Thus far this year much of the new music I've been listening to has either been made by friends, friends of friends, or people that seem like they could be friends were we coexisting in closer space. Later on I'll hear the newest work by aging composers, or rappers who rap about selling coke (do those still exist?), or women who insist on glamor in their self-presentation.
Right now I am happy for my friend Ed Schrader, whose LP with his band, just came out on Load Records. It is called "Jazz Mind" despite my argument that it should be called "Why Are You Doing This To Me?" I made that argument when we were washing dishes together, possibly listening to syndicated 1970s episodes of Casey Kasem's Top 40. I don't know how much is talking out of school when it comes to alluding to previous personal conversations, so I will say nothing of them and instead focus on the record that exists as if I were coming to it as a stranger, and so I will not air my grievance that I am not listed in the liner notes list of thank you's, which I am positively infuriated about.
All joking aside, Jazz Mind is a good record, alive with personality and charm, but also completely listenable and possessing real songs. Some of them sound like early eighties REM, some are punk stompers, vaguely comparable to Swans, only they're shorter than even an average pop song's length, rather than extended into a bleak abyss. I use the term "stompers," rather than "rockers," I guess due to the instrumentation, which for Ed is a single floor tom, although the other half of the Music Beat, bassist Devlin Rice, rolls along melodically at all times, excepting the a capella "Air Show." The record's arrangements are also enlivened on occasion by the presence of the guitar from No Age, as well as the occasional embellishments of Matmos.
Ed's Welcome To The Roman Empire cassette on Fan Death Records, credited just to himself, without his Music Beat, is something else. (There are other musicians heard playing, but they are uncredited, and none of them are Devlin, the guy from No Age, or the Matmos folks.) The best reference point I can come up with, actually, is to call it "based," in the manner of rapper Lil B. But while Lil B lets out so much, so un-self-consciously, that he becomes super relatable and human, Ed's self-consciousness (which manifests itself in things that are more obviously jokes, with punchlines) leads to a willingness to be mediated that means that listening to an Ed Schrader record seems deliberately framed in such a way as to present a picture of the artist as raving madman. It feels like id, ego, and superego all sort of battling it out in front of you, to create a portrait of modern man sort of tearing himself apart. That his comedy generally comes in the form of impersonations, of David Bowie, of Rush Limbaugh, of Michael Moore, of his friend's family, of his own family, seems like a way of sorting all of the different drives into something that makes sense, that is somewhat linear. Sometimes it is the funniest thing ever and sometimes it's just baffling. Obviously, the urge to want to edit the work of really prolific people down into something digestible makes sense, certainly economically, but for those who know Ed personally these deliberately sculpted records seem like there's something missing. The records are compelling, but they're not BOTTOMLESSLY compelling, the way a constant stream would be. (I suppose watching an actual constant stream, burbling along, wouldn't be bottomlessly compelling either. I am thinking, instead, of a burning fire.) Hopefully someone else will express interest in putting out a tape of Ed Schrader's pre-music-beat material, where the line between joke and song is blurrier, and the the line between funny joke and unfunny joke is blurred as well, because sometimes those unfunny jokes work perfectly well as songs. "H1N1, running the country, H1N1, we're all gonna' die!"
The two Lil B mixtapes out so far this year, White Flame and God's Father, are both great. No longer in the sort of like conscious rap positive mindset of the majority of his 2011 output, they are both blessedly all over the place, with White Flame making such noteworthy moves as "rapping over a MIDI version of Prince's I Would Die 4 U about how nerds are people" and having a song called "Poppin V" about Viagra, which refers to them as "grampa pills." (I'm also excited about his only-on-Youtube so far songs "Put That Pussy On My Face" and "Ima Eat Her Ass," which are hopefully being saved for a sequel to last year's Bitch Mob Volume One: Respect The Bitch.) God's Father has a brief skit taking place in a pet store that leads into a song about bullying. God's Father, though, by and large seems like a variation on the idea of "New York rap," sometimes more so than others, but the whole thing is cohesive enough. While rapping over a loop of an old soul song is sort of a commonplace rap move, Lil B is more likely to take a loop of an Imogen Heap song and sort of rap, sort of just do spoken word over it, or do just spoken word over ambient instrumentals. God's Father presents a context that sort of allows for these things to be united and bleed into each other. It's two hours long though. White Flame is only an hour and fifteen minutes, and is more of a party record. Both parties and interior worlds of emotion allow a lot of freedom to do whatever, though, so these are broad categories. I have over fifteen hours of Lil B's music on my computer, and some of it is better than others, but all of it is free, and I think Lil B gets the same thing that the Sun City Girls get: That it is totally acceptable to put out crap sometimes, or even most of the time, and you don't have to try to prove yourself.
