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Entries in brittany julious (23)

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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Tuesday
Feb142012

In Which We View The Lady From Afar

Cover Art

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Last year, I browsed a small record collection at a vintage store. In the bins I found early Grace Jones singles and Nu Shooz albums, but she was nowhere to be found. "Do you have any Whitney Houston?" I asked. I had been thinking about her more than normal. It is only lately that I can begin to break down the people, places, and moments that shaped my existence. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia shapes my actions. I am discovering what I’ve always known, but never appreciated. Houston fit in nicely.

I went home disappointed. Later I pulled up her album covers.

On one, Houston is front and center. Her hair is pulled back from her face and she wears a Grecian gown. It is her self-titled debut, and atop the photograph of Houston are the words “WHITNEY HOUSTON” written in a straight-forward and conservative typeface. The cover art suggests a maturity far beyond her 22 years. However, songs on her LP such as “Saving All My Love For You” and “Greatest Love of All” correlate more closely to the image on the album. This is a voice that is front and center, a voice that demands the seriousness of its power.

The one anomaly of this time period is the single “How Will I Know.” The song is both a clear departure that first garnered attention for Houston and a necessary step to gain a newly-powerful audience: fans of MTV. Whereas her earlier cover art was muted in shades of blue, white, and black, “How Will I Know,” is an eager grab for the teen set. “How Will I Know” was released prior to “Greatest Love of All,” a true-to-form Houston ballad. The release of the latter single was a pointed reminder that despite wanting to branch out to other “markets,” what truly set Houston apart was the power to silence thousands with one note.

Whitney Houston is average. I say this not as an insult, but as an observation of her earlier appearance and demeanor. She was not overtly sexual or crass. She existed beyond what it meant (and means) to be a black woman making music. She had an image that was never transient. When I look at old photographs of her now, I am reminded of the black women I see on the streets, the ones who exhibit the sort of vulnerability and curiosity that is typically ignored. Houston was never an “angry black woman.” She was brokenhearted and troubled and hopeful. This much was apparent.

The apartment my family lived in when we first moved to the suburb of Oak Park was small, with low ceilings and a tiny bathroom that could barely fit more than one person at a time. But it was also well lived-in and even now, eighteen years later, I can clearly picture the space. I remember early evenings and my mother fixing dinner on the stove. She listened to Houston’s music. It was never a big deal, but merely what she did after a hard day at work. Whitney was routine and day-to-day. She was always there.

Like a lot of people, I began listening to Whitney’s music again last Saturday evening, focusing on her earlier albums. These, to me, stood out the most. Once “I Will Always Love You” had its moment, it was the music from her earlier LPs that radio stations continued to play. This was the music that I grew up with, the music that ultimately shaped me into the woman I am today. It was the music of my middle class black life.

Fully immersing in early Whitney for a lot of young women like myself began and ended in long car rides. Like the soothing comfort of quiet storm, songs like “Saving All My Love for You” were the soundtrack for the here and there. I can’t recall where we were going, but I can remember the cool breeze blowing in from a cracked window, the light golden glare from street lamps, and the radio as “I’m Your Baby Tonight” played again and again.

For a brief period of time, Houston represented stability. Her music was comfort food. It always sounded nice. If the time was right, if the speakers were loud enough, we would know those songs from beginning to end. The music only settled somewhere skin deep. She was always there for us with little fanfare. But when we pulled her out or when she graced our speakers, we paid attention. This was my informal education. My parents did not need to introduce me. To have a car, to have a long commute, to have parents of a certain age meant her music was constant and normal. This is who we listened to. It’s just what we did. It's just who we were.

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.

"Secret Message" - Nu Shooz (mp3)

"Goin' Thru the Motions" - Nu Shooz (mp3)

"You Put Me In A Trance" - Nu Shooz (mp3)

Thursday
Jan262012

In Which We Are The First To Leave The Party

Last Dance

by BRITTANY JULIOUS

Party Girl
dir. Daisy von Scherler Mayer
94 min.

The most iconic Party Girl moment for me is Mary's walk of pride post-jail. Things happen to her. Life is something that happens around her parties, outfits, and friendships. A night in jail is just another event in a long line of events, but it can't define her. She is too much her own girl for that.

