Author: jsimpson

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Breaking Down False Binaries In Hip-Hop: JenRO – Planet Z

Hip-hop is full of false binaries – East Coast/West Coast; Old School/Nu Skool; Street/Club; Male/Female; Gay/Straight, and, all too often, never the twain shall meet. Superstar Top 40 Hip-Hop artists like Drake, The Weeknd, and Nicki Minaj broadcast the intricacies of celebrity like some crystalline Fortress Of Solitude, faces as perfectly presented as some ceramic Mardi Gras mask, commenting on the nihilism of partying every night, the boredom and apathy of drinking $1000 bottles of Cristal every night. Meanwhile, rough-and-tumble street rappers speak more to the experience of regular, working class people, struggling for dignity and a good life. They’re stories more of us can relate to, not to mention having more in common with hip-hops embattled roots, but the lack of resources, like high-quality studio recordings and a well-oiled marketing machine, means people just aren’t as likely to hear it. While it’s not a problem in and of itself, as good-sounding records from highly talented people with a boatload of resources are important, (think: Beyonce), we run the risk of losing working-class dialects in …

Muscle & Marrow - Love - album cover

Love Metal & Doom Pop: Portland’s Muscle And Marrow – “Love” review

Portland, Or. is a complicated, layered, and nuanced place. Beneath the facade of being a millennial paradise, Portland’s rooted in the blue collar industry of yesteryear, as one of the Pacific Northwest’s most bustling port towns. Even Portland’s reputation as being a hub for underground culture came about due to the economic downturn of the ’80s and ’90s. Portland is both rough and tumble, as well as cosmopolitan; utterly hip and chic while alternately not giving a toss what anyone thinks. Portlanders are tough, while still being kind and sensitive; nice, almost to a fault, but not afraid to be blunt. Likewise, metal is a complicated genre. While once a shorthand for the most extreme masculinity, in the 21st Century, metal has become shorthand for power, force, will, and intensity, which is important as it doesn’t make intensity the sole property of the patriarchy. Portland avant-metal duo Muscle And Marrow perfectly embody the intricacies and layered meanings of both Portland and metal/extreme music, especially in the case of their most recent album. Rather than focusing …

Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book cover

The REAL voice of the streets: Chance The Rapper – “Coloring Book”

Considering hip-hop’s roots in the pavement and asphalt of the urban environment, there is a certain crossover with the “hard living school of hard knocks”, as a lot of rappers, producers, and DJs are forced to live outside of the law to get by. Groups like N.W.A. or Public Enemy, or solo rappers like Tupac Shakur, spoke their truths – gun running, drug slinging, hook-ups, partying all night long, as one representation of what life on the streets is really like. The Golden Age Of Gangsta Rap led to a kind of revolving door of influences, with up-and-coming rappers thinking they had to live the stereotype to make good hip-hop, while outsiders assumed that all rappers are Gs and dealers. This assumption implies only gangstas and working girls hang out on the pavement – subtle shadows of racism and classism. If you translate “street” to mean “regular” or “working class people” doing what it takes to get by, however, the images and implications expand exponentially. On the latest, greatest mixtape from Chicago up-and-comer Chance The …

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Beats From The Crossroads: Andy Stott – Too Many Voices (Modern Love)

Enigmatic Mancunian producer Andy Stott‘s output, these past few years, have been an exquisite portrait of what’s been going on in the post-dubstep electronic world. Dubstep’s ferocious bassweight is tempered with intricate, precise grime beats; weightless, ethereal, dreamy synthpop – all polished and poised, seemingly, by the human hand. This particular phase of Stott’s career started with 2011’s essential twin releases, We Stay Together and Passed Me By, when Modern Love label head Shlom Sviri suggested to Stott that he start incorporating found sounds, field recordings, and real world textures into his hardware-infatuated Detroit Techno emulations. Stott’s previously pristine Techno became slavered in hiss and static, seemingly emerging from some nightmarish late night radio program, tuned between stations. Stott further abandoned the cleanroom confines of the digital with the following two LPs, 2012’s Luxury Problems and 2014’s Faith In Strangers, which incorporated vocals from Alison Skidmore, Stott’s teenage piano teacher. Together, the pair dished out a kind of slo-mo post-industrial New Wave, somewhere between the graceful pop deconstructions of Arthur Russell, the existentialism of the …

LEVITATION FEST , photo by Cecilia Alejandra

[CANCELLED] I Just WAS Made For These Times: A Guide To The Psychedelic Sounds Of Levitation 2016

This weekend’s LEVITATION has been cancelled due to safety concerns regarding dangerous weather, the festival’s official website reported today 04/28/2016 Fans of every era of visionary, tripped-out, elevated cosmic music will find something that will make them float six inches above Austin’s cracked Earth, at the most recent incarnation of Levitation, formerly known as Austin Psych Fest. Psychedelia is defined as “music, culture, or art based on the experiences produced by psychedelic drugs.” It always seemed vaguely disappointing that so many artists and musicians interpreted this wide-open field of crimson clover and poppies as merely a re-creation of the late-’60s Haight-Ashbury scene. Sure, amorphous light shows are trippy, but so are late-19th-Century literary works like Alice In Wonderland or The Wind In The Willows, as are the speed-fueled paranoid guitar jams of proto-punk Garage Rock; densely layered, experimental Hip-Hop; dreamy, romantic Shoegaze; and basically every form of Electronic music that’s ever been made. Psychedelia’s experienced a number of fascinating evolutions, so far, during the 21th Century. We’re finally listening objectively, taking what we like about …

