Wednesday, November 28, 2012

emeralds: just to feel anything (editions mego)

Emeralds are doubly anachronistic. It’s not just that they’re retro. They aren’t even retro in a particularly contemporary way. With vaporwave, 2012 saw the culmination of a logic that had partly begun in the mid noughties with hauntology and hypnagogic pop. Ariel Pink, Burial, Oneohtrix Point Never, James Ferraro, Ghost Box, Not Not Fun. This sort of music always had a certain “aboutness” to it. Burial wasn’t reproducing rave; he was mourning it. Ariel Pink wasn’t just resurrecting the pop of yesteryear; he was remembering it. On “Artifact” from 2005’s tellingly entitled Worn Copy, he sings through a fog of hypnagogic fuzz “Never forget the Golden Age… This is an artifact of that.” Both lyrically and sonically, this was music about other music. And that was a large part of what made it interesting.

This was the logic that vaporwave took up this year and radicalized. In doing so, it introduced a different regime of art-practice to the musical avant-underground: the readymade. Unlike seapunk with which it was regularly and erroneously lumped, vaporwave was always more than just a “sound,” a shared archive or set of production techniques. At its most radical, what it did was interrupt the logic of modernism. By dramatically foregrounding the act of appropriation, precisely by refusing to be “original” in the conventional sense of the term, it made the listening experience all about that original; maybe even about the discourse of originality itself. Either way, it seemed to be adopting some sort of critical position. And the impossibility of ever determining once and for all whether this amounted to endorsement or disavowal was a crucial part of the intrigue.

In other words, vaporwave did for music what Duchamp, Warhol, and Koons had done before in visual art. But it also did something else, something more. Vaporwave wasn’t simply derivative of a familiar logic; it extended and deepened it. In its musicality, its sonority, vaporwave had a fleshiness, a sensuality to it that even the biggest, brightest Koons never managed. Vaporwave was always more than just a conceptual gesture, in other words, a mere staging of the undecidability of the critical task. It enfolded you in the experience of that undecidability, held you in it, really forced you to feel it: to notice your attention coming in and out of focus as the album unfolded, at turns indifferent, the sound just washing over you, genuinely compelled and occasionally, yes, disgusted.

Emeralds’ relationship with the past is of a different brand entirely. What’s more, after vaporwave, it feels outdated and, to these ears anyway, uninteresting. Having originally made a name for themselves as a drone outfit, Emeralds officially “crossed over” with 2010’s Does It Look Like I’m Here (TMT Review). For the first time, there were melodies, song structures, and a distinctly “pop” sensibility to add to the neo-kosmiche new age vibes. Mark McGuire’s guitar noodlings took a distinctly proggy turn, and it all started to sound a lot like mid-to late-70s Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching. These weren’t exactly slavish recreations. It was as if Emeralds had simply decided to pick up and continue to explore a genre that had last touched base with the zeitgeist some 30 or so years previously.

Nothing has changed on their most recent outing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

ital: dream on (planet mu)

If you’d asked me a year ago which artists best exemplified the state of the contemporary avant-underground, I’d have said Daniel Lopatin and James Ferraro, and left it that. No doubt about it. Today, I’d want to add Daniel Martin-McCormick to the list. 

While mainstream pop is busy converging on a single mutant mega-genre — euro-dance, feat. R&B, feat. hip-hop, feat. rock, feat. euro-dance, feat. R&B — elsewhere the name of the game is radical eclecticism and artistic self-difference. Multiple projects and personae. #keeponmoving @changenotevolution. N E V E R S E T T L E. And the attitude always seems very deliberate, studied. The musical sensibility I’m getting at here always seems to have an agenda. This is the era of the concept musician, the PhDJ and their necessary foil the academicritic.

Look how perfectly Daniel Martin-McCormick fits this bill. He first made a name for himself between 2001 and 2004, releasing two excellent records with the post-hardcore turned free-improv and general freakout five-piece Black Eyes. After that, his next project was Mi Ami. Initially Mi Ami did post-punk, though with more than a passing interest in dub. But by 2011’s Dolphins, the group had discarded the paraphernalia of rock entirely, trading in their guitars for “ancient drum machines, a sampler that runs on floppy disks, and the simplest keyboard presets imaginable” (TMT Review). The result was a kind of dystopic, ultra lo-fi electro-pop that, although it was clearly indebted to old-school house and disco, nevertheless wore its own lack of roots in the dance tradition firmly on its sleeve. And if this were true sonically, it was even more obvious visually. When Mi Ami made the shift to Not Not Fun offshoot 100% Silk for their most recent effort Decade, it made perfect sense.

In fact, Martin-McCormick’s association with Not Not Fun had already been established for some time as Sex Worker, probably his weirdest project to date (which is saying something). And when the Ital moniker emerged in 2011 on a series of EPs for 100% Silk, there were mumblings right from the very start that maybe this was an artist we’d heard from before. If it was hard to tell, that’s because this was the first time Martin-McCormick had abandoned his trademark squawk, hitherto the only continuity between the various projects. Moreover, this wasn’t just a surface level difference. It signaled that for the first time Martin-McCormick might be interested in making straight-ahead dance music rather than some sort of semi-ironic commentary on it. Not “hipster house,” just house. And by 2012, he had duly made the move to the estimable Brighton-based electronic label Planet Mu.

In another era, that’s probably where this brief synopsis would have ended. In 2012, it’d be wrong of me not to mention Martin-McCormick’s regular (and high-quality) output as a critic for Dusted magazine as well. Look at the records he’s reviewing. Look at his favorites of 2010 and 2011. This is a guy who’s not just listening to but theorizing exactly the same stuff we are. Which is to say E V E R Y T H I N G: noise, dubstep, techno, punk, footwork, hip-hop, African disco, reggae, Colin Stetson, Matthew Herbert, Cooly G, Laurel Halo, Hype Williams, and plenty of Oneohtrix Point Never. And it’s fascinating to notice, for instance, that Martin-McCormick reviewed Planet Mu’s superb original Bangs & Works compilation shortly before signing to the label and suddenly injecting a heavy dose of footwork into his own sound. The result, “Doesn’t Matter (If You Love Him)” from February’s formidable Hive Mind (TMT Review) is for my money one of the standout tracks of 2012. The fact that “Privacy Settings” follows only two tracks later is testament both to the depth of Martin-McCormick’s talent and to the breadth of his artistic vision. “Privacy Settings” offers four of the darkest, most unsettling minutes you’re ever likely to experience. Footwork this ain’t.

It’s this diversity that makes Martin-McCormick such a tantalizing proposition. You get the sense that anything goes with him; that’s he totally unalloyed to genre; that he could go anywhere or do anything next; that none of the rules apply except when he wants them to, except when he’s deliberately invoking and exploiting them; that having already tried his hand at punk, noise, and improv — and admirably so — on his next album he might simply abandon electronica entirely and move on again.

He didn’t. Not this time at least...

head here for the rest of the review.

and i did a bit of an artist focus on dmm on my radio show here if you fancy some high quality listening