Eiko Ishibashi feature

“The way the Japanese film industry works, you have very little time to do the soundtrack. There’s very little real instrumental music in Japanese films now. Most soundtracks are done by one person on a keyboard. Eiko’s soundtrack is so different that people here overlook it. It doesn’t operate in telling you what your emotions are.”

Congratulation to Drive My Car for its well-deserved Oscar! Two of my early favorites for 2022 come from Japanese singer/ composer/ flautist/ songwriter/ drummer/ noisemaker Eiko Ishibashi. One is her indelible soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, the other an imaginary soundtrack of sorts for Law & Order, entitled For McCoy. I was honored to speak with her and Jim O’Rourke, as well as director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for the story.

Eiko Ishibashi and the melodies that carry Drive My Car for The Washington Post

New Directions in Gwoka

“Gwoka was born out of necessity to reflect the moods of a people—its joys, its fears—and that’s why there are so many different rhythms. In Guadeloupe, gwoka is considered to be much more than a music style. It’s how they assert their Guadeloupean cultural identity as distinct from French national identity. Transmitting gwoka music involves the transmission of a collective history.”

Three years ago, Séance Centre’s eye-opening Gwakasonné compilation opened my ears to the music of Guadeloupe. A sound that seemed to encompass Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders’ seeking ’70s work, the tireless drums of Jamaican nyabinghi, the Afro-Caribbean fusion of Cedric Im Brooks, and the synth patches of private issued new age music, gwoka nevertheless defied easy categorization. As I learned more about the form, I realize that the themes underpinning this form of expression tie into so much of our current narrative. It’s music with roots embedded in 17th century colonization, slavery, and creolization. It’s a music of defiance, of protest, of ritual, a music that has strong spiritual ties, acknowledging ancestors and fearlessly moving forward.

The incredible new compilation Lèspri Ka: New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe 1981​-​2010 shines a much-needed light on this music. And the past few years have seen a wondrous amount of this music available once more.

New Directions in Gwoka for Bandcamp

The Man in the Eyeball Mask

“Hardy was kind of like a premature old man or Yoda, wise and cynical and merry. He seemed to have had the courage to think clearly for himself early on. Hardy’s odyssey was sexual in part which takes courage and energy. He explored himself and other people until he found the place he liked.” –Gary Panter

1954 HW

For those not familiar, Hardy Fox is co-founder of the Residents and their primary arranger and producer. Spent the better of two pandemic years talking to friends and family of the late Hardy Fox for a story close to my heart, about how a weirdo from small town Texas deals with familial alienation and Texas-sized repression to find solace and salvation in art/ music. It’s also the true origin story of the Residents, well before their days in Shreveport and San Mateo.

“Texas is so straight and insane that smart people there sometimes –as a form of protest or simple mutation and rolling of the dice– want to raise a more bizarre form of hell than people who are happier elsewhere.” –Gary Panter

The Man in the Eyeball Mask for Texas Monthly

Leslie Winer (rerub)

Late last year, a German magazine reached out and asked me if I would write an essay revisiting my interview with Leslie Winer (since my NYT article was the lone interview she gave). We had corresponded for a week and the exchange revealed that her typing voice is exactly as dry, acidic, tentacular, and whetted as her speaking voice. Which doesn’t always jibe with the NYT house style. So I contributed an essay featuring far more of Leslie’s singular voice and rhythmic wording uninterrupted.

Continue reading “Leslie Winer (rerub)”

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:

Continue reading “Rest of 2021”

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