by BRITTANY JULIOUS
On an unseasonably warm Wednesday, I worked from home and took breaks to walk around my Ukrainian Village neighborhood. I enjoyed Rhye’s “Open” before, but the warmer weather grounded the song.
"Open" - Rhye (mp3)
In early February, Rhye - a collaboration between Milosh and Robin Hannibal from Quadron - released the falsetto-heavy jam “Open.” The song is a smooth, quiet, and sensual jam indebted to Sade’s Lovers Rock. Every blog post I’ve read about the song misses this clear connection and it left me confused. Contemporary music criticism is built on references. A small review for one musician will connect the dots - or create ones that were never there in the first place. We often rely on knowing what came before. It allows us to understand the new music we are listening to. In many ways, it is a means of building substance in instances where we are not sure there is any. Sade’s “By Your Side” coupled nicely with Rhye’s soft song, and later I added Sinead O’Connor’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U." These are songs of comfort and tied to seasonal pleasures: the way the sun grazes your skin just so; the way the air is crisp and fresh, as if it’s been rejuvenating during the brutal and long winter months; the way everything tastes better.
"Night Forest" - Lapalux (mp3)
I purchased When You’re Gone, the debut EP by Lapalux and its maximalism worked until temperatures hit 60 degrees. That sort of intense, intricately-produced sound overpowers one’s moods. It works best when the cold seems neverending.
"Fuck It None Of Y'all Don't Rap" - Evian Christ (mp3)
Late last year, my friend Gabe - a voracious listener who understands and appreciates the ways in which we produce and consume music - sent me links to Evian Christ. Christ was then anonymous and his anonymity admittedly made his music more interesting. Relying heavily on Tyga samples, Christ’s most captivating song, “Fuck It None Of Y’all Don’t Rap,” is an aggressive statement toward the state of a few years worth of haunting, moody, indecipherable, and often beautiful songs. “Fuck It” is not dismissive outright, but I know that the first time I heard it, I was taken aback by how infrequently I hear music that seems almost downright rude toward its audience. It’s not a cheeky first single like Azealia Banks’ “212” or a startling culmination of beats and samples like on Clams Casino’s “I’m God.” There’s a lot being said and the depth of aggression made many of the rest of the tracks on Kings and Them, Christ’s debut mixtape, pale in comparison. “Fuck It” was a move forward, and it’s difficult to move back from that point of visibility.
"212" - Azelia Banks (mp3)
Azaelia Banks’ later tracks find the same problems. Imagine sitting in a black mesh office chair in a cubicle in an office that is poorly lit. You’ve been placed in this environment as your job and company is in flux. Sometimes it becomes difficult to discern the days and so you turn to the the clips and edits, mixtapes and soundbites.
I first heard Azealia Banks’ “212” in such a setting and it was her enthusiastic lyrics coupled with production by Lazy Jay that made the song such an instant classic for so many people. Banks has continued to release singles in anticipation of the debut album (Broke With Expensive Taste) she is currently working on and will be released sometime in the fall. But none of these newer singles - such as “NEEDSUMLUV” or “Liquorice” - capture the energy of “212.”
That’s not to say that any of the songs are bad. They’re not. But the game Azealia plays is one that challenges the formula of popular music. Her singles always feature the production of emerging or eclectic producers (Machinedrum, Lazy Jay, Lone) and it is this dedication that showcases the inconsistency of her sound and aesthetic. Because she is new to the scene, she has the opportunity to figure out what works for her. Or, she can continue what she is currently doing, which is curating a sound that works much like a mixtape or iTunes collection. This is the best that’s out there, she’s saying. I’m presenting it to you right now.
A week or two ago, the new online music site MTHRFNKR coined and embraced the genre name “arthouse,” a sort of catch-all for independent r&b and “intelligent” cross-genre dance and electronic music. A year or two ago, I would have cringed over attempts at naming emerging genres of music. But now the creation of genres interests me. The easiest route an audience can take is to criticize the creation of such genres and the idea that the music of now needs to be categorized and boxed in by a “term.”
