4 Great Records from 2016

Here is my greatly belated list of 2016 records. In no particular order, these are a few musical highlights from an otherwise bleak year.

  1. Babyfather – BBF Hosted by DJ Escrow Hip-hop, harsh noise, and an overarching sense of unease compose the first full-length release from Dean Blunt’s new collective Babyfather. It’s a perfect compliment to 2016. Check it out for apocolypse vibes.
  2. Amnesia Scanner – ASAfter a series of scattershot, but truly innovative mixtapes, the Berlin-based duo Amnesia Scanner released their first proper EP. It takes the aesthetics of trap, electronica, and dubstep, puts them through a meat grinder, and rebuilds them into an unrecognizable Frankenstein’s monster of cultural detritus. Essential listening.
  3. Dedekind Cut – $uccessor (ded 004) Operating between the realms of ambient and progresive sound, Dedekind Cut’s LP gets the best of both. Using smooth pads, synthetic strings, and digital choirs, this record fuses a number of popular electronic tropes and integrates them into a more calm context, while still maintaining a mysterious and sometimes disorienting air.
  4. James Ferraro – Human Story 3A definite personal highlight of the year, Human Story 3 saw James Ferraro taking a sharp turn from the cryptic, heavily referential patterns of his previous albums. Instead, he has created eleven meticulously crafted modern classical compositions, calling to mind everyone from Steve Reich to Stravinsky. The mix of genuine optimism and the more covert uncanniness of its depiction of a techno-utopia make for a unique, pensive listening experience. Disclaimer: there are many robot voices.
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James Ferraro: The New Age Tapes Years

With hundreds of hours of recorded music under about 50 different names, James Ferraro can be hard to pin down.

With a catalog as prolific as James Ferraro’s, spanning dozens of musical works spread across a number of aliases, it’s hard to imagine it being cohesive. In some respects, it isn’t. From the glistening drones of the cult-inspired Heaven’s Gate to the snot-nosed freak-pop of Night Dolls with Hairspray, ascribing a thematic core to Ferraro’s music might seem counter-intuitive, yet throughout his expansive discography there remain central constructive similarities that denote the artist’s unmistakable brand. Coincidentally, “brand” may be a useful word to begin considering these similarities. However disparate his genre sourcing, Ferraro’s work is consistent in its warped use of commercial musical tropes that offers an absurdist reflection of modern life. This week, I will be concentrating on his earlier, lofi releases on his New Age Tapes record label that highlight Ferraro’s penchant for repurposing commercial pop culture.

  1. Clear

A 40 minute sprawl of analog (sounding?) synthesizers, the sonic landscape found on Clear is about as blissful as one can find in Ferraro’s catalog. The unending waves of hypnotic melody ebb and flow, muffled under the warm tape hiss of a tape recorder. Though clearly influenced by New Age music, the piece works to transcend such a crude genre classification by using an indeterminate progression typically reserved for ambient or noise music. By eschewing the structural norms of New Age music, Clear pervert’s the genre’s conceits, drawing attention to the particularities of each sound and laying bare the true alien nature of previously familiar aesthetics. This effect is amplified over time in the piece as its layering intensifies, each instrument losing its integrity under the lofi crackle that threatens to engulf the soundscape. Guitars, drums, and choirs eventually weave through the disorienting composition, yet rather than comforting the listener, the instruments only heighten the uncanny environment by repeating measures vaguely resembling commercial jingles. Clear refers to the state of nirvana in Scientology, a fitting title for a piece that evokes transcendence through artifice.

  1. Edward Flex Presents: Do You Believe in Hawaii?

Roid-raged grunts, seagull calls, and the familiar New Age synths found on Clear are all given equal representation in Do You Believe in Hawaii?, a jacked-up 80s fever dream of equal parts testosterone and flamboyance. Commercial guitar riffs and pitch-shifted beefcakes chug and grunt respectively, populating the sound-world with plasticity and artifice. Recorded on tape, the analog hum of this piece, in conjunction with its various references to 80s pop tropes, suggests an appeal to nostalgia, but not in any familiar way. The aesthetics in Do You Believe in Hawaii? heighten the past not by idealization, but by mutation. Under Ferraro’s lens, bodybuilders become grotesque monsters, the essential product of modern consumer culture’s obsession with the achievement of a transhuman ideal. By connecting the image of the bodybuilder with the low-art, consumerist excess of the 80s, Ferraro highlights consumer culture’s pervasive effect on bodies, portraying masculine “perfection” as a deformity rather than an aspiration.