Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (November 2015)

Oneohtrix Point Never Garden of Delete 1

Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Sticky Drama’

On 13 November Oneohtrix Point Never released Garden of Delete, his seventh studio album and the second to come out on Warp, having set the scene over preceding months courtesy of an interview with a humanoid alien named Ezra, backdated blog posts narrating a musical coming-of-age through the apocryphal ‘hypergrunge’ band Kaos Edge, and teasers posted – and sometimes removed – on Twitter, SoundCloud, and YouTube.

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin used ‘Sticky Drama’ at the start of November to herald the coming of Garden of Delete. With a prologue that introduces a grungy science fiction story, in which adolescents are compelled by virtual pets enthroned in layers of fat and slime, the track’s music video elaborates on the warfare that ensues. Both the prologue and the music video were filmed by Lopatin and Jon Rafman.

‘Sticky Drama’ is musically dense, with distended, pitch-shifted vocals over scuzzy electronics and the relentless surge of the drums, but it still manages to express a duality: abandoning itself to the aggression of the moment without ever losing a sense of its transience.

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Grimes – ‘Flesh without Blood’/’Life in the Vivid Dream’

Putting ‘Flesh without Blood’ together with ‘Life in the Vivid Dream’ for the first video from Art Angels, released on 6 November, may seem like a curious choice by Grimes: with its motorised guitar line and pulsating percussion emphasised by claps, ‘Flesh without Blood’ can certainly carry itself as the album’s first single, while the unfettered sadness of ‘Life in the Vivid Dream’ is unique on Art Angels, offset when the song segues into the more conciliatory closing track ‘Butterfly’.

But aside from showing something of Grimes’s range as a vocalist and producer, these are two pensive songs at heart, and surprisingly direct in their criticisms. ‘Flesh without Blood’ has also been interpreted as a sort of dialogue between Grimes and her fans, but it is most clearly a condemnation of a faded friendship, while ‘Life in the Vivid Dream’ is a lament for the wider world, admitting ‘I could tell you that people are good in the end / But why, why would I?’. In the video, as Grimes appears with her face and white gown covered in blood, alternately clutching a knife and with one thrust into her gut, it is impossible to say whether she is the attacker or the withdrawing attacked.

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dvsn – ‘The Line’ and ‘With Me’

Paul Jefferies, the Toronto music producer who operates under the name Nineteen85, is best known for his collaborations with Drake: co-producing ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ before taking the helm for ‘Too Much’ and more recently ‘Hotline Bling’. Within the past couple of months, making good use of a hosting slot on Beats 1’s OVO Sound Radio, Nineteen85 has unveiled a new project, with the release of two gorgeous soul songs fronted by an unidentified vocalist called dvsn.

Over piano keys and background chatter, dvsn reaches a gospel falsetto in the first 50 seconds of ‘The Line’. Then the drums kick in, and carry the dying flame of dvsn’s voice, pitched low, as the distant and lovelorn backing for more soulful flourishes. The effect is sensational, and it is one Nineteen85 manages to sustain, drawing out dvsn’s voice and retracing the tail end of his utterances to provide the atmosphere, as the song moves through a gospel choir and a gleaming synth loop. Despite its numerous parts ‘The Line’ bears an easy grace across its 7-minute length, and the same is true of ‘With Me’, with its warped stride and sultry singing.

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The Beach Boys – ‘Sherry She Needs Me’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” 

When The Beach Boys Love You was released in 1977, it failed to sell, part of the reason for Reprise Records and Warner Bros. rejecting the band’s next two offerings, the shelved projects Adult/Child and Merry Christmas from the Beach Boys. But even at the time Love You received its share of critical acclaim, embraced as the sound of Brian Wilson taking a gulp of air. In a curiously positive review, Patti Smith wrote:

‘life is a dream. some of us will move out rock… some will disintegrate. those dust to dust take their place as part of the golden swirl of the universe. there is a cloud of some such dust circulating like a posthumous halo above the head of this album. brian wilson has spun out and returned’

And Love You is regarded by many Beach Boys aficionados today as one the band’s greatest works.

Brian Wilson wrote and recorded much of Love You himself, paying particular attention to the lyrics, and playing the musical parts on state of the art synthesizers, especially the Minimoog. But not everything could make the cut, and ‘Sherry She Needs Me’ and a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” – the song which was originally a hit for The Righteous Brothers in 1965, with Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production – were laid to one side.

