Goes well with: Squarepusher, Sun Ra, Prefuse 73, Sa-Ra Creative Partners
Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus) undoubtedly has high expectations riding on this, his third full-length. After the loping 8-bit hip-hop of 1983 and the grinding clicks and throbs of Los Angeles, it's clear that any hype is well-deserved, and recent dates opening for Thom Yorke (who guests here) attest to his growing popularity in circles extending beyond the underground.
But Ellison has done just the opposite of what we might expect—he's created a cosmic jazz opus, one with no beats that could qualify as traditional hip-hop. After all, he is the great nephew of Alice Coltrane, so, naturally, there might be the inclination to experiment. But the most surprising thing about Cosmogramma isn't simply its willingness to take risks—it's that nearly all of them pay off.
The cyclical “Computer Face//Pure Being” sounds like someone left too much change in the washing machine while a first-gen Nintendo is allowed to blare in the background, and “Do the Astral Plane” could qualify as a bugged-out house hit while “Table Tennis” echoes the rhythmic use of found sounds employed by fellow Warp artist / genius Aphex Twin.
With Cosmogramma, Ellison displays the talent and vision to become one of the defining musicians of his generation, genre be damned. There's no higher compliment than suggesting this is what the future sounds like.
High Places vs. Mankind
Goes well with: Gang Gang Dance, Boards of Canada, Happy Band of Japan
It's telling that my copy of High Places' 2008 self-titled debut was automatically labeled “Children's Music” on iTunes. Rob Barber's inventive beats and glossy samples had the luster of new toys. Mary Pearson's reverb-coated vocals and poetic lyrics seemed wonderfully naïve. The whole album felt as soft as a down comforter.
On High Places vs. Mankind, the Brooklyn duo's second album, they're just as childlike—aside from Barber, only a kid who's spent countless hours playing with Legos could come up with something as creative as “Drift Slayer,” with its impressionist mosaic of string samples. But they've clearly grown up a bit. Mankind features interweaving guitars, groovier beats (see the pocket thump of “On Giving Up”) and lyrics that delve into darker themes. In closer “When it Comes,” Pearson welcomes her inevitable fate: “Death has come and now it's gone / It's about time.”
But as much as they've grown conceptually and technically, High Places is still the adorable band they've always been—and Mankind just goes to show that their delightful electronica will never grow old.
In the Court of the Wrestling Let's
Goes well with: The Clean, Pavement, Yo La Tengo
The first full-length album by London's Let's Wrestle is a non-stop bombardment of ragged guitars, hyper bass lines, and out-of-tune “oohs” and “aahs,” by less-than-stellar vocalists. It feels like garage rock in the purest sense, and it's utterly delightful.
What really sets the band apart from the current pack of indie stalwarts is its unique sense of humor. They seem like more of a throwback to the self-deprecating '90s than the overly earnest pop-schlock polluting ears upon entrance to The Gap these days. Hell, any band brave enough to name its first album In the Court of the Wrestling Let's deserves a pat on the back for attempting a joke only they and King Crimson fans are going to get.
“I'm going to my local library / And then I'll go to the charity shop / Who knows where I'll go after that / And then I'll go home,” starts off the oddly haunting “My Schedule” before the Phil Spector-esque backing vocals provide the song with its key hook. Maybe that's the other trick that Let's Wrestle pulls off—they have that rare talent that allows them to write humorous songs without becoming a novelty act. They deliver the funny within the confines of seriously impressive, always catchy, rock songs.
Pavement perfected this formula in the '90s with songs like “Cut My Hair” and “Stereo,” and Let's Wrestle have obviously picked up on a good thing, flying their slacker flag high in the new millennium.