Fluxblog 449: at the holiday party
Plus new songs by Peter Gabriel, MIKE, and Empress Of
This week’s playlist is …AT THE HOLIDAY PARTY 2022, which I made for my own holiday party last year. This features a lot of Christmas music of different vintages and style along with a lot of non-Christmas music, with a heavy emphasis on Jamaican music from the 60s and 70s, which for whatever reason has become Christmas music to me. (Some of it is literally Jamaican Christmas music too.) This playlist has a nice warm vibe to it, and crucially, it is intended to be played on RANDOM setting! [Spotify | Apple | YouTube]
Peter Gabriel’s first album of new material in 21 years, i/o, was released last week after a very long roll out in which a majority of the tracks were issued separately with each full moon, and alternate mixes of those songs issued on the following new moon. I can appreciate the concept from a “hey, the moon is cool” perspective, but I feel like this strategy didn’t do Gabriel a lot of favors in terms of presenting this record as a prestige event from a major artist. The slow drip of material and multiple mixes made his return seem hesitant and tedious, and I personally don’t think it suits an elder statesman like this to approach streaming like a baby act signed to a major label throwing single tracks at the wall to see what gets enough traction to justify a full album.
It could be that Gabriel fully intended to deflate expectations for a record that’s been cooking for so long. Maybe he wanted to be less precious about it, and to embrace the more casual aspects of the streaming economy. I respect that, but I think this record would have benefited more from seeming like a big comeback. I would have pushed “Road to Joy” as the primary lead single, and let people get excited about a song that has a similar combination of ecstatic energy and brute force as classics like “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time.” Let people go “wow, he’s still got it,” because truly, he really does.
“Road to Joy” is a collaboration with Brian Eno, and it’s something of an outlier on i/o, which is generally low on energy and long on atmosphere. But that’s not too surprising – Gabriel’s body of work is light on bangers even if those tend to be among his most inspired tracks. I didn’t realize Eno was involved until after I’d heard the song at least a dozen times but his input is noticeable – it’s in the particular tonality and mix placement of the keyboards, it’s in the detailed but not cluttered approach to percussion. The general feel is not far off from his collaboration with Karl Hyde a decade ago, or what he did with David Byrne a few years before that.
It’s a great sounding record, but what really makes it is the inimitable sound of Gabriel’s voice. After all this time it’s still a very sleek tone with a slightly rough texture, a distinct bright timbre rounded out with warmth and depth. He sounds so certain and steady in contrast with Tony Levin’s rubbery bass, and heroic as he belts out the chorus alongside a choir that’s mixed so tastefully that the maximalism becomes a little bit minimalist. Like I said, he’s still got it.
Buy it from Amazon.
MIKE typically raps on the tracks he produces but in the case of “Should Be” he’s silent, keeping the focus on a vocal sample that’s mostly pitched up to the point that it’s unintelligible and a live vocal from Crumb’s Lila Ramani that’s so distant in the mix that it’s also pretty much unintelligible. The magic of this song is in the way MIKE triggers the vocal sample in uneven intervals, which gives it a “live” feel and makes your ear hang expectantly on moments of absence. The arrangement is filled out with fragments of piano, harp, and strings that fall into place just enough to cohere musically, but loose enough that you focus on the abstraction. Beyond mentioning the details, what does this sound like? Basically, it sounds like ghosts in two different heavens singing to each other from across the divide.
Buy it from Bandcamp.
Lorely Rodriguez doesn’t always sing in Spanish on Empress Of tracks, but in the case of “Femenine” it would have been counterintuitive and absurd to do anything else since the key lyric of the chorus translates to “I want a feminine man, a Latin who dances for me and only for me.” (Fingers crossed for you, Lorely!) She sings this like she’s manifesting her desires, but I think it’s the music that’s more likely to do the trick. It sounds sweaty and lusty, but also very deliberate and controlled. I was not surprised to learn this is a Nick Sylvester production – you can hear his immaculate taste in keyboard tones all over this, the way the bass guitar subtly creeps around in the background whenever the synth bass isn’t carrying the low end, and the particular crispness of the claps on the breakdown.
Buy it from Amazon.
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• DC published a tribute to the late Keith Giffen, one of the best creators to ever work for the company. There’s some very kind words from many of his collaborators and colleagues including Kevin Maguire, JM DeMatteis, Paul Levitz, Mark Waid, Jim Lee, and Jeff Lemire.
• The mostly defunct music blog Said the Gramophone has returned with their list of the best music from 2023. It’s just nice to have Sean back, even if this good time isn’t for a long time.