Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Self-Care: 2018 Sounds

I ended the year looking back on hip-hop’s past and was reminded that its kids are all right. Hip-hop remains both the backbone of pop and its source of constant inspiration. How does it not get played out? By not giving a fuck: “In rap music, a 20-year old doesn’t care about Public Enemy,” as Adrock observes. Which is why there remains a wide gamut of rap records that I love. The year ends with two major non-surprises, given the steady avalanche of hype (albeit at two very different levels) both received over the course of the year: the ‘debuts’ of 70th Street Carlos’ 777 and Bad Bunny’s X100pre. Both don’t quite live up to the expectations of their singles dominance, but are thoroughly fun and exciting in all the ways music should be.

Those two records capture the range of possibilities in today’s rap. There are wild, party records for the here and now, like City Girls’ Period and Sheck Wes’ Mudboy. There are insular, introspecTHCive records for tomorrow, like Earl’s Some Rap Songs and Denmark Vesey’s Sun Go Nova. There are records that feel like hip-hop records, but will likely show up on jazz year-end lists, like Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen is a Reptile and Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings. There are R&B artists that are proving how limiting the term is because they wear their hip-hop credentials openly, like H.E.R. opening I Used To Know Her: The Prelude EP w/ the Lauryn cover (not to mention the name of the damn EP) or Ella Mai using DJ Mustard on the good half of her self-titled record. There are seemingly endless re-ups from the Egyptian Lover archives, be they instrumental or otherwise. There are Conservative Rap Coalition stalwarts making banging boom bap, like “#NeverUseTheInternetAgain.” There are popular rappers openly clowning systems, like Vince Staples’ FM! There are once-popular rappers still openly mocking those systems, like Jean Grae (oh, and Quelle Chris)’s Everything's Fine. There are popular rappers making popular tunes paying homage to wrestlers that were not-so popular back in the day, h/t Offset and Metro Boomin’s “Ric Flair Drip.” There are guys who really shouldn’t be rapping, but can still make a video that will be dissected for years--and, yes, “This is America” is the only Childish Gambino song I’ll ever know.

And that doesn’t capture everything. There’s the half of the Black Panther soundtrack, which is ridiculously over-laden with hooks. There’s Pusha T’s “Adidon,” which is so trim it makes Daytona seem excessive. And that song was still on some IG drama, so it’s not even as hard as Push can go. Speaking of more IG-ready stuff, Beyonce hooked up the tuba arrangement on O.T. Genasis’ “Everybody Mad,” which wasn’t half bad. JPEGMAFIA's Veteran is better. Also it > Death Grips, FWIW. Tinashe’s Joyride is finally here and it lives up to its name. MIKE had, like, 4 fantastic records this year alone, but Black Soap was my favorite.

2018 is the year my friend Jason got married. He asked for a ‘low rider’ soundtrack. True Angelenxs embrace this aesthetic. Eastside soul is a hybrid of identities and styles. It is a soundtrack for first love, most recent break-ups, Sunday mornings, or a quiet smoke alone. The bottom line is it must play well in the ride. Which is why I love all the attention Cuco receives. Older jams like “Lo Que Siento” and “Lava Lamp” are great additions to the canon, but the Chiquito EP has the gem, “Sunnyside,” which captures the hazy quality of the sun, the damaged but welcome breeze, and the beauty of our homeborn. Hana Vu went to school on the other side of town, but her How Many Times Have You Driven By proves she still gets it. “Cool” is probably the first song to be titled such and actually live up to its name. Most of the record plays better during the dusk hours, but you get the idea.

Teenage kicks for my teenage job? Nah, this is just the part of me that remains connected to that time. And being a teen now would be pretty cool for the music alone. You’d get pop stars openly dropping acid to make the best album of their career. Or Rosalía using her thesis to make the concept album El mal querer about an abusive relationship from the 13th Century. And you’d have Hayley Kiyoko. My old man ears has problems with the blown-out synth sounds across Expectations, but, fuck, “What I Need” is so much fun. Not to say the heroes of my youth are content to sit on the bench. Cat Power freed herself of the fuckery of Matador and breezed through with her aptly-titled The Wanderer. Neko Case picked up some synths, but raged harder on Hell-On. Björk always gets points for keeping here and there, by hooking up with the supremely dope Serpentwithfeet to ‘remix’ (I think it’s called, a ‘cover’) “Blissing Me.”

