Various Artists – ~ fleeting moments ~ (2017)

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~ fleeting moments ~ is the latest project from DESKPOP, whose creativity shines on compilations like these. To see what I mean, check out DESKTAPE, Summer Solstice (with Galaxy Swim Team), and most recently, CURSED TOGETHER (with Fright House).

DESKPOP’s formula works for a couple of reasons. Artists that release EPs and albums  on the label are given creative freedom on their solo projects. For compilations, however, the key to success lies in their carefully curated track order and unified theme.

As the name suggests, ~ fleeting moments ~ is about impermanence, as each song is less than two minutes long. With summer coming to a close, the timing of this release couldn’t be more appropriate. Like their previous compilations, ~ fleeting moments ~ is available on a small USB card, a medium that suits the label perfectly. Their first compilation, 2015’s DESKTAPE, was branded with the slogan “SLIP IT IN YOUR WALLET OR PURSE / DELETE OUR MUSIC / PUT YOUR OWN MUSIC ON IT / YOU DECIDE WHAT REPLACES US.” The fact that the label encourages people to rewrite the USB card with their own media reveals that impermanence has been woven into DESKPOP’s legacy from the beginning.

A few DESKPOP regulars make appearances: SHADY ☆ MONK, RoBKTA, Space Candy, nelward, alongside many new faces. Those that have been with the label for a while show considerable growth in their work, and the newcomers aren’t too far behind.

One name I’m pleasantly surprised to see is Graham Kartna, who starts the compilation off with “Morning.” Kartna’s style has changed quite a bit since his previous releases; he’s moved away from his usual lo-fi MIDI sound in favor of something more upbeat and poppy. To start off ~fleeting moments~, Kartna layers filtered vocals atop a slew of digital instruments. The instruments and sounds change rapidly; 8-bit leads and blips trade places with honkey-tonk pianos, quick camera shutters, meows, and laughs.

leon’s “frog summer,” is beyond cute. To start things off, tiny bells play a bite-sized rendition of “Westminster Chimes” with summer evening frogs and crickets as company. Soon after, more and more SNES-like synths emerge from the ambiance and began to chime in. Once all of the new sounds have settled in, the track sounds like a cozy K.K. Slider instrumental.

CHERRYVANILLA” stands out as one of the most memorable tracks. Its loud, wonky bass loop and saccharine-soaked vocals make for a sweet, twisted pair. The track opens with flying sparks, gears, and fizz before giving way to the warped bass pattern that makes up the song’s core.  The vocals straddle the boundaries between singing and speaking and are spouted with the same inflections as kid’s rhymes (i.e., “Bubble gum, bubble gum, in a dish,” et al), but with a darker tone and grimier lyrics.

It’s really nice see how much DESKPOP has done in the past few years. They output material on a regular basis and are consistently getting better and better. I used to think that compilations were nothing more than glorified playlists and that they were reserved for ‘best of’ lists with no cohesion or continuity. With their fourth compilation under their belt, DESKPOP has proven that proper artistic direction and the right group of musicians go a long way.

Favorite Track: “Morning” – Graham Kartna

 

Top 50 Albums, Favorite Albums from 2016

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A couple of weeks ago, I threw together a chart of my top 50 albums. For the most part, they’re in no particular order aside from being lumped together as “Top 4,” “Second-tier classics,” and “Other favorites.” I admittedly had some difficulty compiling this list; the more I dug through my iTunes and Spotify libraries, the more I became aware of the fact that my taste has changed — and will continue to change — over time.

A couple of months ago, I would have included several other albums on this list: Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois and Carrie & Lowell were favorites for a while, as were Tame Impalla’s InnerSpeaker and Lonerism, the latter of which by and large defined my music taste not too long ago. Of course, the other side of the coin is that this chart contains a handful of records that I’ve listened to only recently, ones that I wouldn’t have known about a few months back.

While there are many recent finds on this chart, there are plenty of others which have stuck with me for years. Gorillaz’s Demon Days was among the first CDs I ever owned, the first transcribed solo I learned to play was off of Dexter Gordon’s Go!, and A Charlie Brown Christmas remains the unofficial soundtrack for the holidays back home.

This chart is far from being definitive, and even farther from being timeless: more so, it is a visualization of my music taste as of November 28th, 2016. No more, no less.

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For the past few weeks, I have been compiling a list of my favorite albums of 2016. I had an even harder time with this list solely because the majority of the music I listened to this year wasn’t released in 2016. Other obstacles stood in my way too. Costanza’s Costanza and The Jerk Store no longer exist on the internet; the artist’s Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube, and Twitter are now just a collection of broken links. I was also going to include one of Paul Hare’s releases from this year, but he too deleted his Bandcamp and Soundcloud without warning.

