JDK Weekly #8 -Buffalo Daughter’s New Rock

Buffalo Daughter FrameNew Rock
Buffalo Daughter

Tokyo trio mashes electronica, post-punk and krautrock into a collage of odd, inventive and hypnotic rock music.

Why (short): A latter-day classic of Japan’s shibuya-kei musical movement, Buffalo Daughter’s New Rock revels in creativity but never loses sight of a rock-solid foundation of classic punk energy – always feeling both readily accessible and aggressively experimental.

Why (long): It can be incredibly difficult for a band to balance eclecticism with consistency – particularly if that band, like Tokyo’s Buffalo Daughter, boasts a jagged, collage-based aesthetic. But, from the outset, New Rock strikes that perfect balance and never wavers.

Over the course of the album, Buffalo Daughter will play with shades of sixties folk, acid-techno, drum’n’bass, jazz, distorted punk riffery, krautrock repetition and avant-garde radio collage. But, it never feels inorganic or forced. Somehow, it all fits comfortably within Buffalo Daughter’s anything-goes, post-modern junkyard aesthetic. In fact, it’s actually quite poppy.

In the tradition of Buffalo Daughter contemporaries like Custard or Le Tigre, ‘Socks, Drugs and Rock’n’roll’ offers a laidback, deadpan rock pastiche that feels both poetic and silly. The eight-minute ‘Super Blooper’ rides a lo-fi rhythm across a hypnotic sprawl of chiming guitars, orchestra strings, analog synthesis and spoken-word samples. The vocoder-led acoustic folk of closer ‘Jellyfish Blues’ feels like a Flaming Lips cut. Instrumental ‘Sky High’ is just a relentless parade of ideas and melodies.

The result is an album that feels genuinely inspired. At every turn, something equally delightful and unforeseen leaps into view – albeit something that will inevitably somehow feel totally consistent with Buffalo Daughter’s colourfully skewed reality. Throughout, there’s a feeling of propulsion and enthusiasm. It’s a colourful, joyous, angular piece of work. Listen to it.

When: 1998

Where: Japan

Recommended If You Like: Le Tigre, Regurgitator, Spiderbait, Happyland, They Might Be Giants, Primal Scream

Where To Hear It: Spotify

Where To Buy It: iTunes

Fun Fact: When I interviewed Japanese noise artist KK Null, he told me that Japanese language and culture doesn’t differentiate noise from music like western language and culture – incidental environmental noise is considered as musical as composed songs are noisy, so to speak. Ever since, I’ve looked at Japanese music differently.

I feel Buffalo Daughter’s eclecticism and use of electronics is a really interesting example to consider, in that regard. They don’t use electronics in rock music the way many western rock artists do (who, typically but not exclusively, use programmed and musically composed electronics as opposed to non-musical noise textures and samples). Something to think about.

Editor’s Notes: 

Okay, that ought to catch us up to schedule. Everything should be back on task next week. Apologies again for the delay. Depression ain’t a friend to punctuality.

JDK Weekly #7 – Co Streiff/Irene Schweizer’s Twin Lines

Co Streiff Frame

Twin Lines
Co Streiff/Irene Schweizer

European jazz veterans Co Streiff and Irene Schweizer deliver an album of idiosyncratic beauty and playful experimentation.

Why (short): Abstract and unpretentious, Twin Lines embodies all that jazz aspires to while only sporadically sounding like anything resembling a conventional jazz recording. It’s fiery, cinematic, creative and experimental – but also soulful, expressive and warm. Something special.

Why (long): Sometimes, logic fails.

There are obvious cosmetic reasons to enjoy Twin Lines. It features two veterans of Europe’s contemporary jazz community delivering some beautiful melodies, idiosyncratic experimentation and falling into some compellingly off-kilter grooves. Even the novelty of the instrumental set-up is intriguing – just saxophone and piano, with no real sign of any overdubs or layers throughout.

Conversely, there are things about Twin Lines that will undoubtedly frustrate many listeners. There’s seldom any discernible or predictable structure to pieces. The album veers from highly accessible grooves and melodies to fiddly knots of extended technique and free-improvisation. Even lovers of experimental jazz may find themselves at odds with how the album, adventurous though it undoubtedly is, tends to shy away from anything too superficially visceral.

But, there’s something about Twin Lines that transcends all of that. It grows more powerful with every listen. Initially, spare cuts like ‘For Sabina’ can seem aimless. The stop-start dynamics of ‘Her Womb Had a Window’ can seem too jagged for a listener to really enjoy. But, with repeated listen, the whole album takes on a strangely personal beauty. It feels warm and spontaneous. Playful, unpredictable and beautiful. Rich and engaging.

