Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love (2015)

Love takes strange forms. It can arrive fully formed, wholly established. It can contort and develop over years, decades even, fluctuating across the emotional spectrum chaotically. Love can come in pairs, triple, quadruple. Multi-love can healthily replace theold ideology of monogamy. And with such love to give and receive, wouldn’t you?

Probably not. I had just finished reading the fascinating Pitchforkinterview with Unknown Mortal Orchestra main man Ruban Nielson. In the interview, Nielson details his two-year polygamous relationship with his wife and another woman. The three lived together on and off with two children, in what could only have been an emotionally exhausting yet wholly rewarding three-way relationship.

It’s the kind of emotional mess artists love to indulge in. Why? Creativity, inspiration, experience. Of course, without such an event, Nielson’s latest record under the Unknown Mortal Orchestra pseudonym, aptly titled Multi-Love, simply wouldn’t exist, at least not in this form.

The album plays as a narrative to the relationship Nielson shared with two women under one roof. Thematically, Multi-Love kinda feels like a party record, albeit a quiet and slightly confused one. The songs bounce with a pulse that was lacking on 2013’s II, establishing a move closer toward the pop sphere than the psychedelic sounds of his previous releases. It’s a welcome transition, emphasising Nielson’s abilities as not only a wonderful storyteller and producer, but as a dude with incredible melodic versatility as well.

In fact, the quality of songwriting of Multi-Love came to me as an extremely pleasant surprise. Suddenly, Unknown Mortal Orchestra has morphed from an outsider psych-pop outfit into a fully-fledged world of art pop brilliance in the vein of David Bowie, Prince and Peter Gabriel. The casually earwormy choruses of nearly every track on Multi-Love (especially “The World is Crowded”) keep the listener hooked, forever returning for more of those deliciously catchy melodies.

Sonically, Multi-Love also shifts in the right direction. Many of the psychedelic quirks of their earlier releases remain intact: the rampant flanger on “Stage or Screen”, the noodly intro of “Puzzles”, the hyper-condensed drums on “Like Acid Rain”. These idiosyncrasies set Nielson apart from lesser psych-pop artists of his ilk, evoking the mantra that sound and songwriting should be of equal importance.

And with a very healthy monetary advance, how could you not go all out and buy all the retro gear needed to produce such lush sounds? “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty” is an obvious exemplar of the extra funding Nielson received for this release. Here, he sounds much like a troubadour with too much money and no idea what to do with it all. He sings with the husky sorrow of a bearded folkie, yet around him a perfectly produced wall of psychedelic soundscapes curls and swirles. It’s kinda perfect; I’m sure Roger McGuinn would love it.

Multi-Love passes through a range of emotions before resting on the final cacophonic celebration “Puzzles”. Without a doubt the album’s strongest track, “Puzzles” moves through a selection of micro-phases and emotional changes before resting on a killer chorus with a melody that’ll shake houses.

The song epitomises the fresh sonic and songwriting outlook Nielson has taken for Multi-Love, an emotionally exhausting yet wholly cathartic piece of work about a period of time so clearly important and inspiring. It’s the kind of statement that makes you consider rethinking your views on monogamy.

Various Artists – PC Music: Volume 1

In 1947, a Scottish sculptor and artist by the name of Eduardo Paolozzi released his seminal collage work I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything. The piece was a collage of different imagery taken from popular culture, including a Coca-Cola advertisement, military recruitment propaganda, pulp fiction novel art, and, predominantly, the front cover of a magazine called Intimate Confessions.

We see the image of an eroticised woman posing in a silk red dress lifted high enough to reveal her spectacular long legs. Beside her, a gun is pointed at her head, a puff of smoke emerging from the barrel of the weapon revealing the word “POP!” like in those classic Looney Tunes cartoons.

She is very much the focus of the piece, though there is much going on around her. Underneath the scantily clad brunette, an airplane with the phrase “Keep ‘Em Flying!” jokingly emphasises the eroticism of the piece.

There is an accentuation on the colour red, too: her dress, the Coca-Cola advertisement, a cherry pie and the typeface of “Intimate Confessions”. The piece has an aesthetic and it seems to be following a set of visual rules while clearly remaining wary of the chaotic capitalist ideologies of the images presented.

I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything marked the birth of Pop Art, a movement that swept across the UK and eventually America throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Pop Art exploded toward the end of 60s ruminating in the unbelievable celebrity of Andy Warhol and his Factory of artists and weirdos.

Warhol surrounded himself with glamour and was obsessed with fake beauty. During the 60s he painted Marilyn Monroe and Coca-Cola bottles and was heavily criticized by the art elite for succumbing to capitalism, selling his autographed Campbell soup cans for $6 each.

“Everything’s plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic.” – Andy Warhol

To call A.G. Cook a modern day Andy Warhol is a bit of a stretch –quite a stretch, in fact – but the similarities between the pair cannot be ignored. Both are wholly interested in curating a lovely little “pop” universe for themselves, hiding behind fragmented truths and augmenting their reality through art.

Both Cook and Warhol are also interested in collaborating with the multimedia work of others; Hannah Diamond can perhaps be interpreted as a modern day Nico. Nico and Diamond are both artists in their own right – Nico with her voice and songwriting prowess, Diamond with her eye for fashion and advertorial photography – and what each brings to their respective projects is wholly imperative to the overall work.

Like the Pop Artists, collage and aesthetic are also imperative to PC Music. The Lipgloss Twins track “Wannabe” is almost an exact aural replica of Eduardo Paolozzi’s seminal artwork. At its crux, “Wannabe” is a pop collage about advertisement, uniformity and the capitalist indoctrination encouraging young women to “fit in”. And not unlike I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything, “Wannabe” feels very much like a deranged version of exactly what it’s “critiquing”, resulting in a Frankenstein-like advertisement for pop music.

