It’s been a chaotic first four days of 2020. Trepidations about a World War III, Commissioner David Stern passing on, Australia becoming a hell on earth. Pfff. Kind of makes you grateful there’s always good music within reach to soften the blow.
The first few weeks of the year are usually reserved for playing catch up of all the great releases I’ve missed (Baby Rose! Jaimie Branch!). It dawned on me since I’m no longer the copywriter of Le Guess Who?, I’m going to have to work a whole lot harder to discover new interesting sounds.
Hence the idea to start documenting my listening habits on a weekly basis. Here’s what up.
- The Industry
If there was ever a fitting capstone to — I’m just going to go ahead and say it — what was likely the most exciting decade in Dutch guitar-based music, then this is probably it, right?
Pip Blom, Personal Trainer, Ian Cleaver, Korfbal, Lena Hessels, Lewsberg, Canshaker Pi, Steve French, The Homesick and probably more people I forgot traveled to the isle of Vlieland to make this brilliant record. There’s so much going on here, I’m scrambling to figure out where to start. It’s bonkers.
‘Obsession’, led by Lena Hessels, is definitely the big one. A joyous cacophony that lasts over nine minutes but has a hook so good that it registers as a succinct pop song. The Marnix Visscher-led (yeah, the Korfbal and Price guy) ‘Frisbee’ once again reinforces the notion that he couldn’t write a bad tune if he tried. The deadpan ‘The Window’, sung by Lewsberg’s Arie van Vliet, could be mistaken for, well, a Lewsberg song. ‘Solo Blasting’, sung by Personal Trainer and Canshaker Pi-ringleader Willem Smit, summons the kind of giddy energy you’d expect from a song called ‘Solo Blasting’.
You know this record features some of the finest racket-makers in this small country, but I found myself blindsided by some outright pretty moments. The Pip en Tender Blom-sung ‘Oh Not Again’ is undeniably sweet, and features a children’s choir. Lena Hessels once again shines on the avant-folk slow-burner ‘In Flickering Time’, soothing brass flourishes that buzz around like benevolent insects.
Ok, ok, ‘capstone’ my ass, the sentiment that really permeates after hearing this record is how much joy we’re going to have the coming decade with all these great artists, both separately or (hopefully) someday with a sequel to this beaut. It also offers glimpses to where the gang might be headed in the future. Canshaker Pi, Lewsberg and The Homesick have great records coming out early 2020, so there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Goodness gracious, if only this got as much hype as those Speedy Wunderground-bands.
2. Fo’ Fo’ Fo’
In the famous words of Moses Malone, let’s round up some artists I have been overlooking.
Jaimie Branch’s FLY or DIE: bird dogs of paradise has been in my rotation for quite some time now, and it strikes me as the latest great record that exemplifies how the punk spirit has found a new host body in jazz (let’s namedrop Angel Bat Dawid, Sons Of Kemet and Irreversible Entanglements too while we’re at it).
‘prayer for amerikka pt. 1 & 2’ is one of the most devastating, volatile pieces of music I’ve heard. (So here I was yapping on about music being able to ‘soften the blow’ of all the devastation happening, only to highlight something that captures that tidal of dread so acutely. Good thinking, Jasper!)
The story Branch tells on this track is about the trauma of a nineteen-year-old refugee from Central America displaced from her family in Chicago. First, it lurches with a sort of a ‘let’s not pretend all of our shit doesn’t stink’ type of resentment, flirting with the juke joint blues experimentalism into this almost ‘oh we’ve never actually left the wild west’ type of tempest.
I was lucky to have seen Jaimie Branch perform with Moor Mother and Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale earlier this year at Le Guess Who?. Even though the event was pivoted around Moor Mother’s album release, Branch’s personality was all over the room. When the listening party of Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes was happening, everyone was trying to act all cool, but somehow the coolest person in the crowd was lying on the floor, flat on her back, closing her eyes and absorbing the music into her pores like Superman absorbing rays from the sun or something. It was pretty wild.
Once I found out cellist and composer Lucinda Chua played in FKA Twigs’s band, I was pretty much “oh, riiiiight, makes sense”. I dug FKA Twigs new album very much, but for some reason, this track ‘Feel Something’ hit me even harder. Maybe it’s because of the raw nature of this track, using these spectral, coiling strands of melody to unlock some deeply hidden emotion with the source code of our subconsciousness. I find myself drawn to this type of music — from guitar-based stuff to ambient-ish records like the new Loscil (I forgot there was a new Loscil out… yup, it has been that kind of year), that embraces the unresolved instead of trying to cleverly encapsulate something. I felt that strangeness as well when I saw Isokratisses perform their polyphonic folk movements at LGW?: completely foreign music that connects new synapses in the brain, triggering this awesome wave of pure unprocessed feeling.
I was probably so knee-deep prepping for Le Guess Who? last November I missed this unbelievable standalone track Baby Rose released, ‘August 5th’. For some reason, I have to think about that climax in Arrival, when Amy Adams’ character experienced her whole life happening at the same time. It’s that type of voice that Baby Rose possesses, and on ‘August 5th’ she actually reflects on past birthdays, as junctures that pinpoint where her life has changed or shifted.
It’s a highly moving perspective on the meaning of birthdays in-general, especially as you get older when that increasingly bittersweet zone gets bigger and bigger. Recently a friend of mine lost his mother in the same week as his birthday (happened to me too), and that strange shake-up of events tends to yield higher perspectives. Spending birthdays as quiet laments for your own mortality instead of rambunctious celebrations for being born, that could be as graceful a notion as the process of aging itself.
3. Twenty Of Twenty-Twenty, Week 1
Last but not least, here’s a selection of twenty tracks I’ve been listening to a lot lately. It will change by the week, so follow at your own behest. Most of them new, but a few oldies to keep it interesting. Enjoy!