Kim Jung Mi – Haenim

As legend tells it, Kim Jung Mi was a quiet student in the early 1970s when renowned songwriter, composer, producer, and South Korean legend Shin Joong Hyun brought her on to sing on Now. Kim, Shin, and their backing group taped a 10 song record together, with Haenim as the opening track.

The result was a soft psychedelic folk number that’s simple and warm. Listening to Haenim, I imagine it may stand out more now, in an era of Chainsmokers and Ed Sheeran, than it ever did amidst the release of The Rolling Stone’s Angie and The Allman Brother’s Ramblin’ Man.

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Nick Hakim – Lift Me Up

Nick Hakim. Nick Hakim. Nick Hakim. I kept seeing the name everywhere. Cymbal. Spotify. @nprmusic. The New Yorker. A Pitchfork article “The Eclectic Soul Music of Nick Hakim” gave me a sense of the man, but not the music.

Like anyone who’s late to the party, I quickly took stock to see if there was anything I could grapple onto. Some way of staking my claim.

I half-listened to Hakim’s top three songs on Spotify (I Don’t Know, Cuffed, Papas Fritas), skipping ahead more than once. The aesthetic was tantalizing but the sound didn’t connect. I dropped it.

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Pre-Outside Lands (a wonderful and hedonistic blur of beer, trampled grass and Future Islands), I flopped onto my bed, fully clothed, shoes dangling over the edge.

Work was done for the week. Music, loud and all-encompassing was streaming off my girlfriend’s phone. I listened to whatever was playing, and began to drift, my face scrunched into the crisp, white sheets.

The lack of control was freeing. I hovered for a few minutes. Nothing spiritual about it. Just an absence of mental chatter –  freewheeling space – Aladin hovering over a city of lights, absorbed in the current of whatever was playing, which upon stretching to turn over her phone was Nick Hakim’s soul music.

Ruby Haunt – Freeway Crush (Nutrition Remix)

At the heart of Nutrition’s remix of Ruby Haunt’s Freeway Crush is a feeling of vulnerability. An audible yearning for something majestic. Something lasting.

The original, by Laguna based Ruby Haunt, is in fact full of heart-ache. With a drum kit, Stranger Things-esque keyboard, and plodding bass line, Ruby Haunt creates a watery landscape. We’re a child kicking a pebble on a rainy day, contemplating something larger than homework.

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Nutrition lays on the accelerator a bit, adding the tap tap of a cymbal, draws out the synths and pulls the song out of adolescence and into the present – to focus on the person drifting next to you. The romance of driving at night. Hugging turns. Flashing lights. The odd notion that, “driving is a spectacular form of amnesia.”

Thor Rixon – The Clown

Five years ago I interviewed a young South African musician named Thor Rixon at a cafe in Cape Town. We’d been set up by a young woman in my music journalism class who was eager to introduce me to her friend and lead man of Sun-Do Q’lisi.

As I set up my GoPro for the interview, I felt a nervous energy run through my gut. I doubted my ability to interpret Sun-Do Q’lisi’s most recent project, an experiment with costumes, exaggerated grins, and synths that hummed like buzz saws.

“At the center of Sun-Do Q’lisi’s music is the desire for creativity and the pursuit of fun.  Unlike many young bands that seem desperate to find a niche, Sun-Do Q’lisi dares to avoid being confined to any label. It may not even be out of rebellious defiance, but simply out of the pursuit of groundbreaking and thought provoking sound.” – BeatsForDinner (April 8, 2012)

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Five years later, Thor reappeared in my news feed with his release, The Clown. Crammed into a soundproof cylinder with three other band mates, I watched Thor tap his way through a Get Physical live session.

It’s surreal to hear the development. Thor’s sound is more refined, spacious and light footed. He does more with less, allowing the music to settle into a nocturnal groove.

Looking back at my old South African blog post, I’m inspired by two things… Thor’s dedicated vision and the fact that we’re both still doing what we love.

“I challenged the plausibility of his funky music being accepted by a mainstream audience, Thor responded by saying ‘Obviously, we want to make this our career, but we don’t really have a plan like in two years time we want to be here or there.  Lets put as much effort and time into it and see where it takes us.'”BeatsForDinner (April 8, 2012)

Musical Ai

On Nitch, the Instagram page with enough scrolling power to prod you out of bed in the morning, there’s an image of Banksy sitting in a chair, his face cloaked behind an oversized hood and his fingertips welded together as if in prayer.

The caption reads, “I don’t know why people are so keen to put the details of their private life in public; they forget that invisibility is a super power.”

Sometimes this idea prompts me to hang back. To watch while others spread themselves thin. But when I discovered Spotify and the opportunity to be totally transparent about my listening habits, I leaned in.

