Friends of MEB Presents: The Retrographer, a monthly newsletter highlighting the best in new and old tracks. Like what you see below? Be sure to subscribe to The Retrographer Newsletter at the bottom of the post!
The Retrographer, Issue Four
- My friend Gabe is releasing an app called Cymbal today. It’s like Instagram for music: everyone posts the songs they’re most into right now, and altogether the timeline works as a playlist. I’d like to see what everyone’s listening to, so sign up and follow me, I’m @charlie.
- Waka Flocka Flame reviewed my resume and I wrote about it for NPR.
- If you want music recommendations on a slightly more frequent basis, check out Benji Cronin’s Two Songs.
- My band, Milhaus, is putting out our first EP “The Graduate” on Saturday, May 9th. To celebrate we’re playing a show at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg with Pastimer, who are also putting out an EP that day, and the Danger Boys, who recently put out a full length. Please come!
Ten Songs for April, 2015
Bop English, “Dani’s Blues (It Was Beyond Our Control)” (Spotify / Youtube) – It’s amazing what you can do in your garage. Start the biggest company in the world. Hang withHumphrey Bogart. Put your cars on an elevator. Or, in the case of White Denim’s James Petralli, bang out some distorted psychedelic boogie piano that sticks in your head all day.
Alabama Shakes, “Dunes” (Spotify / Youtube) – That said: decades of garage rock bands emulating soul singers, or bands emulating bands emulating soul singers (ad infinitum) will make you forget what a garage rock band fronted by a real, raised-in-the-church soul singer can do.
Rihanna, “Bitch Better Have My Money” (Spotify / Youtube) – Rihanna used to be derided in comparison with her more relatable pop stars for being “cold.” But coldness – and for that matter, coolness – has long been her most singular quality. Here it transforms her into Frank White, rending gender identities and expanding swagger’s known limits.
Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, “Fama Magni” (Spotify) – The n’goni, a guitar-like stringed instrument from West Africa, has been played for hundreds of years, and Malian Bassekou Kouyate is it’s best living practitioner. His band, which includes guitarist Samba Toure, stages his virtuosity on an unyielding groove.
Little Comets, “Little Italy” (Spotify / Youtube) – This album came out this year, but this single debuted in 2014. Sue me. And sue me for picking a song that sounds like a mashup of Givers and Dave Matthews Band. This song has a gravity, earthy and huge, that is hard to deny.
BC Camplight, “You Should’ve Gone to School” (Spotify / Youtube) – You can’t hear everything Brian Christinzio says among the obsessively-assembled sonic palette: 70’s-style arena guitars, groaning bass, warm, close mixing. But what you can sticks: “You’re addicted to the sound / heard you want to blow your brains out.”
Ava Luna, “Best Hexagon” (Spotify / Youtube) – Carlos Hernandez transforms from a feathery quaver to soul singer yawps on a dime. The band mutates in step, floating nebulously beneath a nursery rhyme melody before snapping into hardcore and pivoting harmonically around Becca Kaufman and Felicia Douglass’ backup vocals.
Young Thug, “Halftime” (Spotify / Youtube) – There comes a point in this song, about two minutes in, when it sounds like Thugger’s voice is reversed, but it’s not. It’s another moment where the Atlanta rapper’s incomprehensibility serves to separate the listener from linguistic or communicative elements of hip hop and present it purely as an art form.
Hot Chip, “Huarache Lights” (Spotify / Youtube) – Time and again Hot Chip puts out building, driving songs that are as good to dance as to run to. “The places with the things that do the job better” seems like a bad slogan for a big box store, but here it’s quite daft.
Sufjan Stevens, “Fourth of July” (Spotify / Youtube) – Most thoughts that pass your mind when you’re at the deathbed of a loved one pass unseen. It’s only the most intimate ones, the names they used to call you, the what ifs, could things have been different?, and that final one, the realization that you’re headed where they are, that form, cruelly, from the mist.
One Historic Album for April, 2015
MF DOOM, Operation: Doomsday (Fondle ‘Em Records), (Spotify / YouTube)
MF DOOM was once Zev Love X. Before that, he was Daniel Dumile. The transition from Dumile to Zev is easy to explain: he took on the moniker when he formed a group, KMD, with his brother Subroc. They released one album, 1991’s Mr. Hood.
But from Love to DOOM is a more complicated origin story. KMD made a second record, Black Bastards, which was never released because it’s cover showed a “little sambo” cartoon hanging from gallows. Then one night Subroc was walking home drunk when he was hit by a car and killed. KMD was dropped from their label that same week. Zev disappeared into the shadows, spending years homeless or on the brink – gone.
1999’s Operation: Doomsday opens with a disorienting skit: a collage of beats and clips from a movie of guys talking on the street. Then the narrative begins with a clip from none other than the Marvel Comics cartoon Fantastic Four.
Dumile had resurfaced, half a decade later, as MF DOOM, a version of that show’s Dr. Doom. Those years off were, in the parlance of Saturday morning nefariousness, spent “recovering from his wounds,” and swearing revenge “against the industry that so badly deformed him.” The MF stands for “Metal Face”, referring to the mask always wears, he explained years later, “to cover the raw flesh.” In real (cartoon) life, Dr. Doom was horribly deformed trying to create technology to communicate with the dead. The end of KMD, the death of his brother, the years sleeping on benches had maimed Dumile just the same. He had become rap’s full time supervillain.
So. With enough origin story to befit a true supervillain, what does Operation: Doomsday sound like? It sounds like a man sitting in his apartment watching cartoons, getting drunk on Jack Daniels at a bar, missing his exes, shooting the shit with his friends, reeling off innumerable brilliant references and internal rhymes, and mourning his lost brother.
It sounds like, as he raps on “?”, solitude: “By candlelight my hand will write these rhymes ’til I’m burnt out/ Mostly from experience, shit that I learned about.” It sounds like memories: “Like my twin brother, we did everything together, from hundred raka’at salats to copping butter leathers.” It sounds like the thought, finally, that things could’ve been different, maybe less villainous. “I keep a flick of you with the machete sword in your hand / Everything was going according to plan, man.”
Check out: “Doomsday”, “Rhymes Like Dimes”, “?”; Skip: “Who Do You Think I Am?”
Though these playlist are all on Spotify, not every song (including many of my favorites) is available to stream.