This week (technically Monday) marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most challenging, beautiful, and intriguing records of this millennium. A spasmodic, convulsive compilation of glitch melodies, head nodding beats, quick rap verses, and expansive soundscapes. Prefuse 73′s One Word Extinguisher isn’t just IDM or hip hop or downtempo. It focuses on evolving sounds into music, cobbling them together only to rip them apart over and over again.
Ryan Hemsworth might be one of the fastest rising DJs and remixers in the game. The 22 year old producer certainly has his own style and sound. As opposed to the multitudes of heavily-layered, over manipulated trap-house artists, his style lends more to the shoe-gazing, half speed beats. He redid Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” with snappier drums and a heavier melody. And, quite excellently, redid the TFIB favorite “Open” by Rhye into a heavier, speedier club jam. And for me, his mix for Diplo & Friends has been one of the better mixes of 2013, combining ambient, ethereal, and dubtrapr™ like few can.
Yet it seems like his remix of “Genesis” by Grimes might be one of the few tracks of this year to get the idea of a remix right. Upon initial listen, the track feels like a swirling reduction of Grimes’ iconic piano lines, her voice phased down to smack against the bass. But the drums kick in, then, finally, the heavy harmony in the compressed synths. Splicing the lyrics into pieces, the echo-drenched “My heart” almost never leaves the mix. It’s a crystallization, a focused reinterpretation of one of the best songs of 2012. Just as good as good on the beach as it is on the dance floor.
Say what you will about the two, but few have revived interest in Jamaican music as Diplo and Switch’s zombie-killing creation, Major Lazer. Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do was a stunning record, a perfect follow up from the iconic mixtapes Diplo put out in the years prior. To some extent, the hype for their new album Free the Universe is not just necessary, but proper. The record mashes dancehall, dub, trap and thatratchetmusic all at once, perfect for dance floors from Silver Lake to Brooklyn to Kingston.
Yet the song to watch might be this one. “Get Free” displays the beauty of dub reggae so perfectly. Equal parts Augustus Pablo and classic R&B, there’s something beautiful here. Amber Coffman asks “What will I do without my dreams?” as the beat bubbles back and forth like water on a choppy stream. A synthy horn pops in, dancing on the reggae rhythm. The chorus rings out on so many levels: “Look at me, I just can’t believe what they’ve done to me: We could never get free, I just want to be…” Are they talking about the government? The style of music? The oppression in Jamaica? Or just that subconscious desire to live? No matter. We all want to get free, don’t we?
The words “honky tonk” will always feel hokey to me. A ragtime style originated from dive bars of the early 20th century, it evolved into “Okie” or “hillbilly music” through it’s simplicity and straight rhythms. It didn’t really have a place in country or popular music until the legendary Ernest Tubb brought it to Nashville. Much of the Nashville sound in the 50′s and 60′s steeped itself in the minimalist style, eschewing strings and large bands for simple instruments and solid stories. Since then, the style, moreso than the word itself, became ingrained in American culture. Buck Owens gave it a pair of telecasters and global appeal, Gram Parsons asked us to “close down the honky-tonks” in 1969, the Byrds lost themselves in a honky tonk, the country bad boy Waylon Jennings put out a record called Honky Tonk Heroes, and even the Eagles gave the Bakersfield style a try. The legend sealed itself into American consciousness.
Son Volt’s latest release, Honky Tonk is more than just a throw back. It is a uniquely American record, each song loaded by Jay Farrar’s expert song writing in a way few records have offered in years.
I was first introduced to the Portland-based label Dropping Gems two years ago when they released their first compilation, Gem Drops. I was shocked. Here was a labor of love, done by friends for friends, with incredible beats and songs, and all the revenue went to the American Cancer Society. I stayed fresh and young, I got down with some kale jams (seriously), and I loved it so much I even featured a track on my Redford Rise mixtape, for all of you to enjoy.
Gem Drops Two followed the next year with the same inspired blend of tracks. Anything from synth pop, hip hop beats, ambient, drone… it was there. This was music to fall in love to, to get lost in a forest with, to make you dance in the sunshine. Once again, the proceeds went to cancer. Once again, I was smitten with the music.
Gem Drops Three came out yesterday. Many of the same things are there, but after several years, the sound is more refined. This is a labor of love. So through some help by friends of friends, I got a chance to ask label founder and Portland native Aaron Meola how he does it. And in the loving tradition of The Fox Is Black interviews, I asked him five questions about music, love, and passion.