Deep Voices #47
“You got people like, ‘Is that all the record do?’ Yeah bitch, that’s all the record do. Yep, your lazy ass needs to do some other shit with it.”
Two phrases I use a lot are “galaxy brain” and “keeping the trains running on time.” I often use them in tandem, and often at work, the former to try to describe when something needs to be thought of out of the box, and the latter to describe the need for systems to input those adventurous ideas. Lately, I’ve been thinking about those phrases in terms of music. Most of the music I’ve liked historically, experimental in nature, has used its galaxy brain and ignored train schedules. But repetitive sounds satisfy my desire for structure. Is there music that does both?
There’s an interview from 2007 with the techno producer Omar-S that I truly love, where he talks about making DJ tools, or tracks with minimal embellishment that serve in a DJ set either as a transitional moment, or as one piece of music intended to be played in concert with others. “You got people like, ‘Is that all the record do?’ Yeah bitch, that’s all the record do. Yep, your lazy ass needs to do some other shit with it.” He’s keeping the trains running on time, now it’s your job to use your galaxy brain. But when, a few years later, in 2011, he released a funky new song and named it, I presume with deep, deep sarcasm, “Here’s Your Trance, Now Dance!!” it’s like even he, king of resistance, had to give in with the embellishment. Where once there was the steady thump of drums alone, there are multiple lines of melody crawling atop each other. I wonder if it brought him, like, psychic pain to release this song? I imagine him looking at his fans like stupid little monkeys he could puppeteer at his will. To throw around another phrase, I like to think he’s subscribed to the idea that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach him how to fish you feed him for his life. I imagine Omar-S looked at other DJs like idiots he’d spent a career trying to teach to fish. And then, with everyone too dumb to see the lesson for what it is, he gave up and cooked us a delicious dinner. Now dance!!
A weirdly honest setup for a disco song, Terry Crawford’s “Chocolate Candy” is about her persnicketiness in choosing a partner. “If you were a little bit older, and maybe a little bit taller, if your feet were a little bit bigger, I’d marry you,” are the opening lyrics. She goes on to detail why she actually really likes the guy in question, but she can’t do it. Then, seemingly over it, she says she is going to marry the first man who brings her chocolate candy.
I love the song, and can admire its adherence to the quixotic North Star of desire. But as a short man, I find the height dig harsh. I can’t listen to “Chocolate Candy” without thinking of its spiritual companion, Skee-Lo’s “I Wish,” where he pines to be “a little bit taller,” perhaps the only hit song to acknowledge one of my most personal insecurities. Listening to the songs back to back is like reading two sides of a breakup text. Unfortunately both songs were released before the onset of the #shortking era. Would have done both artists a world of good.
Take a song in a genre typically known for its bombast and make it sad and I am legally bound to love it. That explains everything from my obsession with the emo rap of Lil Peep to D’Cruze’s depressive jungle anthem, “Lonely.” The release of DJ Manny’s new album, Signals in My Head, heralds the arrival of sad footwork. Footwork’s cornerstones are hyperspeed drum work and sped-up vocal samples; Manny usually utilizes the former, but on tracks like “Never Was Ah Hoe” he contrasts the rhythm’s tempo by slowing the vocals down. He cuts them up into an echoed stutter (“As long you know, know, know…”) in a way that feels reminiscent of a musical technique that may be footwork’s opposite, chopping and screwing, for some true cognitive dissonance. Nothing like some solid lamentation while the hi-hat kicks you in the face. An all-timer of an entry into the bummer jam canon.
A standout from downstairs J’s excellent debut album, basement, etc…, “Solid Air City” moves at two speeds simultaneous, with a tight and wiry drum rhythm that undergirds slow washes of electric piano that feel like the tide going out. The tempo stays the same throughout most of the song’s six-plus minutes, until near the end when it becomes entirely drumless. You’re left with just the piano parts, which have become ingrained through repetition at this point, but isolated as a standalone sound are more eerily familiar than earworm. When I was in college and taking poetry classes, the professor would always say read the poem a few times before you try to figure out what it means, feel how the words sound before you try to reduce them to meaning. Listening to the song is like that second or third read of something beautiful and strange, before it comes together, but when you know certainly it will.