The recently released trailer to Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water – a romantic horror film which sees a mute janitor fall in love with an experimental amphibious humanoid, inside the confines of a government laboratory in the year 1963 – draws much of its emotional tenor from the song ‘La Javanaise’ by Madeleine Peyroux.

The original version of the song was written and composed by Serge Gainsbourg in the summer of 1962, inspired by an evening spent listening to records and drinking champagne in the company of Juliette Gréco, in the lounge of her large apartment on the rue de Verneuil. Gainsbourg wrote ‘La Javanaise’ the very same evening and sent it to Gréco the next day, with Gainsbourg’s recording released in March 1963 and Greco’s arriving a couple of months later in May. Rather anachronistically for the sake of Del Toro’s film, Madeleine Peyroux’s elegant rendition was released on Half the Perfect World, her third solo studio album, in 2006.