Friday Playlist: Autre Magazine’s Fashion Editor’s Favorite Music of 2016

Text by Adam Lehrer

People complain about contemporary music. This is short-sighted: the complaint should be directed towards the music industry and not musicians. 2016 was actually an amazing year for new records, but there is just simply no economy for any musician less than a massive pop star and a couple indie acts that are able to get rich touring the festival circuit; the working class rock star is gone. But people haven’t given up on making new sounds. I had to cut this top 50 list from an original list of 217 (which can be found on my Spotify playlists) and I’m already feeling guilt over my decision to not include great records from all-time favorites of mine: Aphex Twin, Autechre, Brian Eno, Neurosis, John Cale, PJ Harvey, Dead C, Wire, Mark Pritchard and Deftones and great new stuff from younger acts like Surgeon, Driftmachine, Okkultokrati, Sex Swing, Let’s Eat Grandma, Vince Staples, Preoccupations (formerly Viet Kong), Sumac, Tomaga, Marissa Nadler, Taman Shud, Mica Levi & Oliver Coates, Chance the Rapper, Ocean Wisdom, Via App, NoName, Tough Tits, Julianna Barwick, Serpent Music, and Circuit Des Yeux side project Jackie Lynn. If I went on any further I’d probably just grow more anxious about not mentioning even more (I also liked ‘Lemonade’ a lot when it first came out but have grown tired of no one ever even questioning Beyonce’s artistic choices. It’s just pop music, folks!).

I sympathize by those that feel overwhelmed by the sheer massiveness of musical choices that are out there. I admit, I often feel the impulse to just give up filling my head up with new shit and endlessly re-playing my Lou Reed, Sisters of Mercy and Wu Tang records. But if you think there’s nothing good out there, you are being obstinate. Yes, we’ve lost Bowie, Prince, Alan Vega, Leonard Cohen, Pauline Oliveros, Lemmy and seemingly more greats than ever this year, but the rebellious spirit of radical music lives strong. Go on music sites like The Quietus, Self-Titled Magazine or Resident Advisor once a week and you’ll have enough new record ideas for the whole year. It’s out there, just harder to pin down. Anyways, these are the 50 records that soundtracked my life and art in 2016.

50. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool, track: Tinker Tailor Soldier Rich Man

There was a time when I didn’t want to be a Radiohead fan anymore. It’s just a by-product of unanimous critical praise; human beings tend to grow obstinate in the face of having points constantly hammered into their brains. But now that Radiohead’s brilliance has gained its detractors, I have begun to re-understand that brilliance. Hell, I even liked The King of Lambs, perhaps even more so because it was Radiohead’s least acclaimed album since Pablo Honey. Its strange ayahuasca dub atmospheres really grew on me. A Moon Shaped Pool is a much more accessible album than its predecessor, made of tracks that Radiohead had played live for the last decade or so. There are moments of sincere breathtaking beauty on the album. More than Thom Yorke’s obtuse poetic lyrics, or the band’s not-so-subtle political stances, or their penchant for avant-garde appropriation, it is the beauty in Radiohead’s sound that has always appealed to me. Professionals to the core, A Moon Shaped Pool emphasizes the craftsmanship of pop music composition and finds itself at odds in the democratization of the arts that has become the benchmark of millennial culture. When you listen to Radiohead, you can't think to yourself, “Maybe I could do this.” You know your place as the listener, and are forced to either appreciate the music, or not. Is A Moon Shaped Pool as good as OK, Computer or Kid A? Not even close. But it’s still a good Radiohead album, which is enough to leave an impression in 2016.

49. Zomby, Ultra, track: Sweetz (featuring Burial)

The British dubstep producer Zomby had lost his way since defining the sound of a movement with his debut Where Were U in ’92 in 2008. Eight years and a couple missteps later, Ultra reaffirms the producer’s status as one of the genre’s great auteur visionaries. Ultra is a testament to Zomby’s focus on album length pieces of music. Unlike other producers, a lot of the tracks on the album don’t work on their own. Take his collaboration with Burial, Sweetz, and its empty cries “Get mE Fucked Up,” and you wouldn’t be wrong to raise an eyebrow when listening to the track as a single. But when sequenced into the entirety of Ultra, it makes sense. The record is full of twists and turns, highs and lows; synths bleed into modulated voices and expand to roaring booms and contract to sinewy whispers. Zomby’s adherence to the album format is brave. So much of electronic producers’ success is wagered on DJs being able to play their tracks as part of set lists in clubs. But Zomby doesn’t care. He believes in his music. He’s an artist.

48. Kano, Made in the Manor, track: Hail

2016 might go down as the year that Grime artists finally got the same amount of attention and acclaim as their American rap counterparts. While Skepta led the pack winning a Mercury Prize over the dearly departed David Bowie, there have also been a pack of young artists setting the world aflame: Stormzy, Novelist, and Abra Cadabra among them. It was easy to forget that Grime veteran Kano put out the best album of his career in ‘Made in the Manor.’ Reflecting on the gentrification of East London and youth soon-to-be-gone, Kano manages to scorch the Earth while remaining accessible to a wide audience.

47.  These Hidden Hands, Vicarious Memories, tracks: Glasir

Both members of British duo These Hidden Hands are firmly entrenched into London’s dance music scene: Tommy Four Seven is a DJ and runs an events series and Alain Paul produces techno under the name Shards. But These Hidden Hands isn't dance music, not specifically so anyways. In an interview with The Quietus, the duo says their new approach has more to do with IDM. Not that they sound like Autechre, but the very fact that Autechre sounds quite different than Boards of Canada but still approaches electronic sound as a discipline. Vicarious Memories is an intense listen; there are elements of the thudding early goth of Bauhaus, glitch-y Industrial like SPK, noise, and techno. This is a thoroughly conceptual record tightly edited to a one-sided disc. Almost reminds you of albums like Dark Side of the Moon, in which Floyd was able to distill a sweeping grandiose story in a measly 40 minutes. It’s an engaging listen with a fully formed aesthetic: grand, dark, sweeping, and powerful.

46. Ka, Honor Killed the Samurai, track: That Cold and Lonely

The Brownsville, Brooklyn-based MC Ka is one of hip-hop’s great stylists. His sound melds together the grit of early RZA productions with a minimal backbeat, found sounds, and minor keys. Does he get the recognition he deserves for this? Of course not. But Ka is happy to be a working class underground hip-hop star, cutting a living as an NYC firefighter. This gives him a unique perspective on the decay of urban life, and he delivers devastating cultural criticisms and truths in his contemplative, hushed and calm tone. It’s the indifference in the sound that amplifies its impact. He was signed to Tommy Boy records in the ‘90s as a member of group Natural Elements, retreating into his Brooklyn home until we needed him again. On Honor Killed the Samurai, Ka is appropriately broken. His hip-hop is not trying to relate his story to mass audience. His is a much more personal expression. On the first verse of track Mourn at Night, Ka raps, “My scars last.” So will his music.

45.  Factory Floor, 25 25, track: Ya

Since Factory Floor released its self-titled debut record in 2013, the post-Industrial duo have become unlikely stars of the experimental music world. Guitarist and vocalist Nikki Void found herself recording and touring with two obvious forebears of the Factory Floor sound, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti who were once in Throbbing Gristle and later played as a synthpop/techno duo in Chris & Cosey, as a new trio Carter Tutti Void. Factory Floor has repopularized the idea of the dance floor as a location for punk infused rebellion. 25 25 finds Factory Floor shaved down to a duo following the departure of Domnic Butler and his SH-101, but what the duo has lost in apocalyptic aggression it more than makes up for in obtuse Disco glory. Void has ditched the guitar for a synth, and the music can be easier classified as straight electronic techno than its predecessor. There are still elements of the punk-dance hybrid that made Factory Floor so interesting in the first place, but it’s more in attitude than musical approach. 25 25 is the soundtrack to end times disco. Perfect considering these might very well be the end times.

44. Delroy Edwards, Hangin’ At the Beach, track: Horsing Around

As Los Angeles’ stock as a major city for art and fashion has risen, so has its need for a substantial club music scene. Among the leaders of this movement are Delroy Edwards, a producer and honcho for electronic music label L.A. Club Resource. Edwards’ approach to electronic music echoes Arthur Russell’s approach to disco or Ariel Pink’s towards indie pop. There’s a decidedly ‘80s retro VHS feel to the compositions, both sunny and fragmented. There’s joy in his products that are belied by a sinister undercurrent of lo-fi fuzz. But it’s dance music. So, you know, dance away.

43. Necro Deathmort, The Capsule, track: In Waves

The london-based duo Necro Deathmort is one of the picks on the list that I include knowing that they won’t appeal to everyone. Combining dub-infused electronica, pounding drones, and bleak harsh noise with a Satanic early black metal-inspired visual aesthetic, they aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But I fucking love them. Their 2016 release The Capsule finds the group ditching the John Carpenter horror synths, MDMA fueled dance music, and vortexes of guttural screams and guitar breakdowns that would make Khanate say, “damn,” in lieu of cinematic soundscapes that might find forebears in the Cliff Martinez soundtrack for Nik Refn’s Only God Forgives and Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for ‘The Thing.’ The Capsule sounds like the album Darkthrone main man Fenriz would make if he finally said “fuck you” to black metal purists and indulged his taste for electronic music and techno. It’s not their best album, and I prefer the highly modernist combinations of noise sleaze and sleek techno, but it’s an interesting testament to the duo’s highly erratic artistic nature. When these guys like certain music, they make that certain music. It’s hard to maintain a tight aesthetic while veering all over the stylistic map like this, but Necro Deathmore do just that.

42. Swans, The Glowing Man, track: Cloud of Unknowing

Michael Gira reformed Swans because he felt the project had more to say in this particular cultural climate. And yet, Swans 2.0 feels like it was a very different band than the scorching noise rock of Gira’s ‘80d-‘90s run. I almost see the Swans reunion run as sharing characteristics with The Velvet Underground’s run: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Side was their Velvet Underground and Nico combining the aesthetics of experimental sound with rock n’ roll and blues, The Seer was their White Light/White Heat, wildly unhinged and poetically potent, and To be Kind was their Velvets’ self-titled bringing back in elements of rockabilly and blues. But The Glowing Man is most definitely Gira’s loaded. It feels like the album where he, like Lou Reed did with Loaded, announces himself as a solo composer and a true New York City rock star poet. The album, while still full of soaring highs and punishing textures, is more subdued than its predecessors and pushes Gira’s beautiful prose to the forefront of the sound. He really tears his guts on this album, diving into substance abuse, depression, and sexuality. This has been a difficult year for Gira (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about), but I would love to see him embark on a solo career. He could be the NYC rock artist icon that the city has so desperately needed since Patti, Lou, and Richard Hell have all moved on, literally or figuratively.

41. Roly Porter, Third Law, track: In System

In recent years, it’s become less strange for artists predominantly known for creating noise and drone music to be trying their laptops at more familiar forms of dance music (Dom Fernow’s Vatican Shadow project, Justin Broadrick’s JK Flesh project, etc..) and this has given way to artists predominantly known for making dance music to reach for denser and less inviting sonic soundscapes. Bristol-based producer Roly Porter was once one half of pioneering dubstep duo Vex’d. But dubstep Roly Porter’s 2016 release Third Law is not. Vex’d’s approach to dub-step was always full of heavy bass and industrial throb, but with this project beats are nowhere to be found. The title, Third Law, refers to Newton’s third law of motion that every action has an opposite reaction; a signifier of the powerful force contrasted by dizzying stillness that define the album. A remarkably engaging piece of electronic composition at its lengthy 52 minutes.

40. Billy Bao, Lagos Sessions, track: C

Billy Bao is usually a project created by the French noise artist Mattin. He’s collaborated with noise big boys ranging from Bruce Russell (The Dead C) and Mat Bower (Skullflower) but the Billy Bao project was initially his most rockist project; ugly sneering punk noise reminiscent of ugly titans like Rusted Shut jettisoned by Mattin’s extreme anti-copyright and anti-capitalist ideology. The Billy Bao project would grow more conceptual over the years with albums like Urban Decay and Buildings from Bilbao that mutated the noise rock with conversational tidbits, field recordings, and deafening silences. And no we are here, and 2016’s Lagos Sessions has turned Mattin into a fictional character named William; a young Nigerian troubadour who would become one of Bilbao, Lagos’ most important players in a so-called punk scene in 1986. But what the album really is is an examination of the city. Mattin spent 12 days in Bilbao recording in a local studio Eko FM and with local musicians like Orlando Julius, former Fela Kuti Keyboardist Duro Ikujenyo, and Russo-Nigerian Afro-Jazz singer Diana Bada. And yet this is not an appropriation of, just a meditation on a city from the perspective of an outsider who happens to be one of the most fiercely individualistic artists from any medium in the entire world. The album jumps between Lagos musicians’ sounds and Mattin’s sneering shards of noise. It’ll take a lot of listens for this to sink in. It works like great fine art cinema; what at first is off-putting and nonsensical soon starts to burn a maddening concept into your brain,

39. Death Grips, Bottomless Pit, track: Bottomless Pit

You’d be forgiven for forgetting about Death Grips. After years of internet trolling shenanigans, quitting labels, breaking up, and re-forming, it become ever more apparent that MC Ride and Zach Hill hadn’t put a great piece of music together since their only major label release The Money Store back in 2012. But four years later, and Bottomless Pit has totally revived the group’s sound. MC Ride has never rapped this good, and the group opted to make songs as opposed to oppositional rap noise. That is when they have always been at their best: allowing themselves to make hits that still had maximum sensationalist impact. Fight music for those that don’t know how to fight.

38. Ghold, PYR, track: Collusion with Traitors

In its first incarnation as a trio, Brixton-based progressive sludge band Ghold shattered eardrums with the four songs on 2016 release Collusion with Traitors. Ghold shatters conceptions of the two genres they work in: they are able to expand sludge metal outward and inward while making progressive rock that is dirty, deranged, and nihilistic. The Melvins' headlock riffery meets the deeply compositional albeit deranged song craft of King Crimson, but those comparisons really don’t don't do this band justice. This is the first truly progressive band to also be roaringly heavy. This has been attempted countless times, but never has so intricately composed rock music been so nail bitingly nasty.

37. Cobalt, Slow Forever, track: Beast Whip

Colorado-based black metal duo Cobalt have always felt like the American contemporary black metal band truest to its Scandinavian origins but also the least beholden to the early black metal ethos. How does this make sense? I don’t know, but you’d be wise to listen to the band’s 2016 release Slow Forever, their first since 2009’s Gin and even without the vocals of Phil McSorley, perhaps the band’s best and certainly most palatable record. Band founder McSorley and band conceptualist Eric Wunder came to ideological differences that eventually resulted in their disbanding. But the album doesn’t seem to miss McSorley’s presence. It was Wunder, after all, that provided the band’s gateway to art, literature and experimental music. His interest in the literature of Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson and his experience playing in Jarboe’s band have allowed him to tilt the idea of what Cobalt could be. Under him, the band isn’t just “war metal,” it’s conceptual war metal. Slow forever has a tonal clarity that allows the band’s musical identity to emerge. It’s still nasty, but it’s also intellectual. This lack of metalhead pretension makes the band more interesting, and also, more genuine. They aren’t just overwhelming your ear drums, they are delivering a message.

36. Marie Davidson, Adieux un Dancefloor, track: Interfaces

Montreal-based producer Marie Davidson made her bones as a member of the DFA-signed Essaie Pas and evidently learned how to make alien sounding electronic music both unwaveringly personal but also relatively accessible. Adieux un Dancefloor is the artist’s first solo album to emerge itself fully in the exuberance of the dance floor. Using synths, drum machines, and sequencers, Davidson half-sings and coos an amalgam of French and English haikus over a joyously momentous body of tracks. This is an experimental dance record that never veers too far off course; in its 45 minutes, Davidson manages to weave complex arrangements and avant-garde flirtations into a concise, beautiful, and pop-oriented dance record.

35. The Body, No One Deserves Happiness, track: Shelter is Illusory

Being a fan of Portland, OR-based experimental metal duo The Body garners much satisfaction. As a fan, one is always waiting to see who the band will create music with next, whether it be Baton Rouge sludge metal band Thou, Richmond doom act Braveyoung, or experimental producer The Haxan Cloak. But until 2016, they had failed to make that perfect and art defining body of music. In 2016, the band found it with No One Deserves Happiness. NODH is the band’s simplest record yet; it adds no new sounds or textures to their output nor does it include any collaborators. Instead, it boils the sounds down to its defining elements and amplifies them to maximum terrifying effect.

34. So Pitted, neo, track: pay attention to me

I was still 10 years from being born in 1977. With punk already having gone through multiple deaths and rebirth by the time I came of age, noise rock ended up being my punk rock. It was the music that both generated my interest in subversive rebellion and finding art within rock n’ roll: Big Black, The Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, Nirvana’s Bleach, etc.. So Pitted is in that lineage, particularly the bands that defined their city Seattle. Their music sounds like a blown out version of the early noise rock bands that would eventually both influence and get lumped in with grunge: Mudhoney, Tad, and definitely early Nirvana. The early Cobain influences are immediate apparent from the trio’s gender neutral fashion choices, as well as their burying of catchy hooks under layers of scuzzy feedback.

33. Brood Ma, Daze, track: Well Equipped

London-based producer Brood Ma told me earlier this year that his Tri Angle Records release Daze was an exploration of how contemporary concepts of masculinity strangle the creative process. What’s interesting then was how this inner turmoil fueled such a breathtaking piece of conceptual electronic music. Daze jumps all over the stylistic map, but is fueled by a cohesive rebellion against gender norms. It is a violent auditory sensation.

32. Underworld, Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future, track: Low Burn

Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have been doing progressive house music for 36 years now, forming at a time when industrial and post-punk bands were only beginning to learn the possibilities inherent to electronic sound manipulation. After six years of no music, the longest gap between new music in Underworld’s career, Barbara Barbara far exceeded its expectations in 2016 and is easily their best album since 1999’s Beaucoup Fish. Hyde’s ludicrous lyrical proclamations are all over the place, but only serve to make the album slightly less self serious and more enjoyable. The first half of the record features the duo’s joyous and eternally danceable bass lines and the record takes a turn for the solemn on side two indicating the duality present un Underworld’s music that has made the appealing to such a wide spectrum of music fans.

31. Puce Mary, The Spiral, track: The Night is a Trap II

While American noise has been in sharp decline since its mid-00s No Fun Fest heyday, a powerful noise has developed in Stockholm. One such practitioner is Frederikke Hoffmeiers, aka Puce Mary, who released her third album The Spiral this year. Using synths, percussion, obscured vocals, field recordings, and swaths on unholy noise, Puce Mary is able to pay homage to her industrial and power electronics forebears like Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse while also charting out a viable future for the genre. Puce Mary manages to scorch eardrums while also finding a sensitivity in the sounds. There is not played out noise tropes of serial killers and goofily over the top macho nonsense. It’s noise as personal expression.

30. Wolfgang Tillmans, 2016/1986 EP and Device Control EP, track: Make It Up As You Go Along

Wolfgang Tillmans has been one of my favorite artists for as long as I can remember, and watching him gain newfound mainstream success has been one of 2016’s greatest delights. Whether it be his raging against fascism, Brexit and Trump on his profile picture-less instagram page or his contributions to Frank Ocean’s Endless video or his profile shot of a green haired Frank Ocean on the cover of Blond/Blonde, Wolfgang has been everywhere this year. Wolfgang started his artistic life when dressing up as a fictional Culture Club obsessed group named Fragile with his friends that would go around and take pics of themselves around Berlin, and his earliest published work included club shots in iD. Now the musical world that he has created in his pictures has come to life through his release of albums 2016/1986 and Device Control. It’s a dreamy set of ‘80s indebted club tracks that also sounds forward thinking. It both standalone as a musical project and enriches Wolfgang’s artistic world. 