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Songs For Neo-Tokyo: Bwana – Capsule’s Pride (Bikes) (LuckyMe)

Much like fashion, Electronic music has never been very good at looking in the rearview. In the accelerationist framework of the genre, producers and DJs have simply not taken the time to dig through the past to make sense of it all. There are whole continents of early ’90s rave tapes, the early digital trance ambient of Pete Namlook’s FAX Label and glassy early house music that’s been completely overlooked by the obsessive reissue culture currently en vogue, despite how pivotal these works might’ve been in creating the world we’re currently inhabiting. UK post-dubstep producer Bwana is remedying this, with Capsule’s Pride (Bikes) which not only resurrects early ’90s electronica for re-evaluation, but also takes a close, loving work at another significant cultural artifact – Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 Cyberpunk Anime classic Akira. Akira follows two young members of a motorcycle gang in a futuristic Neo-Tokyo, Kaneda and Tetsuo, searching for the lost urban legend of Akira. Tetsuo gradually begins to develop psychic powers, as the motorcycle gang fights off gangs of evil clowns, meet sentient dolls, and ultimately, meet …

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Digital Cathedrals: Tim Hecker – Love Streams (4AD)

Historically, towns and city centers were organized around a sacred building, all roads leading to some chapel, church, or cathedral, which were the orbit around which Medieval life orbited. These buildings were designed to evoke a sense of awe & rapture – vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses, as sacred choirs filled the monolithic space with their cries to God. Love Streams, the excellent new LP from influential ambient composer Tim Hecker, begins with the simple, but convoluted, question: “What might liturgical music sound like, in the Modern Age?” Or, as he cheekily phrased it during the promo cycle “liturgical aesthetics after Yeezus” or “the transcendental voice in the age of auto-tune.” The human voice is at the center piece of Love Streams, with Oscar-nominated soundtrack composer Johann Johannsson composing chorales in Latin for an Icelandic choir. Not content to approximate some modern Renaissance forgery, Johannsson reversed the Latin script, before giving it to the Icelandic Choir Ensemble, which were further re-arranged and edited in post-production. These vocal compositions were then fleshed out with flutes, woodwinds, …

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A View From The Ground Up. Babyfather – BBF hosted by DJ Escrow (Hyperdub)

The UK’s most mercurial, shape-shifting producer Dean Blunt gives the straight dope on life in the UK, with some of his strangest friends. Trying to put a finger on the pulse of a culture via its government and the mainstream media is futile. What you see is distorted by financial interests, hidden agenda, PR campaigns, and, of course, limited time to parse through the DATA. Hip-hop has always been “the voice of the streets”, since the early NYC block parties of the late ’70s. It’s supposed to be a glimpse into the real lives of real people. But what happens when Hip-Hop becomes Top 40. A certain perspective is lost, as we are subjected to endless calls towards consumerism in the night clubs. Today’s hip-hop is more about popping bottles than popping caps. Dean Blunt is setting the record straight, with the latest in the endless string of pseudonyms and collaborations, by way of the maybe-fictional personality DJ Escrow. For those that aren’t familiar, Dean Blunt is a busy, restless innovator, bridging the gap between …

album cover The Body No One Deserves Happiness

Isolationist Pop: The Body – No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)

Pop music is designed to be a salve for modern living – a way to blow off some steam after our 80-hour a week jobs, letting us lose ourselves in some escapist fantasy for a bit as we listen to Top 40 hip-hop artists talk about booze we can’t afford to drink, clothes we can’t afford to wear, trips we can’t afford to take, in a simulacrum of pleasure and desire. Pop Music can be both necessary AND dangerous. Pop music also brings us a sense of community, of belonging, in the increasingly atomized world we live in. It’s all too easy to feel like you’re living on one of the jigsaw puzzles in the background of Salvador Dali’s The Disintegration Of The Persistence Of Memory, as any sense of familiarity or normalcy plummets into the void of unknowing, right below our feet. It can be comforting to find some like minds and kindred spirits in the freefall, either dishing up real connections or the illusion of intimacy. Either one will suffice, in the Long …

Mia and Margot

NYC DJ/Violin Duo “The Dolls” To Commemorate Artpace’s 21st Anniversary As Part Of “The Happening” Gala

Fashion is a complicated beast. Clothes are supposed to look natural and easeful, from the most elaborate Marie Antoinette cocktail gown to our ratty, dressed-down, ripped-up jeans. Otherwise, we run the risk of our clothes wearing us, instead of the other way around. Clothing should appear light, organic, fitting us like a second skin. This natural ease often requires insanely elaborate engineering behind the scenes, to achieve this effortless grace. This balance of spontaneity and careful planning perfectly describes NYC duo The Dolls, featuring the beat manipulations of DJ Mia Moretti and classical violinist Margot. Speaking to the balance between spontaneity and discipline, The Dolls told the website Into The Gloss: “I think there’s a really nice balance of discipline and spontaneity. And between the two, I think, grows something very free.” The Dolls draw a direct comparison between their music, style, and fashion. “I think beauty, for us, just feels secondary—but not in a negative way. I think that it comes with the territory. We don’t get on stage without thinking about our outfit first just …