New Alternative Music | 4 January 2019

Saba | Fire-Toolz | Gabriel Kahane | Mid-Air Thief | Brandi Carlile

With the new year as yet an infant, this week’s entry is more of a reflection of my listening over the last few weeks that the usual exploration into the latest underground releases. Which is to say, I’ve spent a lot of time over Christmas trying to hear things I missed along the way in 2018 through “best-of” lists etc.

What that means – in practise – is that this week’s five choice cuts are not ‘new’ per-se but are – I hope – somewhat obscure enough to hopefully be mostly new to you.

With a whole year’s worth of music to choose from I suppose, in theory, it could mean that they’re also “better” than the average selection but, as we all know, such things are a matter of taste and, to be truthful, some of these selections are so unlike anything I’ve reviewed to this point that I’m frankly not sure whether I can even compare them.

What I will say is that – in the case of three tracks in particular – I’m not sure I’ve reviewed a better collection of lyrics than these all year (the other two’s lyrics are utter nonsense… but I’ll let you decide which is which).

So let’s get on with it, shall we…?

1. The Charm Offensive | Saba: PROM/KING

In all my time listening to rap music I haven’t yet heard a rapper write a lyric as focussed and coherent as Tahj Malik Chandler (AKA Saba) has written on PROM/KING (an early clue to the challenge I set you in my introduction, admittedly!)

Part I (PROM) sets the scene, outlining reflections on childhood memories and, throughout the narrative, Walt’s status as something of an older brother figure to Saba is set out.

In Part II (KING) – signalled by the entrance of the drums – the two two teenagers have grown into young men, making their way in the Chicago music scene. Alas, as the drums quicken, things turn more frantic in the story as first a friend of the pair, then Walt, find themselves mistakenly caught up in the chaos of gang violence.

It all crashes down as Saba takes that fateful call from his Aunt, telling him she hasn’t seen her son that day and as the song fades out, we hauntingly hear a sample of Walt himself praying he hopes he makes it until tomorrow.

As heart-breaking as any folk ballad, as focussed as any jazz opus; PROM/KING deserves your full attention.

2. The Military Coup | Fire-Toolz: Screamography

I’m really looking forward to hearing which section of Screamography Spotify chooses to pop into the little taster bit below. Depending on what it goes with, you could be hearing an electronica track. It might sound like black metal. You might, dear reader, even get something that sounds vaguely like J-Pop or even ambient music. Lucky you.

Whatever you get, you’re going to think what I’ve written above is bananas… and you’re right because Screamography is, simply put, a sheer ball of ballistic fire and fury. And, believe me, it isn’t an anomaly. All of Angel Marcloid (as transfemale Chicago native, Fire-Toolz is better known to her Mum)’s stuff is like that – as much as any two fucking aggressive, chillwave, dance-hall bangerz can be, really.

A “sheer ball of ballistic fire and fury” – listen to ‘Screamography’ by Fire-Toolz

3. The Peaceful Protest | Gabriel Kahane: Little Love

In the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential election, Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, and composer Gabriel Kahane embarked on a 13-day, 8,980-mile tour of his country, aiming to document his fellow Americans’ views on a President whose manner and policies have divided opinion like no other.

The result was the 2018 album Book of Travelers; an LP that is as complex in its lyrical themes (surprise, surprise) as it is in its deceptively tricky (given that much of it is duets between piano and voice) composition.

In the middle of it all, however, is Little Love. An elegantly simple ballad that would sound more at home on long-time collaborator, Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie and Lowell record than Rufus Wainwright’s considerably more theatrical All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu (which is more the style of the rest of the album.)

And to accentuate the song’s opposition to all that comes before and after, the lyrics look, not inwards, but outwards to the sea for the first time (“We’ll case the shore / To record this holy place / White cliffs and starfish / The tide like ruined lace / Little love, little love / I hope we die here when we’re old”). But what’s difficult to gauge is the emotion. Is Kahane looking to the rest of the world in sadness and resignation (perhaps lamenting his President’s many attempts at voluntary isolation) or in hope?

Either way, it is a haunting little melody and one that will stick with you well into the ‘long grey silence.’

4. Guerilla Warfare | Mid-Air Thief: These Chains

The music of South Korean producer Mid-Air Thief is aural décopatch. With childlike glee, he rips up tiny fragments of brightly coloured things and sticks them next to each other in a fashion that is certainly arresting and undeniably unsettling but – to my ear at least – completely inarguably loveable.

Supported by singer Summer Soul (I think – my South Korean isn’t top notch, admittedly) These Chains is simply the most lovely, wondrous expression of naïve joy you’ll hear all year.

Enjoy the “aural décopatch” that is These Chains by Mid-Air Thief

5. The Quiet Riot | Brandi Carlile: The Mother

Brandi Carlile is a gay woman. She is also – as you will hear multiple times in this song – mother to a little girl called Evangeline. That she and her partner faced massive obstacles both biological and societal to achieve the latter given the former could easily be the focus of this track. But it isn’t, and nor does it need to be.

Parents of any sex and orientation will listen to The Mother and laugh. Then cry. And then laugh again. Why? Because, as a parent myself, I can tell you that what Carlile – pictured – did with this song was reach into my head and take every paranoid, overwrought, emotional thought I have in it relating to my daughter and somehow crafted it into serene poetry.

So my New Year was spent listening to late (soppy) era Phil Collins while my young, childless neighbour partied through the night to Bon Jovi – this sentiment is captured in The Mother‘s lyrics. The entirely unwelcome 7am wake up call I had the following morning? That’s in there too.

But what’s also in there is my realisation that my world has unimaginably changed even while staying completely the same, that nothing is of any material value anymore simply because I get to spend every day in the presence of the most valuable thing in the world and that I, for the rest of my life, get to discover the whole world all over again through another’s amazed and indiscriminate eyes.

The song does notably, if briefly, reference Carlile’s battle for acceptance as a mother (“You are not an accident where no one thought it through / The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you / And when we chose your name we knew that you’d fight the power too”) but, it is by no means the heart of the song. That belongs, rightly, to the simple love of Evangeline.

“Prepare to laugh. And then cry. And then laugh again.” Hear The Mother by Brandi Carlile.

The Outro

And so we reach a cease-fire for this week. You can find all of the tracks reviewed above in the 45 Revolutions per Minute playlist below or click to access the 45 RPM Playlist on Spotify itself.

If you like what you hear (or even if you don’t), please engage in dialogue with me @45rpm_Reviews on Twitter. And, if you’d like to receive updates weekly, please subscribe to the email list to get these recommendations sent to your inbox weekly.

The silence is broken again next week when I’ll return with five more selections for your consideration. Until then, thank you for reading and go in peace.

– SV –

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