No Trivia

Archive for April, 2011

Nguzunguzu, Nostalgia, & The Death Of The Acapella

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Los Angeles duo Nguzunguzu (Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda) are invigorated by the sonic give-and-take between radio R&B and the of-the-moment underground dance that’s going on in too many places to name right now. Think: Diplo and Afrojack producing “Look At Me Now” for Chris Brown (it always comes back to that song, doesn’t it?) but also, dubstep pretty much just doom-and-glooming the retro-futuristic sounds of mid-2000s R&B and creating a new phenomenon altogether. And Nguzunguzu are so deep into this stuff, beyond what the blogs have already co-signed and declared cool, that they’ve put on experimental Baltimore club producer and No Trivia favorite, DJ Pierre (he’s on Mirage Remixes EP, and Vicki Leekx).

Their Perfect Lullaby mix, moves from Monica and Brandy to Ciara to R. Kelly to Nicki Minaj to footwork to whatever you want to call what Kingdom does, toying with genre expectations, conjuring up immediate nostalgia, making a point that I’ve been harping on for awhile (that everything coming out these days is chillwave), but totally not sounding like “bullshit,” even though that description would suggest otherwise, right? Perfect Lullaby begins with what appears to be Nguzunguzu’s sonic mission statement: The synthesized harps from “The Boy Is Mine” looped over and over into something that’s briefly Terry Riley-like. The group’s own productions are darker and even more slippery, maintaining the sensuality of R&B even as they mutate it into slow-fast rhythmic work-outs and foggy dusted grooves. It’s all about tension, or maybe it’s all about release? It’s hard to tell–and that seems to be the point.

One of the many reasons for Perfect Lullaby keeping at least one of its feet in a couple years ago (besides those songs still being great), is that hits from the early to mid 2000s are far easier to remix. The digital era, along with with the supposed “vinyl resurgence” skipping right over rap and R&B, has made the once standard acapella track something of a rarity and therefore, all-out remixes close to nonexistent. The Nicki Minaj song here, “Wave Ya Hand,” is left untouched (it’s a great pick because it already sounds like a remix) and the few 12-inch singles still being released rarely feature an acapella track. This seems like another one of the industry’s insane, short-sighted techniques for keeping everything as close to their chest as possible: By protecting the acapella, remixes are restricted to those co-signed by the labels and artists. It’s a really dumb move and ignores the importance of remixes in accidentally exposing songs to new audiences or providing them a musical life beyond the right-now. Then again, major labels are only interested in the right-now.

The recent dearth of acapellas may have also helped the growing prominence of chaotic, regional sounds though. Footwork, dubstep, pitch-shifting remixers like Flying Lotus or Star Slinger, the renewed love of screw music, and jagged, noisy scenes like Baltimore club, bounce, or moombahton, don’t rely on a nice clean vocal; they can reach into even the busiest pop song or the radio hit that’s currently winning the loudness wars and still chip off a nice chunk and flip the shit out of it. Then, groups like Nguzunguzu find a place for it in a mix, while whatever major label sanctioned remix dies out a few months after it premieres on Jersey Shore.

Written by Brandon

April 27th, 2011 at 2:49 am

Pitchfork: Gatto Fritto – Gatto Fritto


Reviewed this hard-to-figure-out album album for Pitchfork. Dude’s kinda just jamming together all of my favorite sounds and then stretching them out. It’s a grower. Also, ideal vinyl purchase because of the way the songs fall onto four sides.

UK producer Ben Williams, aka Gatto Fritto, makes exploratory, downright jammy electronic music. His self-titled debut is the sound of someone mining every nook and cranny of his influences for a few really specific sounds: the weird warmth of Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder’s chintzy propulsion, Detroit techno’s stalwart intensity, and the goofball sprawl of soundtrack-era Tangerine Dream…

Written by Brandon

April 25th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Pitchfork

“Girls (Who Run The World)” vs. “Ass On The Floor”


Yes, this new Beyonce song is disappointing, but her strategy for the last two albums has been to first drop a “meh” single (because people will still listen and radio will still play it no matter what) and save the better stuff for when the album is out or 5 months after it dropped. B’Day’s first single was the “Crazy In Love” retread “Deja Vu,” and the second, the edgy Kelis rip-off “Ring The Alarm.” The third single was ” Irreplaceable.” Though it was officially released at the same time as “Single Ladies,” the first song we heard from I Am…Sasha Fierce was the boilerplate, double-standard ballad “If I Were A Boy.” The last time Beyonce came out swinging was on her solo debut with “Crazy In Love,” and that was because she had to.

