Watching the River Freeze

I moved in August to a little apartment alongside the river. The river is wide and fast flowing. It’s the vein through which industry and pride pumps into and out of this region, from the time of trappers and traders to battleships and cruise vessels.

My new apartment has a big glass door that faces the river, unobstructed. Best damn view in the city said the elderly homeowner before me, boxing his model trains.

And so, day in and day out, I watch the river. In late summer, full of boats. In fall, reflecting the colorful canopy of its bank. And now, in winter, I’m watching it freeze.

Being a wide and fast river, it will not freeze easily. It will take a fearsome cold, months of fearsome cold. But winters here can be fearsomely cold. To watch a river freeze is to watch elements wage war. Ice conquers water from the shore, near and distant, while that fire in the sky liberates.

The freeze weaponizes night. It wins territory while the sun is hiding somewhere beneath the horizon, resting before tomorrow’s thaw. Day arrives and the sun fights back. It’s tenacious, the sun, even during the coldest of months. The freeze is relentless; however, and by December, ice that was once wafer thin and broke like fine china condenses into ranks of hard purple. But this beginning is merely a skirmish, launched by an icy vanguard, and at the turn of the new year begins the all-out assault.

For ten days the temperature doesn’t rise above -10° at night or above freezing by day, the longest cold streak in forty years. The sun hangs perilously low in the sky, bleeding dull warmth, gasping last gasps. The ice fortifies its position on both shorelines and charges across, clamoring to meet in the middle. By the tenth day, a ribbon of blue, no more than a few yards wide, traces a line between sheets of white. A last stand.

And then the gods intervene.

The USCGC Penobscot Bay, an 140’ icebreaking behemoth, with a kettle black hull capable of cracking ice 30 inches thick, steams upriver, past my glass door. I run outside, overcome with excitement, crushed by disappointment. I don’t know which. The tug claws through the ice and around a nearby bend, out of view, onward to the river’s source.

That afternoon the carnage floats downriver. Goliath icebergs, shattered and drowning, exhausted from months of battle. The survivors will be dragged until the salty, temperate waters of Casco Bay melt them like hubris into humility.

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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.

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.