For those who have been following Fatima Al Qadiri, Brute isn’t unfamiliar territory. Or at least that’s what I thought on my first listen-through the Kuwaiti composer’s new full length album, out now. In fact, Brute is quite subtle. While Al Qadiri continues to develop on similar themes as in her past work – the industry of war, the balance between play and violence, video game soundtracks, a kind of futuristic occultism – Brute situates itself amid the crisis of modern race dynamics in America. Utilizing a vocal sample of retired LAPD sergeant Cheryl Dorsey, for example, Al Qadiri constructs a most delicate patchwork of grime, ghosts, and racial phantasmagoria. One might say that Al Qadiri is at her best in the mode of the soundtrack, Brute being a kind of soundtrack whose central violence revolves around police brutality.
In a 2014 interview at the Red Bull Music Academy, we heard Fatima Al Qadiri say, “It’s not brute force,” referring to her martial arts-inspired approach to composition. And yet, two years later, we have Brute. I would argue, however, that as much as Al Qadiri has mastered an agile, fit-for-battle sound, the subtleties in her work have continued to multiply, making Brute an album whose true value is only apparent on the third or fourth listen.
Below, I offer my thoughts on some tracks from the album, highlighting its lows and highs.
Look deep into the eyes of T-Word and Joey – what do you see? A progressive and scrutinizing stance on gender politics? Sardonic yet useful opinion about gender reassignment becoming more accessible? For Berlin queer pop project GODMOTHER, such topics are an innate part of life. However, the video for "MTFTM" – a title expressing the abbreviation for someone who has several serial reassingments, in this case male-to-female-to-male – offers us crevices, clefts, chest hair, fish nets, and the story of two young people who party their way through their realizations that they look better as the opposite sex. It turns on itself not to deliver some kind of transphobic message about staying the born anatomy and assigned gender, but rather to playfully convey the arbitrariness of gender and, yes, even our anatomical cis-selves. Having that said, Joey reassures us that "a rectum is a rectum is a rectum." We can change our bodies until the cows come home, but, like this euphemism which speaks for a comforting, basic truth, we all still need to poop from time to time.
Spend some time lurking in those dingy Brooklyn DIY spaces where magic and adventure run rampant and you’re bound to come across René Kladzyk, the singular force behind Ziemba. It’s all too easy to place Ziemba in a reductive category of women making otherworldly performance-based pop music, a legacy pioneered by Suzanne Ciani, Kate Bush, and many other varied and prolific artists. Still, this likeness is evident watching Ziemba use her performance as a vehicle to lingering fantasy, her eyes piercing the crowd, demanding to be seen on her terms. What makes women reject organic sounds, or further, reject our very bodies that betray within heteropatriarchy? And do we turn to futurist music to, if only for a moment, cope with this broken world and experience a paradise utopia?
Kladzyk’s performances are not to be missed, an essential piece to the realm that is Ziemba. With today’s release of The Longest Night on this One Habitable Star, a holiday EP available for free download via Bandcamp, comes a Texmas Tour. Check out Ziemba live, stream the EP exclusively below, and watch for a debut full-length in 2016.
“People find whatever gets them in their happy place to stay functional while they’re on this planet,” says Jamal to me over Skype. “I find little minute things that keep me stabilized.” Halfway through an hour-long interview with Chicago’s Jamal Moss – also known as Hieroglyphic Being – we are talking about comfort zones. He tells me that when he’s on tour, he often keeps to himself, preferring to stay in his hotel room until the next show. I quite like thinking about Moss’ often hectic House-meets-noise experiments in terms of comfort, perhaps because his music may very well belie any chance of it.
Moss’ latest album, We Are Not The First, is the result of a collaboration among some formidable forces. The Arkestra’s Marshall Allen, jazz saxophonist Daniel Carter, along with Greg Fox, Shelley Hirsch, Shahzad Ismaily, Elliott Levin, Rafael Sanchez, and Ben Vida form the J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl. (J.I.T.U. stands for “journey into the unexpected.”) All together, Moss and company manage to crack free jazz over the head of experimental House. On “Civilization That Is Dying,” a serene, if distorted, guitar melody is quickly interrupted by the ambling trills of Shelly Hirsch, sweeping percussion, and oscillating synth-scape. Each track seems to read more urgently than the last, culminating in more noise- and synth-heavy tracks like “Universe Is a Simulation.”
Admittedly, however, Moss’ conversation style says more about his music than I could ever think to say. He is quick-moving, continually on to the next thing, and somehow manages to both over- and under-explain most things. Listening to We Are Not The First is not unlike this. On the one hand, there are motifs that seem to appear and reappear, perhaps to the point of belaboring them. “Brain Damage” seemed to begin, proceed, and end with much the same high-energy free-for-all that the track right before, “Cybernetics Is a an Old Science,” did, for instance. On the other hand, there are other moments on the album that have only continued to pique my interest: about two minutes into “Root Of,” we hear Moss’ voice ask, “What’s the root of Trayvon [Martin]? What’s at the bottom of that question?”
