TV On The Radio: Nine Types Of Light

If the magisterial TV On The Radio had, by September 2006, acquired a reputation as doomsayers, it was only their response – as true artists – to a geyser of fear in full profusion midway through Bush’s second term – there or thereabouts the very belly of the beast. Two years on and within a tortuous hair’s length of salvation, Tunde Adebimpe hollered on ‘DLZ’: “This is beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never”. Now, years after the war, they put the pieces back together again under the soft light breaking over peacetime, LA County.

Nine Types of Light is an album about finding yourself again in the quiet. “In isolation: a transformation” sings Adebimpe on ‘Killer Crane’. In a recent interview with The Guardian Adebimpe spoke about the strain of adjusting his mindset to the new era, after a decade of dread and defence: “Panic can become a very fruitless security blanket and it makes it easy to default to the negative” he confided “…The truth is you’re lucky to feel anything”. On ‘Second Song’ it is the enveloping power of music that stymies Adebimpe’s night-terrors (“when the night comes I’m feeling like a pyro”) and for once he “doesn’t have a single word to say”. Blissed out, with his “restless mind” quietened, he informs us that while we struggle to define the “heartless times’ he’ll be getting down to the business of making babies, like any veteran worth his salt.

On the album’s centrepiece ‘Killer Crane’ Adebimpe departs their new lodgings in Sitek’s LA digs and travels out to the Pacific; the trembling low-end building the suspense. On the edge of America he releases his trauma, memories and dark thoughts to the wind, in the form of the titular representation / psychic projection / power animal / wot-not. The killer crane soars “after the reign / after the rain-bow”. Over the chorus’ flower-child woodwind and cello-like synths he remembers the times before the strife, a vision of long-ago happiness he once dreamed about on the frontline: “Sunshine / I saw you through the hanging vine / a memory of what was mine / fading away”. It ends in mellow harmony, with a couple of strums of acoustic guitar flicking the switch off again. Adebimpe is “suddenly unafraid”. Truly a timeless depiction of redemption.

To paraphrase Ron Kovic, it’s as if for TV On The Radio America feels like home again. Bathed in a dusky vapour, the euphonious opening three tracks exhale nine years of tension. The first – ‘Second Song’ is a study in relaxed simplicity. There’s church organ, a piano and a crescendo that positively gleams. Whereas before the horns and brass would convulse and alarm, on Nine Types they pump your chest full of melodic goodwill, while the synths at the beginning of ‘Keep Your Heart’ – gossamer, pinkish chem-trails – might have been molten and diabolical a couple of years back. Then there’s the woozy little fireflies spinning and flitting around the verses of ‘You’ or the plaintive oriental xylophone at the start of ‘Will Do’. “The plan was to make music in real life, for real life” Sitek told Rolling Stone. Throughout, the arrangements are sketched and the production is unobtrusive and forgiving, shorn of the hi-tech grandstanding of yore and culled of both that beastly quality and the live-wire paranoia that plagued the high end, while the vocals are one-take and unfinished. As opposed to the poly-rhythms of before, its most transcendent moments are steadied by Bunton’s metrical, softly luxuriant hip-hop beats. Exampled in the barely perceptible (but indispensable) electric caramel that coats the YYY’s ‘Turn Over’ and ‘Gold Lion’ it’s Sitek’s skill as a handsome texturologist which benefits Nine Types… most keenly.

It’s not all tenderness and summer evenings though. As Adebimpe attests on the twitchy ‘No Future Shock’ he still sleeps with his gun. The ogreish funk carnage kicked upon ‘Repetition’ echoes the thoughts of men constantly looking over their shoulders, eyes peeled for the next sign of danger “the cracks will be obvious before too long” Adebimpe frets on ‘Repetition’. A throwback to Return To Cookie Mountain, the swaying and brilliant ‘Forgotten’ is a typical New Yorkers’ take on the Orange State, full of mordant foreboding and talk of plastic paradise. It’s a strange land they’d rather just forget: “Hold tight / our lover’s day written into the sky / we’ll fade into the night” caterwauls Malone. Final track ‘Caffeinated Conscious’ almost sounds like Faith No More while ‘New Cannonball Blues’ is stern and domineering (unfortunately save some swooping Stevie Wonder-like brass, like ‘No Future Shock’ its a very stilted, uninspired relation to the vibrant pop-funk which populated Dear Science).

Since their inception the Brookynites have obsessed over a cataclysmic idea of romance, forever married to the defiant image of those lovers kissing beneath the shadow of the Berlin Wall – “and the guns, shot above our heads / and we kissed / as though nothing could fall”(they even went as far as covering ‘Heroes’ for the War Child album). It’s a macabre notion of romantic endeavour best summarized on Dear Science’s ‘Stork And Owl’ as such: “Death’s a door that love walks through / in and out / in and out / back and forth / back and forth”. The dilemma is, how do they sustain the passion of love in their love songs, when their protagonists are no longer shagging like it’s their last night on earth? The quintet have always appeared to subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s view that the only true romance is a doomed one. “They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever” quipped the writer, “…the very essence of romance is uncertainty”. Now that life seems less perilous, is the power of their heartbreakers somehow depleted? Another of Wilde’s truisms comes to mind – his conviction that “Where there is no extravagance there is no love”.

Nine Types of Light offers a far less opulent, dramatic ecology when compared to their earlier work. But it speaks of a more mature, less fatalistic, more realistic notion of love; one of caring, understanding, patience, soulful connection. Obviously it’s a less arresting interpretation, but it grows on you until its lambent warmth is in your bones, much like the album. The bombs no longer fall but “we’ll fall together in time, just the same…” Adebimpe harks on ‘Killer Crane’. More poignantly in the context of the entire album and TVoTR’s new musical era, as he sums it up on ‘Will Do’: “You don’t want to waste your life in the middle of a lovesick lullaby”. John Calvert


John Foxx: Interplay

After a run of relatively oblique collaborations, Interplay sees John Foxx’ return to the role of pop architect, ably assisted by The Maths (aka Ben Edwards, Benge) who has graduated here with flying colours from studied technologist to certified song producer. With his memory banks reset by Edwards’ box of retro delights, Foxx has taken the opportunity to reassert the grand arches of the mind on the pop of his salad days – a formula which rapidly became intellectually superficial and increasingly less expressive in his wake. Foxx’s methodology seems to be “Elaborating outwards on his internal structures”, as he put it in a recent interview with Ballardian historian Simon Sellers. The result is roughly what Ultravox would sound like in 2011 if Foxx had never left.

