LP1 by FKA twigs

August 11 2014
3:00 PM

In a media soundscape where over-emotional vocal convolutions have become cross-genre and predominant to the extent of being considered synonymous with “technique,” FKA twigs‘ exercise in constraint is an R&B aural caress. Born Tahliah Barnett, FKA started as backup dancer in music videos—a career she recalls in Video Girl: “The camera’s on your pain that it loves / You’re looking for the all around good love”—before creating a huge buzz when she released her self-produced EP1 on Bandcamp. After collaborating with director Jesse Kanda (the video for “How’s That” with Twigs’ digitally-rendered body metamorphosing into pure black and white visual signal is a must see) and with producer Arca on EP2 and being included in the roster of the indie label Young Turks, FKA twigs launched Nabil’s directed introductory video for her first album earlier this spring: “Two Weeks” exalts her low-serotonin, intimate style to mainstream accessibility. Tahliah has often been compared to the classic ’90s R&B singer Aaliyah, though these ten songs clearly trace her artistic lineage back to Bristol’s futuristic torch songs (Martina’s collaboration with Tricky, Portishead) and the ethereal, “heavenly” voices that climaxed in the exhausted new wave of iconic label 4AD. Punching basses, trap-rap-like percussions, languid minor chord pads counterpoint the potent songwriting in a way that will entice you in for more, again and again. Already a strong candidate for the 2014 top 20 albums. (Francesco Tenaglia)


Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton
by Jeff Broadway

July 31 2014
3:00 PM

In hindsight, Los Angeles-based recording label Stones Throw can be identified, like the more avant-garde-inclined Anticon, as a brilliant response to the chart friendliness and subsequent hyper-materialism that characterized a vast portion of the mainstream post-golden era (1987–1993) hip hop. Founded in 1996 by Chris Manak, internationally renowned as a DJ and beat-maker by the moniker of Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw Records has embodied the sonic possibilities of militant independency, with an inexhaustible curiosity towards black music’s history and heritage and, most importantly, a genuine desire to create a community of like-minded talents. The documentary Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, directed by Jeff Broadway, presents Manak as a soft-spoken charismatic figure who develops an encyclopedic knowledge of soul, funk and disco as a kid and follows this path into becoming a pivotal curatorial presence in the American rap scene. His rooster includes Madlib and J Dilla – hard to say who of the two is the greatest producer of their generation; as well as Dam-Funk’s weird, angular sound reminiscent of the ’80s L.A., Mayer Hawthorne’s angelic soul, and the best selling Aloe Blacc. Although one may rightfully say that Madlib’s sample-heavy, exotic style is the pillar of the label, over the years Manak has pursued many, surprising style shifts. And though eschewing an overt political position, the label seems to preserve some of the spirit of counter-cultural California—its original sense of inclusiveness and progressive thinking. (Francesco Tenaglia)

The Productive Body
published by Zero Books

July 17 2014
3:00 PM

The London-based publishing house Zero Books is responsible for launching some of the most interesting books dedicated to radical politics, cultural critique and contemporary philosophy: their compelling roster of authors includes Mark Fisher, Nina Power, Steven Shapiro and Dominic Fox, among others. The press has recently published the first English edition of Le Corps Productif (“The Productive Body”), a dense and theoretically engaging book written by Didier Deleule and François Guéry that was originally published by Mame in 1972. As explained in the preface by the translators Philip Barnard and Stephen Shapiro, this edition is intended to create a bridge between the later Foucauldian analysis of the relations between power and the body with more canonical Marxist discourse in the Anglo sphere to offset the artificial break between the two philosophers created, involuntary, by Foucault’s critique of, and subsequent distancing from, the French Communist party, as well as a general carelessness towards his most left-wing activist writing. The authors, coming from the Maoist groups of the École Normale Supérieure, describe how the mercantilist economy of manufacturing has deskilled and articulated labor in the “collective worker” or a “productive-body,” pulverizing thus the idea of a “social body” into isolated biological bodies that additionally elide class solidarity and communal action. (Francesco Tenaglia)

Sign of the Times in Kensington Market, 1990
Photo by Jeremy Deller; Courtesy of Fiona Cartledge

“Music Nation” series

April 30 2014
3:00 PM

Club-related subcultures are beasts that documentarians must handle with care: the situated “here and now” modulated by the crowd mix, the dance, the ambient and recreational chemicals—along with club culture’s lack of the stage performativity that marks rock and roll—make these subcultures an impalpable creature, the victims of blatant mythologizing or an ever-rejuvenating source of moral panic for the press. Channel 4 has teamed up with Dazed and Confused to realize “Music Nation,” a five-part documentary series on the scenes that made the UK the undisputed epicenter of clubland. In Brandy & Coke, Ewen Spencer stylized an efficient report on the evolution of UK garage from break-neck jungle intricacy into a normalized, bass-heavy sound inspired by the soulful house danced to by a Versace and Moschino-worshipping crowd. Tabitha Denhom recounts the phenomenal season of Balearic sound and the MDMA-enhanced dance sessions at Ibiza’s Amnesia that kick-started the so-called “Second Summer of Love” via Schoom and Boy’s Own parties in Berkshire Goes Balearic. Director Jamie Jesset delivered perhaps the most formally accomplished installment with Bristol Bass Oddity, the tale of the marriage between the reggae and the new ‘80s rap craze that formed the unique Bristol sound. After Soap The Stamps by Jim Demuth, about the tale of late ‘80s UK hardcore, the last episode by Ollie Evans, Jungle Fever, premieres tonight at 12.05am on Channel 4. (Francesco Tenaglia)