“I don’t wanna be a twin / I just want to fit, fit, fit, fit in!” – Lipgloss Twins

Recently, PC Music compiled their most-loved bangers into one neat, thirty-minute set simply titled PC Music: Volume 1. The album collates work from each of the label’s most celebrated artists, showcasing the breadth of range and maniacal brilliance of the label’s mastermind A.G. Cook. This is practically two years work arranged and crammed together to form a neat thirty-minute package.

Most disturbingly, perhaps, this latest release emphasises the potential of a PC Music crossover. Hannah Diamond’s entire glitzy repertoire is already wholly deserving of radio airplay, as is the hypnotically infectious Danny L. Harde track “In My Dreams”. These songs fit just as perfectly on any club floor as they do nestled amidst Sunn O))) and D/P/I on underground experimental radio.

It’s this effortless ability to straddle experimental and popular music styles with such ease that makes the music of A.G. Cook and co. so frightening and alluring. Of course, the most appropriate adjective would be divisive. It is a word critics are stumbling over themselves to use to describe this brand new flavour of popular music, and perhaps the best way to describe the general public’s love/hate relationship with this new kind of Popular Art.

“Play with my hair on a TV.” – Hannah Diamond

Another adjective that best describes this sound is uncanny. There is something quite frightening and strange about hearing a glitched-up plastic robot attempt to convey the very human condition of love. It is a love comprised of pixels, zeroes and ones, sure, but apparently LOVE nonetheless. This repulsive endearment is best represented by the Hannah Diamond ballad “Attachment”, a mechanical love story in which the biggest connection to her lover comes only when she saves him as a picture on her phone.

For a big healthy chunk of uncanny divisiveness, however, look no further than PC Music protégé GFOTY. In my own humble opinion, GFOTY is the perfect exemplar of the bubblegum bass aesthetic and ideology and without question my favourite artist of the collective.She is colourful, sexy, self-congratulatory, bitchy, hilarious,schizophrenic, wild and incredibly talented, and her spectacular micro mixes (2014’s Secret Mix and 2015’s Cake Mix) are the best way to receive a sizable dose of PC adrenaline. In a ten-minute flash, these micro mixes whip through about a dozen little segments, juxtaposing saccharine love songs with hypnotic noise freak-outs, Cher anthems alongside hard boiled bangers, allowing the listener the full PC Music experience in one disturbing quick fix.

GFOTY and Hannah Diamond are both slowly moving in the direction of micro-celebrity. At a recent appearance for the Red Bull Academy titled “Pop Cube”, GFOTY played a hyperactive, hyper-celebrity, hyper-bratty version of herself, performing much of her set in a G-String and totally covered in money. At times, she even seemed to be presenting herself as very Kardashian, placing emphasis on her fine booty and spoilt celebrity lifestyle. Is she poking fun at celebrity culture? Or is she genuinely enjoying her new career as a celebrity? Probably the former, but it’s something worth considering.

“I really like Fanta and squares.” – GFOTY

It’s obvious that there is humour, self-reflexivity and a certain amount of Dadaist anarchy in much of what PC Music does, but as these individual artists slowly become more renowned and celebrated will their big joke eventually fold in on itself? To be honest, it’s starting to look that way already, what with the Red Bull sponsorship (Andy Warhol sold out, too) and the subtle critical shifts away from bubblegum bass seemingly suggesting that the underground art school crowd are no longer the only ones interested in this kind of music.

To predict the future or influence of bubblegum bass this early in the game is a tumultuous ask. However, I speculate the genre won’t remain the critical hot topic for too much longer. Despite the obvious quality of the songs presented on this compilation, much of the PC Music catalogue already sounds, like, soooooo 2014.

Unless the genre gets the shake up it already needs and deserves (we’re waiting on you, SOPHIE), there is seemingly little else these crazy folk can do to save themselves from being the next big flash in the pan. It’s easy for people to grow tired and eventually repulsed by this music, if that hasn’t happened already. And to bring this essay full circle and quote Warhol himself: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

The Zillions – Play! Zeuxis: Xight? Zeen… (2008)

Essential Down Under

I heard gorgeous reverse guitars, it sounded like falling rain. It was coming through my car stereo. Massive droplets falling and landing, all around. I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it. I turned up the radio and listened intently. What a beautiful wall of guitar, all glistening and swirly.

I was having a serious moment right here with this track. I sat wide-eyed and stared at those notes dropping around me. Wowsers! It came at the right time too, I’d recently found Loveless, or, in other worlds, my whole fucking world came tumbling around me because I had just discovered SHOEGAZE!

I later learned that that track was “Back in Your Arms” by The Zillions, taken from the spectacularly titled album Play! Zeuxis: Xight? Zeen…. I purchased the album immediately; I needed more of those guitars. And who the fuck was this band? Why weren’t they in the “shoegaze essentials” lists I’d been educating myself with?

Play! Zeuxis: Xight? Zeen… is probably Australia’s finest shoegaze effort to date and certainly one of the most criminally overlooked releases in the genre. The album was released in 2008, perfectly aligning with the second wave of shoegaze. It was a time in which the genre was mutating in different forms and directions, through post-rock, math-rock, electro and other influencers. Bands like Deerhunter, The Horrors, Have a Nice Life, Alcest and A Place to Bury Strangers released quality releases toward the end of the 2000s, turning immense critical attention back onto shoegaze for the first time in almost 20 years.

The Zillions were a shoegaze act clearly taking cues from the genre’s original big names, specifically Ride and MBV, but were distinct enough to have created a sound completely their own without needing to rely on riding the wave of contemporary genre trends. The band embody a ruggedness apparent with much of Australia’s best underground rock output, a sound that can be heard particularly in The Zillions frontman Nick Craft’s late 90s output for the band Sidewinder, or more recently in the loud jangle of The Twerps and Blank Realm.