Benge came to Foxx’s attention with his Twenty Systems LP, which with a ‘gear-gasmic’ attention to detail documented the development of the synthesiser in a year-by-year account of 20 individual machines introduced from 1968 to 1987. Obviously a dream appointment for the Londoner, Benge has seemingly played Rick Rubin to Foxx’s Johnny Cash – emboldening the old hawk and acting as a conduit to his former self. Comprised entirely of early analogue tech, with Metamatic’s Arp Odyssey, the CR-78 drum machine and the seminal Yahama CS8o (think Vangelis) recommissioned, Interplay even manages to invoke some of the hand-made charm, the novice imperfections and the happy randomness which riddled early synth-pop. And with Foxx joyously letting rip for a spectacular vocal performance, there is also a little of the gaiety the electro pioneers displayed as they lived out their small-town dreams. Benge is a fetishist, this much is true, but his ability to draw out such intangible essences marks him out as an artist first and foremost. The Twenty Systems project was an almighty testimony to the unfulfilled potential of the synthesiser, but more importantly where Interplay is concerned it was a treatise on how technology alters meaning.

It’s important to note that Interplay has nothing to do with regression, nor does it descend into over-familiarity. In fact, although the title is in reference to Foxx’s purportedly syncretic relationship with his attuned collaborator, it could just as easily describe both Interplay’s genuinely vital interaction with electronica’s ongoing evolution and the push-and-pull between a contemporary feel and Foxx’s classic sound.

The album begins with the sound of Foxx being sucked backwards into the mainframe, first discorporated then reformed within the corridors of perpetual circuitry. Abruptly the audio snaps into focus, assuming into a lockstep pitter. From here on in we rove a non-space virtuality, an interzone if you like. The 808 beats and EBM modulations click and clack like wire-frame fingers against the perspex backdrop, before ceding to the wet silver solder of various piercing effects, while Foxx’s vocals – taking from William Burroughs’ croak on the Naked City recordings – lag and surge on a mutilated channel. It’s in homage to the New Yorkan cold wave which the duo feasted on throughout the process; a scene which with its mythology of ‘controlling electricity’ (i.e the hands-on appeal of rudimentary synths) chimes loudly with Foxx’ increasing disdain for imitative software. Additionally Schoolwerth & Co’s devotion to harsh beauty and lo-fi violence matches Foxx’s descriptions of the original step-sequencers; that being the sound of the loudest overdriven guitar note played forever with just the application of a single finger – the same technology Foxx has been getting to grips with again on Interplay. That said, if you compare Foxx’s breadth of reference to the Wierd / Captured crew’s hermetically sealed pastiche – all circumscribed beats and slavish mimesis – you will soon get an idea as to where the new breed are going wrong.

‘Shatterproof’ is followed by the satirical, pop art ‘Catwalk’, a high-fashion surface-dream in the Bowie/Roxy/Madonna/Fischerspooner vein, with a slight tang of The Idiot-period Iggy to match the story charts Foxx’s journey through the night in a (self-effacing) quest to land a model. A highpoint of the year so far, the archetypal Foxxian sound is paired with some bulldozing sub-bass. It’s a retro-active dream come true and perfectly communicates Foxx’ exhilarated lust as he meets with the marauding flash and ugly underbelly of the fashion world – a hulking universe all of its very own, both seductive and sinister in equal measure.

On ‘Evergreen’ Foxx returns to his long-running preoccupation with an overgrown future London. There’s borrowed imagery from Ballard’s The Drowned World – tropical ruins and such like – beneath which Foxx models a sort of memoir; bearing witness to an unremitting hunger for innovation spanning a 30-year career: “I will always return to this place / for a glimpse / for a trace” he testifies “ever changing / ever new / ever restless / ever true” – the life and times of The Quiet Man, an artist perennially “overlooked and never seen / ever lost / never found” but “forever evergreen”.

Then comes ‘Watching The Building On Fire’. An expertly composed Ballardian allegory, John and his robotic gamine (Ladytron’s Mira Aroyo) scour the landscape. They see a man fall 1000 miles away, plunging from a flaming 1000-storey building located “at the edge of today”. Helplessly they relive the scene endlessly – across “a million lifetimes” – both hypnotised and tortured, always crashing in the same car. Again and again the man falls, with the duo paralysed within the looping memory. There’s a vaguely soporific air, a future daze – unshakable no matter how immediate the song in question. The vague suggestion is that actually it’s the duo that die in the fire: “sometimes you find out too late” intones Fox, while in the breakdown Aroyo whispers “Looking out from this window / over all the streets / shadows far below us / moving like a sea.”. You can assume she jumps. The track fades out into infinity with the duo trapped for eternity. Not until then do you consider the 9/11 connection. Like with the “building on fire” the images of that day – the blue sky and grey plume – will be relived in pixels long after we are dead. It’s an unforgettable collaboration – weirdo, sublime pop – and a serious thrill for acolytes of the genre.

Led by a voyaging Kraftwerkian rhythm, ‘Summerland’ is a gentle preamble to electro kiss-off ‘The Running Man’, featuring ‘real’ bass and guitar that propel the song towards a slightly hostile climax. Next up is a dose of ethereal darkwave in the shape of ‘Falling Star’. Listening to the naif preset rhythm and snow-pure synths, you can sense how far the countless years of reinvention have taken Foxx from his lowly beginnings. A contender for ‘the big single’, the cyber-gothic ‘Destination’ – with its big ululating synth riff a la ‘Plaza’ and super-massive chorus – is Foxx at his most straight-forwardly epic since The Garden.

To finish, the sombre Roedelius-esque ‘The Good Shadow’ hangs tenderly in a far-off firmament. Foxx’s voice is fading, merging with the white background. “I’ll always be with you” he reassures, retreating into the great beyond, “every day / every day”. You can bet it’ll be an emotional experience for the long-time fans. Somewhat comfortingly, somewhat tragically and in a super-chic acceptance of self, Foxx promises himself to the shadows, where he will drift the sacred geometry of the city, of all cities, for all time, as was always his ‘destination’. Time is a modern concern after all, and age is only a state of mind. A decade of copyists – from La Roux to Led Er Est wiped off the map: they should very well bow and curtsy at the feet of the man.

