This song is real long. Probably longer than it needs to be but the story it tells is so abstract and the music so full of deep mysteries that continue to bleed through the track no matter how many times you listen to it that it doesn't seem like six plus minutes at all. And, more than the recorded track, observe the artist in action live. They bring nothing if not more energy and layers to it. At times, the layers become white noise, then back again as they are peeled away and new ones introduced. I often marvel at how anyone could've made this mix and had it sound comprehensible. I can't imagine the levels, the envelopes, the effects all colliding into one another and then separating out. That School of Seven Bells is defunct at this point still saddens me, but legendary tracks like this will always live on. Ghostory and tracks like this were when they became more than an electronic, dreamy pop group and into something more intense. It's too bad we barely found out where that was going.
Aesop Rock is an acquired taste, that I'll freely admit. His often nasal, harsh voice splashes thrashes in a landscape of abrasive beats that often sound like they belong in a very specific kind of horror movie. That may not sound appealing on the face of it, but that's what makes him and his tracks compelling in their own special way. It's not all abstract and inaccessible, though. Supercell, from this year's The Impossible Kid, has plenty of earthy guts to it. The first thing, that bassline. Simple, but indefatigably it shambles through the word clouds coming from Aesop Rock himself and the echoplex keys all around it as if it demands to be recognized as the center of an alt-hip-hop universe holding it all together with its easy gravity. But those keys? Almost supernatural vapors that elevate it all to something otherworldly. The chord progressions and refs may not be too intricate, but the way the scales, chords, and angelic whistle couldn't go better together. Then there are the lyrics, which in typical Aesop Rock fashion fluctuate between stream-of-consciousness and concrete narrative memoir from one bar to the next.
If anything was the crystallization of a great many awesome things about early-aughts alt-hip-hop, it was Deltron 3030. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien may not be in the prime he was back then and may not be quite the beloved and obscure figure he was, but this track has never stopped being a propulsive blast of weird fire. Paired with Kid Koala and under the supervision of Dan the Automator at his peak as well, everything on Deltron 3030 had a patina of fresh experimentation with enough solid beats and heady sci-fi lyricism to accompany it that it was irresistible. There's a reason why the live video above was recorded at KEXP a full THIRTEEN YEARS after it's release, and it's not just to cynically promote the not-as-stellar follow-on to the original Deltron 3030 album. It's because there's something about this album and it's vibe that is unique enough to be almost timeless. Positive Contact was always my favorite track of the bunch capturing the production at its most fun and most off-center moment and Del doing what he does best, which is crushing it lyrically as he talks about a universe that only he can imagine and inhabit. If anyone was the right person to rap about an interstellar, dystopian epic about hyper-violent battle rapping, it was a man who has clearly always been in his own world.
This is the sort of free-wheeling sample virtuosity that only people that have an encyclopedic knowledge of music or who are on a lot of drugs (or both) can pull off. Bouncing off a strange old calypso sample, a fuzzy tale of drugs, cops, women, and drinking from master lyricist Danny Brown spills out over a horny (but mostly tuba-powered) beat that is one of the most memorable I've ever heard just based on its pure random, bouncy, and off-kilter sense of joy. Really, the video says a lot, and only adds many more layers to this joyous romp through the strange. And then, at the end, MF Doom shows up. Just when you think there couldn't be anything more to cap off a maliciously goofy Avalanches experience.
Dessa is never easy to classify. Is she a singer? A rapper? A poet? A philosopher? Or, like some indestructible, perfect adamantium alloy, is she all of those things scorched together into a purer and harder version of all of the above? Sure, there are certain songs that can get you going. They may not be uplifting, but they may get the blood thumping, or they may force you to think. Think in a way that electrifies the mind like a lightning blast through your soul.
Dessa's music is like that. There are plenty of people who make intricate music you can always go back to and hear new layers folded within like a pocket of dry hopped piney bitterness or a tannin that hits you with a tart note you didn't see coming. There are a few people who write deep lyrics you can hear again and again, thinking of different interpretations, picking up allusions you didn't see before. Dessa is both. I've gone through Dessa tracks and albums over and over again, and even when I haven't I will see things or dream things that remind me of them. As much as I love Doomtree, her solo work is something I find ever more complex and compelling, even if it might be a simple anthem like this. This song is years old, but I think about it, its words, and its wall of defiant energy at least once a week. Or is it a simple anthem at all? Is it deeper than that? The questions and reflections never end.
