Lately I’ve had to remind myself that, in the long run, art has always said more about humanity than the news ever has.
This is one idea that’s helping keep me sane and clearheaded as 2016 rolls on. It’s also something that motivates and inspires me. Let’s see what else helped this week.
Wolf Müller and Cass – The Sound of Glades
This year, International Feel is on a roll. The label named after a Todd Rundgren song has nailed a very specific aesthetic with just three mini-albums in a new series, the second of which was CFCF’s magnificent On Vacation, already a favorite of 2016. Their vision of balearic heaven has now been significantly expanded by the sounds on this collaborative project.
The Sound of Glades is a slower, more meditative affair, ballooning with open spaces and sprinkled with chimes and bird calls. The sound bridges the gap between typically bouncy balearic and expansive new age drift, content to reach a blissful moment and stretch it far outside of time. The intricate details can be easily appreciated with so much distance between each element, thoughtfully placed and paced as they are. It’s perfect ambient music for close listening, blushing with gratitude and zen-like calm while still riding a satisfying emotional arc.
The duo, composed of Germans Wolf Müller, aka Jan Schulte, and Cass., aka Niklas Rehme-Schlüter, flirts with atmospheres that remind me as much of older Ryuichi Sakamoto and Kitaro records as much as anything made in 2016. These aren’t traditionally cool reference points, but releases like this are rescuing them from the sole purview of music nerds like myself.
Like the earlier CFCF album, which I wrote about in March, this set takes the cheesiest aesthetic touchstones from my childhood and refashions them into the building blocks of the future. It’s a way to reclaim a maligned slice of music history, given fresh context to shine for modern ears. It’s also similarly hypnotic, demanding repeat plays as soon as it winds to a close.
Here’s the title track, a subtle epic that takes up over a third of the entire running time:
patten – Sonne
patten is one of those enigmatic acts that manages to be everything at once to a polyamorous lover of electronic music genres. By turns hard and dizzying, soft and embracing, kaleidoscopic and micro-focused, the duo’s releases often leave me confused until the final track winds to a close. At that point I can look back down the verticality of the structure and see a pattern, understand how it all unfolded, and truly appreciate what just happened.
It’s been a few years since Estoile Naiant dropped and although I’ve always kept an eye on the project, this song still took me by surprise. It’s a shimmering, strobe-like attack wrapped in gauzy bass wobble, all entrancing smoothness and stuttering texture. Before, patten’s work evoked my memories of early Aphex Twin, Zomby, and even a hyperactive take on Burial’s nocturnal glow. Now I’m feeling the neon-drenched dread of the Modern Love label, specifically Andy Stott’s latest work. It’s a plot twist that just feels right and hyped me up that much more for the upcoming third LP.
The video itself manages to feel as dizzying as the song, with off-kilter camera angles flowing improbably bird-like between rushing highway scenes and the hurried journey of patten’s mysterious artists wandering the sidewalks and parking structures of an unnamed city at night. The effect recalls early David Fincher work, which seems about as fitting a visual accompaniment as there could be for dark, near-danceable explosions like Sonne.
The upcoming album is called Ψ (pronounced psi) and can be preordered from Warp Records.
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
I’ll admit it: before this week, I thought Blood Orange was an indie rock band. I was incredibly wrong. I had zero interest until I saw mention on Tiny Mix Tapes of Prince and Alice Coltrane in a positive review. That’s not something you often see in connection with an ostensibly R&B artist.
Freetown Sound is explosive yet deeply composed, bursting with stylistic variety and melodic density. There are a dozen unique and catchy touches embedded in every song. Each track surprises with sudden shifts in texture and tone, erupting with new instruments, sounds, and hooks. It’s a visceral rush, and that’s before the hair-raising lyrics set in, vocals courtesy of Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange himself) and guests like Debbie Harry, Nelly Furtado, and Carly Rae Jepsen.
A song like E.V.P veers into deep-80s Prince, tumbles through modern R&B before ending on a dissonant, cello-led outro that would have made Arthur Russell blush. Instead of being the exception, it feels like the blueprint for the album as a whole. This is pop music that stands more with Kendrick Lamar‘s free jazz hip-hop or Beyonce’s freewheeling Lemonade as a testament to the power of black music today.
Speaking of, the lyrics will take a while for me to unpack. That’s why this little writeup is just a taste of what I’ve got to say. While I work on giving this album its own full review, I’ll leave you with a perfect introductory song in the meantime. Here’s Augustine:
Avalanches – Wildflower
The Avalanches produced one of the only albums I’ve ever considered a “desert island record” with Since I Left You, over 16 years ago. I never thought they’d actually return, much less with a followup album as good as Wildflower has turned out to be. Suffice it to say that I’ve got a lot to unpack here and I’m simply not ready to share my full thoughts on the album.
For now I’ll say these three quick things:
- The sound is pure joy distilled into 60 uninterrupted minutes.
- The album art evokes Sly Stone’s funk masterpiece There’s A Riot Goin’ On.
- The music is beyond soaked in nostalgia; this is nostalgia itself expressed as dance music.
Here is perhaps the catchiest thing I’ve heard all year, low-key summer anthem Subways:
Come back next week for my full review!
Directed by Alexander Payne, Sideways is one of those once-acclaimed movies that kind of fell out of collective memory over the years. Still, its impression was never lost on me.
This is a story about what it’s like to be so completely into something, to pour your life into and see your reflection in the thing that you love. Paul Giamatti is a divorced fortysomething who has always lived below his potential, and his soliloquy on pinot noir at the center of the film is a master class on lubricated metaphor. It’s a florid, enchanting description of the wine in question, how difficult it is to grow well, how much tenderness and attention it needs, how it doesn’t ripen nearly as fast as other grapes, and how, it peaks finally with the most exquisite taste.
Virginia Madsen’s retort is the moment that the entire story pivots on, twisting an elegant 180 as she in turn describes what she loves about wine. She’s all about the history of it, thinking of the people who farmed the grapes, imagining how many of them are long dead since the bottle in her hand was corked. She’s picturing the ghosts of everyone along the line from the dirt to the glass, and the passage of time, and she mentions that, you know, when a pino like this peaks, that’s it until the inevitable decline. It’s anther double layered message that acts as a commentary on the main character himself.
It’s one of those grand moments in film where, despite never breaking the fourth wall, the movie opens up and tells the viewer something in secret, something honest hiding below the surface. It’s something no other medium really accomplishes the same way.
It had been over ten years since I saw the film when I put it on last week. I was struck deeply, gutted in a way that felt inevitable. It felt like my earlier viewing was a vague foreshadowing of my future life, my future experience. My life right now.
Watching Sideways now, ten years on, I relate even more to Giamatti’s anxious choke of realization, when Madsen mentions that the wine will peak soon and begin its long decline. The way it was delivered, from a woman who believes in him, in his craft, and in his ability to do more than simply settle, stabbed into my core.
This moment said more about my life than any status update I’ve ever posted.
It prodded me to consider what I can do next, to move forward, build more, do something new. I’ve felt settled for too long now, and I need to shake things up. Funny that it took a story to make me remember that.