The Zillions also make clear references to the opaque and sparkly guitars of The Byrds, particularly on the album’s lead single “Back in Your Arms”. The oooh ooohs throughout “Leaves” and “Who is Me?” are obviously directly indebted to MBV. “Teeth of the Hydra” contains elements of heavier shoegaze, notably rockers like Swervedriver and Ride, and can be seen as a direct lineage to Craft’s earlier work in Sidewinder. And finally, closing track “Where Are You on the Weekend?” is an extended and psychedelic avant-garde wall-of-sound folk track reminiscent of the work of Natural Snow Buildings and is without question the most immense and emotionally engaging release on the record.

Filled wall to wall with high quality noise rock and gorgeously expansive sonic detail, Play! Zeuxis: Xight? Zeen… is a forgotten Australian classic and one I’ve been saddened to see frequently in local bargain bins. The band fell apart not long after the release of the record, having only this full-length and an EP to their name. Play! Zeuxis: Xight? Zeen… failed to successfully ride the second shoegaze wave and cast only a minor ripple throughout the Melbourne music landscape, remaining a lost masterpiece from an incredible Australian songwriter and noisemaker.

Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass (2015)

Sometimes the best or most interesting releases of the year fly under the radar. In The Catch Up, we shine a light on the films and albums we missed at first glance.

“I don’t feel much / I’m afraid I don’t feel anything at all.”

The biggest winner is that voice. All sorrow, years of it, bounded up together in a glorious and delicate symphony. It’s a debut album that emerges from nowhere, the kind of record that just appears and… then… just… is! Forever, trapped alongside timeless greats like Dusty in Memphis, What’s Goin’ On, In My Own Time.

The timeless quality equates to the songwriting skill. Though Natalie Prass’ debut contains obvious reference points – Dusty Springfield, Disney princesses – her album sounds neither from the past nor from any discernable present. She borrows ideas from pop stars and songwriters throughout music history and bundles them together, using her voice as the ultimate tool in coalescing them.

And she sings like her soul is on fire. Like everything she has ever known and loved is disappearing before her eyes. We can hear her choke as she sings, as if each word cuts her throat upon release. Dizzying and intricate melodies ride up and down the scales, Natalie guiding the listener cautiously from note to note. I listen with bated breath, weaving threads of her story together. Who hurt you, Natalie? Who caused you such pain?

Prass pens the death of a long-term relationship with more understanding and maturity than those twice her age. She tackles clichéd themes gracefully. She sings like someone who has had their life drained by a single unstoppable force. On “Violently”, without question the most harrowing track on the album, the lyrics of the chorus perfectly captures the record’s stylised sorrow:

I’ll break my legs
‘Cos they want to run to you
I just want to love you violently
I’ve had enough of talking politely.

This isn’t earth-shattering poetry. She’s no Patti Smith. But something about Natalie’s delivery transcends these words. She uses simple and understandable language and sings so delicately and perfectly that every sentence that escapes her mouth reaches the ears fully formed.

Speaking of ears, mine are extremely grateful every time I play this record. I’ll never forget the first time I listened to this thing with headphones and a joint. It blew my fucking mind. Every sound tickled my ossicles, melting into my stirrup, travelling the length up and down my spine and ultimately landing in a warm and cozy place deep inside my soul.

The careful production is reminiscent of the big soul sound of the 70s. Producer Matthew E. White owns a massive fuck-off studio somewhere in Richmond, Virginia and uses the same techniques that shot his debut record Inner Circle to the top of many critics’ end-of-year lists. I imagine the studio stuffed to the wall with all sorts of analogue gear. Vintage amplifiers and carefully chosen equipment spread neatly across the wooden floor of an open padded building. You can hear it on the record. Everything is perfect. Neat. Succinct. Wonderful.

Listen to the opening minutes of “Why Don’t You Believe in Me?”. Listen as those gorgeous piano notes slowly creep in under that thumping drum beat and badass bass line. Listen to those swirling flutes on “Your Fool”. They’re everywhere! Those flutes sound like they belong in a fucking MBV song! Fuck! How?

Natalie Prass and Matthew E. White, the ultimate harmony. They suit each other so perfectly, like Eno and Roxy Music, Spector and the girl groups. It is no surprise that Natalie Prass remains one of the most critically successful releases of the year. Get it in your life now, I guarantee it will never leave.

Original posted in The Essential.

Tyler, The Creator – Cherry Bomb (2015)

Cherry Bomb is a hard album to write about. On the one hand, we’ve got Tyler at his most creative and wonderful, all boundless psychedelia and fucked up industrial hip hop. On the other, Tyler is still an egotistical jerk eager to maintain his contrarian skater-kid ethos and continue to piss off “faggots”, despite countless calls for him to quit.

But the rap game is impossible to ethicise. Racial, misogynistic and homophobic slurs coat the genre in an icky muck that’s difficult to ignore. Though no less offensive than his peers, Tyler has always courted the most controversy and managed to frustrate more people than most other rappers. Perhaps it’s his age? Who knows.

For most listeners, Tyler’s schlock tactics wore thin years ago. Ever since Earl and Frank moved from the Odd Future orbit, the hysteria surrounding Tyler and his manic-genius production has slowly worn down, the public’s attention wandering elsewhere. Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the dude, his adolescent anarchism and blatant self-hatred perhaps reminiscent of my own pessimistic refusal to grow up.

That being said, I’ve never found any of Tyler’s solo records to begreat. There have always been fantastic moments – “Yonkers”, “Ned Flanders”, “Radicals” etc. – but the completed projects themselves are often overblown, easily outstaying their welcome.

And this is one of the main reasons why Cherry Bomb is Tyler’s best record to date. Clocking in at just less than 55 minutes, the album is admittedly still an overblown and obnoxious affair, but Tyler utilises this near-hour almost perfectly, cramming the record to its edges with hooks and chaos.

Cherry Bomb is all A.D.H.D. and N.E.R.D.. Opening track “Deathcamp” welcomes the listener with punchy guitars and a drum beat that’s at least a mile high. The Pharrell worship is front and center on this record and IMO that’s okay, because it’s obvious and it’s massive and it’s awesome. Elsewhere, the pop-psych flutter of “Fucking Young/Perfect” is reminiscent of 2010s Pharrell, all floral colours and spritely sing-along choruses.

