This song is real long. Probably longer than it needs to be but the story it tells is so abstract and the music so full of deep mysteries that continue to bleed through the track no matter how many times you listen to it that it doesn't seem like six plus minutes at all. And, more than the recorded track, observe the artist in action live. They bring nothing if not more energy and layers to it. At times, the layers become white noise, then back again as they are peeled away and new ones introduced. I often marvel at how anyone could've made this mix and had it sound comprehensible. I can't imagine the levels, the envelopes, the effects all colliding into one another and then separating out. That School of Seven Bells is defunct at this point still saddens me, but legendary tracks like this will always live on. Ghostory and tracks like this were when they became more than an electronic, dreamy pop group and into something more intense. It's too bad we barely found out where that was going.
Aesop Rock is an acquired taste, that I'll freely admit. His often nasal, harsh voice splashes thrashes in a landscape of abrasive beats that often sound like they belong in a very specific kind of horror movie. That may not sound appealing on the face of it, but that's what makes him and his tracks compelling in their own special way. It's not all abstract and inaccessible, though. Supercell, from this year's The Impossible Kid, has plenty of earthy guts to it. The first thing, that bassline. Simple, but indefatigably it shambles through the word clouds coming from Aesop Rock himself and the echoplex keys all around it as if it demands to be recognized as the center of an alt-hip-hop universe holding it all together with its easy gravity. But those keys? Almost supernatural vapors that elevate it all to something otherworldly. The chord progressions and refs may not be too intricate, but the way the scales, chords, and angelic whistle couldn't go better together. Then there are the lyrics, which in typical Aesop Rock fashion fluctuate between stream-of-consciousness and concrete narrative memoir from one bar to the next.
If anything was the crystallization of a great many awesome things about early-aughts alt-hip-hop, it was Deltron 3030. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien may not be in the prime he was back then and may not be quite the beloved and obscure figure he was, but this track has never stopped being a propulsive blast of weird fire. Paired with Kid Koala and under the supervision of Dan the Automator at his peak as well, everything on Deltron 3030 had a patina of fresh experimentation with enough solid beats and heady sci-fi lyricism to accompany it that it was irresistible. There's a reason why the live video above was recorded at KEXP a full THIRTEEN YEARS after it's release, and it's not just to cynically promote the not-as-stellar follow-on to the original Deltron 3030 album. It's because there's something about this album and it's vibe that is unique enough to be almost timeless. Positive Contact was always my favorite track of the bunch capturing the production at its most fun and most off-center moment and Del doing what he does best, which is crushing it lyrically as he talks about a universe that only he can imagine and inhabit. If anyone was the right person to rap about an interstellar, dystopian epic about hyper-violent battle rapping, it was a man who has clearly always been in his own world.
This is the sort of free-wheeling sample virtuosity that only people that have an encyclopedic knowledge of music or who are on a lot of drugs (or both) can pull off. Bouncing off a strange old calypso sample, a fuzzy tale of drugs, cops, women, and drinking from master lyricist Danny Brown spills out over a horny (but mostly tuba-powered) beat that is one of the most memorable I've ever heard just based on its pure random, bouncy, and off-kilter sense of joy. Really, the video says a lot, and only adds many more layers to this joyous romp through the strange. And then, at the end, MF Doom shows up. Just when you think there couldn't be anything more to cap off a maliciously goofy Avalanches experience.
Dessa is never easy to classify. Is she a singer? A rapper? A poet? A philosopher? Or, like some indestructible, perfect adamantium alloy, is she all of those things scorched together into a purer and harder version of all of the above? Sure, there are certain songs that can get you going. They may not be uplifting, but they may get the blood thumping, or they may force you to think. Think in a way that electrifies the mind like a lightning blast through your soul.
Dessa's music is like that. There are plenty of people who make intricate music you can always go back to and hear new layers folded within like a pocket of dry hopped piney bitterness or a tannin that hits you with a tart note you didn't see coming. There are a few people who write deep lyrics you can hear again and again, thinking of different interpretations, picking up allusions you didn't see before. Dessa is both. I've gone through Dessa tracks and albums over and over again, and even when I haven't I will see things or dream things that remind me of them. As much as I love Doomtree, her solo work is something I find ever more complex and compelling, even if it might be a simple anthem like this. This song is years old, but I think about it, its words, and its wall of defiant energy at least once a week. Or is it a simple anthem at all? Is it deeper than that? The questions and reflections never end.
It may start like a typical indie rock song from several years ago, cutesy falsetto crooning, electric piano pounding out quarter-note chords. I was about to give up on it, then that cleaning guitar begins to prance all over it like a parade marshal of fun thinking it owns the place telling you to wait just a minute because the real shit is coming.
And it does, the rhythm guitar shuffling with a sweet, vivacious chord progression before the chorus arrives in a bloom of synths and harmonies. Is it done then? No, of course it's not. Why coast? Why take all that musical goodwill and end it there? When we come out of the chorus, it leaves us with a new verse full of a punchy baseline and even more jumpy guitar work building to . . . SOMETHING EVEN BETTER.
This track gets it. It doesn't do quietLOUDquiet, as classic as that is, it actually leaves every section of better as it finds it. One simple verse, a rousing chorus, a better verse, and then . . . a moment of tension before an even more explosive chorus. This song is what we must all be in life, rolling into next stage hungrier and fresher than the last. This diskopunk, they might be one worth following.
