[2.0.1: Love Is...Posting Cringe]
Being bedridden with the flu is a bummer, but there's a silver lining to it. If you time your sick days and sleeps right, you can eventually recover with short-lived reserves of energy and motivation you'd otherwise never be able to attain. The window of space between being able to properly breathe through my nose and once again submitting to the Sisyphean angst of a 9-to-5 has helped me power through the remaining portions of this issue with a renewed sense of wonder. While I once reluctantly woke up in a cold sweat to watch fan blades spin, I can now re-discover morning coffee and Boiler Room mixes played on a Bluetooth speaker.
And maybe it's this little burst of optimism that has me feeling excited for Valentine's Day. Sure, the holiday fosters a culture of transactional affection and exists to prop up the greeting card industry, but it has given me the opportunity to think about love as it relates to my fellow Zoomers. Our primary sources of entertainment and/or public communication — Twitter and Instagram — favor ironic detachment and precocious snark that gives us the voice to ratio oppressors but lacks the means to allow a sincere expression of love between parties. To carve out a space for intimacy on social media, you have to subvert its purpose entirely. A finsta or alt account is antithetical to either site's purpose of generating internet fame and monetizable content, serving as a channel for what we're too vulnerable to share. Love in the '20s is posting cringe for your 15 close friends™.
Imagine your email inbox is a decorated shoebox, and this newsletter came folded up in a pile of cards featuring licensed characters. Maybe there's a bonus packet of Fun-Dip taped to it. Whether you choose to read this or smash that delete button, you're my Valentine, reader.
In The Realms of the Unreal
There’s no shortage of fiction depicting life inside the worlds of video games, though much of the work that’s attempted to do so fails to capture what makes virtual worlds so enticing. The concept of an entirely-immersive MMORPG like those portrayed in Ready Player One, Tron, or even Sword Art Online and its many clones has the potential to cover aesthetic territory otherwise limited by the laws of nature or explore the disconnect between consciousness and the simulated world it inhabits. Unfortunately, the games themselves often serve as loose structures for trope-y sci-fi/fantasy adventures to take place within. References to “glitches” or hackneyed gamer terminology are employed in order to remind us that the humans starring in the movie are indeed inside a video game. To push these imagined virtual settings to the limits of a Tolkien-esque or Spielbergian epic is to ignore the technical limitations that make them so exotic (and potentially scary!).
Contemporary action-adventure blockbusters are so hyperreal that, say, the Avengers’ universe is indistinguishable from that of Ready Player One. Each features scenes that are rendered almost entirely in CGI, flashing as much recognizable branded content on screen as it takes to please the audience. In many cases, actually narrowing the scope of the film rather than over-stretching virtual worlds to fit the silver screen can make things more otherworldly.
Case in point:
Fish Loves Chicken, a 2019 animated short by Josh Burke, is the most convincing portrayal of a video game universe in film that I’ve seen. Though it isn’t marketed as such, the clip plays like watching a playthrough of a Nintendo game on Youtube, sans commentary and the HUD display that would usually occupy the borders of the screen. Searching for the missing contents of its cracked egg, the titular chicken moves along fixed paths, the camera swerving wildly to stay centered on its avian axis.
The brief glimpse we get at Fish Loves Chicken’s urban setting leaves me desperate to survey its buildings and to speak with its residents. It’s impossible to cram the extracurricular exploration of an open-world video game and a fleshed-out storyline into a 2-hour movie. Fish Loves Chicken succeeds by doing neither, presenting a bustling Where’s Waldo world that winks at deeper narrative.
In 4 and a half minutes, Fish Loves Chicken uses a simple fetch quest to give listeners a peek at an implied story unfolding in the background. Our silent protagonist — who seems to act without free will — passes through a world of clones that raises more questions than it can answer. Why is there such a high-profile police presence in the film’s vibrant city? Why so many portable toilets? Where can I get the platform sandals worn by the bird in the 10-gallon hat? Josh Burke knows that it’s the lore, not the plot, that makes a game world worth inhabiting.
Yakui - Soultek
(Horrible Recordings, 2020)
On paper, Yakui's production shouldn't be soothing at all. Rolling the features of regional dance scenes like Chicagoan footwork, Dutch bubbling house, and Japanese speedcore into a dense, post-local Katamari of sound, the Pennsylvanian artist makes maximalist club music with a collagist's mindframe. The entirety of her latest full-length effort, Soultek is enveloped in an opaque cloud of percussion, each mix inundated with throbbing kicks and fluttering snares. Yakui values movement over all else here, laying down basic four-by-four kicks and peppering any leftover space in the measure with samples. There's so much to wrap your head around that it's better to give in than to try. Soultek is best consumed while flailing wildly or sprawled motionlessly on the couch in surrender — there's something freeing in its lack of nuance.