It’s difficult to attribute this to anything specific. The most likely cause is the relationship between the players. While Twin Lines represents their sole full-length collaboration, Streiff and Schweizer were long-term collaborators and friends before they finally got around to recording an album. It’s easy to imagine that friendship lending their playing a transcendent fluidity and responsiveness – allowing the players individual lines to conspire to deliver something greater than the sum of its parts.

But, that’s really just a theory. In the end, it’s the outcome that’s most important – which is an album of rich, unpretentious, exciting and genuinely beautiful jazz.

Be sure to give it a few listens to settle into a groove. It’s worth it.

When: 2002

Where: Switzerland

Recommended If You Like: Steve Coleman, Ambrose Akinmusire, Sun Ra, Miles Davis

Where To Hear It: SpotifyYoutube 

Where To Buy It: iTunes

Fun Fact: Weirdly, Twin Lines actually sounds nothing like either of its two key collaborators’ respective catalogues. Co Streiff’s work tends towards blending a variety of indigenous and international music traditions into a jazz format. Irene Schweizer is internationally renowned as a wildly free improviser.

Editor’s Notes: 

Apologies for the delay in getting this one out there. Been struggling with depression lately. Will hopefully be back on schedule this week.

JDK Weekly #6 – Angel Haze’s Back to the Woods

Angel Haze Frame

Back to the Woods
Angel Haze

In a fit of pain and frustration, New York’s Angel Haze screams into the abyss with every inch of talent in their body.

Why (short): Back to the Woods brings together pain, liberation, politics, fear and arrogance to deliver a blistering vision of contemporary hip hop from one of our era’s most singular talents.

Why (long): I am drawn to tension. Anxiety. Unsettlement. For most of my life, I have felt different.

For example, I recently had to explain to a friend of mine that, despite having worked as a writer for nearly the entirety of my adult life to date, I feel little to no sense of community with other writers.

This is a small example, I’ll admit. It’s simply meant to demonstrate a larger trend. I worry I disappoint or frustrate whatever community I try to converse with or try to claim – as they often disappoint and frustrate me. The latent sexism, racism and ableism of stand-up comedy is another recent example. Or, the pessimism of activist communities.

Every time I talk to someone, I feel as if I’ve landed in this world upside down. Like, I am defective.

So, I gravitate to music of tension. Frustration. Thwarted connection.

This is why I’ve spent the past week listening to Back to the Woods.

A 2015 mixtape released by American agender rapper Angel Haze, Back to the Woods is a primal scream.

It was recorded after a particularly traumatic year for Haze. They delivered a major label debut album to poor reception, they broke up with their partner and they publicly came out as agender. While Haze has always been known as a disarmingly honest performer, Back to the Woods sounds like someone tearing down every last vestige of personal pretence in despair – at once, arrogant and broken.

‘This is who I am – fuck off’.

The title itself (which is referenced repeatedly throughout the album) refers to a belief that Haze was not meant for this world and should return to the wilds where they once belonged. It speaks volumes about the mental and emotional state of the rapper. ‘I can no longer try to understand or fit into this world and I’m sorry for that. Maybe it’s best if I just go away.’

Again, it’s a cry of self-assurance and pain. The joy of no longer having to pretend – coupled with the grief of anticipating the loneliness of being inescapably different.

The beautiful, comforting irony of the record is that it easily represents Haze’s best work. Some of the best work of any artist working within contemporary hip hop, for that matter. Haze easily stands toe to toe, for example, with Kendrick Lamar or Drake in the art of fusing blinding technical acumen with a singular artistic vision.

Back to the Woods
 finds Haze not only spitting rhymes at high velocity over bass-heavy trap/dubstep productions – but also offering incredible sung vocal hooks and soulful r&b tunes. Furthermore, Haze manages that particular accomplishment without compromising the dark, muscular aesthetic of their sound and identity – a trick countless rappers have tried and failed.

In stripping themselves of all artifice and pretence, Angel Haze actually significantly opens up their aesthetic. It’s rich and complex. Exhilarating and relatable.

I am drawn to tension. It makes me feel less alone. This is why I can’t stop listening to Back to the Woods. It makes me feel like I am okay. That there are others like me.

Have a listen.

