Brainfeeder, the child of Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus, is a curious affair. Ellison set the bar for head-nodding, good-shit-bong-smoke, L.A-warm-breeze instrumental hip-hop with 1983 (2006) and Los Angeles (2008), and then moved on to more jazzy, spazzy, disparate genre-bending materials with Cosmosgramma (one minute he has Thom Yorke in an Aphex Twin spin, the next he has cousin Ravi Coltrane playing sax over broken-beat, free jazz like it’s an Ornette Coleman improve.), leaving his protégé roster to take up the guard. But there is a lot of barely-explored real estate and abandoned cool concepts there, which is where 26-year-old Mtendere Mandowa aka Teebs, a former FlyLo roommate, self-professed Broadcast cleric and lover of Dabrye comes in (all ingredients for success).
Estara (Estará sí hablas el Español) is in no way just a Flying Lotus — or Dilla — outtake.
J. Spaceman (Spiritualized, Spacemen 3) is no stranger to improvisation. He’s been playing unscripted music with Matthew Shipp and other people whose names are in the Springheel Jack phonebook for more than a decade. Kid Millions (Oneida, Man Forever) has likewise engaged in plenty of extemporaneous music-making over the years. And since this live recording was made on a night off from Spiritualized’s 2013 U.S. tour, on which Kid filled the drum chair, they had already played with each other. So while this Record Store Day vinyl special (four tracks spread across one LP and one seven-inch) documents their first improvised performance, it is certainly not a record of a step into the absolute unknown.
It makes sense that the version of I Dream of Wires that’s currently available on DVD is the four-hour “Hardcore Edition” (with a shorter cut being saved for theatrical release); most people who are going to want to spend any time at all watching a film about modular synthesizers are probably in it for the long haul. There’s enough of interest here—to anyone interested in music, technology, cultural history, and so on—that a shorter cut of this documentary is more immediately appealing to a wider audience, but those willing to watch a movie that’s basically as long as most 5-6 episode miniseries will find some pretty rich rewards within.
When a musician records under an assumed name, they issue a proscription — don’t look for me. But when you point away from yourself, you inevitably point somewhere else. Where does Kassel Jaeger want you to look? It doesn’t take much digging to find his real name and some biographical clues. His birth name is François Bonnet, he is Swiss, and he lives in Paris. He works at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), a collective founded by Pierre Schaeffer and directed for decades by François Bayle, which is devoted to the investigation, propagation, and chronicling of electroacoustic music; his job description is “Researcher responsible for programming with Christian Zanési (GRM’s artistic director) and pedagogical coordinator of acousmatic sound path arts.” In that capacity, he has facilitated the reissuing of some classic GRM sides on Editions Mego’s Recollections GRM imprint.
So perhaps the function of adopting the name Kassel Jaeger (“Kassel” is a German town, “jaeger” is German for “hunter”) is to separate his artistic identity from his day job? If so, it’s worth nothing that personal dissociation does not involve a renunciation of the knowledge and skills he’s acquired through that association. Jaeger handily wields the tools of acousmatic music, in which any sound can be put to musical ends. Natural field recordings, mechanical audio artifacts, and instrumentation all have a place in his sound fields. He’s a modern guy, so improvisational action, digital sound manipulation, and straight-up noise also appear alongside the painstaking sound placement and analog processes of vintage musique concrète.
Enigmatic ensemble name aside, the trio of trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, bassist Kevin Ray and drummer Andrew Drury evinces a transparent approach in musical concept and application. The name is a reference to the Planck temperature, a measure of heat “at which matter ceases to exist and conventional physics break down.” It’s an at once obscure and colorful analogue for the trio’s anything goes attitude toward jazz-centered musical expression. Lacy’s been at it for better part of a quarter century, coming off a college degree in Physics and formal music study at both Berklee and Rutgers to collaborate prolifically with Julius Hemphill, Henry Threadgill, David Murray and other peers. Ray and Drury are his juniors by several decades, but their resumes are similarly active.
Blink and you’ll miss it. That was what happened to the first version of Dissed and Dismissed, out for about 10 minutes last year on the Bay Area Melters label. It’s also what happens when you leave this feedback-blistering slice of power pop on the stereo for even the slightest amount of time — to get a glass of water out of the refrigerator or to check on whether the mail’s arrived. Like a lo-fi Teenage Fan Club outtake, but much shorter, it rumbles and buzzes and yearns through 12 tracks in 12 minutes.
Defiance of expectations is a good thing. Four-fifths of the Chicago-based group Owls, who released their debut in 2001, first played together in the mid-1990s as Cap’n Jazz. (The sole member not shared between the two lineups: guitarist Davey Von Boehn, probably best-known for his work in the Promise Ring.) Back then, the contrasts between the two groups were massive: Cap’n Jazz’s headlong, frenzied, weirdly infectious songs contrasted with Owls’ more abstract take on things. It was of a piece with vocalist Tim Kinsella’s work at the time in Joan of Arc, which had moved from Gastr del Sol-esque pastoral experimentation to a more fragmented sound. It seemed to be a conscious provocation: a de facto reunion that skirted easy sonic similarities.
“The Lottery,” coming around the middle of the first Afghan Whigs album in 16 years, recaps all the highlights of the band’s sound, the dry, coiled drum rhythms, the massive guitar attack, the bleary swagger of Dulli’s voice, the inexorable, way-over-the-top dramatic crescendo.
Since 1965, the focus has shifted perceptibly from sex to death, two key players have exited, and the world has changed. It’s not that Afghan Whigs haven’t been affected. There’s a lush big time hip-hop sheen over many of these tracks, rather than the classic funk and R&B that crept into earlier work (Dulli seems, even, to have been autotuned briefly in first single “Algiers”). And there’s a genuine difference in the guitar sound, once fat and warm and liquid, now louder, brasher and more percussive.
While Modeselektor’s Monkeytown Records focuses on the weirder flank of electronica (e.g. Mouse on Mars, Siriusmo, Otto von Schirach), the duo’s second label, 50 Weapons, is dedicated to house and techno that might fall through myriad cracks of the club world without a proponent. (Some Modeselektor fan at a gig is sure to buy up what his idols trust as “you should check this out.”) It is a burgeoning yet terrific library of new- and old-school, the latter being where Laurent Garnier’s latest EP fits in.
Like Björk (and The Doors and Can and a lot of other artists), the members of Liars are making a career out of musical reinvention (while more or less, not alienating their audience, though they may have lost a few Dusted reviewers when casting off the rhythm section on their dance punk debut, They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument). In the same way that you can’t convince teenagers they’re in a phase when clothes, hair and attitudes drastically amend, the band focuses really hard on whichever stage of the proud evolution they find themselves, using the right tools and behaviors to pass themselves off as legit – and if it’s just an act, Liars is the Daniel Day-Lewis of musicians, as everything they do comes off as passionate and authentic.