Ryuichi Sakamoto - async:
Every single person that has ever lived has been bound to the Earth for a very limited period of time. As a species, we tend to become obsessed with minutia, to fill ourselves with purpose and will during this small window. But sometimes, this minutia blinds us to how fragile our condition actually is: any life can and often will end, and there is only so much sand in each of our hourglasses. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s async is a strikingly honest and funereally calming record that drapes that concept around itself, borne of a legendary musician’s belief that his pen was running out of ink.
In 2014, Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame discovered he had a lump in the left side of his neck. It led to a diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer, from which he would have to spend 2 years undergoing chemotherapy and recovering from. Upon first hearing this news, I fell despondent. One of my favorite musicians had come down with a presumably lethal cancer diagnosis, and there seemed to be nothing anyone could do but hope for his safety. With incredible fortune, Sakamoto emerged from radiology with his cancer in full remission, and in May of this year gave us his newest album: async.
Async was Sakamoto’s attempt to create cohesive music out of asynchronous sounds, sounds that do not adhere to a single tempo. In an NHK interview, he states that “every sound has a reason to exist… and we take the liberty to decide which sound is good or bad. I wanted to ‘pull the plug’ on this.” Somehow, all of these sounds feel and appear natural within the album, and Sakamoto pulls each of them from his own life. The transition from the Gymnopedie-style piano of “Andata” to “Disintegration” is particularly jarring upon the first listen: Sakamoto traveled to Fukushima after the 2011 nuclear disaster, and found a detuned piano, which he sampled for the record. Tracks like “Walker” and “Garden” sample sounds he collected while walking around his home of New York, and “Solari” and “Stakra” are both callbacks to his earlier synth-based work in Yellow Magic Orchestra, as well as odes to Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky, specifically his film “Solaris."
“Fullmoon” deserves a separate mention. When I was initially listening to this album, I was caught off-guard by this track. The vocal sample is from Paul Bowles, author of The Sheltered Sky; Sakamoto helped to score its movie adaptation. The vocal sample is translated and read in eleven different languages, each sample at its own respective cadence. They are all layered over each other to create an enveloping effect on the listener, which I found intensely moving.
I try to refrain from using a lot of hyperbolic statements within these reviews, especially when I do not hold much stock in them, but I am confident that this is my album of the year. Among its different themes, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s async is representative of his last eight years and combined interests during that time. Borne of a newfound acknowledgement of his limited lifespan, async strives to give the listener guidance to the unnoticed sounds and purposes of life: ones that we most often forget and ignore. To understand and respect the asynchronicity of how we experience life seems to have been his ultimate goal in creating and releasing async. After all, every one of us only has so much time left; we ought to spend it actively experiencing, observing and reflecting upon our perceptions and memories as much and as deeply as possible. SEAN
Recommended Tracks: 1, 3, 8, 14
RIYL: Alva Noto, Ryoji Ikeda, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Keith Fullerton Whitman.
Syd - Always Never Home:
I’m a big fan of EPs. In the modern listening world, nobody has the attention span to get through a full album. Think about it: when listening to music, we pick our favorite couple of songs, play them out–unless the radio does it first–and then we are done and onto the next project, playlist, etc. Syd packs a powerful punch in only three songs.
Always Never Home is the latest project from R&B badass, Syd. Where Fin left off, Always Never Home picks back up, hitting the listener with heavy bass and synth production. Syd is confident and cool. She lays back on these tracks, almost throwing away her vocals as she projects so nonchalantly.
It's clear, she's consistent. Both projects have distinct futuristic soundscapes that can easily be identified to her. That said, Always Never Home falls within an interesting place in R&B–the lyrics are sensual, the vibe is sexy and playful, the lyrics are honest, but the beats are almost trap-like with their syncopated patterns, bouncy bass lines and slowed, switched-up tempos. Teaming up with Ricci Riera (Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, School Boy Q) and frequent collaborator Kintaro (Thundercat's brother), Syd continues to impress with her musical sensibility and production ability.
Thematically, the project has variety. In "On The Road" she notes her non-stop life since The Internet's growing popularity, while her complex love life and hesitation to pursue anything too serious plays in the back of her mind as she explains in "Bad Dreams / No Looking Back."
