February, July, September, and December were my favorite months this year. Not this year meaning this year, but this year as memorialized in a dozen tracks, one for each month, on Philadelphia producer Nex Millen’s 2020 HindSight Millennium Beat EP. From tightly clasped hi-hats to loungey keys, jittery atmospheres to nearly subaural bass line melodies, refracted guitar samples to vocal playfulness, stereo hijinks to ratatatat percussion, those four tracks are among the album’s moodiest. Each, presumably, map’s Millen’s state of mind over the course of 2020’s countless horrors. Now his instrumental hip-hop is something to relax to, to recuperate to. There’s much more to 2020 HindSight than just those four tracks, but they’re the ones helping me make it through the last few weeks of the year.
This is my weekly(ish) answer to the question “What have you been listening to lately?” It’s lightly annotated because I don’t like re-posting material without providing some context. In the interest of conversation, let me know what you’re listening to in the comments below. Just please don’t promote your own work (or that of your label/client). This isn’t the right venue. (Just use email.)
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▰ Caminauta collaborates, on “ambient piano,” with cellist Federico Motta for the lilting “Distance Memories.”
▰ Chris Herbert reworked the non-musical moments from live performances into a pair of extended atmospheric tracks: “transformations of fragments of dead air, non-performance squeaks, hiss, hum, and stray organ notes.” (Available for free download, too.)
▰ Anwar HighSign (formerly known as Has-Lo) did listeners the favor of including the instrumentals on their recent hip-hop EP, Fleece, two of which were instant favorites, both downtempo tracks featuring beats from cut-up organ and drums (“Whole Lotta Trouble,” “When I Write”).
▰ Carl Stone renders two very different avant-pop tracks (“Ganci” and “Figli”) from the same set of samples, both heavily altering a pre-existing vocal line.
▰ A highlight of Olivia Block’s three untitled tracks of music for piano, organ, and unspecified objects is the first, its spare chords bringing to mind Morton Feldman. The album was made available as a digital download this past week, though it was first released back in 2017 (on the Another Timbre label).
Summer chores include collating and culling old records, beginning with the hip-hop instrumentals (mostly 12″s, but some full lengths as well). There will be little if any culling.
One of the great pleasures of listening to an active electronic musician for an extended period of time is observing how they bring new equipment into their orbit. There is the question of how that equipment, in turn, informs their work. There is also how they achieve their now familiar sounds with unfamiliar tools. The musician Dustmotes’ adoption of a new percussive-oriented sampler is a case in point. The London-based Dustmotes, also known as Paul Croker, has been making elegantly gritty instrumental hip-hop at least since 2011, which is the earliest credit on his discogs.com page, and also the first year I wrote about his music. His music often features a slightly drifting rhythm, a beat missed here, a tempo ebbing there. He regularly explores gentle sounds on well-circumscribed repeat against muffled beats. Playing with a new tool, the Elektron Digitakt, he recently posted a short video, which he dubbed a “Spontaneous live performance” in the brief accompanying note. It has all the modesty of his earlier work, with a newfound level of grit and glitch. The video was shot overhead, so you can watch as he goes. Even if you’re not familiar with the Digitakt’s interface, you can infer correspondences between action and sound — how a knob adds a new effect, or changes the pitch, or welcomes additional elements. It’s a great piece.
Takara Digital is a new, Japan-based record label releasing out of print and otherwise rare hip-hop. Takara was founded in 2016 by Yuzuru Kishi, and has already published albums from late greats including J Dilla and Big L, as well as still-kicking figures like Pete Rock and MF Doom. As of this writing, there are already 10 albums in the Takara catalog. One recent highlight is The Nineteen Ninety Eight Split EP, which is half the Speedknots and half N.Y. Confidential. Of the EP’s 16 tracks, four are instrumentals (my primary focus as a hip-hop listener). According to the brief accompanying liner note, the two halves of the EP were originally released separately. These are collectors’ items. On Discogs.com, the Speedknots vinyl has sold for as much as $300, and the N.Y. Confidential for close to two thirds of that amount. All the productions are seriously old-school, emphasizing instrumental samples, found sounds, and surface noise. A standout is the slow-paced, loose-limbed “Knotz Landin (Instrumental).” The vocal has a wacky delivery, part Beastie Boys, part Basehead. The instrumental is pure atmosphere, a little organ snippet on repeat above a rim-shot beat, some syncopation provided by what sounds like a broken speaker pushed past its comfort level. The whole thing has a slightly ominous, circus-after-midnight vibe.
Album originally posted at takaradigital.bandcamp.com. There doesn’t appear to be a website for Takara Digital, just the Bandcamp page.