Posting is light around here while I plough through Polaris Music Prize listening obligations, but please accept these slightly outdated reviews for now, plus a mix I just finished last night that I will put up this week. I love you and want you to be happy. – Deemo
Dream A Garden
File this under records I listened to at least 10 times and can’t remember a lick of after the fact. I will rep Night Slugs all day and have plenty of Jam City jawns in my virtual crates but the plot was lost somewhere around track three, where the shoegazey vocals and 80s-lite-funk-gone-melancholy congealed into an image as featureless as a Guy Fawkes anonymous mask. Not ruling out a monster second act but the first had me striding purposefully toward the bar long before the curtain fell.
This is probably a reflection of my current workout regime, but my gym is increasingly making me think of Guantanamo. If pushup planks didn’t come with the tagline “from the people who brought you waterboarding” I might not feel quite so strongly that today’s R&B is part of a campaign to break my will and leave me moist and quivering on a rubber mat. But here we are. Someone switched the station today to roots reggae towards the end of my last set and I was too weak to believe it was real. Must be a plot to get me when my guard is down, and then bam, hit me with the new Young Thug. Fin.
I felt a bit the same when I heard the new Mike Gao sandwiched between some tuneless post-grime single (seriously, what is plaguing the scene right now, it’s like mid-00s Autechre all over again) and a fourth-rate J Cole type (shudders). It’s a trap! But no, don’t Ackbar too soon. Geotic really is a whole album full of greasy neo-soulquarian beats and back-to-the-futuristic talk box-rocking prog synthism. There’s a hint of trap in the gothic piano basslines of Red Car and the sputtering snares and hats of So Hard To Be Free. But for the most part this is more of the glorious boom bap future that the early Low End Theory cats seemed to promise us when they hit the underground in the late 00s.
Manny Farber’s white elephant art vs termite art theory is pretty handy when talking about pop music, though the size issue – white elephant art tends to overwhelm with presence but doesnt stand up to scrutiny like termite art’s rich details on the edges of the work – is figurative, not literal. When I first heard Mumdance and Logos’ Proto, and not long after, Pearson Sound’s self titled disc, I was mostly baffled at how dry and inhuman my favourite producers were becoming. Hoping for an actual musical note, never mind a melody, was like mustering the effort to scale a series of sand dunes in hopes of finding an oasis next to one of them. I like drums as much as the next dance geek but some of this stuff sounds like it could have been made using Einsturzende Neubauten’s power tools.
Repeated exposure made me enough of a fan of Proto that I decided to pick up the vinyl, and when I got back to my decks and turned my subwoofer to a suitable setting – a rare indulgence, out of respect for the neighbours – I was floored. But also suspicious, which brings me back to Farber. Surely anything that requires that kind of fidelity to impress has to be missing something in the creativity department? Does it mark this stuff out as middle-aged-stereo-equipment-salesman-bait, the dance equivalent of a Pat Metheny mid-80s sonic abortion? Am I going to have to grow a ponytail?
All is not lost, I think. The reality is that dance music was always meant to be heard in a club, on a big, nasty system that puts the kick drum all up in your sternum like a boxer jabbing away, and if that as a home listening requirement is not punk rock, well. Both Proto and Pearson Sound sound perfectly huge on decent headphones and speakers, but something is plainly missing until you break out the big hardware.
Pearson Sound in particular is an odd beast on mediocre headphones like mine. Subtle shifts in texture, plus a general lack of a sense of the stereo field leaves the high synth moan in ‘Crank Call’ flat and repetitive; on a good system, it wobbles and sways with every iteration. Cheap ear buds flatten the dynamic shifts that the arrangement in ‘Russet’ is carefully tailored to unveil. Pushed by speaker cones out into the air, it’s masterful.
A steady diet of these discernible yet austere pleasures would quickly become unpalatable. But then, so would any other form of extreme minimalism – drone, ambient, Neu!, colour field painting, etc. Pearson Sound has grit and detail, shadow and light, and play, its particular mixture of which is singularly great. But the emphasis is on ‘singular’.