Not all of Stereogum’s favorite sounds conform to what folks expect us to cover. In this space, resident Bananafish fetishist Brandon Stosuy usually focuses on bands, albums, singles, and villages in Sweden that may otherwise pass by unnoticed. This time around, we asked Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond to take over and talk up a couple of her recent favorite outside sounds. This installment’s virtual milk crate contains Clark and Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Take it away, Shara….
Clark – Turning Dragon
Warp Records has released another stunning album by electronic artist Chris Clark entitled Turning Dragon. Don’t forget to open the digital booklet to find the artist cutting off his right ear with some very large garden clippers. Ouch! I hope that was PhotoShop and not a Van Gogh repeat.
The intensity level has been stepped up several notches in the sounds of Clark’s world. Gone are the pretty tinkles, the music boxes, the gentle xylophone taps and sweeping ambient whooshes of Clark’s previous albums, Empty the Bones of You and Body Riddle. Where his Throttle Furniture EP stepped up the tempo and brought a dancier element, the space was still sparse. The blips and bleeps, hand claps and ’80s electro bass lines made your head bob but you wanted to keep your ears securely fastened. Now enter in the zippers, the garden clippers, the vocal collaging, and the techno tempos of Turning Dragon. The drum beats sound more like hits from the boxing ring, breaking glass, or radio distortion than the former open snares. There are still moments of pretty in the sound palette, but they are a brief reprieve from the dense world most of these songs inhabit.
In a bold move into uncharted territory, Clark extends his hand to the vocal realm in the third track “Truncation Horn,” creating new melodies and rhythms with samples that are as long as it takes to bat your eyelash. The effect of this can be rather jarring at times, but when taking a slightly less microscopic listen, it reminds me of devices in modern music where composers like Ligeti or Boulez use timbre as the means for creating melody rather than giving a line to a single instrument. The melody is created by color and the ear follows each color change. Often each instrument or group will trade off a rhythmic stem or variation and this dance like gesture moves the music forward. In Clark’s latest music, I feel that I can swallow the density level of rapid color changes because I am propelled forward by the repetitive techno 4/4 beat. It is that driving monotony that allows the quick zip and zap sample style to fold into a larger fabric and avoid listener claustrophobia.
This is musical electronic richness. This is sonic yumminess. It’s music to clean the house when you need to get it done in a hurry. It’s music for your barbeque party. It’s not music for your mother’s ears. This is not good music to drive to during traffic hours. It’s music to take to the club and dance until five in the morning. Dear DJ Justice, please make room for Clark on the stage.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Heartcore
It may be that the last decade will go down in history as the decade without bass players. From the White Stripes, to the Gossip, to Blood Red Shoes, bass players seem to be the ones most out of work. Leaf label-ites Wildbirds & Peacedrums take economy even more seriously with an album containing virtually no harmonic information, but focusing on melody and rhythm. Granted there are appearances of pitched percussive sounds like glockenspiels, reverbed toy pianos, perfect fifth baby grand downbeats and beaten acoustic guitar strings, but the general impression of this bare record is of that wild voice and those peaceful drums. The other instruments seem to come in only when utterly necessary and no sooner. The stripped arrangements bring all the focus to the lyrics, their delivery and the emotion in this music. The drums and vocals work completely in tandem. It is elegant and beautiful at its most delicate. It is tribal and soulful at its most jubilant. While listening to Heartcore, other musical references flash and flee to mind from Karen O to Nina Simone, from Joanna Newsom to church hymns of the Deep South. This group is Swedish?
Who was that fancy writer who recently proclaimed that indie rock isn’t related to soul music anymore? [Editor’s Note: It’s this guy] I need to find that guy and get into an argument. I cite the Wildbird part of this duo as my first example that soul has not been abandoned by rock chicks. Lady-bird has soul in spades. Liz Janes and bird-lady should have a slide and swoon off. As a way of dealing with the sparse landscapes, often doubling herself in thirds as in the song, “The Way Things Go,” Wildbird whoops and calls out “the way things go/the way things fly/ I wanna feeling/ the sound of open rooms/ I wanna feeling/ the movement of a storm.” In the third track “Birds,” she and Antony might have been tapped into the same vein of the universal consciousness with the lyrics, “I am a bird now/ Let me fly now/I am no one’s clone/in the brief sky/I am a grown up child/ I am a deep pain/ in the story/about home”, then the tom-toms build to a frenzy as the voice climbs in ecstatic moaning and bursts into triumphant shouts and fragmented vowels. In a diverse display of vocal color, in songs like “We Hold Each Other Song” and “Lost Love,” Ms. Wildbird’s voice is at its most fragile. She loses the darker resonating space & forcefulness, allowing the sound to take on a more speech like, lighter & transparent quality. The effortlessness and naturalness of her expression is stunning. The broad range and balance of dynamics in both the voice and percussion are inspiring.
[Wildbirds & Peacedrums]