Pamela Z, “Badagada”
Etron Fou Leloublan, “Exposition universelle”
Moussa Ngom, “Senegal 95”
Raviv Gazit, “One and Only”
Furniture, “Why Are We In Love”
Šarlo Akrobata, “Bes”
Air Conditioning, “I Run Low”
Michael Byron, “The Celebration: Interlude I”
тпсб, “Catching Rare Birds”
Louis Tjekvorkian, “Tajavoz”
Delia and the Waskawitch Boys, “Canadien Hand Drum Trio (Live)”
Mashed, “Conquering Lion”
Melanie Verlarde, “Duck”
Why Be, “Smf Teaser”
Stano, “A Dead Rose”
Dylan Henner, “Little Frogs Swam By Every Now and Then”
Do you ever read a book or watch a movie or hear an album and regret all the time it wasn’t a part of your life? I felt that way this week after hearing Pamela Z’s album, A Delay Is Better. Released in 2004, it’s a collection of music that goes back more than a decade. Though Z has performed regularly, very little of her music has been released. Acting as a survey of the experimental vocalist’s work as opposed to a cohesive album, A Delay Is Better is a thorough introduction to the vastness of her sound. The work of Meredith Monk is an obvious touchpoint, but Z’s music is more fun, the vocal sounds percussive and chattering. Some songs sound like experimental drums as performed by the Police Academy guys and others like Siri having a meltdown. “How was your trip? Where are you going? What are you having? How is it ending?” Z repeats that by way of setting up a percussive backbone on the aptly named, “Questions.” On “In Tymes of Olde,” sounds genuinely frightened. “Why do you talk to me that way?” she asks over repeated shrieks. She could be asking an abuser, a parent, herself. Elsewhere, she sings like she’s recording an off-the-cuff aria. “Badagada,” which opens this week’s mix, takes a bit from all of her styles, with a chant of the song’s title (the name of a village in India) that is at times creepy, at times beautiful. Her voice rises and falls as that rhythmic loop continues. It’s a weird song, exciting, a little funny, and deeply original. I can’t recommend digging into her music enough. Like an entire universe coming out of one person’s mouth.
Etron Fou Leloublan is a French group from the late ’70s and early ’80s, though on this song (on Spotify only), “Exposition universelle” they very much feel like they’re part of the Rhode Island noise music scene of the early 2000s. The drum attack that opens the song—and really then becomes the song—alongside little interjections of synth bloops, makes them very much sound like a group who would’ve played Fort Thunder in funny outfits and later, improbably, been a part of the Whitney Biennial. The rest of the album does not sound like this, though to its credit, it largely doesn’t really sound like anything consistent at all. Unfortunately most of those other musical avenues are bad, like circus music. Guess you can’t win ’em all.
“I Run Low” is certainly the least aggressive song in the Air Conditioning catalog. A powerful group that combined the most bulldozing qualities of hardcore and noise, watching them perform, which I had the pleasure of doing a handful of times in the early 2000s, was a full body experience. Though they played guitar and drums loudly, and thought they were heavy, it was not really music to mosh to. You could arguably be seated to enjoy their music, as its wash of sound had a transcendent quality. To take the bulldozer comparison a little further, think about a bulldozer versus a jackhammer. Both destructive, but the incessantness of a jackhammer is annoying. The way a bulldozer fells is elegant. To prove that point, I’ve paired their song with a movement from a string quartet. Try to tell me the transition from one to the other doesn’t sound perfectly natural. You can’t.
The cover of Sekundenschlaf, an album by producer тпсб, has always reminded me of the movie The Vanishing. The basic plot of the movie—and I’ll note a spoiler alert here—is that a woman disappears while stopped at a gas station with her boyfriend. He obsessively spends his life searching for the truth of what happened before the man who took her offers him a chance to have the answer, but only by experiencing the same thing she did. That turns out to be being buried alive (in the German original, the man dies. In the American remake, he is implausibly freed). In the album cover, you see a woman walking in the woods in the dark, looking over her shoulder at a car coming her way. The photo is taken from within the car, you see the driver’s hand on the steering wheel, but not their face. The dashboard is lit green. For me, it feels impossible to read as anything other than a murder about to happen. Even if that’s not your take, it’s an uneasy, deeply intimate photo and its queasiness has always tinted the way I hear his music. Not that it needs much help seeming creepy, this album opener, “Catching Rare Birds,” specifically. The song starts with hand drums that sound like water gurgling. A synth wash that sounds like a slow Gregorian chant rises and falls. Four bass notes are repeated slowly. After a few minutes of this, an oddly peppy drumbeat enters, but it gets snuffed out quickly, like an unwanted interlocutor. The rest of the album leans much more directly on techno and jungle, and doesn’t take place in exclusively nightmare territory. But this song, opening the album and setting the tone, along with the cover, casts them all a pall they’d not have on their own. An ecstatic blast of repetitive drums, the last song, “Are You Still Hurt,” could easily be part of the repertoire of any number of Chicago footwork producers, accompanied by a music video of teens dancing. Instead, I can’t hear anything but the soundtrack to a ritual sacrifice.