Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (May 2015)

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And so after a late April comes a late May. But so good.

HANA – ‘Clay’

‘Clay’ is the debut song by HANA, a delicate and spacious ballad produced by her and Blood Diamonds, and released on 12 May. Written by HANA, it features her lucid voice atop the shimmering warmth of the HANA/Blood Diamonds co-production. HANA has been touring with Grimes, opening for Lana Del Rey across the United States and Canada as part of the ‘Endless Summer’ tour which continues tomorrow in Washington, DC.

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Yosi Horikawa – ‘Stars’

Yosi Horikawa is a Japanese musician born in Osaka. He spent time in 2011 as part of the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid. His carefully constructed experimental music makes extensive use of field recordings, found and homemade sounds. ‘Stars’ served as the single from Horikawa’s debut album Vapor, released in 2013 on First World Records. The opening is briefly reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, before deepening out into a lush, jazz-infused landscape. The song’s video was directed by Areg Barsegian for GAREN.

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The next two songs were among those given praise by Björk on the programme Geschmackssache in 1997. The video of this was recently linked on Björk’s Twitter. Geschmackssache aired on the German music channel Viva Zwei, set up in 1995 and directed by the former MTV presenter Steve Blame. Each week, artists chose a selection of music videos which they found especially inspiring. Alongside the two songs below, also on Björk’s list were Aphex Twin, Einstürzende Neubauten, Kraftwerk, Public Enemy, and Kate Bush.

Alec Empire – ‘Low on Ice’

Alec Empire is a Berlin musician, best known as a founding member of the digital hardcore group Atari Teenage Riot – which toured in support of a host of big names, including the Wu-Tang Clan, Rage Against the Machine, and Beck, from the middle of the 1990s until the end of the decade, before reforming in 2010. Empire has also been prolific as a solo artist and producer; and while his sample-based sound is most associated with punk, noise, and some of the more abrasive extremities of hip hop, he has drawn equally upon classical music, funk, and jazz. Indeed, after Low on Ice, the fourth of five albums he released on the Frankfurt electronica label Mille Plateaux was 1996’s Hypermodern Jazz.

The shifting percussion on ‘Low on Ice’ has something of the quality of electric-era Miles Davis, with the piece sharing too the atmospherics of the trip hop which was then flourishing in England. There are ambivalent shards of white noise and foreboding synths. ‘Low on Ice’ appeared as part of the album of the same name, released at the end of 1995. On the album, the composition is under the title ’22:24′. Low on Ice was recorded on Empire’s laptop over the course of three days in Iceland that August, as he toured with Atari Teenage Riot on the back of their debut Delete Yourself!. The video was shot over Iceland at the same time, directed by Philipp Virus.

Devo – ‘Whip It’

Apparently the lead guitar riff on Devo’s ‘Whip It’ was based upon the riff from Roy Orbison’s ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, with the beat moved to the back; while the lyrics to the song were inspired by President Jimmy Carter and parodies in Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The song, from the band’s third album Freedom of Choice, became Devo’s biggest hit, reaching number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release in August 1980. Ranchers become excited as Mark Mothersbaugh’s whip removes a lady’s clothing piece by piece.

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Keith Jarrett – ‘I Loves You Porgy’

One of the great interpretations, alongside those by Bill Evans and Nina Simone, of one of the greatest American songs. The video is from Solo Tribute: Keith Jarrett – The 100th Performance in Japan, recorded live at Suntory Hall in Tokyo on 14 April 1987.

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Young Thug – ‘Never Had It’ (feat. Young Dolph)

Young Thug’s Barter 6 is my most listened to album of the past month. I put its opener, ‘Constantly Hating’, on April’s song list. With Thug’s vocal stylings as free as ever, they’re collected here in the most cohesive package of his career so far: aided by London on da Track and Wheezy, who alternate on production on all but one cut. Thug switches from mellow and flighty to grounded and hard-hitting so readily not only across tracks, but across the expanse he makes of single lines. Barter 6 balances deftly upon these contrasts, and Thug is complemented by a group of featuring artists: from the plainspoken rapping of Birdman; to the bratty spatter of Boosie BadAzz; and later the fluctuating croak of Yak Gotti. I’ve gone here for ‘Never Had It’, featuring a brusque vocal by Young Dolph, and a fantastic hook which references Randy Savage and Christian Louboutin.

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A$AP Rocky – ‘Fine Whine’

A$AP Rocky’s second studio album At.Long.Last.A$AP – but really his third album proper after the exceptional debut mixtape Live.Love.A$AP, still one of my favourite rap releases of recent years – came out a couple of weeks ago. Hazy and darkly psychological, especially on the early tracks, the album echoes Rocky’s increasingly complex relationship with fame and the street zeitgeist he helped create; his experiments with drugs; and some of the tumult of his personal life, with his close friend and A$AP Mob figurehead A$AP Yams dying suddenly in January (although by then the record was reportedly all but complete), and his engagement with Chanel Iman called off last October.

Rocky’s deliberately overblown and grandiose bragging, his close association with the world of fashion, and even his apparently effortless flow, sometimes collude to mask an exquisite and justly confident artistic sensibility. One aspect of this means that he’s not afraid to subsume his own voice for the sake of a more comprehensive atmosphere. ‘Fine Whine’, the third track on At.Long.Last.A$AP, is one of the album’s standouts. Beginning with an introduction which intones ‘This love, this love, this love won’t last forever / This love, this love, this love can own our eyes’, the song features Joe Fox – the British songwriter and guitarist who Rocky discovered on the streets of London, and who appears on five of the album’s seventeen cuts – M.I.A. and Future. Rocky opens with the understanding ‘I think my cup is getting muddy’; M.I.A. emphasises the stark sense of futility expressed by the song as she repeats ‘Tell your new bitch she can suck a dick’; and as the drums rumble Future propels the theme.

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Holly Herndon – ‘Chorus’

Elaborating the collaborative nature of artistic practise – drawing upon the ideas, among others, of the philosopher and design strategist Benedict Singleton, whose concept of the platform as a dynamic, usable structure for communication, unbeholden to the ideology of future plans, inspired the album’s title; of the contemporary art theorist Suhail Malik; and of the online autonomous sensory meridian response community – Holly Herndon released her latest album Platform towards the end of May.

The album is full of spliced vocals and jagged sound patches, often taken from the material and technological facts of Herndon’s everyday life: from her continuous laptop and mobile phone use to the water of a dripping tap. The resultant music is at once surgical, but with danceable beats and rhythms; and elemental, with choral voices coming together and lifting each piece. My favourite tracks so far are ‘Chorus’ and ‘Locker Leak’; and while ‘Morning Sun’ is perhaps the album’s most accessible composition, and saw its video released only last week, still here is the video for ‘Chorus’ directed by Akihiko Taniguchi and put out last year.

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Animal Collective – ‘Summertime Clothes’

Maybe it’s a bit basic, given the title – perhaps I should be more perverse and opt instead for something like ‘Winters Love’ – but this is one of my few definitive summertime songs; incidentally along with Pavement’s ‘Summer Babe’, albeit there in the ‘Winter Version’ from Slanted and Enchanted. This is Animal Collective at their visceral best.

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And back to Björk, who played an hour-long DJ set in Manhattan to celebrate the fifth birthday of Tri Angle Records, featuring music from the Pakistani Sufi singer Abida Parveen, Portuguese fadista Amália Rodrigues, Tri Angle’s Rabit, and popular artists including Death Grips and Brandy. Fact took a bunch of photos and videos of the night, including Björk dancing.