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Entries in brittany julious (22)

Monday
Aug062012

In Which We Anticipate A Subtle Play

Upcycling Vol. 4

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

"Lost" - Frank Ocean (mp3)

"Pyramids" - Frank Ocean (mp3)

Audiences were immediately invested in Frank Ocean's success. Channel Orange was better because we understood the gravity of its production. Each song is finely crafted, memorable, and enjoyable. Pop hooks are a choice and one Ocean executes with a sense of the familiar. "Lost" sounds like something I've heard before. It sounds like a song from my youth, from the peak of structured r&b.

"Pyramids," the first single from the album, took a while to settle in as one of the best tracks on the album. Unlike many of the other tracks on the record, it is not crisp and concise and to the point. In many ways, it is two songs in one. Mixing the enigmatic simplicity of synth-ready contemporary hip hop with the fun and most perfect grooves of 70s funk, the song — about a woman and her work (in its simplest form) — is stunning. Sandwiched in the middle of the album, it anchors the record, finding the perfect balance and middle ground of ideas that cherish the new and the old.

"Run My Heart" - Twin Shadow (mp3)

"Five Seconds" - Twin Shadow (mp3)

Twin Shadow's music is moody. Each song sounds less like a poetic reflection of life as a whole and more like the frustrations and emotional complications of the everyday. George Lewis Jr. crafts songs that play like romantic, social folk tales or narratives of what it feels like to be a young, eager, earnest person. If Confess was a soundtrack, it would be to a film filled with shadows and long pauses and stares of confusion and frustration and lust.

“Run My Heart” is a perfect example of this play of narrative and emotion. Lewis Jr.’s voice is not as strong as it sounds on the flawless first single “Five Seconds,” but on this track, it works so well because of its imperfections. Throughout the song, he utters, “I’ve been working on making this start again,” and the line works for a variety of different interactions: troubled relationships, job prospects, lost friendships. It is a song of next chapters, of recognizing the differences of time, and ultimately letting go.

"Silly Girl" - Television Personalities (mp3)

"The Glittering Prizes" - Television Personalities (mp3)

Many of the songs on Television Personalities' ...And Don't the Kids Just Love It are underrated and timeless. Listening to music constantly creates that conundrum. A favorite album is a favorite for a variety of different reasons, but most often, it is not due to the singles. Perfect moments exist in between the great hooks. I'm thinking of the universality and steadiness of St. Vincent's “Just the Same but Brand New,” the romanticism of Dirty Projectors' "Two Doves," or the squawking lines of Metronomy's "Love Underlined."

On Television Personalities’ first album, "The Glittering Prizes" and "Silly Girl" exist in that realm for me. I began listening to the album again after a long hiatus and I realized what I have a tendency to forget: true goodness runs constant. "The Glittering Prizes," with its lyrics of wanting and disappointment especially run familiar. That desire to rise above, to be one's best self, to have something greater than what you are left with is not new. It was as true in 1980, when the album was first released, as it is now. Maybe it's even truer. The world is bigger. The stakes are higher. The rewards are greater. The success is sweeter. The failure is forever.

"Just From Chevron" - Dirty Projectors (mp3)

"Swing Lo Magellan" - Dirty Projectors (mp3)

"Swing Lo Magellan" transitions into “Just From Chevron” which transitions into "Dance for You," and this moment on Dirty Projectors' new record is without a doubt the loveliest thing one will hear all year. The music is a subtle break from the heaviness of most current Dirty Projectors songs, employing the effortlessness and charm of Amber Coffman's voice during some moments; incorporating the quirky and comforting intonation of Dave Longstreth's in others.

Much is made of the band's sound. During Pitchfork weekend, I sat in a restaurant in Chicago listening to the band DJ a mix of dance and r&b and pop, never settling on one sound and instead finding the commonality (of production, of strangeness, of memorability) in each. Their efforts were not taken for granted and are evident on this record as in records past. “Indie rock” may not seem as progressive or “of the times” as many newly established musical genres, but like those new genres, there is a subtle play on what was gleaned from the past and how that works for the present. It may not be as obvious as a Destiny’s Child sample, but it is there and it sounds as much 2012 as anything else. This is a band of musicians raised in a generation that could consume sounds easily and thus create with a greater knowledge and curiosity than those of the past. As a whole, Swing Lo Magellan excels because of this execution. The first spin sounds as “settled in” as the 5th or 10th.

