A Downloader's Diary (26): January 2013

by Michael Tatum

This draft was started in late December, 2012, then abandoned unfinished when the author decided to focus on 2013 releases. In the opinion of the webmaster, there is enough substance here to keep the draft intact, in its monthly and numerical slot. It's also a good place to add the author's Turkey Shoot entries.

Dobie: Nothing to Fear (Big Dada, EP) Think of Anthony Alexander Campbell as the mysterious secret agent of British electronica, so elusive he's rarely credited in liner notes the same way twice, and sometimes not at all -- a few competing internet entries even rob him of his first major credit, as assistant producer of Soul II Soul's 1990 sophomore release. Maybe that's the way he wants it -- his two 2012 EPs (of which this is the first) are both vinyl only -- but there's nothing even remotely anonymous about his tersely forthright beats, which Oohbah Arthur Paul Butler of the 405 (in one of the few reviews of this release I could find) tells us is prime exponent of "crunch-music," a genre of which I have difficulty corroborating the real-world existence, hyphen or not. But whether the phrase is a clandestine buzzword in Manchester clubs or merely a rumor Butler cooked up in his parent's basement, "crunch" is the operative word -- Campbell may tread softly but he bangs a variety of big sticks, often introducing a startling contrapuntal rhythm after he's already ensnared you with one. In fact, the rhythms here often carry more sonic weight than the "proper" musical effects themselves, which until the fourth and final track are kept to a minimum: video games squiggles, orchestral furbelows, rumbling synth-bass, and spirited shouts counting out the beat, none of which makes more of an impression than the battalion of ping pong balls chaotically bouncing across "Gillet Sq N16" ("Gillet Square" referring to a corner in the recently revitalized Dalston district of Northwest London). All of which presages the escalated drama of the first-act closer "E 2 Da P" ("Extended to the Play," get it?), in which a disembodied soprano wanders wailing through Campbell's densest arrangement yet, perfectly segueing into the jarring introduction of this EP's other half, which you've no doubt already programmed accordingly as your eyes scan to the graf below. A–

Dobie: . . . But Fear Itself (Big Dada, EP) Of course if you didn't program this back-to-back with Nothing to Fear -- which pleasingly enticed the ear by patiently introducing its musical elements one by one -- you'll be taken aback by how breathlessly "I-Anomaly"'s opening breakbeat figure will knock you back, dropping you abruptly into the action like the teaser to a good Bond film. Continuing the concentrated intensity of the first act's cliffhanger, this folds in a yawning air raid siren I initially (and mistakenly) thought Campbell purloined from Nicki Minaj's "Did It On 'Em," presaging a hectically paced cat and mouse game from the point of view of the latter, after which the captured quarry is anticlimactically shuffled into the middle of a police lineup ("Is that him? Is that him?"). Although in terms of entertainment I much prefer conspiracy theories to fireside chats, Campbell develops his themes with such assiduous care that I wish he had taken this a little further -- basically, collated this into one pulsating, vibrant whole with a beginning, middle, and end rather than two musically strong halves that signify on concise structure rather than full-fleshed ideas. Though come to think of it, concise structure -- to say nothing of full-fleshed ideas -- is something that these two EPs have on most Bond films. Title of the artiste's upcoming 2013 longplayer: We Will Not Harm You, which I hope aspires more toward Daniel Craig than George Lazenby. A–

Carolyn Mark: The Queen of Vancouver Island (Mint) Were I still single, and were I to be set up on a blind date with the two former members of the long-defunct Corn Sisters, I would probably ask flame-haired siren Neko Case for her phone number and make sure her more conventional-looking brunette friend Carolyn Mark knew we could stay friends. And why is that, you ask? That's because like most men, I'm a colossal moron -- were this hypothetical and far-fetched scenario a literal "blind" date, judged by the content of their music rather than their looks, the obtuse non-persona Case projects on record would have me languorously checking and re-checking my wristwatch. By contrast, the legendarily hard-drinking Mark, who reminds me of my ex-manager T, an X acolyte who showed up for her shifts at my old record store in flowery thrift store muumuus and whose haughty couture I can only describe as "dumpy-core," is an endless font of clever. While Case's insularly self-conscious poesy rarely signifies, Mark conceives her interactive one-liners as saucy parries to her audience -- in a live setting they must generate guffaws, but on record they're downright meta: "There will be no apologies for this performance," "My best friend told me to stay at home to work on this song," "Nobody came to the show," "Everybody just wants to sing along," and my favorite, "Will all drivers please return to their vehicles?" In addition, we have catcalls from the audience, the splash of a car careening off a pier, a kiddie-choir straight out of a Bob Ezrin production, and playful arrangements that owe as much to vaudeville as they do to classic country. As for those claims to island royalty, the "Queen" actually refers to a boat. And if you call her a whore, she'll shrug and point out you didn't pay for dinner, to say nothing about that royalty check Mint nervously claims is in the mail. A–

Honorable Mentions

Chris Knight: Little Victories (Drifter's Church) This particular little victory hits square between Earle and Mellencamp, neither of whom would have bothered with that bananas Soylent Green reference ("Nothing on Me," "Low Down Ramblin' Blues") ***

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: A Working Museum (Southern Domestic) It's not that Eric isn't good enough for you, Amy -- it's just that he's not quite good enough for your records ("Do You Remember That," "Genovese Bag") ***

Macy Gray: Talking Book (429) Makes Stevie's crazy beautiful, and his beautiful a little crazy -- guess which works ("Maybe Your Baby," "Big Brother") **


