Culturedarm’s Songs of the Month (September 2015)

Peaches 3

A belated ‘Songs of the Month’ for September means that a slew of new music stakes its claim out of place: October has already seen excellent new records by Janet Jackson, Kelela, Autre Ne Veut, and Taeyeon, but I’ll save these for a few weeks. September’s songs include selections from Towkio, Kyle and Chance The Rapper, Nicole Dollanganger, Peaches, Sun Araw, The Velvet Underground, Run The Jewels and Blood Diamonds, Julia Holter, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Spike Jones, and Ryan Adams.

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

Towkio’s .Wav Theory dropped back in April, and while it might have made for especially fun listening over the late spring and early summer, it is only over the last month that I have been delving into what stands as one of the year’s most entertaining mixtapes. Previously known as Preston San and Tokyo Shawn, Towkio is part of Chicago’s SaveMoney collective, whose most prominent members, Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa, both feature on .Wav Theory. The Social Experiment also play their part, with Peter Cottontale the tape’s executive producer, while Donnie Trumpet guests on the lead single ‘Free Your Mind’.

Towkio is half-Mexican, half-Japanese, and perhaps this within the context of his Chicago hometown goes some way towards explaining the unique vibe of .Wav Theory. The production – handled mostly by Towkio, with a couple of tracks courtesy of Kaytranada, one from FKJ, and one credited to Cam O’bi and The Social Experiment – offers an exuberant and uplifting blend of a peculiar mix: funk, jazz, and soul, with loose keys and futuristic synths, high-pitched, breathy vocal samples, and persistent handclap percussion. While many of the individual sounds seem to call back to the 70s and 80s, the result is decidedly modern. And Towkio lingers over it all with an enthusiastic, lilting vocal presence, capable of moments of real tenderness.

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Kyle – ‘Remember Me?’ (feat. Chance The Rapper)

Kyle appeared alongside Chance The Rapper on the Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment album Surf earlier this year, featuring on the standout track ‘Wanna Be Cool’. Here he laments the reemergence of an absent friend, recognising bitterly ‘Your heart is so much bigger ever since I made it big’, as Chance – who has done so much to promote fledgling musicians this year – and the doleful piano dwell gently on the hook. ‘Remember Me?’, which appeared on 29 September, is from Kyle’s just-released album Smyle.

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Nicole Dollanganger – ‘Mean’ and ‘White Trashing’

Natural Born Losers received its official coming out just a couple of days ago, on 9 October. Nicole Dollanganger’s first full-length since the haunting and pensive, sharp-witted and richly evocative Observatory Mansions back in January 2014 – in March of this year she issued a gathering of three demos as Greta Gibson Forever, while she has also offered single tracks from her related work on Embarrasing Love Songs II – the album is the first release from Eerie Organization, a collaborative effort headed by Grimes, which appears to have been founded largely to bring well-deserved attention to Dollanganger’s art.

Some of these pieces, like ‘Mean’ and ‘White Trashing’, have been kicking about and lulling listeners since the beginning of the year, with early versions put up on Dollanganger’s Tumblr. The finished sound is a little crisper, the instrumentation more full: electric guitar often replaces acoustic, in songs that swell and build to fleeting climaxes, and Dollanganger’s voice, less wispy, reverberates more in the mix. But the aesthetic remains the same: songs of scarcely veiled, blankly-faced violence, conjuring a dilapidated North American locale, with sorry guitar lines and wary droning synths, as Dollanganger achieves subtle and graceful shifts of pace and modulations of pitch with her voice between lines.

And despite all of the self-harm and sexual transgression, satan, and the sense of a confined past, there is something beautiful and dignified about this music. Dollanganger’s finely wrought lyrics seem to dwell in the glowing embers of a dying flame.

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Peaches – ‘Close Up’ (feat. Kim Gordon)

Remarkably for an artist still so much a part of the modern musical landscape, Rub – released 25 September – is Peaches’ first album in six years, the successor to 2009’s I Feel Cream. Co-produced by Vice Cooler, it boasts some of Peaches’ brashest electroclash variations, and it starts with ‘Close Up’ featuring Kim Gordon.

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Sun Araw – ‘Horse Steppin’

After briefly attempting the game several years ago on my laptop, I have recently played and completed Hotline Miami on the PlayStation 4. A bloody 2D top-down shooter, whose mechanics rely on a high-energy mix of strategy and trial and error, the game draws its best intentions from the worlds of music and cinema, clearly inspired by Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive. With the main playable character attired in a jacket which closely resembles Ryan Gosling’s ivory satin number, with its golden scorpion on the back, Hotline Miami possesses a fantastic atmosphere which dwindles rapidly upon the intrusion of a banal political plot.

Whatever, the title screen is a work of art in its own right, showcasing this gorgeously heady piece by the experimental psychedelic artist Sun Araw.

