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Entries in brittany julious (22)

Thursday
Apr262012

In Which We Think Of A Reason For Our Trip

photo by xaviera simmons

Ripped Bodice

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

I used to work on the block where a man tried to force me into his car. This was not the first time.

The Rhona Hoffman Gallery, the reason for my trip, is located on a block of Peoria Avenue, off the expansive Randolph Street, and filled with other galleries and artist spaces. On certain Friday evenings, the block is bustling and busy with young people leaning against old meatpacking and industrial buildings smoking cigarettes and tying their shoelaces just so. I never fit in around here, even when I worked on this very block, day after day, during the fall after my college graduation. I never fit in around here, even when I visited two friends, former store owners, now embarking on the next chapter of their lives together outside of the city.

I think about this block because it represents different facets of my changing life and the way I see the world. That fall after college, it was a space of learning and responsibility. I hoped my job would lead someplace else. I hoped I had found a sense of place and purpose.

It was also a space of trouble, of quiet evenings and brisk temperatures. For a while, my greatest memory of that block was not the galleries and stores, but the way my neck hurt again and again while walking against the fierceness of the wind. It is a beautiful block, but like many corners of Chicago, it makes more sense during the day. At night, one realizes how long the blocks are, how wide the sidewalks are, how the only thing one passes by are more buildings and more pieces of trash, but not more people.

+

I began reading first romance, then erotic novels during my senior year of college. My interest stemmed from a love of fan fiction and a desire to both write and read beyond the characters I saw on the screen. I've noticed with my friends who appreciate either romance or fan fiction, a love of films and movies. There is the underlying devotion to storytelling and later, the ability to build on what was there. We can always keep going.

I like that the men represent a validation of my fantasies and my fantasies are not merely of the physical, but also of the potential for triumph, for personal redemption, for overcoming the things about ourselves — whether articulated and open or deeply stored within — that often delay the lives we want and the people we want to be. I think of myself as a woman coming back to her optimism. It was lost for a number of reasons in a number of different ways, but a part of me seeks out an interaction with the world that makes risks possible and chances worth taking. What I fear rests in me is a deeply-ingrained thought practice that ultimately makes living and loving seem like things other people do.

The black heroines in many of the novels I read are not traditionally beautiful, but they are interesting. They struggle and weep alone; keep their heads up and minds focused in private. They do a lot and feel a lot and often find peace through extraordinary circumstances that are more difficult than their lives pushing toward financial success and the desire to overcome a challenging society, a prejudiced society, an unforgiving society.

The ways in which I can overcome the world at large are through myself. I can not depend on outcomes of others, but must instead push myself to work harder, to think more, to pursue more. And in my favorite novels, the heroines must overcome the limitations of affection by challenging their willingness to love and trust.

+

The older I get, the more aware I am of how I lack a true understanding of normal. To me, normal is pure and right and exact. There is a real idea of normal love, of normal relationships, of normal intimacy. And even though a rational part of me knows that there is no way that a unique, individualistic, surprising world could produce a tried-and-true normal, I still hold on to the idea that there is a “right” way, and I am not doing it.

A friend once asked me what it was like to date as a black woman. She was asking not as a point of othering, but because I told her that “things are different.” We were discussing our parents’ relationships and how rare and strange it was that they are still together. This idea of marriage, of happiness, seems more like an exception to the rule of confusion, pain and regret.

Two years ago, a group of black teenage girls sat across from me on the 66 bus. An older black man, much older, at least in his 50s, began hitting on them, blatantly and disgustingly and physically. They were obviously turned off, because he was crass and because they were young, and this man thought that he could say and do anything he wanted to because these young women tickled his fancy. One girl, agitated, yelled, “I don’t care. Leave me alone! Leave us alone!”

It could have only been the culmination of years of frustration and annoyance because I too felt that anger and grief. This was not a random occurrence for them. This was the everyday, the day-to-day, the moment they stepped outside until the moment they locked their door.

There are slight come-ons, cheesy pick-up lines, catcalls which in hindsight are child’s play, and then there is harassment — physical and verbal — much like these teenage girls on the bus suffered, and what I’ve faced numerous times in the past. Harassment is different, and terrifying, and traumatizing. But once you’ve faced it, in all forms, whether it is a man calling you “A stupid stuck-up bitch” or another grabbing you off the street, a block away from your own home, attempting to rape you before you’ve even gotten your first period, you learn to toughen up, to always be aware, to call out the aggressors from the get go in the hopes that this time won’t turn dire. It’s not about hate but about safety and street smarts. As a black woman, unfortunately, I believe it’s something we become accustomed to at a young age.

It shapes the way you look at life and the way you encounter the people around you. If you are like me, it stifles your freedom, creating an existence of confusion. What does it mean to be loved? What does it mean to be happy?

