Stream: James Ferraro’s new project Bodyguard
James Ferraro’s aesthetic—a deconstructed electronic pop that’s theoretically stripped of all pretense, but loaded with really deep and thought out arrangements—easily falls flat on its face. If the tongue-in-cheek humor doesn’t connect, it sounds like a joke gone bad. In Ferraro’s case, the punchline would get lost in an ambient haze. That wasn’t often the case with Ferraro on his last LP, Far Side Virtual, which synthesized his sound as precisely as possible. It was a warm and engaging album, one of my favorites from last year.
His latest project, under the nom de plume Bodyguard, doesn’t quite live up to the older material. The songs seem to lack playfulness, but aren’t focused enough to wrap in the listener. I suppose mix tapes aren’t meant to be totally realized documents, but after his recent successes, Bodyguard just feels flat.
Listen to the 14-song mix tape below. But to be true to Ferraro’ talents, don’t use this as your measuring stick.
Review: Megafortress Self-Titled EP
Using an exuberant falsetto is always a risky gambit. (Especially when inflicted upon this reviewer.) But when matched with resonant swells of synthesizer and drifting drone, as on the debut self-titled EP by Megafortress, falsetto sounds like the final missing jigsaw piece to a celestial puzzle. Unlike other releases on the Software label, which institutionally trade in jittery throwback analogtronica, Megafortress’ is a patient exploration of unraveling musical space, organic minimalism, and complex vocal arrangements.
The closest comparison I have is Tim Hecker’s 2011 release, Ravedeath, 1972, a powerful electrospiritual album of gentle drones and bottomless soundscapes. Like Hecker, Megafortress makes organic samples and inorganic tones resonate like the fading murmurs of a struck church bell. “Consolamentum” (Latin for “consolation”) wobbles like vintage hi-fi stereo equipment playing in the cellar of a monastery. Or imagine a lone organist playing a requiem for the twilight as the dawn spills pale light through the stained-glass windows. The EP is at once coolly distant and warmly sacred.
The fourth and final track, “We Love You,” is an instrumental glide of structureless feedback, reminiscent of the glacial guitar drone of Eluvium or Aiden Baker. On this track the Megafortress EP becomes downright verdant, overgrown with wide fronds of tactile electromagnetics, drooping curls of vine-choked synths, and mossy pulses.
Perhaps what I like most about Megafortress’ Software debut is how much it reminds me of some of my favorite mellow drone albums. On “My Favorite Girl,” I can hear Mark Linkous clawing through Christian Fennesz’s muddy, skittering electronics as if the song is a B-side from an old In the Fishtank session. Take away her toy box keyboard and set a small gamelan in front of Julianna Barwick and you’d have the slow wail of “Green Child.” Maybe I’m hallucinating, but at some point the album’s minimalism starts to seem maximal—connecting a wandering trail of dots between Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, the noise rock of Swans, or Seven Fields of Aphelion’s vintage aerial stuntwork—sounding like far more than what is actually happening. It’s illusory, spectacular, and downright modest.
—Will Wlizlo (@willwlizlo)
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Clipd Beaks “WAKE”
The once local (admittedly not for a long time) Clipd Beaks have actively been posting new recordings on their webpage (see last year’s Troll House), but haven’t put out anything official in a while. WAKE is the band’s first collection of songs since 2010’s excellent To Realize. Posted on Bandcamp (no word on any physical formats yet), WAKE finds the band drifting further into more droning territory than previous albums. Starting with opener “World Exhaust,” the first four songs feature drum machine beats and buried vocals until “U.F.O.?” jolts things into even further overblown, percussion-less drone territory. “In A Hole” closes things out and is the closest to anything in the band’s previously released. It’s an 8-minute epic with live drums and effects-laden saxophone. Here’s to hoping we see Clipd Beaks back out on the road and Minneapolis-bound soon.
Site: Clipd Beaks
Spoek Mathambo: “Father Creeper” Review
Johannesburg “Afro Futurist” Spoek Mathambo (real name Nthato Mokgata) takes an acquired taste. While the rapper and DJ crafts some great (albeit strange) beats, he often accompanies them with his own vocals, which, whether spoken or rapped, are often off key and relatively tuneless. I had to spend a couple weeks with Mathambo’s sophomore release, Father Creeper, before I started feeling it—getting past the off-putting sound and learning to vibe with it. It turns out it’s quite a rewarding listen.
