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Category Archives: Pictchfork’s Playlist

Dirty Beaches “True Blue”

The last time Alex Zhang Hungtai’s Dirty Beaches project appeared in the Playlist it was for the rough and tumble groove of “Sweet 17”. That song showcased the Alan Vega growl in Hungtai’s throat, but “True Blue”– also taken from the forthcoming Badlands— demonstrates how dainty his range can get. This is an airy tale of love gone wrong, where the story is relayed as much through wordless falsetto cries as it is through the lyrics. “I’m begging you please,” he quietly ruminates, before letting one of those yelps curl up out of the mire with all the sharpness of a dagger plunging straight into his heart. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Hungtai is highly attuned to some of the sillier conventions of the 1950s rock’n’roll idiom he obviously idolizes, such as the spoken word passage that decorates this song, and makes those touches entertaining and perturbing in equal measure. That mix of values, where a pastiche of old-fashioned conventions meets coarse emotion, is where Dirty Beaches’ music finds its odd, unsettling center. It’s a feeling not dissimilar to the one engendered by Roy Orbison at his peak, where the thought that something slightly sinister is twitching behind those glasses slowly pulls the world out from under you as you plunge deeper into his malaise.

— Nick Neyland, March 14, 2011

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Posted by on March 17, 2011 in Pictchfork's Playlist

 

Lil B “Base For Your Face” [ft. Jean Grae and Phonte]

This collaboration isn’t that strange: A few so-called “conscious” hip-hop behemoths team up with Lil B, the incessantly positive (he’s turned drug slang into Tumblr-era self-help mantras), of-the moment Internet rap eccentric, and whip-up some ambient boom-bap. 9th Wonder’s stretched-out soul strings are only slightly less diaphanous than say, Clams Casino’s beat for“Motivation” and Phonte’s line, “swallow your pride, like a gay lion,” as well as his wandering pre-verse rambles, are Lil B WTF-worthy for sure.

While the recently reunited 9th and Phonte each find a bit of their inner Based God here, the young Based God himself opts to rap something relatively conventional and on-beat. Lil B sells his swag with a cleverly dismissive line like “all they do is rhyme words, such typical rappers,” and employs his affecting, stuffed-nose flow towards a cry-out to the streets that nicely aligns with the New Jack City references throughout. Though Jean Grae’s syllable-obsessed verse doesn’t really fit, adroit technical rapping never hurt anybody and otherwise, “Base For Your Face” is the rare sound of disparate sections of the rap world gladly meeting each other halfway.

— Brandon Soderberg, March 11, 2011

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Posted by on March 12, 2011 in Pictchfork's Playlist

 

Battles “Ice Cream” [ft. Matias Aguayo]

Tyondai Braxton may have been the de facto frontman of Battles, but truth is, they were always guided by groove above all else. So reintroducing themselves with a bouncing-ball summer jam named “Ice Cream” isn’t as radical as it first appears: sure, it takes as much time to get acquainted with hearing the relatively straightforward vocals of Matias Aguayo as it does to cope with the relative restraint the Battles show here in opposition to their accustomed technical feats of strength. But “Ice Cream” puts purpose before personality, a lithe but brawny rhythm conveying so much joy that Aguayo really never needs to commemorate it with actual words. “Jam band” may have earned irrevocably bad connotation during the 1990s, but “Ice Cream” finds Battles giving the term a good name.

— Ian Cohen, March 11, 2011

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Posted by on March 12, 2011 in Pictchfork's Playlist

 

Wiz Khalifa “The Race”

Skatewear-clad and eternally sporting a smoked-out permasmile, Wiz Khalifa might not look like your average rap superstar, but after last year’s smash “Black and Yellow”, he’s on the verge of becoming one. While his recent Cabin Fever mixtape found him sacrificing some of his laconic stoner appeal for grimier arrangements that didn’t always fit, “The Race”– a single from his anticipated new album, Rolling Papers— finds the Pittsburgh rapper riding a lush, gorgeously arranged beat with an indelible pop hook. It’s pretty much exactly what you want out of a Wiz track.