29. Huerco S, For Those of you Who Have Never (And Those of You Who Have), track: A Sea of Love

Like Aphex Twin before him, Brooklyn-based producer Huerco S has ditched the majestic techno of his debut for an introspective albeit beautiful ambient set in For Those Of You Who Have Never. What’s most intriguing is that when Huerco S put out Colonial Patterns in 2013, the then 21-year-old had never even set foot in a club. It was a fantasia of what club music could or should be like. But now that he has been banging clubs for a few years, he ditches it for a dreamscape in this new album. This is an artist that immerses himself fully in his fantasies and interior world.

28. Gnod, Mirror, track: The Mirror

It should be clear by now that nasty, crunchy, sexy, psychedelic punk rock music is alive and well in the UK more than any other country in the world. One of those bands doing this better than any other is the North English four-piece Gnod (though 41 people have veered in an out of the band). After releasing a three-disc psychedelic jazz bad trip on last year’s Infinity Machines, the band leans out on The Mirror (that could be used as a double metaphor by the way). It is a much shorter and also much bleaker record, reminiscent of the starkly political but subtly post-punk of The Pop Group. It grooves out, and then it hammers home. It reminds you of Miles Davis’ fusion band on Bitches Brew started shotgunning vodka and listening to Eyehategod at an Occupy Wall Street rally.

27. Jambinai, A Hermitage, track: For Everything That You Lost

When it comes to the so-called genre “post-rock,” for me there is Godspeed You Black Emperor! and then there is nothing. I’ve always found the bands operating in this style tend to sound like de-fanged rock bands trying their hands terribly at creating jazz music with rock instrumentation and creating a wanky boring mess in the process. And then these South Koreans come along and fuck my world up! Jambinai’s post-rock works primarily because the band never forgets to absolutely rock. Even when weaving in strange ambient sounds and horns and keys, the music moves along at the aspirational pace of rock music. It’s sweaty and hard and loud but still strange and alien and small. It’s highly composed but allows breathing room for the magic to happen.


26. Powell, Sport, track: Fuck you, Oscar.

I’ve listened to a ton of Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen over the years and count all three amongst my favorites artists to have ever lived. But it was the loss of Alan Vega that really through me for a loop. Vega’s music with Martin Rev in Suicide and his underrated solo career helped me to define my personal tastes; a venerated mix of rock n’ roll and blues boogie, punk attitude, and electronic weirdness. But the London-based electronic producer Oscar Powell proves that the intersection of punk and techno is just finding its groove. On full-length ‘Sport,’ Powell draws inspiration from the drum machine backed noise punk of Big Black (and even reached out to Steve Albini to sample his music, to which Albini replied “I detest club culture as cantankerously as anything on Earth”), funky ‘80s No-Wave band Theoretical Girls, Mark E. Smith and The Fall, and of course, lots of Suicide. But what I find fascinating about the record is that it isn’t just a hybrid of rock and techno, it’s purely electronic-based techno played with a punk libertine mindset. There’s a sense of risk involved in this music that proves that Powell’s primary concern isn’t just if he can make you dance or not. It’s that can he find sounds to fuck your head up and push electronic music forward. If you dance, even better. Powell has found a sense of individuality and iconoclasm in his music that is sorely lacking in techno music. He has a voice. While ‘Sport’ isn’t a perfect record, it defines a fascinating musical aesthetic. It’s an aesthetic that I’m interested in, and I believe that a lot more great music will come out of it.


25. JK Flesh, Rise Above, track: Defector

Justin Broadrick’s strength is maintaining aesthetic unity across multiple projects and vast stylistic shifts. From the metallic industrial of Godflesh, to the sweeping shoe gaze doom of Jesu, to the noise of God and Final, his vision of a bleak and cold world always bleeds through. The JK Flesh project is Broadrick’s take on nihilistic club music; a futuristic hybrid of noise and techno. Rise Above is Broadrick’s most interesting album in any style in many years. Though Jesu is still alive and kicking (releasing an interesting collab album this year with Sun Kil Moon), his heart appears to be with the 4/4 beat. JK Flesh takes cues from some of the UK’s most abstract club kids: Andy Stott, Surgeon (who Broadrick did an EP alongside), and Actress among them, but it’s far more intense than any of the music made by those mavericks. It probably sits most comfortably alongside Dom Fernow’s Vatican Shadow project, but feels more realized in its vision. Broadrick has long been interested in techno and electronic music; Godflesh certainly had elements of underground club music and his project with The Bug’s Kevin Martin Techno Animal provides an early template for dubstep. But the electronic music made as JK Flesh is the dance music that he’s always strived to make: as visceral as anything he’s ever done in the context of heavy music.

24. Yves Tumor, Serpent Music, track: The Feeling When You Walk Away

Ever since Kanye demonstrated R&B’s ability to be mutated and shifted by experimental sound tendencies, an entire genre of popular music has bubbled to the surface: Frank Ocean, D’Angelo, How to Dress Well, dvsn, and the artists of Tri Angle records have all followed suit using the genre as a mood board for moody artistry. It was only a matter of time before an artist would make full-blown R&B avant-garde. The artist in question, Yves Tumor, was raised in Tennessee and put out some some releases and performed at Hood by Air’s LA show before putting out his debut Serpent Music. Guided by spirituality and repelled by religion, the record finds Yves using his warm vocals and melodic guitar lines to accent otherworldly soundscapes of psychedelic noise, crackling ambient sound, and Arthur Russell kaledioscopic pop.

23. Moor Mother, Fetish Bones, track: Creation Myths

Moor Mother, AKA Camae Ayewa, is a Philadelphia-based artist and community activist who has been releasing music on SoundCloud since 2012. As a fine artist, she uses photography and collage to examine the universal truths of systematic oppression. Her debut album, Moor Mother, operates in a similar mood, reimagining the protest song as a fragmented sound collage. Describing her music with self-created genres such as “blk girl blues” and “project housing bop” to “slaveship punk,” she allows herself to work across a range of stylistic mediums while remaining true to a sense of history. Pitchfork compared her to both Sun Ra and Shabazz Palaces, but Moor Mother’s music is also more difficult to discern than that. Her poetry is abstract, and the music underneath is just as if not more abstract. And yet this music feels so radically contemporary that its obtuseness feels direct. With an era of neo-fascism dawning upon us, artists like Moor Mother are going to become rarer. Let’s cherish this record.

22. Katie Gately, Color, track: Sift

As the lines between experimental and pop continue to blur in the digital era, it’s becomingly increasingly difficult to find music that walks this tightrope in a genuine manner. There is a vast difference between the disastrousness of Miley Cyrus’ collaboration with The Flaming Lips and Frank Ocean’s sublime dalliances with Wolfgang Tillmans, for instance. Katie Gately is an LA-based sound designer and producer turned musician and her debut for Tri Angle records is ostensibly a pop record; albeit a pop record full of mutating oscillators and seismic synths. Gately applies a top 40 sheen and polish to avant-garde sound structures that makes her come off as fearless in the face of experimental purists.


21. Jute Gyte, Perdurance, track: The Harvesting of Ruins

Jute Gyte is Adam Kalbach; a composer with a BA in music composition. Under the Jute Gyte moniker, he has recorded noise, IDM, ambient, and drone, but the vehicle is primarily known as a conceptual black metal project. Perdurance is the pinnacle of all that Kalbach has been driving towards. Using a guitar equipped with a microtonal fretboard, Kalbach is able to write in intervals a half-step smaller than traditional Western music (and more often found in some traditional African musics); this set-up allows him unprecedented harmonic control over his sound. “Control” often indicates safety, but there is nothing safe about Perdurance. It is as loud, scuzzy and dark as anything in the world of experimental black metal, but there is an intellectualism at play that the likes of nazi murderer Burzum only wishes he was capable of having. Kalbach told The Quietus that he started the project wishing the that modern composition elements were applied more to the music he most enjoyed, i.e. black metal and industrial. His music is a template for possibility.

20. Schoolboy Q, Blank Face, track: THat Part (featuring Kanye West)

Schoolboy Q comes off as an elder statesmen of west coast hip-hop on 2016’s massively underrated Blank Face LP. The record is a substantial improvement over his previous release, OxyMorons, that too boldly tried to court the favor of mainstream hip-hop attention. Schoolboy Q is a classicist in the mold of Aftermath records. At 72 minutes, you’d think the record could be cut down a notch. But even though it doesn’t reward straight through listening, it’s a wonderfully textured record to come back to. It neither moralizes nor minimizes the realities of gang lifestyle, reaffirming hip-hop’s importance as a journalistic American art form. It also has the best Yeezy feature on the year on the hit track, That Part.

19. Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker, track: You Want it Darker

With Leonard Cohen’s death, You Want it Darker will be obsessively editorialized by writers trying to find performance art in the act of death. That really was the case for Bowie’s Blackstar, but You Want it Darker is simply a great Leonard Cohen album full of songs about sex, love, desire, longing, loneliness, fear and, yes, mortality. That was always Leonard’s modus operandi.

18. Savages, Adore Life, track: The Answer

London-based gout-piece rock band Savages’ lead singer and lyricist Jehnny Beth has kept me captivated all year through her excellent Beats 1 radio show Start Making Sense in which the front woman discusses the importance of music and rock n’ roll with venerated guests including Underworld’s Karl Hyde, Fugazi/Minor Threat’s Ian Mackaye, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillepsie, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, Faith No More/Mr. Bungle/Fantomas’ Mike Patton, and more. The radio show reaffirms the importance and viability of rock n’ roll on contemporary culture. Fittingly, that is exactly what Savages have done. Forget the fact that they are all stylish and well-presented ladies that have brought influences ranging from PiL, Siouxsie and the Vabshees, and Joy Division back into the conversation, what Savages have really done is prove that a rock band can have a successful career in the digital era without having to compromise their sound for radio or over-market themselves. Adore Life, while more melodic than its predecessor, is still a scorching set of rock n’ roll songs. Savages released the album in February, but have been able to stay a part of the conversation through constant touring, well executed press, and Beth’s highly intellectual and opinionated voice. This is what rock stars can look like in 2016.

17. Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition, track: Really Doe (featuring Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt)

After Danny Brown’s EDM friendly 2013 release Old, he could have been a massive mainstream star. The only problem? He would have had to sacrifice his highly attuned artistic vision. Instead, he decides to sign to IDM record label behemoth Warp and names his new album after a Joy Division song. Atrocity Exhibition returns back to Brown’s auteurist vision that he solidified on his major debut XXX. Drawing on rock influences like New Order, Rage Against the Machine, and Bauhaus, incorporating techno beat flourishes, and utilizing haunting soul samples, Brown created the most sonically rich album of his career. And yet, it’s still his unhinged rapping style that holds the album together. Really Doe is testament to Brown’s confidence in his lyricism; rapping against two rappers considered to currently be the best in the world, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt, Brown still shines on his own.

16. Skepta, Konnichiwa, track: Konnichiwa

How many time has grime attempted to become a part of the pop music mainstream and ultimately failed? At least two, possibly three times now. It took a Tottenham-based Nigerian to firmly establish grime as an artistic platform ripe for commercial viability. Skepta’s Konnichiwa took The Mercury Prize this year over the late David Bowie. Of course, this earned a raucous pseudo-racist outcry on Twitter (as if anyone actually gives a shit about awards) but it well gauges the importance of grime in contemporary culture. It’s an entirely new voice of young men and women being heard in the culture. And Konnichiwa is a stunner of a record and easily the first grime album that transcended the notion of grime being a single-based medium. It’s a highly addictive record, one that you can play from stop to bottom. Dizzee Rascal and Wiley were never able to keep their albums this cohesive. What is most remarkable, however, is that despite Skepta courting US attention and earning fans in the likes of Kanye, Drake, and A$AP Rocky, this is a firmly British voice. Skepta has faith in his voice and his outlook, dawning a new British Invasion.

15. Elysia Crampton, Elysia Crampton Presents Demon City, Track: The Demon City

On Elysia Crampton Presents Demon City, producer Elysia Crampton explores the medium of electronic music as a vehicle for poetry, sociology and history. The album is a companion piece to Crampton’s theatrical production and DJ set called Dissolution of the Sovereign: A Timeslide of the Future, and both use conceptual art to tell the story of Bartolina Sisa, an Aymara folkloric hero that led an indigenous uprising against Bolivia in the 1750s, told from the perspective of her severed limbs after her murder. That is just a taste of the concepts that the brilliant artist Crampton can explore through her music. Drawing on genres from past and present, Crampton explores her roots as a trans Latina woman by exploring the sounds that fuel her personal history and cultural identity: Southern hip-hop, Latin metal, psychedelic folk, neoclassical music, pre-Columbian khantus music, ragtime, early blues, her brother’s avant—garde records, and her grandfather’s hyayno and cumbia music. She looks at the history of music to explore her own cultural history. Listening to her music is to listen to everything that resulted in her genesis.

14. Solange, A Seat at the Table, track: Cranes in the Sky

It’s unfair to mention Beyonce when discussing Solange but it’s going to happen here anyways. While Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an important artistic act of multimedia disruption, the closed-off nature of Beyoncé diminishes her intrigue. Solange, on the other hand, is an open book. Her music is pure personal expression and she reflects her authentic self in both her press appearances and artistic output. A Seat at the Table has been in the writing process since 2008, and Solange became a star (albeit one on a much smaller scale than her big sister) in the meantime with her 2012 Dev Hynes-produced EP True and the launch of her label Saint Records. The result of years of labor is an outstanding work of artistry; drawing on themes of blackness, empowerment and segregation, Solange’s soul is more in line with the greats like Gladys Knight and Nina Simone than anything in contemporary music. That isn’t to say the record is antiquated, it just a rawness, or yes, an authenticity that is scantly found in contemporary pop. Enlisting the help of fellow pop stars like Lil Wayne, Kelly Rowland and The Dream as well as major indie stars like The Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth, Sampha and Kelela, Solange proves that sweeping soul is still commercially viable, earning her first number 1 album in the process.

13. A Tribe Called Quest, We Got it From Here… Thank You for Your Service, track: We The People…

This album was 2016’s most joyously surprising. It’s been 18 years since A Tribe Called Quest’s last album; time that the group’s members spent mostly squabbling until Phife Dawg would ultimately pass away. Not to mention, we should all be suspicious of reunion albums at this point. For every MBV there are three utterly garbage Pixies albums, and even the competent reunion records by the likes of Dinosaur Jr. have lost the youthful spark that made the early work such magic. And yes not only is WGIHTYFYS Tribe’s first record in 18 years, it’s their best since 1993’s Midnight Marauders. This is a group that was formed before Biggie, Tupac, Wu Tang, Nas and Jay-Z and yet they are still making music that feels both celebratory of hip-hop’s history and contemporary. Released days after the devastating win of our President Fuckface Elect and faced with the death of progressivism and quite possibly democracy as we knew it, Tribe’s music was a reminder that no matter what the political circumstances, the rational majority can still look after each other. That freedom of thought and speech can never smothered. Using collaborators ranging from Kanye to Busta Rhymes to Anderson .Paak to
Kendrick to Elton fucking John, the record is a joyous collage of hip-hop, soul, and jazz highlighting the importance of black art and culture against a racist paradigm that has always sought to silence it.

12. Fat White Family, Songs From Our Mothers, track: Satisfied

It took a handful of art school dropout squatting Londoners to reignite passionate rock n’ roll music. Fat White Family has always known how to play the game using raucous performances, nudity and controversy to boost the profile of a rock band that in most modern circumstances would be relegated to the deep underground of British art rock. But the group has also found a way to weld their difficult influences (The Fall, The Birthday Party, Big Black, The Gun Club, The Country Teasers) into a palatable and even catchy rock approach. Their second album Songs From Out Mothers filtered the band’s nihilist energy into the wall of sound melodies of Phil Spector, the damaged soul of Ike and Tina Turner, and the motor rhythms and joyous synths of Neu. The combination of catchy singalong anthems and volatile riotous energy has resulted in Fat White Family becoming one of the best live bands on the planet, I see them every time they come to New York. Now signed to Domino records, Fat White Family have the opportunity to become the first noise rock STARS since Sonic Youth.

11. Bruxa Maria, Human Condition, track: Hipsters and the Heathens

Though taken on a shitty Samsung photo, the self-portrait that graces the cover of former member of British punk band Dread of Conmungos and fine artist Gill Dread’s debut album as Bruxa Maria is subtly evocative. Welding a machine gun strapped on her back while her face is obscured by a cap and bandana, a mysterious revolution is hinted at. The Bruxa Maria project was inspired by Dread’s experiences during the 2011 London riots, and she became fascinated by the empty rebellion of consumerist hipster culture. To combat that, Dread looked towards the acapitalist culture of noise rock and post-hardcore to inform the Bruxa Maria project. Human Condition is influenced by the absurdist noise rock of The Butthole Surfers, the manic and politicized post-hardcore of Nations of Ulysses, and any number of acts once signed to noise rock behemoth Amphetamine Reptile Records (NoMeansNo, early Helmet, Alice Donut, Cows). It’s a tried and true raucous approach to sleazy rock n’ roll made contemporary by a particular aesthetic approach to imagery and a political philosophy.

10. Gaika, Security/Spaghetto, track: 3D

“These are my cities and these are my streets IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY” barks Gaika on his Warp Records debut EP Spaghetto. On both his EP releases this year, Spaghetto and the previous release Security, Gaika has emerged as a uniquely contemporary voice in the genre of protest music. Combining dancehall, grime, R&B, trip-hop, industrial and Prince, Gaika’s music uses the history of black British music to rail agains the homogenization of the urban city, particularly in his home of Brixton. He’s a straight black man that has no problem dressing up in Hood by Air runway looks or utilizing the tropes of performance art or working with Mykki Blanco to make an artistic statement. 


9. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo, track: FML

It’s been a rollercoaster year for ‘Ye, and I was there at the beginning: when he simultaneously introduced The Life of Pablo and his Yeezy Season 3 collection to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. After designing collections and touring relentlessly all year, Kanye has burned out. It was inevitable. So I’m disappointed that he’s meeting with Donald Trump as I write this, but I’m still thankful for the work he’s given us. I've never thought TLOP was on-par with the exquisite genius of Yeezys or 808z, but it is a massively listenable collections of songs that Kanye allowed us to engage with in real time. It was thrilling listening to see his edits of the album on Tidal, and who can forget those three months of time when we actually all had Tidal accounts? Honestly, it feels like the end of things, like the most fully realized of Kanye’s post-modernist approach to futurism. He has always been intimately aware of the ways in which people consume content in 2016, and I doubt any gesture will be as relevant as his roll out of The Life of Pablo album. The most disappointing thing about all this Trump nonsense is that it refutes my concept of Kanye as the digital era’s Malcolm X; the man able to call out societal racism exactly as it is with no considerations for PC culture. It’s hard to listen to Black Skinhead or No More Parties in LA quite the same way.

8. Hieroglyphic Being, The Disco’s of Imhotep, track: Spiritual Alliances

Chicago native Jamal Moss, AKA Hieroglyphic Being, has been a part of the Chicago acid house scene since the mid ‘90s, but his Hieroglyphic Being project is his most adventurous incorporating elements of free jazz, industrial, and musique concrete. An outsider in a whole scene of outsiders, Moss is a formerly homeless intellectual that is beholden to the afro-futurist approach of Sun Ra. The Disco’s of Imhotep is his most accessibly body of music yet but sacrifices not shred of strangeness. It’s dance music that is not beholden to a Pro Tools grid, it’s too wild and untamable for that. Moss calls it “rhythmic cubism” and that is as apt as any other description could be. There is an unhinged mysticism at play that evokes the healing power of soul while letting darkness creep into the fold in the form of industrial beats that evoke ShapedNoise or the mutations of Laraji. It’s a dance album that is hopeful and spiritual without devolving to cheese. This is as good as dance music gets.