In the end, Mathambo’s unpleasant vocal delivery even seems fitting, given the subject matter: child soldiers, warlords, and blood diamonds. Mathambo brings out the truly ugly side of African history in his eerie dance-jams. The off key vocals reflect an off key world. While there may be an African guitar accompaniment (courtesy of Nicolaas Van Reenen), it’s not your garden variety Vampire-Weekend-happy Africa-Stratocaster-splash. Via guitar, beats, piano, and synths, Mathambo creates a disquietingly bizarre ambiance, one that’s all the more frightening considering the rapper generally sounds like he’s having a lot of fun in his dark little world.
Father Creeper is loaded with strange electro-rap constructions like “Venison Fingers’ and “Put Some Red On It,” two standouts that showcase Mathambo’s knack for delivering nightmares over a catchy beat. It’s easy to imagine that if Afrika Bambataa had grown up in a South African slum rather than South Bronx, he and Mathambo might have been in good company. Despite the frenzied first half of Father Creeper, the end backs off for a few slower paced tunes. “Stuck Together” sounds influenced by a ’90s “alternative rock” sound, a bit of a departure from the rest of the album. The closers, “Grave (Intro)” and “Grave,” leave the formula as well. The first is a piano-inflected ambient drone that segues into the latter’s melancholy dream-pop finish.
It’s a fitting end to a record that doesn’t really do anything in a conventional manner. From start to finish, Spoek Mathambo’s Father Creeper is a peculiar and incomparable listen.
is available today via Sub Pop Records
Flashback Friday: feedtime: “Suction”
Usually the bands we feature on Flashback Fridays are the ones we’ll never get a chance to see—the bands that quit, died, or simply moved on to other things years ago. But in the case of Australian post punk trio feedtime, whose last album was released back in 1996, the band will be re-forming to play a set at Minneapolis’s downtown Grumpy’s on March 24th. This presents the unique opportunity to hear a relatively little-known yet highly influential band in a live setting—perhaps one of your last chances to do so.
Formed in the late ’70s by Sidney music scene associates Rick and Allen (generally known by first names only), feedtime achieved its final lineup in the early ’80s with the addition of drummer, Tom. The trio played hard, minimalist post-punk that was uproariously contemptuous of pop structures, yet maintained strong undercurrents of melody. It was aggressive and noisy, but at the same time surprisingly danceable. On its surface the band’s was a tidal wave of guitar distortion and raging beats, but the sound was far from formless noise. Perhaps due to being highly influenced by American blues, feedtime’s songs were built on more solidly traditional structures than their instrumental abandon would suggest.
The most critically acclaimed record in feedtime’s catalogue is assuredly their 1986 Shovel LP. However, the band’s overlooked final record on the Aberrant label, Suction, is also definitely worth a listen. The only feedtime record that was produced by Butch Vig (Garbage, Nirvana), Suction has a sonic clarity that gives it a different sound from the band’s previous three records. It also contains classics like “Drag Your Dog” (which features barking), “Pumping a Line,” and “Valve Frank,” not to mention the closest thing feedtime likely ever came to a pop single in “Motorbike Girl.” A cover of traditional gospel blues tune “I’ll Be Rested,” although a complete departure from most of the record, really shines a light on the band’s influences.
Feedtime officially broke up in 1989. They reunited briefly to release Billy in 1996 on Minneapolis’s own Amphetamine Reptile label. Now Sub Pop has plans to re-release the band’s entire Aberrant catalogue in a couple weeks in a 4 LP set (to be released March 13th). More importantly, though, feedtime will be playing here in Minneapolis in only a matter of days. With one of our scene’s most talented (but often overlooked) bands, Condominium, nonetheless. Come out and hear a little bit of history.
feedtime – Motorbike Girl
Robert Glasper: Black Radio Review
In 2009, Robert Glasper released Double-Booked, his third record for the historic jazz label, Blue Note. Capitalizing on the album’s witty title, Glasper used two different backing groups. Half of the record was done with his traditional acoustic trio, while the other half was with The Experiment, a group which incorporates elements of soul, R&B, funk, and rock into their sound. While most of Glasper’s previous work has been jazz-oriented, he explored a more varied sound with The Experiment. Glasper shifted between the two groups on styles on Double-Booked, but his latest record pushes him completely into the realm of The Experiment.
Black Radio, credited to The Robert Glasper Experiment, is the group’s first proper record. For their debut, The Robert Glasper Experiment humbly chose to take center stage, featuring other artists on nearly every track. Erykah Badu guests on a stunning version of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” during which Badu deftly weaves lines over the cascading piano and Rhodes of Glasper. Rounding out The Robert Glasper Experiment are multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge, and drummer Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (who just finished a stint as the drummer touring with D’Angelo in Europe).
Backed by this band, every one of the artists shine. Lalah Hathaway fronts a cover of Sade’s “Cherish The Day,” which features a kaleidoscopic sax solo by Benjamin. Black Radio brings together an ensemble of heavy-hitters, including Meshell Ndegeocello, Musiq Soulchild, Stokley Williams (of Mint Condition), Bilal, and Mos Def, to name a few.