Cannibal EP

March 28 2014
2:00 PM

Primary Information is a non-profit organization formed by James Hoff and Miriam Katzeff in 2006 and dedicated to the publication of artists’ books, artists’ writings and editions such as records and posters. In April 2014 they will release a limited-edition, vinyl-only album by Cannibal, a trio composed by artists/musicians Cameron Jamie, Cary Loren and Dennis Tyfus. The record is a compelling intergenerational dialogue that defies lazy marketing pitches or definitions: the intricate soundscape comprises a variety of sources— from the harmonica to found sounds—evoking adventurous psychedelic rock from the ’60s like the “freak-outs” of Texan cult group Red Krayola and the experimental underground free-noise scene that coalesced in the ’90s around the New Zealand-based composer and theoretician Bruce Russell and his Corpus Hermeticum recording label. The trio’s music is not only difficult to locate stylistically but also temporally, since this work could have been produced in any decade since the 1960s. Filmmaker Cary Loren co-founded the semi-legendary Detroit “anti-rock” band Destroy All Monsters (that counted also Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw amongst their members) in 1973 and Cannibal LP, even if not a direct continuation of that experience, is additional proof—think Sonic Youth and Black Dice—of the enriching possibilities and perspectives coming out of the combination between visual arts and music making. (Francesco Tenaglia)

James Ferraro

October 7 2013
5:46 PM

James Ferraro is one of the charismatic figures that has led international underground scenes to transition from extreme noise music to a post-modern, sampler-heavy practice that reconstructs a Frankenstein pop format by using segments of outdated musical debris like cheesy ad music, new age and muzak. In “NYC, HELL 3:00 AM,” he reconstructs a form of R&B torch song punctuated by computer generated voices (“money, money, money” opens the record) unstable and over-emotional vocals, dark dissonant orchestras and pieces of 9/11 news coverage in order to create “a map of New York’s nihilism and it’s self referential hedonism.” An inferno made of “rats, metal landscape, toxic water, Junkie friends, HIV billboards, evil news, Luxury and unbound wealth, exclusivity, facelifts, romance, insane police presence, lonely people, all against the sinister vastness of Manhattan’s alienating skyline.” In one of the You Tube trailers produced to present the record, we watch a car on fire in the dense traffic of the metropolis at peak hour: in the same fashion as the camera (and the ordinary passer-by) that has no chance but to surrender to curiosity and contemplate the wreck; this record cannot stop but pointing its focus towards consumer culture, triumphant in a contradictory mix of anxiety and fascination. (Francesco Tenaglia)

James Ferraro will release his upcoming album “NYC, HELL 3:00 AM” on October 15, shortly before the onset of his tour dates across Europe.



August 23 2013
5:51 PM

Manchester natives Sean Booth and Rob Brown founded Autechre in the early ‘90s and, as one of the top names on the record label Warp, have been active ever since. Autechre’s career is linked with the seminal (but poorly named) scene known as Intelligent Dance Music (IDM for short), which also gave rise to acts like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Squarepusher. Their last record Exai is a two-hour long distillation of the compositional skills that the duo has developed over the course of twenty years. Booth and Brown have a solid background in early British hip-hop and breakdance scenes and their music evokes the ‘80s avant-gardism of electro urban music practiced by Afrika Bambaataa and Mantronix, among others. Autechre has developed these influences into a Borgesian maze of exoteric, cutting-edge synthesizer and sequencing techniques. Where a large part of the “underground” electronic music today is unashamedly ironic in its quotation of easy listening pop music from the past (the apparently unrelenting joke of “hypnagogic”) and a large part of hip-hop music expresses its exuberant competitiveness mostly through its lyrics, Exai dares to be self-referential, un-ironic and to celebrate its own aggressiveness, not via chart-friendly chutzpah, but by means of its inscrutable formalism. Rhythms evolve, patterns merge or mutate steadily, but faintly, within songs. An unmissable return to form. (Francesco Tenaglia)

“The Afrika Bambaataa Master of Records vinyl archive”
at Gavin Brown’s enterprise

July 31 2013
8:59 AM

Afrika Bambaataa (born Kevin Donovan in 1957; South Bronx, New York) was a pillar of the hip-hop scene in the early ‘80s. An ex-gang member, he inherited his mother’s interest in radical politics and record collecting. After a short trip to Africa that he won in a contest, Donovan changed his name to resemble Bhambatha kaMancinza, the Zulu chief whose revolt against tax increases in the British colony of Natal led to his canonization as a role model for anti-apartheid movements in South Africa. Bambaataa pioneered the Universal Zulu Nation [UZN] in the late ‘70s, a movement aimed at promoting graffiti, break-dancing, DJs and rap MCs. During this time, UZN was played a pivotal role in channeling teenage angst, drug dealing and violence out the streets of South Bronx. Today, Gavin Brown is publicly archiving Bambaataa’s extensive vinyl collection, opening an important and rarely seen part of the process of documenting history to public view. The open archive documents the translation of records from objects of violent manipulation in Bambaataa’s turntablism to artifacts of rarified archeological relevance; from gatherers of small pieces of sonic information their functional relocation into the seamless and author-less flow of a bloc party DJ mix to stand alone units of a catalogue. (Francesco Tenaglia)

“The Afrika Bambaataa Master of Records vinyl archive” at Gavin Brown’s enterprise (New York) will run through August 10. Don’t miss the weekly DJ sets by renowned hip-hop artists playing records from Bambaataa’s collection.

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