Spotify gives me a heightened awareness about people’s connection to music. A track off Bon Iver’s For Emma might signal a rough day. ODESZA’s Divinity Remix hints at a moment of teeth-gnashing action. And when my grandfather, a man dedicated to his vinyl records, joined Spotify, I watched as he suddenly transitioned from Bach, Handel and Arthur Rubinstein to Frank Zappa, revealing a rare glimpse at a subterranean rebellious streak.

Maybe it was naive to overlook that all this public data could be harnessed for something besides interconnectedness. With great data comes great responsibility and recent news is uncovering a growing suspicion about how Spotify may be using that data.

Journalists and bloggers are accusing Spotify of creating songs by “fake artists” to fill in some of their ambient playlists to save money on royalty fees. Several artists stepped forward, others like Deep Watch remain eerily quiet.

Then there’s the potential connection between Echo Nest, Spotify’s data collection hub that tracks user’s listening habits, and the recent hire of Francois Pachet, a revered French professor and machine learning guru.

Bloggers speculate that Spotify is accumulating listening data so that they can use machine learning to create customized music. With millions of hours of listening data, Spotify’s algorithms could pinpoint the chord progressions, rhythms and styles that resonate with users. They could theoretically customize music for a specific moment in time.

The goal is awesome. And for me it would be the end of a long journey after stumbling on the crowdsourcing capacity of Hype Machine. I’ve always fantasized about a sixth sense for what song belongs in the current moment. An algorithm would take out the guess work.

We may not even be that far off. The glowing boards laid out in front of a D.J. and the prevalence of pro tools has introduced a new member of the band – a formula, a computer, or whatever cuts and hems raw tracks.

It’s hard to resist that mathematical precision. By definition technology makes things easier. Venmo means you don’t have to take cash out. Uber Eats means you don’t have to leave your couch to eat sushi. But I’m of the belief that easier doesn’t always mean better in the long term.

Take Dave Grohl for example. As a kid he couldn’t afford a drum set so he’d beat wooden sticks on pillows, hitting the fabric as hard as he could to make an audible sound. That produced a breakneck style that drove Nirvana and the Foo Fighters. No one brings Dave Grohl on to play drums for a soft jazz track – they hire him to shatter snare drums.

My concern with AI generated music is that we will lose the ‘fuck you’ types. The narrative behind the music will become less important as it becomes a more streamlined experience. We will settle into a cyclical feedback loop, thoughtlessly mainlining the musical stream. Listening data goes in. Tunes come out. Listening data goes in. Tunes come out. Our past would prescribe our future.

But as we get further into AI territory, we may find that our experiences with music aren’t as transactional as listening data suggests. A friend recently told me that he associated Father John Misty’sNancy From Now On” with a second-hand surfboard he’d found in the back room of a well-lit surf shop. When he called the previous owner, the man told him that he’d shaped it for his wife, who was uninterested in the alternative design (it’s round like a pill or a bar of soap). As my friend twirled around the board he noticed a note on the bottom channel. Inscribed in pencil it said, “For Nancy.” The moment was cemented and the board became one with the song.

Algorithms are designed to root out randomness and chance. For an equation to work, you need a closed system. A self driving car can’t function if the roads are forever changing direction. The same would be true for AI generated music. You would need to construct a limit. A known quantity. Random chance would be deadly.

But music needs randomness. It needs chaos. It needs Death Grips. It thrives off leaps and bounds – unpredictable moments of improvisation. And for that, there’s no one better than a human.

Serengeti – Dennehy

Every music lover reaches a point where they look through their library and realize the selections are far too serious: deep house, city punk, shoegaze, rare ambient, minimal techno.

We forget that before we devoured song after song and wedged ourselves into the deep wormholes of sound, we all used to rage to whatever was on the radio. Top 40s, classic rock, and Shania Twain. Of course, it’s hard to have more than a surface appreciation for radio hits once you’ve traveled the deep.

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Serengeti is a weird rapper who writes about normal stuff. Chicago native David Cohn’s act is centered around the everyday life of Kenny Dennis (KD).

The idea originated when Cohn was watching little league baseball. “Any time that they introduce a kid they ask him what’s your favorite actor? What’s your favorite athlete? Well what if someone’s favorite actor was Brian Dennehy? What would that guy be like?”

The rest of Kenny Dennis was fleshed out from there. And eventually we were given “Dennehy,” a laundry list of things KD does, likes, and deals with.

Play softball with the guys, wife made curly fries
Drink about four O’Doul’s, grounded out, two pop flies
In the Buick down Western, stop and get some more brats
On sale: chicken, Italian sausages, and orange pop