On “Smuckers”, Tyler teams up with Kanye West and Lil Wayne (!!), proving that he is still a pretty competent and relevant producer-rapper. ‘Ye and Wayne deliver spitfire verses that are among the best they’ve produced all year and Tyler somehow manages to maintain the quality against these superstar rap kingpins. Another album highlight, “The Brown Stains of Darkeese Latifah Part 6–12”, similarly sees Tyler pulling a next-level verse from ScHoolboy Q, further emphasising the truism that Tyler really gets the best juice from his guests.

However, despite the quality of some of the rap on Cherry Bomb, Tyler’s mastering and production choices are gaining the most attention and critique. Many have dismissed the sonic aspects of the album as noisy and annoying, the abhorrent loudness headache inducing and overwhelming. While it’s easy to dismiss his bizarre mastering choices as reactionary, there’s absolutely no doubt that the sheer audacity of this project, sonically and thematically, reflects Tyler’s uncanny ability to create immense joy from sheer filth. It is unfair that fans and critics rebuke Tyler for these choices; at its crux, this is punk music and punk music is supposed to offend.

For the best example of Tyler’s sonic and thematic abrasiveness, look no further than the album’s title track. “Cherry Bomb” is literally one of the most bat-shit insane songs of the entire Odd Future repertoire. Tyler shouts “COME AND LIGHT MY FIRE, I’LL BLOW YOUR FUCKING FACE OFF” over layers of disgusting and exciting digital distortion, the kind that will likely melt speakers your speakers into tar. This track is just so fucking badass. It’s fearless, hypomanic, ferocious and quite clearly reminiscent of The Prodigy at their most extreme.

Despite the sheer quality of some of these tracks, Cherry Bomb never quite reaches the heights Tyler seems to be striving for. The album is still too long and, in parts, quite forgettable. But it’s a huge step in the right direction and I eagerly anticipate this great provocateur’s next move.

Original posted on The Essential.

Death Grips – Jenny Death (2015)

Jenny Death When?

The streets smell of piss and smoke. The skyline is black and the city sprays neon lights across windows and buildings. In a seedy underground bar, a drunken teenager is kneeling in a pool of vomit with blood gushing from his nose. Whores dance with drug dealers. The bathroom mirror is broken and drenched in spit and graffiti. Cocaine residue is on every surface. This is Death Grips’ world.

Jenny Death awaits me. She is dressed in ripped jeans and a black t-shirt, a bandage rapped around her wrist. I’ve been waiting on the corners of these fucked streets and in these fucked bars for eight months. I was scared she had killed herself, that her self-abuse and nihilist lifestyle had finally overcome her. But here she stands, fatigued and beautiful, deadly and glowing.

niggas on the moon

Last year Death Grips took to Bjork with scissors and presented the results as niggas on the moon. It was an odd album; billed as the first half of a double record entitled The Powers That B. Bjork’s voice cast silver shards of glass across the Grips’ sonic palette. But the singer as “found object” idea wore thin and gimmicky.

The songs themselves were pretty great. They sounded like the logical continuation of that spasmodic energy so refined on Government Platesall chaos, filth and violence. Sound filled to the corners, bustling and busy, the tones smashed against each other and moved at a typically uncompromising pace.

But something about niggas on the moon felt incomplete, like a sentence lacking a full stop. For this reason, most held off reviewing it. Of course, it was billed as part one of two, but even then, niggas on the moon lacked the progression and energy crucial to Death Grips previous work.

Punk is dead; she signed her farewell on a napkin.

Commercialization is the knife in punk’s back. Rebels work hard fighting the establishment until they are lured into its trappings. Success killed Malcolm McLaren. Death Grips had to die.

In the digital age, our past is a wasteland and our future bears no hope. Death Grips’ ethos managed to perfectly capture the chaotic nothingness of our hyperactive dying and the anger associated with collective hopelessness. While the world burns, MC Ride flashes his cock and fights like a caged animal. We are all dead anyway, so why not destroy everything? Punch holes in walls, etc.

And its true Death Grips aren’t the only punks. The digital underground is rife with anarchists wreaking havoc on established ideals. Piracy is fucked. Record labels are fucked. Pop music is fucked. Experimental music is fucked. Advertisement is especiallyfucked! And subculture died twenty years ago.

I honestly doubt anybody took Death Grips’ “breakup” seriously, but I understand the urge and frustration. Years of pointless screaming can hurt your throat and besides, did they really think they could actually change anything? No. It’s easier just to give up. No one’s listening anymore. And those who used to care have now turned their backs.

“I want to kill myself.”

Jenny had just returned from the bathroom, amped, and found me toying with a cigarette. The bar was mostly empty, save for a few freaks and fiends still lingering in the corners. She skimmed the room and landed on my eyes, whispering again. “I want to kill myself.”

At that moment, I swear she has never looked so beautiful. Her eyes were bloodshot and her mascara slightly smeared. It had been a wild reunion but I wanted to leave; I wanted to die right there with her.

We ascended the stairs and moved into the open air, disappearing into the labyrinth of streets. It was late and I smoked my cigarette. Jenny offered me a bump; I took the hit and continued to walk beside her.

She explained her absence.

“The world is holding me hostage,” she explained, “I no longer belong to anything. I have exhausted myself; we have all exhausted ourselves. Words no longer count. Lies overlap truths.”

The crack passed through my veins and I began rummaging through all the crap I’d collected in my pockets. I found a bottle cap and began scratching it against my skin. The pain cooled my nerves. Jenny continued:

“I don’t expect anything from anyone and I don’t think the world fully understands me. I’m flailing around, pointlessly waiting for something to happen, but nothing ever happens.”

We slipped into an alley to fuck.

Try and tame me.