It may start like a typical indie rock song from several years ago, cutesy falsetto crooning, electric piano pounding out quarter-note chords. I was about to give up on it, then that cleaning guitar begins to prance all over it like a parade marshal of fun thinking it owns the place telling you to wait just a minute because the real shit is coming.
And it does, the rhythm guitar shuffling with a sweet, vivacious chord progression before the chorus arrives in a bloom of synths and harmonies. Is it done then? No, of course it's not. Why coast? Why take all that musical goodwill and end it there? When we come out of the chorus, it leaves us with a new verse full of a punchy baseline and even more jumpy guitar work building to . . . SOMETHING EVEN BETTER.
This track gets it. It doesn't do quietLOUDquiet, as classic as that is, it actually leaves every section of better as it finds it. One simple verse, a rousing chorus, a better verse, and then . . . a moment of tension before an even more explosive chorus. This song is what we must all be in life, rolling into next stage hungrier and fresher than the last. This diskopunk, they might be one worth following.
Why must these musicians always torture me so? Such perfectly calibrated style to hit me RIGHT IN THE NOSTALGIA. Seriously, though, some of these bands that write these 80s style throwbacks are doing so with the benefit of some serious hindsight (and superior modern production techniques, but that's not anything we can do something about . . . or can we?) Thin, bright guitar syncopating perfectly keeps the rhythm track bouncing forward in a way that perfectly compliments the laid-back vocals. It's nothing fancy, but it doesn't have to be for a bouncy piece of throwback synth pop. The lyrics may be word salad, but I'll have to admit a keen weakness for a good, vibrant word salad.
No cross-section of artists on Earth sounds quite like the Nortec Collective. This loose amalgamation of musicians and producers put out solid gold for a long time with their rousing and space-age fusion of traditional music and electronica. As much as I've enjoyed at least a few tracks from all of their offerings, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 has always been my favorite. It perfectly blends the horns, synths, and drum machines into an irresistible cocktail of musical combustion. "Tango La Voz," the album opener, is a weird sort of mantra I often find repeating to myself during trying times. I don't know what I'm trying to tell myself that I have, or maybe I'm just trying to force myself to remember this blazing horn riff. Either way, it always lifts my spirits in the way all the best Nortec Collective tracks do.
DJ SHADOW. RUN THE JEWELS. DJ SHADOW AND RUN THE JEWELS. DJ SHADOW AND RUN THE JEWELS SIMULTANEOUSLY!
You're looking at me like you don't understand how important this is. Just go ahead and listen to it, and then you'll understand. Shadow has seemed to be lost in the wilderness for awhile now. While he was an instrumental (heh) force in pushing me to understand and appreciate left-of-center hip hop and turntablism in my youth, much of his recent output has been in the meh to okay range. That's a dramatic fall when someone once called him the Jimi Hendrix of the Sampler or some shit like that.
Then, of course, you have Run The Jewels, probably one of the most vital forces in hip hop right now. Killer Mike's unctuous verbal battery combined with the air strikes of El-P's compelling weirdness and raunchiness blend with this slick and funky Shadow track like nothing I've heard in a long time. You can just feel Shadow's revitalization happening in your ears as two lyrical veterans knock it out of the park.
Sometimes you just want some rousing guitar noise. Bob Mould is always a pretty good place to start with that, especially his recent output. Patch the Sky continues a long streak started by The Silver Age where he brought a more lively grunge style back with the polished sonics of distinctly better production. His dissonant and harmonic choruses further seal the deal, giving these anthems an almost meditative field. Black Confetti is one of those, with a building, mid-tempo cadence that is underlined by a busy rift that is so dense it nearly swallows the world as it wraps you in a sonic fog. It's that kind of guitar-fog and Bob Mould's voice that can almost feel like a forcefield against the world around you at times.