Nearly every year the 58-year old finds time between lectures to upload another vessel from his ever-flaring mind, so doubtlessly this won’t be the last we hear of John Foxx, but Interplay is such a perfect summation of his career that a more poetic and poignant full stop to his grand adventure would be very hard to imagine. John Calvert

Zwishchenwelt: Paranormal Activitat
May 8, 2011, 12:11 am
Filed under: Album Reviews, Recommended Albums, The Quietus

Released on Richard D James’s Rephlex imprint, Zwishchenwelt (German for ‘the inbetween world’) is an international project helmed by surviving member of the legendary Drexcyia, Gerald Donald. As an undying exponent of 1st-wave Detroit techno, typically of Donald Paranormale Aktivitat is deserted, coldly mechanical and devolved sounding. He fills gaseous environs with the sound of contracting metal and retro Roland effects that spit battering acid and blue sparks onto the tense, prowling beats. It gives the impression of a hissing, grinding machine, moving scorpion-like through the snowy forests of his now native Germany. If not for the Siren-esque vocals preserving a very frail sense of the human, its sparse ambient workings would stall in the freeze, suffocating the fascinating sci-fi story at its core: a future-occult mystery where every night a blood red sun sets on the ghosts of Russian sailors, and the glare burns cataract-riddled eyes through the interstices of venetian blinds.

Based around an extremely sinister field of pseudo-scientific research known as parapsychology, the “frontier science of the mind” according to the bods, Paranormale Activitat presents a series of cinematic moodscapes channelling ideas of precognition, thought transference, mind-to-mind interrogation and various other face-whitening practices which alas are the stuff of complete fiction. Like much of Donald’s music it’s shot through with the corroded, rusting esthesis of peak-era Detroit c. 1985, which as a truly gifted audile he conjures with almost claustrophobic verisimilitude, evoking that certain ‘something in the water’ that pervaded the year. With Reagan’s all-conquering reinstatement and the “Star Wars” initiative threatening to destabilize the MAD treaty, that certain something could be summarized as fear – measuring way off the Geiger scale in the year Alan Moore began work on Watchmen. In 1981 USA defence spending was at 178 billion dollars. By 1986, it was 367 billion

By combining the two elements within such futuristic currents, the powerfully transportive Paranormale Aktivitat works like some type of alternative history of cold war espionage; a ‘second reality’ (track 11) where militarized psychokinesis is real and the almighty minds of nuero-gods clash along the Iron Curtain, their retaliations echoing back and forth like tracer fire in the lonely night air above alien Russian architecture. Methodically and meditatively elicited by a patient producer in Donald, it’s a world you could get lost in, where psychic spies hunt KGB agents for state secrets, eliminating moustached spooks through flaking plasterboard with vein-bursting, orgasmic focus. As the album continues, all kinds of shadowy figures and dangerous scenarios come to the fore amidst the throbbing, sulphuric conditions. On ‘Materialization’, in the grips of Capgras psychosis British double-agents chase mirrors and slamming doors in the deserted corridors of labyrinthine Moscowian hotels. On ‘Enigmata’ unremarkable-seeming moles relieve dim-witted sentries of their door keys, and on ‘Remote Viewer’ we watch behind a two-way mirror as bureaucratic overlords fall at the mercy of red-lipped femme fatales, who move like cigarette smoke around your body before escaping through the bowels of crumbling European cities on ‘Telemetric’. It’s a suspenseful, hypnotic invocation of your footsteps-in-the-alleyway and bugged light-fixings stuff, radiating intrigue and smoking gun dread. If you turn the lights out you can almost feel a pistol in your hand, and a silencer in the other.

“Vina” is one such super-powerful enchantress appearing on ‘Telekenisis’, whose “pleasure is high / [and] her focus key”. “She can brand you with her iron mind” Beta Evers intones, in an icy germanic accent “Good luck Vina / She makes hearts stop beating”. In sharp relief with the metallic backdrop, Ever’s luring, breathy dispassion creates a clever juxtaposition, forging a connection between the fear of Red indoctrination – symbolically a penetration of the mind – and penetration of the sexual kind.; a reoccurring motif in the tradition of late-Cold War horror.

It seems fitting that Paranormale Aktivitat was build from invisible lines of code, transmitting virtually around cosmopolitan Europe. Constructing Paranormale in increments, New York DJ/producer Susana Correia, Spanish producer Penelope Martin and vocalist Evers emailed parts to and fro with Donald until everything tessellated. They’ve composed a sleekly finessed album in physical isolation from one another, tangibly heightening the atmosphere of disassociation and paranoid silences.

Thematically, the obvious reference point is Scanners, buts it’s the sights and sounds of Ken Russell sci-fi horror Altered States most keenly felt on Paranormale Aktivitat, especially at its most cosmic on ‘Cryptic Dimension’ and ‘Apparition’. Referenced by a host of industrial and grindcore bands including Godflesh, Ministry and Agrophobic Nosebleed, the film is based on John C. Lilly’s sensory deprivation research conducted in isolation tanks under the influence of psychoactive drugs like Ketamine and LSD. Like Russell’s cult classic, Paranormal Aktivitat is hyper-vivid but flooded with the nagging suggestion that the dream, whether you like it or not, is real. Scanner’s tagline read: “Welcome To The Outer Reaches of Future Shock”, which for Gerald Donald is merely a good place to start. John Calvert

Odd Future: Youth and Young Manhood
May 7, 2011, 11:12 pm
Filed under: Features, The Quietus

words_John Calvert

“This connection to rough or coarse behaviour also ties in to modern psychology. In psychological terms, you might think of a person’s struggle with lycanthropy as a struggle to come to terms with – or get rid of – his more primitive nature. When a man becomes a werewolf, his primal instincts, which aren’t necessarily considered to be appropriate, take over.”

Tracy V Wilson, ‘How Things Work’.

Both strange and frightening are the wolf gang.

