Chance the Rapper//Chain Smoker
Editor’s Note: The following is a compiling of all of the music reviews I have done so far for UK publication The Line of Best Fit. My personal favorites are the Ke$ha and Tyler, The Creator treatments. Enjoy.
This Many Boyfriends is all bass lines, bright live guitars, and rounded, delightful vocals, something like Joy Division – or, perhaps more accurately,Dramarama on selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors – taking cues from Jamaica, exchanging some of the emotional heft for pop approachability, and leaning more towards the “dance” side of the Dance or Cry spectrum post punk music tends to exist in. Walking a fine line between heart on sleeve, tooth rotting cotton candy and sticky sweet, syrupy honest feeling, This Many Boyfriends mainly stick to the latter, and one is too busy dancing to be bothered much by the former. Their sound is immediately familiar and welcome, irresistibly moving, always with a wink and a tear and more often than not an infectious hook. Tiny blasts of feedback and ripsaw solos add some pseudo-flint to the proceedings, but the vast majority of the instrumentation is light, loose and fun.
Purity Ring‘s Shrines is space music, both in that it creates space through atmospheric, architectural mastery, and in the way that it proceeds to populate said space with sounds that are as beautiful, disconcerting, and alien as the universe, a dissociative, hazy collection of breathy sighs and moans, a manipulation of gasps and exhalations set to stuttering, shimmering trap rhythms that is then traced delicately by Megan James’ vocals and cut deeply, irrevocably, by the Beautiful Violence of the lyrics she is so gently scaring the space with. “Cut open my sternum and pull/My little ribs around you”, she sings, and one is taken aback not so much by the graphicness of the imagery, but by the pulchritude of its delivery, haunting and thin in a vast, Cimmerian cosmos.
Black Moth Super Rainbowhas a reputation for abstruseness, a band comprised of pseudonyms who only rarely provide the glimpses of humanity that so many other artists do, like publicity photos or interviews. This prevailing sense of mystery about the band, which is absolutely remarkable in the internet era, becomes all the more enigmatic when juxtaposed with their music: any listener who approaches Cobra Juicy will find an easily unpacked, thoroughly enjoyable album that seems to belie the muddy atmosphere that surrounds the artists who made it.
Composed of snaking, whispering lyrics, scattered synths and guitars and an active, pulsing rhythm section, Egyptian Hip Hop‘s sound is bright with a dark sensibility, diamonds flung upon black velvet. Perhaps this can be contributed to the current economic climate, with dark clouds still covering the United States and eurozone, a miasma that has led to the increasinglyCimmerian leanings seen in all manner of music, from Clams Casino to Charli XCX. Tumultuous times and intangible enemies lead to an atmosphere of ambient angst, and there is just enough of that in Egyptian Hip Hop’s DNA.
That is not to say that this is not Caulfield rap, reflective, intellectual, and laced through with messages both political and personal, including references to “class war hooligans” and “bricks to occupy my backpack”, ruminations on black culture and growing up in Minnesota and the healthy amount of ego that anyone willing to put words to wax must possess before writing down their first line; it is the fact that this rap is delivered without a preacher’s collar or a schoolboy blazer, stripped bare of pontification or mewling by the sincerity one can hear in P.O.S.’s tone – that is what makes it remarkable.
Striking the right balance of fresh interpretation and deft use of the original composition is something difficult to quantify, and even harder to critique. Should remixes be analysed in relation to their reference material, judged by how they alter and twist the strands to their own whims and predilections, whether or not they improve upon – or at least vary enough – the first song, thereby proving their worth to exist? Or should a remix be taken as a separate piece, listened to without the prejudice, bias, or onus of the original and left to stand purely upon its own merits?
A raw sexuality permeates the album, a feeling–to borrow an image from Cat Marnell–of “fur coats over lacy leotards,” a uniform for smoking cigarettes out of the window, a scene to which I would add voodoo dolls and a steel drum filled with rum and blood, within which bobs maraschino cherries, with the whole thing lit by votive candles that reflect little Jovian pools on the snow outside the window beneath the smoke. The sweeping, nihilistic cool of ‘Down On Life’ (which is perhaps the best song on the entire record, a potentially dangerous thing with it being the outlier and all), the pulsing, quivering synths of the other tracks, the dance evoking syncopations, all are a touch alluring and a tad dirty, which is, of course, where their allure comes from.
Part of it was the way those graphic lines were written, too finely crafted and intelligent to truly be designated “crude”. When combined with the indisputable skills that both Tyler and Earl posses – nimble, distinct flows; a variety of timbres and textures, particularly in the case of Tyler – the early works easily surpass whatever attempts one could make to write them off as juvenile trolling. (This is not to say that they were not juvenile trolling; simply that they were more than just that.) The violence, the dick references, the faggots and scalpels, all of it was as addictive as a Brett Easton Ellis novel; biting, youthful, graphic, unsettling, irresistible, avant garde paradoxically high grade pulp, and on top of it all was Tyler, Tyler’s voice, all tarantula hairs and dried blood, crawling across those tracks.