“Girls (Who Run The World)” at least finds Beyonce a little closer to the cutting-edge, playing off the steady ubiquity of Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” and the mega-success of Diplo and Afrojack’s production for Chris Brown “Look At Me Now.” In a sense, Beyonce’s attempting what M.I.A could, and should be doing, if she could actually hack it as pop star–and if the industry weren’t so afraid of female pop stars with opinions. So yes, a comforting, zeitgeist-grabbing first single, complete with motivational lyrics is exactly what Beyonce’s supposed to do and everyone needs to be okay with that. It is a bummer though, that the beat is so weak: A “Pon De Floor” rehash with a backing track that crams a whole bunch of synthy radio sounds together. “Girls (Who Run The World)” feels undercooked and cynical.

Diddy-Dirty Money’s Swizz Beatz-produced “Ass On The Floor,” does so much more with the “Pon De Floor” drums. Swizz and Diddy know that even though it’s all about those off-kilter catchy drums, the rest needs to be fleshed-out if it’s to be peddled to regular-ass people, who intuitively grasp the core elements of dance music much better than a producer/ DJ making music for a contingent of likeminded, solipsistic dance music nerds. So, Swizz puffs up “Pon De Floor” with more percussion, and then, smooths it out with fluttering synths and subtle vocoder, and scores the song’s break-up back and forth with electronic strings. Like “Girls (Who Run The World),” “Ass On The Floor” is a song of goofy platitudes, but it’s also tinged with this very-real sense of post-relationship anger in the Dirty Money “pop” verses (“you motherfucker”) and it all builds to Diddy’s verse, which is wounded, knowing, narcissism. Once Diddy’s verse fades out, Dirty Money return, as do those just gorgeous swooping Phillip Glass-goes-disco strings. It’s an epic moment that expresses the frustrations Diddy couldn’t fully figure out with words, and gives the song’s cast some hope for clarity and maybe even, reconciliation.

Swizz Beatz the art-collecting, A.D.D producer who sampled Daft Punk before Kanye, who sliced and diced Justice into a hit for Jay Z, seems to always be just a little ahead of his time. And Diddy? A few years ahead, obsessively working out a way to incorporate house and trance into navel-gazing broken-hearted dance pop for so damned long that he was lapped by Kanye,, and much of the industry, but was still, just a little too early for this post-dubstep, Diplo-on-the-radio trend.

Written by Brandon

April 23rd, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Beyonce, Diddy, Diplo, vs.

Spin: “The Debate About Rap, Misogyny, and Homophobia.”


This week’s column is a bunch of related but all-over-the-place thoughts on Ashley Judd, Frank Ocean, Mister Cee, and Lil B.

The complex relationship between rap music, misogyny, and homophobia forever stays a talking point for hip-hop’s chin-stroking faction. But in the past few weeks, such issues have crept into even the most casual discussions of the genre. There’s just been a whole bunch of strange, freaky shit going on with hip-hop and sexuality lately, and much of it relates to what I’ve been trying to parse out here in the past few columns. So this week, I’m going to revisit some of those earlier ideas, throw out a few new ones, correct myself in a couple of places, and just generally trace how this discussion is evolving — or in some ways, devolving…

Written by Brandon

April 23rd, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column

Fandor: “A Fateful Trip, ‘Hofmann’s Potion’ Shows the Discovery of LSD.”


Haven’t you heard? 4/19’s the new 4/20! I wrote about the Canadian documentary Hofmann’s Potion–which traces the pre-60s history of LSD–for the film site Fandor. If you’re not familiar, Fandor is a streaming movie rental service that focuses on independent and hard-to-find older films. If Hofmann’s Potion (or anything else on Fandor) grabs you, you can watch one movie for free on the site by logging in via Facebook.

Today, all the run of the mill stoners are anticipating tomorrow’s designated smoke-up date of “4/20” (The date’s significance is appropriately hazy: some say it’s a police code, others trace it back to a ‘70s in-joke, but either way it’s the hallowed pothead holiday). Mind you, the true drug connoisseurs aren’t pre-gaming by stocking up on potato chips, killer tunes, and fresh hackie-sacks. They’re already glued to their recliner, or wandering the woods, straight tripping balls!