Here’s the list in its most complete form:

Jan Jelinek & Masayoshi Fujita – Schaum

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool 

Paul Hares & plan’a – center of the earth

Costanza – Costanza, The Jerk Store

David Bowie – Blackstar

G A M E S H A R K ™ – SHARK 3

+you / xccg – buranko

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

I hope that 2017 brings lots of great music in the form of new releases, old favorites, and hidden gems from years past.

Happy New Year!

Jan Jelinek & Masayoshi Fujita – Schaum (2016)

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Jan Jelinek and Masayoshi Fujita first worked together in 2010. Since then, they have performed a number of live electro-acoustic shows across the globe. Jelinek and Fujita’s music is almost entirely improvised. Fujita’s setup consists of a vibraphone prepared with various percussion instruments, objects, and toys; Jelinek works entirely with electronics, tinkering with analog synthesizers and samplers.

Jelinek and Fujita’s latest collaboration is entitled Schaum, German for froth or foam. The duo’s collaboration is a fascinating one. The vibraphone’s pure tone — modified, distorted, and joined by other objects — make up the florid and natural side of the music. Jelinek’s contribution adds a more concrete and mechanical tone, which he calls his “collaboration with machines.”

In a letter to Fujita, Jelinek details the source of his inspiration and the vision he has for the project: “I am fascinated by the idea of installing clear minimalist forms amid such luxuriant tropical growth,” he writes. The concept of “minimalist forms” is aptly fitting to Jelinek’s work, as he’s best known for sampling on a microscopic scale, effectively reducing jazz and dub records to mere clicks and cuts.

It’s easy to get lost in the foliage that Jelinek and Fujita have created. Jelinek’s sample loops are delicately crafted. They’re soft and somber enough to be interesting, yet simple enough to be hypnotic. Fujita’s instrument is starkly different in timbre, which allows it to cut through the whir of Jelinek’s drones and loops with ease. Fujita’s improvisations shift with the mood of each track; his playing is dense and sporadic on “Urub” and later blends into the background on the album’s closer, “Parades.”

Schaum is one of the most fascinating and entrancing pieces of music I have heard in a very long time. Jelinek’s decision to collaborate with Fujita has added enormous depth and complexity to his work.

Favorite Track: “Helio

That Andy Guy – Oh No, Not That Andy Guy (2016)

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I first heard That Andy Guy on “A Leisurely Stroll,” the opening track to last year’s DESKTAPE and have been excitedly waiting for more material ever since. That track now finds itself neatly woven into his latest project, Oh No, Not That Andy Guy.

Oh No comes from DESKPOP, a distinctly unique label that focuses on experimental electronic music. DESKPOP consistently releases music that brings something new, and Andy’s latest album fits right in. It’s lighthearted, poppy, and lined with subtle details.

The album is self-described as “post-chiptune,” joining elements from early video game music with more contemporary electronic music. While most of the album branches out from traditional chiptune, some of Andy’s best writing is on “HappiNES,” a song that stays true to its roots. As the name implies, “HappiNES” recalls the era of 8-bit video game soundtracks, using chip-based synths and pixelated arpeggios to remind listeners of a bygone age.

Almost every song on the album sounds fitting and helps the album’s flow except for one. The only track that feels wildly out of place is “F%$# You, Then.” After almost half an album’s worth of dancy electronic music, it’s jarring to hear a trap song that’s so abrasively dark and unfitting.

Hey, Look Over There” is the peak of the album and exemplifies some of the best material from That Andy Guy to date. The timbre and syncopation of the piano chords immediately recall sounds from early house and drum ’n’ bass. At this point, music from that era straddles the line between being dated and being nostalgic. Because Andy uses compositional styles from that era and makes them his own, the music works charmingly in his favor.

Oh No, Not That Andy Guy sounds refreshingly new. Part of what makes the music so accessible and enjoyable is its fusion of new music with sounds from the past. Though the album’s flow isn’t perfect, this project shows a lot of promise for Andy. His music has taken a huge leap forward, and I hope to see it continue moving in the right direction.

Favorite Track: “Hey, Look Over There”

Costanza – Costanza (2016), The Jerk Store (2016)

“But I’m disturbed! I’m depressed! I’m inadequate! I’ve got it all!”

George Costanza, Seinfeld

Costanza and The Jerk Store are the first two installments in Costanza’s discography and are among the first releases to come out of the Chicago-based Bandcamp label Apartment 5A, aptly named after Jerry Seinfeld’s place of residence on Seinfeld.

Costanza’s The Jerk Store nests itself at the apex of several cultural crossroads. The artist is named after Seinfeld’s George Costanza, the album’s art and name are nod to both a famous Costanza line and Death Grips’s The Money Store, and the music itself is dubbed Seinwave as a hybrid of Seinfeld and vaporwave.

