Atom™: HD

Atom™ this week Monday released HD on indefatigably experimental electronic label Raster-Noton.  It’s a 9-track, 40-minute guided meditation on the state of pop music, climaxing with the “Komputerwelt” homage track “Stop (Imperialist Pop)”.  The vapidity and globally enforced sameness of commercialized pop media is the theme the record drives at, so as this RA reviewer so rightly observed, there is obvious irony in the fact that HD was released on the same day as the latest Justin Timberlake soporific. Among other sameness over substance acts name-checked on that track (with the demand they “give us a fucking break”), Timberlake carries the honor of being the name that makes the line rhyme.  It is also ironic that this song’s obvious debt to Kraftwerk seems to indicate that the artist is under the yoke of another irresistible influence even as he decries commercial pop culture’s hegemony.

Third track “I Love U (Like I Love my Drum Machine)” features experimental electronic R&B crooner Jamie Lidell, a performer whose profession consists of recontextualizing a R&B mainstream pop thematically and sonically into the experimental and the underground. (Have a look at his video for “The City” wherein he has a shave outside a liquor store with a pink razor for an example of what I mean. Watching this again, with those brightly colored bottles hovering behind him and the pink ladies’ razor skimming across his face (we must keep up appearances!) I think, what a catchy little critique of urban alienation and domination by consumer kitsch!)  The absolute genius of “I Love U” is revealed as it progresses toward a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech:

“In the words of Martin Luther… (begin sample) I have a dream… (end sample) Now listen to my drum computer.”

By reducing the whole substance of this anti-war and human rights activist’s magnum opus speech to a sound bite before a command to check out how cool he is, this track masterfully exposes exactly what pop does best.  It effects a pleasant, Warhol-esque emptying of meanings wherein the surface, in its vaguest recognizability, is king.  This is the primary theme of tracks “Empty” and “Riding the Void”.  (This idea should go some ways toward explaining the popularity of Girl Talk a few years back, if you’ll pardon the digression.)  The assertion being made is that, in the context of a pop song such as this, there may as well have never been a King or a context in which he originated his speech.  We should also mention that Dr. King is ambiguously, if not erroneously name-checked… Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses that started the protestant reformation.  Martin Luther King gave the “I have a dream” speech. Perhaps this ambivalence is deliberate- after all, if we accept that this record serves as a protest of the hegemony of vapid pop written in the language of vapid pop, then it can’t be a stretch to imagine that Atom™ is, as Martin Luther did in Latin, nailing up his theses in the language of the church.

Errors – 1999, How I’ve Missed You

The new record from Glasgow’s Errors has been bending my ear of late.  Entitled Have a Little Faith in Magic, it’s reminiscent of the promise of Antarctica‘s 81:03, released in 1999, this is the way music was supposed to have gone.  Welcome back to days of future past.

Welcome to the new world

The British Expeditionary Force release their new record March 26, 2012, long years after they changed my world at first listen.  That’s news that makes for a good day, isn’t it?

Shitty Cell Phone Photos of The War on Drugs at the Tractor Tavern, Seattle

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We made our way last night to the Tractor Tavern in Ballard to take in the War on Drugs show. The sound was great, the band was great, etc.

Those guys really love what they’re doing, and the swirling, tinkling ambience they coax out of the combination of guitars, a Rhodes, samplers, a backline, and a bass just never sounds wrong.

The openers were Carter Tanton and Purling Hiss.  Carter Tanton played tunes that were definitely cut from the same remnants of Technicolor dreamdenim as the headliners, with hints of Baba O’Reilly floating out of the guitar tinkle now and again.  My wife described them as sounding a bit like the Cure covering the War on Drugs.  Oh, Jesus!  I’m feebly gumming rock critic similes!  You decide!  Purling Hiss was unabashed cock-rocking burnout guitar solo metal and good times.

 

Unjustifiably Shitty Photos of… Deerhunter at the Showbox at the Market, Seattle

Crusading music writer sits down comfortably for entire show, eschews the inconvenience of walking nearer the stage to take nicer pictures!

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Wednesday evening found me at Seattle’s Showbox at the Market to see a band I talk entirely too much about, Atlanta’s Deerhunter.  Unless you live in a lightless, airless tomb outside of time (I’m talking about YOU, Cthulu), you probably already know that Deerhunter is back after about a year’s hiatus touring in support of their most recent record, that record being the excellent Halcyon Digest.

The band hasn’t lost a step in the year or so they took off from being Deerhunter- they still play their songs way faster live than they do on the albums, and the emotion that they display during their performances surpasses the often sadly philosophical tone they strike on their recordings.  Bradford Cox’s sudden eruption into nearly screamed vocals during the much heavier and more punked up version of Don’t Cry was the welcome surprise that makes seeing a good band live worthwhile.

