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[2.0.2: The Hauntological Suite]

 

The weekend before Kentucky declared a state of emergency, leaving me stuck in the apartment for the foreseeable future, I borrowed a library book titled From the Shadows. It beckoned from the staff picks display as I left with a stack of CDs — a thin novel with doodles of an anthropomorphic TV set and various body parts printed on the cover. On instinct, I added it to my tote.

It turned out that the book I judged solely by its cover would prophesy my coming weeks of isolation. Originally published in 2017 by Spanish experimentalist Juan José Millás, From the Shadows centers around the accidental social distancing of Damián Lobo: an unemployed lone wolf (hence his name) who finds himself trapped in an antique store’s wardrobe after swiping a tie clip and eluding mall security. When the cabinet is purchased by a suburban family, Lobo manages to hide out unnoticed in a crawl space in their bedroom, initially out of fear of having to explain an awkward situation. 

When the opportunity presents itself to escape, however, the protagonist chooses to stay put, embracing a life of servitude to his bourgeois hosts. When each member sets out for the day, he cleans the house and does the dishes — work only noticed by the mother. And here’s where the fascinating (and relevant) twist comes in. Through isolation and subjugation, Lobo begins to transform into a ghost. 

It starts as a joke: a controversial series of posts he makes to a paranormal web-forum on the mother’s laptop detailing his “ghostly” activity. It isn’t long, though, before the story’s supernatural slant becomes quite literal. Spending much of his time in a cramped space, Lobo’s physical form deteriorates, and his senses sharpen. 

"He could hear a phone ringing in a neighboring home, and pick out airborne smells and thereby travel the length and breadth of the house with his eyes closed. For his whole being to have been honed to such a degree brought about a sensation of quiet euphoria and safety, which, in turn, cleared a space for him in the universe. One he’d never had before.”

Lobo’s transformation has had me thinking about the Marxist concept of alienation lately: the malaise brought on by a worker’s lack of identity with their occupation and what it produces. Prior to the book’s events, he was a trained electrician. The maintenance position he held had become increasingly clerical in recent years, landing him in front of a computer scheduling shifts for most of the day. As his work morphed into something intangibly divorced from his own interests, he grew more depressed and introspective. When that shred of purpose is taken away from him, though, his persona completely disappears. He becomes someone else’s poltergeist and communicates solely with a fictional talk show host living in his imagination. He exists as residue in the lives of others. 

For the number of us who have spent most of the past month alone at home, we too have become like ghosts. Living unperceived, your own existence is reduced to the ectoplasm you leave behind: a reply to a friend’s post; trash bags left on the curb; the smell of your oven fries leaking into the apartment’s shared hallway. If you’ve had food delivered, the DoorDash driver likely left a paper bag on your porch, leaving undetected before texting you a confirmation. Even more likely, maybe you’ve begun to get accustomed to the spectral reflections of your friends and co-workers on FaceTime and Zoom: pixelated, muffled, laggy. We are only sort of connecting — it’s more like merely passing through the existence of others.

As each of us attempts to make ourselves known, projecting our spirits into each other’s quarters, we have become a network of ghosts waiting to return to our physical forms. This hauntology in mind, I sought out some phantasmal subject matter to review in the latest issue — ephemeral art yearning for a return to the past from the ideological perspective of the now.

Catch you in the spirit realm,

Jude

Half-Gifts_hit_parade.html
Sporting Life - HBCU Gameday
(Self-Released, 2020)
 
It’s been a month since nearly every sports organization in the country suspended operations, and they’re already beginning to feel like the memory of a lost civilization. Domes and stadiums lie vacant in our cities like post-industrial ruins.. 

In the COVID era, Sporting Life’s HBCU Gameday mixtape, which centers around the pageantry of college football at historically black colleges, assumes deeper layers of meaning. The NYC-based producer opens the tape up with a sample of EA Sports’ iconic “It’s in the Game” tagline, followed by a chopped-and-screwed remix of a marching band’s halftime performance. For some folks of a certain age, that combination of recycled sounds will trigger vivid childhood memories of playing NCAA Football on the PS2. Today, though, even the thought of college football — its toxic masculinity and its more positive/aspirational characteristics — feels like the product of a bygone age. These aural images of packed stands and third down huddles are both the ghosts of a recent past taken for granted and a future not promised.

Unlike Sporting Life’s last full-length record, 55 5s, HBCU is more than an instrumental beat tape. Here, he acts as general manager, drafting a roster of NYC emcees to spit over his soundscapes. Medhane, my favorite member of the sLUms collective, fronts the tape’s best collab effort, “The Black Ivy.” Clocking in at a brief 68 seconds, the track demonstrates Med’s abilities as a pocket passer. Ruminating on his own creative headspace, he finds conversational crevices between samples that seem to be lifted from a samurai movie. 

