In the first ediiton of his new column named Never Knows Best, NFOP staff writer Trey Reis goes in-depth on Dual Form, a co-release between Stones Throw and Leaving Records, the process of exploration in new music journalism, and the future of tape labels reaching a larger audience.
I would say that 95 per cent of the records and tapes I buy online are purchased after 3 AM. I don’t know why this is, exactly. It’s possible I’m capable of worrying about money more during reasonable hours of the day, whereas sleep deprivation puts me more in line with the role of the American consumer. Also, a good majority of the blog spelunking I do is during that time of the night between deciding to go to sleep and actually falling asleep; a time, I’ve discovered, when my head has slowed down enough to listen to an entire Soundcloud embed and actually read what people have to say about a track or an album or a label.
That’s an important part of music journalism, I think; the willingness to read about the same track from five or ten different sources in order to gain a better understanding of connections and trends forming both in the music and in the way we all write about it. Although it may indirectly form our opinions, deciding what not to mention in my own write-ups and reviews is a beneficial process in keeping music journalism fresh and interesting.
I discovered Dual Form during one of those late night webspace digs. I was sold on it after seeing new tracks from Dem Hunger, Trance Farmers, and Run DMT on the tracklist. But browsing around online revealed hype about one specific track on the compilation: an Arthur Russell tribute of his song "You and Me Both" by Julia Holter. It’s a great track and a wonderfully opposite-direction kind of cover wherein Holter strips away nearly everything that would have been a draw about the song upon its release, opting to use the moody lyrics to reestablish a new setting (through a wall of audience chatter) for the song more akin to the slow-moving pop haze of her 2012 list-topping album, Ekstasis.
The popularity of Ekstasis and its place on many end-of-the-year lists is likely a large part of the reason her contribution to Dual Form is receiving the attention that it is. Run DMT’s masterwork, Dreams, received waves of acclaim in 2011, but the band was mostly silent last year save a short split cassette with Tracey Trance on CGI Friday. Louis Johnstone, the many-faced man behind Dem Hunger, has been focusing primarily on his Wanda Group project over the last two years, which has yet to receive the kind of attention it probably deserves in that blurred-line genre of drone and beat music.
Not to say that the attention "You and Me Both" is receiving lessens any other song on the Dual Form compilation. It’s an angle in which to discuss the release, and it certainly hooked me. But if the media is to be a constant check and balance for itself as well as the things it covers, then I feel it’s important as a journalist, but also a fan, to see the trends in coverage and diversify the literature being written, especially in the case of compilations with multiple artists.
Different aspects of a release of any size will appeal to different people. It’s like those people at record stores in the listening booths checking out records with the bass turned all the way up. Their priority is probably DJing, and a track without a decent level of bass isn’t much use to them regardless of details such as the way the art looks, how good the lyrics are, or what label released it.
In this case, the labels involved with Dual Form are a detail worth mentioning. Stones Throw, known primarily for its hip hop releases, teamed up with another LA label, Leaving Records, to highlight many of the Leaving artists, which, typically, exist on a level of fame below Stones Throw artists like J Dilla, Madlib, and label founder, Peanut Butter Wolf. It’s like a Stones Throw nod to the prevailing DIY scene in LA that garnered the creation of Stones Throw in 1996 and is still prospering today. And, depending on the attention span of this cassette tape resurgence, who’s to say that Leaving Records won’t be as big as Stones Throw is in another eight to ten years?
The compilation title Dual Form seems to be, in part, a reference to the physical releases of the album itself—on vinyl from Stones Throw, or on cassette tape from Leaving Records. For many of the artists, accustomed to tape releases and handmade CD-R’s, it is their vinyl debut. And it’s leading to a string of future releases, including The Cyclist’s debut album on Stones Throw.
The Cyclist’s contribution to Dual Form was, for many (myself included), the first we’d ever heard of him. In an interview with Dazed Digital, Matthewdavid, Leaving Records' founder, mentioned receiving an email from the 18-year-old kid behind The Cyclist, having never heard of him before, introducing himself and his music and commenting on aspects of Leaving Records he admired. The Cyclist brings that organic feel to electronic music, not unlike some of the earlier Teengirl Fantasy material but with a strong bass sense, reminding me of Actress’s 2012 dark dance stunner, R.I.P. It’s a refreshing alternative to that trend of chopped-and-screwed sample method (I’ve seen the term 404 tossed around to describe this, which is in reference to the overwhelming reliance on Roland’s SP-404 sampler to produce this kind of music) prevalent in cassette tape culture throughout all of last year and carrying over into 2013.
The Dem Hunger track on the compilation really surprised me. Leaving much of the tape hiss manipulation behind him, it’s the cleanest Dem Hunger song I’ve heard yet, while still managing to keep the beatfuck aspect of previous albums like Caveman Snack and Heavy Spinach intact. It seems Louis Johnstone’s last couple years of drone exploration as Wanda Group has had an effect on the attention to detail in his other projects. While I like all of the Wanda Group material that shows up mysteriously on his tumblr page, I did always prefer the old Dem Hunger material, and I’m hoping its appearance on this compilation, which was comprised completely of new, unreleased material, is a sign of future happenings from this face of the guy’s musical multiple personalities.
The Run DMT contribution has the same bedroom pop feeling to it as songs from Dreams, such as “Romantic” or “Richard”, and leaves much of the kaleidoscope visions from that album behind. It doesn’t leave much to assumption about any future material from Run DMT, but a potential 2013 album is still high on my list for the most anticipated releases for this year.
TRANCE FARMERS was one of those Bandcamp gems I stumbled upon one night. With only a short 2011 EP to their name, self-described as “Elvis and Busta Rhymes on the beach”, I was pretty excited to find this new song, “Purple Hay”, featured on Dual Form, and it has become my favorite song on the compilation by far. More Elvis and less Busta Rhymes this time around, it uses that strong Ducktails-esque drum machine and jangly guitar relaxation form channeled through a really simple 60s pop structure. I will definitely be hoping for a full-length debut from this band sometime in 2013.
According to Stones Throw, this is the first co-release between the two labels of a new distribution deal wherein some Leaving Records artists will be released to wider audiences through the Stones Throw name. It’s not only good news for the rest of us, but perhaps even a move we could begin seeing more of from these smaller tape labels responsible for putting out some of the past few year’s best music, like a loophole for talent unable to afford or uninterested in the clean sound of the traditional studio experience. With some of the more well-known tape labels selling out of their releases before many of us knew they existed, this could be a good sign of things to come.
Get your copy of Dual Form over here.