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Last month, at 69, Vivien Goldman finally released her debut album. Her debut single was released 40 years ago. While there are differences in the sound from now to then, they aren’t that striking. Which is the thing that’s striking.
In 1981, Goldman released a 12-inch single with two songs, “Laundrette” and “Private Armies.” Though Goldman is from the UK, the record was released on the New York’s 99 Records, a label known for their interest in funky takes on punk sounds, and the more playful side of the avant-garde. Goldman’s sound was distinctly British, in its blend of disjointed rhythms with a penchant for echo. Bringing her sound to 99, then a tastemaker’s tastemaker of a label, signalled a bright future on both sides of the Atlantic. Instead she didn’t release another song for decades. Over the years, Goldman did play some music with other groups, though not much. Largely she wrote, becoming known as an authority on punk, Caribbean music in general, and Bob Marley specifically.
I’ve long loved “Private Armies” for its shaggy sound. Goldman sounds like a ringleader as much as a singer. The song is a protest against machismo and self-appointed keepers of the social code. When she sings about “blood everywhere,” it’s with a sufficient level of fright, like she’s just seen a pool of it. Later, with disgust, she spits out, “If you can’t get a hard-on, get a gun.” There’s a shaker moving quickly through the whole song and it lends the track a strong level of anxiety. And then the echoed drums take over and the whole song spends the next seven minutes in some deeply stoned heaven.
The subject matter of “Saturday Afternoon - DB Edit,” a favorite track from her new album, Next Is Now, is somewhat less severe. “Friends and enemies, find a place they both like to be/Can’t we get past all that?” The refrain is a list of different coffee drinks. It reminds me, in earnest, of the Saturday Night Live sketch, “Lazy Sunday.” A celebration of time alive in the world, of being with friends, of snacks. Where “Private Armies” sounds handmade, “Lazy Sunday” is all digital. But it’s not perfectly played, or really perfectly sung. On both songs, despite their almost opposite subject matter, Goldman’s vibe is devotedly unhurried (it doesn’t hurt that the “DB” in the title “Saturday Afternoon” is Dennis Bovell, a masterful producer of reggae and dub). I mean, she did wait four decades to put out an album. But what’s the rush?
The drum loop that is the backbone of the genre known as jungle is known as the “Amen break.” It’s seven seconds long, a short solo from 1969 song by the Winstons, “Amen Brother,” hence the name. Those seven seconds have been sliced and diced every which way from Sunday, and there is pleasure in hearing its familiar snare ripple used by so many different types of producers. As a baseline, jungle is abrasive, with the Amen break sped up and used as an infernal engine propelling songs gruffly forward through time. But there’s aggression and there’s Soundmurderer.
Todd Osborne never released too many records under the alias Soundmurderer. I couldn’t say why; perhaps he got sick of sandpapering his face off every time he made a track. Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but he has a maximalist approach towards production on his few Soundmurder tracks that doesn’t appear under his releases under his real name or other aliases. Soundmurderer tracks feature healthy doses of reverb, sirens, bass distortion, and guys yelling. And as if letting a seven-second drum loop play out in full were a sin to his ADHD, Osborne chops the break into milliseconds. The song of his I’ve included here, “Mindkiller” gives you a minute-long on-ramp before the drums start attacking you. It’s like hearing a helicopter buzzing from afar before it crash lands on your head.
Ten days ago I went to my first live event since before the pandemic, since before my son was born in February of 2020. The DJ duo Beautiful Swimmers were playing on the rooftop of the club Elsewhere in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I bought tickets a couple months ago so that I could hype myself up to go. Forget the pandemic, having a baby makes you tired. The idea that I would go to an event starting at 9 pm was an ambitious one. But my friend Jacob and I pregamed with pizza and a fountain soda and headed over.
I’ve known Andrew and Ari, aka Beautiful Swimmers, for about 20 years. Andrew was the drummer in a straight edge hardcore band called the Chase and they played in the basement of my dorm my first weekend of college. Andrew’s music taste changed over time—he was for a while an extremely compelling rapper in the group Food For Animals—but Ari has always had a pure-hearted love of disco. As Beautiful Swimmers, both as DJs and as a production duo, they’ve blended their curious palettes with a penchant for straight up bangers. Familiar faces playing oddball house music was a nice reason to get out of the house.
Going out was weird. Like, really weird. Most of the major plot points in my life in the last 18 months have been out of my control. But how I spend my limited leisure time has been solidly in my purview. That’s largely been alone. At the club, there were people everywhere. Some of them were clearly there to see the DJs; some looked like they had never heard dance music in their life. Who were they? Where did they come from? What were they doing here? Were they vaccinated? Would I literally die from going to a DJ set? Should I get a mezcal?
I settled down a bit after an hour. Jacob and I stopped trying to shout over the music and just listened. Every song was great. I knew one of them, maybe two. (And at the end, they played a remix of “Crying Game” by Boy George, which in and of itself was worth the price of admission.) I particularly loved a track with a relaxed groove and a whispered vocal sample. I Shazaam’d it; it was the DJ Nativesun remix of “september 13th” by Yaya Bey. Nativesun is a relatively new DC-area DJ, and I’m fairly sure, had I not been there, I’d never have heard it. I’ve listened to it a dozen times in the time since. I’m such a sucker for songs like this, simple tracks of peppery percussion blended with a weightless rhythm. It’s very rare, in the last year and a half, that I’ve discovered music outside, in the world. I’d like that to happen again, but not soon.