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Alex Carnevale
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Kara VanderBijl
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Mia Nguyen
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Durga Chew-Bose
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Senior Editor
Brittany Julious
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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in brittany julious (23)

Thursday
Nov292012

In Which She Performs For A Willing Audience

The New York Review of Hooks Vol. 5

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

We listen to Mary J. Blige because we are lonely or heartbroken or distressed. "No More Drama" is infallible because it is so familiar. Blige is not lovely or pretty on stage. She almost writhes, perched in desperation. Her performance during the 2002 Grammys was particularly captivating.

Clad in a gold form-fitting suit, sporting her soon-to-be signature short hair, Blige needed nothing more than a wireless mic and a clear stage to perform the song, a hybrid of emotional ballad and raucous, self-esteem power statement. She looked up again and again. She shook her fists; ignored the audience. This moment for her was a point of revelation and regeneration.

Blige's personal troubles (drug abuse, difficult relationships) were no secret to her many fans, but this particular performance was revealing to the world and a moment of catharsis. It is difficult to not feel taken in by her facial expressions - this is a woman with a lot to say, a voice that demands attention.

I grew up with her music, but I also grew up listening to Brandy and Aaliyah and in recent years Rihanna. These women made R&B, but their style is different from the power Blige demands. Their voices contain a lighter quality and a less memorable affect. It's obvious a great deal of work by producers goes into the final product, creating music made to please through manipulation and calculation. The listener is never carried away by the visceral quality of the audio. Instead, we remember the pop melodies, the sleek production and the overall package of the performer.

Post-dubstep as an emerging genre gained traction in 2010. Releases by British artist like Joy O (originally Joy Orbison), James Blake and Mount Kimbie sparked a trend that continues to develop and define its aesthetics two years later. Most of the output relies on slightly-danceable electronic production, glitchy synths and cuts, and samples by female R&B vocalists. Blake's CMYK EP, released in early 2010, stood out in particular as some of the best examples of the genre.

I heard the title track for the first time during my day job and the rush of sounds was overwhelming. Blake sampled Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody" and Kelis' "Caught Out there." The sampling came off pronounced and eager: Blake wore his influences on his sleeve, proudly highlighting the memorable qualities in the original.

"Are You That Somebody" - Aaliyah (mp3)

Like many hip hop singles from the 90s that sampled funk, disco and quiet storm, post-dubstep artists like Blake involved themselves with music previously ignored or isolated within the stylistic constraint of its genre. However, unlike the previous era of samples, these musicians find an inherent worth in the vocal performances rather than the instrumentation, melody or production. It is Kelis' voice that twists and turns, jumping between octaves and pitch to create the perfect complement to the mood of Blake's song.

But to consider these singers strong vocalists without the backing of high-end producers like Darkchild or Timbaland would be an aural stretch. We consider Mariah Carey's voice powerful for a reason. She hits notes that might come across as posturing, but her talent is unparalleled. Despite their lack of vocal prowess, performers like Ciara or Rihanna find perfect singles through the assistance of world class producers. Their music is less of a solo performance and is instead indicative of a collaboration between singer and producer.

To create something unique, producers utilize vocal samples that add to, rather than take away from the finished products. The singers need to compliment the hard beats, the dirty synths, or the heavy orchestration. The voices are equal to - rather than more powerful than - the instrumentation of the record. A Mary J. Blige or a Mariah Carey exists on a different vocal plane than a Rihanna or a Brandy. They are remixed, but rarely sampled in this same deconstructed capacity. And the voice of a Blige or a Carey would only clash with the final product. It’s no surprise then that as Blige and Carey age, their music is further isolated in the traditional realms of r&b. The production behind each of their songs must not take away from the selling point of their music - their voices. And as the state and style of mainstream music continues to masticate into an unrecognizable free-for-all, it is vocal talent that is one of the least important elements of a successful single.

New producers in the post-dubstep genre are able to use the weaker vocalists perhaps because they’ve already demonstrated how well their vocals work in collaboration with the instrumental and creative processes of a producer. Less than demonstrating a lack of desire to manipulate the vocals of stronger singers, new post-dubstep musicians like Blake, Jamie xx, and Mount Kimbie have found a clearer route to the sounds and aesthetics that help to define their emerging genre of music.