I still think of the moment when everything changes, when that loss of youth shapes one’s days from here on out. It is that critical age of post-innocence, yet pre-adolescence. In my head, the other girls were able to still feel somewhat young and somewhat free, but I remember knowing more than I should, and feeling angry about it at 12 years old. Even now, I yearn for my age, meaning, the ability to be young and feel young and have that be enough. A co-worker said, “What do you have to stress over?” And I thought, most everything. It’s the same as it ever was.

+

Last Thanksgiving, we sat around my aunt's great big television — the place of common gathering for my family — and my grandmother tried to run her weak hands through my thick hair. She couldn't get far. She made a comment about it being unkempt and unright.

A friend shared a conversation she had with a mutual editor and they discussed not my fear of the body, but my fear of the expectations of the body. I am fearful that I lack ownership, fearful that my personality is not good enough or pleasant enough or funny enough to warrant love. If I only have the physical than these interactions must be representative of something inherent in me, something others see but I am unable to recognize or know. There is the me I know and the 'real' me, the me everyone else sees. That distance makes me uneasy.

At the holiday dinner, I tried to talk to my family. We’ve spoken before, held conversations and shared jokes, but the older I get, the more I recognized the full formation of my internal self. The older I get, the more I recognize my dual selves, the one that thinks and sees and feels so much that emotions manifest in stomach pains or stiff joints, and the one the world sees.

“I just don’t like it when people make comments about my appearance. I don’t like being touched without knowing,” I said. But what I actually meant was, I don’t like knowing that there’s something wrong with me, that it is visible, that what I sometimes feel and think deep down can be confirmed through appearances.

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 month in music. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Photos by Xaviera Simmons.

photo by xaviera simmons

"Ruby Blue" - Róisín Murphy (mp3)

"Sow Into You" - Róisín Murphy (mp3)

photo by xaviera simmons

Thursday
Apr052012

In Which We Return To The Land Of Sweet Hooks

Vol #2

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

The haunting qualities of any good song transcend genre. The way we listen to music now requires the sort of voracious appetite - a never ending sense of hunger for music - that makes us always search for something new. There are blogs I do not visit and songs I do not listen to, but so much of it is heard on iPods and laptops, in house parties and basement bars that music has become the noise of my day-to-day. The hum of my refrigerator in my small apartment, the screeching of the cars that race quickly down Chicago Avenue, the grunts of the men who play basketball at a nearby park … these are the sounds that infiltrate the constancy of a new album, remix or mixtape.

But certain songs stay put. They resonate long after I first listen to them. Although their appeal eventually wanes, the next band or album or song I discover has touches of them, allowing me to revisit what felt so powerful for minutes, hours, or even days.

"Into the Black" - Chromatics (mp3)

“Into the Black," from the Chromatics’ first new album in forever, Kill for Love, is one of the most startling songs you’ll hear all year. It is not outrageous or flashy, but the first few notes from the ominous guitar riff that settles throughout the song reminds the listener of their tremendous power. Like any great work from the band, it establishes the mood of the rest of the album. In this case, one should expect sorrow, mourning and the perfect soundtrack to late nights.

"Jasmine" - Jai Paul (mp3)

"BTSTU" - Jai Paul (mp3)

My greatest fear for new music from Jai Paul was to step away from my desk only to come back later in the day and realize that he had finally - finally! - released new music. And this happened. I missed the demo release by about half an hour. This amount of time seems minimal taking into account Paul's contemporary classic "BTSTU" was first released in 2010. Audiences haven't heard much since. After waiting this long, we can wait a while longer.

“BTSTU” was and is enigmatic, but also damn catchy. It’s not just a good song, but a good pop song. It deserves a larger audience. Perhaps a great pop song is another example of the way music haunts. A good pop song, both infectious and relentless, demands respect. Only a few people can accomplish something so pleasing and melodic to the ear. And “BTSTU,” years later, hits that mark every time.

Paul's music requires patience; you have to savor it continually, given the frequency at which it is released. Unlike a large majority of the music I listen to, I've been coming back to "Jasmine," Paul’s newest single. Much like “BTSTU,” it includes all of the makings of a perfect pop song: a nice beat, a memorable chorus, an even more memorable voice. But Paul’s music differs from the norm, asking the listener to unravel the layers that hide the value of his work. Once past the immediate appeal, its other stories - the hand claps, the grainy quality, the thumping bass - also deserve to be told.

"Joy" - Julian (mp3)

"Lust Spell" - Julian (mp3)

Ostensibly Julian has a better voice than Jai Paul. Whereas Paul often performs in a quiet falsetto, Julian’s voice sounds stronger and more forceful. But it is less compelling, and coupled with the production of such songs as “Joy,” it takes away from an otherwise solid single. The first few seconds sound like the beginning of a smooth, contemporary house track, but Julian keeps his sound in the vein of contemporaries like Drake and The Weeknd. This is not meant to sound like an insult.

When I listen to another early single, “Lust Spell,” I am reminded of the emerging r&b singers of my 90s youth: young, bright-eyed, and usually singing about experiences that seem more foreign to the singer than what is presented. Something about his range and intonation feels very much like a recent past, and the sound can be jarring when coupled with the contemporary, often bleak and minimalist sounds of the production.

