January 2013: The Tyranny of Time

Is really seems like more and more contemporary musicians are shrugging off the tyranny of linear time, figuring out how to embody older musical ideas while maintaining a completely up-to-date feel. Sure, there's a lot of music that fetishizes previous aesthetics and slavishly recreates them, basically creating a kind of minstrel show (I can't help but think of so much - not all! - modern "garage rock"). There are plenty of artists who have very clear musical ancestors from whom they draw, but still manage to create something very new sounding. Not surprisingly, the Sixties prove to be a mine whose ore I am particularly fond of. This more sophisticated copying, and the unmooring of temporal signifiers, probably has a lot to do with hip-hop in general, and what I think is a real maturing of the form over the last, say, ten years. After 30+ years of sampling, no one with any level of musical sophistication can really be shocked to hear older artists quoted verbatim, which I think probably frees up artists in other genres to work more whole cloth. Of course, this isn't always successful, but when it is it has the paradoxical quality of sounding very fresh. The growing palette that hip-hop artists use, the increasing frequency with which hip-hop sounds at least as much like something other than hip-hop, has also led the way for musicians in other genres to think about how to mix old and new. I like to think about this month's list almost as a time-machine.

Wu-Tang Clan – Slow Blues This is one of those "stumble upons" that can happen in Spotify. Listening to it, I wonder how much RZA actually did to put this together, how closely it resembles the original source music. I'm not sure if that should matter, but I do wonder. Either way, it bangs in that great ramshackle way so much of his stuff does.

Joe Barry – Everything's Alright Heard about this on a piece that rock historian Ed Ward did on Fresh Air. It's fun to hear a sound that's familiar, but from an artist I've never heard of. Like so many little known artists, his story is a bit sad. But, this is rock and roll in its infancy and the rawness of it is great. Love those forlorn horns!

Apparat – A Bang In The Void A while back really got into a previous Apparat album called Walls, which is much pop-ier, and has guest vocalists and stuff. I'm kind of a dilettante when it comes to this German-centered scene, but I generally like a lot of what I've heard, including Ellen Allien. I'm a sucker for Steve Reich's music, to which this is obviously indebted. That music derives a lot of its magic from the tension of live musicians creating the kind of repetitive, staccato music that is the bread and butter of electronic instruments. Yet, I feel like Apparat still finds a way to generate musical tension. It can't be that easy to make repetitive electronic music interesting.

The Amazing – The Fog I first heard about The Amazing a few weeks back when my friend Colby's new band Sabers opened for them at Schuba's. When I heard that a couple of the guys were from Dungen (add them to the long list of great Swedish bands) I was interested and checked out this album. Tons of great retro-informed stuff on it, with a great vibe. The drummer is totally badass, and the lead guitarist was super fun to watch. Steve described them as Nick Drake meets Led Zeppelin meets Crosby Stills and Nash, which, if you're going to do that kind of comparison, seems pretty accurate.

Shigeto – Lineage I was turned on to this recently by my friend Robb. I can't remember where he heard about it, but I know he bought the vinyl at Amoeba in L.A. Shigeto himself is from Michigan. Slightly twitchy, but with an organic edge. The literature says he's a drummer, and I think that's informing the grooves. I'll suggest that the music may or may not be good for the bedroom-oriented activities. You can make up your mind.

Yo La Tengo – Well You Better Yo La Tengo has a new album out! Unshockingly, it's really good. One day I let the album play out on Spotify and it automatically segued into Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics, an album of impromptu covers which is quite purposely ragged. Although this song is quite polished, I can't help but hear the influence of Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten Up" and some other stuff like that from that previous album. I think Yo La Tengo's most impressive attribute is what great synthesizers they are. Ten different things go in the machine, and it comes out sounding like Yo La Tengo.

Chavela Vargas – Paloma negra I went on a bender this month catching up with a bunch of podcasts from NPR's Alt Latino. One episode was with guest DJ Sandra Cisneros, who played this goosebump inducing track. Jesus, what a voice. So much drama. There's no way you can listen to this and say that South America doesn't sing the Blues.

Hector Guerra – What Up? Another Alt Latino nugget. Looking back over the last couple years of music favorites, I realized recently that I've inadvertently developed a love for brass band music, of all kinds. This definitely scratches that itch, with that hip hop flavor thrown in for good measure. This album skips all over the musical map, and I think generally does a tremendous job of marrying contemporary hip hop stylings with older music. I'm not an expert, of course, but it tends to strike me more as a Prius than a Frankenstein, if that makes any sense.

Foxygen – San Francisco "Hey guys, it's a lost Donovan track! What's that you say? No, it's not? It's from 2013?" Oh well. Great melody. The kind of wonderful bass playing that everyone in the sixties could do and almost no one does anymore. And I'm knocked out every time by the female reply in the chorus - "That's okay, I was bored anyway." Great.

David Byrne – Broken Things A few months ago I bought David Byrne's book "How Music Works," which is basically a series of essays about music - the culture, technology, history, etc. Highly recommend it. I kind of passed on his most recent album with St. Vincent after an initial listen, but was reminded of it when Jon Martin turned me on to a video of them live up on NPR. Really cool, so I have been listening to some of his solo stuff. Lots of great stuff on the album. What a class act.

Beck – Debra One day at work it came to my attention that Carl did not know this song, which seemed like a travesty. Just fun.

Tame Impala – Elephant "Hey guys, it's a lost T. Rex song! What's that you say? No?" Another really deft throwback. I'm not sold on everything else on the album, but this song fucking STOMPS. That guitar tone alone is worth the price of admission. Elephant, indeed.

Chuck Berry – Maybelline Pulled this out for a recent DJ set on CHIRP. It's fun to think about the steps it took to get from this to the previous track, which I don't think are very numerous. So great. I've never been able to figure out if Maybelline is the car or a woman driving it. There's a really good chance it doesn't matter one bit.

Robert Palmer – Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley Much to their becreepification, I've been "following" a couple friends on Spotify, which basically means I'm stalking their listening habits. I saw one day that Colby was listening to this album I'd never heard and checked it out. Fun-KAY! Makes me feel like a dope for only associating him with this: