A Journal Of The Dark Arts
And a good evening to you, one and all. I trust yr doing well. I’m sure some of you are down in Austin for the SXSW feeding frenzy, enjoying BBQ and hurricanes, and having more fun than we are, although that’s not really possible, as staying up ’til 11 am reading The Exorcist and listening to soundscapes is about the most fun a man can have.
We’re working on some longer reviews of a bunch of outstanding new releases, as well as working on some massive writing assignments, so i’m taking this opportunity to catch up with some submissions, and some songs that have made the hairs on our arms stand on end.
Hip-Hop’s a funny thing. Part of it’s charm is it’s tough, street thug swagger, its ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude, its inherent rebelliousness. In an overly polite, restrained, passive-aggressive culture, we need lashings of true struggle and danger, to get us off the couch and out the front, to experience real life.
Because of this, you end up trawling through the id of the culture, our shadow side, for better or worse. And while it can be a source of passion, of anger and energy, you end up coming up against a whole lot of misogyny and homophobia, as par for the course.
“Good To You”, the newest single from Brooklyn-based soulsmith Cameen Matthew Copeland, falls more into the R&B camp, due to its romantic subject matter, its funky slow-groove. Rather than the ‘fuck bitches, get money’ mentality rampant in most mainstream hip-hop, here is a man who “never cheat on you/beat on you/never laid around”. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt and emotional ballad, based on a solid, thumping beat and a simple, stuttering guitar sample. It’s not a total bedroom anthem, as it seems this relationship has had its share of struggles, although it sounds like things worked out well in the end.
Cameen shows us what it is to be a good man, we’re not all dogs, and manages to be soulful and emotional, without being emo.
Once yr hooked, you notice all the little flourishes that this is real music, homemade and heartfelt. Flickers of trancey rave synths dance around the stereosphere, the vocals are tasteful and layered, the beat THUMPS.
As ’90s R&B is enjoying a resurrection, thanks to the noir’n’b of The Weeknd and the like, it’s refreshing to hear a clear-eyed and unaffected take on the form, rather than it burned-out, drug-addled and depressive cousin (which we also like, but has a different mood).
“Good To You” is mixed a little loud and hard-edged, which is par for the course in pop r’n’b & hip-hop, which almost dismantles the soothing and emotional vibe he is going for. Such is the nature of the beast, in 2014: (note to all burgeoning artists and producers, myself included, spend some extra minutes on mixing and mastering, for maximum impact).
It seems Cameen is a good man, and a good person, and deserves praise and attention for that reason alone. As a bonus, his music is good. I can imagine this on a break-up/make-up mixtape.
A gentle reminder, to all you readers: got love in yr life? Treat them right tonight!
Starar – Unbelievable
Similar to Cameen, sometimes the things that stand out to you about a track are the opposite of its intended effect. It is clear, when listening to ‘Unbelievable’ that Starar are going for a lush, widescreen effect, with layers-upon-layers of chorused guitars; pounding tribal guitars, synth and orchestral instruments. It is when the cracks appear, and Starar drop the facade, when ‘Unbelievable’ ultimately succeeds. This is 2 Humans (and some machines), making the best noise possible, trying to craft their dreams.
Starar seem like a young band, excited to get out there, to share their sounds. Judging from the amount of Tags on this soundcloud track, and from the volume of social media channels, they clearly want to be heard. And they deserve to be, as they have interesting arrangements and lots of ideas.
But ‘Unbelievable’ doesn’t work, unless you care about its creators. First, and most prevalently, the glossy sound they are seeking is negated almost instantly with the brittle sound of a chorused acoustic guitar being mauled by digital pre-amps, giving it a MIDI-synthesized feel. All you producers and DIY musicians, take a moment and mic yr guitars. Yr mixes will thank you. The plasticine sheen was a turnoff, initially, until Starar’s professional ambitions recede, and you sense their vulnverability.
This is what’s it like, to be in a young band. Yr excited to get heard, trying to write the best songs possible. For Starar, you’d be advised to spend less time marketing, and more time writing songs and perfecting yr mixes. Don’t worry, quality music will get heard. Just get on, and refine yr craft.
Tica Douglas – Two-Headed Boy (Neutral Milk Hotel Cover)
Cover songs are a much-maligned form, if you ask me. I can’t see the harm. For young musicians, they’re a useful way to learn how to write and play, and they recall why we loved the originals in the first place.
[hipster cred] I’ve loved Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane… since before it was cool, when just saying their name would get you a bunch of sideways glances. I’ve never stopped, and i’ve legitimately enjoyed watching their two scant albums becoming holy writ for a generation of young eccentrics.
Now that Jeff Mangum has emerged from the shadows, i’m hoping people will begin to appreciate anew his mystical warbling, apart from the hype.
Tica Douglas‘ shivering rendition of the first ‘Two-Headed Boy’ will scour those scabs from yr ears and make you appreciate the original anew. She strips away the bombast and pyrotechnics, and leaves a lullaby, with only a ringing, skeletal electric guitar and double-tracked, cooing vocals. Maybe it’s from the ladies’ point of view, rather than from the freak in the jar. It’s much sweeter and less conflicted than the original. We’ve all come to love Jeff Mangum’s sideshow, at this point.
I’ve always been a sucker for just electric guitar and voice, love its stripped down but still full sensibility. I also find it inspiring how Douglas replaced the strumming, choppy guitar with elegant picked chords; a tasteful arrangement, and an interesting update.
Haven’t been able to get this one out of my head since i found it a few weeks ago, so i’m spreading the virus. Tica Douglas seems like a stunning talent, and i can’t wait to hear her original material.
ps… somebody please buy/give me a ticket to one of the NMH shows in Portland.
Tobacco – Eruption (Gonna Get My Hair Cut At The End Of Summer)
Oh, jeah! The return of the Head Maniac! The rise of the Rad Cult!
Tobacco should need little introduction for the readers of this page, but in case you missed the press release, Tom Fec is the leader of favorite weirdnicks Black Moth Super Rainbow, and ‘Eruption’ is the lead single off of his new solo joint, Ultima II Massage, coming out on Ghostly International, his first solo record in 8 years.
While Tobacco is always growing and experimenting, it also seems like he’s always just been doing his thing, and people have just been catching on, as we all become more radioactive.
‘Eruption’ should be yr premier jam for the upcoming nice weather, “it’s a nice fucking day/and i’m feeling fucking fine”, with its Vangelis brass, its tracking error guitar, its dusty beats.
I hope in 10 years, when you mention ‘Eruption’, that people think of this track, and not the vomitous spew from Van Halen.
Tobacco stomps the shit out of the chillwave impostors. He does fuzz better than anybody, and is weird as fuck and uncompromising, in the process. If you want to hear someone do something interesting with post-Boards Of Canada aesthetics, start here and ignore the recent snoozefactory from Tycho (which may be a bit hasty, as i’ve not heard it a ton yet).
Stoked to see Tobacco on the ever-stellar Ghostly International, as well.
catch the disease.