7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree, track: Rings of Saturn

No rock n’ roll star has ever aged quite as gracefully as Nick Cave. From his druggy beginnings as the sleazy sexed out goth frontman of noise punk The Birthday Party to his contemplative present as a distinguished literary murder troubadour leader of The Bad Seeds, Cave has always been a fascinating poet of rock star. Though murder and death have always hovered over the music and words of Cave, it’s impossible to separate the darkness of 2016 masterpiece Skeleton Tree from the untimely death of Cave’s teenage son in 2015. Though the death happened between recording of the album, harbingers of doom are everywhere, “Are you still here,” sings the artist on Rings of Saturn. Cave’s wife, the British model Susie Bick, has discussed Cave’s eerie ability to foresee the future in his poetry. Musically, the album is indicative of The Bad Seeds’ reinvention as purveyors of adult-themed literary rock n’ roll, and the symbiotic artistic relationship between Warren Ellis and Cave has never been more pronounced. There has never been a punk rock icon to have such a financially successful AND artistically fruitful career for so long: not Iggy, not Lou, not Joey, not Richard Hell, and certainly not Ian Curtis. Nick Cave has never fought age, instead embracing it and drawing inspiration from it to mutate his music and words along with his body as it grew older.

6. Jenny Hval, Blood Bitch, track: Period Piece

Only a year after the release of her excellent Apocalypse, girl album, the Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval drops a work of conceptual brilliance and artistic conceit in her 2016 release Blood Bitch. Influenced by menstruation, ‘70s horror and exploitation films, and Virgina Woolfe, Blood Bitch is a concept album that draws parallels between a fictional time-traveling vampire named Orlando and Hval’s experiences on her last tour. Using the theme of blood, Hval is able to continue her exploration of the themes of gender, sexuality, language and identity while reconnecting with her past spent listening to black and death metal, “menstruation blood is the scariest blood of all,” said Hval in an interview in London in Stereo. Working with producer Lasse Marhaug, who is known for his work with noise metal unit Jazkamer as well as drone metallers Sunn O))) and japanoise god Merzbow, Hval decided to start improvising lyrics while watching exploitation films. She then used crackling tape hiss and manipulated electronic sounds to create a kind of sound collage that envelopes the lyrics, letting them breathe and live. It’s an aesthetically driven record that both stands out in Hval’s catalog while also forming a unique aspect of a discography that is becoming one of the most interesting bodies of work in modern music.

5. David Bowie, Blackstar, track: I Can’t Give Everything Away

I don’t really know what to add to the discussion of Black Star, other than to say it’s a great act of death as the ultimate form of performance art. Bowie decided to release his last album, his best since the late ‘70s, just days before ultimately succumbing to cancer. That was always going to amplify the reception of the record, but it still stands out for its songs. With Bowie experimenting with jazz instrumentation and arrangements like he has never before, it’s his most conceptually difficult album since his Berlin years and ironically his first number 1 hit in the U.S. All that goes to prove how powerful the death of an icon can be over the cultural paradigm. It’s been out for a while now and I still find myself giving it a spin every few weeks or so.

4. Arabrot, The Gospel, track: The Gospel

Since the Norwegian noise rock pummelers Arabrot released their Melvins and Swans worshipping debut record Rogues Gallery in 2003, they have started stretching their sound out clearly aspiring to something more than raw aggression. Slowly but surely, the band has started taking on more diverse influences both musical and artistic: the neofolk/post-industrial of Death in June, the psychedelic country of Lee Hazlewood, the romanticism of Thomas de Quincey, the eroticism of Henry Miller, the mysticism of Aleister Crowley, and the oppositional theatricality of Federico Garcia-Lorca. The Gospel is the incarnation of all those influences, but also of the full artistic realization of Arabrot’s sole remaining founding member Kjetil Nernes who has just recovered from throat cancer after a diagnosis in 2014. The Gospel is loud and forceful, and sometimes quiet and contemplative, and always carries a grace derived from the dark charm of cabaret theater. It it the sound of a loud rock band shedding their youthful abandon and embracing intellectual and artistic maturity. Though the album has an impressive array of guest noise kings (Sunn O))) member and visual artist Stephen O’Malley, Nurse With Wound/Current 93 rotating member Andrew Liles and Ted Parsons who has played with Swans and Killing Joke), none of the members try and make a name for themselves with a racket on the record. They blend in seamlessly to a swirling vortex of sound. The use of keys on the record are magnificent, adding an element of vaudeville to the proceedings that has not been seen in a loud rock band since Faith no More’s masterpiece Angel Dust. Nernes is a compelling frontman, a dark joker troubadour in the ilk of Scott Walker, and is capable of avant noiseisms as well as conventional pop melodies. Arabrot is very much his band, and The Gospel is his record.

3. Grumbling Fur, Furfour, track: Acid Ali Khan

Daniel O’Sullivan is an in-demand experimental musician, having played in bands like post-rock outfit Guapo, abstract black metal unit Ulver, and Sunn O))). Grumbling Fur is weird, but it’s grounded in pop music realities. The duo has honed their sound considerably since the abstract psychedelia of 2013 release Glynnaestra, and on 2016 album Furfour they are majestically updating the avant-pop of Brian Eno’s solo career. O’Sullivan along with partner and comic book artist Alexander Tucker, clearly see Grumbling Fur as the priority in their long list of musical endeavors. Furfour’s mastery comes from its ability to create abstract soundscapes using the basic harmonies and melodies of pop and building layers on top. They are in the lineage of the late great Arthur Russell, krautrock unit Faust, Stereolab and even Madlib; artists that have found experimental possibilities within pop simplicity. Though Grumbling Fur have tended to reach for psychedelic abstraction influenced by The Dead C and Ashtray Navigations on previous releases, Furfour is a succinct achievement. It utilizes the blissful simplicity of pop music structures to build swirling hypnotic textures. Trust me, you will be listening to this album constantly once you start it.

2. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound, track: Augustine

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1. Frank Ocean, Blond/Blonde and Endless, track: Self-Control

OK OK, I know. Maybe it’s in poor taste to lump in my number 1 and 2 album of the year picks together. And I also am firmly against letting social justice narratives get in the way of aesthetic appreciation. So I want to just say this immediately, these choices only have a little to do with the timeliness of their releases. It is important to have two black male queer musical geniuses play an important role in contemporary music in 2016. But I would not have included either Frank Ocean or Blood Orange at the top if I didn’t believe that their ART and music was the best I heard this year.

The kaleidoscopic pop and R&B of Frank and Dev Hynes feels more contemporary than any other music out there. On Freetown Sound, Hynes has found the pinnacle of what makes his artistic voice important. Utilizing the classical texture of baroque pop, the lush danceability of alt-R&B, the sample friendliness of synthpop, and queer and black activism, Hynes creates a collage of his self and displays on a billboard for the world to see. Hynes’ self presentation is not written about enough. While the rest of the world tries to create a version of their authentic selves that are just as phony as any media persona could be through their social media accounts, Hynes has given himself over to the world. Freetown Sound was amplified by the event surrounding its release, including the Orlando Massacre and the freedom of Freddie Gray’s murder (one of a few), but Hynes has managed to deliver a historically political album palatably through the sheer beauty of his melodies, tones, and basslines.

There were a lot of mega-hyped albums this year: Kanye, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Drake among them. But nothing was more hyped than the return of Frank Ocean after four years of silence following being hailed as a genius with the success of Channel Orange. But then, in August, Frank dropped a 45 minute video album called Endless getting millennials to sit and stare at him building an abstract sculpture just to hear the tragic beauty of his voice. A few days later, came Blond/Blonde. Though it was an instant hit, it was not as immediately satisfying as Frank’s previous releases. Drawing on the digital cut-up techniques of vapor wave and the experimental soul that he made his name on, it is a slowly engrossing album. I didn’t fully grasp its beauty until about four listens. Frank is on a journey of self-discovery and he has taken music fans all over the world on the ride with him. No music in 2016 can bring me to tears other than the music of Frank Ocean. It’s the rawness in his lyrics, the nakedness of his soul bearing, the breathtaking scope of his lush voice, it’s all so emotionally overwhelming. The sound on the album are fairly minimal, however, which is further testament to how much Ocean is able to achieve emotionally without the grandiosity of modern pop production. He’s every bit the genius that they say he is. 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] A Nick Cave Retrospective

Text by Adam Lehrer

I recently interviewed an iconic musician who had a personal relationship with Nick Cave in the ‘80s (not going to say who). This artist felt like Nick Cave’s work had grown stale and safe since his time in The Birthday Party in the early ‘80s. I nearly choked on my chicken avocado omelet. I couldn’t help but detect a hint of jealousy. How could a rock musician of a similar era not be jealous? Nick Cave is arguably the last great rock superstar ARTIST. We have “rock n’ roll artists” of course, but most of them operate so deep in the music underground that the most stardom they could hope for is a Pitchfork review and some free beer after a show. And there are superstar artists: your Kanye’s, your Beyoncé’s, your Frank Ocean’s, your Kendrick’s, etc.. But finding any worthwhile rock music amongst mainstream culture is a fool’s errand. It doesn’t exist. Rock music is not the important pop cultural force that it once was and it never will be again. 

And then you have Nick Cave: world famous, constantly written about, high profile indie rock romances with PJ Harvey and Kylie Minogue, and refusing to waver in his commitment to artistic expression and poetry. Not only has Nick Cave’s output not grown stagnant, it’s grown stronger with each release. Some underground music fans would rather their heroes remain the rail thin, anti-fashion chic, drugged out, intense freaks that they were in their youths. And of course, some artists do their best work during their angry and vivacious ‘20s (unless of course you think ‘Chinese Democracy’ was a good album). Nick Cave, on the other hand, has seen his art evolve with him. Coming onto the late ‘70s London post-punk scene from Australia with his first band, the art damaged bluesy noise rock band the Birthday Party, Cave was a goth rock icon upon first glimpse: tattered clothing, skinny, pale, dark eyes, and a messy tussle of thick black hair. But Cave matured, and his music with The Bad Seeds would grow more musical and in some ways, more experimental. Eventually cutting heroin from his diet, Cave’s ideas grew more nuanced and detailed as his life stabilized with fatherhood and marriage. One of the greatest songwriters of the last thirty years, Nick Cave has never remained still. Oddly, Cave is now more Leonard Cohen than Iggy Pop, more Neil Young than John Lydon. For Nick Cave, maturity doesn’t denote an acceptance of the banal. Count in the fact that he’s a published novelist and screenwriter of brutal Western film Proposition and the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, there are very few artists on Earth who have been able to build an aesthetic as definitive as the one Nick Cave that has built.

2016 has been the best year for music that I can remember in my entire life. From the top of the mainstream to the bottom dwellers of the underground, every single day I read about a record on The Quietus or Resident Advisor or Pitchfork that would blow my mind later that day. Now consider that, and consider the fact that Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ recently released Skeleton Tree, the band’s 16th record, is easily in the top five of the best albums released this year and very possibly the best record of Nick’s or the Bad Seeds’ careers. 

We all know the tragic circumstances surrounding the recording of Skeleton Tree. In 2015, Cave’s son Arthur (a twin to brother Earl, both of whom appeared in the Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, watching DePalma’s Scarface contentedly in bed with dad), who was born to Cave and his wife Suzie Pitt in 2000, plummeted to his death in a freak accident whilst hiking near their home in Brighton, England. Death and loss have always floated above Cave’s poetry like inevitable harbingers (Pitt has expressed a belief in her husband’s ability to write prophetic lyrics, on previous masterpiece Push the Sky Away Cave sings on the track ‘Jubilee Street,’ "I'm transforming / I'm vibrating / I'm glowing / I'm flying / Look at me now / I'm flying,” there’s no way to listen to that song now without thinking about the tragedy that would soon follow its creation). A noted agnostic, Cave seems to have doubts about god and religion but welcomes hope that there could be such a creator. His morbid fascination with death, both natural and murderous, have been loaded with pathos and conflict since the beginning of his career. On Skeleton Tree, Cave has to confront the most powerful grief a man can endure from the first person view point. These lyrics have no protective distance. 

Musically, Skeleton Tree plays like a building on the sound that The Bad Seeds developed with Push the Sky Away: sparse, experimental, deeply musical, and washed in ambient sound. To look at the evolution of Cave’s career one has to examine the chronological list of his most important collaborators. The Birthday Party was largely birthed out of Cave and guitarist Rowland S. Howard’s deep love of the blues, Iggy, and The Damned, and the band dissolved when Cave wanted to take his sound further out (to his credit, Howard’s solo career is one of the most irresponsibly underrated collections of blues punk in the history of rock music). The Bad Seeds were born out of Cave’s emerging friendship with Einsturnzende Neubauten founder Blix Bargeld when the two were both living in Berlin. Bargeld, a lover of komische bands like Neu and Can as well as experimental music, defined The Bad Seeds as a band informed by deep musicality and experimental tendencies as much as it was by blues and rock heritage. But after Bargeld left the band in 2003, Warren Ellis was able to come to the fore of the band. Warren Ellis, a virtuoso guitar and violin player, multi-instrumentalist, and founder of Australian instrumental rock band Dirty 3, has proved to be Cave’s artistic soulmate. In 30,000 Days on Earth, we see Cave laying down the lyrics to “Higgs Bolson Blues” while Ellis strums a beautiful guitar pattern. Cave starts swaying and dancing subtly to the music, realizing just how fucking good it is. That scene cuts to the heart of their partnership, a partnership that has produced the beauty of The Bad Seeds, the primitive thud of Grinderman, and the expansiveness of their film scores.

Ellis’ watermarks are all over Skeleton Tree. The electronic swaths of ambience that cloak Cave’s voice in mysticism, on tracks like ‘Magneto’ and ‘Rings of Saturn,’ that’s Warren’s KORG synthesizer. The lush string arrangements on ‘Jesus Alone’ and ‘Skeleton Tree’ are Ellis’ composition at its apex. The duo of Cave and Ellis has become the Bad Seeds’ focal point. Jim Sclavunos, Martyn P Casey, Thomas Wylder, and newer guitarist George Vjestica recognize this notion, and this band has never felt like such a well-oiled machine like it does on this record (with a line-up that has been playing together for some 16 years now, that really is remarkable).

Cave’s poetry has largely been founded upon the grief Cave experienced when his beloved father died when he was only 19. But all those songs have been written with a hindsight view of that loss. Arthur died in the middle of this recording. It’s impossible to not hear pain dripping from the cadences of every uttered syllable on this record. Are we projecting these emotions as listeners and as lovers of Cave the man and the artist? Cave is one of those artists that feels like your friend when you really get attached to his music and his words, and empathetic viewpoints are easy to take when it comes to this kind of tragedy. But no. I think someone who knew nothing of Cave or the accident would listen to Skeleton Tree and know that this man singing was bleeding from the heart. At one point on the song Girl in Pain, Cave sings, “Don’t touch me.” He is inconsolable. He doesn’t want to be consoled. But he still wants to sing. 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] The Best Songs About Drug Pushing in Commemoration of the New Season of 'Narcos'

Text by Adam Lehrer

Just as musicians often “take drugs to make music to take drugs to,” as Spacemen 3 so eloquently described the phenomenon back in the ‘80s, musicians also “sell drugs to afford to make music to talk about selling drugs.” Bill Hicks one told an audience that they should burn their records if they disavow drug use because drugs were the primary inspirations behind those albums. By that reasoning, we should also throw out our records if we disavow drug dealing. As we all know, when we are passionately pursuing a life of art we have to make compromises along the way. The less savvy of us will either work as waiters or marketers or cop money from mommy or daddy. Other artists have the cunning required to make a serious living in the trade of illicit substances. Considering the close proximity to drugs that musicians have, why not make some money out of it? Those artists have often gone on to share their experiences hustling the black market.

Commemorating the second season of Narcos (out today on Netflix), a show that tells the story of the most financially successful drugs trader in history Pablo Escobar, we are sharing the songs by the artists that made some scratch slinging drugs before they went on to stardom (or at least were found themselves inspired by a substance pushing acquaintance). 

Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man, Bringing it all Back Home (1965)

While Dylan has vehemently denied that Mr. Tambourine Man is certainly not about drugs or any drug dealer, has he ever given a journalist one straight answer about one fucking thing that he’s written? No. With lines like, “Take me on a trip upon your magc swirling ship,” there has never been doubt in my mind that the tambourine man in question is most certainly Dylan’s favorite dealer. While other critics have stated that the tambourine man could be a metaphor for Dylan’s internal muse, I’m opting for the explanation that the tambourine man was selling Dylan his external muse. The song came out in 1965. Dylan was high. Very high.

The Velvet Underground, Waiting for my Man, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)

In Waiting for my Man, Lou Reed tells an all-too-familiar story: his dealer is dicking him around. No matter what your poison; pot, pills, MDMA, dope, whatever; we’ve all been there. You call him back, he says, “Five minutes.” You text him so to not scare him off, and he says, “Almost there.” Finally, a couple hours later, he arrives. He is your captor and your savior. For all his troubles, you throw him 100 bucks. Reed’s story is the same as anyone’s, except he didn’t have a cell phone to annoy said dealer with or NYC pot delivery service, for that matter.

Curtis Mayfield, Pusher Man, Superfly OST (1972)

After establishing himself as a gifted music producer and one of New York soul music’s proudest sons on previous album Roots, the former member of The Impressions looked directly at the streets he came from to craft the soundtrack to the 1972 blaxploitation classic Supafly. On the soundtrack’s second track, Mayfield directly confronts the film’s portrayal of the dealer as sympathetic anti-hero by making his pusher a machiavellian sociopath, exploiting humans for his own financial gain. But not with out sex appeal, it is funk after all.

Boogie Down Productions, Love’s Gonna Get-cha, Edutainment (1990)

Ronald Reagan accomplished many things during his presidency: creating the War on Drugs (which has been going great, haven’t you heard?), restoring cranky old white man conservative values, kick-starting the dismantling of FDR’s New Deal, and totally demonizing black urban city males. The fact that KRS-one was able to humanize a drug dealer in the Boogie Down Productions song Love’s Gonna Get-cha during this era speaks to the MC’s poetic reach. While it was easier for White America to view the inner-city dealer as a monster that needs to be locked up (it’s always easier to be reductive, isn’t it), KRS details the harsh economic and sociological realities that lead an otherwise innocent youth down the route of drugs and violence. KRS introduces the listener to his over-worked mom, his pregnant sister, and his bother with whom he shares “three pairs of pants.” In his world, he has one choice. We have to see the criminal as the human being he is.

Geto Boyz, Mind Playing Tricks On Me, We Can’t Be Stopped (1992)

After parents had just moved on from the shock of their kids’ NWA and Guns n’ Roses records, Geto Boyz elevated the shock factor to the umpteenth degree. Over the course of their career, the seminal Houston rap trio went way beyond tales of drug crime: serial murder, necrophillia, and psychosis were all topics touched upon by the group’s rappers Bushwick Bill and Scarface. The group was misunderstood at times and could prove surprisingly thoughtful and reflective, case in point the 1992 track We Can’t Be Stopped. The song finds Bill and Scarface touching upon the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder they are suffering as a result of years spent living within the world of drugs and violence. I'm paranoid, sleeping with my finger on the trigger, My mother's always stressing I ain't living right, But I ain't going out without a fight,” raps Scarface.

