Alec Rojas is afraid to sleep. With a law degree and a philosophy degree, he works in law during the day and writes by night. You can find him DJing in downtown LA or on top of a California mountain, probably talking about Hegelian Aesthetic philosophy as applied to the Snoop Lion record.
Contemporary music is often a marriage, or civil partnership if you will, of words and music. And, much like relationships, we expect things to go a certain way for it to be good. It’s not far fetched to assume that the contemporary listener has been trained to hear melodies work on top of chord structures and precussion. I can’t think of much modern popular music not hinging on 4/4 time (just try imagining electronic music outside of 4/4, really), drums, and the-same-old-chord progressions. Escaping convention takes more than just an active search, it needs willingness to jump in the deep end.
Inara George’s 2008 release, An Invitation, really is that: an invitation into a baroque pop world of Inara’s soothing voice and the orchestral arrangements of music legend Van Dyke Parks. To make an esoteric yet ideal reference, I compare it to a late-season Darjeeling: a strong flavor lusted by some yet unknown by many. Inara sings poetry instead of lyrics, gently crooning about a relationship between a man and woman from both perspectives. “Now I am the man / a grain of sand / I beg your time, I really want it. I can break my heart / before we start,” she sings. The arrangements of strings and winds flitter like the hearts in the song, unable to settle on one theme, complementing and counterpointing every word. As personal as the song is, the relationship of chanteuse and conductor is apparent and easy to hear, a real duet.
Contrary to popular belief, not EVERYTHING is new in Los Angeles. Soul Cal: Funky Disco & Modern Soul, 1971-1982 is a perfect example of that. After ten years of anxious, dear-god-Egon-when-will-this-come-out nailbiting, Los Angeles based Now Again Records releases THE seminal collection of the bands that pioneered the ground between funk and disco. ‘You Can be A Star!”, the lead single from the compilation, is a perfect example of that transition of American popular music. Rhythmically structured in the funk but rolling in the melodic and instrumental bliss of disco, the song’s guitar solo is a perfect example of the bliss one feels when they play what they love.
Now Again is one of my favorite labels of all time. They don’t just appreciate the music – they care about the era, the feeling, the aesthetic and art that came with it. This compilation… well… This is no-joke. It’s a beautiful product that label manager Eothen put his heart and soul into. The double LP is accompanied by an 80 page book with rare photos of the musicians and their songs. Utilizing the licenses, master tapes, and the stories of the musicians themselves, Soul Cal is a completely analog audio/visual experience from a forgotten age. So put the needle on the record and open the book – this stuff is deep.
Hip hop seems to be hell bent on making left hand turns. I think it is at its most comfortable when it goes in an unexpected direction. Sometimes it’s hard to believe in ’93 Doggystyle, 36 Chambers, Midnight Marauders, and Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) were dropped. Why would 2012 be any different?
Months ago we talked about Nacho Picasso, the Seattle rapper with a penchant for comic books cartoons, and clever wordplay. His production crew, Blue Sky Black Death, has been dropping records of experimental hip-hop-strumentals for years with marked precision. The 2011 record Noir was a vibrant, mood setting record of star-gazing abstraction and hip hop beats. ‘Sleeping Children Are Still Flying’ seems to encapulse this variety of sound. A chorus drenched bluesy guitar line plays over upbeat drums, synths pop and rumble away under the samples. The pops and snaps reveal the ambition of the modern producer, unafraid to stretch sound and time, just to make a great song. The record is filled with them.
The world of “electronic” music is filled with unknowns. I love it. The great thing about today, and the future of the music industry, is that complete anonymity can be assured more so than ever. Come up with an alias, say you are from somewhere, and just put out whatever you made on your laptop or tablet. It’s that easy. John Talabot isn’t even John Talabot’s real name and all I know is he is from Spain. He could be Catalan or a Madrileño or both – this record was recorded in both places. With a thumping, fat bass line, it moves from uplifting to forced intensity, culminating into a can’t-not-move-to-that-shit-breakdown.
But the best part? It’s just another track off of ƒin, Talabot’s inescapable release in 2012.
It’s tough to be a stranger to Gotye. The Bruges born multi-instrumentalist has had a worldwide hit with Somebody I Used To Know. This is partially due to the meticulous, focused video by Natasha Pincus and Co. Gotye sings about making her “someone he used to know” while he gets painted; Kimbra strips of paint while singing and screaming in his face. And even after singing it in his face, he says the same things… cause that’s all he’s got.
The song amalgamates the freakish, post-empire pop of the past three years. The music is unafraid to be itself as it is arranged, sequenced, and contorted. It owes as much to Jon Brion as it does Peter Gabriel and the Police. Lofty company if you ask me. Two songs later, I Feel Better pops up, a breathe of fresh air past the smoky mirrors that dominate the first half of the record. Instead of the wild introspection of Future Islands, action takes precedent, moving forward in life and in attitude. With a Motown horn backing, no less. This track really isn’t progressive rock, or funk… its music of elation, release, and possibly deception.
Calling Making Mirrors a break-up record is like saying all ice cream is chocolate: you’re only as right as you want to be. A story as deliberate as this record can be clear and pointedly arched. Yet you are the sole viewer of the story. Your view is your complete own. The new power pop that Gotye brings (one lacking genres, geographic regions and race) is in its own world, unable or unwilling to grasp anything beyond its measures. So I Feel Better could be completely honest or completely dishonest. Projection instead of reflection.