"It Is Happening Again": Tim writes about songs from 2017

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Little Big Town – Lost in California

Little Big Town themselves refer to “Lost in California” as “Hillbilly Sade”, one of those annoyingly evocative encapsulations that artists and bands sometimes stumble upon which then forever determines and pre-ordains all of your critical reactions; or all of mine, at least. In truth, “Lost in California” doesn’t really sound like Sade (and certainly not a hillbilly version thereof), though the idea is not totally off-base: what the country group gestures towards with this tag, I think, is the idea of a kind of surface-level smoothness harbouring hidden depths, the sense of immense concentration and effort expended to create a mirage of languorous ease, so as, in turn, to suggest that concentration and ease are not in fact always opposites, but both necessary components of any kind of absolute presentism, any total being-in-the-moment, which is the Sade-like state (think “Cherish the Day”) which “Lost in California” seeks to invoke. But anyone expecting a literal country-meets-soul collision may be disappointed.

In any event, we don’t need to stretch so far to arrive at a precedent for this gorgeous, seductive concoction, as I’m reminded more readily of the soft blushes and bruises flowering across the surface of the relaxed adult-contemporary pop of Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing: the dreamlike expanses of “I Love You”, the purple lightning sparks and shadows of “Sweet Surrender”, perhaps most of all the way the soulful yearn of “Witness” was set against an ambient hum that could have been sampled from Talk Talk’s “After The Flood”.

On “Lost in California” the resemblance is immediate, with an achingly slow fade-in punctured by a drum machine’s fitful stutter, less a beginning than a resumption, as spidery guitar runs announce with great and commanding clarity that this song is going to be a fever-dream wander through a stark expanse of joshua trees. And sure enough, Karen Fairchild opens gently with: “There’s a long stretch of desert through the canyon…” It’s in the way the guitar and keyboard stabs blend and dissolve into each other, and in the gently ascending synth or fingerpicked arpeggios over a tidal bass groove in an extended, please-don’t-end outro; throughout, the sound of the sound is so tangible and viscous, it’s like a delightful film swirling over the melody, every moment sounding pre-stained with something like sepia; or maybe it’s like how the haze of hot air over a summer road is always more intense, more intensely rippling, in the memory of lost summers gone than in whatever reality can muster.

The resemblance extends to Karen Fairchild’s vocals, all delicate phrasing and long smooth sustains and a certain knowing understatement, wisely creating space for the arrangement to carry much of the emotional heft, so that Fairchild can position herself as a bemused observer of her own fantasy. “Whisper in my ear / dreamin’ disappear / say you’ll take me / where the world unwinds / lost in California…” I doubt there’s anything intentional (even indirectly) in that resemblance, which if anything runs the other way around despite what a historical chronology would suggest: that state of bemused satiation seems to me more a country trope than anything else. It’s the situation of this desired state within a context so yearning, so fragile, so redolent of an ache for something lost (in a space, in a state, yes, but also in time) that makes this song so startling and so singular. For there lies the further turn of the screw that both Sade and her hillbilly followers understand, which is that we are or were only ever “in the moment” when looking back: our present only emerges into view, only flourishes to take up the entire screen, when it is already in the rearview mirror.

Tim F, Thursday, 4 January 2018 18:36 (one year ago) Permalink

^^^ this is the best song in the world. i had no idea they considered it "hillbilly sade," little big town otm (in a more or less indirect way)

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Thursday, 4 January 2018 18:38 (one year ago) Permalink

Wau @ "Lost in California" & that description. Had missed it as it wasn't one of the singles. Had also missed that Octa Octa track (a b-side!); glad to see someone make a DJ Sprinkles comparison as I was a little worried by own comparisons were lazy biographical pattern recognition rather than on any sonic merit.

etc, Saturday, 6 January 2018 01:33 (one year ago) Permalink

I haven’t popped by the boards in too long but I’m up early on a Saturday and saw the annual Tim thread and am suddenly very grateful to dig back into all 5he music I didn’t hear last year.

no longer in MTL (Alex in Montreal), Saturday, 6 January 2018 11:14 (one year ago) Permalink

best song i listened in 2017, no doubt.

Nourry, Saturday, 6 January 2018 16:22 (one year ago) Permalink

this is the best song in the world

I want to poll all the songs brad has said this about

Simon H., Saturday, 6 January 2018 17:04 (one year ago) Permalink

i have a running spotify playlist though obv it’s not exhaustive bc i say it probably once a day about a different song (literally just did it in another thread)

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Saturday, 6 January 2018 17:07 (one year ago) Permalink

Hope Tim will do "Jupiter Drive" next - picked up on this from his poll nominations and OMG

Jeff W, Saturday, 6 January 2018 21:48 (one year ago) Permalink

Dream Team do Passinho – Oi Sumido
MC Hariel & MC Kevin - Coração Na Geladeira
Heavy Baile ft. Tati Quebra Barraco & Lia Clark – Berro


