Tuesday, 18 December 2012

10 Moments of 2012

Over at Dummy there's an article from me elaborating on ten significant musical moments from the last year (click here). Feat. Evian Christ, Die Antwoord, Arca, Philip Glass, Willis Earl Beal, Clams Casino, Fay, How to Dress Well and Mykki Blanco. Despite the title and some of the tweets, I wasn't intending that there would be anything definitive or superlative about these moments - if anything they're the sort of moments that might not have been covered in other, more conventional end-of-year lists.

Naturally it was a very cold time of year, and ripped off YouTube, fridge, crank, gun, fuck it none of y’all don’t rap and MYD (released later) felt like they embodied the spindly trees, the nip in the air and the exhalation of small clouds. Their hi-hats shivered periodically across a four-bar phrase, several months before less subtly employed ‘trap’ hi-hats became a cliché. It becomes easier to perceive the back and forth of Evian Christ’s wholly contrasting timbral and rhythmic units if you count along with the beat, 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4, 3 2 3 4, 4 2 3 4, you begin to see how well the tracks are put together, and how the mood shifts between the winding up of the rhythm and the gestural, rising and falling sadness of the harmonies.
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Both solo sections, one by Yo-Landi and one by Ninja, offered fantastic schooling in rapping to a high-speed groove, the dexterity of their prickly accents making you forget to breathe. Yo-Landi’s high voice lilts over a trance rhythm as she narrows and flares her eyes for the camera. Later, after Yo-Landi removes a cockroach from a fry-up, Ninja begins to spit over a steadily accelerating beat. The effect is so exhilarating you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.
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If you’d have asked me back in 2009 what kind of music I hoped would be getting produced in 2012, I think I would have hoped for something pretty similar to Arca’s sound. I say this because his style is not unlike that of the psychedelic, so-called ‘wonky’ beat-makers that were beginning to flourish around that time, those who took J-Dilla’s sound and made it sloppier and stranger. Arca’s thing is stranger still, like a Caribbean Reef Octopus coming at you squirting LSD and occasionally rapping in a menacing way out of a small, beak-like orifice on its underside.
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The opera was filled with fascinating and disturbing tableau – painstakingly slow trains, buses and spaceships, an enormous rising bed, a child judge presiding over a huge, grey courtroom, and an exchange of nuclear missiles complete with a control-room of frantic military personal and a striding Death-like figure in black. These last two images are what haunts E=mc2 and its opening of the door to nuclear power. But another, more basic nod to Einstein could be felt in the opera’s mind-boggling bending of time and space.
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Dressed like an electric-rhythm-and-blues hipster dustman in South Dakota circa 1958, hidden behind those wayfarers, Beal threw himself a capella down the microphone clenched in his gloved fist, elbow jutting in the air, crouching down slowly, face and arms beginning to glisten with sweat.
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Casino’s vocal elements melt completely into the mix, and are used for their envelopes, consonant sounds and overtone structures rather than anything as quaint as words or melodies. Likewise, instead of cymbals, Casino just uses a gentle, continuous and fading hissing sound to mark out the groove, and the faintest of metallic sounds, acoustically buried at the back of the mix. Then he lacquers the whole thing with a phaser or flange effect, thus putting it all behind class, or making it into the hull of some sleek vehicle of the future.
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Every element is placed by hand, just so, and Fay either suspends you over the potential for grooves in a state of rhythmic tension or she drops you into them with relish. Amazingly, though the sound-world is coherently to hand, nothing is predictable.
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If Rodriguez “isn’t as good as Dylan” as one reviewer suggested, how did he become so successful in South Africa? Were they all mistaken? Perhaps it is Dylan who is not as good as Rodriguez, and we are so aware of the cultural value projected onto Dylan, and his particular methods, that we find it difficult to see it.
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[Tom Krell] was there, way above middle C, flinching as he looked upwards with his eyes closed, not only during the songs, but in an a capella encore that was both saturated with suspense and silently participated in by an audience now brimming with the utmost warmth and understanding.
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Much attention has been paid to issues of gender and sexuality among the small crowd of new rappers to have emerged over the past couple of years (Azealia Banks, Lil B, A$AP Rocky, Le1f, Zebra Katz and Blanco) and very rightly so, but I haven’t seen much about quite how radical some of the sounds they’re spitting over are – which, indeed, is not an entirely differentiable matter. Not only does Blanco have the flow, energy and creativity (as well as the subtlety of delivery) to compete with the best, her beats and electronics come from a different planet.

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