Just Let Go of Your Shoulders

I haven’t even finished Svend Brinkmann’s Stand Firm and yet his ideas have become a driving force in my day to day routine over the last few weeks. It’s his awareness of the present moment that’s moved me – or my days, depending on how you look at it – and his recognition that, “anything that could happen in your life, could happen today.”

Since shopping that phrase around, a crescendo of events has piled up, some positive, some negative, but most assuredly all happening in the current moment – the razor sharp now.

Which, without a doubt, is a good place to be. To celebrate I got a playlist going to take you into the weekend. We’ve got a bit of Tahoe (h/t Waltercronktight), a recent Bangers and Mash addition, and a Soundcloud classic that’s been bouncing around forever but never made it into a post.

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The Disappearing Act

In 2014 a young British producer and DJ released his first EP, 1992 EP. Then in 2015, he released another, 1000 EP, doubling down on a hypnotic, buzzing electronic sound that uses coiling synths and bluesy guitar tones to drive listeners towards an auditory cliff.

Ben Khan’s in your face, screeching style seemed to emanate from nowhere. There was no public figure – just a bare bones Soundcloud page and cryptic Tumblr. His aesthetic, a kaleidoscope of colors and a reverence for sharp, symmetrical patterns was captivatingly futuristic. This was music for flying cars.

Then he disappeared.

We haven’t heard anything from Ben Khan Since his last release, Blade (Tidal Wave of Love), which debuted on Soundcloud on August 4, 2015In an age where people stockpile social media accounts, Khan has barely left a footprint. A shell of a Facebook profile remains – the last post is from August 4, 2015.

Before Ben Khan there was Jai Paul, a young British DJ, known for minimalist album art and a distilled brand of electronic music – bloated synths chewing over clapping drum loops. Despite only two official singles, one interview and a leaked album, he reached peak indie fame. Pitchfork listed Jai Paul’s Jasmine (Demo) as #32 on their list of the 200 best tracks of the decade so far (2010-2014).

Jai Paul keeps a low profile, surfacing now and then. Recently he announced the founding of the Paul Institute, a mysterious creative endeavor that says it’s interested in everyone from, “event planners to coders.” Jai Paul’s last official release? April 3 2013.

Several users on Reddit have accused Ben Khan of copying Jai Paul, both sonically, and for averting the public eye. As soon as Jai Paul resurfaces so will Ben Khan, jokes a commenter. With so much crossover, you can’t help but fudge the truth a bit in hopes you have the trappings of a conspiracy theory that would make Alex Jones wiggle with excitment.

What’s keeping them quiet? Are Ben Khan and Jai Paul crippled by the stifling expectation that mounts with creative success? The yips. Writer’s block. It has many names and takes many forms. Or is their reasoning more clairvoyant? Maybe they realize that against the backdrop of our current reality, a time when marketing feels like our species newest evolutionary adaptation, disappearing is more interesting than avid self promotion. In the absence of talk, we have what equates to a precious metal.

Whether or not Ben Khan or Jai Paul release music is obviously up to them. All we can do is wait, and in the meantime watch as their music seeps into the blogosphere, trickling into new releases, like Isaac Delusion’s Isabella, who’s languid guitar sounds eerily similar to a Ben Khan riff.

**

Just For Kicks – An Interview with Perry Gershkow

Once in awhile, a perfectly good surf film gets ruined by a shit soundtrack. Fortunately, Perry Gershkow, a San Francisco based filmmaker, has eerily similar music taste to The Aftmth, and his recent film, Just For Kicks, features artists like Future Islands, Ruby Haunt, and Avid Dancer.

I’m always curious, do the visuals come first? Or does a specific sound inspire a director’s eye? We were lucky enough to ask Gershkow a few questions about how he struck such a harmonious chord.

Watch Just For Kicks here.

perry gershkow circular.png

For a project like Just For Kicks, what’s your process for selecting music?

Without the right music, surf films would be boring to watch, even to the surfer’s eye. For each section of every surf film, it’s important to find the mood you want to go with.  When you figure out what sort of mood you want your audience to be in while watching this section, then that’s where you can start finding music. With so much music out there, I wanted something that would create emotion as well as something that would get people excited.

