Listening Post #3
by Jack Reid
A note from the Editor: Our fortnightly column sees a contribution from a guest editor for this post, as James Hitchings-Hales is off being a dedicated student and running for Guild President (we hope you all voted for him). PearShaped President, Jack Reid, temporarily fills our columnist’s shoes and tells us what he is listening to this week.
As we enter the hundredth day of torrential downpour in our Devonshire burg, it’s worthwhile to try and balance our music tastes between wallowing in the misery of the weather, and brightening things up in anticipation that maybe we won’t all drown down here. So, this last couple of weeks has been manic for big releases, seemingly all recorded over summer and held onto over the winter break. However, I’d like to highlight some of the tracks that might otherwise miss out on our attention; some of the hidden gems and the still-rising stars.
1. Thumpers - Dancing’s Done
This track has been swimming around for quite some time. After hearing Unkinder (A Tougher Love) in isolation, I began to follow this group; you may remember PearShaped’s Introducing piece on these Klaxons cast-offs. Then, I unexpectedly saw Thumpers live in a support slot for Chvrches, and really got hooked into their happy indie vibe. Anyway, now Thumpers have brought their debut release to the fore, rounding up all the teased tracks that have been floating around the internet and presenting a few new ones to fill it out.
Dancing’s Done is a great mission statement, a comprehensive introduction to what these guys are all about. This gleeful track has the idiosyncratic percussion, the filled out sound and the almost chant-like choruses. It’s the perfect track to get into Thumpers, and it’s the perfect soundtrack for my foot-tapping as I wait for the days to get longer.
2. BANKS - Brain
The really exciting element of this breakout track for BANKS is the producer; Shlohmo comes out of a relatively underground electronic scene in L.A. that combines big atmospheres, lo-fi grit, and hip-hop sensibilities to culminate in a kind of stoned soul instrumental (for more on this scene, see D33J and Baths). Shlohmo is a master of emotion and sound design all at once, but at times can be a little too out there for mass consumption.
Having Shlohmo on board has guaranteed BANKS a truly unique and soulful record, and it’s evident throughout. The impassioned vocals fit perfectly with the production style here; a kind of bitter romanticism permeates the narrative all the way through. The lo-fi backing vocals steal the show early on, distorting a hook just enough that it is painfully catchy yet indistinct. When the crescendo lands, it becomes clear that Shlohmo is able to produce a track that facilitates a more regular pop structure whilst conveying a truly unique angle on atmosphere and emotion, and it really propels the vocals forward.
3. Jay-Z and Big L - Freestyle
Earlier this year I tweeted that hip-hop was steaming ahead of rock music in terms of innovation and exciting developments. While the balance tipped back to equilibrium last month, especially with the hailstorm of incredible releases this week and next, I’m still pretty excited to dig into this virgin snow of hip-hop. I’m a novice with this genre and it’s been nice to work back from today’s pop hip-hop to the roots of the genre. A friend put me onto this recorded radio show that exhibits a rookie Hov and the late Big L simply throwing down lines in freestyle.
Over a ten-minute loop of boom bap, these two take turns showing how much a rap can do for storytelling, in the freeforming and natural environment of a studio setting. Not only that, Big L’s opening verse shows off such virtuoso rhythms and deft word craft that it’s easy to get completely roped. Hearing Jay-Z before all the Maybach prestige set in is also a treat, and really helps unwrap this kind of hip-hop as a way into a social reality that is very different from my narrow white middle-class experience.
4. BADBADNOTGOOD - CS60
Now if I say the words ‘instrumental neo-fusion jazz’, you might recoil in horror. I’ll conceed that BADBADNOTGOOD (BBNG) aren’t for everybody’s tastes, but what I will insist upon is that these guys are extremely talented musicians. CS60 is a prelude to an album release which, like all the other contributions from BBNG, refuses to give away anything narrative or descriptive. It seems that the music is simply the music, and you must feel whatever you feel without any lyrical or textual prompting. It’s damn refreshing.
The beat on this track is crisp and tight, and all the instruments are so cohesive that the song guides you on a suspicous and taut journey quite expertly. You’re reminded of the contemporaneousness of this track at points however, like when a build bursts into a crashy half-time breakdown - what could be construed as the framworks of Dubstep. This track is simple, and yet so tightly executed that it demands some attention. Hey, if you need something to make a menial task feel epic, this is it.
5. Young Fathers - Get Up
Young Fathers are a bold Scottish hip-hop collective who made their first breakthrough last year with the track, Rumbling, from their Tape One. That first release set down the intention for this collective: dark and almost tribal beats, distinctly atypical verses on all kinds of subject matters, and an element of surprise jumping out of each individual track.
Get Up is the first single from Young Fathers’ 2014 longplay, Death. The element of surprise is strong here, as the guys start out with a shockingly accessible hook sung in various spots across the track. Quickly though, those gritty and meaty beats are back underneath a verse that is more visceral than cerebral, but without the crutch of profanity that many rappers lean on when trying to convey intensity. The track is fascinating, from a group equally as interesting, and it’s another piece of evidence to my claim that much like Shabbazz Palaces, these guys are art-hip-hop.