Grizzly Bear’s music is comforting. It may not always feel challenging, but a closer listen reveals the depths. In “Sleeping Ute,” the band showcases some of their most progressive and aggressive instrumentation, leaving no moment truly silent. Instruments upon instruments are layered. The band that creates music of overpowering warmth and beauty literally overpowers the listener with guitars, with vocals, with drumming, with sound. If Grizzly Bear’s greatest strengths were their ability to show restraint, here they exhibit the ways in which the breaking free of their sound is still more calculating and exciting than the majority of music currently being released.

"Changes" - LOL Boys (mp3)

LOL Boys make sexy, dreamy, weird disco. Their remix work on tracks like the perfect pop of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” uncovers the best elements of the singer’s music: the sweetly melodic chorus and the memorable lyrics. On other songs, like their new single “Changes,” multiple musical genres combine (jazz, disco) to create a stunning, sophisticated, one-of-a-kind moment. It is slinky and seductive, a welcome break from the anxiousness of both realms (the EDM/brostep aesthetic and the hittery post-dubstep) of the contemporary dance music scene. Its simplicity – a simple horn, a steady 4/4 beat, a clean yet pitch-altered voice – sounds vintage in many ways. This is not a song of 2012, but it’s welcome.

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 sequins. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Just The Same But Brand New (live)" - St. Vincent (mp3)

Monday
Jun252012

In Which The Outfit Requires Control

Six Months of Sequins 

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I

Winter never started. There was snow and ice on occasion, but what I remember most is the dull cold of late fall. We can see the effects of this now. A trip to the farmer’s market introduces higher prices and misshapen fruits or entirely missing vegetables. It felt like a respite from years before to have a winter that settled evenly, that was consistent from day-to-day. I thought about how I spent one year with my head always down, with tears born out of the wind by the lake. Spring never seemed so vital as during that winter. But manageable cold festers. We live in Chicago because we are masochists. We live in Chicago because we know it is all worth it. We live here with a small love of the brutality. If you can make it here, then you will realize everywhere else lacks something real and vital: the narrative of struggle.

The first blouse was purchased in early January, the day of my old friend’s birthday party. We don’t speak anymore. The top was perhaps a going away party, a means of framing the end of a friendship not because hate grew, but because who we are at 17 and 18 and 19 can never be who we are just moments later.

II

I spent the winter sweeping up black and gold and silver sequins. I leave a trail of glitter and sequins wherever I go. But each sweep is a reminder of what is to be accomplished: brighter days, laughter, a sense of peace.

This black top — structured, tough — hangs in my closet. I’ve worn it once. It’s too thick now for the summer heat, but when it was still bitterly cold only weeks ago, it felt just as wrong. What is freedom if not literal? There is the freedom of choice in which I choose to wear these things. And then there is literal freedom, to be free, to move swiftly and gently, or slowly and roughly. This blouse constricts. It requires straight backs, elongated necks. I’ve sat otherwise and the sequins and beads pierce my skin with precision.

Like many vintage clothing items, it was created for both literal and figurative control. Breasts are covered completely. But also, it can not be worn easily. A zipper in the back is for a lover. But I am alone like always, and so I zip haphazardly, with tools and trouble. I bend and shake until the job is done. And there I stand in this blouse, body set in place and even. I sat in the office of the director of a local dance company and the first thing he said to me was, “And you too were a dancer.” This is right, but most times my posture does little to give me away. I wore the top. It told of a past, a hobby, a possession of the body that had not been mine for years.

III

I love this dress. I love how it sparkles and I love the cut and the way it melts into my skin, as if it was made only for me. The moment of discovery was intense. It was exactly what I wanted, but was unable to articulate. Something lovely and beautiful and weird. Something that would not cost a lot. Something that was old and had history and character.

Vintage entices because of the imagined history of each dress or blouse or bag. But the way I wear clothing changes the longer I own a favorite piece. A lovely blouse becomes a form of armor, a means of protection from an outside world that conforms and questions. And each time the piece is worn, it is an attempt at recreation and affirmation. What was it like to wear for the first time? How did you feel? How pure was the moment?