You chose two Ruby Haunt songs. When did you first hear them? Why do you think their music works so well here?

Luckily, my buddy Victor Pakpour is in the band Ruby Haunt. He’s also a fellow filmmaker and a damn good one. His music possesses an emotion that I really think works for the parts I’ve been putting together, especially for this film.  I used some of their music in my last film, and people really enjoyed it. They came out with some new tracks this past year so I immediately was drawn to using their music again.

How do you discover new music?

Discovering new music is definitely a tricky hobby.  There are so many different kinds of music out in the world that it can be tough to narrow it down to something I can use for my films.  For me, I have a certain sound that I go for.  Being in the industry for a while, I’ve been able to make friends with people in really good bands.  For instance, two of the songs in the film are from a good friend Sara Damert, who scored these two songs for the film.  She has a very unique voice, which I think is crucial to have for originality.

Francois’ 2017

2017 was, and my media and musical preferences may be betraying themselves here, the year of the SoundCloud Rapper. If this seems like an obvious take that’s only because of how pervasive the persona has become. Recall that for manymany others, the idea of SoundCloud Rappers begat an education. A moniker for the internet- and homegrown hip-hop talents who released their hybrid projects on the orange-hued music streaming platform, which itself almost went bankrupt this year even after rolling out a rather innocuous ad-revenue subscription service akin to its green-logoed nemesis.

On SoundCloud, however, scores of aspiring musicians met, shared tracks, advice, and inspiration; meanwhile, for listeners, it serves as a resource for that one cover or remix which is not available on Spotify, Apple Music, or, god forbid, Tidal. The platform felt more personable, less corrupted, and a tinge more democratic. Listeners, it appeared, would gladly suffer ads for the comfort of the, ironically, less-corporate seeming media player. Here was where the majority and best of the late Lil Peep’s output resides. It is where Chance and Uzi broke out before propelling to bona fide stardom. Of course, like any other consumer-facing product, SoundCloud relies on metrics and data, but mainly because of what it is not—because of its imperfections—did it seem to cultivate trust and appreciation from audiophiles and the artists who spoke to and of them. This was a validity that didn’t solely appear to be about monthly listeners, followers, or algorithmic prioritization.

The Soundcloud Rapper, then, became shorthand for an artist who by the content of their flow, production, voice, or some other miscellany, could not quite fit the established paradigm and posture of rap. (Skeptics would say we’ve hit the amoral bottom of so much bad being good because all we have is bad and that resets our standards.) The notion expanded, became known, and, like all good and weird things born of the internet, in a sort of backlash, ended up manifesting as the inspiration for an ill-considered Halloween costume.

Still, this is a long-winded apology for not including any SoundCloud rap on my favorite songs of the year (worse, the provided playlist is hosted by Spotify). The songs I enjoyed most are, I think, interconnected in their own way—songs with features was a way of including multiple favs, two-birds-one-stone, etc. Still, I need to reel off a few more honorable mentions here: A track like “Once Upon a Time” marked the return of The Diplomats whose braggadocio and cleverness was sorely missed. Whether it was FergTwelvyy, or the extended familia, A$AP made strides on their LP releases. 2 Chainz made the gift that keeps on giving on “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music”—I keep finding new tracks to bounce to. SZA was superlative on many of these sorts of lists, and should hers have been the only music released in 2017, we could all die in the Trump-apocalypse tomorrow and not in vain. Diet CigPalehoundKing Krule, Weaves, and Mac DeMarco released albums which, however distinct, make me feel young enough still to emote heavy with a lady or lad rock band. Mount Kimbie (a perennial top-5 musical act and the best concert I attended this year), Aminé, and Kendrick Lamar (the artist Spotify tells me I listened to the most over the previous 12 months), all came out with albums that I’ll regret not including on my best-of. Like Cassidy, by way of Jay Z said over a dozen years ago, ask about me and I’ll explain why.