Nobody can tame Death Grips; they are an uncontrollable force, snowballing into oblivion. Jenny Death is their loudest album to date. Guitars permeate with warmer tones and further depth, adding to the swathes of industrial squeals. Kevin Shields may well have been an influence, especially on the last two tracks.

For a Dadaist project, Death Grips have presented an album that’s surprisingly accessible. “Why A Bitch Gotta Lie” is all earwormy repetition and robotica, with MC Ride delivering his verses through unintelligible but catchy autotune. Similarly, “PSS PSS” is a sure crowd favourite: imagine a crowd of sweaty, cocaine-fuelled hipsters jointly singing about pissing on faces.

How do they do it? How do this trio continually push boundaries, sonically and thematically?

Death Grips appear to us at the right time; a time where anger and dissatisfaction with the powers that be ripple through the world wide web and into the souls of every person who’s ever been fucked over. They manifest the nonsensical noise associated with the Internet in an era where escapism is the only way to remain sane.

It can be heard in MC Ride’s lyrics. He is not happy with the state of our world, and you shouldn’t be either. Suicide is everywhere on this album, almost alarmingly so. On “Centuries of Damn” he grapples with intentional overdose with the pen of a poet:

I’m triple the motherfucker,
Mondo fisted, full of backwards,
My slang step like a legless lizard,
I fuck around, fashion a rocket,
Shoot to Mercury, for the winter,
Extended vacation ‘till I decompose on my splinters.

On “On GP”, a lethargic track best described as a Death Grips ballad, Stefan talks of buying an “old black rope” to tie and hang up in his chamber. It’s heavy stuff, but it works in the context of Death Grips nihilist universe. The noise of suffering surrounds and consumesJenny Death, sonically and lyrically, resulting in the bands most conceptually audacious and frightening release yet.

The record appropriately concludes with “Death Grips 2.0”, an odd instrumental that has fans and critics grappling with its purpose. Some suggest that the track points to the bands future, with or without MC Ride, and the kinds of sounds we could expect from subsequent records. Others believe Jenny Death is Death Grips 2.0, the inclusion of guitars and wider, warmer sounds already indicative of where the band could be heading next. But really, Death Grips are never that easy to predict and their future is as hazy and haphazard as ever. Fuck, who cares, anyway?

Jenny’s Death

I woke up on cobblestone. All of my stuff was gone. My head hurt and I had bloodstains on my shirt. My mouth tasted like poison and shit. I stumbled into the morning; the sun was up but hidden behind clouds. It started to rain as I moved home. Jenny Death was gone, just another fucking gimmick.

Original posted on The Essential.

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon (2015)

Late last year, during those gorgeous Spring-Summer transition weeks where the entire world seems to glow and shimmer, a friend of mine introduced me to Tobias Jesso Jr. We were chilling in the lovely courtyard of his parents’ house, skipping class to spin some tunes, roll some joints and bask in the golden beauty Melbourne’s weather offered us.

He had stumbled upon those early Tobias Jesso Jr. demos, which, at the time, were still only available on YouTube and free streaming on a handful of publications. I was blown away by the young songwriter’s earnest nostalgia and his ability to weave melodic rings around even the simplest piano lines. The lo-fi quality of these homemade recordings appealed to my own aesthetic and I quickly began spreading Tobias’ name to my friends and family, penning him as The Next Big Thing in pop songwriting.

Since then, the success of Tobias Jesso Jr. has risen to unprecedented levels. The shift from hipster outsider to pop poster boy seem to have happened in less than six months. Suddenly Adele is tweeting about him and he’s seen hanging out with Dakota Fanning, Taylor Swift and Haim.

Interviews with countless publications began to emerge and I watched and listened as my perceptions of the young singer songwriter changed. Initially, it was believed that we were dealing with the next Chris Owens or Ariel Pink; a kind of past-obsessed freak-loner, destined to drug-induced nights locked away in his bedroom recording sad songs for himself on a shitty secondhand tape recorder.

Instead, I was shocked to read that Tobias didn’t care much for “oldies stuff” (!) and that he hadn’t even heard of Nick Drake or Harry Nillson until recently (!!) aaaannnndd to make matters worse, he cited Sam Smith as an influence (!!!). Clearly, those demos were really just demos and that the sound and success Tobias Jesso Jr. was actually aiming for was much bigger and far wider. But as a part time pop purist, I tried not to let these problems get in my way of reviewing the record and I approached Goon with complete objectivity.

I remain skeptical of the current 1970s revival, something each review of Goon will undoubtedly reference. I have no time for Swift, Haim, Father John Misty, or any of these other superstars and their tasteless, over-produced attempts at singer-songwriting. Few of these records manage to convey enough emotion to counter the shimmering disposition sonically omnipresent or actually portray anything fresh at all. Too often, cliché and misplaced melancholy override genuine sentiment. (Exempt from this is the latest record from Natalie Prass, but I’ll save that argument for another time.)

Herein lies the biggest problem with Goon. The massive production and everyman reliability of Tobias’ songwriting strip away the earnest qualities so exciting to his most delicate work. The reason songs like “Hollywood” and “Can’t Stop Singing About You” work on the album is because they place the singer’s dorky personality upfront, enabling the audience to engage with him in a unique and intimate way.

And there are times where the flipside works too. “How Could You Babe?” – one of the year’s great pop singles so far – builds to this glorious and triumphant chorus, which perfectly resonates with the longing and suffering apparent in the lyrics. “Without You” and “Can We Still Be Friends” follow a similar structure and really help heighten the quality of the record’s first half.

However these moments of coalescence are rare on Goon and Tobias’ attempts at creating an ethos that ties together the sincere and realfall frustrating flat under walls of musical and lyrical cliché. Tracks like “Bad Worlds” and “For You” are just flat-out boring and, despite pleasant melodies and production, these tracks shed no new light on anything, really.