‘Sherry She Needs Me’ was entitled ‘Sandy’, or ‘Sandy She Needs Me’, when Wilson began work on it back in 1965, during the recording sessions for Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). In 1976 he added new vocals to the old instrumental, and though the song once again went unfulfilled, it finally saw release in 1998 when, with lyric changes by Carole Bayer Sager, it appeared on Wilson’s solo album Imagination as ‘She Says That She Needs Me’.

The cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin” offers an equally compelling picture of Brian Wilson’s voice in late 1976. According to Alan Boyd, who would engineer some of the Beach Boys’ later albums:

‘I talked to Earle Mankey about it and he remembers the session vividly. He recalls that Brian came in one day and recorded the whole song. He plays everything on it, did all the vocals. Everything was pretty much done in one take. Apparently when he was singing both vocals parts at the end – the Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield parts – he really got into that. Earle described his head bouncing back and forth from one side of the microphone to the other. Like a lot of the material from Love You, Brian was working very quickly on his own. It’s a very simple production. Everything is anchored by that tack piano. Brian did this very interesting thing and it goes back to his early days too, for rhythm he’d often use guitars and piano to fulfill the same rhythm function as a high-hat. He’d always have these eighth notes but there’d be these chord clusters. I think he liked the tack piano because it had that sort of percussive click on it and it sort of fulfills the same function as a high-hat except with all these notes so it makes everything sort of swirl. His version of ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’ is very dark and it’s very raw. It almost has kind of a punk edge to it.

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Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos ‘Switched On’, by Wendy Carlos and Carey R. Meltz

One of the inspirations behind Brian Wilson’s use of synthesizers on Love You was Wendy Carlos, who came to prominence in 1968 for Switched-On Bach. This was a groundbreaking and hugely influential rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, performed on the Moog synthesizer, and recorded on a custom-made eight-track.

Switched-On Bach was pivotal for the popularity of the Moog, and it played its part in the coming together in the late 1960s of classical music and electronic instrumentation. It became one of the first classical albums to sell half a million copies; stayed inside the Billboard Top 40 for seventeen weeks; and at the 1969 Grammy Awards, won for Best Classical Album, Best Classical Performance – Instrumental Soloist or Soloists (with or without orchestra), and Best Engineered Classical Recording. Referring to Carlos’ performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, Glenn Gould said, ‘Carlos’s realization of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto [sic] is, to put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs – live, canned, or intuited – I’ve ever heard’.

Wendy Carlos followed Switched-On Bach with The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969), Sonic Seasonings (1972), and Switched-On Bach II (1974), before in 1979 she recorded the full Switched-On Brandenburgs. All of these performances are unavailable via the typical sources, YouTube, SoundCloud, and so on. But Carey R. Meltz has happily produced his own ‘switched-on’ versions of some of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, in what he describes as a ‘humble re-imagining’ of Carlos’s voices and timbres.

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Jeremih – ‘oui’

Ahead of Late Nights: The Album, which arrived on 4 December – Jeremih’s third studio release but the spiritual successor to his brilliant 2012 mixtape Late Nights with Jeremih – came ‘oui’, already the new record’s third single. Upon Jeremih’s seductive singing, ‘oui’ glimmers and slinks into the amusement park of the night.

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Young Thug – ‘Raw (Might Just)’

Young Thug proves he can croon with the best on this slow and soulful song from Slime Season 2, a blanket for the winter.

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Majical Cloudz – ‘Game Show’

On 18 November, Majical Cloudz uploaded another video to accompany the release of Are You Alone? last month. This one shows Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto performing ‘Game Show’, the penultimate track from the album, at a recent show at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.

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Arca – ‘Front Load’ and ‘Soichiro’

Following the release of Xen towards the end of 2014, this has been a breakout year for Arca, climaxing on 20 November with Mutant, his second studio album. The encompassing, full-frontal embrace of the work is epitomised by ‘Front Load’, with its sloping, squelching synths, and ‘Soichiro’, the penultimate track on Mutant, a blistering composition which manages to sustain its early twinkle through frantic percussion, bursts of industrial noise, and sliced vocals.

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Modesto Sanchez & Gabriel Gonzalez Adam – ‘Foliada’

This is one of my favourite of Alan Lomax’s Spanish recordings. Made in 1952 in the town of Ribadavia, in the autonomous Spanish community of Galicia, the dance features the well-known local bagpipe player Modesto Sanchez, and Gabriel Gonzalez Adam on the tabor, a portable snare drum.