By around the age of 30 the future begins to look odd, and the next generation even more so. Sometimes it takes a baby-faced, 17 year-old borderline sociopath in a hair salon to tell you your number’s up. Or seven more just like him; a skating band of child demons from Crenshaw, Los Angeles, who right now are the most exciting hip hop act on the planet.

Taking to the LA streets on a cocktail of pills, powders, cough syrup and weed, Earl Sweatshirt and the wolf gang run riot on the video for ‘Earl’. They stack on their ollies, collapse on the pavement, scream, bare torn gums, scrap, and play games with fake blood. They simulate pulling out their hair, teeth, and on one occasion a fingernail, eventually lying on top of each other in a mass heap of overdosed corpses. Both alien and alienating, the promo coveys a world faster, harsher and more dangerously alive than the average pace and weak clarity of normal adult living. It screams ‘We’re next, here’s the door’. Every generation wants to be the last, as Chuck Palahniuk writes. To watch these post-everything, for-nothing teens go at the world, it occurs they might just see the job through.

Fucked for innocence, flush for drugs, “Black Ted Bundy[s]/Sick as John Gacey” (Vince Staples), here lies the homophobic, religion-hating, woman-hating Odd Future. Theirs is a kind of shockcore grand guignol; Droog-rap founded on stubborn, off-sync beats and deformed, bug powder production – elephantine, electric and coursing with ‘all the dread magnificence of perversity’. Imagine if Butthole Surfers hallucinated a purple Jaberwocky with the head of Eminem and the third-eye of any number of trailblazers; Flying Lotus, Madvillain, RZA, Liars, John Coltrane, DJ Screw, PiL, Boards Of Canada – all are ripe for a ‘swagging’.

Sure to inspire universal condemnation is their penchant for a truly reprehensible subject matter. On nearly every cut, and with obsessive zeal, they rap about rape; the fantasies gratuitously detailed, sickening yet sometimes nihilistically comic. It’s indefensible and chillingly inexplicable, and inevitably the hand-wringing will arrive in a torrent. The air of amorality is overwhelming, the pay off quips wince-inducing at best (“It’s not rape if you like it bitch”) but the thrills are endless – if very, very guilty. But, when it comes to living art through your favourite artists, to coin a phrase: ‘Would you rather be a snake or a poisonous snake?’ Odd Future? They’d rather be wolves. Either way, evil always wins, so ‘dominate yourself’ as Pissed Jeans would prescribe. “I’m bad milk” says founder Tyler, the Creator “…drink it”.

In the growing number of interviews with Odd Future they make sure to pour scorn on nearly everyone except their beloved Waka Flocka Flame, taking aim at the Backpackers, black pop, LA’s homegrown ‘Jerk Rap’ craze, gangsta screwfacery, hip hop bloggers and hipsters (“Ain’t no hipster mista/Fuck you in your yellow skinnies”). As Simon Reynolds has pointed out, there’s a likeness to Big Black, who also enjoyed baiting the right-on liberals with repellent content, disregarding the right-wingers as soft targets. Odd Future, however, have a quite different (arguably more deserving) quarry in the faux-hemiam millennial hipster. Their condescension of hip hop culture, evinced by the likes of Spank Rock or The Cool Kids and dating back to Weezer, deserves a response like the Odd Future phenomenon, which in its extremeness defies clever-clever parody. Despite Tyler’s best efforts, though, they will subscribe by the busload, instigating a sort of cultural gentrification. It’ll be interesting to see how far this coterie of cool-hunters and cultural nomads will go before ironic detachment begins to look like tacit approval, when Earl Sweatshirt is writing lines like this:

“Hurry up I’ve got nuts to bust and butts to nut/And sluts to fucking uppercut. It’s OF, buttercup/Go ahead, fuck with us/Without a doubt a surefire way to get your mother fucked/Ask her for a couple bucks, shove a trumpet up her butt/Play a song, invade her thong/My dick is having guts for lunch/…As well as supper, then I’ll rummage through a ruptured cunt.” [‘Earl’]

Spitting bullets from under his salon hairdryer on the accompanying video, adoring concubine fawning to his left (look again and it’s a disembodied mannequin’s head) Earl Sweatshirt is ready to think you out of existence. He is to Odd Future what Jay Adams was to the Zephyr team – the youngest, the most blazingly talented and possessed of god-given flare. He’s also by some margin the most sinister, playing off Tyler’s bludgeoning production with casual, pustular scabrousness. It’s fun to imagine quite how the fat-backed top-earners will approach guest rapping and collaboration with Odd Future, after the teens inevitably go global. In their current form it’s difficult to see where a Jay Z or Kayne West figure would fit. Even Dr Dre would seem out of his depth in the brave new world of OF. Whoever it is that steps up, the chances are their star will be subordinated to Tyler’s uncompromising vision, while the wolves close in from all around. Maybe Miley Cyrus is interested?

As well as acidly iconoclastic, the collective are hyper-creative. Of a total of 250 tracks available on Tumblr, around 150 are sensational, especially that of the sub-2 minute efforts – dislocated, coarsely effective offensives, super-charged by a ‘try anything’ love of experimentation attributable to their tender ages. They design their own art work, which ranges from the innocuous, to obscene porn shots, bloody-nosed babies and cracked-mirror images of little girls. The fissures are reminiscent of scars from extensive brain surgery, or the blurred vision which results from prolonged exposure to their tumour-activating beats.

So, how to make sense of Odd Future? Post-YouTube teen cynics with little left to discover at an early age, they bear the scars of an anomie endemic to a generation of hyper-connected childhoods. Which, from the evidence of OF’s music, makes those 90s-born kids pretty combustible. It’s almost like ‘idle hands’ syndrome, which incidentally is the very same theory served up by baffled sociologists to explain the monstrous acts described by Odd Future.

Beneath the horror stories, though, you can detect the cold facetiousness peculiar to middle-class American kids – a trait perhaps less prevalent amongst their underprivileged peers, whom prematurely burdened with adult responsibilities live the trials of hardship through ‘4real’ hip hop, rallying behind talk of overcoming adversity and ‘thug life’ authenticity. When asked by Syffal what he wants to promote, Tyler’s answer was simply “hate” (and his act). In the Southern rap tradition they’ve exchanged reality for the beyond; regional identity, oppression and the acquisition of wealth for Ritilan and Jeffrey Dahmer. There’s little talk of smooth sexual prowess and Lamborghinis. There’s no objective to speak of at all, in fact, or anything approaching legitimate disaffection. Only a cruel contempt for generally every human being they’ve encountered in life or online – part and parcel, you feel, of the inured, hard-edged disposition native to big city adolescence.

