Bangers: johnlukeirl, Holly Herndon, Pinkshinyultrablast
Music is hard to talk about, it seems, in part because almost all conversation has to do with the personalities behind it, or the most recent controversy, or anything but the actual music. But there are amazing releases coming from all over and they deserve to be highlighted properly. This column is a place where the stuff I’ve been bumping lately can hopefully get some credit for the sounds contained therein, not for context or thinkpiece nonsense. This is all going to be music that I find worth my time, not slams of things I didn’t care for or a place to talk about what everyone else might be. Because at the end of the day, the most important thing is what comes out of your speakers.
The artist formerly known as DJ Clap presents a 24-minute trek through some of the thornier issues dance music faces as it finds itself becoming the poster genre of the internet age. Dance music has trends that really move more like tendrils through the internet and the people who use it, curling into new shapes and creating new possibilities if they fall into the right hands. The mix is a potent alchemy that melds pop (most of it from Asia) with juke and footwork (most of from Chicago). Producers are finding untapped ways of assembling music by distributing mixtapes across the world for free. In a field this crowded, johnlukeirl’s mixes and live sets stand out by accelerating to the point of delirum. This is music for losing your shit at 2am. But don’t let the hedonistic mood make you underestimate the sheer brainpower behind all of it; from the immaculate sequencing to the brief ambient interludes placed just where you’re going to need to catch your breath, this is the best example of the blend of chops and intuition that define the best DJs of any era.
Platform addresses an uncomfortable reality in modern music: the laptop in music has always been secondary to the act of making music. It’s seemingly always deployed as a device to manage recordings with software, or perhaps something to use in conjunction with MIDI controllers or USB keyboards. Computer music in the 21st Century still holds the computer at a 20th Century arm’s length. Holly Herndon embraces it entirely, melding the human voice with digital effects and nimbly manipulated recordings to go to some incredible compositional heights that push the boundaries of modern computer music and pop, often simultaneously. It’s also an incredibly modern album, analyzing typically political themes on several levels. This is best displayed on “Home,” a cutting depiction of how surveillance can shake the foundation of our digital, and ultimately real, selves to the core. This album blurs lines and asks questions, all while displaying musical depth that rewards repeated listens.
Forget, for a moment, everything you think you know about shoegaze. Then put Everything Else Matters on and let it bowl you over. The immensity of the sound belies the incredibly precise and nimble playing across the guitars and the drums and the angelic vocals, not a note out of place. Check out Peter Hook’s ghost being prematurely channeled through almost every bassline. Notice how the storms of guitar noise and cleanly picked melodies build and feed off each other. This wall of sound is fully under control, every process and pedal on the guitars carefully chosen to imbue these melodies with technicolor verve and life. If you’re still not sold, listen to first half highlight “Glitter” and wait for the 2:34 mark. Calling back to those four thwacks that lead off Loveless signaling the beginning of the end of everything you thought you knew about rock, everything goes quiet save for two solitary floor tom hits right before the song resumes. With a brand new kind of storm raging, the floor drops out and the sky turns an endless and infinite blue. It takes more than instrumental chops or songwriting skill to craft a moment that fills up your chest with an unbearable giddiness every time you hear it; it takes the one-in-a-million ears of a band working perfectly in step. Everything Else Matters is 45 minutes of exactly that.
Peter McCracken is a student, tech support drone, and music aficionado from Milwaukee.