The World is Yours, Illmatic (1994)

Few MCs have ever approached drugs, violence and poverty with such depth and emotional clarity as Nas did on his 1994 debut Illmatic. Growing up in the Queensbridge housing projects, Nas witnessed the negative impact the drug trade was having on his own community, and turned his experience into one of Hip-hop’s greatest feats of lyrical storytelling (he was only 19 at the time, and Nas was never able to match the artistic heights of that first record). On The World is Yours, Nas references Brian De Palma’s Scarface and compares that fictional dealer to Howard “Pappy” Mason, a dealer that netted $200,000 a week selling drugs to the residents of Queensbridge in the ‘80s. Unlike Pappy, Nas sees a clear way out of the life in his pen and paper.

Jay-Z, Friend or Foe, Reasonable Doubt (1996) Nas

A friend of mine’s little cousin expressed to me her belief that “Jay-Z was corny.” At first astonished, I had to remind myself that if you had no knowledge of Jay-Z’s career outside the last 10 years, that notion would appear to be true (the flip-flops, the atrocities of Magna Carter Holy Grail, the cheating on America’s favorite woman). But of course, Hip-hop heads remember Jigga’s origins. What made Jay’s debut, Reasonable Doubt, so powerful was that he neither celebrated or condemned drug dealing. Writing in the first person, he presented himself (honestly) as a man that did what he had to do to make it. He is not ashamed of his actions, and he isn’t proud of them either. On album stand out Friend or Foe, Jay tells a dealer associate of his that if the money isn’t right, he’ll have to take violent actions. “You're twitchin, don't do that, you makin me nervous, My crew, well, they do pack, them niggas is murderous,” he raps. Jay-Z’s defining characteristic was unbridled ambition, and that ambition has taken him far.

Raekwon featuring Ghostface Killah and U-God, Knuckleheadz, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)

While Hip-hop had been telling the stories or the urban drug trade for a long time, Wu Tang Clansmen Raekwon and Ghostface Killah may have been the genre’s first artists to craft a full-length sonic crime film. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was centered around the story of two men (Ghost and Rae) looking for one last score before leaving the life for good. In the process, the rappers created a new urban slang that was beholden as much to The Supreme Alphabet of the Nation of Islam as it was to the drug slang of the New York streets. Hip-hop heads have been obsessed with decoding the language ever seen. The album’s first track, Knuckleheads, finds Ghost and Rae planning a robbery with a third man, U-God. Once the heist is pulled off, U-God is murdered for ostensibly speaking to the police. The rest of the album finds Ghost and Rae no closer to getting out of the drug trade, instead using the new found wealth to go deeper and deeper and deeper. 

The Notorious BIG, The 10 Crack Commandments, Ready to Die (1997)

Biggie Smalls remains to this day one of music’s most vivid storytellers, and the fact that his 1997 “how to sell crack” guide was released after his death was particularly telling. Biggie’s persona was so steeped in his criminal past that his massive success could never fully lift him out of it. As Biggie tells us to never let them know our next move, to never keep no weight on us, and to never trust no one, a sad truth dawns upon the listener: Biggie’s survival guide kept him alive through his pusher days, but no such guide existed that could explain to Biggie how to survive the perils of fame. 

Ghostface Killah, Shakey Dog, Fishscale (2007)

The most eternally fascinating character in The Wire was the drug dealer robbing stick up kid Omar Little. Unlike the cops, the politicians, and the dealers, Omar existed freely outside the shackles of any institution. Through ferocity and charisma, he took what he needed and answered to no one. That’s the persona that Ghostface takes on in the opening track of his 2007 album Fishscale. On Shakey Dog, Ghostface, in hyper-vivid detail, documents the before and during of a Cuban drug lord stick-up. In a particularly cinematic passage, Ghostface relentlessly barks, “Off came the latch, Frank pushed me into the door, The door flew open, dude had his mouth open, Frozen, stood still with his heat bulgin’,Told him Freeze! lay the fuck down and enjoy the moment, Frank snatched his gat, slapped him, axed him,Where’s the cash, coke and the crack?” For being one of the wordiest rappers in history, Ghostface Kill still does not mince words.

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] Thank God: Frank Ocean Is Back

text by Adam Lehrer

After over a year of letdowns, I was really starting to think that Frank Ocean would be the next D'Angelo. That is, an R&B genius that waits a good 15 years to release his next album. After first announcing new LP 'Boys Don't Cry' in July of 2015, nothing new came out. That went on for six months. Frank came back into the public eye with contributions to what will probably go down as the year's biggest Pop releases in Kanye's 'The Life of Pablo' and Beyoncé's 'Lemonade,' and an almost-as-important record in James Blake's 'The Colour in Anything.' We kept hearing whispers of new music: Blake said the new Frank Ocean material was pristine, and one of Frank's producers said it was looser than but better than 'Channel Orange.' Then, last month we get a library card reading 'Boys Don't Cry' on Frank's website, perhaps indicating the missed release dates. Following that, video footage on the same website showing Frank at work assembling some kind of sculpture. Interesting, but fat from satisfying. I'm not going to lie: I gave up, slowly stopping my daily efforts of looking upon Frank's Apple Music page thinking there was no way he'd have new music out anytime soon.


But last night: it happened. Frank Ocean released a 45-minute "visual album" called 'Endless.' It's incredible. Even more: there is another album out this weekend. But, it's still hard to ask ourselves: what took so long? I think it's simple: Frank was feeling the pressure. 'Channel Orange' was a landmark album, and one of the biggest cultural events of 2012. This is the man who moved from New Orleans to write for major recording artists like Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, and Brandy. This is the man who joined Odd Future as their smooth soul singing man. This is the man who departed from a comfortable life as a commercial songwriter for a life of truth, beauty, and unparalleled artistry. This is the man who cultivated a unique and crisp R&B sound with debut mixtape 'Nostalgia, Ultra' only to shatter it to find his inner truth, posting a letter to his Tumblr page (that made us ALL cry) confirming his homosexuality and releasing the year's best and most important album in 'Channel Orange.' He wasn't just hailed as a genius songwriter, he was hailed as one of the most important cultural figures, period. Just by being an artist he broke down some serious barriers. Prior to Frank Ocean, homosexuality was still taboo in both Hip-hop and R&B. But after 'Channel Orange,' no one cared. People loved his music THAT MUCH. This is a bonafide musical genius and undeniable Pop superstar. It feels like not since Stevie Wonder have we had such a unique musical and commercially appealing talent. Frank's music does more than just inspire, it makes you feel! His unique baritone, that he can drop to a soft falsetto in the blink of an eye, his intensely raw lyrics, and his lush production all speaks directly to the listener's humanity in a way that few artists have ever been able to achieve.


How in the hell do you follow that up? You take you time, of course. And now Frank finally has music and art that he is comfortable will satisfy the fevered hype. And even more impressive, Frank did not dumb anything down. In fact, it feels like he used his massive popularity to put more pressure on his audience to try and step outside their boxes and try new kinds of music. On 'Endless,' he has collaborated with P.T. Anderson collaborator and Radiohead multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, James Blake, experimental R&B performer Sampha, singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan, and experimental producer/budding go-to harsh electronics man Arca. Oh, and that German accent you hear at the beginning and end of 'Endless?' That would be none other than one of Autre Magazine's favorite fine art photographers Wolfgang Tillmans, who has been successfully dabbling in music this year having released music under his own name with his 1986 EP and with his band, Fragile (http://pitchfork.com/news/67666-wolfgang-tillmans-explains-how-his-techno-track-bookended-frank-oceans-endless/). On his admiration of Frank O, Tillmans said to Pitchfork, "As a gay man, I needless to say appreciate his openness, how he deals with the initial sensation of his coming out." While most of these performers have operated somewhere within the realm of popular music, they are all capital "A' Artists. Frank doesn't feel the need to dumb his music down, and respects his audience enough to know that art and pop culture make fitting bedfellows. I don't know about you, but I'm very excited to see what else Frank Ocean has up his sleeves this weekend. Let's get that new record. 
 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] Raf Simons' Musical References

text by Adam Lehrer

Now that Calvin Klein has finally announced that Raf Simons will be taking over the brand as its designer, a bitter sweet sentiment has swept throughout the fashion industry. Last year, when Cathy Horyn sat down with Raf for what amounted to his Dior exit interview, published by System Magazine, one couldn’t be faulted for thinking that Raf seemed totally done with luxury fashion houses. This was an artist struggling with the fact that he no longer had the time to find inspiration to create. Deadlines had worn him down, and it was time for him to re-focus on his own revolutionary label. The fact that Raf’s last two collections, one inspired by his heroes such as David Lynch, Martin Margiela and Cindy Sherman, and one a beautiful collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe archive, were his best menswear collections since collaborating with Sterling Ruby seemed to signal that Raf was back in his element, filtering counter-culture, art, music, and radical gender politics into his clothing. 

So, on one hand, it might seem a little hypocritical that Raf is already back at a luxury label, and one that to fashion snobs would seem like a (rather large) down grade in prestige from his previous job at Dior. But try to think of it on a conceptual level. When you think of prime era Calvin Klein, what do you think of? Grunge, heroin-chic, Steven Klein. If I had to put my money on it, I would guess that Raf was attracted to the idea of Calvin Klein’s brand identity, and the significant stamp that his alternative tastes could have on it. Though CK is not a cult label by any means, it did at one time conjure up a concept more rebellious than that of other American mega brands like Ralph Lauren. For some reason, that idea has been lost. I can’t say it’s the brand’s previous designers faults; Francisco Costa (womenswear) and Italo Zuchelli (menswear) both made some beautiful and minimally chic garments during their tenure at the label. But the label’s branding felt out of sync, and this caused its desirability to wane. When we buy into labels that expensive, we aren’t solely buying into the clothes. We are buying into what the brand stands for. Calvin Klein already started rectifying this with its London-based self-taught photographer Harley Weir-shot My Calvin’s campaign that feature portraits of Kendall Jenner, Young Thug, Abbey Lee, and even fucking Frank Ocean. Now with Raf designing the clothes, it won’t be too long until Calvin Klein is cool once again. My assumption is that Calvin Klein offered Raf a contract with stipulations stating that his work load will be significantly less than it was with Dior (his longtime right hand man, Pieter Mulier, is also coming on as creative director, which means Raf might not have to directly involve himself in every garment decision), and also that he will be able to fully oversee the creative direction of the branding. Raf is unquestionably a fantastic curator, and it is extremely exciting to think of the music and art elements he will be able to bring into Calvin Klein with its gargantuan ad budget.

But what of those music references? Will Cavin Klein suddenly be associated with minimal techno, noise rock, krautrock, and new wave? Undeniably, Raf Simons will be bringing those elements to the label that he now calls his employer. And can I just add this: RAF SIMONS IS COMING TO MOTHERFUCKING NEW YORK! How could anyone question that? Our city has been lacking any big name avant fashion designers for a very long time, but no longer.


RAF’s EARLY MUSICAL INFLUENCES

Around the time of his AW ’14 collection, designed with friend Sterling Ruby, Raf was asked about the collection’s use of patches. It was simple, as a kid he patched his jackets up with his favorite band logos. Among them: Sonic Youth, Black Flag, and Pink Floyd.


THE SMASHING PUMPKINS

Interestingly enough, Raf’s first major music reference was The Smashing Pumpkins in his AW ’97 collection that featured the band’s track ‘Tonight, Tonight’ as its soundtrack. That might seem weird, considering Raf’s rather alternative tastes, but less we forget in 1997 The Smashing Pumpkins were still a rockin’ band and hadn’t yet released a litany of terrible records, or Billy Corgan’s nauseating poetry book, for that matter. But the band’s mixture of stadium bombast and art-y punk structures make sense when considering Raf’s work, a man who has designed avant-garde menswear collections at the same time as Dior couture. 


KRAFTWERK

With its AW '98 collection, the Raf Simons brand identity really started to gel. Raf found inspiration in the Emil Schult-designed cover of Kraftwerk’s 1978 album 'Man Machine,' and even used the group’s much-aged four members as models. Raf took the skinny black ties and red shirts look and re-imagined it for the runway. Raf was really the first fashion person to acknowledge that creative fashion people and artists find much more fashion inspiration from the pop culture they love than from the fashion they see on a runway, and basically created a whole new genre of fashion in the process. Brands as varied as Hood by Air, Vetements, Nasir Mazhar, and others wouldn’t exist without his realization of the intimacies of the fashion-pop connection.


GABBA

Gabba was rather exuberant sub-genre of Hardcore Techno that was coming out of The Netherlands and Raf’s home of Belgium in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. In his SS ’00 collection, SUMMA CUM LAUDE, Raf celebrated brilliant young kids that studied during the days and partied their faces off in raves at night. It was his first collection that really served as a re-creation of an “of the moment” sub-culture, as opposed to digging into references from the past. He sourced the military surplus MA-1 jackets that gabba kids were wearing and applied his own Raf Simons patches to them, pairing the jackets with nice shoes and high-waisted trousers. This is such a standard "cool guy" look now, and it wouldn’t even be commonplace were it not for Raf’s affinity for the kids of gabba.


DAVID BOWIE

Bowie is quite evidently immensely important to Raf. Raf seems to not only be a fanatic of Bowie’s music (which he certainly is), but drawn to the man’s ability to both come off as a man who subverted gender expectations while simultaneously being emblematic of the alpha-male trope. Raf Simons is a label for those men who exist AND thrive on the outside, weirdos who refuse to be put down, and men who are in-your-face about their oddities. This all makes David Bowie something like the perfect Raf Simons man, and Raf used his music in the SS ’99 Raf Simons show, as well as the SS ’17 Dior show.



MANIC STREET PREACHERS

It’s nigh-impossible for me to answer the question, “What is your favorite rock band?” That being said, the iconic Welsh glam-grunge rockers of Manic Street Preachers are always at the tip of my tongue when that question arises. They encapsulate everything great about rock music: melodies, guitars, bombast, hooks, drugs, sex, swagger, fashion, art and poetry. Raf Simons is partially responsible for cementing the group as an art world favorite. He centered his AW ’01 ’RIOT RIOT RIOT’ collection around the still unsolved mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Preachers’ lyricist and rhythm guitarist, Richey Edwards. When Edwards joined the Preachers, he was rather inept musically, but his poetry, wild and erratic drug-fueled persona, and gender-bending aesthetic elevated the Preachers to a level of scrutiny higher than that of their Brit-pop peers and into the upper echelons of rock folklore. Raf included photos of the late Edwards on bomber jackets as well as making use of the newspaper headlines published about Edwards’ disappearance. 



JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER

From 2002 to 2003, Raf re-discovered his love of both Joy Division and New Order as well as the iconic graphic artist responsible for both bands’ covers, Peter Saville. In his AW ’03 collection, Raf held access to Saville’s entire archive, and the parkas emblazoned with the covers of New Order’s ‘Powers, Corruptions and Lies’ and Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ still fetch upwards of $15,000 on consignment e-commerce sites like Grailed. Raf arguably re-sparked the interest in Joy Division and New Order with these collections, and is arguably responsible for every 19-year-old NYU student that walks out of Urban Outfitters wearing a Joy Division t-shirt that doesn’t even recognize the opening drone of ‘Atrocity Exhibition.’ But that’s the thing with the great revolutionaries: from Che Guevara to Raf Simons, their ideas always get sold. 


ANGELO BADALAMENTI

In what amounted to a great return-to-form, Raf's stunning FW ’16 collection came chalk full of references, from 1980s teen horror films to Cindy Sherman to Margiela to, most prominently, David Lynch. The surrealist director was paid homage through the show’s soundtrack, that featured Lynch collaborator and composer Angelo Badalamenti discussing co-composing Laura Palmer’s theme music from ‘Twin Peaks’ with Lynch, “Angelo, THAT’s IT! OH, ANGELO, YOU’RE TEARING MY HEART OUT,’ we hear Angelo quote Lynch with saying. The show was incredible, fully encapsulating Raf’s ability to turn the spectacle of men walking down a runway in extreme clothes to the tune of powerful music into a grandiose statement of artistry. 


FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS

What separates Raf from other designers, is that he really keeps his finger to the pulse of culture. He’s not like Hedi Slimane and his permanent fascinations with ‘70s rock n’ roll or Gosha Rubchinskiy and his renderings of a post-Soviet 1990s. Raf finds himself fascinated with new art and new music constantly, and is always looking for ways to bring it into his own curatorial sphere. In recent interviews, he has cited appreciation for the music of art rock Londoners These New Puritans, Detroit house production icon Richie Hawtin, and even music as abrasive as that of modern techno producer and Perc Trax label head Perc. This is what I find most fascinating about Simons’ entry into Calvin Klein. At Dior, he would have never been able to incorporate those influences into Dior’s branding, but at Calvin Klein and its openness towards counter-culture, he might just be able to. 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] Alan Vega: His Music, His Influences, His Influence

Text by Adam Lehrer

 

This is probably the longest playlist that I’ve ever fashioned for this column, and sometimes, size matters. The influence of Alan Vega in his capacity as the frontman for Suicide and as a solo artist cannot be understated. It has been a very sad year for music, with the deaths of Prince, Bowie, and now, Alan Vega. The influences of Bowie and Prince loom titanic as well, but in a much different way than Vega. Bowie, for instance, holds an influence over the culture of self-presentation. He taught countless artists from countless mediums to be ruthlessly committed to their own actualized selfs. A similar statement could be made about Prince, though pop music would also radically alter in his wake. But Vega stands amongst a very few artists that created a sound so singular that one can audibly hear elements of it in the slew of genres and sub-genres that would follow. From the top of the charts to the scourges of the underground, Suicide’s sonic approach has been obsessed over and employed by musicians for decades. Who else can claim to monumentally influence pop music in such a direct way? The Velvet Underground, to be sure. The Stooges, without question. Hendrix, maybe. But I don’t think any of those artists can claim to be the progenitors of as many sub-cultures as Vega, Martin Rev, and Suicide have proved: Post-Punk, Industrial, Techno, Synth-pop, IDM, Trip-hop, and even contemporary Hip-hop to an extent. Damn. Full disclosure: Suicide and Alan Vega were responsible for much of the music that I hold dear, and there are few artists throughout the history of music that had as profound an effect on my own personal taste.


THE MUSIC:

At the risk of sounding like a hack, I’ve often thought of Alan Vega as the musical equivalent of William S. Burroughs in one fairly important way. Burroughs, the junkie god of Avant-Garde 20th century literature, was actually the corporate heir to a massive fortune, a Missouri blue blood gone wrong. As experimental as his work grew, it never lost a palatable sense of Americana-rooted sentimentality. There’s a real “American tale” around his mythos. Vega, the junkie god of downtown NYC street-punk, was raised in a similarly American archetypical home: the son of Jewish immigrants growing up in Brooklyn. His parents weren’t artists, and his early musical exposure was mostly the country western favored by his parents and a little later, the early rock stars. 

But, Vega was also a visual artist first. His infamous light sculptures inspire the same sense of dread-laden awe as artists like Hermann Nitsch. But he grew disillusioned with the art world and started making music after meeting best friend Martin Rev. Together they formed Suicide. Vega wrote poems about and created music for the working class. That sense of real struggle was what interested him. But at the same time, he never really was able to shake off his artistic background. Alan Vega as a frontman for Suicide was almost like a character born of conceptual art. It was like Vega created this rock star persona for himself to deliver his message in a way that could be relatable to his target audience (in both Suicide and later on as a solo artist), but was never able to fully detach from his own artistic self-awareness. Suicide really was one of the first bands that drew a line between the world of avant-garde and pop music and delicate walked that line with the swaggering vocals of Vega and the minimally harsh but thoroughly catchy synth melodies and baselines of Vega. That might be Suicide’s most fascinating trait as a band. They inspired experimental artists to flirt with the mainstream and inspired the mainstream to flirt with experimental art. That is why their influence grew so titanic. They drew attention to the fact that drawing a line between mainstream and underground was pretentious, short-sighted, and stupid. All that really matters is authenticity: are you creating the art that best communicates your ideas and delivering it in the medium best suited to the audience that will best understand your ideas. And nothing was more authentic than Suicide and Alan Vega.