It might be argued they’re just a bunch of teenagers playing at a effectively meaningless type of hooligan art. But that would be remiss of how anciently primal Odd Future sound. The more you listen, the more Tyler grows in stature, and the longer his shadow, the evanescent wickedness of young masculinity arousing before finally raging. It’s the type of senseless black culture bomb that would have Alex Haley turning in the grave Odd Future are about to dig up. Whether the product of advanced desensitisation or the modern disease’s final disaster (“Plenty of us are bastards. Most of us.” Hodgy Beats told the New York Times), what argument can there really be against the zeitgeist? Either way they’ve touched a nerve this last year – a naked lunch served cold to the establishment and the hop-hop royalty in equal helpings.

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All are Tyler, the Creator (aka Ace, evil alter ego Wolf Haley, The Creator), screwed down dranker Mike G, the blunted-out Domo Genesis, star-in-the-making Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats and Left Brain (whom together are Mellowhype), singer Frank Ocean, The Super 3 aka The Jet Age of Tomorrow and producer Syd. Each party have released solo albums, available free on Tumblr (eleven between them in the last year including the covers heavy Radical and the original self-titled mix-tape). An even greater mystery than the whereabouts of Earl Sweatshirt (missing, presumed grounded) is the last name on the list – a silhouetted figure rumoured to take the form of a female. All but uncredited on the site but glimpsed on the periphery of their videos, she plays an unspecified but reportedly despotic role in production. In a recent interview Mike G described ‘Syd the Kid’ as “the brains of this shit.”

Currently trending on Twitter and set to debride contemporary hip hop in the next year and all years, here’s eleven of Odd Future’s best. Enjoy your immolation, let it hurt… the future often does.

1. Tyler, The Creator (featuring Hodgy Beats) – ‘French’

Less of a promo and more of an uprising, the spectre of Larry Clarke looms large on ‘French’, as the kids, basking in moral misery, partake in a kaleidoscope of abject skulduggery. At only one minute and 44 seconds long ‘French’ remains one of the great lifestyle introductions in video history, rubbing shoulders with the likes of ‘Nothin’ But A G Thang’ and ‘Lap Dancer’. When Tyler explodes onto screen you get the creeping sensation you’re watching history in the making. One of the best ‘What the fuck was that?!’ moments in recent memory.

The “Oh No, Mister Stokes” line is in reference to Chris Stokes, the music producer alleged to have molested Raz B and other members of R&B boyband B2K (of ‘Bump Bump Bump’ fame) when under his stewardship. Mocking your revulsion, Tyler simply turns his eyeballs backwards into a rather disturbed noggin.

2. Earl Sweatshirt – ‘Earl’

Produced by Tyler and Left Brain, the second track from the prodigy’s 2010 album requires a strong stomach, even for the most hardened of death metal lyricists. For all his puerility, though, the school-age rapper weaves phonetic pyrotechnics into his producers’ bellowing, toneless overdrives. A speaker-busting tour-de-force.

3. Mellowhype – ‘Gram’

From their impossibly strong BlackenedWhite collaboration, on ‘Gram’ Hodgy Beats and Left Brain feed their brand of stoner-funk macabre through a fitting Wurlitzer with the batteries dying. The discombobulated cycle of snares, kicks, and a pitched-down dog sample represents the avant garde side of Odd Future; more Flylo than Eminem.

4. Tyler, The Creator – ‘Splatter’

Reams of nightmarish imagery, Tyler at his most venomous and fat beams of Cronenburg-ian horror synths churning in the background like Wendy Carlos unconscious on her Moog – it doesn’t get any more squeamish than ‘Splatter’. “Someone tell Satan I want my swag back” Tyler growls before bringing matters to a merciful close with a leering ‘Abracadabraaaaaaaaaa”. If you can’t be good, as the old adage goes, at least be good at it. Thrilling stuff.

5. Domo Genesis – ‘Kickin’ It’

More studio trickery from Left Brain (with Tyler in tow). Domo Genesis’ heavy-eyelids flow dovetails perfectly with the production on ‘Kick It’ (christened ‘dystopian weed rap’ by The Fader), reminiscent of Outkast’s ‘She Lives In My Lap’ and co-produced by the besuited dwarf from Twin Peaks. Genesis has been been likened to both Curren$y and up-and-comer Wiz Khalifa, whose forthcoming album is also titled Rolling Papers, sparking accusations of plagiarism from Tyler on Twitter. The situation was quickly resolved, however, after Khalifa sampled Alice Deejay’s ‘Better Off Alone’ for chart-bound ‘Say Yeah’, prompting widespread laughter and some pointing.

6. Tyler, The Creator – ‘Oblivion’

From the Radical album, here the self confessed “depressed emo faggot” chokes up something altogether unique. A throwaway, two-and-a-half-minute descent into loathing and overt self-loathing, ‘Oblivion’ is driven by an relentless beat, turning the screws rightly. Part sadomasochistic atonement, part primal reverie – after the bizarre and distressing opening skit, Tyler proceeds to reverb his voice into nothingness (or ‘oblivion’), yet continues with a desultory stream-of-consciousness rap.

Most unnerving is his voice, which appears somehow different – gruffer and more intense. In other words, he sounds possessed. Stranger still, all his talk of conquering white meat, taking white drugs, murdering his manager with an iron, and his unexplained declaration “I’m just a white boy with no remorse” concludes with “I just need someone to talk to”. Extremely creepy. And they say Kayne West is conflicted. With Hodgy Beats in tow, the teetotal, fiercely atheist 19-year-old made his national television debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon this February the 16th past, performing his new single ‘Sandwitches’. As was predicted the notorious green balaclava received an airing.

