Top albums 2015 Advent Calendar: Day 8
Lakker - Tundra
Tundra is Irish duo Lakker's second full-length album, but comes a full 8 years after the release of the first. "We just put the album out and then fucked off around the world," Dara Smith told Pitchfork, before his partner Ian McDonnell added "it was needed." Lakker reconvened a few years later with a new maturity and worldliness, and took much more time and caution over their music from that point. They've been releasing much shorter, condensed EPs and singles for the last few years, gradually building up to Tundra, their second album and hugest statement to date.
The experience that they've picked up over the years shines through, as does the way in which the duo interact with each other on these deep, tense and fissure-causing experiential techno tracks. Lakker never seem to want to make you dance exactly, but Tundra does not let you put two feet firmly on the ground at any point, instead making you bob and hover as your work your way through their ever-complicating labyrinthine music.
Tundra, as its name suggests, conjures up vicious naturalistic elements, shows them to you, then takes you on a headlong charge straight through them. "Milch" is introduced to us through a rich female voice wafting out of the ether, alluring us, only to then sucker punch us with a truly fat kick drum that introduces itself with battering-ram like manners. The voice then remains through the song, calling to us as we try to weave our way through pylons of industrial clicks and clangs to try to catch up with it. The 8-minute "Mountain Divide" wakes us up in the Alpine bliss described by its title, only to suddenly catch us in an atmosphere-subverting avalanche through which Lakker guide us via vertiginous crevices of carefully interspersed beats and sense-numbing blusters of crackling feedback. The title track, "Tundra," sets out the soothing uniform flatness described in its title, daring us to cross it, only for us to find ourselves inundated by pelting snow and flattened backwards by skin-shearing winds of synth.
The album peaks with the unholy firestorm that is "Pylon." It's powered by a skipping beat that lacks no heft in its efforts to push this weighty track along, laden as it is with monolithically black synth interjections, ghoulish piano that creeps between shadows and in the furor the sound of church bells signalling safe haven from the storm, just slightly out of reach. At the halfway point this all builds up to a punctual stop and a split-second silence before Lakker turn on the thrusters and bring the music clamoring down like a meteor shower of needles scouring your flesh in the most detoxifying way possible. It's one of the most unexpectedly blissful moments in music I've come across in recent memory.
In that same Pitchfork article the duo talk about how their major breakthrough in creating their new music was realising that sometimes less is more. Throughout Tundra they've found the balance in the amount of elements to add, lose or merely flirt with, and they use them invariably to devastating effect.
Have I bought this album? Yes bought it recently at the indie label market. It's on gorgeous white/black marbled wax.
Vince Staples - Summertime '06
"I'm just a nigga, until I fill my pockets, and then I'm Mr. Nigga," begins the first verse of Summertime '06, perfectly displaying the way that Vince Staples effortlessly conjures characters and swerves from street-level scenes to debauched gangster fantasy throughout the album. Staples takes you onto the streets of his home Long Beach and shows you around; the good, the bad and the ugly - and there's certainly much more of the latter two.
Staples takes us to introduce us to the scenes and shout out his hood in "Norf Norf," but on the next track, "Birds & Bees," he nonchalantly informs us "they found another dead body in the alleyway." Before long we're walking in and out of the seedy back rooms of some of the inhabitants. "Loca" finds Staples in complete thrall of a female who's "nothing but a vivrant thing / ass too big for that 5'10" frame." The alluring female vocals and shimmying bass, combined with the organic click of hand claps give the song the arousing static shock of flesh to flesh contact. "Lemme Know" continues down the sexual path with a primal beat that describes fluid female hip gyrations with Vince and Jhene Aiko speak-singing in conjunction for the majority of the song, allowing its groove to take precedence. The real rapping comes at the end as Staples lists all the things he'd like to do to her but she gets the final say, maddeningly announcing "I let you hit this shit once I know you'll be in love with me."
Sometimes this hedonistic lifestyle catches up with the characters; "Jump Off The Roof" features a protagonist once more trying to get a girl's jeans off, but when the chorus finds he looks at himself and realises his cocaine habit and life's difficulties are crushing him, and suggests "on three let's jump off the roof."
But usually they'll resort to violence before giving up. At the very top of the album Vince tells us that "I never vote for Presidents / the Presidents that change the hood is dead and green." This necessity for money is one that all of Staples' characters share, and the hustle to get it is one of the main themes. On "Dopeman" Vince tells us about a drug dealer who swaggers around thinking "'til I'm laid in the ground, I'm gettin' paid." On "Get Paid" we follow a crew "four deep, five seats, three guns," as they go and perform stickups to get the green they need, the lively yet slinking beat giving a taste of the mixed adrenaline and fear. Guns are passed around fluidly, and shots are so common that on "3230 Poppy" (Vince's childhood home) he admits that his neighbours don't even bother calling the police anymore when they hear gunfire. Guns even end up in these people's dreams, as described on "Surf," and some of these characters actually enjoy their violent ways; one announces himself to be "the coldest nigga breathing," on "C.N.B."
It's almost inconceivable to think that Staples is merely 21 considering the narrative talents and portrait drawing skills he exhibits consistently in his raps. The detail is so fine and on point that you never doubt for a second that Staples has grown up around these kinds of situations, and has probably played an active role in some the crimes committed. Summertime '06 doesn't glorify any of these actions, but nevertheless it is intoxicating. It plays out like a young man's fantasies of drugs, sex and power coming into life, only to be much less fulfilling eventually - but, shit, there's a lot of fun to be had before the downfall.
Have I bought this album?: No, I typically don't buy hip hop on vinyl for some reason, but I would definitely buy this if I saw it in a store.