THE INFLUENCES:


As stated above, Vega’s musical influences started with the building blocks of Rock n’ Roll: Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jerry Lee. He also declared having been massively in love with the voice of Roy Orbison. When you actually examine those first two Suicide records, it might be surprising to some how much those early rock stars impacted the actual Suicide sound. Vega to be certain looked towards stars like Elvis for his own self-mythologizing as a self-actualized rock star: charisma, mystery, swagger. But also, the Suicide songs often sound like early rock ditties degraded by updates in technology. But the minimal structures and near-singalong quality made the experimental approach all the more thrilling. Vega also is something of a crooner.

But to ignore the experimental music that influenced Vega and Suicide would be grossly negligent. Krautrock, or the experimental rock music that came out of Germany in the ‘70s, is the most obvious precursor to Suicide. The minimal structures of Faust, the delirious funkiness of Can, and the digital mania of Kraftwerk are all massively important to the Suicide sound. Though from New York and not Germany, the band Silver Apples were one of the first experimental rock groups to use synthesizers, and are hard not to think of when thinking about Suicide. Vega was also a noted classical musical enthusiast, having developed an interest in sonics by scratching classical records to make them sound weirder. The German 20th Century avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen had a profound impact on Vega by teaching that within the simple blip of an electronic sound comes a world of possibilities.

And finally: The Stooges. Vega was blown away when he saw The Stooges in 1969, going home to play ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ on repeat. The Stooges were intimately aware of the fact that a direct and academic-less approach to music might be the most profound artistic experience: “once you’re making music for artists, you’re fucked,” Iggy seemed to suggest while shouting until his lungs gave out and rolling around in broken glass on the stage. Suicide took this to heart and sought to provoke audiences through direct violent gesture. Not for art, but for the sake of provocation. And pure provocation is at its essence, the purest form of art.


THE INFLUENCE:

Deathrock, despite its silly name, brought a new heir of theatricality and art to the Punk Rock attack. Those theatrics and sinister nature were directly inspired by the musings of Alan Vega and the tribal nature of some of Suicide’s heavier music. The sense of atmospherics and theatrics inspired by Suicide are best felt by the Northampton Post-punks Bauhaus. Bauhaus knew the power of menacing stage presence combined with repetitive rhythms working themselves up to primordial states. Nick Cave as a young Heroin shooting poet in Australia also took note of Suicide’s approach. Though his first band The Birthday Party weren’t really “Deathrock,” per se (they were equally important in the development of Noise Rock for instance), Cave certainly shared a taste for theatrics and stripped down rhythms.

The early Industrial bands took the music of Suicide but applied a heaping dose of abstract theory and avant-garde art to it, taking aggressive electronic-based music down to the bottom of the rabbit hole. The legendary artist Genesis P. Orridge formed his/her first band Throbbing Gristle to explore the most rank aspects of the human condition: obsession, hatred, compulsion. They used confrontational imagery such as pornography and Third Reich propaganda, gaining them a notorious reputation. The desire to provoke outrage to provoke discussion shares characteristics with Vega and Suicide. But Throbbing Gristle’s electronics were unpolished, using samples and synths to provide a degraded backdrop to spoken word poetry or lyrics. They are what Suicide would have sounded like had Suicide freed themselves from the desire to make pop songs. Genesis would continue this crusade with group Psychic T.V., using video art as a backdrop to its industrial soundscapes. Industrial was in many ways the most interesting form of experimental music in the early ‘80s, and it’s hard to imagine it coming into fruition with the influence of Suicide. 

Just thought I’d throw this in here. But Suicide’s impact was felt even by mainstream artists during their time. It’s been stated that Ric Ocasek loved Suicide so much, that he recorded The Cars’ album Candy-O as an audition to produce Suicide’s second album. Which he eventually did. Perhaps even more famously, Bruce Springsteen LOVED Suicide, and the duo inspired him to strip his sound back to its bare essentials: rhythmic acoustic guitar patterns and his one-of-a-kind rock n’ roll voice. Low and behold, he recorded Nebraska, the best album of his career. Track State Trooper sounds like the acoustic guitar version of Suicide’s first record, and features Bruce doing his best Alan Vega howl.

1980s goth music, with its tendency to incorporate elements of dance music into its darkly bombastic take on rock, was influenced by Suicide’s approach. While Suicide generally worked in minimalist structures, Goth acts often took the underlying tribalistic patterns of Suicide and then cleaned it up with big stadium sounds. The Sisters of Mercy, for instance, incorporated loud and vivacious elements of Psych Rock and Metal over dance beats indebted to Suicide’s second LP. Though often ignored by the Rock history hierarchies, one need not do more than take one listen to The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland collection to find a startlingly unique unit deftly capable of incorporating its influences (like Suicide) into a new and exciting Pop Music sound.

Suicide was so diverse in its approach that it could realistically appease the more adventurous of disco fans while also holding similarities in common with the No Wave bands that played New York directly after punk exploded: Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and the Contortions, DNA and Mars, amongst others, differed from Punk in that Punk brought Rock back to its three-chord roots, while No Wave bands were referencing genres as diverse as Jazz and Psych and stripping Rock of melody and tone all together. Suicide certainly had beats and structures, but the duo’s raw primal energy doesn’t feel out of place in the conversation surrounding No Wave. Perhaps that raw dissonance is what attracted a young Steve Albini to Suicide’s music when he decided to eschew a drummer in his first band, Big Black, in favor of a Roland drum machine. Albini learned from Suicide that when there is no human error involved in creating the back beat of a sound, then that sound can become as ferocious and ugly as humanly possible. Big Black seemed to apply the violence of Suicide’s music, amplify it, and strip it dry of any sort of sexuality or funkiness that was unquestionably an aspect of Suicide’s music.


The earliest Techno music that was blaring out of Detroit club speakers in the 1980s often felt like Suicide beats amped up and made danceable. These producers, including Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, Underground Resistance, and Derrick May, certainly were indebted to Disco and House Music before them, but perhaps due to the outsider spirit of Detroit itself, these guys were experimentalists. Perhaps tired of playing Donna Summers tracks to get their crowds moving, they forged a sound of their own. Due to lack of money and technology, Suicide’s minimal synths and barebones rhythms proved a fitting jumping off point for Detroit Techno artists who instantly recognized that MDMA and amphetamines in combination with simple and repetitive electronic beats make for one hell of a good time. 10 or so years later, Daft Punk would realize that that same formula could be applied to a stadium full of people.

By the late ‘80s, Brits had had exposure to countless exciting sub-cultures of music: Punk Rock, Hippie Psychedelia, Hardcore, Acid House, Brit-Pop, Goth, and on and on and on. At a point, it was way too difficult to pick one type of music. So some Brits didn’t. Bobby Gillespie was among them when he decided to leave The Jesus And Mary Chain and form his own band Primal Scream. Primal Scream drew upon all of Gillespie’s musical loves: The Rolling Stones, Acid House, Post-punk, and without question, Suicide. Suicide, being one of the first bands to marry Electronic instrumentation with Pop song formats, cannot be excluded from the conversation surrounding Neo-Psychedelia and Primal Scream. Spacemen 3 (one of my top 10 all-time bands, by the way) didn’t use electronics much, but both its members, Sonic Boom and Jason Pierce, were self-avowed Suicide fanatics and used Suicide’s minimal rhythms in their drawn-out, druggy, and pained songs. Spacemen 3 understood that sometimes, the most far out music is the most barebones.

Suicide, perhaps more than any other band, holds equal influence within underground music scenes AND mainstream Pop music. This was particularly true with the advent of Synth-pop in the ‘80s. Depeche Mode, Soft Cell (Tainted Love is one of the best songs all time, am I right) essentially drew from Dance music but applied vocals. Sound familiar? Though Suicide of course used this approach for darker purposes, the ground was laid for what pop would become and still pretty much is. Dance music that you can singalong to. Rihanna, Gaga, Miley and whoever else, weirdly enough, can thank Suicide.

Merrill Beth Disker, better known to the world as Peaches, achieved her sound by picking up a Roland MC-505 drum machine in her compositions (later, M.I.A. would pick up the same machine, inspired by Peaches). Her biggest hit, Fuck the Pain Away, she played on a whim live. Its funky but aggro sound is ripped right from the Suicide playbook. In fact, Suicide’s output was highly fetishized by the group of young musicians playing dance-y Post-punk music around downtown Manhattan in the ‘00s. Some of the music (dubbed “Electroclash” by the NME set) wasn’t all that good. But it had its true talents of course, including the then-Brooklyn-based Liars, who would go from dance-punk to one of Indie’s truly experimental bands.
 

Perhaps this is a reach, but when I first heard Kanye West’s Yeezus back in 2013, well, at first I was blown the fuck away. To this day, I think it’s the most extraordinary work of art that Pop music has offered this millennium. But also, I couldn’t help but think of Suicide. Yeezus was heavily indebted to experimental electronic music. Though it’s maximal all the way through, it often feels like a swirl of various minimal electronic sounds. I can’t not think of Suicide when hearing it. Also, the self-aggrandizing and actualization that ‘Ye employs on the record feels like the self-conscious “rock star as art statement” that Alan Vega was the king of. In fact, a lot of contemporary Hip-hop, or “trap,” and its tendency to bring aggressive electronic textures to Hip-hop beats, reminds me of those first few stunning Suicide records. No longer is Hip-hop solely sample-based, instead, producers are actively engaging with synths, drum machines, and all manner of processed sonic goodies. 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] NO BREXIT

For this Autre Friday Playlist, Mr. Pharmacist (aka Gregg Foreman) creates a rebellious set of U.K. anthems in honor, or dishonor for that matter, of the United Kingdom’s truly daft decision to leave the European Union. Creating the playlist from London, where he is currently playing a few shows with Cat Power, gives the mix a special firsthand potency. With tracks from The Fall, Clash, Buzzcocks and more, the playlist is a perfect soundtrack for a riot. 

TRACKLIST: 

Mr.Pharmacist - The Fall
Borstal Breakout - Sham 69
Own Up - Small Faces
Heard it Through the Grapevine - The Slits
Plastic Passion - The Cure
Cruisers Creek - The Fall
Look For Me Baby - The Kinks
Biff! Bang! Pow! -The Creation
3 Girl Rhumba - Wire
Adrenochrome - The Sisters of Mercy
Know Your Rights - Clash
Only a Shadow - Cleaners From Venus
I'm in Love with a German Film Star - The Passions
Collapsing New People - Fad Gadget
I'm Rowed Out - The Eyes
It Was a Pleasure - Echo & the Bunnymen
In the City - Jam
What Do I Get - Buzzcocks
Beat Me Til I'm Blue - The Mohawks
Smash it Up Pt.2 - The Damned
Ghost Town - The Specials
Another Girl Another Planet - The Only Ones
Look Back in Anger - TV Personalities
Public Image - PiL
 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] The Haxan Cloak

Text by Adam Lehrer

It feels like in some ways contemporary abstract electronic producers are the most modern artists working in music today. They have absolutely no sonic barriers holding them back from finding their sounds and no rules to follow. It makes much sense then that Rock bands and Pop musicians are looking towards the Electronic underground for producers that can elevate their sounds or unearth a quality to their sounds that wasn’t evident prior. We most certainly saw this with Yeezus, in which Kanye tapped producers from the top of the mainstream (Rick Rubin) to the eerie depths of the underground (Arca) to create a sound that brought his natural anti-authoritarian and abrasive tone to the forefront, edited down to an undeniably incredible 38 minutes of music. Since then, rappers, bands, and singers have also brought on abstract electronic artists to bring new dimensions to their sounds. The Haxan Cloak, aka Yorkshire-born Bobby Krlic, is still relatively young in his career outside of his own solo project. But after serving as a producer on five records, it is clear that Krlic has a very specific approach towards the manipulation of sound.

As the Haxan Cloak, Krlic has refined a dark and cinematic sound via the manipulation of strings, mics, and laptop. Krlic fell in love with Hip-Hop and Electronica at a young age, but also developed a fondness for Drone Metal bands like Earth and Sunn O))). After having studied under sound artist Mikhail Karikis, Krlic managed blending academic sound manipulation processes with Techno, Hip-Hop, and Drone. Mish-mashing high and low, The Haxan Cloak’s sound is bracing, operatic, and at times terrifying. He finds his peers in the likes of David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti as much as he does artists like Ben Frost and Arca. His self-titled debut, released in 2011, is araw and atonal, using Experimental and Drone more palatably than he would on later releases. Excavation, released in 2013, is the grand summation of the Haxan Cloak’s sound. The extremity of his early sound is in place, but he also weaves in danceable beats and rhythms through a dense and cinematic undertone of sound.

Krlic is the rarest of Electronic music producers in his singularity. You can identify his sound almost immediately, which makes him both a valuable and intimidating collaborator. Nevertheless, artists are starting to tap Krlic for his unique sound and to try and identify something darker and more intense in their sounds. His first major production credit was with Portland Metal duo The Body, I Shall Die Here (2014). Krlic allowed the band to indulge its savage approach, but also applied heavy sound manipulation to the final product, which sounds like finding bliss within horror, and finds forebears in landmark Industrial Metal albums like Godflesh’s Pure.

Also in 2014, Krlic produced former Altar of Plagues’ singer James Kelly’s first solo album recorded under the WIFE moniker, entitled What’s Between. A massive departure from the Black Metal of Altar of Plagues, WIFE is simply Kelly singing over an electronic backdrop. For the record, Krlic propelled the album with a minimal bass thump and blissful swirls of synthesizers, resulting in a beautiful Goth-Pop album.

Though Arca produced most of Bjork’s 2015 record, Vulnicura, Krlic provided production on album standout Family. Using a crawl speed drum beat, the track features a swirl of string production, complete with a sweeping violin solo, that emphasizes the immense pain and need for catharsis expressed in Bjork’s lyrics: “Is there a place, where I can pay respects, for the death of my family?” Bjork belts in her lush alien voice. Family was written six months after Bjork broke up with Matthew Barney, and Krlic’s production highlights the pain still felt fresh from the dissolution of a family unit, but also providesa backdrop to Bjork’s yearning for healing. The song sounds both despaired and relieved.

Los Angeles-based Noise Rock HEALTH band went almost full Electro-Pop on last year’s Death Magic, and Krlic produced its introductory track, Victim. Krlic laid on a thick and dense electronic bass thud with screeching white noise for good measure. At two minutes, it’s the most memorable track on the whole record.

Perhaps his most out of character production, at this juncture, was his work on the new record by Manchester duo LUH. The band’s high-octane anthemic Indie Rock arrangements are new territory for Krlic. Nevertheless, LUH’s debut record released in May, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, and its joyous chords are greatly bolstered by Krlic’s atmospheric production, harnessing a sound that is at times, wildly blissful.

Though his production career hasn’t been very long, it is easy to imagine Krlic becoming something of a modern day Abstract Electronics Steve Albini. Albini, of course, supports himself and his own band (Shellac) by lending his bare-bones agro engineering to a multitude of bands. Some he likes (High on Fire), some he probably doesn’t (Bush). But his production style is audible on every project he touches. Krlic could make the Haxan Cloak records for a long time through the money he makes producing for other artists, and it seems his dense production style makes sense for a wide variety of genres and styles of music.

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] Producer Series: Michael Gira

Text by Adam Lehrer

The 62-year-old musician, writer, artist, and producer Michael Gira doesn’t need introduction. He is of course the mastermind of Swans, one of the ‘80s post-No Wave NYC Noise Rock scene’s most punishing bands, one of the ‘90s experimental rock world’s most confounding bands, and currently one of the modern day’s most singularly intense, sonically adventurous, and spiritually inward bands. Swans, in their current incarnation, are truly without peers. The band’s last three records are all classics: they are extreme in a way that is incomparable to any other heavy bands. Swans’ music is highly composed, but it almost sounds like the diverse array of instrumental (Swans use everything from 12-string guitars to trombones to keyboards to mandolins and everything in between) sounds and noises are at war with one another, colliding and collapsing and creating a viciously elegant choreographed sonic dance. If you’ve ever seen Swans live, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If the best gigs are akin to religious experiences, then Swans are the best band in the world. They sometimes play for two hours at full volume, always seeming to veer on the edge of chaos but always managing to sound utterly cohesive. It’s brain blisteringly heavy but also spiritually beautiful, like your soul is being blasted towards the cosmos but something is also pulling it down towards hell. And there’s Gira, clad in a cowboy hat and boots and a loose fitting black shirt, sweating profusely and leading his audience like a preacher would a sermon.

Gira must know that that feeling is at the essence of what we love about music, and that religious element plays a massive role in his record production work in Swans, his work with his band Angels of Lights, his solo records, and with the many bands he’s championed and often released records of via his label Young God Records. Fans that are newer to Swans and Gira probably often don’t know anything about Gira’s production work and promotion of strange and unusual music. But Gira has been producing ever since Swans’ violently heavy debut Noise Rock album, Filth (1983), and has served as primary producer on most of the band’s music ever since, including their last three masterpieces: My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010), The Seer (2012), and To Be Kind (2014). And even though the Swans catalog casts a long shadow over Gira’s production work outside the band, his production jobs can’t be underestimated in their importance towards his legacy. Though known for heavy and experimental Rock music, Gira has lent his distinctive sonic religiosity to a variety of genres, from freaky Folk music to Ambient Drone.

Gira produced most of his own projects outside Swans. His band Angels of Light was almost a straight up Alternative Country band, but with a psychedelic bent more in line Six Organs of Admittance than Uncle Tupelo. Gira used a revolving door of backing musicians in the band, a notion lending credos to Gira’s compositional control. In a completely different direction, Gira’s project The Body Lovers/The Body Haters falls under the genre of Dark Ambient: a drone-filled atmospheric sound art with dark undertones pioneered by artists like the Welsh sound artist Lustmord. Collaborating with the likes of producer and former Khanate member James Plotkin and longtime friend and collaborator Jarboe, the project serves as an example of Gira’s ability to cook up truly transcendental sound using a stripped and minimal approach (even in Swans, Gira always circles the compositions around a single hypnotic rhythm).

Back when music nerds read magazines like Arthur and started growing ironically long beards in the early ‘00s, Gira was already championing the so-called “Freak-Folk” music coming out of the scene. As a producer however, there was never anything gimmicky about his work with these bands, but instead they seemed to all have sounds that made sense within Gira’s musical approach. Gira discovered Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter and artist Devendra Banhart, producing and releasing the young musician’s early records on the Young God label. Though Banhart got pigeonholed into that very brief movement (he has since reinvented himself of course, making beautiful visual art and writing songs, emancipating himself from the caricature-ish Freak Folk scene) with the Hippie Commune vibe of his (then) look and performances. But Banhart’s Gira-produced records are minimal and beautiful: just guitar and voice and near-silent background noise. The more exuberant Freak Folk band Akron-Family, based out of Brooklyn, was given a sonic boost by Gira’s penchant for finding the trance-like qualities in Rock n’ Roll.

Perhaps more expectedly, Gira has produced a number of Experimental Rock bands. New York-based Calla released their best album, produced by Gira, in 1999. Gira noted that the band sounded much better live, letting their music breathe in the mix. Gira also gave European bands a chance to hit American audiences, such as the Italian avant weirdos Larsen and French experimentalists Ulan Bator.