The rise of the “alternative” or “indie” idea of R&B continues to flourish in 2012, with no end in sight. In interviews, many of the core producers and singers site their childhood influences, their listening habits as young adults. But through the evolution of this “new” sound that has flourished online and in the headphones of lonely internet obsessives, something continuous has emerged.

Two popular tumblrs, MTHRFNKR (previously known as Post-Dubstep) and Indie R&B, have monitored this growing sound. It’s hard not to draw a connection to the sampling of the last couple of years. Personally, I began listening again to all of the R&B albums I amassed throughout my childhood and adolescence during this same period of time. Why am I just listening to these reconstructions, I thought, when I could relive the purity of the real thing? It’s not that I had forgotten about them as much as I had grown into sounds and scenes that were different than what I had always known.

"110%" - Jessie Ware (mp3)

Two of the most compelling examples of this unique return to the soulfulness of R&B in the 90s was evident in full-length releases from Jessie Ware and Sonnymoon. Ware worked with producers such as Julio Bashmore to create songs that were almost austere in their simplicity. “110%,” so passionately light, is one of the best new songs of the year. It sees the noise, the “drop,” the dirty synths of the past few years and positions Ware’s voice as the true star. In this case, they were correct.

"Just Before Dawn" - Sonnymoon (mp3)

Similarly, although Sonnymoon’s self-titled release incorporates a wider array of genres into their overall sound (especially jazz), it is Anna Wise’s voice – soulful, earnest – that makes songs like “Nothing Thought” and “Just Before Dawn” sound like vestiges of a past that feels increasingly more appealing that the mainstream music of the present. Similarly, 21-year-old Lulu James, who released a new single “Be Safe” earlier this year, exhibited more soulfulness than has been heard as of recent. James reminds me of vocalists who began in the r&b genre but veered somewhere left of that in time with the popularity of EDM aesthetics, shining so quickly and profoundly.

"The Wilhelm Scream" - James Blake (mp3)

Blake released his first solo album in the winter of 2011. At first, I thought it was about the lack of lyricism, the direct quality in the phrases and the instrumentation that made it so appealing. But Blake’s voice wrapped around me, all smooth-like. There was an assuredness evident beyond his age. Or possibly the way he sings is exactly of his age - the soulfulness competing with the energy and exhaustion of the world around him.

After having lived with the album for close to two years now, it’s multitudes have become more evident: the weight of a single idea, the minimalism among the occasional barrage of noise. Blake moved away from his sampling, something that made sense. Blake’s voice is unique, is at times strong, but he’s not a crooner in the same way that a Jamie Woon or a Jamie Lidell exhibit in their music. Choosing to sample himself opened up another level of experimentation in creating his sound. He didn’t need other vocalists to create new works. He could – in essence – build from within, completely.

"Whatnot" - Machinedrum (mp3)

Machinedrum, another producer of music ranging in genre from minimalist footwork to house to lo-fi rock, uses this same method of production. As his output as a dance music producer has grown, so to has his use of the manipulation of his own voice. Again, it’s not particularly strong, but there’s something captivating about it in the same way that Brandy or Rihanna’s voices are captivating. The uniqueness is beyond the normalized idea of a strong vocalist. The weirdness in their voice, in his voice, means that songs like the recently released “Whatnot” or the entirety of his Room(s) LP create a fuller, lusher overall sound.

I have to remind myself that music is personal, and the way we respond to it stems first from the self. But there is something special happening here. Perhaps the growth from sampling to creating to embracing is just the path of least confusion. Perhaps it is just the desire for the universality of soulfulness, the desire for the reality and presence of a voice, any voice.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find the first volume of The New York Review of Hooks here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Friday
Oct122012

In Which We Move Further Towards It

Extravagance

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Chicago’s beaches are not real and so, given the choice, I instead spent the afternoon walking a little further. Today is the last day of summer, unofficially. The heat won’t yet end, but responsibilities will begin to pile up. The ability to do nothing and have that be okay is diminishing. Heat welcomes you outside, forces you to see others, to face the world. I feel most insecure in the winter because the extended time indoors welcomes checking: the mirror, the internet … I know the world moves on. 

