Music

inc.: no world

inc.’s no world is an electronic-leaning album with indie credentials.


inc.

no world

Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2013-02-19
UK Release Date: 2013-02-18
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Electronic R&B has existed since the '80s (if not earlier), but it has been increasingly in vogue lately. The recent rise is partially because of the popularity of various kinds of electronic dance music, which pulls from other genres and also oozes and pumps its way into their bloodstreams. It’s been helped along by the success of singers like Drake and the Weeknd, who prefer to sing about disaffection and sexual encounters over dark synthesizer washes. And singers like Rhye (who recently got a big write-up in the Sunday New York Times) have been having success playing around with falsetto and R&B tropes – on small labels often associated with “indie”.

It’s enough of a trend to generate some backlash. Some of this derives from the sudden interest of the “indie” world, which has embraced this type of R&B in the last few years, despite the fact that “indie” traditionally hasn’t wanted much to do with R&B as a genre -- perhaps because of strange ideas about it being too slick and unafraid of commercial success or even interest. In this vein, Beyonce’s sister Solange, fresh off a short album of her own slinky, '80s-inflected R&B, took to Twitter recently to defend Brandy’s new album and to warn people she deems bandwagon fans, “you can stop acting like it just popped off last year for R&B. Like it just got interesting and experimental.” Chris Chafin, writing for the Village Voice, went in a different direction with his criticism, writing that Frank Ocean – whose music nods in the direction of both the electronic camp and a more old-school crowd, without really committing to either -- “drained the sexiness and excitement out of R&B, to widespread critical acclaim.”

Though it’s unlikely be high profile enough to fan any flames, inc.’s no world, an electronic-leaning album with indie credentials (it’s being released by 4AD, home of St. Vincent, the National, Iron & Wine, and Camera Obscura) fits somewhere in this field. inc. is the work of two brothers, Andrew and Daniel Aged. Their only previous release was an EP 3, which honored its title by containing three tunes, all of which leant heavily on the '80s -- all tinny guitar, flat, programmed beats, and blurting synthesizer. The vocals were low in the mix and sang in sort of a falsetto whisper. The boys also worked on the most recent album by Nite Jewel, and they’ve worked with R&B luminaries like Raphael Saadiq.

no world expands the EP’s sound into a slow-burning stew of low bass, nervously ricocheting ticks, and rim shots. The synths circle woozily, usually providing more of the atmosphere than the lead melody. The vocals aren’t hiding, but they’re not out in front either. Most of the singing stays low and even, with few changes in range or style. There are a lot of wordless sighs, breaths, syllables held until they fade into nothingness, “ooh"s, and “ah”s. Guitars tend to arrive as little pin pricks, or clear and dark, like something that might appear in a Chromatics song. (For “Angel”, the guitar is gnarled and squealing somewhere behind the song, in honor of the big guitars that ruled many genres of '80s pop.) The tempo creeps and crawls and stutters, only approaching the speed of a lope a few times, like on “Trust (Hell Below)”, where brief strutting passages poke out from behind the wall of even keel.

“The Place” stands out. A keyboard plays only solitary notes, sometimes a little faster, mostly slower. A thin-sounding electronic bleeping runs back and forth in the background, providing a nagging high melody. Supple bass playing glides through the back of the hooks. There’s a brief burst of needle-pointed guitar. Then it all drifts to a slow halt. Regardless of how you classify the song, it can carve out its own space.

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If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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