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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Burkina Electric

Look, I’m not going to pretend to have the ethnomusicology background necessary to really decode this on its own terms and accurately explain it to you people.  That’s kind of the point, though—quite unexpectedly, Burkina Electric is decidedly outside my comfort zone.


New York percussionist Lukas Ligeti is the son of noted Austrian composer and perennial Kubrick fave György Ligeti.  In 2000, he began working with Maï Lingani, a popular singer from Burkina Faso, by producing her debut album.  A few years later, the pair decided to call it a collaborative project and pad it out into a quartet; the first album with the new format came out in 2006


At first, Rêem Tekré came across as the sort of alien folk tradition that just served to remind me how little I know about music in the grand scheme of things.  Everyone needs a little worldly education every now and again, but eventually I found Ligeti’s incorporation of Western drums and electronics really unsettling.  I’m generally pretty comfortable with both, but here they are entirely inconvenient because they make it impossible to just file the songs under a catch-all term like “World Music” and think myself more educated for the listening.  As it turns out, there are people using those same tools in the parts of the world we generally don’t bother with.  Oops.


I’ll let you define your own philosophical ramifications for this one.  Personally, I just come back to it periodically to see if I’m comfortable yet; no luck so far, but I’m still glad to hear sequenced drums that aren’t accompanied by a filter sweep.


Tagged as: burkina electric
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Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Akron Family - Raising the Sparks

Maybe I just haven’t been listening to enough noise-rock, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen chaos turned into a viable mission statement like this.  Akron/Family is considerably more pop than the bands that usually get away with that sort of thing, which is why “The Rider” was such a hair-raising moment on Meek Warrior and why “Raising The Sparks” is the unqualified success of the preceding split LP.  Technically I guess it’s not really the chorus, but the congealing of voices which hits halfway through is clearly the whole point of the operation.  They’re certainly not the first band to shout at a microphone, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to sing along like this.


Tagged as: akron/family
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Monday, May 19, 2008
Sigur Rós - Untitled #8 (Popplagið)

As you probably already know, Sigur Rós has built a career out of selling nonsense—vocalist Jón Birgisson sings in “Hopelandic,” a made-up language that occasionally blends together bits of Icelandic and English, but mostly it just departs for the moon while you’re not paying attention because you’re still trying to figure out what the the last sentence was about.


In doing so, they raise an interesting question about the role of language in mainstream rock music.  Can it be communicative without being semantic?  Or alternatively, if the semantic value is imposed by the listener, is it still useful?  If so, maybe that’s the reason bands with obtuse Nirvana-esque lyrics still manage to connect with audiences who learn to sing along with every word even when none of the make sense.  Treating the human voice as an instrument is not a new approach, but treating human language as such is still largely unexplored territory for most of us.


Since his was the first band to totally base their gimmick around the idea that a properly-delivered hard plosive can smack you up just as readily as a kick drum, Birgisson is usually the focal point, but at times the other members are the ones that keep things ticking.  Sometimes the supposed gibberish starts to seem a little too conveniently tied to the English phonetic equivalents (the part of their site with all the free music is labeled “dánlód”), at which point Hopelandic threatens to collapse into the same sort of caricature as teenage txt msgs and l33t h4x0r sp33k.  Some of the tracks on () were guilty of that, but at the end drummer Orri Páll Dýrason came to the rescue.


It’s been six long years since the snowstorm during which I trudged around for days listening to (), but since Takk was such a heinous misstep aside from “Gong,” I still consider the album’s closing number, “Untitled #8,” the band’s crowning achievement thus far.  Since () was so verbally abstract—there were no titles at all, not even Hopelandic ones, and it came with blank liner notes in which listeners could write their own interpretations of the “lyrics”—fans desperate for a tangible handle have since taken to applying unofficial secondary names. This one is “Popplagið,” but since we’re still in Hopelandic territory there, the alleged translation would be “The Pop Song.”


You’d think that’d be a harder sell—the notion that a band which insists on singing in gibberish syllables which sound like scat on shrooms could have a pop hit, I mean—but if there’s a more universally beloved Sigur Rós tune, I certainly haven’t met it yet.  Maybe the “pop” here means “popular in terms of raw numbers” instead of the more obvious “musical genre diametrically opposed to inaccessible art-rock.”


OK, that’s probably enough.  There’s not a shred of semantic coherence in the subject matter, but my word count on this post keeps rising.  Oh, the irony.


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Monday, May 19, 2008
Four Tet - Ringer

The most remarkable thing about “Ringer” is its E Pluribus Unum factor. Probably more than anything else in recent memory, the title track from the latest Four Tet EP weaves itself together from forgotten bits and blips and and pieces and plunks, any one of which seems like it might have fallen off a cheap Nokia if taken in isolation. But digital wunderkind Kieran Hebden’s aesthetic sensibility had him working on officially sanctioned Radiohead remixes by his early 20s, and here it weld the disparate blobs together into a whole that makes you forget the fact that you’ve been listening to the same three notes in the soprano line all along. At ten minutes long, it’s obviously guilty of the cardinal DJ sin of stating every last phrase in powers of four, but right when I’m about to lose interest for good those drums kick in and carry it through the last two minutes. After spending several excruciating years with a cell phone more or less strapped to my face, I’m finally thinking about changing my ringtone.


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Friday, May 16, 2008

Though Diplo has reigned supreme as the underground ying to Timbaland’s overground yang, for my buck, one of the best beat magicians slicing and dicing today is Montreal’s Ghislain Poirer.  His non-instrumental work with MC’s, such as the collaboration with Abdominal (“City Walking”) brim with alleyway menace and threatening intricacy.  For Poirer, it’s not a matter of just finding the groove and then just striking over and over again in that same sweet spot.  Poirer’s beats are knotty, itchy and architectural.  “Don’t Smile, It’s Post Modern” sounds like a particularly fast and difficult Tetris game where patterns are assembled and dissolved at a furiously glitched pace. 


The video is little more than a one-joke stretch, but as Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” proved, you can create an infinitely entertaining video out of the rapt fascination people have with dance moves.  (the quality seems to be a secondary issue) Even the Ipod silhouette commercials recognize the magnetic currency of raw movement, proving wildly popular despite the fact that they are little more than outlines pulsing to an upbeat song.  I think this video similarly succeeds in part by playing on all the hilarious tensions of the situation coupled with the freedom and joy of just watching some fool, in this case, possessed by the need to dance.


First off, it seems to be shot with a club-drug lens, a fact emphasized by the superimposition of the germy spots which glide across the toilet surfaces.  For anyone whose ever abused/used these drugs, the effect is a familiar one as is the almost painfully fluoresced tile and uncomfortable urinal silences.  I’m sure someone has analyzed the weird tensions involved in the men’s restroom where sexual panic, fear of inadequacy and free floating erotic tension mix.  It’s probably somewhere in Camille Paglia’s footnotes.  Perhaps the best part of the video is that it makes a dance routine out of post-micturition convulsion syndrome, a shiver/tremor sensation that a large percentage of men have after or during urination.  For me, that’s funny enough to make the video one that bears repeated viewing.


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