“I want to be a fucking pop star”, she said from the plain black couch in her understated dressing room, sans makeup, hair piled in an onyx tangle devouring a large pair of sunglasses like an ink stained cuttlefish, swimming in a bordeaux crew neck and bouncing a pair of ludicrously high platform sneakers in a caramel-and-cream zebra pattern from thin cigarette legs clung to by jet black cycling shorts. “But I want to do it on my own terms.”
So yes, there is a decided coat of rock and roll covering everything here, and yes, it is present in forms both obvious (Iggy Pop; the homage to ‘In the Air Tonight‘ that is ‘Love Into The Light,’ which, when read aloud, rhymes mellifluously with Phil Collins‘ piece) and subdued (the Flaming Lips-like opening to ‘C’mon’). In much the same way that Japandroids decided to obliterate the dust mote indie rock of The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear et al with a straight-ahead treatment of rock that required no modifiers, Ke$ha too reaches for a savage base pull, lifting from the low-end, high-reward arena rock spectrum, a place of soaring peaks and valleys that still float above heads even at their most subdued, music meant to be blasted from towering stacks of speakers, so the stage appears bookended by the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center and that finds its artistic beauty in the sheer size and ferocity of its scope and emotional appeal.
Special thanks to Jude Clarke for serving as editor on all of these.
-B. David Zarley
“Some of these efforts are carried off with the subtlety and grace of a ballerina on benzodiazepines; “Babble, Blabber, Chatter, Gibber, Jabber, Patter, Prattle, Rattle, Yammer, Yada, Yada, Yada,” with its carousel slides of semaphore flags spelling the work’s title, is a touch on the nose—literal visual communication! Image as language, ponderous, slow and practically unreadable in its esoteric nature!—but isn’t that the intrinsic fate of messages about messages?”
Read the rest of my review of the Amalia Pica’s eponymous MCA exhibition on Newcity.
-B. David Zarley
“Being administered this lesson in popular music theory was a strange crowd, one befitting the day on which they had gathered, a teeming disparate mass. Petite, Cleopatra-banged brunettes and the callow, testosterone-drenched denizens typical of Wrigleyville intermingled with girls dotted with tattoos, some spilled upon their laps, so that they clung desperately to creamy thighs, with heads topped by masses of loose, black curls intertwined, in at least one case, with the screaming, lascivious pink of high school skateboarders and early punk rock adopters; a girl in a sequined jacket and pants that roared downward, from a hip cling anchoring to a gaping, heel-swallowing mouth, danced with a kind of sea buoy sensibility, arms lofted high and rigid, rolling with waves only she could feel (they were certainly not in time with the music); every essence of her being coquettishly whispered “designer drugs,” while the entire scene seemed to steadily be preparing to fling itself suicidally into depravity.”
Read the rest of my account of Purity Ring’s Chicago show here.
-B. David Zarley
Gunplay//Bible On The Dash
My father and I in the Wrigley Field press box.
-B. David Zarley
Editor’s Note: The Abattoir is where pieces left on the cutting room floor of other stories get showcased. Today’s entry is from a Sun News review of “Rizzo”:
A reliance on structure is what guides a Michael Crichton narrative; none would ever go so far as to describe a protagonist as “Crichton-esque,” but the mere evocation of his name conjures up images of science run amok, of tightly paced scenes and linear, enjoyable plots, cold open horrors crescendoing to preternatural heroism, often hinging upon the confrontation of some sort of moral or ethical trapdoor spider which will emerge from its hole in the ground, maybe a leg or two at a time, saving the dread visage—dead rows of eyes and menacing, syringe-tipped chelicerae—for the moment directly before the hero’s aforementioned climactic rescuing act; when one thinks of Crichton, one thinks of stories or set pieces, not the humanity of his players, and the Big Ideas are what a reader carries upon closing the book for the final time, long after the characters have faded to dust.
Even the very artistry of the words themselves seem not to matter much to the structural writer, something odd when, if not the defining factor, the beauty of the words chosen could most certainly be considered a key aspect of writing. The fallacy here is that we are not attracted to this book for the writing; what we are after is the storytelling, and the two are very different things. “The main thing that keeps … gifted storytellers from being artistically good is that they don’t have any talent for (or interest in) characterization,” David Foster Wallace once wrote in “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky.” Which, of course, is not to say that those gifted plots are any less compelling.
As structure—and therefor, the stories it relies upon—may stand without the benefit of truly fine writing, a dependency on character can survive in amorphous, miasmic narratives which lack well crafted structure. How trivial, really, are the actual occurrences of “Catcher in the Rye,” compared to the everlasting character of Holden Caulfield himself? Taking Salinger even further, the rather limited events depicted in the short story collection “Nine Stories” feature some of the most intriguing silhouettes in literature; we know incredibly little about the grand arc of these character’s lives, but are given so beautifully the minutiae of their here and now (“Each of his phrasings was rather like a little ancient island, inundated by a miniature sea of whiskey,” Salinger writes of one character’s voice) that they live vibrantly, even if only as brilliant vignettes.
-B. David Zarley