This was also a year that saw the olds insist on making me revisit the sentimental investments of my youth, and, a la the show I never and possibly WILL NEVER finish, had me sliding backward on nostalgia toward “a place where we ache to go again.” So, shouts to music for teens that are just as good on the other side of 25: The NationalSpoonFuture IslandsThe War on DrugsGorillaz, and Broken Social Scene.

On the horizon, there’s Quiet Luke, a Prince-like singer and guitarist who is the fifth or sixth (who knows at this point) coming of Frank Ocean. Along with KWAYE, who has yet to make a track—even if its message is melancholy—that makes you get up and move in the way James Brown intended. Santangelo, makes music that is the singular stuff of SoundCloud’s heyday—cerebral and not-ready-for radio. His “Cave In” runs on the rhythm and beat of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” which had me so wrapped up in wonder that I nearly missed my bus stop in the pouring rain. Clairo is a singer whose short lovelorn tracks belie talent and maturity, yet bridle with youth and something purposefully restrained—she’s not ready to share the magnitude of her vision and feelings quite yet. Imagine a bittersweet Maggie Rogers who eschewed NYU and with no hipster tattoos in sight.

So, the top 10? 

Well, the playlist gets its name from the few months I speculated a devious connection between Harry Styles’ impressive solo album and Christopher Nolan’s nationalistic and war-porn movie which stars Mr. Styles as the only person sane enough to say something nasty. (In truth, he makes a silly racist remark in front of a group of soldiers who look like they passed through a Blind Barber before making it to the beachhead battlefront, providing one of the few realistic depictions of how starved and imperiled soldiers would actually act in the movie). ANYWAY, my two favorite albums this year were the annoying-to-pronounce Alvvay’s “Antisocialites” and Tyler, The Creator’s “Flower Boy.” Among the other albums which made me cry were Rex Orange County’s debut, “Apricot Princess,” Princess Nokia’s “1992 Deluxe,” Young Thug’s “Beautiful Thugger Girls,” and Moses Sumney’s “Aromanticism.” Speaking of whom, Moses’ “Lonely World” is the feeling after you spill the mug of tea and don’t give a fuck, you run out of there and out of the world.

But this is a mix of individual tracks, so, it should be noted that Yaeji’s hit her stride and come a long way from that one time I played “New York 93” on the office Sonos that went over really, really poorly. The new mysterious electronic artist that’s got me by a strange, sonic gravitational pull, however, is The Blaze, whose videos relate a homoerotic and athletic mise-en-scène that involves Arabic persons in what is possibly the Levant that is as indelible as it is mesmerizing. Oh, and he/they put out a M83 remix that has the most ridiculous album art of the 21st Century. Lastly, and this was decided for me from the first time I listened to it, is one of the loosies Frank Ocean dropped this year: “Provider.” It’s a murmuring more than it is sung or rapped, and with a flowing production that rolls along the mentions of Super Saiyans, Patagonia jackets, and Stanley Kubrick, it is my ideal type of song—what I searched for and cherished whenever I found echoes of in 2017. The above, I hope, is an honest testament to that matter.

P.S. I’m hype for the Young Fathers album due out in “the near future.”

See ya, 2017!

D-Man’s 2017

It occurred to me in 2017 that experiencing music is much different than hearing it. Let’s imagine you’re at work and you give Discover Weekly a go. A carousel of data-driven reccomendations is wheeled out and you’re presented billboard climbers and diamonds in the rough – all with some potential (at least algorithmic potential) of resonating with your current state.

The reality is that most of the sounds slide right off you, disappearing back into the internet from whence they came. But some songs produce a type of friction – a sudden awareness that pulls you into the moment.

It’s kind of like Tinder. You may be compelled to believe that there are thousands of potential matches, but there’s really only a handful of people willing to meet in person and even fewer who want to connect on a deeper level.

We want to write about those second dates. The solid matches. The songs that make you experience music as an active force. The tunes you play again and again, as if by listening once more, you may get to the bottom of what’s important.

In the spirit of experience, here are a few songs that defined my 2017.