Pittsburgh beat team I.D. Labs, who worked on last year’s Kush and Orange Juice, lay down a breezy, top-down sound packed with twinkling piano and skittering bass drums. It’s a perfect match for Khalifa, who knows how to casually ride a slow beat and turn a simple chorus earworm-sticky. The kind of lonely-at-the-top ennui Wiz talks is pretty standard rap fare lately (“Some smile in your face but then hate on the low, now I just stunt on my own”), but his low-key charisma keeps him approachable, never leading into the kind of self-pitying narcissism that often comes with that territory. Still, that I.D. Labs beat is what cinches it– the smooth, summery soundtrack to a thousand future barbecues.

— Joe Colly, March 11, 2011

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Flying Lotus “Caravan of Delight”

The head-turning fourth album from Flying LotusCosmogramma, was arguably the L.A. beat-wizard’s magnum opus, but it also left some fans out in the cold. Some found it too layered, too dense, too artfully tangled. But no matter how it hit you, it proved just how far Flying Lotus was willing to go to break new ground. The latest Lotus excursion, “Caravan of Delight”, comes to us courtesy of Let the Children Techno, a compilation from the dance-minded people at Ed Banger. But for those of you looking for a return to the knock-heavy FlyLo of the Los Angeles era, you’re in the wrong line.

It’s a credit to Ed Banger that they would would let him contribute a track as floral and mysterious as “Caravan of Delight” on such a movement heavy mix (granted, it falls in the closing slot). Not that “Caravan of Delight” doesn’t move– it snakes cautiously and curiously, as Flying Lotus builds around a delicate keyboard piece that creeps with such intrigue and uncertainty, it feels like theme music tailor-made for the Cheshire Cat. Trademark skitters and ticks pull the track along, but there’s a refined lushness that begins to unfold as FlyLo’s subtle detailing– flutters and twinkles and round, plodding bass notes– begins to bloom. It’s the part in the story when the walk through the woods begins to feel less ominous, as all these bright little creatures start inching their way out of the trees.

— Zach Kelly, March 10, 2011

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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Pictchfork's Playlist

 

Clams Casino “Numb”

A lot of rap beats reach for an epic sound, something big to underscore bluster and braggadocio. Beatmaker Clams Casino‘s squeezed sonics on “Numb” from his recent instrumentals mixtape evokes a different kind of hugeness, one that feels more elegiac as the track cracks beneath the weight of its competing elements. The beat is carried by drifting bass notes that feel elemental and shorn of definition as the track peaks in the red– the blown-out recording quality shares as much common with lo-fi or hypnagogic producers as with conventional rap beatmakers. The swollen bass, raw sounding reversed-synths, and clipped vocal samples jam together in a roughshod, imperfect manner that defies the precise audiophile nature of a lot of modern hip-hop production.

Clams’ sound is one that smears the lines between styles in a similarly invigorating way asHow To Dress Well‘s frayed, otherworldly take on R&B on last year’s Love Remains. The lo-fi signifiers and visceral, destroyed threads that knit together on “Numb” feel loose and with no rapper to harness the concealed rhythms it feels almost like one of William Basinski’sDisintegration Loops, destined to fold in on itself infinitely

— Hari Ashurst, March 10, 2011

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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Pictchfork's Playlist

 

Holy Ghost! “Jam For Jerry”

 

“Well, did the sky open up above you in the dark?,” Holy Ghost! vocalist Alex Frankel asks the late Jerry Fuchs, who died when he fell down an elevator shaft in 2009. Not intending to gettoo one-note, this house meets synth-pop elegy is a back-and-forth between heart-on-the-sleeve remembrance of a friend and tight-lipped tribute to the drummer’s prodigious talents:”You set the tempo, set the pace/ From the top, from the start/ Never slightly late.”

Holy Ghost! innately grasp the visceral appeal of propulsive dance, but “Jam For Jerry” pairs it with the conflicted emotions that stem from tragedy. On the New Order-like chorus, Frankel warmly exclaims, “If I could change it all I would/ If only I could,” then appends it with a nearly swaggering vote of confidence (“You can quote me/  Hold me to it”); a dose of inexplicable guilt gets thrown in there too: “I get the feeling I’ve done, something half wrong.” The second half of the song is subsumed by that chorus, which gives way to an instrumental outro that builds and then, simmers down to silence, never quite resolved.

— Brandon Soderberg, March 9, 2011

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Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Pictchfork's Playlist