“Staring at the ceiling tryna catch a feeling,” he mutters, rarely straying from his conversational cadence. Like Lucki,or even Earl Sweatshirt as of late, Medhane writes in the tradition of the imagist poets: briefly, and without much decoration. “The Back Ivy” reads like a pre-game pep talk before diving into one’s own head — Sporting Life’s strings thick in the air like humidity.

I’m also quite fond of closing cut “Gameday Continues,” an unlikely duet between Animal Collective member Panda Bear and Sporting Life’s former bandmate, Wiki. Panda has flirted with trap instrumentation in recent months, dropping a Carti-esque single and a collab with Teebs, but he’s most at home on this new cut, melodies fading into a smooth jazz cityscape. Wiki’s verse is, as usual, emotive and nostalgic, making for a memorable send-off. 

 
 
Neatpop - the young fallens quintessential pop music and guide to monikers and manipulation
(Self-Released, 2020)
 
Most callbacks to Y2K aesthetics begin and end with, like, a Madcatz Gamecube controller, tiny shades, or an image of Paris Hilton in Juicy Couture — the obvious visual cues. Pseudonymous producer Neatpop, however, seems to hold the keys to the era’s more intangible traits. Their latest record, its name too long to repeat here in entirety, doesn’t just look or sound like the past. It feels like it. Bitcrushed to staticky perfection and as understated as a mumbled retort, the young fallens is created with the enthusiastic abandon of a first-time web-browser. Drum machines trace the borders of electronic pop music, while pre-packaged synths fill the white space with crayon scribbles. Neatpop’s vocals lurk in the background, audible enough to be heard but not confident enough to be understood. Here is creation shared for the sake of connecting with others, not to impress. Neatpop’s quivering tunes are as inviting as the crude outline of a Tamagotchi or the solid colors of a Deviantart post forged in MS Paint. 

What is distinctly modern about the album’s approach to pop music is its suitability as background music. Though its mix is a bit jarring at times, the young fallens creates a hypnotic ambience, especially in its latter half. “Glass Tea” pairs skittering IDM-adjacent percussion with droning vocal melodies like an Orbital remix of Billie Eilish, cycling between downtempo grooves and roundabout detours into abstract hardcore. “Saturday 1125 AM” is an entirely transportive sphere of sound, despite the fact that’s comprised of little more than some lo-fi keyboard loops and Neatpop’s pitch-shifted singing. Bells shimmer; digital drums thud; vocal chords transmit vibrations deep into your inner ear. Like a Geocities website composed at the turn of the millennium, littered with .gifs and animated text, the young fallens is the unfiltered conscious projected into virtual space: messy, raw, and uncomfortably human. 
 
Matthew J. Rolin - Ohio
(Garden Portal, 2020)
 
I’m unashamed to say that I decided to review this before actually listening to it. The cover art’s just too perfect to ignore, enclosed in cream-colored cardstock. Luckily, the music it contains turned out to be just as beautiful: a six-track dive into the American Primitive guitar tradition blending Fahey’s immersive fingerstyle with Frisell’s eerie new-age inclinations. 

Based in Columbus, Ohio, Matthew J. Rolin is a newcomer to the Primitivist scene, though he’s already carved out an impressive discography of instrumentals over the past two years. His self-titled debut, released in November via Feeding Tube, is his only work available to stream, but the stuff you’ll find on Bandcamp is more accessible and shimmery. 

Beacon, which dropped the same day as Ohio, offers a more psychedelic take on Rolin’s sound, featuring accompaniment from Jason Gerycz on drums, Jen Powers on dulcimer, and Dylan Baldi (the Cloud Nothings frontman) on sax. A creepier headspace, if that’s what you’re into. 

 
DJ Lycox - Kizas do Ly
(Principe, 2020)

Lycox’s 2018 Sonhos & Pesadelos LP is still my favorite offering from Portugal’s Príncipe imprint, weaving snaky synth riffs through tangles of Afro-house polyrhythm. Though no less experimental than labelmates like DJ Marfox and Nidia Minaj, he brings a level of melodic polish unseen elsewhere in the Príncipe scene — futuristic in practice, but composed of the insectoid sounds of mid-aughts club music. 