-D-man


Chris Stapleton – Tennessee Whiskey

**

Despite my best efforts, I can’t get into country. Once, while visiting my brother in Montana I got close, enjoying how the sharp Southern drawl made wheel lines seem like religious labor. What could be more important than driving to feed the cows? Then, I’d hear pop country (the genre Wheeler Walker has used to shit-talk his way to fame) and would return a skeptic.

Which is all to say I didn’t expect to like Chris Stapleton, a soft-spoken Southerner who seems to inhabit a different musical universe than Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. Like any country star, Chris Stapleton loves to sing about whiskey bottles and desert winds, but unlike his counterparts, he seems to bridge a transcendental gap, crafting music that can ring from the inside of honkey tonk bars to a gridlocked work commute.


Beach Fossils – Be Nothing

**

You always had something

You wish you had nothing

Still a loosely defined genre, indietronica blends two disparate worlds, running an electronic current through the traditional live band set up. Imagine long hair swaying over delay peddles, downtrodden beats, and the celebration of total melancholy. Give in and there’s relief – a weightlessness or what I imagine a sensory deprivation pool to feel like.

Of course there’s a limit to so much reverb, a line that Washed Out pushes, sometimes approaching numbness. Where Beach Fossils excels is the rush of the bridge, as the song builds to a crucial guitar solo, forty seconds of intense exhilaration – a shot of adrenaline to pull us out of our stupor.


Shagabond – Sweet Magma / Kraak & Smaak – Stumble (feat. Parcels)

2017 was a hell of a year for Soundcloud. In July multiple news outlets reported that a shutdown of the music streaming service seemed imminent. Money was drying up and when you stopped to think about it, who owns a Soundcloud Pro account anyways?

Then, an emotional response surfaced, as bloggers and users ran through their lists of remixes, mashups, and bootleg tunes that only Soundcloud could produce. Anticipating the shutdown, a few engineers rushed to archive everything. I got ready to mourn my “like” tab on Soundcloud – a nostalgic tour de force of electronic misfits.

Soundcloud was saved and appears (for the moment) to be stable. Out of the turmoil, one thing became apparent, Soundcloud is valued more than it’s bottom line may indicate, and it’s still a treasure trove of galaxy hop and other futuristic sounds.


ODESZA – Higher Ground

**

A few weeks after ODESZA’s new album, A Moment Apart, debuted, I still hadn’t listened. I felt like maybe I was over their brand of music. Since hearing How Did I Get Here almost five years ago, the masses had taken notice, followed by sellout shows in Berkeley and major commercial spots with top-notch brands.

That and Anthony Fantano, “the internet’s busiest music nerd,” waved off the album with a single Tweet.

When I finally did listen, I was struck by the odd sensation of parting the seas on some degree of musical snobbery. I was aware of a public persona and a private one. There was me, the music blogger, and me, the listener – both with their own agendas. One thinks about music, and the other simply enjoys it.

ODESZA’s classic refrain, a chattering, metallic rhythm section that powers their music like a locomotive train, made me realize that you should never turn your back on guilty pleasures. They’re too much fun.

They’ll sing you a lullaby

I don’t know what to tell you but of the ambiguous pain and assuring wonder. Of being lulled into a vulnerable and purposeful state by music. This isn’t a sad blog, necessarily, but just one that concerns itself with what happened over the course of a few weeks at the tail end of 2017. The transmission of a few songs and circumstances that, over this fortnight, could, perhaps, coalesce into a block of thought worth relating to the internet. (A sad blog would be one that dealt with the minutia of Pavement’s “Spit on a Stranger,” I imagine.)

I know, I know. There’s a lot of music out there. No amount of round-ups and Spotify missives will reckon with the fact that particular songs resonate with us more than others. They seem to stay on repeat long enough as to be an affect—like a particular pair of shoes or the tab you won’t close on your browser even though you’ve exhausted its contents. Still, there are, should you choose, songs that haunt as well. And deliberately so—you don’t seek exorcism necessarily, rather you invite these tracks to remain a companion presence such as they preoccupy your thoughts and state of being. A song begins to become a strain of emotion that, yeah, maybe, feels like more than what you’ve ever admitted to yourself or your friends, or anyone at a party. This is by virtue understandable since music is performative, in transit, and confessional. It awaits an audience.