The music’s connection to the TV show isn’t always obvious. The most blatant link between the two is heard in dialogue samples in “Costanza” and “Done.” More subtly, “Violet” and “Rad” sample the funky popping sound heard in Seinfeld’s main theme. Aside from the musical aspects, the EPs share some titular elements with Seinfeld as well. For example, “Puffy Shirt” and “Junior Mint” are both names of episodes.

Costanza’s Costanza opens with “Costanza” (Whew!), a distressed narrative of George’s state of being backed by a contrastingly mellow, jazzy progression. “Far Out” is another highlight, a simple groovy loop periodically interrupted by static, as if someone is fiddling with the channels on the TV.

The Jerk Store is much livelier in comparison. Like Costanza, this EP pairs well with Seinfeld. It’s grand, lively, yet charmingly mundane. The brevity of the songs makes them seem like TV bumps or credits sequences. The music reflects this as well. The compositions on The Jerk Store emulate the music used in Seinfeld, especially from earlier seasons.

It isn’t necessary to watch the show to enjoy the music, but the two do compliment each other remarkably well. Seinfeld aside, Costanza and The Jerk Store are two of my favorite EPs of 2016. I’m greatly looking forward to future Costanza projects as well as what Apartment 5A has in store next.

Favorite Tracks: “Costanza” (Costanza)

“Violet” (The Jerk Store)

+you / xccg – buranko (2016)

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Albums shared by multiple artists face challenges unique to the format of their work. The artists are often expected to have distinct compositional styles while also sharing enough common ground to justify the two being together. buranko dodges the aforementioned obstacles with ease.

The first chunk of the album consists of +you’s material, music that’s grounded in mixing contrasting textural noises. The first track, “coimbra he no tegami,” establishes a set of three spacial dimensions: the distant and reverberant sound of a singing man in a cathedral, the murmuring of nearby wind chimes, and the extremely close hurried scrawls of pen on paper. Another +you track, “sad,” is comparatively vacant. The recurring synth line is muffled, paired only with the ebb and flow of white noise breathing patterns. The repetition and unresolved nature of the synth motif is effective in sustaining a melancholy atmosphere for the duration of the song.

+you’s compositions are fascinating in that they combine radically different sound motifs of varying timbre and complexity. The individuality of the motifs themselves — writing scratches and clicking pens, diving and resurfacing in a pool of sparkling water, a piano in the room next door —  allow the listener to observe them in isolation. Their juxtaposition, however, forces one to observe the interactions between one another.

xccg’s contributions conclude the album perfectly. After establishing a shift in compositional style, xccg draws buranko to a close with “leva,” bookending the album with ambient compositions that incorporate distant male vocals as their focus.

This split tape by +you and xccg is meditative, introspective, and stands among my favorite albums of 2016.

Favorite Tracks:

“sad” by +you

“toma” by xccg

 

G A M E S H A R K – SHARK 3ネットフリックスとチル (2016)

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Packaged in a shroud of existential dread, SHARK 3 ネットフリックスとチル is the third full-length installment from G A M E S H A R K™, the recording name for Norwegian producer Echo H. Though previous releases have been categorized as vaporwave, SHARK 3 treads in the territory of self-described “existential IDM.” Echo’s music combines live instruments with sampled sounds and aims to present itself in such a way that neither are distinguishable from each other. Along with being thematically cohesive and acoustically rich, SHARK 3 is Echo’s most successful execution of this concept to date.

SHARK 3 approaches the discography’s existentialist and nihilist themes in a new way. Whereas previous releases use track titles (“Desolate”, “Isolate”, “Introspection”) and dreary album art depicting sharks brandishing martini glasses and vats of bleach (SHARK 2, Bleach/Escape), SHARK 3 makes use of samples from philosophy lectures to convey its overarching themes.

In philosophy, nihilism is defined as “extreme skepticism, maintaining that nothing in the world has a real existence.” “Nihil” captures this mindset through its use of philosophy lecture samples and glitch effects. The bold presence of the acoustic guitar in a reverberant space transforms the once intimate instrument into something much more massive and terrifying. For a moment, all is still. Upon announcing “God is dead,” the song descends into madness as the listener’s perception of reality is distorted through the use of glitching and sputtering effects.

Bleach,” one of the two singles from this album, stands out as the most multifaceted and diverse composition on SHARK 3. It recalls the crunchy and syncopated percussion used in Radiohead’s “15 Step” while mixing in wildly different yet complementary ideas.

This album is among the most interesting pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time. While Echo’s previous albums stand out from each other stylistically while all sharing common themes, SHARK 3 ネットフリックスとチル succeeds in being her most thrilling and fascinating release yet.

Favorite Track: Bleach