But when people ask me what types of music I most enjoy, when I say “classic disco” or “mutant disco” or even “90s r&b,” they know what I’m talking about. I don’t need to recite a list of band names. I’m not a facebook profile. And I understand why people try to do it now. Genres ground the music we’re listening to in many ways. It puts them in a place, in a time, in a setting, in a moment of history. It’s a way of thinking about music on a larger scale. It’s not just about this one band. It’s about these bands, these musicians, this moment and the way the world works and how we consume the things that matter most to us.
"Climax" - Usher (mp3)
The greatest thing Usher could have done with his career is go back to his roots (singing) in order to create a song that sounds more original and interesting and unlike everything else out there. He has been a Top 40 singer moved not by his artistic pursuits, but by the force of the market. “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” was an embarrassment not because it was a bad song (taken as a whole, the song was better than the majority of the chorus-less, dubstep-driven singles of his peers), but because it was further demonstration of the sacrifices the Top 40 performer must now make in order to stay on top. Usher is no longer a 16-year-old prodigy of hard abs, baby face cheeks, and an overstated swagger.
“Climax,” released with production by Diplo and orchestration by Nico Muhly, is the best single thus far of 2012. If it breaks through, it will be the song that brings the underground (a different underground, a non-dubstep underground) to the forefront. Like many genres and aesthetics, this can go a number of different ways and although I wish for the best, I understand that “they can fuck this up.” If this production and intonation succeeds, it will reinforce the appeal of a clear voice, a smart instrumentation and lyrics that beg to be memorized. This is “intelligent” music, through and through.
"Queen$" - THEESatisfaction (mp3)
“QueenS” by THEESatisfaction fulfills a similar role of charm and instant gratification. Members Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White’s song is so catchy that I was certain I had heard it many times before. It instills in the listener the sort of knowing familiarity of a perfect pop song.
"Sayso" - Evy Jayne (mp3)
Evy Jayne’s “Sayso” is not a perfect pop song, but it perfectly captures whatever it is we call the music that’s been coming out of Canada: dark, lonesome, pained. I’ve been listening to the song for the past month or so and still can’t discern the lyrics. That’s irrelevant; this is music that plays to a mood. I don’t need to know what the singer is saying. It’s about the saunter in her diction, the wobble of the bass. It is a long song and sounds even longer the more you listen to it. It drags you in and won’t let go.
"Nova" - Burial & Four Tet (mp3)
Everything I’ve heard from Four Tet, I’ve enjoyed. But I’ve never felt motivated enough to want to listen to a whole album. Burial works differently. Before first listening to Burial, I was told that his music was “important”, and more than five years later, that description holds true. Each new work fulfills the desire to listen to music that is grounded and substantial. Burial soundtracks certain aspects of life in the city: the moments before you open the door to a venue of sound and sensuality, the night bus home, the walks late at night to one’s bed. And “Nova” fits within this narrative scope, satisfying and emotive.
"Myth" - Beach House (mp3)
I maintain impossible expectations for my favorite performers. Unlike my reactions towards the latest Burial, while listening to “Myth,” Beach House’s latest single for their fourth album, I realized that I was more excited to be Hearing New Music From Beach House than the song itself. Fan devotion can mask the problematic aspects of a new song. “Myth” is a good song, but it is not great, and it pales in comparison to the strength of “Norway,” the first official single from Teen Dream.
"Halcyon" - Orbital (mp3)
Earlier this week, Orbital released “New France”, a song featuring Zola Jesus. I admittedly never listened to the band before and so this first single was a chance to go back. “Halcyon” is probably the loveliest and one of the strangest songs I’ve ever heard. First released in 1992, the song is a classic electronic and acid house track.
I have heard it described as a perfect rave song, a memorable moment for the dance floor. As I listen to it now, it fits in with most of the music I devour day to day. Created for what many unfortunately describe as a subgenre, the appeal and production mirrors the hip hop, the house, the pop that is heard everywhere from dingy nightclubs to radio stations. The soft vocals, the perfect sample, the euphoric beat. It’s a simple formula, but one that works. Created for ebullience, it is a classic, memorable, and addictive song. This is intelligent.
Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Party Girl. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.