Best of the Month: June 2021
Tyler, the Creator -- Call Me If You Get Lost
Call Me If You Get Lost was introduced to the world through a promotional billboard in Los Angeles first spotted on June 9. The billboard posted a phone number (855-444-8888), that when called played a recording of Tyler and his mother having a conversation, an audio clip from the track “MOMMA TALK”. Tyler subsequently released this album’s singles一 “LUMBERJACK” and “WUSYANAME”, both with their own short music videos. I thought the Gravediggaz sample on “LUMBERJACK” was fantastic and did a good job of introducing listeners to the sound that would be prominent on CMIYGL. And how could I not mention the YoungBoy verse on “WUSYANAME”; an unexpected feature to be sure, but certainly welcome in providing variety to the album and being one of the best YoungBoy performances I have heard. Before I get too ahead of myself, I should introduce this album and the character Tyler portrays once again.
First, is CMIYGL a masterful movie of storytelling that Tyler’s previous record IGOR was? Not really, as the tracks here travel less in a straight line and instead bounce around to match the potpourri of sounds, samples, and songwriters that are prevalent throughout the album. While Tyler is still the main architect of the record, host DJ Drama narrates from beginning to end, there is guest production from jamie xx and Jay Versace, not to mention the handful of impressive features. This smorgasbord of influences leads to a less sonically rigid album compared to IGOR, but the production is just as slick. And the continuing theme of an alter-ego is still here, although again less pronounced.
The opening track introduces us to Tyler Baudelaire, who’s name appears on the license on the album cover. The replacement last name comes from 1800s French poet Charles Baudelaire, whose work followed ideas of romance but were widely regarded as too explicit at the time. Tyler’s acquisition of the last name strings from a new sense of worldliness in addition to the balance of beauty and vulgarity found in both artists. The sample on “SIR BAUDELAIRE” comes from Westside Gunn’s “Michael Irvin”, which I absolutely loved (shoutout all my Griselda fans).
The next two tracks are a statement to Tyler’s rapping ability, showing he is in full stride on “CORSO” and “LEMONHEAD”, with an impressive feature from 42 Dugg that comes out of left field but fits perfectly with the boastful, celebratory beat. On the topic of features, I notice the hip-hop community praising the Lil Uzi and Dugg verses (which is certainly deserved), I just want to call attention to the Domo Genesis and Lil Wayne features that flew under the radar but deserve some spotlight.
Tyler’s ego is ever present on the album, and at first a boastful point of his rapping in early tracks like “MASSA” and “MANIFESTO”. The emotion and downfall of his inflated ego doesn’t become a focal point until the latter half of the album, and the story is told most eloquently on “WILSHIRE”. On this song, Tyler speaks on a messy love triangle (similar to the storytelling on “NEW MAGIC WAND” from IGOR), where he is seeing a girl already in a relationship. Tyler has to balance the feelings of his boosted ego from having this relationship while simultaneously dealing with the guilt of what he is doing. I found Tyler almost mumbling the lyrics under his breath at times on this track, as if he is coming to terms with the situation and is embarrassed to talk about it. This proves to me that he has retained and built upon his storytelling side since his past two albums.
I ultimately found CMIYGL to be Tyler’s love story about himself. He celebrates where he is in life, and although he has moments where he admits his faults, Tyler never has regret about the life he has lived until this point. The passport on the album cover alludes to the worldly perspective Tyler has gained throughout his career, and the sound of the album follows that same variety, with influences from early boom bap, jazz, soul, and of course the synth style we have fallen in love with from IGOR. Tyler certainly proved his musical production prowess with this record, proving that IGOR’s masterful arrangement wasn’t just a fluke. The kaleidoscope of sound reminded me of early Kendrick Lamar production. I found myself coming back to this album again and again to pick through each detail, and I fell in love with it while doing so. And while Tyler is ever boastful on this album, he isn’t speaking down on the rest of the world. Instead, Tyler says to us ‘I’m here, I made it. Come join me, and call me if you get lost’. [Trey Mead]
RIYL: Vince Staples, IDK, BROCKHAMPTON
Backxwash -- I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES
When Ashanti Mutinta released God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, she shook the world of industrial hip-hop, injecting it with a ferocious and deeply personal rage that would leave the genre’s faithful gasping for more. Mutinta, known professionally as Backxwash, brought us into her world of tortured confusion, taking us on a dynamic journey through her experiences with abuse and subjugation. God Has Nothing… was raw and abrasive, but it ultimately ended with a sentiment of forgiveness, an uneasy reconciliation with the violent circumstances of the world. Her latest project, I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES could not have taken a more drastic U-turn. On this album, Mutinta sinks the blade into the flesh and twists it, amping the aggression factor up a thousand with no hint of mercy or forgiveness in her lyrics. Her words are some of the bleakest I’ve ever heard in hip-hop, stringing together religious trauma, colonization, racism, transphobia, and drug addiction with a series of unsubtle metaphors for suicide. If you’re new to industrial hip-hop, I say with the utmost appreciation and reverence that you might want to start somewhere else.