"Rainbow Gradients" is my favorite stretch of the album, opening with an unrelenting kick drums and a pulse of steam-like white noise that work their way into a hypnotic loop. As I suggested earlier, the textures are layered well enough to mimic shoegaze's harsh yet palliative effects. Distant sirens and spacey synths are sucked into the low end's gravitational pull, forming a planetary sphere of perpetual moment, bell tones and chimes ringing out with the allure of the casino floor. While the artists who influence Yakui drop highly contextual tracks composed with local clubs in mind, cuts like "Rainbow Gradients" are contexts of their own. Look up and you'll see chopped-up samples and drum machine debris orbiting the earth like blinking satellites.
Yamir - Después del Grito
Salvaged from an unfinished reggaeton project, Yamir's latest EP is the most complete synthesis of their work to date. Across four tracks, the Puerto Rican DJ seamlessly fuses the shimmering bounce of their nightcore Latin pop mixes with their more cinematic post-rock soundscapes. Like the artists signed to Portugal's Principe Discos imprint, Yamir stacks surreal sounds atop a sturdy foundation of club-ready drum loops and quirky synths, pushing pop music to its weirdest limits. While Principe artists like DJ Marfox and P. Adrix rely on synthetic brass and chopped vocals to achieve their house sound, Yamir dips into hazier palette of contemporary stars like Bad Bunny, intensifying the ambience until it resembles a Jim O'Rourke record.
The two cuts on Después del Grito's B side are its most alluring offerings. The title track lets its percussion fade into obscurity, letting sampled smooth jazz and sci-fi electronica take lead, while "Siempre Me Dice" coats its undeniable rhythm in echoing vocals and crackling textures. Each 808 thump is coated in reverberated warmth.
S.O.S. #STAYAFLOAT - "Easy"
Soundcloud's moment as the primary incubator for fledgling rap careers may have passed, but Atlanta's S.O.S. (Stack or Starve) collective has taken care to keep the platform's creative flame alive for the time being. Like their spiritual predecessors Goth Money and Awful Records, S.O.S. zero in on the idiosyncrasies of their more mainstream peers, exaggerating them to an absurd degree.
Backed by a minimalist, piano-driven instrumental, "Easy" is the collective's best posse cut. Hook, who appropriately lends a hook to the five-part collab effort, stutters and swerves her way through the beat's pockets with a wonky flow that shouldn't work, but does. 645ar is next to take the baton, delivering a verse in the inscrutably high-pitched style that helped him land a viral hit in January. If Playboi Carti raps in a baby voice, 645ar's voice isn't even human — if Beaker (the orange, rod-shaped Muppet) grabbed the mic, he'd sound something like this. Tony Shhnow, Jwitdabeam, and 10kDunkin close out the track with verses that are more rooted in tradition, dripping with whispered menace. After Hook and 645 blast listeners off into trap music's outer realms, it's a much needed return to Earth.
Cosmic Neighbourhood - "Thought Bubble / Squirrel"
When Adam Higton isn't making Emberley-esque collage art, he's crafting equally cozy folktronica as Cosmic Neighborhood. His upcoming record, Library vol. 1, is a tribute to the compilation LPs of television production music pressed in the 60s and 70s: barely labeled discs packed with ambient jazz meant to soundtrack sit-com credit rolls. The two previews of the new album, streamable on Kit Record's Bandcamp page, are well-suited to soundtrack a fantasy cartoon like The Moomins. Vintage modular synths flutter and hiss beneath the lull of flutes and piano, rendering a pastoral landscape in construction paper hues. Cosmic Neighborhood's compositions are as inviting and immersive as a large picture book sprawled out on a carpet. At any age, it's easy to feel like you've become one with the page after diving in.
@jude__noel: I love your Catboy profile picture. I take it you're a fan of the comic?
@yamirbc: Yeah, I've been a huge fan of Benji Nate's Catboy for years, and I love everything they've made!
@jude__noel: Your latest record, Después del Grito, largely came from an unfinished reggaeton album? What became of it, and how might it have been different from the new EP?
@yamirbc: With that album, I was hoping to make a full-length reggaeton album with guest reguetoneros and my own lyrics/vocals. I ended up finishing almost all of the beats for it but when it came to finding collaborators and writing my own lyrics, I was pretty much stuck. I underestimated how difficult it would be and how out of my realm it was, so I figured I should stick to just beatmaking. That album would've had the same tone this EP has, with some more energetic songs here and there, but it wouldn't have differed much from what's on Después del Grito. I'm hoping to really get back into making music this year after not making anything the past six months, so maybe some of the leftover material will see the light of day this year.