Tobias also attempts to sidestep the piano pop balladry throughoutGoon and offer slight variations on his established aesthetic. The sunny acoustic track “The Wait” – probably the worst song on the album – is a hopeless “Blackbird” spinoff that sounds like the blandest efforts of C-grade artists like Boy and Bear. The romp-stop cabaret of “Crocodile Tears” is also extremely lame; its jauntiness off-putting and out-of-place. Similarly, the psychedelic attempts on “Leaving LA” are awkward and odd and his attempts at bizarre sincerity fail tremendously.

After digesting the album wholly for several weeks – a painful task at times – my opinion of Tobias Jesso Jr. has changed so drastically that every mention of the name makes me smile and cringe. I smile because there is quality there, especially in the first half, but I cringe because that quality seems wasted on poor production and a bad understanding of interesting and unique songwriting.

Original posted on The Essential.

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)

It must get cramped up there, The Top, that spectacular apex where the finest players fight and scuffle for space, spitting on the losers below.

In 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy secured Kanye’s spot,extremely comfortably. That record will be forever remembered as the turning point at which Y2k’s hip-hop got legit. It was a once-in-a-generation type of album, our Illmatic, and it was something that caused critics and fans alike to eat themselves with excitement.

Next, it was Kendrick’s turn. And he officially stole that shit from ’Ye in 2012 during the opening bars of that bat shit insane “Control” verse:

“One at a time I line them up
And bomb on they mom while she watching the kids”

Indeed, no one wants bombs on their moms, fuck dat!

K. Dot’s earth-shattering word missiles injected adrenaline into the entire rap game, forcing freaks and fiends from all corners of the weird and nasty world of hip hop to up their gangsta stance, loosen their lips and sharpen their scribe. (Meanwhile, poor Kanye wept from behind the commercial chastise of Yeezus, attempting to convince us all that he was, in fact, a good rapper. Nope, not so, ’Ye.)

Nestled amidst a slew of top-tier 2013 hip hop releases, Drake’sNothing Was the Same, like its prodigious predecessors, enraptured the attention of critics and fans alike, quickly propelling the emo rapper to uber-legend status. It certainly helps when your lead single is named Pitchfork’s Track of the Year and the public’s perception of you is that of a mischievously dorky, overwhelming likable, spoilt rich brat.

Personality aside, the emotionally charged beats and lyrics of Drizzy’sNothing Was the Same and the subsequent one-off singles released throughout 2014, transcended much of what pop-rap has produced before. The dude can actually sing and rap (unlike Kanye) and the hooks and beats never sound out of place on mainstream radio (unlike Kendrick).

So, apparently, 2014 was Drake’s year, despite no actual album release. A few throwaway singles and an anthemic collaborative track, a few remixes and guest spots; when compiled togetherDrake’s year looks pretty fucking spectacular. Meanwhile, Kanye and Kendrick remained relatively quiet throughout 2014, frantically finishing work on their extremely anticipated forthcoming releases.

Now that 2015 has sluggishly rolled around, all three rappers have emerged with promising new material, rotating that Top Spot somewhat weekly. Kanye West, seemingly thrust into some kind of neo-psychedelic whimsy following the birth of his daughter, has released a handful of descent-to-good pop tracks, promising critics a fresher and lighter sound. Kendrick is now three from three with post-good Kid singles and his recent “Blacker the Berry” is probably his best work since 2012. And Drake, well, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.

Indeed, if you’re reading this, it’s definitely too late, as Drake has gone and pulled a Beyoncé on us all. (Note: “pulled a Beyonce” may become 2015’s top phrase, alongside “where can I buy a selfie stick”) Yes, Drake took to Twitter last week and dumped a delicious 17-track mixtape, seemingly comprised of “leftovers” from his forthcoming proper album Views From the 6.

And it’s good. Worryingly good. And Drake knows it’s good, too. Only two minutes in and he is already telling us that he is “the One” and a “motherfucking legend”. CHARISMA IS EVERYTHING and Drake seems to have been closely observing the scriptures of Jesus and Yeezus: if you stand on stage in front of your disciples and proclaim victory, victory shall be yours.

This newfound transition from egoist to messiah surprisingly works in Drake’s favor. Now, Drake is both The Emotionally Connected Poster Boy and The Badass playing entirely by His Own Rules. Throughout the mixtape, Drake dismisses and disses those in His Zone (aka Kanye, Kendrick) and admits that life can get pretty lonely sitting atop The Throne.

Though not entirely true (The Throne is still currently split three ways, in my opinion), Drizzy really delivers some of his punchiest and fiercest material on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The beats, provided by a slew of producers both known and unknown, are some of his best to date, particularly on the album’s far-superior first half. Minimalist space and glitch ruminate in an esoteric mix of bounce, trap, aggression and ambience. Imagine a quiet Yeezus, or an angrierNothing Was the Same.

Here, his flow closely resembles that of his mentor and label mate Lil Wayne, in that it closely resembles nothing at all, besides spectacularly unique chaos. This sporadic flow, paired with aggressive lyricism propels the albums best tracks into stratospheric territory (“No Tellin’”, “10 Bands”, “6PM in New York”).

However, this audaciousness is at times poorly miscalculated, resulting in some of the flat-out worst tracks he has released in years (“Preach”, “Company”). Similarly, the back half of the record could do with some serious trimming. But, I guess, it is a mixtape after all and those aren’t known for their swiftness.

So the jury is still out and The Throne still remains up for grabs. WithIf You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake certainly seems to nudge the other two slightly, and if anything, it will challenge and propel the competitive trio to release some seriously serious shit throughout the remainder of this year.

Or we can at least hope.

Original posted on The Essential.

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5 musical movements and micro-genres that emerged in 2014

As the curtains slowly close on 2014, I spend copious amounts of time doing what all music nerds love: looking back, crafting lists (upon lists, upon lists) and attempting to form some kind of cohesive overview of the year that was. Specifically, I have trawled through my (unnaturally enormous) list of loved records of the year and attempted to decipher trends in my listening and in the state of modern music. Obviously, stacks of new genres, styles, artists and trends emerge every year and so, even for a guy like me, keeping up with everything is virtually impossible (although I’ll be damned if I didn’t try). Therefore this overview pertains to some of my personal favourite trends of the year and is likely lacking in other defining elements of 2014 music.

