Monthly Archives: November 2012

Deerhunter — Cryptograms

In 2007, as an angst-ridden teenager, I would lie in bed on Saturday mornings and put on the title-track of Deerhunter‘s second album, Cryptograms.

This was the era when Bradford Cox’s pop sensibility could still only be described as nascent. The song would hit me like a migraine or a nervous breakdown; Cox’s distorted bark emerging through a tapestry of pulsing one-note bass, coruscating electric guitar, and all manner of weird tape loops. It’s a primal, urgent and terrifying song that’s lost none of its potency even as the gentleman behind it has matured into a compelling ‘popular’ songwriter.

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Watch and chain (and sample and hold)

I read somewhere that Steven Ellison a.k.a. Flying Lotus really looked up to Amon Tobin when he was starting. Though Tobin’s taken a turn for the ambient on his two most recent releases, it’s not hard to see the influence he would have had, at his creative zenith, on Ellison. On landmark Ninja Tune releases like Bricolage and Supermodified, Tobin mined jazz records for inspiration, bringing old sounds into his exotic, futuristic take on jungle. Anything and everything could be sampled, and the songs were as witty as they were outlandish.

The same playfulness and experimentation inhabits much of Ellison’s output as Flying Lotus, as does the reverence for jazz. On “Camel“, taken from the second Flying Lotus LP, Los Angeles, Ellison scratches his distance-mentor’s back, using the same drum sample from Aynsley Dunbar’s “Watch ‘n’ Chain” as Tobin put to such good use on “Saboteur“. I championed Supermodified through my teenage years in the face of indifference; upon hearing Los Angeles for the first time I knew I had been right to stick by it. I saw the connection between the two artists, and recognised that Flying Lotus could be destined for even greater things.

Fun fact: Dunbar, one of the great jazz drummers, auditioned to be in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. As one of two final aspirants, he lost out to Mitch Mitchell only on a coin-toss by Hendrix himself. If his achingly addictive sticksmanship on “Watch ‘n’ Chain” is anything to go by, his talents ought to live on in far more samples than just this one, which forms the backbone of two brilliant compositions.

Foals — Inhaler

The pretty little Japanese garden guitar motif marking Foals’s re-entry to planet Earth is a total red herring. Because “Inhaler” crunches hard—and frontman Yannis Philippakis’s anger, brewing and fomenting during the first verse, soon surfaces as an uncontrolled wave of rage in the sweltering, breath-taking pre-chorus ramp-up. Continue reading Foals — Inhaler

Hide and psych

People suddenly liked The Horrors circa-Primary Colours because that album was so unexpected, given what had come before it. Once the Southend quintet had settled quietly into their skins, second time round people lost interest. That’s a pity, because a year on Skying has lost none of its weather-drenched majesty. Songs unfurl opulently from quasi-baggy rhythms, like “Dive In” and the opener “Changing The Rain”. They luxuriate in reverb and then snap, in an instant, into thrashy garage rock, as on “Endless Blue”.

At the end of last year, I said it was “an album best enjoyed when you close your eyes to The Horrors’ record collection”; the studious epic “Moving Further Away” is a case in point. Anything, from the chugging rhythm to the soaring-heavenwards synths, might remind you of a different band, a different record, a different era. But that’s not the point. Rather, I think you’re meant to semiconsciously appreciate how these elements of the past have been carefully sculpted into a sleek beast of the future.

The same could be said, and even more easily accepted, on Tame Impala‘s sophomore effort, Lonerism. In 2012, it’s easier to hold up someone like Kevin Parker as a voice of a generation—see how quickly Lena Dunham was given the same tag, despite her representing, in truth, only a tiny fragment of American society. But look past the song-titles and lyrics which speak, yes, of isolation and doubt and guilt (because we’ve already had plenty of that from the PBR&B crowd, and their lyrics are easier to decipher than Parker’s), and much of Lonerism is really a very sunny slice of psych rock, at home at the poolside, with Ray Bans on, accompanied by a crisp Brooklyn lager.

There’s the poppy psychedelia of The Beatles or primetime Flaming Lips; there’s the nod to labelmates Cut Copy in the blissed-out vocals and guitars and the studio trickery. Halfway through the album comes a woozy three-minute slow jam, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, which rolls around an effortless groove and bounces vocal harmonies into the upper reaches of consciousness before vanishing like a burst bubble. That’s representative of the levity this album brings to the fore on several occasions. Same goes for the unexpected way in which “Mind Mischief” transforms from a pretty canonical scuzzy (there’s a word to describe the guitar tones throughout the album) rock song into a spacey love song reminiscent of The Flaming Lips’s “Silver Trembling Hands”.

Only on a few occasions does the music rumble a little more heavily, as on the stomping “Elephant”, which is the kind of perfect pastiche (à la “Drunk Girls” on This Is Happening) so cheerily observant you can instantly forgive it. And even there, there are some magically futuristic moments, which I’d rather not ruin for anyone unlucky enough not to have heard the song. No, for the most part, this album is like a mildly hallucinogenic take on the simple suburban grandeur of Real Estate. And that’s great. On the penultimate song, “Nothing That Has Happened So Far Has Been Anything We Could Control” starts out like “Tomorrow Never Knows” but soon shifts into a more triumphalist mood: less twilight zone, more breaking dawn. In the closing two minutes, swirly sound effects threaten to swallow up the song, but wind up just spitting it out into a candyfloss confection. There’s a coda, of course, fleeting and victorious.

So here we have two albums that superficially look backwards but, treated with a little more respect, reveal themselves to be pacing stridently into the future. One is the product of a misunderstood British band whose back-story many are bored of (NME poster-boys with closeted sophisticated tastes); the other, a bedroom genius whose background gets repeated as much as that of Justin Vernon (rooted in Perth, Australia’s most out-of-the-way outpost). But both are worthy of your time and reverence. They take risks; they travel along unconventional arcs; they are the works of iconoclasts.

Crazy beat

Panda Bear’s “Afterburner”, from last year’s Tomboy, is both immeasurably huge, and outrageously simple. Its efflorescence hinges on predictable but shifting melodic patterns, repeated on guitar and bass, and a clockwork rhythm that is seemingly unaware of the beautiful carnage unfurling above it. Effects wash over the song like tidal waves; the guitar is drenched in painfully beautiful reverb, and all manner of synthetic space-noises eddy and buckle throughout. At the song’s apotheosis, it achieves a chaotic state of bliss, and the listener must surely surrender. One thing that doesn’t give in, however, is that ever-present beat. Occasionally filled out by wooden blocks and pattering hi-hat, it is a rock that can’t be washed away by the powerful ocean around it.

I found a likeness in a song recorded almost forty years prior to “Afterburner”. Nestling in the middle of Bobby Womack’s landmark Understanding LP is a scuzzy pocket-epic called “Simple Man” which, honestly, would not have sounded out of place on a collection of Can B-sides. Atop a krautrocky rhythm rages a dense frenzy of electric piano, guttural machine noises, Womack’s crazed vocals, and his fluid guitar-playing. The beat is unwavering, and holds down all the dizzying madness overhead. It’s a scary cocktail, but appropriately, the song struts and gallops rather than swampily creeping along like a Can cut.

These two songs, so disparate in their origins and creations, can nonetheless be reconciled. They exhibit strong motion where there could so easily be a stodgy mess. The density in both tracks’ production is overwhelming, but not disconcerting—and you can thank their motorik beats for that.