The album starts with a distorted sample repeating the mantra “a little bit of pain is a good thing,” invoking the Puritanical idea of original sin and struggle. This intro is the low tide before a chain of sonic tidal waves that illustrate the pain that Mutinta has endured at the hands of organized religion as a Black trans woman. In the album’s first full song, “WAIL OF THE BANSHEE,” she screams in the face of an uncaring god, recounting her experiences with self-harm in penetrating detail. Right away, the listener can tell that Mutinta is angrier than before, her rapping having given way to outright screaming and her production having taken on a noisy, mechanical atmosphere. This new character is best demonstrated in the monstrous title track. This song is unbridled vengeance, punctuated by Black Dresses vocalist Ada Rook’s needle-throated screeches on the chorus. Mutinta’s verses take you straight to the Salem witch trials, giving voice to the scent of burning flesh and the fear of God that still permeate the minds of abused Black trans people today. The struggle of holding these identities is further articulated on “TERROR PACKETS,” featuring a lamenting narrative verse from guest rapper CENSORED Dialogue. On the following track, “IN THY HOLY NAME,” Mutinta takes no prisoners. Beginning with a quick nod to the late producer SOPHIE, she takes shot after shot at the rich and powerful who leech off of working people’s labor – Biden, Bezos, Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, and Canada’s own Trudeau. At the halfway point in the album, Mutinta is flipping through a rolodex of charred and distorted images of exploitation and civil unrest, showing no signs of losing momentum.
The second leg of the album contains shorter songs, but packs no less of a punch. “BLOOD IN THE WATER,” “SONG OF SINNERS,” and “666 IN LUXAXA” have a ritualistic cadence to them, highlighting the cultish gloom with which Mutinta speaks about the church and the damage it has done to Black and Indigenous cultures. And with the horrifying recent news of Indigenous children’s remains being found in unmarked mass graves near Canadian churches, Mutinta’s timing in releasing this album is morbidly poignant. “666 IN LUXAXA” is of particular importance, as this song emphatically recounts the horrors of colonization and forced Christianization over a sample of sangoma chanting. The sangoma are traditional healers of Southern Africa, who ritually allow their bodies to become possessed by their ancestors as they practice their medicine. The fact that Mutinta chose this type of chanting as a sample pays homage to her cultural background and underpins her iconoclastic lyrics, elevating her righteous anger from that of an individual to that of an erased ancestral lineage.
The album’s crown jewel is its anguishing closer, “BURN TO ASHES.” Starkly contrasting the mellow musings on her previous album’s closer, “BURN TO ASHES” is a harrowing tribute to Mutinta’s struggle to survive in a world that seems bent on her destruction. Over a gloomily catchy rave beat, Mutinta prognosticates her own death:
“When the time comes, it fades to black, I know where I’m at
I just spark the fumes, boom, and start it as a burn to ash”
She ends the song with a message of vulnerability to her creative director, co-manager, and close friend Chachi Revah.
I can’t say enough about Mutinta’s delightfully grimy production, but one of the album’s other strengths is her methodical attention to its pacing. Although it’s only 33 minutes long, the slow, heavy intensity of this album makes it an absolute slog, like wading through a haunted swamp. Songs like “BLOOD IN THE WATER” and “666 IN LUXAXA” are more brief vignettes than they are full tracks. Not every song has a chorus, but not every song needs one. Mutinta’s restraint creates a project on which every track runs its full course without overstaying its welcome, allowing us to engage more intently with her textured production and tormented lyrics.