7. Earl Sweatshirt (featuring Vince Staples) – ‘Epar’

Runner-up for best cut on Earl, ‘Epar’ contains the very best line from any Odd Future track hitherto – the much-quoted “You’re Fantasia and the body bag’s a fucking book”. By way of explanation, the lyric comes after Earl spots the remains of Vince Staples’ latest kill, stashed where he hides the “marijuana in the condom”. Staples warns him “Don’t touch it, or even look/You’re Fantasia and the body bag’s a fucking book”; the former X-factor winner is reportedly illiterate. M.I.A since July and due to miss Coachella in April, it remains unsure if and when Sweatshirt will turn up, but a ‘Free Earl’ t-shirt will shortly be available on the Odd Future site. And in case you didn’t twig, ‘Epar’ is rape spelt backwards.

8. Tyler The Creator – ‘Yonkers’

More abandonment angst, more schizophrenia, more vomiting. Released by XL Records who signed the teen on Valentine’s day, ‘Yonkers’ is the first single from Tyler’s imminent LP Goblin. Amassing 100,000 views per day since its unveiling, the accompanying video is written and directed by the teenager, a young man not yet old enough to know the meaning of compromise. With the cockroach and the telepathic (or ‘intra-diegetic’) rapping there’s a tang of William S Burroughs about it, while the spry arrangement fits perfectly with the verité touches and clean monochrome. Winner of best line goes to “Swallow the cinnamon” or the ‘sin-of-men’.

9. Mellowhype – ‘Dead Deputy’

Another inspired cut from BlackenedWhite, the exhilirating crunk lite of ‘Dead Deputy’ showcases Hodgy’s rapping and Left Brain’s signature production style. Incorporating singing and melody, the LP is comparatively leavening, but grimy enough to accommodate the dark influence of Tyler on two tracks. Left Brain energises the verbose rhymes and crunk-holler “Kill ‘Em All, Kill Em All” with a technical sophistication lightyears beyond his age.

10. The Jet Age Of Tomorrow – Journey To The 5th Echelon

Jet Age’s spangled, retro-futurist 5th Echelon has more in common with Odd Nosdam than Insane Clown Posse. Tonally in diametric opposition to the future as predicted by their associates, but no less odd, this subtlety beautiful album of acid-fried circuits and listless grooves reveals Tyler to be a shrewd scout and Odd Future as an act with both eclectic dimension and a seemingly endless supply of talent. There’s some rape and murder on there too, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. From a 19-song giant, the highlights include ‘Want You Still’ featuring a star turn from skeezy sweetie-pie Kilo Kish, and warping candy cloud ‘Her Secrets’.

11. Tyler, The Creator – ‘Sandwitches’ (live solo performance)

The Odd Future anthem, performed last Christmas in The Roxy, LA. Setting the tone for the punkish pow-wow that ensues, it begins with the Marshall Mathers-esque line “Who invited Mr ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’/Who cries about his daddy on a blog/Cause his music sucks’. It’s another disquietingly candid slice of self-laceration from Tyler, whose father left home when he was a baby. Factor in the menacing build-up (worsened by the stage lighting, illuminating the black hole where Tyler’s face should be), that abominable two-note motif, and the crowd’s chant of “Wolf Gang…Wolf Gang”, the cumulative effect is something akin to The 1933 Nuremberg Rally, with Christmas decorations. There he was, Mr Hitler, ablaze with consolidated power and on the crest of total domination. The similarities are uncanny.

Tyler, the Creator’s next album Goblin will be released on XL Records.

Gang Of Four: Content
May 7, 2011, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Album Reviews, Album Reviews: Noted Artists, The Quietus

This record gives you migraine. Ha, funny one. Like in the song. But it’s true – a tangible stiffening above the neck and a centimetre behind the eyes. The impulse is to crack your jaw the way people crack their knuckles. A sciatic irritant of an album – exasperating, declamatory and asininely triumphant from start to finish – Content tests your concentration and the enamel on your teeth. Stand up, sit down, hyperventilate, bite your nails, grow a moustache, burn your clothes, rent a mini-digger, take a photo of a man walking, buy a monocle, laugh outrageously until you scare yourself, learn to fence, learn origami, burn your clothes, go to church, alphabetize you cereal boxes or wear a gas mask when driving, but do anything to escape its clammy grasp and the torturous void that is total neural non-engagement. It’s shoe shopping with your mum when you’re nine, it’s watching Blockbusters with Bob in 1986, it’s Human Traffic; the extended version, it’s waiting for Neil from work to get to the point of his story, it’s a Ron Howard film, it’s Broken Social Scene Play The Hits, it’s Mad About You starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt, it’s a sigh, in a Rumbelows, in Wrexham, 27 years ago, on a wet Tuesday. Your only lucid thought when listening to Content is something like “hmmph, this is disappointing, like the way life is, and always will be, forever”.

A repulsive bit of snark there, I hear you say… and if only the once great Leeds band deserved a more measured response. But after a week of desperately trying to like Content – entertainment on a par with an emergency tracheotomy – my critical faculties are shot, reduced to random sex sounds, Cockney rhyming slang and swinging punches in a cupboard.

After grimacing like emphysemic Russians for a couple of years they’ve managed a pellet of something approaching the sound of ‘quintessential’ Gang Of Four. Once a radical new mode of dissent – a weeping laugh, dancing the h-bomb – so numerously has it been stripped for parts that any semblance of treasonous cool and incisory newness has long since perished, bleached in the fires of 2004, besmirched by the shit-flecked tendrils of lesser spirits. You’d have thought they’d have picked up on this fact. It’s possible they did, but calculated that collecting their long deserved reparations was going to take playing it safe.

Only it’s not just safe; this is a defanging. Out goes the scything atonality, the brooding stretches of space, the shadows and the tensile pulse of Thatcher-era upheaval – basically anything that made them great before Here. What you’re left with is a dead zone between funkless funk and berkish indie-rock, both rendered blithely anodyne and abrasively insipid, so very little of which sticks in the memory. 30 years past their prime they’ve returned with the same old rope, but purged of its incendiary social context, the shock of the new, and the burning intent of a group of young leftist heroes. And what do you get if you take the fish from the water? A dead trout and a very bad smell. On Content, the aesthetic has never sounded more weak and weary than in the hands of the very men who invented it.

For a record made from 99% perspiration and another 99% careful contrivance, its almost destitute of artistic prudence. The songs are flat and gross, further exacerbated by Gill’s frowsy, dim production, comparable to a senile man driving a car – heavy on the pedal, heavy of the brakes and no real destination in mind. Any remaining hope of a defining agent finding purchase in this soup is extinguished by rampant over-egging on the part of each individual member, who in the end cancel each other out with inelegant force.