All clothing options take confidence. Each blouse or skirt or dress is a statement of purpose. Not just who I am, but also who I want to be and what I want the world to see in me. We think of style — of outrageous style, of complicated style – as courageous. You must believe in yourself so deeply to be able to wear that shirt, those pants, that dress. But I wear those things and I visit a therapist once a week. This is my reality. I am playing at confidence at times, approaching self-esteem as performative. But from the performative, I can build an alternative reality, one that strengthens rather than destroys.

Clothing and style can function as a little pleasure, an everyday pleasure, and a way to appreciate beauty when it feels like there is not much of any in the world. I noticed - I notice - my affinity for things that sparkle and shimmer and glitter. I wear them day and night, but I wear them especially when it is cold outside, when I am feeling down, when I need something to feel good about, if for even a moment. The sequins and beads and sparkle are something nice to look at, but also personally defining. The sparkle is who I am, and if not who I am, then what I want to do and be.

IV

I collect these items to be surrounded by tangible manifestations of beauty and perfection. In the beginning, I saw Marion once a week. I didn’t realize I needed her as much as I did until I was unable to get out of bed one Tuesday morning. I went to work the day before, but I could not remember what I did or how I spent my time there. I used to walk home and the walk was long not because of the distance, but because the blankness of my mind made the measure of time an impossibility. I went to work the day before, but that morning my limbs were heavier than ever. My mind was heavier than ever. My heart, the heaviest. It was just weeks before at my friend’s party, just weeks before when the first blouse was purchased. The next day was unseasonably warm and I walked around my neighborhood with an eye toward the gleaming.

On the rack of a local boutique was a deep blue, sequined and beaded blouse, fluttering and designed to look like a butterfly. I spent the past two years eyeing these blouses suspiciously at local vintage markets. This was a different level of sparkle, one that requested confidence in its owner. The blouses are heavy. They are not to be worn. Rather, the blouse wears you. Long, thick arms and broad shoulders only showcase. The body is hanger.

“I love this. Don’t you?” a salesgirl asked. “No one purchases these, but they’re so beautiful.”

I looked her square in the eye. “Do you have anymore?” I asked.

A day later, I went to Smart Bar with two friends and someone tapped me on the shoulder as I tried to lose my sense of place on the dance floor. The beauty of the dance floor is the beauty of dance music in general. It is why dance music increases in popularity. It allows for an escape and provides a visceral reaction to the music. It takes possession again and again. It delivers you to another place and then you come down, and there is a chance, however small, that what was just felt can linger long after.

I turned around and it was the salesgirl from the day before. She gave me a hug, eagerly. I could not process her reaction.

“I’m glad you got this,” she said.

“So am I,” I responded.

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 the hooks. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.

"How Can U Luv Me" - Unknown Mortal Orchestra (mp3)

"Ruin" - Cat Power (mp3)

Friday
Jun082012

In Which We Are Completely Surrounded By Others

The New York Review of Hooks Vol. 3

Because I am not a musician, I can pretend that musicians create music to fulfill the desires and wants of their listeners. It is a self-centered line of thought. Because of this, I imagine the winters in atmospheric, haunting, post-dubstep. I never have and never will listen to Burial in any other time than late fall. Emotionally, it makes little sense in the summer. Burial’s music is often described as the soundtrack to personal commuting, to urban life, to the individual in a world surrounded by - endlessly, constantly - others.

“Signal Loss” - Pariah (mp3)

"Rift" - Pariah (mp3)

I downloaded Pariah’s beautiful new single, “Signal Loss,” but have only been able to listen to it once or twice. This is not the right time for this kind of single, imbued with the heavy, daunting atmosphere of seasons past. It works, but I wish I had heard it in February, when this slightly uncomfortable, yet still gorgeous style of music couples well with the winter.

"This Can't Be A Crime" - Cocaine 80s (mp3)

The freedom of summer can never be underestimated. Summer is literally more daylight, more sun, more warmth, more comfort. Many of the songs on Cocaine 80s’ new EP, Express OG, create this feeling of comfort and familiarity. The more acoustic tracks like “Take My Keys” and the gorgeous “This Can’t Be a Crime,” fall delicately in listeners’ ears. Later songs on the EP are good, but overproduced in a way that stands out considerably from previously mentioned tracks. A light touch is all that is needed right now.

Summer forgives  all of the troubles that rest heavy in our minds all winter as we hibernate under the covers, in front of the heaters, beneath layers and layers. But summer is also the chance to see more, to hear more. People walk down the streets lazily. They have someplace to go, but not really. And surrounded by the noise of summer, music that compliments our depressed moods only complicates and confuses.