"Leila's Tale" - Szjerdene (mp3)

Szjerdene understands restraint. Many of the emerging or underground male r&b vocalists understand production, but their vocals are second to the music. I first heard Szjerdene’s “Leila’s Tale” late last year. Like a lot of instant classics, it required repeated listening. Oftentimes I got dressed in the mornings or read late into the night with the song on repeat. Szjerdene couples her voice with the instrumentation. She listens to and sings with music, rather than against or above it. A guitar strum is the second vocalist, the other “singer” that complements her song. Like “Leila’s Tale,” new single “Blue Lullaby” has a deeply felt quality that hovers somewhere between disquieting and lovely. But as the listener takes in the steady and driven beat, they are immersed completely in the force of the song. That’s another quality of the haunting: it grips you completely and won’t let go.

"DDD" - Machinedrum (mp3)

"She Died There" - Machinedrum (mp3)

Machinedrum is prolific. I don’t say this lightly. Producer Travis Stewart is skilled at what he does and each new release, regardless of what genre he manipulates or elevates, fits his signature. Throughout many of his best releases (Room(s), SXLND), he incorporates a use of vocal samples that sound, if not lively, then at least lovely. “She Died There,” from Room(s) and “Give a Lil Luv,” from Dream Continuum (a collaboration between Machinedrum and Om Unit) elicit a strange beauty. The songs are neither quiet nor slow, but their use of vocals are startlingly compressing. They root the listener and sound on the cusp of something greater.

Trying to write articulately about what makes so much of Machinedrum’s music so great proves difficult. I was so excited and scared the first time I heard Room(s). It had been a long time since dance music felt so powerful. I asked my friend about it the next day and he said he had deleted many of the songs from his computer. They weren’t instantly compelling to him. Some music takes patience. Certain albums need to settle before revealing their charms. But Room(s) never failed for me upon first listen. It felt and still feels smarter than most anything I heard last year. The way that we listen to music now is often similar to how (I think) some musicians make music. A lack of focus, of a definitive statement stands out. But Room(s) is ambitious. Setting itself apart, it still doesn’t neglect its audience. How could it when it sounds so forceful, so elegant?

“DDD,” from the SXLND EP is unabashedly house, invoking the spirit of the early 90s in its subtle, rapturous groove. Unlike the majority of his most recent work, which blend elements of footwork and jungle, “DDD” has a steady 4/4 beat - a rhythmic pulse that is sexy and fun. It might be my favorite song of Stewart's, and although I know his work is often a testament to the styles and aesthetics he enjoys and experiments with, a part of me craves more music that felt like the first and second and third time I listened to “DDD.”

"Push the Feeling On" - Nightcrawlers (mp3)

Nightcrawlers are an established element of a good night out. “Push the Feeling On” is a song for the moment before the moment the night winds down. It is the final go, that last turn around the bend. You are then most in the element of the room: the strangers around you, bodies pressed close together, the thumping of the bass. I could listen to this song forever and not get bored if only because of the memories of it in public with my friends or alone, but always dancing.

"Crazy-Shaped Lady" - Le Le (mp3)

Although Le Le recently released Party Time, the album sounds retro. By retro, I mean that late-aughts period of French electro house that sounded so exciting as a college student. There was always an element of “the party,” of good times and drinks and dancing. The lyrics are inconsequential to the music, which sounds just right anywhere but on your laptop speakers. Songs like “Damien” and “Crazy-Shaped Lady” (or the new club classic from an earlier release,“Breakfast”) are fantastic because they require little to be enjoyed. It’s a level of fun that permeates through the song, and for Party Time, throughout the album.

"Chicago" - Fred Falke ft. Teff Balmert (mp3)

A week or two ago, my friend and I left a work party and attended a DJ set by French producer Fred Falke at Smart Bar. Falke gets the dance floor. He understands the importance of the moment, and making it last. The feeling doesn’t need to be the same, but it should always be a good feeling, a pleasant moment, an eager moment. To lose that feeling is to no longer know your place and why you're there and how to feel good.

It takes root and won’t let go. Being surrounded by strangers can be both exciting and terrifying. Being surrounded by friends and acquaintances can feel surreal. It is the disruption of place. You’ve been taken away from the music and brought back to your thoughts. Most of the time, you don’t want to go back there.

Falke played “Chicago,” his re-working of the Roy Ayers song and yes, it was a little ripe for the city and the setting, but sometimes a good song is a good song. Falke recognized this in the original and recognized this in the moment of the dance floor. “Chicago,” with its vinyl-sounding quality and smooth disco beat, fit the bill nicely. And weeks later, I still can’t stop thinking about how great it was to hear it again. It was a reminder of something good and now that it’s here, I don’t want it to go away.

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.


Monday
Mar122012

In Which We Revisit The Notion Of Music In Time

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. 

photo by Zainab Adamu "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.    

photo by jason nocito

"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.

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