Giraffage: No Reason EP

As prices for sample permissions have skyrocketed and the musicians whose work is being borrowed have become more litigious, producers are less willing to use sampling in their music. We’re seeing a lot of that in hip-hop, where producers from Kanye to El-P are simply making their own beats to imitate the sounds that they love, and in that way, avoiding the ire of the original creators. The development has also reverberated within the world of formerly sample-happy electronic music, where even big-name producers whose entire process was once screwing around with samples have begun to switch up their style.

That’s certainly the case with Charlie Yin: the producer, working under the name Giraffage, was known most well for sampled beats like the one on last year’s thrilling Alpha Pup single, “Close 2 Me”, and his remix of the entirety of The-Dream album Love Hate. Yin signed to Fool’s Gold this past June and promptly announced a new EP by releasing a remix of R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”. But when the EP, No Reason, arrived last week it was accompanied by an interesting disclosure: the songs on it were written completely sample-free.

That’s what Giraffage says, anyway. Listening to the EP, fans will notice a wealth of the same kind of tricks that Yin hooked them with in the first place. There are still plenty of vocals and sound effects present here: “Hello” kicks off the record with a screwed up version of the phrase: “I just want to hear that we’re ok” and those words echo throughout the track, set between the sound of iOS notifications, dial tones, static, and the lushest of synthesizers. When he talks about eschewing samples, Yin may just mean that he wrote all the instrumental music before adding borrowed sounds. But even if he recorded the other noises himself, their variety and interpolation contributes to the same sense of dynamism and depth that’s always powered his music. Which is to say that, even if everything about his process has changed, not much about his music has.

Which is good news: Giraffage excels at wringing a variety of feelings out of his tracks, using changes in register as an emotional dial. By changing how high or low a voice registers, he’s able to shift the way we understand what we’re hearing, as on “Tell Me”, in which the title phrase is spun back and forth so that it’s made to sound like a dialogue between lovers. But even more important is what’s happening lower in the mix, where a wall of sound rears up, suffusing the listener in colored sonics so deep that the words become a small part of an enormous sensation.

This kind of sudden eruption is typical of Giraffage; the producer’s become a populist favorite as much because of his willingness to use traditional drops as his penchant for candy-colored R&B. “Be With You”, the last and best song on the record, pulls the beat out several times only to reintroduce it with fringed, lightning-rod synths on top of it. Fans will recognize the instrumental; it’s the same one that was constructed around that R. Kelly remix, though it actually works better as a standalone.

And maybe that’s really what Giraffage means when he talks about his new approach. His work with remixes and samples in general has always reflected a remarkable sense of depth, so much so that, if you were to pull out the original artist’s work, you would still be left with the sense of hearing a complete track. More than ever, the music he’s constructed on No Reason has the ability to stand on its own. But add the vocals and the ticks, the bleeps and the bloops, and you’ve got style in addition to that solidity. Those smaller elements make Yin who he is as a musician, and samples or no samples, here’s hoping he doesn’t abandon them anytime soon.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yaBT25

Giraffage: No Reason EP

As prices for sample permissions have skyrocketed and the musicians whose work is being borrowed have become more litigious, producers are less willing to use sampling in their music. We’re seeing a lot of that in hip-hop, where producers from Kanye to El-P are simply making their own beats to imitate the sounds that they love, and in that way, avoiding the ire of the original creators. The development has also reverberated within the world of formerly sample-happy electronic music, where even big-name producers whose entire process was once screwing around with samples have begun to switch up their style.

That’s certainly the case with Charlie Yin: the producer, working under the name Giraffage, was known most well for sampled beats like the one on last year’s thrilling Alpha Pup single, “Close 2 Me”, and his remix of the entirety of The-Dream album Love Hate. Yin signed to Fool’s Gold this past June and promptly announced a new EP by releasing a remix of R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”. But when the EP, No Reason, arrived last week it was accompanied by an interesting disclosure: the songs on it were written completely sample-free.

That’s what Giraffage says, anyway. Listening to the EP, fans will notice a wealth of the same kind of tricks that Yin hooked them with in the first place. There are still plenty of vocals and sound effects present here: “Hello” kicks off the record with a screwed up version of the phrase: “I just want to hear that we’re ok” and those words echo throughout the track, set between the sound of iOS notifications, dial tones, static, and the lushest of synthesizers. When he talks about eschewing samples, Yin may just mean that he wrote all the instrumental music before adding borrowed sounds. But even if he recorded the other noises himself, their variety and interpolation contributes to the same sense of dynamism and depth that’s always powered his music. Which is to say that, even if everything about his process has changed, not much about his music has.