When: 2015

Where: America

Recommended If You Like: Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, FKA Twigs

Where To Hear It: SpotifyYoutube 

Where To Buy It: iTunes

Fun Fact: Recalling classic hip hop artists of yore, Angel Haze has a profound talent for re-appropriating existing music. Across their career, they’ve successfully re-worked some of the most recognisable artists of the modern era – flipping Eminem’s ‘Cleaning Out My Closet‘, Macklemore’s ‘Same Love‘, Gil Scott Heron’s ‘New York is Killing Me‘, Kanye West’s ‘Black Skinhead‘ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Backseat Freestyle‘.

Editor’s Notes:

Obviously, I’m trying something different here. I really want people to listen to these albums. So, I thought what best encourages someone to listen to something. I don’t think it’s cold, objective recital of facts or testaments of technical skill (though I do think those things are a factor).

It’s personal investment. What is the experience of this album? While I think it’s possible to discuss that angle in a more removed fashion than I have here, I don’t think it’s as effective. You can’t really authoritatively speak to an objective, universal experience of an album – ‘everyone who hears this will feel x’. You can only speak to a personal experience of an album. ‘I felt x’.

So, that’s what I’ve tried to do. Let me know if it doesn’t work. This is an evolving process, obviously.

JDK Weekly #5 – Björk’s Homogenic

Bork Frame
Homogenic

Bjork

A classically beautiful album with a surprising undercurrent of leftfield experimentation.

Why (short): Bjork’s arguable masterpiece, Homogenic is defined by raw emotion and glacial production. Aside from its status as one of electronic music’s most influential albums, it’s simply one of the most honest and beautiful recordings of the past twenty years.

Why (long): The cosmetic influence of Bjork’s Homogenic is profound. The album’s groundbreaking palette of cascading strings, filtered electronic rhythms and evocative, vocal-driven songwriting has almost become an archetype within popular culture. Along with Massive Attack and Portishead, Bjork’s third album laid a foundation for an entire generation of developing electronic musicians.

James Blake, for example. Kanye West. Drake. Even Burial’s lo-fi rhythms owe something to Homogenic.

But, as is often the case, people can still miss the subtlety of the record. Really, it’s forgivable. The sweeping triumph of standouts like ‘Jóga’ and ‘Bachelorette’ can be overwhelming. But, there’s always been more to Homogenic than its breathtaking beauty. In actual fact, that beauty arguably owes its profundity to Bjork’s decision to fill out the rest of the album’s sound palette with truly noisy experimentation and weirdness.

The most obvious example for this is ‘Pluto’. Built on a pounding techno beat and snippets of fractured noise, the album’s penultimate track finds Bjork howling through distortion about a need to explode her own body. Often, it’s discussed as something of an anomaly. Something listeners need to endure. But, the aggression of the production is actually present throughout the entire record.

Most overtly, it can be heard in the rhythms of cuts like ‘Joga’, ‘Five Years’ and ‘Immature’. Consistently, Bjork’s shimmering arrangements are offset by harsh kicks and bass. More subtly, it can be heard within the strings themselves – the Icelandic String Octet’s playing typically lending itself to dense layers and raw textures, rather than soft and luxurious harmonies. Even Bjork’s own vocals often morph into screams and yells.

Far from detracting from the record’s beauty, it’s that sense of visceral ugliness and weirdness that makes Homogenic such a devastatingly emotional experience. While Bjork aimed to create an album of just one texture (after her eclectic second album Post), she actually created a listening experience that often simultaneously engages in contradictory textures. Violence. Beauty. Terror. Reassurance.

In doing so, she creates an album of incredible dynamics and resonance. Falling after the relentless percussion of ‘Hunter’ and ‘Jóga’, that weightlessness of ‘Unravel’ is all the more pronounced. Similarly, ‘All is Full of Love’ is practically heavenly after the brutality of ‘Pluto’. It’s an incredibly subtle and expressive album. Whether you’ve heard it before or it’s entirely new, it’s worthy of an immediate investigation.

When: 1997

Where: Iceland

Recommended If You Like: James Blake, Burial, Halsey, Radiohead, Drake

Where To Hear It: SpotifyYoutube 

Where To Buy It: iTunes

Fun Fact: The Wu-Tang Clan were apparently supposed to contribute to this album but scheduling conflicts prevented it.

Editor’s Notes: 

This is one of my favourite albums of all time. Very difficult to write about. Hopefully did it some sort of justice. Bjork’s music just tends to be a thread through all of my life, somehow.