See, April 19th marks the day in 1943 that Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann “discovered” d-lysergic acid diethylamide, a.k.a LSD, while researching a cure for migraine headaches. He accidentally absorbed a small bit through his finger and took note of its well, evidentiary effects. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Hoffmann’s Potion revisits the early days of LSD, featuring a cast of now-elderly scientists (most in quite good health) who constitute a secret society privy to this new portal to perception…

Written by Brandon

April 19th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Fandor, drugs, film

Spin: “Female Trouble, Is Rap More Mature than R&B?”


This week’s column is on the uncomfortable date-rape qualities of most R&B, how Chris Brown is a shitbag (duh), why Miguel rules, and how rap’s a lot smarter about chick stuff than it’s given credit for. Shouts to Joe Coscarelli for partially inspiring this one.

Rap and R&B right now are, for the most part, interchangeable. That’s not a complaint, it’s a simple fact of contemporary urban music. R&B grabbed some of rap’s edginess so it didn’t become mom-and-girlfriend music, and rap successfully teamed up with R&B to create what De La Soul once called “rap and bullshit.” But even though rap’s still up for criticism by any and everyone (even Ashley Judd!), it’s rare to hear serious complaints about the content of the latest slow jam. If rap has to deal with all of R&B’s corny nonsense, then R&B should have to deal with some of the fallout from those who still claim rap is corrupting America.

A fun game is spotting the random African-American male crooner who gets tagged as a “rapper” by any number of clueless newspapers or magazines. There’s an implicit value judgment made when, say, Ne-Yo receives the “rapper” label: This stuff, with it’s futuristic synths and bold drums and sexually explicit lyrics, is not R&B (a.k.a., love songs for grown-ass men and women). Even more common is the act of referring to a troubled R&B singer as a “rapper.” Google “rapper R. Kelly” and see what comes up. Chris Brown was suddenly a “rapper” around the time he viciously assaulted Rihanna and, once again, when he threw a chair at a window after he was asked about Rihanna in an interview with journalistic heavy-hitters Good Morning America.

Written by Brandon

April 15th, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column

“Tang Golf” vs. Pharrell’s “Liquid Swords”


Or: “How Everything Wrong With Rap Right Now Can Be Unpacked Via Two Of The Odd Future Kids Rapping Over “4th Chamber.”

So, you’ve got Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats, part of the oft-compared to Wu Tang crew Odd Future, confirming their fans’ lunkheaded, connect-the-dots hype/mythology in the laziest way possible: Rapping (not even that well, mind you) over a beyond-classic RZA beat. It makes sense. Too much sense.

Then there’s Pharrell, a pop-rap genius producer, known for a goofy falsetto and lumpy verses here and there. For 2006’s In My Mind: The Prequel, he teamed up with DJ Drama, a dude from Philadelphia who made a name for himself compiling Southern hip-hop mixtapes. Together, they made one of the weirdest entries in the trap-rap mixtape series. It nods to Pharrell’s backpack rap origins just because, but mostly features raps about high-end fashion and models over Young Jeezy hits and 80s and 90s rap classics. Pharrell raps over two Liquid Swords productions. This is how dude promoted his solo debut. Think about that.

Now, it’s the next-big-thing iconoclasts that tow the party line–almost expertly so. Pharrell took that line and bent it back on itself until it was a big continuum of hip-hop: Backpacker shit, trap-rap, gritty NYC stuff, moody synthy pop-rap and more. It’s really this simple: Pharrell violated the sanctity of Liquid Swords much better.

As I (and others) said before, perhaps Odd Future are best understood not as iconoclasts out of nowhere, but subversive opportunistic shitfucks toying with the system from the inside, exposing Nahright and 2DopeBoyz as ad whores, highlighting the boring biases of the bleeding edge tastemakers, and showing the goon from Gorilla Vs. Bear to be one more guy who suddenly starts writing in rap slang when he blogs about hip-hop!!!!!.

Written by Brandon

April 13th, 2011 at 1:08 am

b free daily: “Ponytail’s subdued thrills.”

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Wrote a little something about the new Ponytail record, Do Whatever You Want All The Time, which is also probably their best. If you didn’t like the other stuff, you might even like this one! My point of comparison would probably be No Age’s Everything In Between, just in terms of it changing up their sound ever-so-slightly but making it much more accessible and like, sticky? Dunno, lots I didn’t want to cram into this piece, but here, they really sound like formidable and grand. Think: Krautrock and Prog and all kinds of noisy but not exactly cool epic, experimental rock. Also, because there’s no other place for it: Big co-sign on Ken Seeno’s solo cassette work.

