( Already Dead Tapes, 2012 )
For: Tom Vourtsis, West In Dust, Thug Entrancer
Ou Où. Say it with me. Feel your vocal chords stretch and contract, stretch and then contract to form each vowel sound. In that subtle movement you have captured Ou Où’s raison d'être: The snap from contrasting sonic opposites sharing space with each within an incredibly short amount of time. Ou Oùis never just one thing. A hyper-fast 90s techno BPM over a pulsing, surging drone. Phrases are sped up, slowed down and then played back in double time beneath the syrupy slow draw of buzzing synthesizers and adjacent percussion loops. The move from intense to placid happens several times within this 20-minute tape. Take me on a drag race through your incandescent city of crystalline, glowing, polyfaced shapes and square grid map. Fast and Furious meets Tron. Geocities is an excellent addition to Already Dead’s impressive release record and, not surprisingly, one of the strongest releases of the year.
White Sun Black Sun
( Sound Of Cobra, 2013 )
For: Hawkwind, Popol Vuh, Maserati
Zaire doesn’t exist anymore. If we really wanted to be specific this band would be called "In the Democratic Republic of the Congo: formerly the French colony of Zaire." But if that was the case we would also have to change Jello Biafra’s name to "Jello Unrecognized State of Biafra in South-Eastern Nigeria." Let’s not rewrite history or draw over political lines so lovingly etched into African soil by former colonizers. Let’s marvel at the cantankerous, volatile and head-bangingly awesome instrumental prog ensemble that is this: In Zaire. The Italian trio sculpt massive, glacier-sized chunks out of prog rock’s most accomplished luminaries. Just look at that cover, is that bird-star going to collide into that space-star? Dude. In Zaire is Hawkwind’s “Seeing it as You Really Are” with some serious muscle behind it, the spaciousness of Popol Vuh’s new-age woodwind accruements and Maserti’s contemporary appropriation of the apache beat. Pretty incredible stuff to find its way into the Tome’s inbox.
Lost And Looking
( Self--Released, 2013 )
For: Burial, Salem, Sepalcure
While my music listening has fallen off since moving to Africa, my consumption of top-40 hip-hop has skyrocketed. That is why when I listened to Death Ledger’s excellent three-song EP. I was able to immediately decipher Pusha T's opening bars on Kanye West’s “Don’t Like” and Drake’s “Doing it Wrong.” Both songs are staples on public transport or playing through the tinny speakers of cheap cell phones here. But it isn’t like the young Toronto producer is doing much to obscure the source material. Most of the vocal samples are either pitch-shifted up or down depending on the mood of the song. Atmospheric and wistful on “Doing it Wrong,” menacing and hard on “2000,” which contains the Pusha T sample. “2000,” with its skittering micro-breaks and post-industrial clang is the closest thing to witch house on the EP. The rest, especially on Drake’s track, approaches this sample-based music the way a remix artist would. Death Ledger is quite good at that. He does not take the source too far out from its wheelhouse. Instead, his approach is additive. Pusha T sounds way more menacing pitch-shifted down over atomospheric drones. Drake’s navel-gazing, woe-as-me voice sounds even more pitiful and definitely more earnest under Death Ledger’s hand. He nudges pre-recorded sounds up or down into carefully plotted out emotional landscapes laid over a nervous and jittery beatscape as the midrange floats between perfectly-composed, drone-based ambiance stretched tight across the track.
P.S. I debuted “Doing it Wrong” (Death Ledger Remix) on Swaziland’s English radio station SBIS II.