Kizas do Ly is Lycox’s first offering since his Príncipe debut, leaning into his more ambient inclinations. Inspired by Angola’s Kizomba dance style, he dials back the chaos of previous efforts, churning out four tracks of steamy, low-tempo electronica. It’s a downright orchestral affair, canned strings and flutes seamlessly pairing with Lycox’s signature squelchy leads. Though he achieves the rare feat of releasing an EP that’s consistently satisfying throughout, “Red Lights” narrowly edges out its competitors, shuffling its focus between bouncy bongos, bubbly rushes of steel drums, and plasticine brass
.    
Dylan Baldi - Enemy at Home
(Self-Released, 2020)

Don’t get me wrong; I’ll gladly spin anything that Cloud Nothings releases. That said, I’ve often wished for a return to the project’s original form, before it upgraded from a one-man garage band to a fully-fledged post-hardcore outfit. At the turn of the ‘10s, frontman Dylan Baldi purveyed Myspace bedroom pop that felt a bit more mature than that of his peers — packed with monumental hooks and towering riffage, despite their ultra-compressed mix. His voice, bratty, but surprisingly tuneful, melted so naturally into tape hiss you’d believe he were destined for lo-fi stardom from birth.

Though Cloud Nothings’ 2012 Attack on Memory LP marked a permanent shift toward edgier, more complex songcraft, diehard fans of vintage Baldi can get a new fix in the form of Enemy at Home: a collection of 10 demos for a now-scrapped solo outing. Only available via a tweet, the compilation is a skeletal throwback to the first two Cloud Nothings’ records, burying drums and bass beneath a thick crust of staccato guitaristry. “Everything and Everyone” is the catchiest cut of the bunch, sandwiching a droning chorus between chiming solos. Closer “Get the Truth” is a close second, embodying teen angst with lovably mopey verses and keyboard pads that just barely break through the mix. 

 
Black Dresses - Peaceful As Hell
(Self-Released, 2020)

Contradictory as it may sound, Peaceful as Hell is both Black Dresses’ most experimental and accessible record to date, polishing the Canadian duo’s abrasive electropop sound while honoring their every self-indulgent whim. Their penchant for crunchy, slightly sour production is present as ever, but it’s fleshed out through the incorporation of overdriven guitaristry and live drumming. Reluctant as I am to make a Death Grips comparison in 2020, the aesthetic leap from last year’s Love and Affection LP to Peaceful as Hell feels analogous to Jenny Death’s embrace of nu-metal and noise-rock instrumentation. On tracks like “CREEP U” and “BLISS AND STUPIDITY,” Black Dresses sound downright pop punk — their trademark pitchy vocals fitting nicely atop lumbering basslines. 
 
Streams_of_consciousness.html
The Outsider: Season 1 — HBO
guest review by @mack__manley
 
Stephen King adaptations have become their own subgenre. 2019 alone saw film releases of Pet Sematary, It Chapter Two, In the Tall Grass and Doctor Sleep, while new seasons and premieres of Mr. Mercedes, Castlerock and Creepshow hit the small screen. 

Having wrapped in early March, HBO’s miniseries The Outsider has all the hallmarks of a King novel: at least one character grapples with alcoholism/addiction; theological questions arise as the protagonist faces supernatural terrors; all is enveloped in a heavy dose of mysticism; and it's backdropped by a not-so-idyllic small town setting.

Unfortunately, this includes the overused trope of a magical black character that delivers the white protagonist to new spiritual understanding while risking their own life. Nearly all of King's black characters are relegated to this role. That said, Cynthia Erivo as eccentric genius Holly Gibney brings depth to what could have been a cliched part.

In brief, the premise isn't entirely unlike similar small-town-murder-mystery-turns-supernatural storylines. A young boy is found gruesomely murdered in Cherokee City, Georgia. Ralph, along with fellow detectives, follow the trail back to Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman, who also directs several episodes) via what seems like infallible evidence — security footage and multiple witness testimonies. But Terry asserts his innocence. 

Things, it appears, are not what they seem. The department calls upon Holly, a private investigator, to trace Terry’s footsteps back to Dayton, Ohio, where he had recently vacationed. At the risk of revealing too much, Holly more or less sniffs out the presence of an evil presence known as “El Coco,” aka the Boogeyman. 

I started watching this series as my community began enacting self-distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Like many folks around the world, I’ve been holed up and worried about contracting the virus — and more than that, the possibility of somehow unknowingly passing it along to someone else. The Outsider isn’t billed as a tale of viral contagion, but it might as well be. El Coco spreads from host to host by way of a scratch, digging its claws into each victim’s psyche. The “disease” here is visceral — a pus-filled, gurgling rash on the neck. Control becomes lost for those infected. The creature insidiously takes over, preying on their insecurities, grief and pain — a detail that feels especially apt to our times. 

The Outsider may not be particularly profound, but its twisty supernatural underbelly will nonetheless likely sink into your mind. Post-binge, I found myself scouring Wikipedia articles about the mythos behind El Coco — somehow a good distraction from news regarding the global pandemic we find ourselves in. 
 