Right at the start of the interview, Moss issued a challenge to me. “People ask me questions and it's basic shit. I'm not a basic bitch. You gotta dig deep, you know?” he said, laughing. In that moment, I figured the best place to begin was with the music video for “F*ck the Ghetto / Think About Outer Space.” “Tell me how it came together and then we’ll dive into things,” I promised. I thought about how I might up the ante, ask questions that Moss himself would find challenging – but there was no need. Moss dove into the material all on his own, with little prompting from me. In the text below, you’ll a transcription of a six-minute excerpt from our interview, in which I’ve tried my best to preserve Moss’ spirit. And if you haven’t already seen it, be sure to watch the video that spurred the majority of our conversation, embedded below.
Note: Right before the moment excerpted below, Moss has been suggesting that he’d had a different vision for the music video than what came about. He says things like, “It's not for me to interject with my ego and say, no, I want it more gritty than that.” Then he takes a short pause and proceeds –
I wanted people to see the whole thing, with the store that only sells the 40-ounces, with the packaged meats, with the junk food. That would've been me if I would've did the video. But I get what they were doing. They was trying to get it more on a cerebral level, along with the vernacular of the lyrics. I get that. But if I was given a chance to give my take, I would actually put a narrative to it so people could identify with it. So, it wouldn't be just showing some Black folks coming out of the projects with what some people consider food – which I consider not food, the stuff that you would buy at these stores – but I would show it from different communities. I wouldn't just make it a Black thing. I would show somebody, say, that's poor in the rural parts of the Appalachians or like Tennessee or Kentucky, and show where they gotta shop to get food. I mean, hell, they gotta hunt for it, you know. Road kill is a delicacy – and it's no diss to them, it's the truth. You do your research, a lot of those people who live in a mountain lifestyle, they hunt, they kill what they eat. And then the stuff that we eat, that we buy in those stores, kills us. Look at the whole weird dynamic of people, how they live and try to survive on this planet. Because the one thing is about perception is you might have other people go, oh, here go these Black folks crying wolf again. And whole point is, no – because my whole perception until 2001, when I was hanging out with my ex-girlfriend in Germany, I hung out at a whole town that was nothing but projects, as far as I knew. She's like, let's go hang out with my friend got this band watch them jam out and she's like, well, it's kind of poor where he's at. So, I hung out with her and her friends in his garage rehearsing and then we went to where he lived at, and when we got there, there had to have been like fifty, sixty buildings as far as I could see that was bald. At least twenty stories tall and they were projects. For white folks. In Germany. And I could not sleep that night. She lay up in the bed ready to get her freak on and I'm like, I'm having a moment. I'm like looking out the window because my whole reality is just being reconfigured right now and I'm trying to adjust to what I'm seeing right now. She's like, what are you talking about? I said, these are projects and these are projects with predominantly white people in it. I was just like, You gotta understand where I come from, we had always been projected that this was a Black thing, this was a Black problem. You know, whatever, yada yada yada, economics, lack of education and stuff, and then to see this – that awakened part of my third eye to realize, there's a bigger scheme that's going on in this world that most of us are not privy to. That's why I'm kind of weird when it comes about that a message is being put out. You know, sometimes in the media, you'll have somebody with a powerful message and they can get easily skewed at the power of the narrative of the director or the producer, or the medium or format that it's re-packaged to the general public. And then it's watered down and then people don't even take it seriously or they take it as somebody not being happy with life. They don't look at it as part of a human suffering [...] but it just would've been cool to do a video that shows everybody's struggle. So, I'm not empathizing with asshole Nazis or white supremacists or racist white people or people who are bigger than whatever, but everybody has a story to be told and maybe a lot of that disconnect of everybody hating on someone else is because they don't know how to weigh or convey their pain, their suffering, their fears, their struggles. So they'll gravitate towards something that has a medium that gives some type of shock and awe to express what they're trying to get out to the world about their needs. I think it's part of the artist to express that – not just because of my background or wherever I come from, but expressing from a human point of view. That's what I'm more about. So as far how the video came about, I'm happy with it. I'm glad it's out there. But the whole point was for people to get that mantra. I want people to be like, fuck the ghetto, and think about something bigger. So outer space doesn't necessarily mean out into the stars or into another planet. It means: look to a higher goal, look to a higher standard. Look above where you're at. It just so happens when you look up, there's a outer space, there's broader realms from what you're used to being around. Because I know cats that's still on the block from where I grew up at. When they go to downtown Chicago, they have to dress up in they Sunday suit like they going to Paris or something and all they going is five miles away. That's the mental scope of some people. There's some people that don't even want to leave their blocks or communities because that's all they know, that's their safety blanket. That's their Linus contingency. You know the Peanuts gang with Linus and his blanket? That's their comfort zone.