It’s difficult to get a clear sense of the parameters of funk carioca these days: it’s a style whose composition increasingly feels one part generic (in the sense of obeying the rules of genre) to two parts whatever the creators feel will work. This hasn’t necessarily unleashed Brazil’s creative animal spirits: as far as I can tell, most of the time “whatever works” is some mixture of influences from rap, dancehall, reggaeton and cumbia, and it’s not clear to me that down this path lies anything particularly more exciting than what might emerge from a further intensification of the scene’s by now well-established genre-tropes. Rather, the less world-shattering (but still occasionally exciting) upshot tends to be just a diverse wealth of vaguely familiar ideas being thrown at the wall in order to examine what sticks.

In the case of “Oi Sumido”, the resulting composite mostly codes as svelte, slinky latin-pop which, if more of it were in English, might even do quite well in the era of “Despacito” and “Havana”. With its florid eastern melodies (cannily flute-assisted in what undeniably was the year of the flute in pop), breathy vocals and driving cumbia beat (occasionally giving way to dancehall-driven interludes), the track embodies a certain seductive professionalism that reminds me of Anitta’s excellent and vaguely similar “Bang” (from 2015, but I only discovered it this year), or the kind of pan-european dance-pop that Alexander Stan regularly pumps out, perhaps most of all and most obviously J Lo and Wisin & Yandel’s “Follow The Leader”, 2012’s most underrated pop tune. As with the aforementioned, this is undeniably club (or bar) fare, internationalist in tone and easy to leave behind once it has served its purpose, but I find that to be a purpose I have need of serving with surprising frequency. Most of all, “Oi Sumido” gleams with the confidence of a job well done, taut and muscular yet with glitter dabbed in all the right places sufficient to make me wonder if a great boiling down of all pop music stock into a kind of trans-jurisdictional Esperanto isn’t the way to go after all.


Less professional but more intriguing, “Coração Na Geladeira” is funk-as-rap whose magpie ecumenicalism (naively? knowingly?) lands on a perfect combination lock formula of familiarity and estrangement. It commences unassumingly enough, a reggae lilt punctuated by little grunts over which MC Gudan offers the kind of sing-song rap that (for a non-Portuguese speaker) gets most of the way on its nasal intensity and sheer profusion of syllables alone. Then the tune pivots to a metallic thrum somewhere between Spanish guitar and harpsichord, tapping out a perverse melody that lands “Coração Na Geladeira” somewhere between TLC’s “Silly Ho” and Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” – less groundbreaking than the former and less perfect than the latter, perhaps, but nonetheless I find myself captivated by its louche tiptoe crawl, its weird combination of testosterone and fragility (for more in this general lane, check MC Gudan & MC Don Juan’s “Boca de Pêlo”).


As I hinted at the top though, I can’t help but suspect that funk’s greatest surprises remain bound up in its original sonic formula, though not necessarily in a purist sense. I only recently discovered Heavy Baile’s “Berro” in a packed gay bar in Buenos Aires, and was surprised and impressed to realise that seemingly everyone there (except me) knew the words. Through subsequent interrogation I concluded that (a) Spanish speakers will happily learn all the words to Portugese tunes if the song bangs; and (b) this is especially true at gay bars when dealing with funk that flirts with gay culture (see below). “Berro” is archetypal funk carioca resituated within a maximalist pop aesthetic (think Britney’s Blackout, I guess), its kitchen sink meets backfiring car percussion rolls and tuba bass hits interspersed with moaning synth chords and flutes (again), while Tati Quebra Barraco and drag queen Lia Clark holler at the top of their lungs on top – fitting, since “berro” is “bellow” or “shout” in Portguese (actually Lia doesn’t really shout, perhaps “declaims” is a better verb for her contribution).

I am fascinated by this queer turn in funk (which, to be clear, I am no expert on), mostly because funk always struck me as such a macho genre even when the MC was female. But, then, of course, “Berro” is barely less macho then the norm really, and perhaps it’s precisely because of the steroidal excess of funk’s signifiers that it makes such a ripe target for queer recontextualisation. Funk’s lewd sexuality was always already at least in part a parody of sex, just as gay culture tends to treat its sex-obsession both jokingly and deadly seriously. Here that vibe of parody executed with deadly earnestness is taken to its logical conclusion, the music’s militaristic fervor demanding complete bodily submission to the beat, to the dancefloor, to hedonism at large – more succinctly, it’s ballroom with a better groove.