Gira has been in the news recently after Nashille-based singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm (whose music Gira has produced) accused him of a rape from 2008. The veracity of the allegations have been refuted by Gira, Gira’s wife, and even Larkin’s female former bandmate Margaret Morris (Larkin also accused three of their male bandmates of similar crimes). I’m not going to weigh in on these claims, but I’d be incompetent to not mention them, especially considering Gira’s substantial championing of female artists. The most notable of these being Jarboe, who assisted ever since the New York-based singer-wongwriter appeared on Swans’ album, Cop. Gira has a fascination with the female voice, and Jarboe’s vocals are used to haunting effect on Swans albums and take center stage on the singer’s Gira-produced solo albums.

With Swans about to release what is to be their final record on June 17th entitled The Glowing Man, the only comfort I have is that Gira will still be applying his grand sonic vision to other bands and projects. Gira strives to make music that alters the listener’s awareness of their body, mind and soul. It can be brutal and it can be beautiful, but Gira always manages to guide his listeners up a rope to the sky. 

[Friday Playlist] Honoring Producer Randall Dunn

Text by Adam Lehrer

The month of June on Autre’s Friday Playlists column celebrates the most important record producers working in music today.

Of the bands that Seattle-based producer and engineer Randall Dunn has worked with, the musical styles of those bands read highly diverse: Drone, Doom Metal, experimental Folk, Free Improv, etc. And yet, Dunn manages to be able to add a touch of his own sonic vision to every band he records. He seems to be able to find the cinematic flourishes inherent in strange music. After all, he helped Drone Metal titans Earth re-imagine its sound as a Cormac McCarthy-referencing Western blood letting ritual soundscape on 2005’a Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method. Not surprisingly, film was his entry way to music:  “I originally moved to Seattle to study sound design for film, then ended up getting sidetracked with music,” he said in a 2014 article with BOMB Magazine http://bombmagazine.org/article/1000148/randal-dunn.  “But the thing that got me interested in the first place, when I was younger, was the sound in David Lynch's films. And I still kind of approach things in that way, based on that influence, and more generally on my studies.”

Dunn appears to have the ability to find bliss and beauty within extreme music and the extremity in softer and more angelic music. He can take a Black Metal band like Wolves in the Throne Room and assist the band in dropping lyrics and mutating their violent cacophonies into drowned out ambient washes of feedback, as in the band’s 2014 release Celestite. But he has also assisted Avant-Folkster Marissa Nadler find a sinister undercurrent in an ethereal and quiet sound that has allowed her a fan base that stretches to Metal and Drone circles. It’s stunning that all of the artists that Dunn works alongside; however varied in styles and musical approaches they are; seem to occupy a similar sphere in the musical underground. Even Pop-based artists like Bjork have enlisted Dunn to work on more experimental releases, as in the Icelandic icon’s collaboration with Syrian Folk-Pop singer Omar Souleyman.

Dunn is highly sought after for his unique approach to recording, blending together analog and digital technologies for a sound that sounds pure rather than purposefully vintage and modern as opposed to trendy. “It's the process of working with analogue gear that I find fascinating. I don't avoid digital gear, I actually try to straddle both worlds; a healthy embrace of both mediums, I think, is great,” he said.


Avant-garde weirdo icons Sun City Girls, Metallic Drone progenitors Sunn O ))), Experimental Metal vets Asva, Japanese Metal multi-hyphenates Boris,  Post-Rock band Grails, Free-Improv god Oren Ambarchi, Indie-Psych Canadians Black Mountain, Psych-Folk outfit Akron Family, and a slew of Psych-Rock bands are just a small number of artists that have benefitted from the cinematic and orchestral approach to Experimental Rock of Randall Dunn, He is such a formidable collaborator that it’s hard not to think he’d make excellent music of his own as well. And, he does.

Master Musicians of Bukkake, (name inspired by a lurid sexual practice and Moroccan experimentalists Master Musicians of Jajouka), formed by Dunn in 2003 along with rumored members such as the guys from Earth and Sun City Girls members Alan Bishop and the late Charles Gocher, is the purest expression of Dunn’s musical sensibilities and tastes. It juxtaposes the feedback heavy psychedelia native to Dunn’s Pacific Northwest home alongside influences from all over the world. The result is a confounding and hypnotic swirl of drones, North African desert blues, horror film-referencing synths, and guitar ragas. The band’s discography is diverse, but inventive and cyclical. For example, the band purposefully recorded its 2015 LP Further West Quad Cult to be played simultaneously with its 2013 release Far West. Dunn doesn’t she away from studio trickery, giving the middle finger to critics who cry gimmick and making music that excites him.

In addition to Master Musicians, Dunn has showed up as a player on the soundtrack to Belgian filmmaker Alexis Destoop’s short film Kairos alongside Oren Ambarchi and Sunn O )))’s Stephen O’Malley and as a touring musician and as a touring musician with artists like Chelsea Wolfe. Much like Rick Rubin’s reputation in Pop music, artists don’t just go to Randall Dunn for able recording skills; they go to him for a sound and a feeling that he cultivates. 

[Friday Playlist] The Best of May

Text by Adam Lehrer

More amazing music across all categories in May 2015: Hip-Hop, Electronic, Noise Rock, Metal, Experimental Folk, and on and so forth. Like Beyoncé’s Lemonade last month, my personal pick for the month’s best new album isn’t available on Spotify. If you haven’t been able to hear Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book mixtape, download the Apple Music app onto your phone now (even if you don’t care for Chance the app itself is incredible, any album you want downloaded into your iTunes for $10 a month, bye Tidal). While not as joyously adventurous as that other high profile album that Chance worked on this year, The Life of Pablo, Chance’s Coloring Book is in that wheelhouse. Chance, a recent father and generally sweet seeming guy, approaches Hip-Hop as conceptual art drawing upon his spirituality, life experiences, and dexterous flow. He is the logical successor to Kanye’s throne: a south side rapper who shuns gangster posturing for unbridled joy in making art. As the leader of SAVEMONEY crew with friends Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, and others, Chance shows that Hip-Hop doesn’t have to necessarily be a grim portrayal of life in South Side, but that it can be a gateway to an emotional connection to the attachment. With Coloring Book, Chance has put himself alongside Kanye, Kendrick, and Drake as the most important artists working in Hip-Hop.

Mark Pritchard, Under the Sun, Track: Beautiful People

Considering Mark Pritchard records for Warp Records, and that new record Under the Sun counts American Psych-Folk legend Linda Perhacs and motherfucking Thom Yorke amongst its vocal features, this new Pritchard record went slightly under the radar. I would like to establish here that this is a gorgeous record. Pritchard’s music is a muted, subdued, and highly stylized mish-mashed history of UK electronic music; Under the Sun takes on Techno, Hip-Hop, Ambient, Jungle, Grime, and god knows what else into a massive double album of hypnotic sounds. This is less a dance album than past Pritchard releases, almost like his version of Aphex Twin’s ambient albums. Take Xanax, put on headphones, and let Richard’s sounds lull you to sleep.


Marissa Nadler, Strangers, Track: Janie in Love

Marissa Nadler’s mezzo-soprano voice is her greatest tool. She welds it like a paint brush: on her new LP Strangers, she allows her voice enough clarity so you can examine the voice for meaning and messages, much like you would a painting (not surprising that Nadler studied fine art at RISD). Though Nadler is sober for the first time on record, she is not all peace and love: “The record is dealing with friendships dissolving and inner strife,” she said in an interview with The Quietus this week. The album’s sound, produced by genius Randall Dunn, feels more filled in than previous Nadler records allowing her more support to balance her voice, possibly due to Nadler wanting to record more with a band after feeling the loneliness of being a solo act for many years.
 


Death Grips, Bottomless Pit, Track: Eh

Welcome back, Death Grips, how we missed you. When drummer Zach Kill and MC Ride announced that Death Grips was over in 2014, I almost signed relief. Death Grips was easily the most exciting band of the early 2010s, but after a series of digital pranks and overly experimental and under-produced releases they started to become a bit of a caricature. The fact of the matter is that not giving a fuck is only interesting for so long. Fans want artists that care. On Bottomless Pit, Death Grips sound like they care. The album is both the band’s most accessible release since 2012’s The Money Store and also the best record of their career. Death Grips are at their best when they flirt with more accessible production and songwriting. Structure is what allows their sounds to really blare and gives Ride room to violently sermonize on drug addiction, poverty, the military industrial complex, and corrupted political landscapes. Bottomless Pit is the sound of two undeniable musical talents realizing they have a good thing; you can almost see Ride and Hill sharing an American Spirit and looking at each other to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t fuck this up.”


Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool, Track: Burn the Witch

A Moon Shaped Pool is a much different Radiohead record than OK Computer or Kid A. Unlike those records, it is not immediately transfixing. You can listen to it, rather quickly, all the way through and not take much notice of its sparse and lush arrangements. But it sneaks up on you, eventually revealing a Radiohead record, with all the pretentious beauty and unbridled grandeur that that entails.
 


Yak, Alas Salvation, Track: Harbour the Feeling

Yak is one of the last few exciting regular ol’ Rock n’ Roll bands around. And that is most likely because they don’t just give us garage rock rehashes of The Stones or Led Zeppelin. While those influences are there, the band’s feedback-fueled cacophonies are just as much in debt to some of the UK and US’s noisiest and most psychedelic rock bands: the hypnotic swirl of Spacemen 3, the drugged out swagger of Pussy Galore, and the acid house indebtedness of early Primal Scream. Finally: a Rock band trying to rock without the car commercial-readiness of The Black Keys.

 

Skepta, Konnichiwa, Track: Ladies Hit Squad (featuring D Double E)

As written about in a previous column, Skepta’s Konnichiwa is good enough to finally establish a strong Grime fan base in the United States.
 


Pantha du Prince, The Triad, Track: Frau im Mond, Sterne laufen

German conceptual electronic producer Pantha du Prince has been much missed since his last long player Black Noise was released six years ago. Arguably, Pantha du Prince was one of the first producers (along with Dubstep producer Burial) to shine a light back on the experimental possibilities inherent within digital music. While Black Noise could be described as chilly and subdued, new album The Triad is maximalist. Pantha du Prince pairs his minimalist production along with powerful live instrumentation on the record. The duality in sonics makes The Triad his most emotionally resonant body of music of his career.
 


ANOHNI, HOPELESSNESS, Track: Drone Bomb Me

You know, when ANOHNI was still Antony, I could never really get into her music. The voice was of course always incredible, but there was something kitsch about the approach to me. But ANOHNI has won me over with HOPELESSNESS. Never has her music felt this ALIVE. Aided by the bombastic beats of Hudson Mohawke and the bizarre production of Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), ANOHNI protests, agonizes, and ultimately promises joyful reconciliation. This is the sound of one of the most compelling musicians alive finally free of the last shackle.
 


Julianna Barwick, Will, Track: Heading Home

It seems like there are a lot of artists recording music similar to that of Barwick. Everything from the more obvious peers like Grouper and Julia Holter to Daniel Lopatin and the first couple How to Dress Well records. These are artists who seemed to have grown up with fine art and have learnt from it how to create stories and concepts without the aid of concrete lyrics. Barwick’s new album, Will, is actually a rougher listen than her previous record Nepenthe. And that isn’t a bad thing, as Barwick doesn’t use her voice to be the centerfold of her music. On Will, she weaves her voice through cackling atmospherics and ambience as if to connect her body into something unknown. The record is truer to her approach and also highlights her contrasts with her contemporaries, in which the voice is just another layer in the production and not the star of the show.
 


Drake, Views, Track: Controlla

Views has taken some criticism and it’s not all unwarranted. The record is indulgently long and sometimes feels like Drake and producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib couldn’t find an exact direction to go into. But in the end, the record still highlights one of the most fascinating voices of popular music and his desire to make music that feels true to who he is. There are some beautiful songs on this record, and even some of the sloppy rapping doesn’t distract from those. Drake’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing, the confident lothario versus the sensitive crooner, feels very modern to me. It really sums up what it is to be a man in the modern world, where you can feel on top of it with one success one moment and utterly beaten down the next. I feel like Views might be better appreciated a couple years from now.
 


Ghold, Pyr, Track: Collusion with Traitors

There are few sub-genres more played out than Doom and Sludge Metal. The genre has already been perfected for some 20 years now by the likes of Eyehategod (Sludge), Electric Wizard (Doom), Earth (Drone Doom), Burning Witch (Blackened Sludge) and so on. But Ghold approaches slow beats and down-tuned feedback blistered riffs in a refreshingly new way. Traditionally a duo (Alex Wilson and Paul Antony), the band writes music for a four piece. On new record Pyr, the record has added a third member, multi-instrumentalist Oliver Martin. But by limiting their members, the band sounds rather bizarre. Though the influence of The Melvins’ Gluey Porch Treatments looms as large as it does on any other Sludge album, the record makes use of experimental instrumentation: a Free Jazz saxophone skree, a guitar noise breakdown. They are not an “Experimental Metal band,” they are a Metal band that experiments to make up for limited personnel. Thrilling stuff, really.
 


Arbor Labor Union, I Hear You, Track: Mr. Birdsong

Georgia-based Arbor Labor Union seem to draw upon both post-punk and Southern-twanged Psych Rock resulting in something akin to, I don’t know, let’s call it Southern Gothic Rock. The lyrics can be silly at times, with their hymns of joyous paganism. Another Randall Dunn production, this album packs an unusually strong and bombastic punch.
 


James Blake, The Colour in Anything, Track: Points

I’ve never been much a fan of James Blake. In a review for Bandwagon, Sean Francis Han wrote of Blake being “experimental electronic music’s answer to the late-00s indie folk sad boy phenomena,” and maybe that explains my distaste. I hated all of that shit. But, The Colour in Anything has won me over. Perhaps because it’s more of a pop record, with Blake’s voice front and center and his lyrics more direct. He also opened up his process, collaborating with Justin Vernon (I hate Bon Iver, but his voice is nice usually), Frank Ocean (new album coming soon y’all!), and Rick Rubin. Blake is becoming one of those artists who can flirt with the mainstream while still retaining his core ideas, no surprise that Kanye has shown interest in him and Beyoncé worked with him on her most adventurous album.
 


Ocean Wisdom, Chaos ‘93, Track: High Street

Brighton-based rapper Ocean Wisdom is like Grime’s answer to Earl Sweatshirt: a lyrical wunderkind who knows the history of his game enough to not be afraid to push and subvert it. He does not let up ever. His manically precise flow documents nonsensical near dream imagery along with social commentary and personal insight. I hope that Wisdom can ride the Skepta wave of renewed interest in Grime bringing a more experimental sensibility to the form. Every genre needs its weirdo iconoclasts.
 


Kaytrandaa, 99.9%, Track: GOT IT GOOD (featuring Craig David)

Montreal-raised producer Kaytrandaa veers between J Dilla worship and delirious house. His new record, 99.9%, is stacked with guest vocalists: Craig David, Vic Mensa, Phonte, Anderson Paak, and more. The album is a formidable display of the producer’s ability to find a beat that a rapper can jump onto and dancer can bust moves to. But it feels rather natural. It’s not like Trap where a slow hip-hop head banger devolves into a House breakdown. Instead, Kaytrandaa effortlessly finds a beat that can serve two very different purposes. It’s one of the most seamless combinations of dance and rap music I’ve ever heard.

 

Otoboke Beaver, Okoshiyasu!! Otoboke Beaver, track: Okoshiyasu!! Otobok

For those that like the kitsch-y manic Prog-Noise Rock blast of Japanese band Melt Banana in theory but can’t get behind the heaviness of it, Otoboke Beaver might prove a worthy alternative. The all-female quarter fashions itself in the lineage of bizarre Japanese Garage Rock (Guitar Wolf, Shonen Knife, DMBQ, etc..) and often recalls the jazzy riotous punk of God is my Co-pilot,  but there is a hyper-active day-glo quality to them that reminds you of the arcade culture of Tokyo warped into two-minute guitar anthems. The band also embraces performance and fashion, which is always refreshing in a world full of bands looking at the floor while wearing Chuck Taylor’s.
 


Heimat, Heimat, Track: Wieder Ja !

This French experimental act, Heimat, made up of members of warped Punk band Cheveu and experimentalists The Dreams, draws up a mixed bag of oddball sounds to create something succinct and slightly off-putting, but in a good way: horror movie soundtracks (particularly John Carpenter), crackling Hip-Hop beats (particularly those used by The Rza on the first few Gravediggaz albums), minimalist post-punk (Young Marble Giants, The Slits), and Afro-beat all seem to make up small fractions of Heimat’s overall sound. There is a menacing feeling luring beneath the tape his of this debut.



Machine Woman, Genau House, Track: I Can Mend Your Broken Heart

Russian sound artist Anastasia Vtorova records under the name Machine Woman. She produces tracks that take on minimal electronics while referencing European cinema. On new EP Genau House, she offers two tracks and a remix that offer a fine entry point into her sound.
 


Mirrors For Psychic Warfare, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Track: Oracles Hex

Though it’s been a long time since Neurosis have punished anyone’s ear drums as a band, its members are constantly making music outside the band. Leaders Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till have their own respective solo acts, there is the side band Tribes of Neurot, and Kelly’s band with producer Sanford Parker, Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont, and Eyehategod Mike IX, Corrections House. But Mirrors for Psychic Warfare, Kelly’s new project with Parker, might be the most difficult music ever to come out of this camp. The self-titled debut lurches at crawl speeds, taking aspects from blackened doom bands like Burning Witch as well as the smoky folk of Kelly’s solo material. It’s very hard to get into, especially if you are used to the orchestral onslaught of Neurosis. But the sound grows on you, and it’s refreshing to hear musicians of this stature move this far outside of their comfort zones.



Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial, Track: Fill in the Blank


Just when you thought the world didn’t need any Power Pop-leaning Indie Rock bands a songwriter comes along that has you totally reconsidering the form and its place in contemporary music. In this case, the songwriter is Virginia-born Will Toledo, AKA Car Seat Headrest. On paper, Toledo’s music shouldn’t be as good as it is. His influences read like a Pitchfork best of list: Animal Collective, Modest Mouse, Radiohead. But listening to this kid grapple with his own depression in sharp and acerbic lyrics reveals a depth unbeknownst to most or all Indie Rock acts of his age. His music also off-sets the lyrics. It’s surprising in places, and you don’t always know when the chorus is about to take effect. But when it does, it’s rather joyous. As DIY as this kid seems to be, he is not above the sing-along verse or the fist pumping breakdown. 

[Friday Playlist] Tracking Radiohead's Influences, Album by Album

text by Adam Lehrer

Sometimes it’s hard what to make of Radiohead. I’ve been a fan of them since my 10th birthday in October of 1997 when my parents gifted me with OK Computer (along with records by The Smashing Pumpkins and Wu Tang Clan, I was a hip little kid!). At the time, they were the most far out band I had ever heard. Kid A blew my mind equally. But later on, when I started getting acquainted with Free Jazz, Krautrock, electronic music, and 20th Century composers that inspire Radiohead, it was sometimes hard to maintain headspace for the band. For a long time I would think, “What’s the point of listening to Radiohead when I can get the real thing?”

But eventually I had to realize that I was just posturing. What makes Radiohead outstanding is the band’s ability to draw upon the most difficult and experimental forms of music while still maintaining their status as, more or less, a pop group. Radiohead’s new record, A Moon Shaped Pool, reveals itself after a few listens. In contrast with previous records, the songs can feel quick and not fully fleshed out (considering some of these tracks were written 10-years-ago, that’s not a ringing endorsement). But then it all makes sense, and A Moon Shaped Pools has an addictive quality that is essential Radiohead. There is a lot going on in these songs, and sometimes there is very little going on in these songs, but the varied textures echoed by Thom Yorke’s legendary haunting falsetto reveal an album strange and beautiful.