All of this is quickly slipping into sloppy emoting territory, however, should I not establish any worthwhile stakes in this matter. So, my crutch: “I Can’t Do Without You (Tales of Us & Mano Le Tough Remix).” One of the best/worst things of this century, musically speaking, has been the drop. While it rightly so is a cliche and frequent MacGuffin maneuver of very middling EDM, the beat drop—when the bass or rest of the instrumentation (re)enters the song at a louder, deeper pulse—is executed well, it can be, um, riveting. When done to a degree beyond the professional grade, the beat drop can shake you, rattle your bones, make your hair stand, etc. Or, at the minimum here, I can prescribe this sole song as example.

**

As the writer Nora Khan’s suggested, electronic music, perhaps because of the durable length of songs that are double the pop standard, have a capacity to “collapse our sense of time.” How much and in what way is music identity forming and how much of it is misplaced nostalgia, she asks. The chime and plod of this remix of an already standout Caribou track was especially revelatory for me after I heard it in the Polish voyeuristic film “All These Sleepless Nights.” A camera closely trails two college-age friends through Warsaw, following them on many late nite tramps through clubs, raves, and silent discos. The women and friends who fall in and out of their lives, the crushing pleasures of hedonism and sensory overstimulation, are all caught by a camera at once too intimate and sincere. It is a loving look at even the minor tragedies and falling outs between the duo and the persons in their orbit. That sincerity, however, is entrapping, held together by the music that courses throughout and over the film. It is so comforting as to upend me in almost-naseua at how much the tableau of “All These Sleepless Nights” means to me.

A song of primarily a single refrain sung over a beat that develops layers of sonic stratigraphy, the innocuous recanting of “I can’t do without you” sounds as if it were a fading away from someone, a regression to a sullen state, or, perhaps, a reaching out toward somebody. The song builds like an intelligent dance music reissue of a Bach canon or fugue (the patient zero for almost all music that has come since). When Spotify broke the obvious news to me that this particular Caribou song was among my top 5 most listened to of the year, I thought, Well, 2007 me had exhausted all the versions of a particular Bach melody via Limewire that was probably burning a hole in my first generation iPod. Inconveniently enough, I cannot seem to find this gift horse for you, and, so, if/when you ever google “Bach canon,” this unfortunately exhausted song will populate the results. When I find the canon I’m looking for, I’ll follow up. Swear.

Then there’s Khan describing what, without much stretch of the imagination, is a truth anyone with an iota of the sensitivity of Drake has felt: “The music I listen to speaks to the past that I wish I had, the present I wish I had, the future I hope to have. Taken together, it builds a world of limitless potential I can only inhabit in my head.” That is, music as an exercise of one’s woes, one’s self, and one’s shortcomings and potential. Where, just as music can move a listener it can arrest them too.

**

“Plastic” is a vivid song that tracks the singer’s frailty to the plight of Icarus—the wax-winged mythical figure from ancient Greece, whose story is a cautionary tale for egotism. Given the gift of flight, Icarus flew too close to the sun which melted his wings, sending him plummeting to a certain doom in the depths of the Icarian Sea—the name of which is a bit on the nose, even for the Greeks, but still.

“My wings are made of plastic, my wings are made of plastic. / My wings are made up / and so am I,” sings Sumney of a sense of fragility in his disarming falsetto. His singing in person was enough to make a guy feel barely contained. And much more so given the circumstances. The four-song set occurred in a structure expressly built for ascension or grace. Grace being a state of levity—when you feel like sugar, or a whistling kettle, or weightless, or, more traditionally, when you can walk on water. At the San Damiano Mission—a church with stained glass likenesses of biblical characters watching from on high, the pitched nave, as is custom, directed toward heaven—was Sumney, who began the show with “Incantation,” a liturgical track which has him singing in Hebrew—ultimately, a not unfamiliar tongue in a Catholic church or for a guy named Moses. Traditionally, this cant is a prayer to the angels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael to help protect one during the night (or Night). And his lyrics felt apposite to what a gathered and packed in crowd of beautiful people in Brooklyn Sunday sundries could expect.