(NB. If you like “Berro”, Heavy Baile have a bottomless trunk of heavy-hitters, though not all riding this particular vibe; check Tropkillaz & Heavy Baile’s “Toca na Pista” and, in particular, Heavy Baile’s “Catuaba; alternatively, if want more queer funk, check 2018 contender “Que Tiro Foie Esse” by Jojo Maronttinni)

Tim F, Saturday, 13 January 2018 02:06 (one year ago) Permalink

Uhh that last clip link is wrong, here's the "Berro" clip:


Tim F, Saturday, 13 January 2018 02:08 (one year ago) Permalink

Ahhh, Godheadz thread as always, thanks so much. This last pst reminds me---lots of fab Cameroonian rap videos with Frank's comments here, in his most recent Singles round-up (that I've seen) https://koganbot.livejournal.com/367967.html

dow, Saturday, 13 January 2018 02:17 (one year ago) Permalink

Slowdive – Sugar for the Pill (Avalon Emerson’s Gilded Escalation)
Octo Octa – Adrift (Avalon Emerson’s Furiously Awake Version)


Like many I suspect, I was won over to techno artist Avalon Emerson by 2016’s ruthless yet beautiful “The Frontier”, one of the most effortlessly spellbinding techno tracks in recent memory. The crush was sealed by her Beats in Space podcast from that year, and in particular her decision to kick it off with her edit of Bjork’s “I Miss You”, Emerson treating the song’s ostentatious faux latin groove as if it was a techno track. The gesture underscored the air of perversity, and in particular rhythmic perversity, that characterises Emerson’s approach: if she frequently seems to operate in epically expansive terrain, this is less because ostentation is its own reward (though it can be) and more because doing so allows her space to indulge an impressively wide and unpredictably variety of impulses whilst remaining somewhat on-brand. What sounds like Avalon Emerson? Something big and bold that refuses to stay in its lane.

In its original form, “Sugar for the Pill” is Slowdive idealised, a gentle ballad seamlessly marrying the beauty and otherworldliness that (for the most part) separately characterised the band’s disparate first incarnation highlights. But if like me your standard Slowdive go-to is Pygmalion, then the song and other recent Slowdive efforts can seem like a charming tiptoe backwards into “mere” dream-pop. For her remix, Avalon Emerson ups the ante, retaining the tune’s floating gorgeousness but recasting it as a transmission from another galaxy, its seductive allure complicated by exotic estrangement. The tune seems to spin itself out of nothing, echoes and breaths slowly coalescing into a kind of permanent-intro (or extended middle-eight), suspended tension circling, circling, circling with the hesitation of waiting for something to start or perhaps for it to finish.

Finally, the vocals arrive, punctuated by a tentative, exploratory breakbeat rhythm probing the empty spaces in the arrangement. If the track settles into a groove of sorts, it’s more by virtue of its stubborn refusal to break its own spell, the calm piano chords and spiraling synth solos and glittering guitar and shuddering dub bass holding together in the most delicate of spiderwebs. The closest precedent for the sound Emerson concocts here might be “Desire”, an early 90s breakbeat techno sob-fest from Carl Craig alter-ego 69. At a broader level, Emerson’s reimagining of Slowdive’s original strikes me as something like how Carl Craig would have approached the task, throwing out any stylistic rulebook and simply asking, “what does this tune want from me?”


“Adrift” is less startling, but it makes for better dancing: an endless downward plunge into the mysterious heart of the groove. Where Octo Octa’s original is (like much of her work) rich and mysterious and hypnotic, Emerson’s appropriately-titled remix is wide-eyed and white-knuckled, a bumpy ride across a percussive groove so nuanced, so tactile that while listening I can’t help but experience the beats as rattling off different parts of my body. The drums here are just amazing, a complex weave of hand percussion and sharp snares all filtered through dub echo and filling up every available space in the arrangement with rhythmic detail. Halfway through “Adrift” wanders into a kind of graceful machine breakdown (dissolution?) that then continues for the balance of track, and turns out to be not a detour, but the original’s groove culmination.

In part, this is what can make Emerson seem like a techno producer even when (as here) she is technically operating in a house idiom: Emerson’s grooves frequently feel dangerous and unpredictable, complex contraptions threatening to fly apart at any moment but sustained by a commanding internal logic. On “Adrift”, that sense of danger inheres counter-intuitively within an arrangement so perfect that it’s tempting to describe it as pretty, creating in the listener and dancer the contradictory impulses of wanting to succumb to the groove but feeling no choice but to remain furiously awake.

Tim F, Sunday, 14 January 2018 02:41 (one year ago) Permalink

Been on an Avalon Everson kick since yr FB post a few months back - the BiS set and the Printworks set in particular, plus she's as delightful with lists as with set selection:




etc, Sunday, 14 January 2018 06:51 (one year ago) Permalink

Just saw the Onemind Early Daze writeup above. Big up, as the Metalheadz bredren would say!

the article don, Sunday, 14 January 2018 12:07 (one year ago) Permalink

I can't remember where I saw someone point out that one side of the newest Avalon Emerson release on Whities sounds a bit like the Crazy Frog advert from a decade ago and now I can't unhear it, but that and these are great

boxedjoy, Monday, 15 January 2018 11:45 (one year ago) Permalink

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