Stylistically, Black Radio recalls the heavily groove-based R&B/soul/jazz from the early ’00s (think the Soulquarians and Roy Hargrove’s The RH Factor). However, instead of merely imitating, Glasper finds his own unique sound, due in a large part to the incredible chemistry of his band. Chris Dave’s post-Dilla boom-bap drumming, the incredibly tight pocket of Hodge, and the fluttering horn pads and futuristic singing of Benjamin all help Glasper provide a sonically rich backing to the showcase of talent that is Black Radio.
Like Double-Booked, Black Radio’s title is its central theme. On one hand, the title references the album’s cast of entirely black musicians. On the other, it’s a reference to the black box of an aircraft, which is a small device which records information and audio through the duration of an airline flight in case there is any sort of mishap. Like a black box, Black Radio serves as a snapshot into the current world of black music, and it’s one that will almost certainly stand the test of time.
—Cole (On the Corner)
The Chrome Cranks: Ain’t No Lies in Blood Review
What happens when a band that epitomizes that “’90s cool” reforms? Never mind that The Chrome Cranks are a direct influence on all your favorite garage-rock-explosion bands of the 2000s. Alongside bands like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, they had that cool guy swagger: kind of reckless, kind of dangerous, full of intrigue. After packing it up and calling it quits in the late ’90s, a few surprise reunion shows later the Cranks are back in action with a brand new record.
“I’m Trash” pretty much picks up where the band left things 15 years ago. Descending riffs spiral around Bob Bert’s stomping backbeat, both led by Peter Aaron’s line “I’m trash / dead last.” “Rubber Rat” is a swaggering piece of noisy guitar jazz, while the fake out acoustic opening of “Star To Star” almost sounds like a Michael Gira parody—that is, before it erupt into a noise rock stomp. “Broken-Hearted King” is full of slide guitar and a strong midpoint to the record. Among the originals, a pair of covers sit near the end of the album. You might not even recognize them as covers, because the band so easily makes them their own. “Black Garage Door” is a great version of 1980s Ohio punks The Libertines (not to be confused with the more recent British band), while the 10-minute closing take on The Byrds’ “Lover Of The Bayou” teeters on the brink of self-destruction. Every before its closing feedback makes us wonder where these guys have been all our lives.
I spent many years doubting band reunions, calling them as simple cash-ins that could never really recapture the magic of the past. With Ain’t No Lies In Blood, The Chrome Cranks prove this theory wrong yet again. Welcome back guys, we’ve missed you.
The Chrome Cranks
Introducing: Living Ghost
Living Ghost is yet another project from Lawrence, Kansas’ Dan Davis, whom you might know from his former bands Rickyfitts, Weather Is Happening, and a few more. ZENITH///DRONED is the band’s 3rd release and the sparsest sounding release yet. Armed with a guitar and drum machine, ZENITH///DRONED drops some of the brutal harsh shoegaze of the previous releases for a hazy, yet sparse, guitar and drum beat, while the vocals still remain reasonably unintelligible. You can download the album for free and sample the previous releases Lavinia’s Hands and wilderness names.
Food Pyramid: Mango Sunrise Review
Like a shark, Food Pyramid needs to consistently move and evolve. On each of their excellent Moon Glyph tape trilogy, they wove new colors and textures into their electronic tapestry—from zoned out sax solos to exploratory house music (and this ignores their celestial new age CD). With these outstanding releases as building blocks, their first full-length LP, Mango Sunrise, continues the forward-moving and –thinking trend—and might be the most fully realized document the band has produced.
The nine songs on Mango Sunrise show the band’s willingness to both expand and look within. Starting with the electric waves of the title track, the album is bursting with energy and leaves no stone unturned. Ranging from the mysterious groove of “The Thief” to the euphoric, almost-Primal-Scream acid house of “Oh Mercy,” the band stretch their sound in divergent and interest directions. The rumbling, dubbed-out bass of “Burger Night” and the fuzzy bounce of “I Know What I Saw” shows the band’s playful side. But they’re also tight, experimental, and never afraid of a melody or a groove.
Mostly forgoing the long and meandering tracks that have been present on their previous releases (only two of the nine tracks are over 5:30-long), the band seem content and confident. The music is “experimental” enough to get nerds like me on board, but the lush tracks on Mango Sunrise seem ripe (pun intended) for a larger audience. Echoing the best of their tape trilogy and outside releases, the group seems to have taken the logical next step with their evolving sound and created the best new local release this year.
Buy the record from Moon Glyph.