Lil Ugly Mane's Mista Thug Isolation is not based at all, neither in the sense of overriding positivity or "I can do whatever" freedom. It is intensely focused, a "project," one among many for the brain behind it, but as of this tape it is no longer a highly-specific genre pastiche of Memphis rap. Instead, Lil Ugly Mane takes this cultural moment where rap is open to weirdness and samples obscure industrial records to see if anyone can place the reference. The rapping is on-point, no longer chant-based, being both more technically precise than many of its reference points and also home to some pretty funny jokes. The song for the ladies is named after a William Gibson novel. "I've got ballin' on my mind, Kareem-Abdulla Oblongata," to write down something which scans much smoother heard out loud. This is easily the most catchy and compulsively listenable music to be made by someone I've lived with.
I have also been repeatedly listening to the Grimes LP, Visions. It is actually very similar to Lil Ugly Mane, enough so to be considered its opposite: Both are perversions of certain strains of R&B, but whereas Lil Ugly Mane pitches down the vocals to sound evil, tough, frightening, and more like a certain idea of black masculinity, (perhaps this seems racist but I think it is fine, although it's worth noting that Lil Ugly Mane is pretty clearly operating in a space free of moral judgments) Grimes pitch-shifts the vocals up into this weird ghostliness, that seems delicate and terrified of its own ethereality. "Self" gets rhymed with "health," bodies are longed for, both for the presence of other people and to be reminded of ones own nature. It seems like singularity anxiety, the idea that "you" could just exist on a hard drive somewhere, like an mp3, and then longing for the sensuality of R&B, but still knowing that stuff to be a cultural construct. I don't know if you have read this interview with the poet Tricia Lockwood about Twitter but the fact that she talks a lot about Aaliyah, and deconstructs this tweet: " YO AALIYAH DONT FILL UP ON ALL DAT BREAD GIRL…..GOT A BIG MEAL COMING WHEN WE LAND Really makes ya think. Eat the bread everyone. Namaste." makes me think about the fact that the health/self rhyme cited above does not actually exist, it is in fact me misremembering, stemming from the line "I need someone to look into my eyes and tell me girl you've got to watch out for your health." (Maybe that interview is essential to understanding what I'm talking about when considering those lines as responses to each other, if you don't intuitively get it.) Aaliyah seems like a valid reference point, so does Aphex Twin, so does Twitter, or just omnipresent technology in general. It feels really human to me, and sounds pretty good- I haven't seen this lady live, most recent Baltimore show was canceled, but it seems like it could be interesting to take this thing that I am at the moment considering small and private and put it into that context of dance-party social-ritual.
There is more music I could write about, if I knew how to write about it: I met this guy Female in passing, and his record A Grounded Mound/Widespread Telepathy, available at the Free Music Archive I have listened to a few times. Sort of cold electronic pop music, with detached vocals. The Human Teenager LP on Spectrum Spools is also pretty good, although not necessarily worth the twenty dollars for the vinyl release- probably worth the cost of an Amazon download though. I did, however buy the Keith Fullerton Whitman Mego LP, Generators, which contains recordings of two live sets, although I might prefer the Generator cassette issued in 2010, which is direct from synth recordings, and is both more minimal and more varied. I have been waiting for the new Angels In America cassette on Night People to arrive in my mailbox since it was made available, but cannot weigh in on it yet at the present moment.
Probably the thing farthest afield from my social circle would be the latest Mouse On Mars record, Parastrophics, which I do enjoy and consider to be a good record, but is very much techno, to a degree that it seems almost useless to listen to while simply sitting around thinking: It is intellectually engaged enough to be listened to, and danceable enough to be on in the background while moving in physical space, but not the sort of direct-to-soul thing that can be used to guide for inner journeys. But hopefully the months to come will give me enough opportunity to hear it in its proper context for me to consider it for a theoretically "best of 2012" list, which I mention only because I think it is funny that I have been neglecting this blog so much that my last post was a "2011 in review" post.