/We only kiss when we f---ing so we don't get too attached, cause if this turns into something we know there's no looking back/
Coming in at 10 minutes, Always Never Home is a fresh return from Syd. This should hold us until we get the sophomore album...or another Internet album. We'll take either. LANI
RIYL: GoldLink, The Internet, KAYTRANADA, Fade To Mind
Recommended Tracks: All
FCC: 2, 3
Photay - Onism:
n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die—and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here. -The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
I have come to the realization that I really appreciate art that I think of as “philosophically cohesive.” In an abstract sense, what I mean by this is that rather than art seeming to be “about” some thing or idea, the art should seem as though it is itself a manifestation of that thing or idea. This line of thinking has been inspired at least in part by the writing of Robert Pirsig. While Pirsig writes on a metaphysical level about what “Quality” is, his writing also embodies every aspect of Quality that he discusses, thus making it a “philosophically cohesive” work. In other words, the art and concept behind the art are virtually indistinguishable.
While I have been warned several times of the social and intellectual dangers of viewing my life as an art project, I think that philosophical cohesion is undoubtedly something that I should try to integrate into my own life. The best way–perhaps the only way–to cultivate peace of mind is by ensuring that your everyday actions and thoughts are natural extensions of your values. In this way, I think that philosophical cohesion is one way in which we naturally perceive quality in the people, art, and environment surrounding us. Similarly, I think that both people and art can seem “fake” to us when they display their values superficially, for instance by talking a lot about their values rather than acting in accordance with them. So take a minute to reconsider: What are your values, how are your everyday actions a manifestation of those values, and how you could you improve? JATIN
RIYL: Four Tet, Floating Points, Grand Teton National Park
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 9, 10
B. Cool-Aid - BRWN:
black is space
the outer darkness
the void direction to the heavens
black is space
the outer darkness music
it becomes more than music
the void directions to the heavens
Much has been said regarding the Black relation to death. One thinker, Rinaldo Walcott remarks on the shared and traumatic moment of the Atlantic Passage that is still very much with us, how it shapes and contorts our world. There many other examples I could mention, but as wordmaker Pink Siifu and producer Ahwlee make clear under the name of B. Cool-Aid (Brown Cool-Aid), BRWN is a celebration of BRWN skin, for BRWN skin and I am not here to boo-boo that.
BRWN is an exceedingly smooth record, by which I mean it’s really difficult to recognize when one song ends and another begins, transitioning with that oozy, low down, lo-fi, sound we hear in a lot of Internet Hip Hop (genre is slowly draining the life out of me). This is what I would call a Complete Album, one that references itself lyrically and sonically, as Pink Siifu will repeat a bar from the previous track in a moment of déjà vu. This is also a sexy album. Intimate rhymes recall intimate times, soft lips and softer vocals that honestly have trouble competing with the bass at times.
Pink Siifu has worked previously with Swarvy, another producer one the LA label Akashik Records, run by film director Alima Lee and Stones Throw progeny MNDSGN, aka Ringgo Acheta. It is exciting to see this label putting out consistently excellent hip hop and R&B, flipping the sounds of the eighties into BRWN gold. It’s like I’m listening to an era of 94.7 The Wave programming that is beyond my comprehension. Hop in the Acura and try this baby out. AUSTIN
RIYL: Anderson Paak, Knxwledge, Erykah Badu, Joyce Wrice, melanin
Recommended Tracks: 2, 3, 4, 9
FCC: all of them
New LA: Together PANGEA - Bulls & Roosters:
Together PANGEA is the LA garage punk band made up of singer/guitarist William Keegan, bassist Danny Bengston, and drummer Erik Jimenez. Bulls & Roosters is their highly-anticipated 3rd full-length record and follows the 2015’s EP The Phage and 2014’s Badillac, which is probably one of my favorite albums. This album is full of jangly guitars, surf rock influences, and catchy melodies. A lot of the songs on the album feel like they were made to be mosh-able. It’s like Together PANGEA wanted their shows to be rowdy and full of moshing, crowd-surfing, stage-diving, angsty teens from Orange County (which they no doubt are). The whole album continues the “get wasted with best friends” vibe created in the music video for the song “Offer” off of Badillac. Every song on the latest album has catchy lyrics that make me feel like I’m drunk at a party singing along with all my friends. There’s a really nice feel-good community vibe to the album balanced with a little garage punk edge to it all. It’s like if this album could talk it would say “I’m gonna punch you because we’re moshing and we’re punk af, but really deep down I love you and you’re my best friend. <3 ” Here’s the music video for “Better Find Out,” which was filmed on my friend’s roof lol. CHRISTINA
RIYL: FIDLAR, White Fang, Twin Peaks, The Orwells, No Parents
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11
FCC: 2, 3, 6