Cot Damn Fall ’14 Masterpiece No. 3: Clap! Clap!

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Clap! Clap!
Tayi Bebba
Black Acre
Released Sept. 8 2014

Maybe it was the mysterious nature of the Italy-based producer behind Tayi Bebba, but the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ is now probably the first thing dance aficionados associate with Clap! Clap!. That’s a shame. Let’s assume for a moment that the person is a white man; is this then an attempt to dress up someone else’s work – maybe that of a whole culture – as something original, and then profit from it, the way the likes of Pat Boone did by rerecording early R&B hits in a more ‘white’ style? I would argue it isn’t. For one thing, it’s clear that, although the samples of field recordings on Tayi Bebba pervade the album and give it its concept (an imaginary island), they’re arguably transformed into original work by the way they’re sampled and combined with synthesized elements to make a work that has merit in its own right. Of course, the work being interesting doesn’t absolve the creator of having swiped someone else’s ideas, but frankly, it helps. Nothing about Tayi Bebba feels tossed-off or exploitative; it’s a nuanced, well-constructed work. In a certain sense, I’d compare it to A Tribe Called Red; while ATCR obviously has a direct link with its native Canadian sample sources and Clap! Clap! may not, ATCR didn’t invent their culture from whole cloth either, they just brought vibrant new context and creativity to existing material. (I find it a little odd that dogmatic left-wing radicals are, in these cases, so hung up on the idea of inherited culture. They certainly don’t feel that way about inherited wealth.) While Clap! Clap! may not have come from the culture he or she is sampling, I don’t see any attempt to claim authority or authenticity in reference to the source material, so without knowing more, I’m willing to listen.

With that out of the way, boy do I dig this record. Clap! Clap!’s talent as an arranger and producer is unmistakeable; there’s nothing outwardly ‘ethnic’ about a song like “Conqueror (remorse/withdrawn),” yet it’s just as arresting and invigorating as the more obviously African-based “The Rainstick Fable” with its chants and kalimba melody plinking and plunking away over vivid manifestations of the low end theory. Read: bass. There’s no gimmick here, that I can see; just great, kinetic dance music that borrows liberally from garage, hip-hop and dancehall as well as its sample sources to create refreshingly original stuff. I love the half-time trunk-rattling rhythm of “Kuj Yato” and the almost Bhangra-like Jew’s harp groove of “Burbuka.” Oh hell, I love it all. If you’re a fan of Mo Kolours or Flying Lotus’ early stuff, your life will be vastly improved by this album.

Cot-damn Fall ’14 Masterpiece No.2: LV & Josh Idehen

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LV & Josh Idehen
Islands
Keysound
Released Sept. 13 2014

I haven’t heard Routes, the first collaboration between production duo LV and spoken word artist Josh Idehen, so I was fairly unprepared for Islands. It hit me squarely between the eyes – these haunting but totally propulsive and danceable beats with this sharp-eyed raconteur who sounded nothing like the MCs I had heard before. Start with “Imminent,” a nasty little banger anchored with the refrain “likes to hang inna Hackney but / won’t catch him in Mile End cause / if you show face in Mile End cuz / things will likely get violent, cuz” – apparently inspired by a true story.

It could be a grime mc’s standard boast, but it feels more like an outsider noticing a neighbourhood in mid-gentrification. It grabbed me at first because my sister worked in Mile End, which up to that point I associated with the mildly miserable dead end neighbourhood of the Pulp song; after hearing “Imminent” I thought about how two people can walk the same streets and see something completely different.

In the afore-linked interview Idehen mentions he was inspired by The Streets, and that influence is apparent in the affablylazy phraseology of “New Pen,” but aching little fables like the title track and “Out of the Blue” are subtly original in their storytelling. And the beats are similarly both familiar and distinct, bumping and thrusting breaks simmering with dread. If there’s a better MC-led album this year, it’s got to clear one hell of a hurdle.

P.S. Keysound is label of the year, but more on that later…

Cot-damn Fall ’14 masterpiece No.1: Distal

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Distal
Retrograde Space Opera
Anarchostar
Released: Oct 13 2014

Concept albums! Whyyyyy. It’s 2014, is there any need? And a sci-fi one that’s also a dance album? Did Jeff Mills, great as he is, not kill that hoary old idea dead with a single ambient snooze-button blow? Suffice it to say I was not ready to embrace Distal’s latest album like a long-lost relative emerging from an escape pod crash landed on a desert planet. But like a plucky young loudmouth discovering that his main squeeze is actually his sister, here we are, and there ain’t much to be done about it.

The basic jist is that we’re plunked into an apocalyptic future where the uber-rich have fled our dying planet and we’re under constant surveillance, when we’re not fleeing the predations of ruling tribes of gangsters. There’s a lavishly illustrated website to poke through if you want to dig deeper, but personally I’m more than satisfied with knowing the thrust of things and making up the rest through the music. Largely because the music is so very, very good.

The worst thing a dance LP can be is track-y. Nothing gets boring quicker than a disc, even one with great jams, that happen to be sonically similar and presented without any kind of arc or structure. Retrograde Space Opera obviously has a structure, but just knowing that the structure is there, even in an abstract sense, makes for compelling listening. Early in the disc, cuts like “Sewers of Gattaca” balance shimmering, hummable synths with brutal barrages of drums that are less beats than they are collections of light slaps in the face. ” The ultra-hard kicks and snares pile up like the best recent grime a la Mumdance or some of the Night Slugs guys, but with a better sense of form – you always feel like the beat is taking you somewhere, and there’s a natural funkiness that a lot of other producers can’t get across while they’re doling out total screwface ruffneck business. It’s kind of amazing how listenable “Jaws of Delroy” is, given how abrasive its component parts are.

The second half of the disc is less grime than straight-up techno, and Distal pulls off both sounds as easily as a farm kid bulls-eyeing womp rats. “Don’t Need Her” is soulful despite the almost footwork-like repetition and whip-crack snare sound – if DJ Rashad had lived, I wonder if that’s what his stuff would one day have sounded like – and “Holding Pattern” and “Look Mom No Hardware” would have a Detroit purist actually cracking a smile if they came on either side of a 12-inch with a picture of a robot on the sleeve. (Not if the robot was smiling though, that would just wreck the mystique OBVIOUSLY.)  The palette is consistent throughout, all haunting synth pads and prickly hand claps, so again, it’s almost miraculous how he makes it all work together.

Some records I feel like I need to be high to fully appreciate. I don’t think the drugs have been invented yet that would make Retrograde Space Opera make sense, in a “holy shit, the lunatics are on the grass/Dorothy is walking the fence” Dark Side of the Rainbow kinda way. But you don’t need to understand it to bug the fuck out to it. I’m living proof!