Sumney performed “Incantation” a cappella. His accompaniment for the rest of the tracks otherwise consisting of an electric guitar and grand piano. The watching, and at many times, watery-eyed audience were rapt by Sumney—who was notedly bashful as if he’d rolled out of bed and onto the altar. His voice was clarifying, however. Last night was of sins and indulgences, he seemed to offer. Today was a recalibration. My years of Catholic schooling were being recalled like dust lifted into the light by a footfall: The remonstrations, the scripture, the discussions of homily and the holy—and here, in a time in popular music where openly slouching toward God will not necessarily harm record sales.

There is thankful comfort to be had in a setting where the word savior is invoked with doubtless conviction. Music, in a bit of hyperbole, perhaps, is a salve. Or, it feels like a salve. Sumney’s voice, whether in a church, or through headphones, or some other calibrated machination, is not salvation. It is, instead, a lullaby. Akin to what the critic Max Norman, in viewing a relatively unheralded Edvard Munch painting (from an exhibit curated by author Karl Ove Knausgaard, no less), described as “something else,” a feeling “approaching a kind of comprehension—one of those sentimental moments that move you in spite of yourself.” In the absence of anguish sentimentality may creep in, he suggests. Still, a negative feeling is, when held just so, a reprieve. Someone else, like Sumney, reckons with woes in a manner that feel so relatable as to cradle one away from mortal concerns and to momentarily distract into a state of what Buddhists, Hindus, and Catholics have all called unsentimental love.

**

But there’s, too, the performative shock of hearing something transcendent for the first time. It pipes in through the ears a sense of grace that is deliberately delightful on, say, a crowded and slothful evening subway ride uptown. Recently and specifically, this meant hearing a couple voices commingle on a track recommended to me through a trusted blogger. It wasn’t so much low expectations but an acquiescing to the rightness of the internet’s suggestion that gave me a feeling of minor incorporeality: myself in intangible forms—a song, a digital file, a lullaby conveyed.

The toy piano sound of “Close But Not Quite”, for its part, should immediately signal a lullaby; but it also is a retreat back to the days of when I listened to the Dresden Dolls following a red-headed girl’s recommendation. Memory is imprecise and shifts to fit the forms we prefer, but, still, I remember reading about this Boston band and fixating on the fact that they, as professionals, would find artistic purchase through a child’s plaything. This was in the heyday of the Strokes and Interpol. I was teaching myself drums by listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” on repeat, and here was a self-selected admirable tune from someone whose taste I trusted. Though it isn’t exactly the same tinkle. The sound on the track from my minor revelation on the subway appears synthetic, a simulacrum of the analog.

Everything Is Recorded’s “Close But Not Quite” comes a bit under the radar, sure, but it is the EP that was promised. XL Records exec Richard Russell brought, magnanimously, a group of musicians and samples together with his varying production, the title track of which can either meet the listener with the weight of an anchor and the cotton-swabbing cleanse of a lullaby. Besides the not-quite toy piano, “Close But Not Quite” is built around Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You,” from 1970. That isn’t clear, however, until the hook which, when directly following a Sampha verse, is a falsetto pairing that can ruin you if you’re feeling vulnerable. It’s a gift, all 3:29 minutes of flourishing Motown and lightly touching drums.

Now, sitting behind a laptop and feeling this out from a distance feels leveling, neither Sampha nor Mayfield can quite square the feelings intangible to them on the song, and, really, what all of the above writing is considering is that tracks such as these can do the opposite for the listener. We can feel a little more whole by having certain falsettos or beat drops reverberating through us. Strange how some things become an earworm and metonym for a particular moment. And others can never shake their nostalgic pull. It’s warped, retrospection. It can appear that a sad song has soothed you. But, even in a lullaby, we often only hear what we want to hear.