Published on February 23rd, 2015 | by Dave Scaddan1
The Feedback Society’s Week in Music
Albums we’ve been discussing over drinks this week at The Feedback Society, from Dan Deacon and Pond to Funkadelic and the soundtrack to The Guest.
Joker – The Mainframe
Five years ago, Joker was a 21 year-old emerging from the hype of a new breed of dance music. He was confidently releasing one genre-expanding single after another until the dubstep label could no longer contain him. Like many great electronic instrumentalists and producers have recently (see MSTRKRFT, Royksopp (before Robyn), Daft Punk, Skrillex) Joker made some very questionable choices in terms of the guest vocalists he selected for his full-length debut, placing singers over tracks that never really needed them. Then he released an instrumental remix album of his earlier singles, almost like an, ‘oops, remember what I’m really great at?’ statement that set the table for The Mainframe. The new record is back to business. A couple of tracks support decent vocal parts, but mostly this is an overtly epic build of instrumental numbers. Synth horns and wonky pitch shifts accent a set of electronic tracks that are upbeat, but not really dancy; more like a record to groove to than one to move to. Joker wants us to take this in like an album, and it works like that, but it works just as well or better one track at a time, which has always been the deal with this kid from Bristol, so take it as it comes, but take it.
Pond – Man It Feels Like Space Again
There was a time when the psych-rock-from-Perth outfit Pond seemed like a Tame Impala side project, but now it’s starting to feel like it’s the other way ’round, almost like we took a while to notice that the water in the toilet was swirling counterclockwise as it drained. Truth is, drainage has more to do with bowl shape and jet positioning than hemisphere position, and Pond have been around much longer than Tame Impala. ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again’ is actually Pond’s sixth record, while Tame Impala (with whom they share several members) have made only two. Those two might be better records front-to-back than anything Pond’s done previously, but 2015 could be the year that changes.
The main difference between these bands is not sound, or even style, but attitude. Tame Impala are a tightly produced psychedelic rock group. Pond are typically looser and less bent on masking the influences of American and British rock music made between 1966 and 1973. On ‘Man It Feels Like Space Again,’ there’s still a typically Beatley vibe, and Pond even do a direct lift of the vocal melody of ‘Sloop John B’, but for half of ‘Zond’ (probably one of the best songs they’ve ever done) they take on a sound that’s more like Jennifer Herrema’s Black Bananas. In ballad mode, Pond are starting to sound almost exactly like their sister band, and so what? It’s clear that the cores of each group are talented and full of ideas, so why sweat the lineups?
Dan Deacon – Gliss Riffer
I don’t usually like to write anything saying that a recording artist is ‘back,’ but in some cases, it really fits. On his last two records, ‘Bromst’ and ‘America,’ Dan Deacon has been playing with how to expand his genius blend of DIY electronic music into something more orchestral and grand. ‘Gliss Riffer,’ recorded mostly in transit while touring, returns to the stem of Deacon’s more insular, one-man-with-many-cables sound.
‘Gliss Riffer’ is also as much an evolution as it is a return, seeing more focus on Deacon’s development as a vocalist and lyricist. ‘When I Was Done Dying’ uses both language and noise in equal measure to create the imagined effect of living one’s last moment of existence. While ‘America’ tended to get a little lost in its own abrasiveness and buried most of the vocals in effects that made them tough to decipher, this record seems to be building on something Deacon tapped into on ‘Snookered,’ the centrepiece (for me, anyway) from ‘Bromst.’ On that track, beauty and poesy are conjured from a combination of computer-generated noises and ‘actual’ instruments that are as good at creating texture as they are at furzing out the human brain with aural stimuli.
Various Artists – The Guest Soundtrack
There’s plenty to say about this film, which is maybe homage and truly fromage, but one thing that must be said about it is that its soundtrack makes it much better (maybe even elevating it from mozza to gouda). It’s almost like the film is just a feature-length video to showcase this great set of twelve songs.
It all starts with a cool, almost forgotten number from the British post-punk eighties, courtesy of Love and Rockets. ‘Haunted When the Minutes Drag’ is a great period piece, exemplifying that era with no rust thirty years later, even with its bluesy touches and an eight-minute running time. Soon after, we’re treated to a rare new pop tune remix from Annie (never a bad thing) that channels the sweet and sour and sweet again strains of ABBA (think ‘Fernando’) with vocals that are clippy and robotic in the verses, but smooth and sugary in the chorus. The crown jewel of this set is Mike Simonetti’s ‘The Magician’, though. If you see The Guest and can’t help thinking that it feels a lot like Drive, much of that instinct might stem from the moment featuring this track. This makes sense in a weird way, since Simonetti used to operate the Italians Do It Better disco label with producer Johnny Jewel, who did an expansive score for Drive that was never used. This number is a great Protools-style ‘track builder,’ adding one new, very simple aspect of a grinding beat structure every four or eight bars until reaching a climax, a teardrop refrain, then back to that grinding bass and synthetic hi-hat. This production precision runs through most of the soundtrack whether it’s old and gothy (Sisters of Mercy, Xymox) or fresh and dark-wavy (S U R V I V E, Gatekeeper).
Two of the excellent Front 242 songs that play in the film don’t appear on the soundtrack, but that won’t stop you from burning your own copy on a blank CD and writing FOR DAVID on it in fat black marker.
Funkadelic – First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate
I’ve had this since December, but this week was the first time that I listened to each of its three discs back to front (in three sittings, not one, ’cause that would take three an’ a half hours). It’s a real pity that this has already been such an under-appreciated release, generating very little hype. The record is the culling of over three decades of recording from one of music’s most flamboyant, visionary and influential forces, yet it can’t get one one-thousandth the buzz as ‘Ye can for just going to the Grammys and doing exactly what he did six years ago (even though this time, it was clearly not spontaneous). Kanye’s music — just for a touch of context — is just cult-of-personality-as-sound, while George’s personality is the cult of music made flesh. George Clinton actually personifies a sound that has permeated rap, dance, R ‘n’ B, rock and pop for forty-something years, something only a few other people (Miles Davis, James Brown, Quincy Jones, Bernard Purdie) can claim to have done.
But ‘First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate’ is not some dusty, old-timey trip down musical memory lane. Much of it sounds like George dipping into the many styles he’s had a huge hand in shaping over the years and having his way with them as masterfully and unabashedly as ever. Since the last Funkadelic record in the early eighties, music has changed a lot, and ‘First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate’ reflects this. Some tracks feature a keys and drum machine skeleton, some sound more like a band, some feature guest vocals (rapping and singing) and some are clearly the product of George getting down on his own. As George has recorded these 33 tracks over 33 years, he sounds like he’s been influenced by the flavours of people like Dr. Dre, R Kelly, Andre 3000, Dam Funk and Prince, but that just seems so crazy to suggest, since none of these people would sound anything like they do if not for George. As Digital Underground rapped on ‘Tales of the Funky’, “everybody funky knows George is where it begins.”