PC Music and Bubblegum Bass

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first, shall we? Straddling high-octane pop, experimental collage and four-to-the-floor dance with effortless zeal, bubblegum bass was certainly the most fascinating new trend (genre? scene?) to emerge from music in 2014.

The notoriously divisive label managed to quickly spark a legitimate fan base using a highly innovative marketing campaign which basically saw unknown artists like GFOTY, Lipgloss Twins and Hannah Diamond staged and treated like pop stars in the same league as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Combining this glossy visual aesthetic with the delightfully infectious and addictive sounds of sparkling keys, silly string MIDI, pitch-shifted vocals, kawaii, 160 bpm dance and sound-collage, PC Music and bubblegum bass attempted to provide joy, laughter and good times to virtually everybody.

But of course, there were just as many haters as there were lovers. Many couldn’t fathom the prickly production of “Hard” (“it sounds like needles spiking my ears”), the demented vocal delivery of Hannah Diamond or the inconsistent and shameless bouncing from genre to genre, somewhat resembling an 8-year-old on too much red cordial. Others dismissed the genre as divisive and insincere, with most questioning the intentions and purpose of the genre (“nobody canenjoy this kind of music”) with some even accusing the genre of harmfully attacking pop music and some of its ideals (capitalism, misogyny, fakeness, etc.)

However, in my mind at least, A.G. Cook and Sophie are about as sincere as it gets and it seems that members of this collective share equal respect for sugary pop and music that exists on the strange and seedy edges of popular culture. And I’m certainly not alone, considering a large portion of the genre’s music features prominently in many publications end-of-year lists (specifically this, this andthis). My own “best songs of 2014” list is currently topped by Sophie’s incredibly addictive “Hard” (I swear, I’ve listened to this song a thousand times) and would also contain lots of GFOTY, Lipgloss Twins’ fucked up consumerist-collage “Wannabe”, some Hannah Diamond, “Hey QT” (yeah?) and the other three Sophie songs.

So while we excitedly wait to see what kind of demented charades the genre will produce in 2015 (I await a full length release from one of the artists, however, I fear anything more than 30 minutes of bubblegum bass would likely cause serious mental harm), we can safely look back on 2014 as the year bubblegum bass broke-through (the internet, brains, pop music etc.).

Instrumental Trap/Cloud Rap


I’ve juggled and attempted to find a better term to describe this kind of music but will have to settle for what’s written above. Over the last two years, a steady stream of instrumental hip hop has emerged on Bandcamp and Soundcloud to great acclaim from publications andwebsites championing outsider music.

Following the early 2010s success of trap and cloud rap in the hip hop circuit (which seemingly continued taking stride this year, more on this later), a plethora of artists took influence from the heavy bass, speedy cymbals and dreamy soundscapes of Lil B, Clams Casino, Mike Will Made It and others to craft a delightful collection of instrumental jams combining equal respect for hip hop and dream pop.

The shimmery sheen of bine☃ and Suicideyear’s wonderful 2014 releases incorporate this kind of aesthetic perfectly, sounding like beat music made while floating through the heavens in a Maserati (for the best example of this sound, check out Suicideyear’s wonderful cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep”). Similarly, oddball releases by artists like l s d x o x o, Bladee, M-O-R-S-E and others incorporate the dreamy aesthetic into their own sound, sometimes taking it to the dancefloor or separating instrumentals with proper rap tracks and party bangers.

But for me personally, the best 2014 release from this micro-micro-genre is undoubtedly James Ferraro’s wonderful Suki Girlz mixtape.Suki Girlz delicately fuses elements of trap and cloud rap and filters it through Ferraro’s own personality and interest in post-Internet music. The minimalism of Suki Girlz is its biggest draw card, with Ferraro looping his ambient and atmospheric micro-beats into the abyss. Influenced by 3am night walks through New York, Suki Girlz is a lengthy and introspective beast, further affirming Ferraro as one of the most fascinating chameleons of modern music.



I fucking love this term. “Sampledelica” is an umbrella term I use (though few others, it seems) to net a wide range of music that fuses disparate samples to craft something new, psychedelic and wonderful. Collage (as we know it today) artists fusing found sounds have been around for ages and the genre was (somewhat) popularised in 1968 by The Beatles’ classic “Revolution 9”. Next, the genre detoured via krautrock, Negativland, and eventually hip hop, finally evolving into the fascinating beast we know sample-based music to be today.

Over the last couple of years, the genre has really taken on a variety of forms, most notably those that have stemmed from the creations of Daniel Lopatin and James Ferraro at the start of this decade. Vaporwave, a genre that supposedly came and went, has had one hell of a 2014, with the “dead” scene producing one of its (and the year’s) finest releases in the form of Nmesh’s Dream Sequins®. I spoke with fervour earlier this year about this release and the abundant stamina seemingly still powering the genre and its followers. Though some publications, writers and critics are still staying well away from vaporwave, Nmesh has certainly encouraged further interaction and discussion within the genre, reinforcing its merit with this high quality release (“it transcends the genre”). Transcendence is basically what vaporwave needed to kick it in the pants and maintain interest from those outside of the community, with artists like Infinity Frequencies, Gobby, Magic Fades, Delroy Edwards, E+E and Eco Virtual each releasing multiple (!!) albums in 2014 that took establishing vaporwave tropes and combined them something different and intriguing gathered from outside sources.

Sampledelia was heard elsewhere in 2014, on other releases undoubtedly stemming from the Lopatin tree. Brooklyn label Bootleg Tapes produced an astonishing amount of fantastic albums, each operating under the sound collage/instrumental hip hop/vaporwave/glitch bent. C L E A N E R S’ Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 was undoubtedly the highlight from the top-quality label; an album comprised of two 20-minute tracks fusing samples spanning the globe and seemingly the entire history of recorded sound. Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 takes the listener to Asia, India, electro 80s, Casablanca, space, 50s soul, 60s girl groups, bluegrass and to countless other locales and times, resulting in an mixing pot of sounds amassed into 40-minutes of unrequited joy.