I walked in my neighborhood and then in the Gold Coast. Later, I stuck to the West Loop, a neighborhood beautiful and empty. It is during long walks in which I remember anecdotes and recommendations and reviews. I had a copy of Monocle Mediterraneo, collected essays by Marguerite Duras, and this tiny orange notebook in my tote bag. I wanted to go to the French Market and try every flavor of aioli and ketchup at the Belgian frites stand. That was one thing I remembered. The store was closed. 

Being alone sometimes facilitates a self-centeredness that borders on inconsiderateness. I forgot about the holiday as a moment of rest for many, not just myself. What I wanted was for things to fall into place just because I wanted, I desired. That was enough. I kept walking. 

The West Loop is full of shadows and shade. It is easy to feel alone, feel miniscule by the buildings. But it is even more possible to be alone, literally. The West Loop is a neighborhood built before life was here. It is a neighborhood of expectation. They expected money and bodies. But quietness begets quietness. If I were to live here, would I abandon the streets just as my neighbors would? Living is for inside. Living is for condos and lofts. It is for hardwood floors and exposed brick, rehabilitation and refurbishing. They don’t live on the sidewalks. 

I sat on a curb and thought to tweet, “I am lost in the West Loop.” Instead, I wrote about how there is no grass in the West Loop, only Astroturf. Nothing grows from the ground. It is artificial. It is perfected. It is green

Two years ago, my friend Barrett and I ate delicious Vietnamese cuisine in the dim room that is Saigon Sisters. The restaurant is right off of the Clinton stop on Lake Street. It was a long and late dinner. I took a cab ride home and the car raced down the expressway, only giving glimpses of the city from a distance. I liked to take a look back during those cab rides to the suburbs. Employment was bleak. The city was a moment, a place to move around and through. It was not permanent. It was not mine.

Today I walked by Province and Sepia and Prosecco. I saw the Sears Tower from a distance. I saw Au Cheval and Carnivale and newly-planted greenery. On the side of Grange Hall Burger Bar is a field of weeds, a crumbling brick facade, a Banksy. I looked back because this was all I could do. Everything was closed and would re-open that evening for a few hours before closing again. The streets would feel alive, but the bodies would be from Wicker Park, from Bronzeville, from Lakeview. It would not be the West Loop. It would be of transitory moments. It would be of right then and nothing more.

+

I am remembering that my main desire to live in a city was to live downtown. I wanted to live amongst the biggest buildings in the world. Their strength and power and beauty were my idea of urbanity. But it is unrealistic to want that and to have that. What most defines this city is something that I can’t be a part of. Commuting to work downtown is not the same thing. I am in a rush to begin the day. In the late afternoon, a rush to escape the office. The time spent between train and skyscraper is one of panic and worry. I am inside the building before I even realize I am there. 

I had an early appointment downtown and once that was done, I decided to spend the next few minutes walking near the lake, near the river, between the buildings that cast shadows. There is something to be said for feeling so small, for feeling so compact underneath greatness. I am never more aware of myself than when I am downtown. The minutes quickly turned into three hours and I began to remember why I love it here so much, even though that love has changed and dissipated and is challenged.

Downtown and River North and the Gold Coast and the South Loop are accessible through public transportation, but that doesn’t change the fact that accessibility is more than just “the getting there.” These parts of the city are the parts that we talk about when we talk about its energy. These parts are the parts that we show visitors and tourists and strangers when we talk about what Chicago can accomplish. But if I were a teen living on the West Side or the South Side, would I feel these parts are as much mine as they are for the people in charge? Would I feel they are as much mine as they are for the people who brush in and out of the city in a matter of days? 

As a teenager, I used to take the Green Line train in from Oak Park to attend a special college-bound program for “gifted” minority students. I didn’t recognize it then as I do now. I didn’t think about the discrepancies in living in the city. It takes many years and many active thoughts in consideration of all parts of the city to get to that place. Back then, downtown felt as much mine as it did for the people living in the city. That greatness was accessible. That greatness was attainable. That greatness was my expected reality.