After an album as harrowing as God Has Nothing… one would expect that its follow-up would be a little softer around the edges. But Mutinta has perfected the art of regulated discomfort, creating a project so bleak and so chaotic that it honestly makes her previous album look like radio rap by comparison. There’s a nihilistic rawness in her vocal delivery – in almost every song, you can hear her voice cracking, and sometimes you can even hear her crying through the words. These moments of imperfection don’t come off as sloppy, but as profoundly vulnerable despite the cavernous backdrop of each song. I hope this doesn’t create a false dichotomy, but I think of Backxwash as the opposite of clipping., another groundbreaking act, within the industrial hip-hop paradigm. While clipping.’s music never uses the first person in order to create a more immersive atmosphere, Backxwash exclusively uses the first person, which, along with her vulnerable lyrics and intimate performances, reveals to listeners the very painful and personal inspiration for her music. Her fire-and-brimstone temperament gives every song an urgent, apocalyptic edge, in what I interpret as an attempt by Mutinta to create the tension that one feels living day-to-day as a person with her identities.
This is a hip-hop album that’ll make you feel like you need an exorcism after listening to it. With its demonic themes and ghoulish production, it’s a cauldron of toxic sludge and raw anger. And yet, over the gunshot snares and the swampy synths, Mutinta’s voice reads loud and clear, as if to highlight the importance of expression and vulnerability in an era of so much noise. The metaphysical themes of her last album have been replaced by viscerally human ones – rage, pain, vengeance, depression, etc. – and with this shift comes her most mature, most heart-wrenching, most enrapturing music yet. I don’t know what sort of magic Ashanti Mutinta practices, but this album will leave you feeling absolutely bewitched. [Morgane Smith]
RIYL: clipping., Black Dresses, Death Grips, JPEGMAFIA
LISTEN TO: Title Track, “IN THY HOLY NAME,” “666 IN LUXAXA,” “BURN TO ASHES”
Japanese Breakfast -- Jubilee
Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee is an odd kind of rebellious statement. Not the type that naively wears black skinny jeans to math class or the one that ‘fights the system’ by wearing pajama pants to Sunday mass, but the type to counter the attitude of the environment. Jubilee is like a rainbow in a typhoon, an emotionally-subversive album for the indie pop genre, celebrating joy and positivity rather than the genre’s staples of ennui and loneliness.
Joy is a new look for Japanese Breakfast. The band’s first two albums are painfully heavy, covering Michelle Zauner’s confused feelings of anger, sadness, and emptiness in grieving her mother who she lost just before the release of her debut Psychopomp. That album and the second Soft Sounds From Another Planet explore these difficult emotions, and Zauner’s recently published memoir, Crying in H Mart, is a direct extension of the stories told in the first two albums.
While the emotional shift on Jubilee is wonderfully powerful, it’s its expanded instrumentation that sets this album apart from earlier Japanese Breakfast. Unlike the guitar-driven 90s-indie rock of the first two albums, Jubilee is a pinwheel of sounds, mixing blends of new wave, glam rock, slacker, and baroque pop into something completely new.
It starts with “Paprika,” this breath-taking chamber pop opener that continuously builds over glistening strings and a march snare, resonating like a Funeral-era Arcade Fire track. The lyrics grace Zauner’s feelings of rising stardom as she asks herself what it's like for her every action to be tracked from a crowd of strangers. The poetic lyrics combined with the encompassing instrumentation feels as if a Jane Austen book were an indie pop song.
“Be Sweet” is a sugar-coated glam rock track that channels Zauner’s inner Kate Bush. The song is a reverb-struck banger with shuffling hi-hats, wavy guitars, bouncy keys, and Zauner’s brilliant vocal work that makes the track so memorable. “Kokomo, IN” is the track most reminiscent of Zauner’s earlier music, but differs with its sunny aura that elevates its lyrics of lovestruck longing.
