The Rubber Room
The Like Young / Along Came Man / HEADUCATION / BEATZ BY THE POUND: American Microhouse

The Rubber Room column is a weekly look at recent and notable releases that don’t fall into the rubric of traditional reviews or reviewed material—namely 7”’s, 12”’s, 3” CDs, EPs, cassette-only, DVDs and MP3-only releases.

The Like Young
The Timid EP 7"
[Polyvinyl, 2005]

The Like Young have two members with the same last name, for what that's worth. Their new EP opens with "I've Been Used," a track that manages to be both short and repetitive, aided by off-key vocals and vapid lyrics. Then it all changes. "Tempt Me" sounds like the same band, only good. The production values go from poor, to charmingly lo-fi, matching the much smarter lyrics. Flip the record over, there's a track left. The group stays good, if uninventive. Boy-girl vocals, with clever-not-pretentious looks at relationships. I like it. I play the first track again to see what went wrong. It's still no good. Take a do-over, and release this as the "Tempt Me" b/w "Don't Get Dead" single.
[Justin Cober-Lake]

Along Came Man
Commodore 64 (Believe There's Nothing EP)
[Mighty Atom, 2005]

A pounding beat, rousing guitars and a fully roused chorus is reined in by a top-notch production job for this Wonderstuff / Kingmaker / Waterboys (minus the Celtic stuff) style belter. Its stop start rhythm, little digital beat breaks and a full-throated young vocal give it decidedly alive, here and now energy that the rest of the EP (as competent as it is) lacks. Lyrically it couldn’t be further away from those three musical sources as vocalist Androo goes back (not that far, judging by the inlay photos) to his childhood for some Sunday reminiscing without cliché or mysticism.
[Scott McKeating]

[an occasional look into the world of hip-hop]

Sensitive Thugs, Y'all Need Hugs: Rockism in Rap

[Edan - Beauty and the Beast, Lewis, 2005]
I’ll be the first to admit that I love bad hip-hop. Actually, strike that. I wouldn’t be caught dead pump-pump-pumpin up Joe Budden and I simply refuse to utter the catchphrase “let’s get retarded” even if that’s exactly what I’m about to do. What I mean is that good hip-hop—the kind that bloggers and purists go batty for—is seldom as pleasurable or affecting as our rap intelligentsia would have you believe. And while carrying a torch for well-spoken, well-meaning emcees with shiny pedigrees sure beats the hell outta drumming up the Pretty Ricky single, it feels disingenuous—the new Edan album may be brilliant for all the reasons that indie backpacker kids say it is—dude, ol skool breakbeats + nu skool ‘tude = 86 at Metacritic—but it still gets way less play on my computer than, say, R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet,” part whatever. Point being that perhaps, rather than getting all meta and exoticising [insert artist here] like he/she is some never-before-seen musical-conglomerate-phenomenon, our rockist sensibilities might be best served by getting back to why we like the music. In other words, Sri Lankan revolutionary or not, those beats better be hotter than my man Just Blaze’s.

[Common - Be, Geffen, 2005]
The recent hubbub about two albums that in my estimation, amount to little more than snooty, bourgeois-pleasing blather only confirms my suspicion: that when smart folks talk about hip-hop, context and concept trump all else—including what the damn thing actually sounds like. Read any number of press clippings about Common’s Be and a consistent theme emerges: self-conscious rap is back. And that Chi-town’s finest has buried his inner boho-child and uncovered the messiah-like wonder that captures his true, undeniable essence. All of which would be cause for celebration—if only it were remotely true. Be is certainly head and shoulders above most other mainstream hip-hop albums released this year, but an emcee of Common’s stature should have graduated past the rom-Com stereotypes (see: the John Mayer-assisted “Go,” the album’s obligatory “I’m not a playa, I just crush a lot” track) and pseudo-spiritual phooey long after album one. This is, of course, album six, which is four more albums than Biggie ever made (alive, that is) and well, you know what they say about old habits dying hard. Not that any of us would necessarily notice this time around—we’re too busy being won over by Brand Kanye, who once again proves he’s the best in the biz at making the dustiest soul samples sound candy-coated and swathed in Technicolor and homogenized. Not coincidentally, Be’s lyrical template sounds like the work of a man ready to atone for his past grievances—the Erykah, the Hendrix fixation, the hats (well maybe not the hats—he’s still rockin the beret on the cover of Be)—which is exactly the problem: there’s no air of unpredictability, no glint in the eye, no turns-of-phrases that shock and awe. It’s hip-hop lite, if you will, and if that’s gonna start some kind of revolution, then his new buddy John Mayer may be leading the charge.

I shudder at the possibilities.

[M.I.A. - Arular, Beggars Banquet/XL, 2005]