Elsewhere, the sampledelic sub-genre glitch had another brilliant year, with a steady flow of releases from the ever-prolific D/P/I (two full-length albums, two mixtapes, a side-project and probably others) and everything produced by the oddball label psalmus diuersaetopping a long-list of fascinating releases within the genre. Like the collagists of Bootleg Tapes (D/P/I actually released one of his mixtapes on the label at the start of the year), these artists fuse sounds from everywhere and anywhere, filtering them through a blender and releasing them as a full-assault of randomised chaos on the ears. It’s too much for some, but there is something fascinating in the genres fixation with shortened attention spans, globalisation and the question of what-is-music.

All Hip Hop From the South

Again I am going to attempt to blanket an array of genres into one place to enable easy reading and to try and avoid this article getting any further out of hand.

In my opinion, and I highly doubt I am alone on this, Southern hip hop has slowly been developing some of the most exciting and influential music the genre has heard during the new millennium. If I look at my Top 5 hip hop releases from 2014, the top three are from southern rappers (Future’s Honest, Run the Jewels’ Run the Jewels 2 and Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo). There’s also a smattering of others spilling through the rest of my list, including plenty I still need to dedicate more time to.

Trap is obviously the biggest, most influential and most talked-about subgenre of hip hop in 2014 and is an inherently southern creation. Though the genre has been floating around since the 1990s, trap has had something of a modern reboot and restyle, with modern acts like Gucci Mane, Future and Migos each redefining the genre for modern audiences. The triplet rap style established by these artists over the last year or so has slowly spilled out into every echelon of rap music and has become one of the most influential movements in the genre of the last couple of years. In poetry, it is called a dactyl, referring to a long syllable followed by two short syllables. If all of that is too confusing, try saying “contraband, contraband, contraband” to get an idea of what this recently developed flow sounds like.

Commonly spat by trap rappers, the “dactyl flow” has found its way into non-trap acts from all across the country. But if we are being serious, one of the best recent examples of these triplets can be found throughout the Run the Jewels track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”. Zach de la Rocha’s vocal loop that the song is built on (“run them, run, run, them”) is loosely based on that triplet, but it is Killer Mike’s ridiculous fourth verse that showcases the possibilities created by this new flow when placed in the hands of a really fucking good rapper (no offence to Quavo). (Also, Kiler Mike delivers another ridiculous set of triplets here).

But its not just trap that dominated the sounds of southern rap in 2014. Isaiah Rashad’s deliriously wonderful Cilvia Demo mixtape/EP channels cloud rap of the druggiest and wooziest kind; the Top Dawg Entertainment protégé promising to be one to watch in 2015 as he prepares his first proper album. Of course, it is also hard to deny the influence or importance of newcomer iLoveMakonnen, who’s infectious track “Tuesday” garnered the attention of Drake and went on to become one of the biggest singles of the year. Likewise, Atlanta rap clique Awful Records have had one hell of a 2014, producing an unnaturally large amount of high quality records and not looking to stop dominating the indie scene any time soon. Travelling even further underground, Houston-born Amber London has been combining southern styles with G-Funk to craft a handful of mixtapes (including 2014’s spectacular Hard II Find (Not Found)) showcasing the talent lurking throughout the unsigned corners of southern rap.

P.S. There are countless others, far too many to mention. But 2014 has produced an abundance of spectacular releases, guest verses and mixtapes from other southern rappers not mentioned above, including: CunningLynguists, 2Chainz, CyHi the Prince, Kitty, Travi$ Scott, T.I., SpaceGhostPurrrp, etc.

Outsider House


Outsider house music, literally meaning little more than “house music made by/for outsiders”, undoubtedly would have lurked in the corners of dance culture since at least the late 80s/early 90s. If we look at the genre according to Rate Your Music (my go-to guide for emerging genres), “Outsider House” has really only been around for the last year or two. But if we were to get real for a second, this kind of music could relate to any range of a plethora of defining dance artists; anyone even remotely akin to Aphex Twin, Jon Hopkins, The Orb, etc.

Semantics aside, Outsider House does, at least partially in my mind, refer to a relatively recent group of musicians and DJs taking influence from acid house and dance music, filtering it through cassette to give their beats and tracks a kind of woozy, hypnagogic bent.

All fingers point to Canadian label 1080p as the leading figures behind the popularity of this type of music; their collection of tapes from 2014 being among the smoothest dance music heard all year, steeped in nostalgia and deliciously home grown. The cassette gives the recordings a bedroom feel, resulting in the songs being acceptable not just for the dance floor, but the after party, the come down and the morning after. The soft, dreamy and psychedelic imagery accompanying these releases resonates with the music perfectly.

D. Tiffany and Riohv released two of the strongest house records of the year for 1080p. Both artists fuse the fuzzy cassette aesthetic with hypnotic four-to-the-floor rhythm, resulting in what 1080p label founder Richard MacFarlane perfectly described to Fader as some sort of “club and anti-club dichotomy.”

Bubbling closer to the surface of popular music, Actress’ spectacularGhettoville incorporates the grungy, DIY outsider house aesthetic and thrusts it into the mainstream via his major label affiliation. Combining an interest in microsound, ambience, vaporwave and above all, house music, Actress currently stands – in my mind at least – as a figurehead of the genre, a kind of beacon of immense success many of these artists are seemingly striding toward.

Elsewhere, other house artists have incorporate different styles and genres into the lo-fi outsider house aesthetic: trance (RSS B0YS), pop and disco (Bobo Eyes), New Age (A.r.t. Wilson), devotional (nima), neo-classical (Francis Harris) and lots and lots of drugs (Gobby).

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