“Slide Tackle” is Japanese Breakfast drenched in sophisti-pop, featuring a cornucopia of instruments riding over a trancing beat. The song pairs its DIY composition with self-motivating lyrics on fighting for good mental health to make this “dancing with myself” kind of energy. “Posing With Bondage” is a stripped-back electro R&B song about needing love back in your life. Its ethereal instrumentation plays with disembodied vocals and whirring synths to make a colorful, tumultuous storm of neon lights.
“Savage Good Boy” is certainly my favorite track on Jubilee, channeling this intense want to give in this grotesque character of a husband who wants to hide him and his bride in a bunker just for each other. It scampers over a bouncy indie rock melody with shaggy guitars and skittering percussion to make something both weird and sexy that I just absolutely love.
“In Hell” is the rare moment of outright sadness on Jubilee where Zauner contrasts the warm sounds of this album to her feelings of moving on without her mother. While the song features one of the densest instrumentations on the album, it's the heart-tugging vocals that make the song so transcendent.
“Tactics” is a ballad that competes for the title of most beautiful song on the album between its trudging R&B beat and glimmering melodies. Over its succinct runtime, it builds a beautiful scene that feels like the ending of a Studio Ghibli movie. Fucking beautiful man.
Jubilee feels like a look into the future. What Japanese Breakfast makes here is an indie pop interpretation of past aesthetics, repackaging them into something fresh and exciting. A record is no longer just an ‘indie pop’ record but it's a record with an ‘indie pop’ song… and a ‘new wave’ song.... and an ‘R&B’ song, etc. etc. My point is that while Jubilee isn’t the first album to do something like this, and won’t be the last, it does a damn fine job at being what it is. [Ben Nguyen O’Connor]
RIYL: Clairo, Snail Mail
Listen To: “Savage Good Boy”, “Be Sweet”, “Paprika”, “Tactics”
Skee Mask -- Pool
Skee Mask’s announcement for his second album Pool was about as quiet as you could make it in the social media era. With one short tweet in lowercase, he announced “hey my new LP is out today” like some kind nonchalant humble brag. And to make it even more spicy, he said it was 3lp’s--meaning two hours long--and it wouldn’t be available on any streaming services. No uppercase. No streaming release. And 1 heart emoji at the end.
Why do this? Why release an album like this? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s cool nonchalant-ness and intentional flaccid lowercase text might be intentional in marketing the album. Maybe he thinks he’s bein’ cool and indie by keeping it lowkey so it feels more exclusive to his intimate fanbase (which includes me :]). Or maybe it’s the complete opposite of that…
Skee Mask’s debut on ILIAN TAPE Compro released in 2018 to a surprising amount of fanfare from the mainstream press. For an indie release from a small Berlin DJ under a new alias, you’d expect it’s vagueness would hide it from the press, but the mystery behind the record elevated its unique sound and catapulted it into the indie spotlight. With a glowing review from Resident Advisor, and a “Best New Music” designation from Pitchfork, the record got into the hands of many more people than were expected from an artist with as low a profile of Skee Mask.
So maybe Pool’s quiet announcement via lowercase tweet and Bandcamp exclusive release was a reaction to the high pressure attention gotten from Compro and Skee Mask preferred his next album to relax in a cool dark corner of Berlin IDM like he’d want it to be. But honestly I couldn’t know or care either way.
Pool’s minimal album cover, like the cover to its predecessor, says a lot about the album. It’s simple. No text. No people. No faces. Just a patch of grass in a field. Filling the corners from a bird's eye view it feels like an ocean of greenery. And like the contents of the album, it’s textured, it’s all-encompassing, and it’s simply beautiful.
Often many songs on Pool feel like interweaving collages of electronic fundamentals, blistering drum ‘n’ bass samples, blockhead synth leads, or rich ambient ambient synths coming together in a unique style that only Skee Mask could pull off. For example, take “Collapse Casual” which throttles the listener through the morphing synth journey over audacious drum samples that commands your attention. Or take “CZ3000 Dub” which feels like a late night stroll into some neon-infested cyberpunk nightclub complete with tubular chimes, muffled percussion, and a persistent bass drum pulse to guide it along.