Radiohead’s greatest strength is its channeling of the avant-garde through the form of a pop song, something they do better than any contemporary musical act. They are champions of music, first and foremost. I’d wager that hundreds of thousands of people heard Aphex Twin for the first time due to Thom Yorke singing the producer’s praises around the time of Kid A’s release. I’d wager that less people might have even heard Penderecki on the advice of Johnny Greenwood. The following is an estimated but thoroughly researched overview of the musical influences that have inspired Radiohead throughout their career, album by album.
 


Pablo Honey

Pablo Honey doesn’t even seem like a Radiohead album at this point. Far from the grandeur of the records that follows, it is the culmination of a bunch of Indie Rock-obsessed Brits working out their obsessions before they could go on to make something new and modern. It’s a rock album disguised as a Brit Pop album. You can hear the band’s early rock influences; Thom Yorke has cited Pink Floyd and Queen as some of his favorites as a youngster. But it primarily acts as a watered down take on numerous ‘80s College and Indie Rock bands: R.E.M., the underrated Connecticut-based Rock band Miracle Legion, goth-y hints of Joy Division and Siouxsie and The Banshees, and the acerbic worldview of Elvis Costello.


The Bends

The Bends is Radiohead’s most powerful guitar-driven album, and also the band’s first example of being an album-centered musical act. To create such a powerful rock album statement, they looked to some of the progenitors of Rock n’ Roll’s mutation into a genre primarily focused on the full-length record, particularly The Beatles. Radiohead’s production also grew more expansive on The Bends with the band building instrumental parts on top of one another much in the way of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” But it was also, like I said, a guitar album. The album does seem to fashion itself after the groundbreaking guitar bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s. From the very beginning with track ‘Planet Telax,’ the swirling guitars recall those orchestrated by Kevin Shields on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and the lovelier parts of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. And like The Pixies, The Bends has some seriously catchy choruses.



OK Computer

OK Computer was Radiohead’s first bonafide masterpiece, and is often cited along with Nevermind, Loveless, and Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted as one of the best records of the ‘90s. While the previous influences mentioned in this article run strong, OK Computer was the first Radiohead record that embraced the avant-garde by mutating the sounds and stretching the parameters of what is possible within a rock n’ roll song. The album’s themes of alienation in the face of rampant consumerism needed a sonic undercurrent of dread to fester in the mind of the listener. Yorke cited ‘Bitches Brew,’ Miles Davis’ 1970 experimental fusion album, as an important influence on Radiohead’s songwriting process for OK Computer. It makes sense in that on Bitches Brew, Miles channeled terrifyingly beautiful sounds to weave a narrative of New York street life in the ‘70s, and OK Computer relies on its sound for its dark thematic content similarly, accentuated by Yorke’s obtuse lyrics. This was also the record when Johnny Greenwood, Radiohead’s lead guitar player and keyboardist who has gone on to compose music for the last three PT Anderson films, would raise his artistic voice to an equal decibel in the songwriting process as Yorke. Greenwood often cites Polish 20th Century composer Krzystof Penderecki as an influence, and no doubt OK Computer has a lush an orchestral flow to its sound. The band also started adding effects to Yorke’s voice, much in the way of Krautrock icons Can. There are samples on OK Computer as well, perhaps influenced by Yorke and his interest in DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.
 

Kid A and Amnesiac

Kid A was released in 2000, with its companion piece Amnesiac coming out shortly thereafter. To me, those two records are the most inspired and important of Radiohead’s career inalterably shifting what types of Indie Rock bands would get famous. No more frumpy guys doing lite Nirvana, Radiohead ushered in an era in which the labtop was often just as important as the guitars with Kid A. But really, has there ever been a platinum band that has ever released an album this ambitiously strange? No surprise then that new influences were all over these two records.

These two records are Radiohead’s most open flirtation with electronic music; at the time Yorke was bored of rock music but deeply obsessed by the IDM acts on Warp records such as Aphex Twin and Autechre as well as Bjork’s Homogenic. The electronica on the album is moody and contemplative, but there are some sounds on the record that one could even dance to. But less we forget the screechy horn interludes on tracks like The National Anthem, a result of the band weaving in the free jazz sounds of Charles Mingus, Alice Coltrane, and Miles Davis’ farther out records such as Sketches of Spain and On the Corner. Motorik rhythms drive the more rock-driven tracks, reminiscent of Krautrock acts Neu!, Can, and Faust.  Has there ever been a successful rock band to make an experimental record at the peak of its career? Yes, Talk Talk did with Laughing Stock, another record that seems to have made an impact on Radiohead. You could fill a book with all the music, literary, political, and art influences of Kid A and Amnesiac, but in short, these records absolutely mystified fans and critics alike by utterly doing away with conventional pop song formats. But they are pop songs, all the same. That’s what Radiohead does at its best.



Hail to the Thief

Hail to the Thief has always felt like a bit of a misstep in Radiohead’s discography, but nonetheless carries some interesting tracks. The album feels like a bit of a survey of contemporary music (of the year it was released, 2004) and how Radiohead falls into it. Yorke expressed admiration for the band Liars who had just recorded their swan song, Drum’s Not Dead, in Berlin. Maybe due to this, Hail to the Thief expresses a renewed interest in rock music for Radiohead and an acknowledgement that rock music can be strange and outré. The album didn’t completely rebel against its forebears however, and the electronic influence of Modeslektor proves formative on the album. Yorke has cited the basslines of New Order as an influence, as well.



In Rainbows

In Rainbows was a marketing game changer, with Radiohead allowing fans to pay at their own discretion to hear the record. The buzz around the promotion decision often saw the actual music overlooked. And the music was rather majestic. It’s ultimately more accessible, even when embracing the avant-garde sounds of composers like Olivier Messiaen. But In Rainbows in many ways feels like a distillation of the abstract sounds of Kid and OK Computer into a more palatable, arena-ready sound. In some parts, such as the beautiful Reckoner, there is even a hippy-dippy anthemic sing-along quality. Free of the constraints of the record industry, In Rainbows sounds like Radiohead indulging its every whim.
 


The King of Limbs

“Rhythm is the king of limbs,” said Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien in an interview on 2011 record The King of Limbs. People seemed to hate this record when it came out, but I appreciated it as soon as I saw Thom doing his Ayahuascua convulsion dance in the music video for ‘Lotus Flower.’ It is certainly Radiohead’s weirdest album, making strong use of samples, loops, and ambient sounds. Some have cited the band’s interest in dubstep acts such as Burial on the witch-y beats that haunt the album. But really, this album is a showcase for drummer Phil Selway and bassist Colin Greenwood’s rhythm section; the members of the band that anchored Radiohead’s entire sound but in many ways lived in the shadow of Yorke and Greenwood. To me, it’s a Dub album, with the band citing influences such as Jamaican dub acts like Scientist, King Tubby, and Augustus Pablo. It is, without question, the best Radiohead album to get stoned and dance in your room along to. And it sounds better live than on record.
 

A Moon Shaped Pool

Much of a Moon Shaped Pool consists of songs written a decade ago, so just refer to this list for its various infliuences. But in this article the band cited Marvin Gaye as a sound forebear. So that’s in there too. 

[Friday Playlist] In Celebration of Skepta

Text by Adam Lehrer

Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ has finally seen release not less than five years after his previous full-length ‘Blacklisted.’ I’ll just say here: it’s a scorcher. But even more important is that after over a decade of the industry trying to break grime acts into the US pop and hip-hop market, Skepta looks to finally be the Grime artist who might make international cultural dent. Even more important is the fact that he is doing so by being a true Grime artist. Unlike past contenders to the throne of cross-continental Grime superstardom, Skepta will not collaborate with Robbie Williams (like Dizzee Rascal did) or give into Hip-hop’s obsession with luxury (like Wiley did with track “Wearing my Rolex”). Writer Josh Gray described the album well in his review for The Quietus: “To critically appraise [Konnichiwa] is to take the pulse of an entire genre; a genre that’s tentative but unstoppable ascent has provided a Ranieri-worthy spectacle of underdog triumph for both diehard fans and casual observers alike.”

With co-signs by the A$AP Mob and Drake, Skepta looks poised to take over the universe. And he will do so making Grime music and Grime along, perhaps finally getting American fans to consider British hip-hop music alongside its American counterpart. With this, I thought it wise to look back on the tracks that brought Skepta here. He’s been doing this since 2004, and a genre-defining breakout swan song like ‘Konnichiwa’ doesn’t come over night. 

[Friday Playlist] Best Music of April 2016

By Adam Lehrer

As of today, Autre will be rounding up our favorite new music at the end of every month. This isn’t only because coming up with obscure scenes and sub-genres on a weekly basis is getting difficult (it is), but also because Autre strives to be contemporary. Daily, we try and inform our readers of the creative ideas festering inside the brains of artists, designers, photographers, writers, and filmmakers. Music, being the most joyous of mediums, deserves to have its story told at the moment the story is unfolding. These are the sounds driving us wild, today.

Note: The only reason Beyoncé’s Lemonade is not at the top of this list is that Tidal has the rights to her tunes, hence: not available on Spotify. But I’ll add that that record is every bit worth its praise capturing the world’s most talented and adventurous pop singer at the top of her career. So few artists have their souls ripped out every time they sing, opting for Instagram posts for direct communication to their fans. What Beyonce gives us she gives us in songs, and Lemonade is the best album of her career. The most staunch experimental music nerds would all be defeated by the record’s breathtaking scope and cohesion.

1. PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project, Track: The Orange Monkey


The always-progressing PJ Harvey released The Hope Six Demolition Project this month, her first since her Mercury Prize-earning 2011 LP Let England Shake. The LP’s title refers to the HOPE VI projects in the US, where down run neighborhoods were revitalized and wiped of crime, leading of course to gentrification and social cleansing. PJ is extremely political here, leading to some of her most vivacious lyrics of her career, with a few missteps. But with PJ, even the lyrics that don’t hit add to her mystique. Her fearlessness makes her compelling, allowing to move through styles ranging from subdued folky tracks to alt-rock ragers.


2. Ihsahn, Arktis, Track: Disassembled

I was quite the metalhead in my youth, but I listened to a lot of the cheesy stuff (Korn, Spineshank). Luckily, that all led me to Terrorizers magazine where I read a glowing review of black metal band Emperor’s Prometheus. An extraordinary concept album matched in its brutality by its progressive textures and rhythms, I became an obsessive. Emperor leader Ihsahn has recorded solo for years now, but new record Arktis feels like the career statement he’s been working towards. Ihsahn’s music is unwavering its brutality, but peppers the thuds with shimmering acoustic guitar lines, moody synths, and here, even a saxophone. There are weaker tracks, but on the strongest ones, Ihsahn proves himself an artist unbound to the stylistic traits that define the genre he has chosen for himself. It’s music, before it’s metal, if you catch my drift.


3. Parquet Courts, Human Performance, Track: Two Dead Cops

New York’s best rock band of now, as anointed by new album Human Performance. No band captures the anxiety of living in the 5 Boroughs better than Parquet Courts, even at the band’s catchiest there is an undercurrent of fear and paranoia lurking beneath the melodies. The band captures a world when even its greatest city is still a shrine to monotony: the daily grind is a grind no matter the locale. Andrew Savage has become one of indie rock’s most literary of songwriters and scathing of cultural critics. But the best part of Parquet Courts, even at their most bummed out “I don’t get out, I don’t have fun” sings Savage} they still sound like their having a blast, like rock is the only thing keeping them through. I went to the album release party in Gowanus earlier this month, and very few indie rock bands are putting on shows as raucous as Parquet Courts.

 

4. Deftones, Gore, Track: Prayers/Triangles

Back in the early ‘00s, Deftones got unfairly lumped in with the nu-metal craze. After all, the band’s label marketed them as such to cash in on their association with Korn and the like. And while it made Deftones rich, it also made it impossible for them to get the artistic cred they deserve. Really, nothing sounds like Deftones. No band is able to capture the intensity of thrash and the dreamy haze of Cocteau Twins without sounding , well, dumb. All the better, Deftones makes their experimentation accessible, as best evidenced on the now rightly referred to as masterpiece White Pony. Recently released Gore is the band’s best since White Pony. The band’s leader, Chino Moreno, once against juxtaposes his ethereal whispery howl with murder and sex fantasizing lyrics. Stephen Carpenter’s riffs are meaty but muted, letting the atmospheric production dance around them. Now that the critics who have grown up with Deftones are of age, the band finally is getting their place in the culture they deserve.
 

5. LA timpa, Animals, Track: Animal

OVO is great and everything, but we can’t ignore all the other amazing music coming out of Toronto. LA timpa, an experimental producer straddling the lines of Portishead-esque dream-pop and the aural hijinx of Onehontronix Point Never with a culturally aware satirical voice, released an exciting set of five songs, Animals. This kid names Junya Watanabe and Harmony Korine amongst his influences, and I can already hear this music soundtracking the lives of cool kids everywhere.
 

6. Youth Code, Commitment to Complications, Track: Anagnorisis

Ryan George and Sara Taylor are Youth Code, the latest band to straddle the line between dance music and all out warfare heavy metal and hardcore. In an article for self-titledmag.com, George discusses his wish that Ministry were able to make a record that was as heavy as The Land of Rape and Honey without ever having to pick up guitars. The guitars that Youth Code does use on Commitment to Complications sound like call to arms sirens, weaving in and out of breakneck paced beats and glorious hate screams.
 

7. Kweku Collins, Nat Love, Track: Stupid Roses

19-year-old, Chicago-based rapper, singer, and producer Kweku Collins released his debut full-length this month, Nat Love. Though in-line with his more introspective hometown contemporaries like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, Collins is far more of a sonic outlier. His father was an African and Latin percussionist, and that fluid rhythm sense manifests in Collins’ music, along with influences like D’angelo and Tame Impala. There is a remarkable sense of musicality on this record, especially considering Collins’ age. His more obvious forebear is Andre 3000; he constantly seems to be questioning the ideals of what it means to be a hip-hop star. He can find two hip-hop clichés, as with weed and woman like on ‘Stupid Roses,’ and use both clichés to subvert his lyrics into new meaning.


8. Beak, Couple in a Hole OST, Track: Battery Point

The world is better when Geoff Barrow is making music. Though Portishead is long gone, Barrow has been making Krautrock-recalling experimental music under the Beak> moniker for about a decade. Beak>’s newest record is a soundtrack to Tom Greens’ new film Couple in a Hole that depicts a couple living in the remains of their burned home that took the life of their child. Beak> beautifully captures the isolation-induced psychosis of the film. The record is ambient but suffocating. It reminds me of Popul Vuh’s work with Werner Herzog, in that the record provides Barrow with motifs to work with and expand on, letting the music stand on its own.
 

9. A$AP Ferg, ALWAYS STRIVE AND PROSPER, Track: Strive (featuring Missy Elliot)


Ferg is back and he is obliterating any sense of genre. ALWAYS STRIVE AND PROSPER, while not all together perfect, is an exhilarating listen. With vivacious production from Clams Casino, Skrillex, DJ Khalil, and more, Ferg proves himself the Mob’s most extraterrestrial weirdo. While Rocky in some ways has brought mad mid’90s Bones Thugs N’ Harmony rap-sing, Ferg is a pure futurist. His lyrics have also greatly improved.


10. Wire, Noctural Koreans, Track: Dead Weight

Jesus Christ. Wire literally invented post-punk with Pink Flag in 1977, and here they are 39 years later still making relevant and experimental rock music. That makes them the longest-running actually good band in history. While last year’s self-titled album seemed like an ode to the band’s history in rock music, Noctural Koreans is emblematic of the band’s fondness for experimental electronic music and Krautrock swirl. While last year’s LP was mostly recorded live, these eight leftover (but certainly not inferior) songs allowed for greater studio trickery.


11. Dalek, Asphalt for Eden, Track: Shattered

Experimental hip-hop group Dalek have been on hiatus since 2010, and lord knows there has been much to be disgusted over in the six years since. Dalek comes back on Asphalt for Eden with a revolutionary plomp, joining the ranks of Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar as the rappers that really care. But of course, they do that while utilizing shoegaze feedback and noise-drenched beats, making their politicizing sharper and more jarring to the apathetic amongst us.
 

12. Elzhi, Lead Poison, Track: Alienated (featuring Smitty)

Detroit-based rapper Elzhi, formerly of Slum Village, released Elmatic in 2011 as a remake and a tribute to Nas’ Illmatic. It was a breathtakingly lyrical record, and yet outside of hip-hop circles it sort of fell under the radar. I hope that doesn’t happen with Lead Poison, Elzhi’s new album. The album almost didn’t happen, and a Kickstarter fund started in 2013 almost resulted in Elzhi being sued in January when he failed to deliver. Perhaps that angst brought out the best in Elzhi, as he viscerally details the woes of betrayal and loss with one of the fiercest flows on the planet.
 

13. Primitive Weapons, The Future of Death, Track: Ashes of Paradise

There is something comforting I find in Brooklyn quartet Primitive Weapons, a band that seems to recall the best of every band I loved at age 14; from the mathematic chaos of Converge to the abrasive melodiousness of Glassjaw. Members of the band actually own Brooklyn’s legendary metal bar Saint Vitus, and it seems the influence of the vast array of bands they see regularly has had its positive effects.
 

14. Bleached, Welcome the Worms, Track: Keep On Keepin On

This band is impossible to not like. From the ashes of all-girl noise punk band Mika Miko, Bleached was formed by sisters Jessica and Jennifer Clavin in Los Angeles. There is no noise here and only a little bit of punk. It’s straight ahead and melodic rock n’ roll, emblematic of the joyous creativity defining the city the band lives in.


15. Susanna, Triangle, Track: Texture Within

Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanna’s music has had many vehicles: as lead singer for art-pop band The Magical Orchestra, Cat Power covers, and in collaborations with Scandinavian artist Jenny Hval. But her one most consistent draw is her voice. It’s a fascinatingly beautiful voice, one that can evoke a span of emotions in the same note. Her first solo album, Triangle, is 70 minutes long, but the voice holds it together. Meditating on religion and morality, Susanna brings in numerous musical styles. It is hard to listen to in one go, but it’s a record with much room to explore. 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] A Celebration Of PJ Harvey On The Occasion of The Release Of Her New Album

photograph by Jurgen Teller

text by Adam Lehrer

Today, PJ Harvey releases her ninth full-length record The Hope Six Demolition Project. At the time of writing this article, I haven’t been able to fully listen to the record. But if the album’s first three singles are any indication, she is still one of the most important artists working in rock n’ roll: The Orange Monkey, The Community of Hope, and The Wheel juxtapose the dark but sublime beauty and evocative imagery that PJ Harvey has used to influence two generations of rock fans.  PJ Harvey is the best kind of rock star: she’s an amazing songwriter, her sound is malleable and singular, she understands the power of image and aesthetic, and she’s absolutely fascinating as a human being.

And if you look at the very beginning of Harvey’s career, it’s almost hard to fathom the fact that she’s still here and still relevant. After her debut record (still recording under the moniker The PJ Harvey Trio) Dry was released in 1992, Harvey had a bit of a breakdown crushed under the weight of new found fame, a stressful move to London, and her first awful breakup. In interviews, she evaded questions about the meanings of her lyrics and refused to discuss her conceptual processes. But it worked for her. In many ways, Harvey is a callback to the rock star as an artist. You certainly don’t hear a lot of, “I just do this for the fans, bro” type statements from her. Like Dylan, Hendrix, Patti, and Lennon, it seems like Harvey doesn’t always know the reasons that her music comes out the way it does. It just comes out: pure creation. That being said, she sometimes seems to be as aware of the importance of visuals, almost as much as even Bowie was. When Dry came out, a dark but bluesy punk record, she was all black tights and Doc Maarten’s, almost like an Ann Demeulemeester ad come to life. When her music was amplified in production and grandiosity on the record To Bring You My Love, so was Harvey’s look: ball gowns and smeared makeup defined her new stage presence. For the recording of the new record, Harvey and her band recorded behind a glass wall and allowed paying spectators to watch, ever aware of the fact that people don’t just love listening to their favorite musicians; they want to see them and know them. Harvey is at once enigmatic and welcoming, like she is giving you your own personal access to her.