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It’s also a pleasure to see a band that is so talented that they simply can’t lose each other.  At times one got the feeling that one or another component of this elite musical unit was pushing to go AWOL, but that kind of thing can’t happened when all the members’ skills are so evenly matched.  What results instead is the feeling of an added, embedded tension, a new edge to familiar material.

And now, a word about Deerhunter’s backline: Moses Archuleta is an unflappable human metronome of frightening precision.

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Lockett Pundt’s presence as stage forward vocalist is a welcome addition to the Deerhunter oeuvre, one of the things that made the sound of this new record such a huge evolutionary step for the band.  Where Microcastle/Weird Era could be said to have been a polishing, a realization of the sounds hinted at on a Cryptogram tune like Hazel St., Halcyon Digest is a departure into new atmospherics.  The band has the advantage of being as tight as it was on Microcastle, but the quiet, musing tone struck by so many of the loop-heavy tracks almost makes it sound like it was recorded by a different band.  Lockett has a subdued rock tendency that’s a counterpoint to the Atlas Sound-reminiscent technological flourishes on the new album, and his wistful, detached, confident style of singing seems to be singlehandedly resurrecting the dying American Monomyth.  Where Deerhunter subject matter seems to swirl unanchored in memory, he haunts the record like Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, calmly coaxing us out to take up our executive privileges on the perimeter on the Halcyon Digest track Desire Lines, which song was flawlessly performed on Wednesday, by the by.  I

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Bear Claw – No Band Can Be this Good

Rich Fessler of Bear Claw hurting his bass as much as it hurts him.

During the chilliest years of the Cold War a secret project was undertaken here in the United States of A. to develop the most obviously superior rock music ever conceived for export to countries whose youths were sustained with with inferior rock knockoffs and black market Finnish socks.  It was hoped that this would so demoralize the youth on the other side of the iron curtain that they would abandon their national heritage in droves for the chance to star as extras in an interminable series of sequels to Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  The project was disbanded suddenly with little explanation, but not before the only two products of this secret cultural war were incubated and brought to term in giant tanks covered in tubes and amplifier cords.  One of those is a man named Logan, better known as the Wolverine.  His vicious spiky hands and hot temper, it is rumored, were the prime mitigating factor in the continuation of the project.  However, if the top brass had taken the time to plug him into a Marshall Stack they would have nocturnal emissions listening to that sustain.  I mean, adamantium just rings out forever.  Then maybe the other legacy of that project, Bear Claw, would be a household name today.  Bear Claw combined the best of both worlds- vicious, crystalline, clear and precise aggression tempered with compositional complexity and tightly controlled tone- and no spikes coming out of the hands.

Bear Claw has a new record.

Released on Tuesday and available as a CD/LP combo or digital download, Chicago’s Bear Claw released their Steve Albini-recorded, Bob Westen-Mastered Refuse this Gift via Sick Room Records.  Have a listen.

Summer Living/Summer Listening

I’ve been marinating in my own musky grown-up smells with the ample help of 90 degree 100% humidity weather all summer as I work on reacquiring my foreign language skills.  My bar slouch is turning into a desk slouch.

That’s where I’ve been.

I have managed to listen to just a very few things since I’ve been out here, but they have been very, very good things, and they’ve mitigated the occasional (and trivial) stresses brought on by the very good problem I have had of having to study a lot this summer.

Wild Nothing – Gemini

The strong wash of good feelings and reverb on this record makes me happy to be alone when I am alone.
Wild Nothing – Gemini

LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening



This record about getting older, disillusionment, and knowing what you want warms my fuckin’ heart.  It’s just as though Brian Eno traveled through time from the ’70s to release a dance album about how much I personally came to loathe New York and the culture you get sucked into while you’re in it.

Kurt Vile

I only recently discovered Kurt Vile for myself thanks to a comrade at whatwearelisteningto and was lucky enough that Philadelphia’s constant hitmaker passed through Bloomington this summer.  His music has the looping atmospherics of a Deerhunter or Crooked Fingers and the wry personal lyrical touch of a Paul Westerberg wrapped up in a psychedelic sandwich.

One of the lucky strokes of coming late to the party a musician like this is throwing is that he has an extensive back catalog to comb through and get familiar with, which I have been doing at my leisure.  He is also in Philly’s The War On Drugs, but his solo material with the Violators is far, far superior.  Here’s his record Childish Prodigy for the streaming.

Matthew Dear: Black City


Matthew Dear has a vocal fetish.  Where James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem applied himself to perfecting Brian Eno’s weird choruses, Dear has taken the idea of layered vocals with weird chords outside the bounds of simple harmony, and he’s put deep effects on all his vox.  Voila.  Signature sound.  This is a very visual record whose sounds almost come across as monochromatic, all bright whites and shadowy blacks with the occasional wash of orange.  Am I even making any sense?  Have a listen and let me know.  Dear’s music has departed from its now barely recognizable minimal house roots, focusing more on strange atmospheres and laborious exploitation of tone, reverb, and the stereo field.