@jude__noel: Though it's largely instrumental, there are some pretty clear political undertones (and overtones) in your music and accompanying artwork. Where does your solo material reach beyond the aesthetic level?
@yamirbc: This one is really embarrassing and definitely one thing I wish I was better at lol. I can't deny that it pales in comparison to anything I've been a part of regarding activism, protesting and organizing. My artwork and content has frequently been very political and definitely a little too exaggerated at times. While I'm at college in Florida, I've been trying to get aid to the island and raising awareness about the political situation in Puerto Rico, although I haven't had quite the results I've been hoping for. It's not much, but I'm hoping to do more than just raise awareness through my music.
@jude__noel: I've been bumping your nightcore-slash-reggaeton DJ mixes a lot lately. When did you decide to branch out from ambient work into more pop-oriented stuff.
@yamirbc: I had been listening to reggaeton very attentively for a few years now, but I never really considered doing mixes until I heard flirty betty's Calor Mix in 2017 and started looking for reggaeton past what my friends played at school. That's how I became curious in trying to dig out the strangest reggaeton artists out there, speeding them up and mixing them with fast-paced electronic music in a mix. As for the switch from more ambient and "post-rock" (for lack of a better word) sounding music I previously made, I think I generally made music based on whatever I was into at the time, but I think I've really found something I'm good at here. I feel I've still kept a consistent sound or attempt at a melancholic but hopeful sound. Really I just want everything to feel just like Tracy Chapman's Fast Car feels. I know that's too much to ask for, but oh well.
@jude__noel: What's the best material coming out of the reggaeton scene right now?
@yamirbc: Not enough people talk about Clara! y Maoupa. This duo has really been producing some of the best reggaeton out there and complement each other perfectly. I also really like what Sasha Sathya, Riobamba and Albany have been making. Since I haven't kept up too well with reggaeton recently to give more recommendations, I wanna mention similarities between the nightcore mixes and other genres in the Caribbean. I've listened to a lot of dembow recently, and since it's generally much faster than reggaeton's 96BPM, it's perfect for my mixes and just as good on its own. Even more incredible was finding out about bubbling, a relatively unknown genre outside of the Dutch Antilles and the Netherlands, which came about in 1988 when DJ Moortje accidentally played a Dancehall record at 45RPM instead of 33RPM, and started making beats with sped-up dancehall after getting a positive reaction from the crowd. It's amazing how I ended up doing almost the same thing three whole decades later, completely unaware of it.
@jude__noel: Where would you like to take your sound next?
@yamirbc: The first thing I'm planning on doing is work on more DJ mixes, especially incorporating more 'original' music into them and doing more with the tracks I select. I really enjoyed how Vieja escuela came out, it's definitely the one I've had the most fun with, but I also want to make mixes similar to how Después del Grito sounds like. Vivo y Perreando nailed that quite well, I think. I have a lot more free time nowadays, so I do expect to be able to put out new music sometime soonish.
feel free to send suggestions, letters to the editor or any questions to be answered in future issues. my inbox is always open at email@example.com. If you'd like to contribute a guest post/mix/etc., hmu and we can talk about it!
Season 4 of We Bare Bears made its way to Netflix this week. In my opinion, it's the best series that Cartoon Network debuted in the latter half of the decade — a low-key look at everyday life in San Francisco through the eyes of ursine outsiders. Though only one episode of the season is currently available, it appears that T-Pain makes a guest appearance in the thumbnail of episode 4. Appointment television, if you ask me.
This NY Mag piece about the intersection between Christianity and Sonic the Hedgehog fanart is surprisingly heartfelt and well-written. If you've ever wondered why Sonic inspires more oddly-specific (and prurient) artwork than, say, Mario, this thinkpiece offers some convincing answers. Great line: "To be a Christian youth-group kid is to be in an eternal state of knowing that you are getting the second-hand versions of everything else that’s cool."
I don't mind that Roddy Ricch's unfortunately-titled debut record, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, has become the winter's most inescapable record. "The Box," "Perfect Timing," and especially "High Fashion" are as perfectly crafted as radio rap gets, laden with melodic flourishes that beg to be sung along with in the car. It's quickly becoming one of my most re-played albums this year. Ryan Hemsworth — whose dreamy production favors cute, cozy sounds — recently remixed 4 Roddy tracks that have me fiending for a proper collab between the two.
New Wes Anderson movie looks like it could be his best work since Royal Tenenbaums. It's not like the film world needs any more pristinely-arranged tableaux, especially when Reddit and film Twitter place importance on #CineShots over all else, but Wes does it well enough to pull off fashion over function. Plus, the film's subject matter and promotional materials take me back to reading issues of The New Yorker for the first time, paying particular attention to the inscrutable cartoons.