Where she differs from her classic rock predecessors however, is her gleeful abandon of genre trappings. When Harvey says that comparing her to Patti Smith is “lazy journalism,” she’s absolutely right. While Smith has always remain rooted in classic rock, Harvey has elevated her sound eons beyond the blues, Hendrix, and Captain Beefheart influences that she initially rooted them in. By the time Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea came out in 2000, Harvey had no problem incorporating synthesizers and computer into her sound. Her sound can be aggressive and bombastic, and minimalist and chillingly vulnerable. Sometimes her sound can be so varied on one record that the only sound that can tie tracks together is her preternaturally gorgeous contralto voice. That voice is the anchor that the entire spectacle is built around.

There is nothing else like PJ Harvey on Earth. She is one of the last artists in music to accrue wealth by subverting expectations, and that alone is something to celebrate. 

[Friday Playlist] Proto Metal Oddities

Photograph by Terry Richardson

Text by Adam Lehrer

It’s funny how in music, maybe more so than other mediums, if not all out complete musical ineptitude then a general lack of self-awareness is what pushes the art form into new and interesting realms. Lou Reed inspired legions of harsh noise acts by releasing five tracks of atonal skree on Metal Machine Music. Why? Though Reed argued that it was because he liked it, many have said the record was a ruse to get released by his label.

And then you have Black Sabbath, a band that sets the precedent for every doom, stoner, and sludge band that ever followed. But Black Sabbath (initially called Earth, which I’m sure was what Dylan Carlson was thinking of when he named his doom drone project Earth the same name) was a blues band with a Pink Floyd-inspired penchant for gobbling oodles of psychedelic drugs when they started. It was Tony Iommi’s loss of his middle and index finger on his fretting hand that resulted in his simplistic, rumbling, down-tuned, and low E chord-favoring guitar style that resulted in the pervasive feeling of evil that lurked in the band’s sound. The band’s viewing of Boris Karloff’s 1963 occult film Black Sabbath inspired the name change, and they had found a magnificent synergy in their sound and aesthetic. Would they know that they’d become one of the 5 or 6 most influential rock n’ roll bands ever Doubtful, they just played the way that they could.

And yet Black Sabbath didn’t emerge onto the scene without a precedent already being set by forebears and contemporaries. As long as the hippie scene was in motion there were bands that negated the ideas of free love and psychedelic visions of bliss. One out of every two trips is, let’s face it, fucking awful. So perhaps it was this, or just a lesser control over their instruments, that resulted in all these awesome proto-metal oddball records that came out in the late ‘60s and the late ‘70s. These bands, like their more famous psych contemporaries, were essentially blues bands, but freewheeling hippie-dom was replaced by growled and screamed vocals, feedback, and volume. These bands, most of which were shunned by rock press when they were around, have influenced hoards of music both good (doom metal, grunge, noise rock) and (depending on your taste of course) bad (hair metal, hair metal, and hair metal).

San Francisco-based late ‘60s Blue Cheer are often credited as the original heavy metal band and whether you think that’s true or not they really prove that heavy metal, unlike punk which stripped rock n’ roll of its basic form, is really just playing blues licks and amplifying them until your ears hurt. The band’s first two LPs, Vincebus Eruptum and Outsideinside, really hold up. They are the perfect band to play at a summer barbecue at like 6 pm, when everyone starts realizing they are really wasted and things are on the edge of getting out of control. There’s a recklessness to their sound. Aesthetically, the band was really conscious of their look, and their graphics are sort of a grittier version of the San Francisco psychedelia popular at the time (I had a Blue Cheer t-shirt at one point that I was wearing daily for a good while in college).

London-based The Groundhogs were attempting blues, but failing. But that failure is generally what made them interesting. The band sounded like they were falling apart much of the time, but making some interesting use of volume. Though most would align them with proto-metal, the band’s chaotic structure is more akin to the thrills of noise rock. I would listen to Groundhogs in a similar mood to when I want to listen to something like Sightings (a weird mood, to say the least).

Before you were able to throw a rock down some block in Bushwick and hit a black metal guitarist in the head, there was but one “heavy metal” band. They were Sir Lord Baltimore. Though the band had a drumming lead singer (I hate that, personally) their down-tuned but up-tempo feedback-heavy approach to psychedelic music is very audibly the precursor to stoner rock. The bands that are very clearly high and listened to Black Sabbath but don’t want to play as slow as your Electric Wizard’s and your Boris’s. There is a party vibe to Sir Lord Baltimore that I find attractive, a quality I also find attractive in the stoner rock bands of the ‘90s like Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Monster Magnet, and the massively misunderstood Clutch. Sir Lord Baltimore is the godfather.

I am also going to include Mott the Hoople here; because I believe Ian Hunter and his band were misbranded as “glam rock.” I feel like Mott is often thought of as the lesser version of T. Rex. But unlike T. Rex who were a band that filtered rock through funk and dance music, you can’t really dance to Mott the Hoople at all. But you can certainly thrash to it. Need proof? Watch Leo Romero’s skateboarding part in the Emerica Made in Emerica video. He is absolutely ripping in that video, skating scary fast and defying death in every sequence. He is doing it to scorcher Mott the Hoople track ‘Thunderbuck Ram.’ To me, Mott the Hoople was less Bowie and more Guns n’ Roses, but recording in the wrong era. 

[Friday Playlist] An Ode to Touch and Go Records

text by Adam Lehrer

Not sure if all of our readers read the UK-based music site, The Quietus, but if you have any passing interest in music then you have to head to their URL immediately. It is one of the last music publications around that will review the new Zayn Malik album amidst articles about artists populating the deepest depths of the underground: abstract electronic music, noise, minimal synth, whatever. This week they have dedicated a slew of articles to noise rock; that hard to define punk sun-genre that makes use of dissonance, noise, atonal skrees, occasional odd time signatures, and a sometimes aggressive, if often arty, approach to a standard rock n’ roll sound. Naturally, I’ve been listening to a lot of Melt Banana, Pussy Galore, Lightning Bolt, and the many and sonically far-ranging bands that fall under the noise rock umbrella.

One such article discusses the year 1986, a formative year for rock n’ roll experimentation: psychedelic drone rock bands like Spacemen 3, metallic hardcore bands like Cro-Mags, grindcore like Napalm Death, arty post-punk bands like The Membranes, and Black Metal bands like Mayhem all released records that year. There was also a lot of early noise rock happening, with Sonic Youth and Swans both releasing swan songs. A lot of this noise rock happened to be released by iconic underground rock label, Touch & Go. Naturally, I found it was time we celebrate this brilliant label.

The title Touch & Go was originally applied to an East Lansing, Michigan punk zine written by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson (of which you can read every issue and great memorial essays in a book, it’s rad). By 1981, Vee teamed up with Corey Rusk, singer of hardcore band The Necros (no tracks available on Spotify) Touch & Go was a label. From the get, the label was releasing hardcore that leaned towards the extreme, with the two label founders bored with early ‘80s punk. These early releases included records by The Necros, The Fix, Negative Approach, and Vee’s band The Meatmen.

But let’s face it, past 1982 hardcore got boring. It became more about macho posturing than leftist politics and extreme self-expressions of discontent. So, punk rock got weird. Touch & Go linked up with the man probably more linked to the sound that noise rock would encompass than any other: Steve Albini. Albini’s first band, Big Black, released all its albums via the label. Eschewing drums for a Roland drum machine, Albini utilized the crushing rhythms of industrial to create a rock sound that was as jarring as its lyrics were offensive. Albini’s next band, the infamously named Rapeman (after a Japanese Manga comic of the same name) also found its single record released on the label.

While Albini defined the Chicago noise rock sound, a punk band from San Antonio was dropping acid, embracing the psychedelic rock of the ’60s and early ‘70s, and making a glorious noise racket with a performance art approach to live shows. They were The Butthole Surfers. On all their releases for Touch & Go in the ‘80s, the band made a point to show that art, traditional rock n’ roll, punk ethos, noise, and copious drugs could co-exist in one collective.

Touch & Go wouldn’t subsist in relevance one bit for 15 years. Die Kreuzen approached hardcore with a contrarian nature, applying angular rhythm and far out riffs to the thud and band three-chord structure. The Laughing Hyenas leaned towards garage, but did it with the loudest possible volumes and most dissonance imaginable. And finally, David Yow was unleashed upon the universe. Influenced by Nick Cave and Iggy, Yow’s guttural moon howl, free-form poetic lyrics, and sweaty visceral live performances would come to define what a noise rock vocalist should be (and influenced Kurt Cobain). Touch & Go knew it before anyone else did, releasing all the massively influential records of Yow’s first and second bands: Scratch Acid and later The Jesus Lizard.

Touch & Go was part of a few more key moments in noisy rock, especially math rock (or post-rock)(worst genre names ever). These bands approached rock n’ roll with a composed albeit sprawling and progressive sound. The defining band and record was of course Louisville band Slint’s Spiderland, that Touch & Go put out in 1991. Still thought of as one of the great rock records of the ‘90s, Slint was as influential to arty music school types starting rock bands as The Ramones was to zitty downtown kids. The album holds up too, I still find myself giving it a few spins a year. Polvo, from Chapel Hill, NC, walked the lines between noise rock and the shifting time signatures of math rock better than any band around, and their Touch & Go release Today’s Active Lifestyles was a formative album for me. Don Caballero eschewed vocals and expressed through colliding riffs and near incomprehensible rhythms. Touch & Go signed them, too.

It’s arguable that Touch & Go is the most important label in the history of rock n’ roll. Why?Perhaps unlike other labels, it evolved with time. Rusk and Stinson remained open to new sounds throughout their careers. With Dischord, you think of hardcore and emotional post-hardcore. With SST, you tend to think Black Flag (despite the fact that they released Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Saccharine Trust, and all sorts of weird bands). But with Touch & Go, you merely think of interesting, creative, and kicking rock bands. 

[Friday Playlist] Late '60s Peruvian Rock n' Roll

text by Adam Lehrer

Sometimes the circumstances in which music was made amplifies the effect of the music itself. Case in point: the rock n' roll coming out of Peru in the late '60s and through the early '70s. Rock n' roll hit Peru like a thunderbolt in 1957 with the country's youth finding themselves captivated by the music of Elvis Presley. Buddy Holly, and Bill Haley. Peru's indisputable first rock band, Los Millinarios de Jazz, formed that same year and birthed a movement.

It was in the late '60s however, psychedelia's peak years, that the rock bands of Peru found their most scorching  sounds. The Peruvian rock bands of that time still sound utterly fresh. This could be for a couple reasons. For one, rock music's interest in mysticism was at an all time high with psychedelic rock, but Peruvian bands by virtue of geography already had a more direct connection to mind expansion and spirituality. Traffic Sound, a Peruvian rock band that used a flute way better than Jethro Tull ever would, found a fan in Mick Jagger who invited the band to open for The Stones in 1969. Meanwhile, Black Sugar employed big band swing, salsa-inflected rhythm patterns, wah-wah heavy guitars, and a blissfully communal sound that created a political funk most in line with American bands like Sly & The Family Stone.

But also, rock music at its best is supposed to be anti-establishment, and the Peruvian bands had much to rage against. Juan Francisco Velasco Alvarao, a communist military general, took control of the country in 1968. Though his ideals were in many ways idealistic, as he hoped to restore the power to the working power, he also completely obliterated personal expression. At first, Peruvian rock bands could not be silenced. For testament to that notion, listen to Los Saicos. Los Saicos took elements of garage rock, psych, and surf and created an aggressively political rock assault that is often considered to be a forebear of punk rock, similar in sound to The Sonics. Eventually rock music would find itself smothered out of popular culture in Peru, but by the '80s a fertile underground of punk rock and later death metal bands would re-emerge, bringing attention back to the country.

Side note: I would like to thank the excellent Spanish record label Munster Records for introducing me to Los Saicos and as a result, Peruvian rock n' roll all together. 
 

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] Primal Scream Alternative Dance

Text by Adam Lehrer

Primal Scream just released its 10th album, Chaosmosis, this week. The band has always flirted with mainstream pop and dance rhythms, but on this record the band is fully embracing indie pop, collaborating with Sky Ferreira on the excellent Where the Light Gets In and Haim on the less good Trippin' On Your Love. The band has evolved past the alternative dance sound they helped define. I won't comment on the quality of the album, but let's ust say Bobby Gillepsie has not let the past define him.

Alternative dance more or less set the pace for what pop music would become in the decades to follow. It was the first time when indie rock kids would dance at raves and DJs would open for rock bands. In the Information Age, peoples' tastes have grown even further outward, and no one blinks twice when you see the lead singer of your favorite rock band dancing on Molly at Output.

Alternative pop was basically broken down into three eras. The first came out of England in the early and mid-80s, starting with the Madchester (but that's for another playlist) scene based around Factory Records honcho Tony Wilson (immortalized by Steeve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People) and his club The Hacienda. New Order, formed in the ashes of Joy Division after Ian Curtis' suicide, was arguably the first band to approach dance music from a traditional rock attack. Later,The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays would own the club with their own riffs and dance rhythms. Primal Scream, formed by Gillepsie after his tenure in The Jesus and Mary Chain, was an amalgam of a love for LSD-worshipping psych rock, amphetamine-driven punk, and MDMA-laced acid house. Scream's debut Screamdelica is the landmark album of alternative dance music.

The second wave, in the mid-'90s, had more in line with techno and dance music that it did rock music. Groups like The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, and to a lesser extent The Crystal Method, had the anthemic bombast of punk and rock but used all electronic sounds. These groups did however predate mainstream EDM with their ability to take the sounds of the acid house and make it work within a stadium context.

In the early '00s, the rock sound came back into the onslaught of Alt-Dance bands. For a while, it was the sound of New York, with The Rapture's House of Jealous Lovers blaring out of every speakersystem south of 14th street. Kathleen Hanna followed up her legendary riot grrl punk band Bikini Kill with a decidedly dance-leaning trio, Le Tigre. And perhaps the most successful of all of these bands proved to be James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem, who used Alternative Dance as a conceptual art project and had massive effect on popular music at large.

[FRIDAY PLAYLIST] A Siltbreeze Records Retrospective

text by Adam Lehrer

“I can’t say why I’ve always been drawn more to the lo-fi stuff,” said Philadelphia-based avant-rock record label head Tom Lax in an interview with VICE from 2008. “You could blame it on The Fall and Pere Ubu. As much as I dug The Buzzcocks and The Ramones, those bands helped set a course of no return for my head.”

Such is the philosophy of Siltbreeze, that since its inception in 1992 (started by Lax so that he could release the first 7” by Minneapolis noise rock band Halo of Flies) has released music from a plethora of bottom-dwelling underground rock bands from a spectrum of little-heard genres: the guitar and drums blistering punk noise of Miami-based Harry Pussy, the abstract guitar rumblings of Alan Licht, the lo-fi sound art of Graham Lambkin and his ‘90s project The Shadow Ring, the feedback-drenched ‘00s garage rock of Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit, and a whole lot of music from New Zealand that Americans would have never heard without Mr. Lax’s extra-developed ear for sound.

Siltbreeze was at first a zine published from 1987 (my birth year!) to 1992 and featured as many photos of ‘70s porn (particularly black women) as it did reviews of avant psych, noise, punk, and rock bands, according to Magnet Magazine. The Halo of Flies release came with a copy of the magazine, but Siltbreeze really started taking off when Lax started learning about the music that was coming out of New Zealand, which was amazing but utterly obscure in the United States.

Much of these bands were being released in New Zealand on seminal Christchurch-based label that gained fame for pioneering the “Dunedin sound.” Bands like The Clean, The Renderers, The Verlaines, and The Chills started playing in shimmery power pop with a twist of avant sound experimentation. Lax started releasing much of this music in the U.S. on Siltbreeze, most notably with musician Alastair Galbraith who balanced his sound between jangly melodies and atonal skree.

Perhaps the most notable New Zealand discovery of Lax was experimental rock trio The Dead C (Bruce Russell, Michael Morley, and Robbie Yeats). The Dead C used a rock approach to free improvisation and noise, proving massively influential on U.S. bands like Harry Pussy, Mouthus, and even Sonic Youth. The band’s 1992 Siltbreeze double album, Harsh 70s Reality, is a noise rock landmark and one of the best albums of the ‘90s.

Siltbreeze went through its most prosperous years in the mid-‘90s, when they were able to attract the attention of popular indie rock bands drawn to Lax’s unique taste and approach to releasing music: Lou Barlow’s Sebadoh project, Guided by Voices, and psych rock band Bardo Pond among them. At the same time, the label was releasing super obscure avant punk and rock bands like Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, The Strapping Fieldhands, and Charalambides.

Around 2000, a Siltbreeze partnership with indie titan Matadaoe didn’t work to plan, and the release schedule slowed. But, Lax took the opportunity to reissue bands from the fringes of punk rock of yesteryears and introducing them to whole new audiences. Due to Lax’s taste, ‘80s Aussie avant punks Venom P. Stinger (due yourself a favor and stream the band’s amazing Tearbucketer album now), late ‘70s British DIY art unit Desperate Bicycles, and ‘70s Aussie proto-punks Slugfuckers all have music out in the United States.

But a renewed interest in weird rock music (maybe due to The Strokes, probably not) brought attention back to the underground rock (and noise) scenes in the mid ‘00s. In 2005, producer and musician Mike Rep (of The Quotas) introduced Lax to an Ohio-based lo-fi garage rock trio called Times New Viking (Jared Phillips, Beth Murphy, and Adam Elliot). Times New Viking had a serious energy, but also potential for Pitchfork-approved popularity, Lax released the band’s debut Dig Yourself in 2005 to acclaim and popularity.

Though Times New Viking quickly blew up and moved onto Matador, the media took note of this lo-fi noisy pop punk sound and quickly dubbed it “shitgaze.” Though the name left much to be desired, Siltbreeze experienced a resurgence as the premier home of this movement. Lax released music by psych pop unit Psychedelic Horseshit, garage punk band Sic Alps, no-wave revivalists Naked on the Vague, and so much more.

In my opinion, the one record that best exemplified Lax’s uncanny knack for hearing something special is the 2007 release by Aussie one-man-band Pink Reason entitled Cleaning the Mirror. Using guitars, banjos, feedback, droning, and a deep gravelly baritone, Kevin Debroux took the post-punk of Bauhaus and the slowest songs of Joy Division and stripped them down to a beautiful skronk of despair. Pink Reason used the medium of punk rock to express the deepest of feeling and create capital A Art, as Lax seems to admire in most of his bands. But Cleaning the Mirror was the most important record to me that I owned when I was a softmore in college (when I was discovering this whole dearth of underground rock) and struggling with some substance abuse issues and homesickness. It was one of those records that seemed to sound how I felt. Sadly, Debroux has never followed Cleaning the Mirror with another full-length. I should know. I’ve been longing for one ever since.

The influence of Siltbreeze is still felt throughout the indie rock world. It’s hard to imagine the success of garage rock superstars like Ty Segall and The Oh Sees had Lax not been able to prove that this type of music could be popular in the first place. Record labels like Burger, Goner, and SS all recall the spirit of artistic freedom and sonic palette that Lax set forth.  But garage rock was never his sole vocation. The only common theme that runs through the Siltbreeze catalog is that all of its releases have a 100 percent commitment to never compromising their sounds. These bands make music because no one else is making the music they want to hear.