Which is good news: Giraffage excels at wringing a variety of feelings out of his tracks, using changes in register as an emotional dial. By changing how high or low a voice registers, he’s able to shift the way we understand what we’re hearing, as on “Tell Me”, in which the title phrase is spun back and forth so that it’s made to sound like a dialogue between lovers. But even more important is what’s happening lower in the mix, where a wall of sound rears up, suffusing the listener in colored sonics so deep that the words become a small part of an enormous sensation.

This kind of sudden eruption is typical of Giraffage; the producer’s become a populist favorite as much because of his willingness to use traditional drops as his penchant for candy-colored R&B. “Be With You”, the last and best song on the record, pulls the beat out several times only to reintroduce it with fringed, lightning-rod synths on top of it. Fans will recognize the instrumental; it’s the same one that was constructed around that R. Kelly remix, though it actually works better as a standalone.

And maybe that’s really what Giraffage means when he talks about his new approach. His work with remixes and samples in general has always reflected a remarkable sense of depth, so much so that, if you were to pull out the original artist’s work, you would still be left with the sense of hearing a complete track. More than ever, the music he’s constructed on No Reason has the ability to stand on its own. But add the vocals and the ticks, the bleeps and the bloops, and you’ve got style in addition to that solidity. Those smaller elements make Yin who he is as a musician, and samples or no samples, here’s hoping he doesn’t abandon them anytime soon.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yaBT25

Tony Allen: Film of Life

Best known for defining the pulse of Fela Kuti’s propulsive Afrobeat sound, the self-taught Tony Allen is a near superhuman combination of metronomic sense of time, light touch, economy, endurance, and musicality. Though it took a long time, his distinctive beat is part of the world’s musical vocabulary now. Since parting ways with Fela, he’s done quite a range of work, including a couple of recent, fairly high-profile collaborations with Damon Albarn that took him pretty far away from the pigeonhole people tend to place him in on the basis of his best-known playing. 

Film of Life doesn’t quite break new ground for Allen, but it does offer a pretty solid and succinct demonstration of Afrobeat’s adaptability to changing times. There are no side-long epics in the Fela mold here, but Allen packs quite a bit into each of these four-to-seven-minute-tracks, building up from his own drums grooves with hypnotic guitar and bass patterns, a richly arranged horn section, and an assortment of other sounds that are nearly all overwhelmed by the massive rhythm that dominates everything.

Allen himself handles vocals on the first two tracks, mostly talking in his deep bass register and aided by a female chorus, narrating a personal history and thanking the listener for being there. His voice is appropriately situated well down in the mix; he does his best talking with his hands, and though he shows a little uncharacteristic flash here and there, the really impressive thing about Allen is the way he can take a simple, slow beat like the one on “Tiger’s Skip” and make it sing when a lot of drummers would have trouble just staying in time at that tempo. Comparing it to the much faster beat on the storming, spacey funk instrumental “Ewa” reveals a lot about what makes his playing so special; no matter what else is going on, Allen has an ability to stay steady and fill time with exactly as much embellishment as necessary.

Albarn’s guest vocal turn on “Go Back” provides the album’s highlight and the closest thing to a single that it has to offer. The man could sound sad singing “The Wheels on the Bus”, and the contrast of his hang-dog delivery and Allen’s spryness makes for a song as good as anything the two have done together in the Good, the Bad, and the Queen or Rocket Juice & the Moon. Moments like this and Kuku’s totally unexpected Auto-Tuned vocal in the second half of “Koko Dance” take Film of Life a few steps past a simple summary of the things Allen excels at and make it something to hear even for people who aren’t Afrobeat obsessives.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1CdXXOw

Tony Allen: Film of Life

Best known for defining the pulse of Fela Kuti’s propulsive Afrobeat sound, the self-taught Tony Allen is a near superhuman combination of metronomic sense of time, light touch, economy, endurance, and musicality. Though it took a long time, his distinctive beat is part of the world’s musical vocabulary now. Since parting ways with Fela, he’s done quite a range of work, including a couple of recent, fairly high-profile collaborations with Damon Albarn that took him pretty far away from the pigeonhole people tend to place him in on the basis of his best-known playing. 