The songs that work best for right now – for the beginnings of summer – are the ones you can sing along to, at the top of your lungs, without worry or annoyance. And so, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” most certainly the best pop song written within the past year and quite possibly one of the best ever, seems appropriate.

“Call Me Maybe” never sounded cheesy to me. But my first instinct was to think of it as a song for people younger than me. I assumed that something so sweet and light and lovely could only have been sung by someone much younger, and only appreciated, truly, by young girls.

The song grew on me. And eventually I realized why it works so well for so many people: it is a perfect pop song. The idea of a perfect pop song usually encompasses one or two core ideas: an instantly-memorable chorus, simple lyrics, and love. “Call Me Maybe” accomplishes this and then some. The synthetic strings are contemporary, invoking the Balearic pop and disco of Swedish band Studio that made past summers so much lovelier. The lyrics, while simple, are smart and relatable.

On playlists, the song couples well with the perfect and timeless “Steal My Sunshine” by Len. Jepsen’s newer releases indicate a strong likelihood that “Call Me Maybe” might become a one-hit wonder, something that seems to have disappeared from Top 40 radio. A lack of artistry for many mainstream singers means that the radio hit, the instantly-purchasable single needs to be replicated again and again. This explains Rihanna’s career of the past two years.

"Manners" - Icona Pop (mp3)

"I Love It" - Icona Pop (mp3)

"The World Is Ours" - CatCall (mp3)

I felt that CatCall’s “The World is Ours” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” were both fun upon first listening, but it wasn’t until the third or fourth spin when I realized that I had memorized nearly all of the lyrics and was hopelessly in love with their shouty, youthful, anthemic-brand of pop. Both songs have off-melodies. They sound incomplete, as if the resolution of the chorus is yet to come. But their aversion to a routine pop structure in the music gives them a bit of edge. The songs are just different enough.

"Neptune" - Lemonade (mp3)

Diver, the new album by Lemonade, is everything I ever wanted in the last Yeasayer or Cut Copy album: an attention to detail and melody, brief yet perfect instances of danceable fun, and a cohesive sound that is not just a collection of songs. This has been a constant problem borne out of the way we listen to music. Songs are to be consumed, one right after the other, without the clear direction of musical saturation. I often purchase one album in exchange for 30 individual singles. And each song has its own value, but as a whole, it only stands as "My Music Collection," and not as an album or a definitive statement.

Diver just works, and the way it works can best be understood by listening to the album. The charms though, are numerous: the sweet, almost youthful crooning of lead singer Callan Clendenin; the instrumentation that channels dance pop, straight house, and even r&b; and the relatable lyrics of youth, yearning, change, and confusion.

“Running” - Jessie Ware (Disclosure remix) (mp3)

Disclosure succeeds in ways in which their contemporaries have yet to accomplish. Their music is sample heavy, driven, and charismatic. But also, each song feels complete. A remix of Jessie Ware’s “Running” is the best argument for their skills. Ware - an enigmatic vocalist in her own right - was transformed into the House Goddess we all knew she could be. Her cooing intonation made impressions on danceable tracks from producers and performers such as SBTRKT, but it was not until Disclosure’s remix that the indelible power of her voice was confirmed.

Most everything from Disclosure’s new EP, The Face, was released earlier online. But together, it makes for a perfect package of smart, well-executed house and dance music. The incorporation of female vocalists (on “Boiling” with Sinead Harnett and “Control” with Ria Ritchie) was probably one of the best decisions they could have made, though their flawless taste indicates a level of intelligence toward their music that is far beyond their contemporaries.

"Harlem Shake" - Baauer (mp3)

We turn to dance music during times of confusion and upheaval. Perhaps we turn to dance music because a truly great dance song compacts euphoria in a only a few minutes. When necessary, we can turn back to what we heard before to relive the way it made us feel. Disclosure understands this as does Baauer.

I wouldn’t call “Harlem Shake” gritty. In fact, it seems to fill a certain formula. Everything sounds clean and well-executed. Despite its execution, something still sounds reckless. Or maybe, it easily summons past memories: late nights, sweat, dirt … a kind of beautiful filthiness one feels on the dance floor.

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, and the second volume here. She tumbls here and twitters here.


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