Sometimes, on Monday morning when you're trying to rouse yourself and get to work, you need something uplifting. In times like this, caught in the widening and soul-devouring gyre of U.S. political party conventions, you need something that's a sobering reminder of the real world that you're about to face. Thievery Corporation is always good for that. In some ways, understanding what you're actually dealing with and being prepared is more uplifting than a few happy beats to chase the nightmares away.
But this song still has some of those patented Thievery Corporation touches: echo-soaked keys, smooth and propulsive base, and a political message every bit as direct as it should be. Oh, and some saxophone. There's saxophone. And it's good saxophone, too.
Why must these musicians always torture me so? Such perfectly calibrated style to hit me RIGHT IN THE NOSTALGIA. Seriously, though, some of these bands that write these 80s style throwbacks are doing so with the benefit of some serious hindsight (and superior modern production techniques, but that's not anything we can do something about . . . or can we?) Thin, bright guitar syncopating perfectly keeps the rhythm track bouncing forward in a way that perfectly compliments the laid-back vocals. It's nothing fancy, but it doesn't have to be for a bouncy piece of throwback synth pop. The lyrics may be word salad, but I'll have to admit a keen weakness for a good, vibrant word salad.
No cross-section of artists on Earth sounds quite like the Nortec Collective. This loose amalgamation of musicians and producers put out solid gold for a long time with their rousing and space-age fusion of traditional music and electronica. As much as I've enjoyed at least a few tracks from all of their offerings, Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3 has always been my favorite. It perfectly blends the horns, synths, and drum machines into an irresistible cocktail of musical combustion. "Tango La Voz," the album opener, is a weird sort of mantra I often find repeating to myself during trying times. I don't know what I'm trying to tell myself that I have, or maybe I'm just trying to force myself to remember this blazing horn riff. Either way, it always lifts my spirits in the way all the best Nortec Collective tracks do.
I've often thought of the colorless void of Cauliflower as representing an intimidating and unnerving form of GHOST CABBAGE. It didn't help that most of my childhood and early adulthood experiences with it were boiled, steamed, or, worst of all, raw. Blech. I used to try to roast it, but it seemed invincible to heat. It was a plant that refused to be cooked as I applied my brute-force, blunt approach to it.
I knew this intense vegetable had to have a decent preparation that I was capable of executing out there someone. I swore that I would find the GHOST CABBAGE'S weaknesses and turn the tables on its alabaster doom-stalks. After several attempts and experimentation I came upon two recipes that, as I repeated them time and again, made me realize that the GHOST CABBAGE hadn't defeated me . . . my own terrible technique and lack of basic understanding of the ingredient did.
The first recipe that showed me the err of my ways was this one by Emeril. Simple, easy, and perfect for helping me realize how inept I was. As I had previously failed to cook cauliflower enough, I always thought the issue was one of time and duration. I cooked them for 40 minutes in the 400-425 range and was always baffled as to why they still seemed raw. Emeril doesn't play that game. 500 degrees? That will cook the cauliflower, and cook it correctly. I also began to realize that I was breaking my ghost cabbage down wrong. The more times I execute this recipe, trying to get my perfectly roasted specimens, I understood my problem. My cauliflower had stalks that were too long and florets that were too big. I was treating the ghost cabbage as if it was broccoli, and that's just wrong because it is tougher and more ornery than broccoli by miles!
I began to do more reading and realized how wrong I was cutting up my cauliflower heads. This Kitchn piece is pretty much the best when understanding the correct way. It was so far from what I was doing. I can't even describe how off I was. I wasn't on the same planet, universe, or dimension. Seriously, I can't begin to describe how many times the Kitchn has set me straight and this Emeril recipe set me on the right path.
But that wasn't all the loud old chef taught me as I cooked this recipe. The parmesan cheese was obvious, after all everything is better with cheese. But what wasn't obvious. The lemon juice! The ghost cabbage, when fused with cheese and an acid, turned into something truly special from such basic components. There was the garlic too, which was also great, but the real stars were what the lemon and parmesan could transform the ghost cabbage into. It became less like a side than a three dimensional, simple entree unto itself.
With the Emeril recipe tucked away as a permanent addition to my theoretical recipe rolodex, I knew I could do more with the ghost cabbage. One day it came to me. Literally, in my Facebook feed. This. A slight variation on it with different pasta and coarser cheese is what is pictured above, but just seeing this recipe immediately caused a lightning bolt in my head. I have always worshipped at the altar of the AB, but this recipe is above and beyond even for him. Creative, easy, unique, it was everything I needed to take my ghost cabbage game to the next level.
Able to break down my cauliflower correctly, I was easily able to accomplish the roasting part. Then, the quick way that roasted ghost cabbage is transformed into a quick but intensely delicious pasta sauce, where it is then combined with pasta, covered with cheddar, and roasted AGAIN? Pure flavor alchemy. The cheese and acidic interplay in the Emeril recipe is elevated here with the tomato sauce and cheddar. Yes, cheddar on a pasta bake. Like I said, this is a unique dish, but the sharpness of the cheddar, bite of the tomato sauce, and assertive taste of the roasted ghost cabbage come together swimmingly. Thus was how I finally learned to stop letting the ghost cabbage intimidate me. It only took the dabblings and writings of two celebrity food personalities, practice, and the Kitchn to correct my awful preparations and technique. I conquered it, and not only found a great veggie entree dish, but also a different twist on pasta. Because I can always eat more pasta. ALWAYS.