The Green Line is elevated above ground providing perfect views of the skyline and perfect views of the crumbling infrastructure of a part of the city ignored since the late 60s. As a young girl, I would take the train downtown with my family and my mother would say, “It looked just the same when we finally moved out of here.” She was talking not of our move out of the city but her move out of this part of the city as a young teen. It looked just the same. 

I walked to the Merchandise Mart and stood outside of Gilt Bar and Bavette’s. Around the corner from both restaurants is Doughnut Vault. The last time I was here, a line ran down and around the block. Once we made it inside of the minuscule shop, I was astounded to hear the people in front of me order boxes and boxes of doughnuts. 

“I’ll have one of everything.”

“I’ll have three of everything.”

“Give me everything you have right now … and a coffee to go.”

The excess made me uncomfortable. I planned on purchasing one doughnut for myself and one for my sister who lived half a mile away. But when I got to the counter, I said, “Two vanilla glazed … and two chocolate glazed … no make that three of both.” I didn’t need that much, but felt compelled to make the extravagant purchases at $3 per doughnut because this luxe and indulgent part of the city did not feel like my own. I wanted it, even if I could not yet admit it. 

Yesterday there was no line and so I walked inside and ordered just one treat.

“Just one?” the girl behind the counter asked as Outkast played in the background.

This was an indulgent departure, a moment that most in the city could not take. But also, it was just something for me, not for anyone else. It did not ground me to the city, to what it means to be a part of the city. I am still figuring that out, but I do know the buildings downtown (so fierce, so massive) mean something critical to me. I have claimed them as my own even if others can not. I recognize the privilege in wanting to be a part of this greatness, of knowing that it can possibly be mine. Everyone can’t want for that. But also, most Chicagoans don’t want it at all. That is not their city. That is not what they want to come home to.

“Yep. Just one!” I said. That was all I needed.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. You can find her tumblr here and he twitter here. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about tumblr.

"Oh Yeah" - Bat for Lashes (mp3)

"The Haunted Man" - Bat for Lashes (mp3)

"Horses of the Sun" - Bat for Lashes (mp3)

The new album from Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man, is out today.

Friday
Oct052012

In Which We Are Inside Of A Website

The Play of Selves

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I’m looking at my Tumblr dashboard. The first thing that pops up is an image of Cindy Sherman’s A Play of Selves. In the work, Sherman is photographed and styled in a number of different manners: from playful and coquettish to shocked and pale. The photograph was one of many that would show up on my “curated” dashboard of images, text, music, and other media from an assortment of Tumblr users.

After Sherman is Chicago-based photographer Todd Diederich, a man who never physically inserts himself in his images, yet still manages to convey the people, places, and things that define his alternative, avant-garde, non-mainstream existence in Chicago. I was first captured by his images of the underground ball scene in Chicago. A fan of Paris is Burning and an open user of slang appropriated from the film, I was given a glimpse of a world that was only miles away from me both in physical space and everyday social interactions.

After Diederich was Dylan Shaw, a young artist creating hyper-stylized images of broken youth and the technicolor ways in which we see the world. His images - of quick dalliances and the time spent waiting for things to happen in between - are raw, yet familiar. From Chicago, I could recount similar scenes. The art became richer with my personal understanding of it. And later, I could understand artistic practices as a whole. Each executes with their own aesthetic, but underlying their work is the means in which they present it to the world.

Both use the Tumblr platform as a means of organization, placement, and exposure. New audiences are readily available and the easiest way to gain a following is by following back. Tumblr is youth-oriented, and these emerging photographers create works that speak to such audiences.

The Tumblr I know is one that is forever growing. It is deeply complex and complicated. I’ve read numerous tweets and short-form essays reducing Tumblr to memes and incomprehensible sub-cultures. There is no doubt that the site has this, but for someone who has been an active user, it is also more than this. The tumblr of 2012 is different than the one of 2007.

When I first joined the site, I posted new music multiple times a day, occasionally providing thoughts on why something was a favorite, but usually just sharing to share. The music was too good to just keep to myself. I gravitated toward a community of young writers also interested in music and my identity as a tumblr user and my identity in real life became one of a music fan, a connoisseur of things new and old, a devotee to aural pleasures.