The problem is there’s no dichotomy to the music any longer. They’re all moving in the same direction and getting nowhere fast. Back in the day it was often bassist Dave Allen’s job to carry both the melody and the rhythm, allowing the guitar freedom to scratch at the song in angry isolation, denaturing that beautifully stiff funk before plunging beneath the surface with your shredded nerves. On Content, Gill seems to be spread very thinly, splitting his time between sustaining the energy, adding filigree, melodizing and compensating for a lesser bassist to Allen in Thomas McNeice, while simultaneously wheezing after the inanely gallivanting drums. Most of the time he only succeeds in clogging the mix, piling on random chicken scratching and lunging hoots, fret-spanking away at King’s ridiculously poor singing. The best track ‘You’ll Never Pay For The Farm’ has Gill working against, or laterally to the thrust, imposing nuance, traction and syncopation on the stomping rhythm. However, no matter how much lip-biting and elbow grease afoot, manically so on ‘Who Am I” or the groooo-vay ‘I Party All The Time’, the songs are never anything other than lumbering.

So what’s the message beneath the din? After all, Entertainment and Solid Gold are lyrically among the most intensely analysed albums of their era. Well, who better than Gang of Four to challenge the great sensory saturation of the new millennium; pontificating here on the hysterical urge to conform driving social media, the stultifying effects of information pollution, and the erosion of the self therein; a coercion of the senses, if you will. Despite some cliched tosh like “the shoppers are asleep” and “the cameras never lie” its an early artistic interpretation of the Facebook syndrome, even if King’s genius for deeply-layered metaphor is diminished, rendering his congested discourse slightly artless. Still, a literal commentary is nearly as commendable.

Their very, very worst moments arrive when the rhythm section or Gill’s guitar mimics King’s clipped vocals (or vice versa), as on ‘Do As I Say’ and ”I’ll never Forget Your Lonely Face”. The effect is fist-gnawingly monochromatic, speaking volumes about both the combo’s emaciated touch for groove and their failing ingenuity. Take for example the ham-fisted transition two thirds through ‘Do A I Say’, or the coda to “a Fruit-fly In The Beehive” where the only way they could think of ending is just to let the air down on the tyres. It’s supposed to establish circularity, or symbolize the innate meaningless of life, or something else artsy. Really what it does is leave you twiddling your thumbs, wondering if it’s really true what they say, that you can fit a full grown stoat in a milk bottle. An open letter to all of those dinosaurs about to reform: sit down and stay down. If Gang of Four can’t manage it, what chance do you have?John Calvert

The Streets: Computer & Blues

You’ll have to meet us halfway on this, but Mike Skinner’s swansong plays like a cracking old wake – Skinner’s of course. Convenient, eh? Naturally, we’re talking about the Bostonian family saga, pitchers-to-the-heavens, Motown-finale type, not your… well… funereal wake, with the cucumber sandwiches, the concerted frowning, the ‘somebody please say something… anything’. There’ll be the quiet moments of reflection (‘We Can Never Be Friends’); teary smiles (‘Roof Of You Car’, ‘OMG’); a little boozy dancing (‘Without You’, ‘Trust Me’); some of Dad’s air guitar (‘Going Through Hell’); surprising revelations (‘Outside Inside’); the odd unwelcome appearance (‘Those That Don’t Know’) and after brushing over the mad Howard Hughes years at the end – a solemn toast goodbye, in the shape of ‘Lock the Locks’. Most of all there’ll be the glad memories of your best times together, when the man was in his prime. The self-produced Computers And Blues is such a surefooted return to the Skinner’s glory days that you wonder what he’s been at since A Grand Don’t Come For Free. Storing his wee in jars, probably.

He lost his way in quite spectacular fashion on the shrill, cloying A Hard Way (two words: Pranging Out). While Everything is Borrowed regained some of that lost ground, it was a second consecutive album of cheap and flimsy build. The songwriting was sedentary and the barebones production both uninspired and half-hearted. Vindicating his worst critics, Skinner had become a caricature of the people he was smart enough to satirize, or worse – a tuneless novelty act of sorts, more Danny Dyer than Ian Dury. It was a confounding undoing of the man who introduced grand narratives, character arcs, and even some intertextuality to dance music, as best seen on the immensely fertile AGDCFF, arguably the greatest British concept album the pop charts could entertain since the 70s.

Computers, by comparison, shines. Despite the moody artwork and the title – vaguely suggestive of some type of techno alienation – it’s a hopeful album, golden and thankful (accounting for Skinner’s anxious introspection, that is) For the most part he stays commendably loyal to the organizing theme, occasionally sprinkling electronic nods to ones-and-zeroes and digi disorientation, evoking a kind of hip hop The Sophtware Slump and espousing the man-machine schtick without the usual embarrassing results. Ultimately, though, the concept is a Mcguffin. Computers is about Skinner’s future, which over the course of the album he resolves is going to be just fine, diamond, and so on.

With its immeasurably more intricate, substantial production, such as on ‘Computers And Blue’ it’s as if Skinner is finally ready to make an effort again, for old times sake; one for the road. He restores intensity to his sound with ‘Outside Inside’, and in dynamic, dramatic ebb and flow with his ruminations he incorporates a host of both narrative and abstract vocal cuts – mostly female. Pulse-quickening boosts of energy, they add big splodges of colour and dimension to ‘A Hard Way’’s rudimentary matrix and Cohen-esque air of one-man-and-his-troubles. There’s also, finally, some bass – sultry and satisfying on ‘Outside Inside’ and the brief ‘ABC’, re-injecting a bit of urban London into the equation. After plinky dreck like ‘Never Went to Church’, which was as if Peter Andre burst a slimy peck and out popped Gary Lightfoot, this is all extremely refreshing. Perhaps the nadir of his career, it was a firm example of Skinner’s weakness for grandiose aspirational moments getting the better of him, or to be cynical about it: his attempt at contriving another ‘Dry You Eyes’. The ‘meaningful’ bits can and do work (the “picking up to run” outro on ‘Empty Cans’ is a genuine lip-wobbler) but up until Computers the outcome was all-too-often inane, cod-profound melodrama. ‘Blip On A Screen’ and the acoustic ‘We Will Can Never Be Friends’ avoid the same fate by a hair’s length, but remain the weak moments here.

