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KILLED in CARS is a 'thank you' to the musicians who enrich my life, and a way to reach people curious about expression through sound.
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KILLED in CARS
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Posts tagged electronic
Matthew Dotson - Sublimation
I suspect that most music reviewers are aficionados of other good reviewers, and a big part of my musical news comes through some of my favorite creative music advocates/writers like “Strauss” at Tiny Mix Tapes/Cerberus. A little less than a year ago, I read his review of Matthew Dotson’s “Excavation,” and was intrigued enough to order the tape, which indeed lives up to its glowing review. Since then, Dotson has released a pair of cassettes through Chicago’s Already Dead Tapes, including the recent “Sublimation.”
Over the course of three tapes, Matthew Dotson’s music has moved increasingly toward the “vaporwave” movement, using fragments of muzak-y pop culture aural effluvium as sound sources, but the way he handles musical materials feels wholly different than most folks associated with vaporwave. At least in my cultural circles, I’ve heard vaporwave dismissed as a product of hastily-prolific hipster fine arts nonsense, and I’ve heard it lauded as a critique of corporate culture constructed from its own remnants. What these seemingly opposite camps have in common is a tendency to dissect the genre through literary, visual art, or sociopolitical lenses—it’s rarely discussed in musical terms. And frankly, a lot of vaporwave strikes my ears as vague, musically lackadaisical, or downright boring on strictly musical merits.
I find Dotson’s approach far more musically interesting than most vaporwavers, and I wasn’t surprised to find that he’s studied composition at the doctoral level. While this music can certainly abide discussion in terms of conceptual transformation or post-capitalist material repurposing, it also works as proficiently-composed music, balanced and varied and dynamic in all of the right places for a pure listening experience that doesn’t require extramusical apologetics.
And Dotson is really good at selecting names for his recordings: “Sublimation” in the Freudian sense is a perfect one-word description of the potential higher-order musical implications of vaporwave, taking vintage musical idioms mostly regarded as untoward or “lame” and re-using their raw materials toward a more transcendent whole. In contrast, the earlier “Excavation” tape really does feel like an excavation, unearthing deep cuts and exotic sources and bringing them into a musical light, and the first recording for Already Dead Tapes, “Revolution/Circumvention,” starts to flirt with the musical materials one associates with vaporwave without going all the way.
"Sublimation" is presented as 2 sides of audio, but the A-side feels like a 2-movement idea to me, while the B-side contains 6 shorter ideas that aren’t necessarily closely related. On the A-side, the first "movement" keeps percussion sounds going throughout, staying in a fairly narrow range of mid-tempo samples. While this kind of production has dance music/mixtape qualities, there’s a formal structure at work here that balances the piece: For example, the first fully-orchestrated set of materials that arise from some clean-sounding 80s guitar at the beginning of the side return around the 10:00 mark to constitute a sort of thematic restatement at its end. In between, my ears were drawn to how voice and guitar samples get recontextualized with a variety of very musical contrasts. There is a very simple guitar part, for example, one simple note that’s picked and followed by a downslide, that first appears atop a "chopped and screwed" (dramatically slowed down) rhythm bed, and it reappears later over a more real-time passage alongside a melodically moving synth line, turning the guitar into more of a harmonic pedal point mechanism than the kind of rhythmic accent role it had earlier. In terms of vocal fragments, Dotson seems to be drawing attention to the kinds of melodic shapes and exaggerated vibrato one finds at climactic moments in upbeat pop tunes while avoiding their original word content.
The shorter piece at the end of the A-side starts with a kind of ominous cinematic flourish and settles into an adagio pulse of synths and vocals for a couple of minutes, and then it becomes an uptempo rhythmic workout racing to the end, with almost industrial textures in the rhythms (though classic early techno synth-handclaps are there to remind you of previous origins). Finally, it settles into some very quieter chopped/screwed 80s balladry, followed by even softer recapitulation of some segments of the earlier cinematic-ish samples at the opening of the “movement.” This piece has an especially wide dynamic range that follows a classic dramatic arc.
I find myself musically more into the variety of ideas that make up the B-side. The first segment is a relatively short passage, taking some wind sounds and sustained synth-bell tones into a wickedly dense fog of distortion for a couple of haunting minutes. That’s followed by an almost 60s-ish section peeking through some phase and distortion effects, eventually settling into a kind of portatone percussion-meets-Art Bell-commercial-break-bassline, where a clavichord eventually steals the bass ostinato line away for itself. Skipping ahead, the last two sections are my favorite, with some reversed sounds, short percussion samples with tight delays, and a gentle synth/string figure that eventually dissolves into solo piano lines that are EQ’ed into a hushed oblivion at the end of the piece.
Already Dead makes very small editions of some tapes (50 in the case of “Sublimation”), so if you want to track this down, hit them up here or here as soon as you can. And be sure to check out Dotson’s Bandcamp page, too, as he still has copies of his self-released “Excavation” cassette available, a much-loved tape at Words on Sounds.