But as I have grown, my relationship to and the communities I am a part of on the site have also grown. There are new opportunities for users to find a different community, or a micro community to relate to their new life, their new everyday experiences. Tumblr favors the use of media to captivate its users and its users in turn favor the use of media to better define and refine their ideas of self. My tumblr experience allows for that world to be a part of my world on a daily basis. My dashboard caters to who I am as a person and what I love as an individual.

My tumblr Britticisms will be five years old in December. I’ve been thinking about the critical importance of the dashboard for five years — content posted quickly, easily accessible, with low social cost to following random people on the web.

It is a constant stream of information, both new and old. Users continuously scroll down and through pages in the hopes of discovering new media to consume and enjoy. The dashboard, however – with its dark blue background and uniform white rectangles to contain each form of media – blends each post together.

By utilizing this uniform aesthetic, the Tumblr platform makes each post appear one in the same. The user thus consumes the posts equally. In the interest of something meme-ingful, this can elevate a hazy, Instagram photograph of a field of grass to the same level of “likes” and praise as images of installation shots of Jessica Stockholder’s public art extravaganza Color Jam or Carrie Schneider’s Burning House series of photographs. I posted images from both local Chicago artists and they quickly went viral on the site. A quick reblog to the Tumblr radar ensures audiences of all interests (not just rabid art fans) can view something pleasant or challenging or beautiful.

Media as it is seen through the platform transforms from the original painting, photograph, video, or other object to a succinct image that connects to the user on an individual, personal taste level. Because works of art can be consumed in the same manner as a song clip or a GIF or a short anecdote about life in the city, the art itself takes on a different, more neutered meaning. The art becomes less about what was created and more about how it reflects the person consuming the work of art.

I am part of a community of young black women on tumblr interested in specific aspects of pop culture that relate to our everyday experiences: intricate displays of nail art, aspirational female rappers, the complicated stylings of modern day and mainstream feminists. We’re not official, but I often find myself relating to most everything they post, whether it is a cute blouse or an Audra Lorde quote, a recipe for a cocktail or the latest single from Azealia Banks. Most importantly, when we talk about the things that connect us on the surface (our race, our gender, our sexuality), there is a level of familiarity and family that is instantaneous. As in, this thing happened to you and I understand it because it happened to me too. Or even, this thing happened to you, and although I cannot personally relate, I understand your feelings and confusions and know you deeply.

My greatest fear about a viral collection of images I posted by Chicago artist Adam Ekberg was not that others would hate the work or remove Ekberg’s credit, but that they would lose sight of the fact that I posted it first. I feared losing credit for the discovery, but not for the work itself. Media posted on Tumblr often loses its identification the longer it is blogged and reblogged.

Although the physical works are protected, little can be done to protect what accompanied the work originally. A user can change the source URL for an image, can delete any reblogged text and write their own, and even remove identifying tags. Stripping a work once of its proper credit or caption can strip it forever for tens or hundreds or thousands of users. I’ve seen this happen for works I don’t recognize, for nameless young artists selling their screen prints on Etsy or posting their copyrighted images to Flickr. And I’ve seen this happen personally for deeply personal posts on angst and regret and race and the body. Does the work still resonate the same once it loses its creator? Or has it moved to a different level of consumption, one that flashes bright in popularity, then quickly fades as something newer, more interesting, and more engaging comes along?

For myself, the consumer and blogger and Tumblr user, the art became less the art and more the sort of tangible object I use to define who I am on a daily basis. The photographs by Ekberg were as much me as my collection of rings, my beaded blouses, or my heels. The truth is ugly and self-centered, but true. The more I see, the more I take on and consume as me and only me.

The longer I’ve spent on Tumblr, the longer I’ve known the overwhelmingly present population of teenagers on the site. And with the younger population of users, I’ve begun to understand why the site is so critically valid in the development of self. Tumblr not only helps the individual find him or herself; it also acts as a sort of guide for the things that we would have never found or truly understood on our own. I can pretend that my interest in post-punk music or Lorna Simpson’s work or bell hooks’ writing would have been just as strong, but that would be a lie.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Lorna Simpson. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"You're Not Happy" - Sea Pinks (mp3)

"A Pattern Recognition" - Sea Pinks (mp3)