So, in response to Adrock’s point, maybe there is a way to pay respect to the past without being so... literal? Ambrose Akinmusire continues to probe at the possibilities, which is what makes Origami Harvest another joy to appreciate. Park Jiha seemingly veers the opposite direction by openly embracing tradition, but the true purpose is all in the title: Communion. It’s an exchange. And it’s on equal footings. Stewart Lee is in many ways the archetype old crank, but he easily remains one of the most currently relevant comics, as his Content Provider proves.

Still, the most direct way to drag the past back to your pocketbook is through a proper reissue. Thank goodness for the release of Jlin's score for Wayne McGregor's Autobiography, because I can't attend every modern dance performance in England. Prince’s Vault continues to leak open, but Piano and a Microphone is a tease. F’real, where is the Purple equivalent of the Complete Cuban Jam Sessions? Granted, the backstory of this monster set from Panart is hard to beat, but considering all the lore around that fucking Vault… Anyway, the Cuban Jam Sessions far exceed the hype. It’s overwhelming and engrossing. And I’m still working my way through it. Kinda like the Beastie Boys book. Come to think of it, all my childhood heroes had major works re-discovered: Trane, Monk and Mingus. It’s not enough to tread familiar ground though. Enter Julius Eastman’s The Zurich Concert, a welcome find that brings us back to the idea of a musician, a piano and a mic -- this time for recording. The playing is discursive and probing, yet forceful and commanding. Damn, I just realized I started the year listening to Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning. What a time to be alive, maaaan.

Of course, 2018 is not all about the present. James from Broadcast shared a 2006 demo on Trish’s bday. While re-watching the “Nobody But Me” scene in Kill Bill, I got to thinking about Buffalo Daughter. Their last album Konjac-Tion, as it turns out, is hella funky. A conversation at Salt Box reminded me of Roxanne Shante’s “Brothers Ain’t Shit.” Thank goodness Janelle James is getting some shine. I didn’t even know she had an album out. Black and Mild is an understatement. Kim Deal wormholes lead to her 2008 seven-inches. Indo G’s “Remember Me Ballin’” reminded me that the album deserved some attention; much better than the other Angel Dust. There’s an Orange Juice box set, which, c’mon, that shouldn’t require any other qualification. I spent an afternoon looking for more Chris Iijima and came across the fiercely relevant What Now, People? compilations. I don’t remember how I found the Georgia Sea Island Songs comp, but I was thinking how if I ever go back to the Carolinas, it’ll be to learn more about Gullah and Geechee culture. I felt nostalgic and added Nate Dogg’s Ghetto Preacher to the morning commute. I need a clean version of Devin the Dude’s To Tha X-Treme, so that can also get added. No idea why I hadn’t checked out Tuxedomoon before. Glad I finally did. Bow Wow Wow’s first three albums are really dope. I saw My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, so I mushed those two in my ears to pursue Flying Saucer Attack’s Distance and Chorus. My dad and I used to listen to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz show on NPR. Alice Coltrane guested in 1981. I like Jon Brion, but didn’t know much about him. The Bats’ How Pop Can You Get? is ridiculously catchy. XIT’s Entrance also has big hooks, french horns, and all those baroque touches you’d find in late ‘60s/early ‘70s psych-rock records. In the year that Disney (inadvertently) co-signed Huey and the Fellowship, I still find inspiration in the Good Life’s finest stylers, particularly Ngafish. Kill Em All got the most spins this year.

Last and certainly least, a special nod to my dear friend, Louis, who released Katzkills. It’s so him. I mean, it should be: he put his fucking name in the title.

Oh, I also saw some good shows, too:

Project Blowed @ Catch One
Sister Mantos @ Los Globos
Adrock & Mike D @ Montalban
Scientists @ Zebulon
The The @ Ford Amphitheatre
Vijay Iyer & Teju Cole @ Ace
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith @ Hollywood Forever
Cat Power @ Burton Chace Park
My Bloody Valentine @ Shrine
St. Vincent @ Orpheum
Breeders @ Ace
Jawbreaker @ Palladium

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