Flying Lotus, “Night Grows Pale”
Flying Lotus kept to a strict album-every-two-years schedule for the first decade of his career, stretching from 2006’s 1983 to 2014’s proggy opus You’re Dead! He hasn’t exactly been quiet since then, showing up as a producer on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and making a horror flick that is apparently pretty transcendently disgusting, but it’s fair to say that I was sort of expecting 45 minutes or so of immaculately produced, mind-expanding instrumental rap to come out under his imprint last year. In the past week, he has begun to sate those pangs. His right-on-time remix of the Twin Peaks theme served as a reminder of the mileage the producer can get out of a few skittering, time-warping tweaks, and the new, Queen-sampling original track “Night Grows Pale” is even better still, showing a return to the sort of lush, melodic boom-bap of 1983 and Los Angeles. It’s delightfully low-key but still smart as hell, turning Freddie Mercury’s sepulchral croon into an unlikely hook, with magnificent, Technicolor interstitial moments. The kid’s still got it.
Dr. Octagon, “Blue Flowers”
I recently bought tickets to see Dr. Octagon, the first-ever tour featuring the original trio of Kool Keith, Dan The Automator, and DJ QBert that birthed two of the strangest hip-hop albums ever produced (though only one of them with Keith’s full cooperation). I will cop to this: I signed up for this show largely for the “once in a lifetime” factor, as well as out of borderline-morbid curiosity at seeing an act that I remembered as being kind of ludicrous, just one of those silly, stupid things my friends used to listen to while stoned. But I’ve since revisited the group’s 1996 debut, Dr. Octagonecologyst, completely sober and discovered that it’s me who’s the idiot. Dr. Octagonecologyst is a thrilling, goddamn addictive gem, full of incredible production that blurs horror-movie creeps and noirish, trip-hop atmospheres behind Keith’s lunatic head trips. Everyone who’s not as dumb as me has doubtlessly spent the past two decades quoting, “Oh shit, there’s a horse in the hospital!” to each other and arguing over how Dr. Octagon’s Jupiter-born origin story on “Earth People” connects with that of his “208-year-old uncle” on “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman.” But for me, it’s been like hearing it all for the first time, and I’ve been studying songs like “Blue Flowers”—the brilliantly loony, Bartók-sampling boast rap on which Dr. Octagon introduces himself as the “paramedic fetus from the East” before a litany of medical horrors as concocted by David Cronenberg and Salvador Dalí—like I’m cramming for the SATs. I can’t wait for this show.
Walter Martin, “Sing To Me”
Walter Martin took a slightly different path away from The Walkmen than his compatriots, starting his solo career with an album aimed at children (that adults could enjoy, too). Then he put out a charming album aimed more toward grown-ups, mostly about visual arts. This month, it was back to a kids’ record, this one featuring a fun guest turn by Matt Berninger of The National. But “Sing To Me”—which was on that first album, 2014’s We’re All Young Together—just reentered my life via an iPhone 7 commercial. My son shushed me recently when it came on, saying, “I really love this music!” I told him that the CD was in his room, and then I went to listen to its best song, a duet between Martin and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It’s a sweet, whimsical little love song with lyrics like, “I’d like to roll up in a ball of you.” When the two are harmonizing at the end, you can really tell that Martin and Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser are related—they’re cousins.
Colin Stetson, “All This I Do For Glory”
I’ve been entranced by Colin Stetson’s incredible saxophone sounds ever since getting an earful of the ominous, earth-shaking “Red Horse (Judges II).” His rhythmic, free-flowing compositions often veer toward the terrifying and apocalyptic, a tone that probably owes a lot to his instrument of choice, the bellowing bass saxophone and the innovative manipulation thereof. But as our Clayton Purdom wrote a few weeks ago, there’s a lot more warmth, emotion, and even melody to be had on Stetson’s new album, All This I Do For Glory. In fact, the title track, which opens the record, might be his most direct and listenable song yet. It’s downright sensual, with Stetson’s saxophone, at its most commanding and guttural, intermingling with a simple, ceaseless backbeat. Laid over that is the ethereal sweetness of some ghostly Thom Yorke-esque wailing. Those parts combine to create a hypnotic, supernatural groove, the only respite from which comes during a gut-wrenching detour where Stetson’s sax cries out in pain as the jam comes to an abrupt false finish before its graceful, dramatic resurrection. There’s no killing a groove this gripping. Instead, it drifts away into unseen mist, as alluring and powerful as it ever was.
Harmony Woods, “Renovations”
“Renovations,” from Harmony Woods’ 2017 debut, Nothing Special, sounds like it could have come out 20 years ago—i.e., before the 18-year-old singer-songwriter was born. Like The Hotelier perfectly recreated the sounds of second-wave emo on its Home, Like Noplace Is There, “Renovations” recalls the Clinton-era heyday of bands like Mineral, Rainer Maria, and Tsunami—Woods’ voice especially recalls Jenny Toomey’s. “Renovations” starts slowly and quietly, just her quiet voice and clean guitar, playing through the first verse and chorus by herself, before the rest of the band—featuring Modern Baseball’s Brendan Lukens on guitar—joins in and the song moves from contemplative to cathartic. The occasionally on-the-nose lyrics—“You know how much I love to take care of you / But sometimes I have to take care of me, too,” the well-trod house-as-relationship” metaphor—reveal Woods’ youth, but “Renovations” is hooky and pointed and a welcome statement of purpose from a burgeoning songwriter.