“Easy Peasy,” the first track on Do Whatever You Want All the Time, the latest from Baltimore spazz-rockers Ponytail, begins with some delightfully cheesy synthesizers. Then, rock ’n’ roll drums start to rumble and vocalist Molly Siegel starts to sing in her signature, wordless style. Finally, some guitars show up and a good and proper song is formed. Just at that moment, when all the disparate elements come together, Ponytail explode. Surf-rock riffs scream across the track, bold dance beats pulse and Siegel squeaks out the phrase “running out of time” over and over.

Musically, Ponytail recreate the boundless joy and bratty petulance of childhood. “Late For School,” from their 2008 sophomore release, Ice Cream Spiritual, is a slow-growing whirl of instruments and primal screams that are rocketed forward by a shout of “Oh no! I’m late for school!” Their 2006 debut album, Kamehameha, is named after a fighting move from the anime/manga “Dragonball Z.”…

Written by Brandon

April 12th, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Posted in Baltimore, b free daily

Spin: “Can Hip-Hop Man Up? Mr. Cee vs. Homophobia.”


This week’s column is a continuation of last week’s discussion of hip-hop and homophobia via Mister Cee’s arrest. I’m trying to chart a sense of how rap’s dealing with homosexuality that started with this Sound Of The City piece and really, it’s not doing that bad! Like a lot of the country, it’s still got far to go, but it’s getting there.

The arrest of Calvin “DJ Mister Cee” LeBrun for public lewdness and indecent exposure is a sad, but unique opportunity to continue last week’s discussion about gay hip-hop and rap’s longstanding homophobia. For those who hide from SEO-obsessed gossip blogs and endlessly snarky morning-zoo radio, and as a result, haven’t yet heard, around 4AM on March 30, police spotted Mister Cee in his car, allegedly receiving oral sex from a man. As could’ve been expected, the incident soon became fodder for jokes and a mini-controversy ensued.

This Tuesday, the police report was released; it does confirm the charges, and at the very least, complicates Cee’s Twitter statements that nothing happened. It’s also worth noting that Cee, who is married, was arrested twice before on charges of solicitation, and that the pretty much awful Wendy Williams has been stirring up gay rumors about the DJ since 2007…

Written by Brandon

April 8th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Spin, Spin column

Pitchfork: Clams Casino – Instrumental Mixtape


You already know Clams’ mixtape is brilliant and beautiful if you’re reading this blog but I did my best to try to put the awesomeness of this really ineffable release into words. I wanted to expand Clams’ work out of its “based” context because frankly, he’s doing so much more (compare this to say, Keyboard Kid’s interesting but only interesting mixtape to really get a sense of how grand this thing is) but I also didn’t want to align it too closely with anything else because it’s clear that Clammy Clams doesn’t know or care about hypnagogic pop or any of that stuff, though his aesthetic’s disturbingly close. Just look at cover comparison Joseph Ohegyi posted. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, check out Sean Fennessey’s spot-on review of Wiz’s Rolling Papers.

“Based.” Lil B’s buzzword doesn’t really have a clear definition, but it has, nevertheless, spawned a distinctive aesthetic. A search through music given the “based” tag on BandCamp reveals a whole bunch of rambling rappers aping B’s free-associative flow and just as many oddball producers putting out home-recorded, sorta stoned-sounding beats that maybe– just maybe– Lil B will one day rap over. “Based” has evolved from a style of rapping (and a wonky world philosophy) to a know-it-when-you-hear-it sound. New Jersey producer Clams Casino is one of the sonic architects behind “based music.” His beat for Lil B’s “I’m God”, featuring a stretched-out sample of Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now”, is the “based music” blueprint.

“I’m God” isn’t included on Instrumental Mixtape; the beats here are even more diffuse, and it wouldn’t really fit. It speaks to Clams’ rarefied vision that he refuses to find room for an in-demand instrumental on a free download but includes an untitled final track, a bizarre, minute-long footwork-like manipulation of “Teddy’s Jam” from 1980s new jack swing group Guy. This collection of instrumentals doesn’t simply survey Clams’ production; it turns his rap beats into moody compositions and flips the basic beat-tape concept into an album-like collection of electronic music…

Written by Brandon

April 8th, 2011 at 5:29 am

Posted in Pitchfork