Electric Fling

Just before the end of the year, Pitchfork retweeted an old column of mine from 2015 about Italo with the subhed of most “uncool” genre ever. Nevermind that the word “uncool” doesn’t appear in my love letter to Italo, it stirred up all these memes from wankers people trying to ratio the tweet who had clearly never read the piece nor heard Italo until two years ago but couldn’t help publicly posting their ignorance. (And cheers to a former employer for the clickbait-y engagement.) I lament the loss of reading comprehension, but I also hate the loss of nuance that accompanies such knee-jerk responses that defines our online engagement.

Here’s video proof about Italo with a panel of supreme record nerds.

So before every other creative endeavor turns into Pitchfork regurgitated clickbait and gets erased from history, thought I should put up links to my old dance music column, Electric Fling (fun trivia, the original column name was Machine Vibes, but there was another column there with “machine” in the title, so I named it after –yes– an old Italo track by Stefano Breda). Without further ado:

Mister Sunday’s Neverending Dance Party

Ambient Music’s Alternate Realities

Sketches From Ibiza Island

Lisbon’s Batida Revolution

Capitol Sound

Electronic Warfare: The Political Legacy of Detroit Techno

Let Me Be Your Radio: The Bizarro Universe of Italo

Sun Ra’s Free Space

Western Dance Music’s Ongoing Dialogue with Africa

Constant Vacation: Inside Amsterdam’s Dance Scene

The Next Revolución: Adventures in Modern Mexican Dance Music

Rest of 2021

2021 marked the first year I didn’t really submit a “Best of 2021” list anywhere. I stopped writing for Pitchfork after 19 years (the past few years, I was relegated to the sidelines in terms of EOY writing anyhow so no great loss). I did a ballot for Jazz Critics Poll and always ignore those Uproxx emails about ballots. Last year, I got to contribute a Boomkat list, but wasn’t asked this year :/ Anyhow, in filing away some records, I posted a batch of them on IG and thought I may as well type them out now:

  1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra ‎– Promises
    Of all the albums to have be divisive in this year, hard to imagine that it would be this one. For me, it’s a mistake to see it as electronic or jazz or ambient jazz or what have you. A few years prior, Sam and I had enthused over a string of brilliant Italian minimalist works and to my ears, Promises most closely aligns with this axis of sound.
  2. Saint Etienne – I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
    I’ll defer to Hua here: “One of the frustrations of relying on streaming services, and their ostensible infinitude, is how easily they can make entire swaths of the musical past disappear. Pop music is built on the memory of discovery. As our sense of the audible past moves entirely online, and our sense of history grows more reliant on what platforms make available to us, we’re susceptible to forgetting.”
  3. Sam Gendel, Josiah Steinbrick – Mouthfeel / Serene
  4. Aaron Dilloway & Lucrecia Dalt – Lucy & Aaron
  5. Bremer/ McCoy ‎– Natten
  6. Madlib (+ Four Tet) ‎– Sound Ancestors
  7. Natural Information Society with Evan Parker ‎– Descension (Out Of Our Constrictions)
    Found myself drawn to duos and the act of collaboration under straing during the pandemic. In that I was not alone, as Gio wrote of that dynamic of “tunneling toward mutually assured isolation for a long time, embracing a digital existence that has reorganized, among other things, how we talk to each other and how we make music.”
  8. – the rest: XVARR – Transitional Being EP, Topdown Dialectic Vol. 3, Jeff Parker Forfolks, Ben LaMar Gay – Open Arms to Open Us, Helado Negro – Far In, SVN – SVN, CZN – Commutator, 33.10.3402 ‎– Iz Usta EP

2021 was the year smooth jazz gave us some serenity b/w Oh f***, now I like smooth jazz?!

“A Pitchfork think piece meditated on albums like Promises, the critically acclaimed collaboration between electronic producer Floating Points and legendary spiritual jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, deeming such “soothing moods and healing frequencies” to be a new genre: “ambient jazz.” Meanwhile, a New Yorker profile on Gendel and Wilkes grappled with the idea of whether they were “not primarily a jazz duo but an electronic-production team, providing listeners with not many notes but a great deal of ambiance.” But rather than hand-wringing over labels, there’s already a handy genre tag familiar to radio programmers, shopping malls and chiropractic waiting rooms nationwide to describe this sound: smooth jazz.”

I spent a good deal of the pandemic taking in spiritual jazz of all stripes, finding strength, solace, and resolve in its fiery shrieks. Now into year two of pandemic life, there has been a slight shift. Two of my most-played albums for 2021, Sam Gendel and Josiah Steinbrick’s Mouthfeel and Bremer & McCoy’s Natten, led me down a path from ambient jazz towards something I can only describe as “smooth jazz.” (Special shout-out to Joseph Shabason’s The Fellowship, which got left out of the final edit.)

Just last year, the prescient Numero Group label put out Nu Leaf, a cheeky compilation excavating ‘70s jazz players like guitarist Calvin Keys and DMV’s own Plunky, who in the Reagen era all turned to MIDI synths to make music for –as the label sticker put it– “a commercial audience held captive in dentist offices and waiting rooms across America.” I bought an 80s jazz album from Jamaaladeen Tacuma for its synth-y textures and cold DX-7 drums, but found myself staying for the ugh pillowy cover of “One More Night.” But you can’t deny the smooth genius of George Shaw’s “6295 SW Fisher.”