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The Velvet Underground – ‘Sweet Bonnie Brown/It’s Just Too Much’

At the end of September, the impending release of a new four-disc Velvet Underground box set was announced. The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes will feature forty-two live recordings from a series of performances the band gave in San Francisco in November and December 1969. This was between The Velvet Underground, which had been released in March, the first of the group’s albums with Doug Yule in place of John Cale; and Loaded, which came out in November 1970.

While Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Yule, and Moe Tucker managed eighteen performance in San Francisco in total, The Complete Matrix Tapes is set to focus on the nights of 26 and 27 November, the time of Thanksgiving. The box set will include nine previously unreleased tracks, with the majority already made available across 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes, and deluxe editions of The Velvet Underground.

When 1969: The Velvet Underground Live emerged in 1974, three of its tracks had never been accessible before in any form: ‘We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together’, ‘Over You’, and ‘Sweet Bonnie Brown/It’s Just Too Much’.

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Meow The Jewels – ‘Paw Due Respect’ (Blood Diamonds Remix)

My favourite remix from Meow the Jewels sees Blood Diamonds turn Killer Mike and El-P’s ‘All Due Respect’ into ‘Paw Due Respect’, a fine reworking which displays the ebullient aesthetic of one of our best producers.

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Julia Holter – ‘Sea Calls Me Home’

Have You In My Wilderness came out a couple of weeks ago, and I have discussed the album at length, while last month’s collection of songs already featured ‘Sea Calls Me Home’. Yet at the time of writing that piece, only the audio of the song had been made available; and since, an official video has emerged, directed by Claire Marie Vogel.

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Ruth Crawford Seeger – String Quartet (1931)

Awaiting Joanna Newsom’s Divers, due out 23 October – over the past month, following on from ‘Sapokanikan’, she released the audio for a second album track, entitled ‘Leaving The City’ – I returned to an artist to whom she switched me on, the modernist composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. Seeger – born Ruth Porter Crawford, and after her marriage to Charles Seeger the mother to Peggy and stepmother to Pete – is one of Joanna Newsom’s most cited inspirations.

A piece in The Irish Times from back in 2004 refers to Newsom’s ‘love for folk and bluegrass music, particularly the Appalachian children’s songs collected down the years by Ruth Crawford Seeger and the Lomax brothers’. Seeger is mentioned again among influences in an interview with Tiny Mix Tapes from 2006. And in the same year, republished just a couple of months ago by AnOther Magazine, Newsom said:

‘My real heroine is the American dissonant composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. She was this pioneer of American modernism. She worked with the Lomax brothers, transcribing all their folk songs, so she’s really a seminal figure in the folk revival. When she married the composer Charles Seeger, she became the matriarch of one of the most important families in American folk music. She’s such an inspiration. She ‘s why I’m sitting here playing for eight hours a day with all these blood blisters on my fingers.’

In Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise, he writes of Ruth Crawford Seeger:

‘This earnest, self-deprecating woman went on to write some of the most fabulously byzantine music of her time. In String Quartet 1931, orderings of pitch, rhythm, durations, and dynamics anticipate avant-garde music of the post-World War II era; in Chant 3, a woman’s chorus is divided into twelve parts, each assigned a separate chromatic note and shifting through a variety of polyrhythms. Even as she indulged in these experiments, Crawford gave strong narrative shape to her material. The slow movement of the Quartet unfurls as a continuous wave of sound, its complexities concealed behind a softly shimmering exterior.’

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Spike Jones – ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’

With words by Allan Roberts and music by Doris Fisher, ‘You Always Hurt the One You Love’ attained its highest chart position in a recording by The Mills Brothers in October 1944. The song reached number 1 on the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart, a precursor of the Billboard Hot 100. More recently, the piece was popularised by Ryan Gosling, who appeals to Michelle Williams with ukulele and falsetto in the 2010 film Blue Valentine. Here Spike Jones renders the song in the manner of The Ink Spots, with an abundant spoken-word interlude.

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Ryan Adams – ‘Pretenders (Pretending’s Fun)’

Linking with the above is this forlorn piece by Ryan Adams, whose opening lines express a shared theme, ‘The ones you love to hurt / Always the ones you love’. ‘Pretenders (Pretending’s Fun)’ is a song from The Suicide Handbook, which circled in bootleg form around 2001-2002. It was ostensibly Adams’ intended follow-up to Heartbreaker, and would therefore have been his first album on Lost Highway Records, instead of Gold – which came out in September 2001, and remains his best-selling record to date.

The Suicide Handbook was allegedly rejected by the record label for being too sad. In an interview with Q in 2007, Adams said:

‘It was supposed to be on Lost Highway. It would have been the follow-up to Heartbreaker. It was about some really heavy stuff, and it’s amazing […] If anything, it’s my most majestic piece ever.’