With all of the classical music posts we've been seeing here lately, it would of course be good to include something from Bing & Ruth. City Lake, a re-pressing from days that preceeded the arrival of Tomorrow Was The Golden Age, is a full spectrum of urban scenes and sonic beauty implicitly celebrating the human condition, triumphs and failures alike. From the cinematic delight of "Rails" to the abridged and geometric storytelling of "Broad Channel / A Little Line in a Round Face," City Lake is a pictutre of Bing & Ruth as an open door. The door is propped open with a door peg, a signaling invitation established by someone at an earlier time who is typically marked as thoughtful and at times shy. Outside of the doorway is a vast and sunny field, a remodeled elysium, like the one witnessed in the video for "Broad Channel:"
What if you can't make your way through the doorway, though? For whatever reason, it just isn't working: you see it, you see people approaching and passing through it, and you see the attractive warm grasses beyond the boundary. Alas, you aren't drawn or guided towards it. It's like a scenario in which you are not being let in on a group secret. There are hints being tossed your way, but no questions being answered, no inclusive or explanatory language on offer. Instead, there is denial and cover up, and no one is available to sit down and translate it to you.
Now, think of the emotions triggered by a memory of feeling excluded: fear, regret, confusion, rebelliousness, will to fabricate and/or locate a flaw in the system, preparedness to expound upon said flaw, impulse to overcompensate, and other complexities.
For me, the fanfare around Bing & Ruth is a league that I feel excluded from. I do not understand what goes on beyond the boundary that separates my tastes and tuning from what the orchestra graciously creates. Outside of my sphere, it is consumed passionately. I have an appreciation for orchestral soundscapes, in particular the intersection between classical and experimental. Systems/Layers by Rachel's, a brilliant 2003 release that followed up a steady and monumental discography of conceptual as well as biographical scoring, continues to serve as a personal beacon when sauntering through the boreal depths of modern (and underground) classical. Further, several pieces from Nina Nastasia and Set Fire To Flames have served as keystones within my second phase of musical maturation (forced techno separation – early 20s). Thus, I do not feel fear, regret, or rebelliousness when it comes to my reluctance with Bing & Ruth. Confusion, a little; fear, no. I know this style, genre, and sentiment. So what is it? If Bing & Ruth bear some implicit celebration of the human condition, perhaps I feel like they accept me for not having the same tuning, and that's that. Perhaps I admire this music's type of low-impact commerce yet significance in which it is taken in by others. It has such nepenthe contentness but no net in their casts.
For music so resonant, it is odd to think that it does not resonate with all pairs of ears. Still, the fact that Bing & Ruth is perched on resonance does not automatically mean it will have a resonating effect on one's taste. It leaves me driven with curiosity, similar to the one depicted by the wanderering man – futuristic Quaker journeyman – in the video for "Broad Channel." Fearful, astonished, and unsure of what to do, he stands in the sand, peering into spinning galaxies on disguised and statuesque bodies. We are shown his throbbing absorption of this bizzare display, and try to understand it on his behalf. Is it about macro/micro, or the old tenet that some things are meant to be neither understood nor all-inclusive, nor make any sense?
City Lake is available now on RVNG Intl. Read more and order a copy here.
Largely thanks to underground-approved labels such as Erased Tapes and figureheads such as Nils Frahm, modern classical piano composition that's lingering in that delicate spot between chamber music and pop has had a bit of a resurgence as of late. Enter Berlin via Milan artist Federico Albanese, whose forthcoming sophomore full-length The Blue Hour cleverly blends elements of drone and ambient with beautifully arresting, cautiously arranged piano pieces which stay clear of all those easy clichés you might associate with 'cinematic' soundscaping, a trap that so many contemporary composers fall for (though it certainly won't hurt their sales figures). Watch the masterfully shot video for LP standout "Shadow Land Part II" below, an unpretentiously constructed fragment of simple yet effective beauty. Winter music sans the kitsch.
The Blue Hour is out January 15 via Berlin Classics' new Neue Meister imprint.
After our smashing first edition last December, our Berghain Kantine night in collaboration with the admirable Kometenmelodien returns this Thursday, December 3. This time, headlining outré pop wizard LA Priest will be accompanied by no less then two promising local projects: recent Berlin transplants and newcomers Lea Porcelain, whose debut EP (out this week) shows all the compelling feats that make post new wave-informed, noirish guitar pop exciting in 2015. Aside from the boys, we’re especially happy to welcome (back) a true veteran of the city’s subterranean pop scene, Berlin via Paris artist Laura Clock, who you might still remember under her former nom de guerre ButterClock. On Thursday, she will present material from her criminally overlooked EP Baby Part One, which was released by Rinse FM in June.
Doors open at 8. Find more details about the event on Facebook.
On the second single from her debut album, Anna Meredith sweeps listeners into a frantic ride. "R-Type" slowly shuffles in before its relentless beat catapults it into an ascending frenzy of spaceships bleeps and reverberating, writhing guitar. The multi-instrumentalist and composer from Scotland makes an stridently confident statement with this single. There’s a joy and punk spirit in the way she structures the space and progressively builds momentum within her songs, previously seen on her bombastically brassy "Nautilus" single. The beaten-out urgent live drum halfway-through is thrilling set against her intergalactic dance. When "R-Type" takes off, it brings us somewhere else.
Anna Meredith’s debut album Varmints is out in March 2016 on Moshi Moshi.