Bruno Mars: Unorthodox Jukebox (Atlantic) Although musically this elaborates more on the macho stadium rock of Mars' odious Bad Meets Evil collaboration "Lighters" rather than the shiny pop R&B of 2010's Doo Wops and Hooligans, you have to admire (if grudgingly) how much he expands the strictures of that dubious aesthetic -- collectively, early Police, Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, and Musical Youth are pretty outré influences for a man set on storming the current top 40, wouldn't you say? Unfortunately, "Lighters" is an appropriate touchstone in more ways than one, as spiritually this develops its blustering "someday I'll be famous and important" subtext over the course of an entire record, and lest you miss his intention he lays out the songs schematically so you won't miss his gallingly misogynist message. First come the young, wild girls that he can't keep his hands off of, cocaine and liquor and legs in the air, a fistful of her hair, and his perturbed neighbors calling the cops -- and that's the good stuff. Then comes the fulcrum, a brief, perfunctory moment of introversion alone center stage with the piano ("My pride, my ego, my needs, and my selfish ways/Caused a good strong woman like you to walk out my life," or maybe it was those post-coital bald spots), after which comes the paranoid tidal wave: gold-digging Natalie and the vile "Money Make Her Smile," capped with a sad epilogue that blames loss of innocence for his own personal shortcomings, though I'd perhaps recommend a primer in Aristotelian metaphyics, or suggest he ask the Dalai Lama to give him a lesson in karma. And hey, fucking gorillas can't beat each other on the chest Bruno, even if they're really into it -- they do it doggy style. Doncha ever watch National Geographic? B

Soundgarden: King Animal (Republic) Getting back to their superwellknown basics isn't necessarily a good thing -- without ex-producer Michael Beinhorn's bag of tricks, in this post-millennial age Chris Cornell's mystagogical worldview is annoying when it isn't downright laughable. B–

Clinic: Free Reign (Domino) I know that they're "minimalist," but why did they take away everything from drummer Carl Turney save his brush sticks, snare, and cymbals? C

Tame Impala: Lonerism (Modular) Inspired by Todd Rundgren, but sadly not by the pop polymath of Something/Anything as much as the pretentious twat of A Wizard/A True Star. C

Andy Stott: Luxury Problems (Modern Love) My idea of luxury might be sandy beaches, a Shirley Temple, and exotic women with palm frond fans -- not an isolation tank. C

Turkey Shoot

These were originally published in November, 2012, here. They are included here for indexing.

Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA) As daring formally as Frank Ocean or the first half of House of Balloons, it would be churlish to dismiss Miguel Jontel Pimentel's ecumenical funk pop amalgam outright -- though emaciated by traditional pop standards, the sparse arrangements cultivate atmosphere and presence, incorporating elements from "Time of the Season" to "Strawberry Letter 23," and the jittery bass lines ride a nervous tension absent in most mainstream R&B since D'Angelo went off the deep end. Yet Pimentel's persona isn't quite a copacetic match for his heady aesthetic, at least in part because unlike D'Angelo, it's hard to imagine him taking agoraphobia to the point of shutting himself up in a room to smoke weed, scarf down Ho-Ho's, and watch re-runs of The X-Files. Pimentel is far too earnest, more bright-eyed puppy dog than lone wolf, given to clumsily abstract metaphors ("tasty thoughts?" "helium hues?"), awkward syntax ("These fists will always protect you"), and puerile versifying ("Reluctant eyes have witnessed/The horrors I can be"). And when a paean to spring romance hooked by the mildly amusing come on "Do you like drugs?/Yeah?/Me too," later becomes the completely nauseating "Do you like hugs?," I'm convinced that should the R&B game fall through, Pimentel might have a potentially fruitful alternate career ahead of him as a life coach to the stars. Wonder how far the hugs for drugs philosophy would get with D'Angelo. B MINUS

Ryan Bingham: Tomorrowland (Axster Bingham) My brother discovered Tom Waits after he performed the haunting soldier's lament "The Day After Tomorrow" on The Daily Show, but before too long he cynically deconstructed Waits' basic shtick and turned it into a twisted parlor game in which we would mimic his gravelly bellow and challenge each other to improvise outrageous lyrics in character, such as: "I woke up in the gutter with a can of dog food/With a mind to sell a kidney." This Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter takes Waits' worthy con so seriously its damn near uproarious, offering up such howlers on 2010's Junky Star as "I could make some friends down at the court house/Get bailed out and go on welfare," or "There's just no time for talkin' prejudice of different colored fellows/No time for cruel harassment of the strippers in stilettos," all delivered in a whiskey-parched growl suspiciously unlike the warm baritone he employs in interviews. This one kicks his lethargic backing band to the curb to start fresh on his own micro-indie, but rather than inaugurating a return to "authenticity" no one in his audience questioned, he instead beefs up the sound, with a meatier backing band augmented by dense Middle Eastern-inspired string arrangements that heighten the ridiculous of the words as they crush his meager melodies to a fine powder. All of which comes together perfectly on the most unintentionally laughable knock-knock joke of all time: "Guess who is knocking on the door?/Guess who is knocking on the door?/Guess who is knocking on the door?/It's ME motherfucker, I'M KNOCKING ON THE DOOR!" Me myself, I'd rather the punchline have been a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses -- at least no one in NARAS would be deluded enough to take any performance of theirs worthy of an Oscar. C PLUS

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