 
Chatlog.html
 
Finding Samuel Organ’s “Second Skin” last year is the sort of chance discovery that makes checking my Spotify daily mixes worth it. They’re not as effective a tool for unearthing unheard tunes as, say, Bandcamp’s “new arrivals” tag, but they’ll occasionally lob me gem I’d never have otherwise heard. Sandwiched between songs by Doon Kanda and Galen Tipton, the track forced me into a trance-like state, ensnared by chopped up MIDI vocals and sinister orchestration that felt like it took up tangible space. When the bass dropped, its power was undeniable. Blending James Ferraro’s plasticine palette with Clams Casino’s cinematic trap production, “Second Skin” regurgitated EDM tropes so adeptly it transcended its simple build-drop-build structure. I had to hear more.
 
Unfortunately, the UK-based producer had only released a handful of tracks by then, in the form of 2018’s Serpents of the South-West EP. The six-track EP was a brief affair at just over 20 minutes, but it was infinitely replayable, quickly becoming one of my most listened-to released of 2019. When I heard that Samuel Organ had released a debut full-length project in late March, I had to hit him up to learn more about the handiwork behind the music. Here’s a transcript of our chat on Instagram, in which we discuss Serpents, live performance, and his new LP — Complex Habitat Systems.
 
@jude__noel: I was curious about your previous project, Serpents of the South-West Peninsula. It originally came up on one of my Spotify mixes after I had been listening to Slugabed. I was really impressed with how immersive and layered it sounded. When did you start working on that material, and how did you end up getting hooked up with Activia Benz?

@samuelorgan: I think Greg (Slugabed) and I met around 2013/14. He was friends with Donky Pitch who id started releasing music with and we DJ’d a couple of parties together. We started to spend more time together learning about our different musical backgrounds, and it very naturally came to place where we started to make music together, and eventually I ended up helping him develop a live band for his music.
I’d been sitting on some of that music for a while to be honest. I make music pretty much every day. It’s all so varied so i never naturally found a home for it myself, but over time Greg gave me confidence to put it out there, and also the platform to do it on Activia Benz. Theres full creative freedom in Activia world, so it was a dream.

@jude__noel: I noticed that you’ve been performing your own material with a full band as well. What are the challenges in adapting EDM/Trap influenced stuff to that context? Did you write your new LP with that in mind?

@samuelorgan: The new album is actually not new! There’s some music on there that’s 5 years old. It’s a little collection of pieces I’ve written mostly on my laptop in the back of a van on tour with my band, or travelling. Again, I’d never found a natural home for them, but I’ve been feeling really nostalgic recently, and I wanted to share some things that made me feel good.
In terms of the live project, it’s all just experimenting really. There’s no deep artistic direction. I love the two players I’m working with, and we hadn’t worked together before, so I just wanted to get in a room and see what was up. It felt good. My guy Bill on drums was bringing mad energy to the music, and Matt on the sax is a great up and coming player. We all grew up in a shit midland town and I wanted to have some fun in London with those guys

@jude__noel: What other records have you been enjoying recently? Have you been working on any new music yourself?

@samuelorgan: I’m surrounded by some crazy talented people right now. I think Sega Bodega & Kai Whiston’s album compositional work is crazy good. I’m listening to a lot of 70’s soft rock and country music. A few years ago I started to get really into the Bee Gees, and it generated a path of discovery for male harmony groups and I’m locked in now. And yes, I’m making lots of music! I’ve got a proper solo album coming later in the year, a new record with The Physics House Band, writing for a few artists I really love (more TBA), as well as helping Kai Whiston develop his live show!

@jude__noel: How have you been holding up over the past few weeks as COVID continues to keep people in lockdown? Have you picked anything up or rediscovered something to pass the time?

@samuelorgan: Ok really. Initially it was difficult losing all my work, but...I’m in good health, so it’s okay!
I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden, and at a nature reserve down the bottom of the valley by my house, which is a bird sanctuary! I realised I’ve taken a lot more notice of my friends creative efforts to pass the time too. In my circles, everyone seems to be looking out for each other and supporting one another, so although a difficult time, there’s some very humbling vibes too

@jude__noel: Which track off of the new LP are you most excited for folks to hear?

@samuelorgan: Hmm, if I say the last track...then that might suggest folks listened to all of it!!!
feel free to send suggestions, letters to the editor or any questions to be answered in future issues. my inbox is always open at jude.noel3@gmail.com. If you'd like to contribute a guest post/mix/etc., hmu and we can talk about it!
...addendum...

I had a piece on environmentalism and electronic music published on Soap Ear last month. Go check it out!

A new i-fls album drops today. I'll review that in the near future for sure. In the meantime, support your favorite artist by buying music on Bandcamp today (May 1). They're giving artists 100% of the share of sales for 24 hours.

Andrewdude1 continues to be one of the more prolific and creative animators on Youtube. I'm particularly enjoying his Gabe Workman series — a quirky look at the depressing prospects of labor in the 21st century.


 
little of interest
1.0_archive
hit my line
Half-Gifts_2.0, 2020
A world drenched in reverb
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