Film of Life doesn’t quite break new ground for Allen, but it does offer a pretty solid and succinct demonstration of Afrobeat’s adaptability to changing times. There are no side-long epics in the Fela mold here, but Allen packs quite a bit into each of these four-to-seven-minute-tracks, building up from his own drums grooves with hypnotic guitar and bass patterns, a richly arranged horn section, and an assortment of other sounds that are nearly all overwhelmed by the massive rhythm that dominates everything.

Allen himself handles vocals on the first two tracks, mostly talking in his deep bass register and aided by a female chorus, narrating a personal history and thanking the listener for being there. His voice is appropriately situated well down in the mix; he does his best talking with his hands, and though he shows a little uncharacteristic flash here and there, the really impressive thing about Allen is the way he can take a simple, slow beat like the one on “Tiger’s Skip” and make it sing when a lot of drummers would have trouble just staying in time at that tempo. Comparing it to the much faster beat on the storming, spacey funk instrumental “Ewa” reveals a lot about what makes his playing so special; no matter what else is going on, Allen has an ability to stay steady and fill time with exactly as much embellishment as necessary.

Albarn’s guest vocal turn on “Go Back” provides the album’s highlight and the closest thing to a single that it has to offer. The man could sound sad singing “The Wheels on the Bus”, and the contrast of his hang-dog delivery and Allen’s spryness makes for a song as good as anything the two have done together in the Good, the Bad, and the Queen or Rocket Juice & the Moon. Moments like this and Kuku’s totally unexpected Auto-Tuned vocal in the second half of “Koko Dance” take Film of Life a few steps past a simple summary of the things Allen excels at and make it something to hear even for people who aren’t Afrobeat obsessives.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1CdXXOw

Hound: Out of Time

This year, for Halloween, Hound frontman Perry Shall went as AC/DC‘s Angus Young. I don’t mean to say Shall merely “went as” Angus Young for Halloween; what I mean is, from the socks-and-shorts to the upturned brim, this dude was Angus Young. I bring this up to underscore Shall’s greatest strength as a frontman: he has a real knack for inhabiting the look and feel of a very particular era of rock’n’roll, the post-prog, pre-NWOBHM intermingling of hard-rock and proto-punk. At no point during Hound’s Out of Time—a triangulation of “Highway Star”, the first few Queens of the Stone Age LPs, and a not-unhealthy fixation with one Lemmy Kilmister—do Shall and company attempt to flaunt tradition, to push well-defined boundaries, to reinvent the wheel. Rather, the band’s looking to get back to something elemental: burly, bongwater-splattered rock’n’roll, the kind designed to sound particularly righteous coming from a pinstriped AMC Gremlin.

More than anything, Out of Time is unrelenting; just over 27 minutes of low rumbles and snaky leads, pausing only for the delicately fingerpicked “Colintro”—courtesy of bassist Colin McGinniss, also of None More Black—just past the halfway point. Shall’s not a flashy player, neither as swaggering as Angus or as restless as “Fast” Eddie. Still, as a student of the classics, he’s picked up just the right combination of attack and restraint, and Out of Time does lean every bit as well as mean. Taken together, the album’s arid production—a kind of bleary, mid-fi tunnelvision—and near-monomaniacal drive are transportive, beamed in directly from the middle of a long, dark night spent blasting down some backwater at 90 MPH, lids heavy, heart pounding.

Leadoff single and snarling highlight “Little One” plunges a particularly toothsome Shall riff headlong into a roaring McGinniss bassline. Better still is “I Can’t Take It No More”, an anxious, hard-charging punker that finds an unusually excitable-sounding Shall screaming his way around the chorus. He’s not exactly a brazen presence behind the mic; throughout plenty of Out of Time, he coats his voice in a thin layer of fuzz, or deadpans his way through his delivery, allowing certain lines to get stuck in the surrounding sludge. Even at full howl, though, Shall’s never in any danger of overpowering these monstrous riffs, and Out of Time sounds best whenever he drops the inhibitions and fully leans into these songs. To that end, the Sabbath-indebted slowdown—”Houdini”, “Stupid Dreams”—sandwiching the outlying “Colintro” is a slight momentum-sapper; they don’t plod, exactly, but they don’t quite get the blood going like the scrappier stuff surrounding them.

Lyrically, Out of Time isn’t much to chew on. While Shall smartly sidesteps the dunderheaded machismo too often associated with capital-R rock revivalism, what he offers in its stead—anxiety, boredom, and self-doubt, more or less—is only a mild improvement. “If god was real, I think she’d be disgraced,” Shall sings on “Stupid Dreams”; it’s maybe the single most intriguing thought to be found on Out of Time, one Shall all but leaves unexplored. Still, this de-emphasis on lyrics is in keeping with tradition; despite what your uncle’s trying to tell you with that wrongheaded “Led Zeppelin vs. Nicki Minaj” meme he keeps slapping on your Facebook wall, the hard rock canon Hound are harkening back to has a long, storied tradition of dumb, overwrought, or otherwise beside-the-point lyrics. At this point, Hound seemingly aren’t all that interested in toppling their influences or killing their idols; instead, they’re trying to inhabit them, to pile up enough riffs to tap into that deathless feeling of plowing down the road, windows down, speakers blaring, the night ahead of them. That much, they nail.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yaBSLC

Hound: Out of Time

This year, for Halloween, Hound frontman Perry Shall went as AC/DC‘s Angus Young. I don’t mean to say Shall merely “went as” Angus Young for Halloween; what I mean is, from the socks-and-shorts to the upturned brim, this dude was Angus Young. I bring this up to underscore Shall’s greatest strength as a frontman: he has a real knack for inhabiting the look and feel of a very particular era of rock’n’roll, the post-prog, pre-NWOBHM intermingling of hard-rock and proto-punk. At no point during Hound’s Out of Time—a triangulation of “Highway Star”, the first few Queens of the Stone Age LPs, and a not-unhealthy fixation with one Lemmy Kilmister—do Shall and company attempt to flaunt tradition, to push well-defined boundaries, to reinvent the wheel. Rather, the band’s looking to get back to something elemental: burly, bongwater-splattered rock’n’roll, the kind designed to sound particularly righteous coming from a pinstriped AMC Gremlin.

More than anything, Out of Time is unrelenting; just over 27 minutes of low rumbles and snaky leads, pausing only for the delicately fingerpicked “Colintro”—courtesy of bassist Colin McGinniss, also of None More Black—just past the halfway point. Shall’s not a flashy player, neither as swaggering as Angus or as restless as “Fast” Eddie. Still, as a student of the classics, he’s picked up just the right combination of attack and restraint, and Out of Time does lean every bit as well as mean. Taken together, the album’s arid production—a kind of bleary, mid-fi tunnelvision—and near-monomaniacal drive are transportive, beamed in directly from the middle of a long, dark night spent blasting down some backwater at 90 MPH, lids heavy, heart pounding.

Leadoff single and snarling highlight “Little One” plunges a particularly toothsome Shall riff headlong into a roaring McGinniss bassline. Better still is “I Can’t Take It No More”, an anxious, hard-charging punker that finds an unusually excitable-sounding Shall screaming his way around the chorus. He’s not exactly a brazen presence behind the mic; throughout plenty of Out of Time, he coats his voice in a thin layer of fuzz, or deadpans his way through his delivery, allowing certain lines to get stuck in the surrounding sludge. Even at full howl, though, Shall’s never in any danger of overpowering these monstrous riffs, and Out of Time sounds best whenever he drops the inhibitions and fully leans into these songs. To that end, the Sabbath-indebted slowdown—”Houdini”, “Stupid Dreams”—sandwiching the outlying “Colintro” is a slight momentum-sapper; they don’t plod, exactly, but they don’t quite get the blood going like the scrappier stuff surrounding them.

Lyrically, Out of Time isn’t much to chew on. While Shall smartly sidesteps the dunderheaded machismo too often associated with capital-R rock revivalism, what he offers in its stead—anxiety, boredom, and self-doubt, more or less—is only a mild improvement. “If god was real, I think she’d be disgraced,” Shall sings on “Stupid Dreams”; it’s maybe the single most intriguing thought to be found on Out of Time, one Shall all but leaves unexplored. Still, this de-emphasis on lyrics is in keeping with tradition; despite what your uncle’s trying to tell you with that wrongheaded “Led Zeppelin vs. Nicki Minaj” meme he keeps slapping on your Facebook wall, the hard rock canon Hound are harkening back to has a long, storied tradition of dumb, overwrought, or otherwise beside-the-point lyrics. At this point, Hound seemingly aren’t all that interested in toppling their influences or killing their idols; instead, they’re trying to inhabit them, to pile up enough riffs to tap into that deathless feeling of plowing down the road, windows down, speakers blaring, the night ahead of them. That much, they nail.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1yaBSLC

Mouse on Mars: 21 Again

A little more than halfway through the second disc of 21 Again, a 2xCD collection of new collaborative tracks and guest-artist birthday greetings celebrating Mouse on Mars’ 21 years together, Prefuse 73‘s Scott Herren can be heard reflecting on how he got into the pathfinding German electronic group and its peers. “All the like, scholastic, kind of academic ’90s things that were happening there, I was really into,” Herren says, noting he had a hip-hop day job in Atlanta at the time. “You guys weren’t, like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna do electronic music,’ like boom, boom—no four-four shit. You guys always did something melodic.”