If there is a more popular musical figure on the blogging circuit than Maya Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A, I’d like to know who. Even Stylus couldn’t resist the siren’s call, planting the rarest of accolades—an A+—on M.I.A.’s official debut Arular, which, until further notice, has been universally dubbed the most important release of 2005—and the most invigorating. Important? Sure. That would be the two C’s—context and concept—both of which M.I.A. has in truckloads. What’s not so clear—at least to this humble writer—is the invigorating part: never have I expected so much from a song (the-then single du jour “Galang”) and received so little. (Aside from the far more anticlimactic “Trapped in the Closet, Part Five.”) At best, “Galang” boasts a novelty beat—trashcan drums, beeps and whistles that slither in and out—and some atrocious lyrics—where her status as refugee/radical comes in, I’m not exactly sure, but maybe if you listen carefully enough, you’ll find it somewhere. To be fair, you can’t pigeonhole M.I.A. as hip-hop, or any other genre for that matter (she’s also dancehall reggae, grime, electro—the dreaded au courant term “world music” comes to mind), but she does enough rapping (or fast-talking) to at least place her alongside the likes of male contemporaries such as Dizzee Rascal, who is also backed by beats that oftentimes grate more than they delight. The key difference is that Dizzee is an equally noisy rapper, not to mention an incredibly deft one, while M.I.A. mumbles at a snail-like pace. Of course, the argument has been made that regardless of intent, Arular is an incredibly catchy and danceable record, but I have yet to hear anyone advance that claim successfully—in his review for Slate Magazine, Jon Caramanica says that she “chooses beats with a critic’s ear,” which if truly the case, might actually explain why melodicism and palpable hooks on her record seem, well, curiously MIA.
[Chi Tung]

[a weekly look into the world of electronic musics]

American Microhouse

American microhouse? The essential problem, I think, is that the country is just too big. Whereas parties in Cologne and Berlin perhaps focus the energies of those scenes, the drive to other cities is almost oppressive in allowing sounds in the Midwest and the West to form properly. That’s why the self-run labels Ghostly International (and its dancefloor leaning subsidiary Spectral Sound) and Orac are so important towards the creation of a truly American aesthetic. Just don’t ask me exactly what the hell it is.

Slavery When Wet
[Orac, 2005]

Mossa’s first 12” for the label seems to be as representative as any: “Slavery When Wet” is a cut-up house cut that boasts vocal tics, slivers of dub, and sundry bells and whistles inside of its glitch moments. It’s all laid out by the one-minute mark and, by the time you reach five, it all seems a tad more repetitive than most. Ben Nevile’s mix of the song immediately dispels any qualms, as his faster-paced take runs through all of the possibilities of the song, rarely overdoing any one portion throughout the length of the song, which is incidentally the exact same as the original. The B-side, “Gastrula,” stretches out its arms and moves in the same arena as its predecessor, but does so more confidently. Its counterpart, “Gastrula (Crushed),” hammers the song into nearly half of the original and is a highly abstract joint that only really gets going two minutes in and doesn’t really ever find its step completely. Some mixed feelings on this one, but “Gastrula” is definitely a keeper.

Bruno Pronsato
Silver Cities
[Orac, 2005]

You could hardly find anyone with a bad thing to say about Pronsato’s Silver Cities full-length last year, which is why I tried to stay silent on it. That being said, “Wuorinen” reminds me much more of Pronsato’s DJ sets, about which I have nothing but kind things to say (Go see him live, you won’t regret it.). The song is first-rate microsurgery-house, intersplicing elements that only begin to make sense later on, but never take away from the moment. And it’s funky as hell. Jackmate’s remix is stellar—exactly the sort of smooth rejoinder to the semi-schizophrenic original. It’s “Live in Cascadia” that I keep coming back to, though, which takes the best elements of both tracks that come before it for an epic B-side of dubby micro-house that shouldn’t be missed.

The Return of Caro
[Orac, 2005]

At the very least, you should get a good look at the cover for Caro’s first album for his own label. It features, presumably the label head himself, atop a pony and looking quite dapper. For a genre increasingly fond of humor, it’s a brilliantly pompous image that can’t help but make you smile. Music-wise, the album veers over and says hello to just about everything imaginable: acieed, Italo, down-tempo, minimal house, and jazz. “Heavy Wheel” does one of these synthesized moments best, working a Keith Jarrett piano into a fascinating duel with acid bass. Of course, the previously released “My Little Pony” is a highlight, but honestly that track’s adherence to the one genre that Orac can be accused of favoring (cut-up house) is the exception and not the rule here. “Can’t Tell Why,” for example, moves straight from dubby techno into a fierce jacking beat, for example, hardly stopping along the way. Caro’s The Return of Caro sounds exactly like what you might expect from the guy that is credited with helping create software called Jitter for Cycling74, but that’s hardly a bad thing—it’ll keep you on your toes throughout.

Geoff White
[Spectral Sound, 2005]

Labeled sketches, intended to show off his incredible production diversity, “Etsche” is White’s second 12” for Spectral in a series started with “Ince.” Unlike that more natural outing, “Etsche” finds White mining the more techno side of his personality, instead of the langorous ambient guitar side best exemplified by Aeroc. The closest he comes is “Guitarjacked,” which is too indebted to Steve Reich and Hurley to make much of an atmospheric impact. But White’s music, especially gem B-side “Scillecta,” never gets too hard That track rides bubbly synth pads and melodies, and a severe lack of low-end, into mid-set bliss.

Brian Aneurysm
Das Element Des Menschen
[Spectral Sound, 2005]

No lack of low-end on this, Brian Aneurysm’s initial entry onto the label. In fact it’s probably the hardest song that the label has ever put out. Ostensibly an ode to water, the A-side crackles with intensity and purpose, throwing out stabs along the way that pierce rather than comfort. Similarly, the B-side “Unwanted” is a single-minded slab of vinyl that doesn’t let up. Otherworldly voices, shifting blocks of rhythm, and a melody built from a simple four-note bed distract but momentarily from the ferocious beat. James T. Cotton’s mix of “Das Element Des Menschen” turns on the acid and throws the vocals through a variety of effects changing the tenor of the song rather drastically, but keeping the high level of quality.
[Todd Burns]

By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-06-16
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