JDK Weekly #4 – Christine Anu’s Stylin’ Up

ANu Frame
Stylin’ Up

Christine Anu

Hyper-eclectic debut from Australian pop star shows true potential of her country’s multicultural milieu.

Why (short): Touching on rock, soul, folk, Indigenous Australian tradition, hip hop, reggae and rave, Stylin’ Up is an  album of inventive, expressive pop music that consistently proves both memorable and evocative.

Why (long): In Australia, Christine Anu is a minor celebrity.

In addition to her work as a musician, she’s also appeared in multiple acclaimed musicals, films and television shows. She briefly served as a judge on Australia’s Popstars Live. She sang at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games. As of 2016, she hosts a radio program with Australia’s national broadcasting service.

That celebrity, coupled with her music’s general accessibility, has a tendency to obscure her genuine skill and relevance as an artist. To many Australians, Anu is probably ‘just’ a pop star from the nineties who diversified her career with greater aplomb than most. But, in actuality, her work doesn’t really allow such an image to stand up to scrutiny.

Stylin’ Up, in particular, pretty forcefully refutes it.

While dated somewhat by its nineties-style production, Anu’s 1995 debut album is a record of such modernity and invention that it’d warrant attention and praise were it released today. Boasting an avalanche of memorable choruses (with anthem ‘My Island Home’ and hit single ‘Party’ proving particularly inescapable, over the years) to mark it as a true pop album, Stylin’ Up also manages the profoundly difficult task of locating those choruses within an organically complex fusion of disparate styles and identities.

Throughout the record, there are hints of folk, Indigenous Australian cultural music, rock, hip hop, soul, reggae and rave. Anu shifts between and interpolates the styles quite effortlessly. Originally recorded by Warumpi Band in 1987, Anu’s ‘My Island Home’ is a lyrical folk tune welded to a New Wave style backing. The hip hop rhythms of ‘San E Wireless’ effortlessly accommodates guest vocalist Opi Nelson’s reggae-style toasting – Anu herself raps breezily over traditional percussion and swooning harmonies in ‘Monkey & The Turtle’.

It’s really a dizzying tour of styles and ideas. There’s even a hint of New Zealand-style drum’n’bass in opener ‘Wanem Style’. The knowledge that Anu (and key collaborator David Bridie) managed to not only weld them all together but do so with such skill as to navigate into the charts and awards ceremonies of the Australian music industry, even twenty years after the fact, is still difficult to fully accept.

If you’re an Australian who has never truly explored beyond Anu’s hit singles or acting performances, Stylin’ Up should be essential listening. If you’re from further afield, you’re in for a treat. Few pop albums are as simultaneously enjoyable and innovative as Anu’s classic debut.

Check it out.

When: 1995

Where: Australia

Recommended If You Like: Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley, Salmonella Dub

Where To Hear It: SpotifyYoutube

Where To Buy It: iTunes

Fun Fact: It’s no coincidence that Anu’s debut opens with two songs from Wairumpi Band (‘Wanem Time’ and ‘My Island Home’). She toured with the band’s songwriter Neil Murray as a backing singer. Murray encouraged her to sing ‘My Island Home’ on tour. Eventually, it became a staple of their sets.

Editor’s Notes: 

I grew up with Anu in the background. No-one in my family really bought her albums. But, her music was always on the radio or on CD compilations.

It wasn’t until I started researching female Indigenous Australian musicians for this project that I really grasped just how massively creative she’s been. Hence, the angle of this review.

That said, I’m mildly concerned I’ve just been really ignorant and oblivious and everyone else already knew about how badass Christine Anu is…

(I should also mention that Anu recorded a re-worked version of the album last year to celebrate its twentieth anniversary – Restylin Upwhich adopts a band-driven, heavy soul approach to the record and is worth a listen.)

JDK Weekly #3 – Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me Frame
Established punk musician comes out as transgender to deliver the best songs of her career.

Why (short): An exceptional collection of classic punk songs with honesty, hooks and heart.

Why (long): It’s difficult to discuss Transgender Dysphoria Blues without running the risk of somehow obscuring its genuine quality as a record.

You can’t ignore the album’s context.

In 2012, Against Me! vocalist Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender. Prior to this, she was known as Thomas James Gabel. She had fronted Against Me! for fifteen years and delivered five albums to more than modest critical and commercial acclaim.

As such, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is arguably a landmark record – representing one of the first mainstream punk albums in history to be released by an openly transgender musician.

And, it’d be dishonest to claim that context doesn’t enrich the listening experience of the album. Every song on the album bar one references Grace’s journey through her transition in some way, even when the lyrics aren’t necessarily autobiographical.