Herren’s remarks may strike a note of familiar nostalgia for longtime Mouse on Mars fans, and for anyone somehow stumbling on this loose, playful, slightly overstuffed record unaware it will be the first real clue as to what all this is about. Since the duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma formed Mouse on Mars in 1993, they’ve blurred the edges of techno, electro-acoustic music, and pop tunefulness over the course of about a dozen albums, most recently 2012’s virtuosically maximalist Parastrophics. They’ve also long indulged a collaborative streak; just recently, Toma produced Africa Express’s star-studded tribute to Terry Riley’s “In C”. On 21 Again, they bring together slightly more than 21 collaborations between Mouse on Mars and other artists, plus several recorded messages such as the one from Herren.

The results, spanning 32 tracks and nearly two hours, are best approached as a huge party full of Mouse on Mars’ old friends. It can be overwhelming, with so many distinguished and varied attendees you’d be hard-pressed to remember your conversations the next morning, but there’s more than enough squishy-synthed whimsy here to make 21 Again a worthwhile listen, particularly for those veteran fans but also for that hypothetical newcomer, who might replicate Herren’s experience of being inspired by Mouse on Mars and their extended musical family. And if the broader culture takes nothing else away from this set, the general concept is ripe for adoption: 21st birthdays are wasted on the 21.

Mouse on Mars have always resisted easy categorization, and that’s evident in the sheer eclecticism on display here. One of 21 Again‘s unique draws is a one-off reunion by fellow German duo Funkstörung, who split in 2008; their lovely, idea-packed Mouse on Mars team-up “Bon Djerry” could easily at one time have been called IDM. But other highlights are pillowy R&B (Junior Boys contribution “Putty Tart”), mesmerizing guitar-and-groove workouts in the locked-in style of what once would’ve been called post-rock (Tortoise track “Shoe Fly”), twitchy disco-funk (“Fertilized” with Cavern of Anti-Matter, a project featuring Stereolab‘s Tim Gane), off-kilter synth-pop (“Lost and Found” with Eric D Clark), or a contemplative, storytelling reverie (“My Toe Is on Fire,” with Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier). Never is it just “oh, we’re gonna do electronic music, boom, boom.”

The jumble works in context, though each listener will probably pick out different tracks to repeat or avoid. The muscular dance-rap of Modeselektor‘s “Purple Fog” ensures this feels like an actual 21st birthday party, but if I were putting together a playlist of similar music I’m not sure it’d be the first choice that came to mind. Still, all this bouncing around, whether to the gauzy beats of Machinedrum collaboration “Juice Clr 9”, the cathartic tribal-drum ululations of “Nkanka” with the Boredoms‘/OOIOO‘s Yoshimi P-We, or the cerebral clicks and whirs of “Double Bum” with Matthew Herbert, helps keep rewarding attention over such an extensive collection. In fact, from a crackling, tightly drawn collaboration with Oval to a clanging, berserk track with Tyondai Braxton, the former Battles frontman, 21 Again could also almost serve as a survey course of the past couple of decades in experimental music.

The birthday messages, though, drive home the sense of 21 Again as a low-stakes, insular bit of fun rather than a sweeping artistic statement. The Fall‘s Mark E. Smith, who joined up with Mouse on Mars in 2007 as Von Südenfed, and his wife Elena Poulou open the record with goofy happy-birthday chatter that sets the mood of warm bonhomie. Non-German speakers will have to settle for being charmed by the laughter during the best wishes from artist Ingrid Wiener and her husband Oswald. A Hawk and a Hacksaw turn their greeting into another chance for musical collaboration, performing Balkan-folk instrumental “Celebration Song” with Hungarian musician Balázs Unger. If DJ Scotch Egg’s chiptune “Mouse on Egg (Happy Birthday)!”, which uses the 19th-century melody that’s customary for such occasions, brings a call from the copyright lawyers, well, 21st birthdays often involve audacious decisions. After 21 years, Mouse on Mars remain joyously unpredictable.

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