2021 was the year smooth jazz gave us some serenity b/w Oh f***, now I like smooth jazz?! for The Washington Post

Bye 2021

Bye 2021, a year that can’t fall into the memory hole fast enough, but briefly looking back and collecting a few pieces of writing work below:

Where to Begin With Biosphere’s Dreamlike Electronica

A Guide to Equiknoxx, Who Are Reinventing the Sound of Dancehall

Rob Mazurek May Have Made Marfa’s Great Cosmic Jazz Album

Lisa Alvarado’s Art Transports and Transforms

Gang of Four changed the way punk sounded and what it could say.

Don Cherry is a deserving giant of jazz. Now his wife, Moki, gets her due as his visionary collaborator.

A Flashback to the Sound of ’90s Ambient Electronic

Gas Tanks & Synesthesia: The Free Jazz of Germán Bringas

“Blue” Gene Tyranny Was Texas’s Greatest Piano Prodigy

Alice Coltrane is finally heralded as a jazz great. A new reissue doesn’t do her justice.

Leslie Winer’s Music Was a Mystery in 1990. She Still Likes It That Way.

Behind the smokescreens, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry was a true master of sound and spacetime.

Twenty Years Ago, William Basinski Witnessed 9/11—and Memorialized It in Music

Saint Etienne looks to the past but limits the nostalgia.

In 1977, Kraig Kilby Spied the Future of Jazz

Shackleton Remains a Mystery

Blues, jazz, electronica – It all flows through Ben LaMar Gay.

Horizon, the Groovy Granddaddy of San Antonio Funk

2021 was the year smooth jazz gave us some serenity.

San Antonio’s Horizon

“You had three Anglo guys and a Hispanic guy, and we were looking to play at [what] was essentially an all-Black nightclub. But that was the music we were playing.”

Imagine my surprise at learning there was a brief blip of boogie-funk in my hometown. Not that I was hip to anything funky at the age of 5. There’s traces of Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire to be sure, some stompers that could have been looped by Daft Punk, but also some breezy AOR numbers that bring to mind Ned Doheny. Thanks to the Still Music label for this handy compilation of San Antonio’s Horizon.

A New Dawn for Horizon, the Groovy Granddaddy of San Antonio Funk for Texas Monthly

Ben LaMar Gay

“I’ve played in small villages in Western Europe, in Africa. When you go to these small places –especially when you travel with sound– it makes you realize most folk cultures are the same. These people gather up instruments from their environment and try to imitate their environment. These cats are between the earth and the stars trying to figure out this shit.”

Chatted with cornetist-composer-beatmaker-seeker Ben LaMar Gay about “The Alphabet Song,” oxygen flowing through machines, records-as-portals and songs-as-portraits, ducking around the 1, the Brazilian notion of samba de mesa, and having both Igbo and Kinyarwanda on his new album.

“Blues, jazz, electronica. It all flows through Ben LaMar Gay.” for The Washington Post

Circuit des Yeux

“In my first meeting with Matador on Zoom, I said, ‘Thanks for being here. Thanks for working with me. I really want to jump off a building.’ They set me up with a stuntman, Talin Chat, who is seen in The Mandalorian and Chicago Fire, and I had to go train with him and it was hilarious. I was in this YMCA gymnasium and I was the oldest person in there by like 15 years. And I was training with two other people. One was this 11-year-old who was going to be a Chicago Fire person who falls out of a window. The other were these twins that were doing back flips and crazy gymnasts. And I was just this kind of geriatric chick who showed up in boots.

“And yeah, the day of, I fell from this 9-foot rooftop onto a bunch of pads. And it was in March and the weather is so crazy in Chicago in March. It’s gorgeous. It was the first day of sun the whole year, and Mother Nature has really looked out for me on this record campaign, I have to say. It was life-affirming, though, that experience.”

“Circuit des Yeux Takes a Big Leap” for the Washington Post

Leslie Winer

“It can be difficult to talk about making music with people because they conflate ‘making music’ with ‘popular success’ and image and brand and all these other frightening, soul-destroying late-stage-capitalist concerns.”

In July, I began a weeklong email correspondence with Leslie Winer, to chat about her life and When I Hit You – You’ll Feel It, a new compilation of her decades of musical works. Due to personal concerns, it would be the lone interview she gave. I wonder if I should make a ‘zine of that long, winding exchange…but in the interim, here’s the published story.

“Leslie Winer’s Music Was a Mystery in 1990. She Still Likes It That Way.” for The New York Times

William Basinski

“September 11 gave people a keyhole…a way to understand Basinski’s music. It was catastrophic beyond imagination, not just physically but to our psyche. It affected everyone’s lives. That opened up possibilities for people to stop and listen.”

Like William Basinski, I too climbed to the rooftop of my home in Williamsburg on September 11th, watching the tragedy just across the river and also struggled with the resultant trauma of what we bore witness to on that fateful day. Some 20 years on, I profiled Basinski for Texas Monthly, exploring trauma, music as a healing force, the scent of orange juice and cigarettes, and the blues.

(Below the jump, I also added a few paragraphs that were ultimately cut due to space, going deeper into Basinski’s childhood and upbringing and early days in NYC.)

Things Fall Apart for Texas Monthly

Continue reading “William Basinski”