But Pool instills encompassing beats through less flashy means too, sometimes opting to put nuanced ambience in the foreground. “Rio Dub” is this winding interlude that messes with distant sound effects rippling over a lowkey ambient loop to give this feeling of staring out the high window of a skyscraper during a foggy storm and watching cars drive by below. “Fourth” closes out the album by focusing on this brilliant vocal sample that plays over and over but constantly changes shape with the effects playing around it.
Skee Mask’s insistence on depending on simple loops allows him to do his signature sound effects and tape fuckery to keep even the most repetitive of samples sound new on every repeat. Songs like “LFO” and “Harrison Ford” play over these brilliant little melodies, constantly reshaping and repeating them in different forms to make the tracks feel like living, breathing beasts as opposed to just songs.
What makes this album different from Compro is its deliberate decision to make landscapes as opposed to stories. While the linear structure of songs in Compro felt like narratives holding your hand all the way through, Pool builds snapshots of environments that don’t have distinct structures, and consequently feel a little more real. By building soundscapes that inflate and contract more unexpectedly, the moods of Pool feel more open-ended, and allow listeners to prescribe any number of stories we can imagine.
Skee Mask hits it out of the park again with Pool, providing a unique, multi-genre experience that transports the listener to interplanetary worlds with electronica landscapes that breathe with life.
Sadly, Pool is only available on BandCamp for purchase, so be sure to check it out at the link here and consider buying it. [Ben Nguyen O’Connor]
RIYL: Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher
Listen To: “Harrison Ford”, “DJ Camo Bro”, “CZ3000 Dub”
Mesh -- Mesh
*eerie spooky wind wounds*
In the deep, dark caverns of Bandcamp, there lay beasts of many forms. One trip into its hallowed halls and you’re bound to encounter ghosts and ghouls teaming from every hole in the walls. Some of the monsters you might see include bloated death metal/shoegaze/emo demo tapes which would scare the socks off of any Spotify pop pleb or 2-3 track folk EP’s from artists who dare not write anything that doesn’t sound at least like the Beatles, Fleet Foxes, or Big Thief.
But every once in a while--by that I mean every month when a “Bandcamp’s Best of the Month” comes out-- these creatures are released to the surface, and find themselves in the hands of brave monster hunters who search for obscure, deep cut music releases to seem cool to their friends--me.
Annnd that’s how I found Mesh.
And I’m damn glad I did! For a short ~12 minute EP, it packs a punch and shows a band with a distinct tone from just their debut EP. This self-titled debut self-released on BandCamp is 5 short but sweet tracks that shows a band in its early stages embodying strong influences while still sticking out in their catchiness and tight performances.
It starts with “CIA Mind Control” which channels eerie paranoia in swerving chord switches and strong musical chemistry. The mix sounds raw and unleashed but still comes off as artfully crafted to accentuate the harsh edges of the guitars and drums. Speaking of guitars, the band shows creative interweaving guitars on this track, clashing twangy high-end strums with a meaty distorted fuzz riff in the background--well-balanced stuff.
“Company Jeep” busts through with the catchiest lick on the album, allowing britpop-y strumming to take to the foreground, and it just makes you wanna move your bod bud! At this point I’ll acknowledge the voice-box vocals which are harsh but still charismatic, and allow for this garage punk attitude to come through in spades.
“Traveler” certainly embodies its title with its linear structure and kaleidoscopic guitar lines to feel like a mini-punk journey in its tight 2-and-a-half minutes. Here the band plays around with buzzy synths that scrape against the guitars in a dissonant but satisfying way.
“Missing Link” exudes garage punk anthem energy in its playful chromatic licks and its vague comedic vocals which call the listener the missing link(?). Not sure what it means, but I love the insistent groove on this one with its driving drum beat that nearly pushes into drum ‘n’ bass territory with its straight-faced repetition. I can almost feel the blisters on my hands just listening to it.
“Ur Dead” doesn’t really cover much new territory as its closer, but nicely echoes some of the tightest aspects Mesh has shared throughout the EP so far. From its dark doo-wop vocals to its synth fuckery in the second half, it’s good fun.
Mesh presents themselves as a robust force-of-nature on this debut, serving some tight garage punk for a strong 12-minute EP. [Ben Nguyen O’Connor]
RIYL: Ty Segall, Jay Reatard, Oh Sees
Listen To: “Company Jeep”, “CIA Mind Control”, “Traveler”