That said, it’s the passionate, euphoric songs that elevate the album – easy and bushy-tailed crowd-pleasers like the feel-good ‘Without Thinking’. The most addictive home-made chart-filler since Jamie T’s ‘Sticks And Stones’, it rivals any of his best singles, while ‘OMG’ ignites into the kind of sugared femme-garage Jaimeson and Sweet Female Attitude made in the early Noughties. Another corker, ‘Trust Me’ applies a gladdened Philly soul-disco backdrop to a brisk insight into a day in the life of Skinner: the homebound stoner. ‘Soldiers’ is either about poverty or metaphorically Skinner’s meditation on the Afghanistan conflict, which sounds about as advisable as Richard Bacon at a holocaust conference, but it’s another genuinely moving outing. Aged by Procol Harum-style Hammond organ, the bliss-infused ‘Roof Of Your Car’ has Mike stargazing in hot summer pastures. Skinner’s fame and riches excepting, it smacks of the type of scenario that crops up Ken Loach dramas like Sweet Sixteen or Spike Lee’s Clockers, in which an alert working-class figure in the Mark Renton vein adjourns to the countryside for a taste of life outside the urban prison. A clutch of deluxe Skinner-pop, these tracks serve to remind you that, firstly, that he can write a tune, but more acutely of how utterly likeable he is. Owning any kind of personality in pop is rare, but a wholly genuine, endearingly flawed charisma is precious, and he will be missed in quite the same way Jarvis Cocker was during is post-Pulp Parisian exile.

There’s nothing of the unassuming genius that informed ‘Blinded By The Lights’ and the epochal ‘Weak Become Heroes’, but Computers And Blues pips even AGDCF for tunes. Right down to ‘Puzzled By People’, beginning aptly with a sampled “Love Is The Answer!”, it’s an extremely listenable parting gift. His last salute before passing the baton to anthem-maker Example, ‘Lock The Locks’ begins with elegiac horns. Explaining his decision to depart the airwaves, Skinner confesses with slight contrition that “Even though it looked random, my heart had left / I was just going in tandem”. Computers And Blues is a fitting end to any act’s career; life-affirming, triumphant, reconciling and best of all a novel turn from Mike Skinner: a genuine British original; supremo purveyor of “dancing music to drink tea to’. So, let’s put on our classics and have a little dance, shall we? John Calvert

Wire: Red Barked Tree

Despite fear-mongering from the messageboard Taliban, and some irate letter-writing from pearl-clutching oldies, Red Barked Tree is a Wire album, through and through. Amongst the primary colours and even numbers still resides that perennially cunning unit.

It’s ironic that in 1977 the punk conservatives denounced their subversive archness as apathy or vacuity, and today in another guise – stylistic departures like the philosophical ‘Adapt’, the folk-rocking title track, and ‘Bad Worn Thing’ – it’s perceived as compliance, meekness and ordinariness. Red Barked Tree‘s critics are put-off by a perceived air of mid-life conciliation, or disgruntled that post-punk’s very sharpest of postmodernists would stoop to such creaseless co-option. They deal here in decorous guitar-band regularities, emotion, and literal concerns – unabashedly direct and bouncily zealous. And in terms of form, hardly a crumb of cheeky conceptualism is mustered between 11 tracks: it’s all reason and logic.

It’s useful to remember, though, that however astringent the band got on Pink Flag, or dark as 154, the blowhard guttersnipe punks always sounded histrionic and bloated next to Wire’s kittenish response to the movement, and what they saw as the endless possibilities it proposed for the future of art. As has always been the case, it’s a joy in the creative process that defines the Londoners, a larksome quality appearing here in a far easier, more naked incarnation. The very same sense of ‘play’ that informed their debut is buried, somewhere, on lairy efforts like ‘A Flat Tent’ and mod-rocker ‘Now Was’; an essentially good-natured and unpretentious approach once adopted by their greatest admirers, Minutemen. Red Barked Tree reclaims the essence of their best work – the irreverence, the serene self-assuredness and the melody, but it’s their lesser recognized attribute – a gamely grace – that eclipses all else here.

Sounding wholly refreshed and with big mouths intact, the trio have pulled together a freestanding, populist record with such winning flair it’s hard to imagine a young British guitar band performing with as much class, purpose, or presence. By turns brash (‘Smash’), and cutely curt (‘Two Minutes’), Red Barked Tree finds Wire liberated, fitted for their glad-rags, throwing caution to the wind and almost intoxicated, at times to the point of senselessness. In the process sacrificing a little of the mystery of Send and the evidently transitional Object 47, the soiled new wave of hate-letter ‘Please Take’ (a sequel to ‘One Of Us’) and vitreous pop like ‘Bad Worn Thing’ take Wire further than ever before from the ‘neurasthenic’ anti-punk of yesteryear.

That said, the gently grooving rhythms, the sing-along choruses and the excited chord changes find their footholds in the calibrated constriction of ‘classic’ Wire; namely some crisp dynamics, punchy playing and the repetition – protracted to the point of concussing the listener on the surging ‘Moreover’. And while the majority of the tracks are full-bodied and forceful, and often frothy with fuzz and friction, they are carried by sparsely efficient drumming, which when pitted against the low bass region gives rise to an anxious undertow. Naturally, as products of the post-punk generation their songs are full of contradictions: simultaneously friendly and unfamiliar; arithmetical but rolling; and rabble-rousing but vaguely neutral. The overall outcome is a sound much like a summer cold – woebegone and chilled but caressed with ripples of tingly heat, valanced by Newman’s nacreous rhythm guitar that twirls though the wet, refined production beautifying everything it touches.

One of the many proverbial life-isms that litter Red Barked Tree, on ‘Adapt’ Newman exhorts: “Go east / Go north / Go south / Go west / Leave mouths open / With your best / Adapt to change / Stay unimpressed”. Amongst other readings, it’s likely lyricist Graham Lewis is reflecting here, smiling back on three decades of tampering, deconstruction, and the rearranging of the weights and measures of music. More so it’s perfectly encapsulating of a joie de vivre only now have they got around to basing an album on. John Calvert