Tuesday, March 27, 2012

julia holter: ekstasis (rvng intl)

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.
–‘Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot’ by Alexander Pope (1735)

I agree. I ‘assent.’ Ekstasis is a lovely record. Bedroom pop that floats and swoons, it has a lightness to it at the same time as a real sense of seriousness and ambition. Pop(era). High and low: Academia and the Underground, Anne Carson and Ariel Pink, Mythos and Melody. On the one hand, Euripides, Sappho, Cage, concrète, cello, Chion, the conservatoire. On the other, synths, canned drums, ambient drones and supple tunes, Kate Bush, Enya, New Age, Nite Jewel, Not Not Fun.

Julia Holter makes celestial lo-fi with lofty, hi-fi aspirations. That is her appeal. That is the balancing act that she got so utterly right on 2011’s Tragedy, the record that catapulted her from the obscure netherworlds of art-school experimentalism (2008’s re-imagining of Cage’s ’___, ___ ___ circus on ___’ eventually released on CD-R as Cookbook and 2010’s collection of urban field-recordings Celebration) right into the center of the alt mainstream.

Ekstasis will surely cement her position there. It involves precisely the same double-logic as Tragedy, except with the exact opposite orientation. Where Tragedy was an overtly conceptual, experimental record with a pop flavor, Ekstasis is a pop record with a dash or three of experimentalism. And it works. As I say, it’s lovely; finely crafted; elegant; a really nice listen. As a result, it will probably endear Holter to more rather than fewer listeners. But to these ears at least, it also feels like a retraction: a withering of ambition, a withdrawal in too many places of precisely the things that made Tragedy so special and unique...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

burial: kindred ep (hyperdub)

It’s been just over a month since the release of Burial’s latest on Hyperdub and the inevitable critical shitstorm it kicked up on the web. Superlatives heaped on superlatives. Everyone did their best to drop as many references as possible to hauntology, psycho-geography, rave-nostalgia, and rainy nights in London. And all the while, as the blogosphere went into critical meltdown, it became increasingly clear that hardly anyone actually cared what made this record interesting or different at all. Burial-the-Artist was what really got peoples’ juices flowing, and the Kindred EP was simply a convenient excuse for a gigantic, collective jack-off session. The Quietus even ran a not-entirely-tongue-in-cheek competition on its Facebook page as to which review was the “wankiest.” (Pitchfork took the title.)

But the Kindred EP is different, and it does constitute a development in Burial’s sound. It’s also certainly worthy of the hype, but the reason why isn’t of the kind you’d expect. That is, there’s nothing especially different about the sonic language on offer here: the EP still sounds like Burial. Sure, there are some new samples — the ‘bellowing thunderstorm’ at the start of the title track — the beats being used/’referenced’ tend to sink a little further back in the mix; and occasionally — shock horror! — a vocal is left almost entirely untreated. There’s also an intriguing moment at the start of “Ashtray Wasp” where (for the first time?) Burial seems to refer to himself in addition to the rave tradition, redeploying a figure that originally appeared on Untrue’s “Endorphin”: echoes of echoes of misheard echoes. But all these differences feel small, incremental, modest somehow. The real progression on the Kindred EP relates to Burial’s use of musical time and space...

Head to TMT for the full breakdown.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

oren ambarchi: audience of one (touch)

Let’s have done with this notion of ‘abstraction’ in music, shall we? Music. Is. Never. Abstract. It’s concrete, physical, irresistibly and incontrovertibly material. As Vladimir Jankélévitch put it in “Music and the Ineffable” more than 50 years ago, “It acts upon human beings, on their nervous systems and their vital processes… This power which poems and colors possess occasionally and indirectly — is in the case of music particularly immediate, drastic, and indiscreet.” And not just in relation to humans either. Music’s materiality extends to tables and windows and dogs and goldfish too. Admittedly, its material effects will be importantly different in each case. Presumably the table is largely indifferent to what Adam Harper would call its ‘non-sonic variables.’ But the fact remains: Music is never ‘abstract.’

I point all this out here because ‘abstract’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot where Oren Ambarchi is concerned. Here it is on the front page of his own website, in an endorsement from The Wire. Ambarchi’s work, apparently, focuses mainly on the exploration of the guitar, “re-routing the instrument into a zone of alien abstraction where it’s no longer easily identifiable as itself. Instead, it’s a laboratory for extended sonic investigation.” The words “disembodied” and “stripped down” tend to crop up a lot too. As do references to water, air, the ether, and transcendence. It’s as if Ambarchi’s music were less there somehow than the work of other musicians, less concrete or present than Dylan or Kanye or James Ferraro or sunn 0))).

Well I call bullshit! There’s nothing ‘abstract’ about Ambarchi’s approach to the guitar at all. Exactly the opposite, in fact...

Friday, March 9, 2012

lapalux: when you're gone (brainfeeder)

Let me propose two very different models of contemporaneity. The first is from Terry Smith, art historian and author of What Is Contemporary Art?, in an essay from 2006 (PDF link). “Contemporaneity,” Smith writes, “consists precisely in the constant experience of radical disjunctures of perception, mismatching ways of seeing and valuing the same world, in the actual coincidence of asynchronous temporalities, in the jostling contingency of various cultural and social multiplicities, all thrown together in ways that highlight the fast-growing inequalities within and between them.”

Sonically, this is a version of the contemporary most obviously embodied in the music of James Ferraro and Daniel Lopatin. Both artists have embraced the values enumerated by Smith not only within individual works (Far Side Virtual, Replica), but between their many and “disjunctive” projects too (The Skaters, BODYGUARD, the Ferraro of Night Dolls with Hairspray on the one hand; 0PN, Ford and Lopatin, Sunset Corp on the other). These are artists, in other words, whose “nowness” consists precisely in (1) their concern with earlier periods of music-making and (2) their insistence on multiplicity and divergence as their primary modus operandi.

Well, UK producer Lapalux’s third EP (his first on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint) is contemporary in a totally different way. It’s a product of the kind of incremental modernism advocated by Adam Harper in his recent manifesto-like Infinite Music: Imagining the Next Millennium of Human Music-Making, a book that insists only on ‘sufficient novelty’ in contemporary music rather than great Reynoldsian leaps into the future.

When You’re Gone is contemporary in precisely this sense. It’s not groundbreaking exactly, but in terms of the recent aesthetics that it so expertly gathers together and distills, it still manages to sound genuinely fresh. More than any other record I’ve heard so far in 2012, When You’re Gone sounds like it could only have been released this year. It’s contemporaneity consists in the fact that it’s unmistakably of the Now. This isn’t tomorrow’s music, in other words; it’s today’s...

For the rest, head to the full review on TMT.