Norik’s “Before the Truth” doesn’t really do much of anything for its first two minutes. One note gently plays. It feels like taking a long walk down a sloping hill. And then the drums slowly kick in as the piece solidifies into a drum n bass track. That kind of shapeshifting, turning a brooding moment into action, isn’t necessarily a unique trick, but it’s particularly effective here, as it’s done so patiently. You can hear the drums emerge from the background, the volume rising slowly, like drowning in reverse. Finally they emerge from the sea.
The producer Willie Burns is a longtime favorite of mine. He has a huge discography under many names, and he plays around with genre freely. I especially love 2014’s house EP I Wanna Love You, which makes extremely good use of vocal samples. This year, he’s released six EPs under his Black Deer alias, all named for the style of music (Melodic, Sad Techno, Vocals, etc). I can’t tell if this is some form of trolling or radical honesty. Imagine the same in other forms of art. A movie called Romantic Comedy. A novel called Coming of Age. A painting called Impressionist Scene. Whatever Burns’ intent, the records do indeed do what they say on the tin.
I’m especially fond of Kraut, short for krautrock, the spacey and plodding genre that emerged from Germany in the late ’60s. The three songs on the EP vary in their adherence to the roots of the sound. “Anti-Tecno” is the one I like best. It’s the stoniest, with a slippery bass line played on synth and some fragile guitar. You can hear the swipes of the strings up and down the fretboard. It’s a really gentle, beautiful song that makes a lot with not a lot. It’s maybe as much “sad techno” as kraut, to be honest. And, to be honest, that is probably the EP that most strays from its name. The techno feels frenetic, not necessarily sad. Though I suppose everyone processes things differently.
My friend Rachel is an Andrew Weatherall obsessive, and she introduced me the trio One Dove, whose sole album he produced in 1993. I loved its loping pace, which lead me to check out the subsequent career of singer Dot Allison, whose solo album Afterglow tightens up that lack into a late ’90s masterpiece, a perfect specimen of groovy downtempo pop. The album has more oomph there than, say, Everything But the Girl, but less cinematic morbidity than Portishead. “Message Personnel,” with its backwards guitar (I think?!) and slow march is fantastic. Allison sounds like a choir director on the track, pleading with her singers to keep it up. The keyboard player’s punch helps push things along to that next level. Though I’m sure this is many layers of studio work, it has the feel of that rare magical live performance that gels in a way not even the members of the band suspected it could, where after its over, everyone on stage and on the audience looks at each other, everyone equally surprised and delighted by what’s just occurred.
I’m honestly blown away every time I listen to Leila Adu’s “Tar Sands.” It’s a relatively simple song, nothing more than Adu singing over piano, with occasional touches of what sounds like accordion drone. (If you happen to remember the glory days of White Magic, this one’s for you.) The song is repetitive for the most part, a simple piano construction for most of its six minutes, though it has a peppy, distressed left turn about halfway through. But that pivot builds in intensity, not complexity. The song is recorded rawly, and Adu’s voice strains as it continues. The song sometimes literally references tar sands, energy-rich land that creates huge amounts of pollution when processed. Sometimes it’s a protest song, like when she sings about “Ignorant business men cunts screwing up planet Earth.” But I like it when she becomes, for one line, a bird. “I look at you, from my throne in the clouds, and fly on.”