The Thomas Top Five: 4/11/16
Our Editor-in-Chief listens to upwards of 50 albums per week, so why not let him share the five, presented alphabetically by artist, he thinks are the best for you to hear on this week’s installment of the Thomas Top Five?
АЛ-90 – КОД-915913
Genre: Outsider House, Microhouse
Favorite Tracks: “Завуалированный сигнал,” “Опытная девочка,” “Меланхолия Старой Порноактрисы,” “Смена стадий”
Lately, I’ve found myself inexplicably thinking about how Russia has gotten a raw deal in terms of cultural engagement. The Western world obsesses over anything vaguely East Asian, and yet one of the largest countries in the world is often entirely ignored as a modern site where art exists. As such, I’m proud to recommend Absurdlight90’s KODE-915913 this week on the Thomas Top Five. As a disclaimer, I’m aware that when I say that this sounds fundamentally Russian, that that statement is cloaked in slightly problematic presumptive notions of Russia as vast, mysterious, and arctic; but c’mon now, this is some vast, mysterious, and arctic music. Absurdlight90 has crafted a ghost-like, hazy mire from which snippets of vocal samples lull us into the grave and unassuming melodies become the most beautiful, haunting things you’ve ever heard. Although retro-fitted in terms of some of the synthesizer sounds it utilizes, KODE-915913 never relies on the past as a crutch, instead offering a poignant sonic space in which we can reflect on both the pain and pleasure of an era that’s passed us by. The soundtrack to the Twilight Zone, KODE-915913 has more personality than almost any house music of recent memory can claim.
Bladee – GLUEE
Genre: Cloud Rap, Alternative R&B
Favorite Tracks: “Deletee (Intro),” “Ebay (featuring Thaiboy Digital and Ecco2k),” “Spellbound”
This is not a great album. This is barely even a good album. But of the releases I heard this week, this is the most worthy of discussion, even though it’s trumped by its peers on this list in terms of enjoyment. However, you’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything involving artistic merit in that disclaimer, as Bladee and all the other members of Sweden’s polemical Sad Boys and Gravity Boys have a method to their madness and mean much more for the future of hip hop and how it’s consumed than the average Joe on the street is willing to admit. Most savvy listeners will be acculturated to the quintessentially polar sadness of Yung Sherman and White Armor’s production styles that launched Yung Lean into internet stardom, but Bladee sets himself apart due to what has to be considered the absolute maximization of Auto-Tune ever attempted on tape. What makes this interesting to listen to even when it’s not necessarily aesthetically pleasing is the constant contradiction of the presentation of raw and painful human emotions coupled with the resolute inhumanity of Bladee’s presence. Generally comparable to a suicidal robot screaming couplets from his middle school Livejournal account, GLUEE feels impossible to pin down to any concrete time or place, eternally coded into and indebted to the increasingly pervasive technology we all rely upon. Although there are occasional moments of what I would point to as unintentional genius, this is most definitely a release best consumed inebriated.
City of Caterpillar – S/T
Genre: Screamo, Post-Hardcore
Favorite Tracks: “And You’re Wondering How a Top Floor Could Replace Heaven,” “A Little Change Could Go a Long Ways”
Back in 2014, when I had just begun what was to be a long and tortured obsession with music, I heard this album and proclaimed it the SUNBATHER of screamo. It was a little misguided and people on the internet didn’t hesitate to tell me all of the horrific things I should do to myself for my folly, but I think there was something to my claim. In a genre often commonly written off as lacking maturity or artistic merit, releases like City of Caterpillar’s debut are all the more powerful for their undebatable mastery of tension and dynamics. This does feature a math-y combination of post-hardcore and screamo, yes, but it also knows exactly when to employ its feverish intensity, featuring several effective segments of pensive ambience that contribute to a powderkeg sense of unease in addition to moments of unfettered beauty. The musicianship on display is mind-boggling alone, often switching rhythmic structure and time signatures on the the drop of a dime, and compositionally, the group takes a page from post-rock’s sense of gargantuan grandiosity. Unassuming and far-too-short for this world, S/T could have easily enjoyed the same polarizing success as Deafheaven’s quoted release had it been released when the internet was more firmly established as a locale for discussion. Upsetting to genre purists, perhaps, but great for the rest of us.
DJ Screw – CHAPTER 214 – OLD SCHOOL
Genre: Chopped and Screwed
Favorite Tracks: “The Blackbyrds – Dreaming of You” “Brick – Push,” “Prince – Give It Up,” “Mtume – Juicy”
Featuring one of the most exhaustive discographies in the annals of music history, DJ Screw is easy to write off as a one-note wonder, and, admittedly, it’s difficult to differentiate between his constant slew of remixes revolving around the southern hip hop scene. However, that’s just what makes OLD SCHOOL stand out to such an assertive degree. DJ Screw’s eponymous chopped and screwed technique joyfully has new sonic inspiration to work with over the 100+ minutes of music presented here, explicitly predating vaporwave by nearly two decades. The heady, molasses pacing of the songs DJ Screw has singled out as musical influences stretch and warp into eternal totems of inebriation, ripe with pleasantly warm tape hiss. This time around, however, Screw elects to take the interesting route of keeping certain elements at the original speed, contributing to stand out tracks such as the remix of Prince’s “Give It Up” that now dichotomize the electrifying guitar solo with the drunken loops of the rhythm section, keeping the listener from dazing off into a stupor. Although, of course, with DJ Screw, the stupor is what you aim for, and he delivers in spades as he always does.
Fishmans – LONG SEASON
Genre: Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Long Season”
Recently riding a surge of nascent popularity, LONG SEASON finally looks as if it might be getting its time in the mainstream sun it so ardently deserves. A singular 35 minute track popularly broken up into five movements by its fans, it’s best to consider LONG SEASON as a compositional movement, as auditory themes and markers are introduced, developed, and recapitulated upon. As for the sound, Fishmans offer up a unique, dub-influenced take on psychedelia and dream pop, but with an inarguably greater amount of vision and scope than almost any of their peers. This is an album almost impossible not to get lost in, whether it be the shimmering cascades of piano, the intricate layers of synthesizers, Shinji Sato’s androgynous, ethereal vocals, or the occasional soaring guitar interlude. This is music that situates itself perfectly in liminal spaces, carrying a heavy sense of melancholy and nostalgia at the same time that it offers a look of optimistic innocence towards the future. Dream-like, naive, and perhaps just a little ghostly, it’s hard to keep eyes dry during the album’s climaxes, and the extremely unexpected abstract percussion segment in the middle will keep more hardened listeners thematically engaged.