You can’t repress the cathartic ache of hearing someone scream their lungs out about fears and issues long kept silent – from the fear of being beaten to death for being a transgender person (‘Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ’) to the agitated sadness of contemplating what transitioning will do the singer’s relationships with their wife (‘Fuckmylife666’) and child (‘Two Coffins’). The record’s context undoubtedly enriches one’s experience of listening to it.

But, conversely, that context would be a mere curiosity if it wasn’t paired with such fantastic songwriting and arrangements. Grace wrote the entire record on acoustic guitar and, while the album’s final incarnation is almost exclusively electric, that back-to-basics approach is still evident in the strength of the album’s songwriting and the spartan brilliance of its arrangements.

At its core, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is just an album of brutally honest, excellently written punk songs that refuse to waste a single note of space. The title track is just an anthemic rush of rhythm and heartbreak. ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ just rolls economically from melody to melody – effortlessly delivering an instantly memorable chorus in the process.

In short: It’s just a killer album.

Give it a go.

When: 2014

Where: USA

Recommended If You Like: Green Day, Blink 182, The Pogues

Where To Hear It: SpotifyYoutube

Where To Buy It: Against Me!’s Website (Vinyl & Digital)

Fun Fact: The album title (deliberately or otherwise) references Bob Dylan’s 1965 single ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. If that title sounds familiar, it’s because Radiohead also referenced it with OK Computer‘s ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’.

Editor’s Notes: This was a difficult one for me. I can’t pretend I’m 100% comfortable with my skills in writing about trans musicians just yet. If I have acted inappropriately, I’d love for you to get in touch and advise me on how I can do a better job in the future.

JDK Weekly #2 – Ida Nielsen’s Sometimes A Girl Needs Some Sugar Too (2011)

IdaNielsenFrames

Veteran Prince collaborator delivers a second solo album to make her patron proud. 

Why (short): Funky beyond belief, Ida Neilsen’s second solo album is a murky, mercurial delight that delivers both soulful ballads and blistering funk workouts with precision, weirdness and aplomb.

Why (long): To most, Ida Nielsen is known almost exclusively as the bassist for the last two backing bands of Prince’s career – The New Power Generation and 3rdeyegirl.

However, while enjoying an extremely successful career as an instrumentalist, Nielsen has also quietly been cultivating her own solo career as a singer-songwriter, beginning with 2007’s promising Marmalade (released under her Bassida alias) and continued with 2011’s exceptional Sometimes A Girl Needs Some Sugar Too.

Much like her mentor’s, Nielsen’s albums are typified by virtuosic multi-instrumentalism (the bassist playing every instrument on each record) and an incapacitating degree of groove. Sometimes…, in particular, represents a devastating showcase of talent. Building on the strong foundations of her debut, Nielsen’s second album finds her strengthening her songwriting, diversifying her sound and adding some true personality to her work as a producer.

Mid-album highlight ‘Feels So Beautiful’ is a sterling example of the album’s muscular sound – soft and lyrical bass playing underpinning a rush of breathless vocal hooks, spliced sample textures and lightly kinetic percussion. It’s an experimental, considered and sensual piece of work. But, whether dropping soul-flecked ballads or crushing funk joints, Nielsen is consistently on form. The tripped-out braggadocio of closer ‘Discumbobuloveyoulong’, for example, is equally as brilliant as the smoother balladry of ‘Feels So Beautiful’.

Taken in its entirety, it’s a remarkably solid piece of work – skilful, physical, adventurous and accomplished. A record her mentor would be proud of.

When: 2011

Where: Denmark

Recommended If You Like: Prince, George Clinton

Where To Hear It: Spotify

Where To Buy It: iTunes

Fun Fact: Ida Nielsen is just one of a staggering amount of women supported, mentored, employed and encouraged by Prince over the course of his career. As far back as the early eighties, Prince was writing songs for and helping produce acts like Sheila E and The Bangles.

Editor’s Notes: 
Nielsen is currently working on her third album and released a lead single earlier this year – ‘Showmewhatugot‘. Worth checking out.

I honestly could have selected an album from several of Prince’s many female collaborators and protégés. I chose Ida Nielsen because, in spite of her playing with Prince for several years, her excellent solo material is consistently ignored – even by articles specifically highlighting Prince’s work with women.

(Which, given her virtuosic propensity for playing every instrument on her records makes her one of Prince’s most Prince-like collaborators, is actually a bit weird.)