Here is my latest mix. It has a number of genres, but is a fairly conventional tour through a few drone pieces I’m into, plus some ambient and noise stuff that fits nicely with it.
Here is Alex’s Winter Mix. This has a wide variety of styles, and there are many original mixes here. The description is in the player.
I am so so about Co La’s Moody Coup, but this particular track is so good. Much darker, much less reliance on wonky techno sounds, and much more abstract in its treatment of time and vocals. This is very reminiscent of where Dubb Parade has gone (away from juke, more into some Autechre sounds), and it’s a good look.
What can one say, by way of review, about an album, yea a band, with such a hallowed position in my own history? When I try to think up things to say about Men’s Recovery Project and “Frank Talk About Humans,” I end up talking way too much about myself and the teenage lo-fi/punk scene in Cedar Falls, Iowa that I ran with in the latter half of the 1990s instead. I was introduced to Men’s Recovery Project by Mike, with whom I played in at least two bands — then a mohawked young punk (and today, the Olympia, Washington songwriterly entity calling itself Pythias Braswell) who no doubt came to MRP by way of Born Against. Next thing I know Mike’s getting me to drive him and a few other friends, including the guitarist of the self-described “slopcore” band we played in, down to Rock Island in my beat-up ‘84 Monte Carlo, to see Men’s Recovery Project live. It didn’t occur to me then but this trip could not have possibly had parental sanction; who knowingly lets their 15-year-old son ride with a local dirtbag musician just recently of drinking age to a gig in the basement of a bar three hours away? We ended up meeting some local kids who lined up a gig for us at the same venue several weeks later, and when Mike’s parents caught wind of this just as we had loaded up the van to head out, they tried to stop us from going, blocking my van in the parking space with their car while Mike pleaded our case. We ended up having a really good show.
Even though Men’s Recovery Project had only made it through about two songs that night before their bass amp shit out, their aesthetic ended up a big part of our lives, our minds, and our own music-making. The “Normal Man” EP urged us to play ever faster and more recklessly than we thought we could. And then there was the “Frank Talk About Humans” CD, including the EP plus a long string of “remix” tracks — often complete rethinkings of the songs, actually, and maybe not every experiment undertaken in them quite works; but damned if that in itself wasn’t mightily encouraging to a bunch of kids who felt driven to try to freak out the punk rockers in our town just as much as the normies. Phrases like “smokin’ that magic rock” and “Did you hurt your head?” peppered our everyday conversation as inside jokes. Build a whole series of songs around a running answering-machine gag? Why not? “All Music Is Shit to God” is a rallying cry, even moreso through the number of radically different versions presented; as little as all of this matters in the face of the infinite universe, if you’re having fun, why not try anything, try everything!
More recently, I subjected a current friend and bandmate to “The Very Best of Men’s Recovery Project” double LP. His reaction was more along the lines of, “I can’t believe somebody bothered to release this stuff on vinyl.”
The full smorgasbord of bonus/remix tracks on the “Frank Talk” CD isn’t for everybody, and even threatens to overshadow the actual EP by its sheer girth. “Frank Talk About Humans” in its original form, released as a a double 7”, is 13 tracks of dadaist laptop electronica and sound-art through the lens of hardcore punk that still sounds as radical and gonzo and delightfully silly as it did in 1995. It takes me back to the ’90s, but it could just as easily kick you into next week, or rather, a bizarre alternate-timeline version of next week where people still use answering machines.
- Chuck Hoffman
Phillip Schulze - Cause Unfold Proceed I, II, III, IV, & V (2010)
Cause Unfold Proceed I-V is criminally under-heard. This might be by design, as not all of the pieces were on the CD that came with the deluxe vinyl release, (which is gorgeous).
The process Schulze describes for these pieces reminds me of some of the discussion Autechre had around Confield. By that I mean, just as Autechre created custom hardware and software, but let the creations “evolve” the pieces (the generative beats), Schulze performs “interventions” and provides “regulatory measures.” Simply put, just as Confield was a combination of concept (fate/inevitability hardwired into the machine making the sound) plus “composition” (insofar as the composer makes post hoc edits, among other measures), Cuase Unfold Proceed sounds like advanced electronic music, quite generative, but at the same time seems to have a human hand intuitively guiding the compositions from point A to point B.
Indeed, the unfolding (pun intended) compositions would be boring, like watching someone play Thicket. It’s interesting, but without precise decision making, the arbitrary beginning and ending would diminish the experience. As with the best music in this vein, there seems to be an ample amount of planning, careful attention paid as the piece develops, etc. The textures, the depth of the sound, and the aggression of this, in fact, makes much of the records I find it to resemble seem quaint.
Check this out, buy the gorgeous vinyl, and check out the Soundcloud (here). This is easily one of my favorites of the decade, and it needs to be heard and lauded.