This week brought one surprise obsession that pretty much everyone I know is into, plus a handful of real gems. Yes, I’m spinning the new Kendrick Lamar as much as anyone, but I’ve also been pressing a pair of incredible electronic albums you’ll want to hear. One brand new, one stone cold classic. During my usual detour into the past, I even watched one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Hint: it’s pictured above.
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
What can I even say about this slice of brand new songs plucked from the genesis of last year’s best of 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly? With this batch of unfinished songs, Kendrick dives even deeper into the jazz rabbit hole, pulling down tropicalia, poetry, and a heaping spoonful of g-funk with him. The lyrics orbit the same planets as the big album, swerving far into dark territory before emerging into the bright light of optimistic afrofuturism. The production looser but no less out-there, layered with electronic skronk and a full band’s worth of brass and woodwind.
For any other rapper, a half hour of outtakes wouldn’t be so noteworthy, but for Kendrick Lamar, it’s a new corner of his sound-world we’re being invited into. This set is far adrift from any idea of commercial rap, content to sail into mysterious, unpredictable waters without a compass. As a fan of astral explorers Shabazz Palaces (whose Lese Majesty was the best album of 2014) this is a place I’m happy to see in hip-hop more often.
Thug Entrancer – Arcology
With his second major release, Thug Entrancer goes full-on cyberpunk with a set of interlocking tunes that drift between the alien forms of deep Detroit techno and the skittering cloud cities of modern footwork. In contrast to the lengthy, blunt-edged productions on his debut, the set here flexes a wealth of entry points, soft edges, and melodic twists that feels positively friendly in comparison. The cover art is a solid indicator of what’s going on here, all glistening sharp edges in liquid blackness, profoundly emphasizing the “punk” half of cyberpunk in every way it can, down to the jokey Calvin pissing tattoo etched onto the figure’s skull plate. The music responds in kind, dropping the floor out every time it begins to feel comfortable. The palette is a constantly shifting suite of intricate drum programming and dystopian synths, evoking the legendary Drexciya as much as contemporaries like Jlin and Machinedrum.
Here’s single Ronin, which is probably not for epileptics:
Future Sound of London – Lifeforms
Lifeforms is a weird techno juggernaut, a two disc set of experimental yet catchy electronic music that would be as heralded and discussed as the best Aphex Twin work if this were a fair world. Since it’s not, I do my best to spread the word every time I listen to it. Any friends reading this will know the usual refrain, “give it a try, it’s so far ahead of its time!” It bears repeating: this music does not sound like it’s over 20 years old. Artists in 2016 are just catching up to this strange mixture of accessible timbres and exploratory structures, the affinity for wide-eyed space worship and undiscovered frequencies. The big difference is, at the time, the mainstream music world was far more welcoming of insular artists skating the edge of radio telescopes, as Lifeforms sold over 60,000 copies upon its initial release. Nowdays, I’d have to pay out the nose for a used vinyl copy, so I’m content with the old CD until, maybe, one day it’s repressed upon a resurgence of recognition. One can dream.
Finally, I need to mention the fact that I finally watched the original Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 space opus. I’ve long been a Tarkovsky fan, rooted in my profound fascination with 1979’s Stalker, yet watching this film was a revelation nonetheless.
Here’s a scene from the heart of the film, a moment splashed with almost every technique in Tarkovsky’s arsenal. We’ve got a classical painting by Pieter Bruegel, music by Bach, and a twist of magical reality that elevates everything to transcendence.