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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 (24)

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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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)