I say girl instead of woman, as Party Girl is a film about an emotional late bloomer's transition into adulthood. Mary (Parker Posey) may scrape by on rent parties to keep her spacious Chinatown loft or parade around the East Village in Chanel, but she is no more grown in her actions and choices than any other member of the underground party scene that frames the narrative.

I first watched Party Girl in college during my film boom dedicated to post-collegiate happenings. Paranoid about a future that increasingly appeared bleak and rife with stress, I took to films featuring "hip, young things" or just "young things" as a way to seek solace and comfort before the party of sporadic classes and little responsibility ended.

With its charming outfits, spastic supporting characters, and rampant early-90s Manhattan romanticism, Party Girl was a personal favorite. In particular, Parker Posey's talents – the way she needs only a facial expression or two to dominate and escalate the comedy of any given scene, her voice that is simultaneously Valley Girl and know-it-all pretentious – created a lasting impression. Watching it again recently further cemented the film as a modern, independent classic for the girls and women who view "a good time" as a translatable goal from work to play.

For the casual viewer, Mary's transformation from Downtown It Girl to library student is a radical one. But director Daisy von Scherler Mayer subtly hints at the necessary skills of a librarian that Mary possesses throughout the film. She is able to get along – or at least communicate effectively – with different types of people. She has a general curiosity for the world around her and approaches each person she meets with an eagerness to help, or just bring them into her fold. And her closet – organized in a methodical system that only she truly understands – speaks to the Dewey Decimal System, a source of anxiety followed by pleasure for the heroine.

Mary ditches a date with young, dreamy falafel seller Mustafa to learn the Dewey Decimal System, all the while transforming the space into a party-like space of her own. She dances atop the table in her shorts and combat boots. She gets things done (“things” being a knowledge of a system she had been unfamiliar with upon taking the job at the library) while still maintaining a connection to her old self and her true self.

Later, Mary organizes temporary roommate Leo’s record collection based on this same system she spent a long evening trying to understand. Mary honestly described the evening as, “The wildest night of my life.” Understanding the system was further solidification of the connection between her burgeoning interests and her love for organizing the people, places, and things that are a part of her life.

Leo (Guillermo Díaz) is visibly upset by the order that disrupted his chaos of more than 1,000 singles and LP’s, but Mary remains unfazed by the potential problems in her unwarranted organizing project. For Leo, it is a challenge to his lack of a system and the potential catalyst for losing a paid gig as a DJ. For Mary, it is a way to more effectively provide the world to Leo. Like telling Leo earlier about Rene, the owner of the bar that Leo is auditioning at as a DJ, organizing his set of records is a means of helping a friend and bringing him more closely into her fold.

This method doesn’t always prove to be beneficial. A party thrown at the end of the second act turns disastrous for Mary who no longer has her library clerk job. Unlike her work in organizing Leo’s record collection, Mary’s party is another task to make rent. Inviting friends to DJ or Mustafa to sell his food is less a method of helping a friend succeed and more a means of making things better for herself. At 24, Mary’s growing sense of purpose feels familiar, but it is her quick emotional descent once that newly-found career path is taken from her that is disturbing in its truth.

Thus far in this decade of personal development, I have realized people are unhappy or dissatisfied, that it is not just an internal frustration, but also a universal, generational worry. I’ve also realized that people have many goals and aspirations, and the older they get, the more hesitant they are to admit them. Goals begin to feel like things that young people do and accomplish, and now one’s goals should be simpler: fall in love, get married, have children, live in comfort. I remember how my friends talked about what they wanted to do, but now they talk more about what things have been done to them. There is a loss of control. Career goals are still exciting, but the ability to hold on to them as reality loudly asserts the difficulties of The Way We Live Now, can crush even the most starry-eyed party girls.

Mary eventually triumphs as friends and coworkers believe in her and it is this moment that makes the film so memorable. As a viewer, I come back to Party Girl for the fashion, the dialogue, but also the "happy ending." There is a comfort in seeing one’s life not end in a similar way to how it began: confused, jumbled, and floundering.

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

"Peter Piper" - Run DMC (mp3)

"Mama Told Me Not To Come" - The Wolfgang Press (mp3)

"Burning (Vibe mix)" - MK (mp3)