Ghost in the 404: The Best Dance Music of September 2018

Ghost in the 404 returns with musings on new music from Chief Keef (yes, Chief Keef), Jlin, Yves Tumor, and more.
By    October 9, 2018

Sam Ribakoff goes hard like Mardi Gras.

Chief Keef – “Soldier”

Does anyone remember Spank Rock? What about Das Racist? M.I.A.? For awhile in the late 2000’s, enveloped in the shadow of the Great Recession, it was very popular for rappers to grab some EDM beats and try to get a club hit in the expanding EDM festival circuit. Some folks like M.I.A., and maybe even Spank Rock, naturally synthesized EDM’s zaniness into the fabric of hip hop and global electronic pop music, while other artists like Waka Flocka Flame, ASAP Rocky, and of course, Lil Jon, delved headfirst into the EDM miasma, working with big names in the EDM world like DJ Snake, Skrillex and Steve Aoki, collaborations which garnered those rappers huge hits and new audiences, and lent the EDM DJs a veneer of cool. Other groups like Das Racist played with the EDM sound for ironic purposes. To make fun of its hedonism, it’s ignorance of history, and its perceived stylistic and philosophical antheity to hip hop.

Now in 2018 there are still plenty of rappers who jump on EDM beats with EDM DJ friends, but the dynamics of EDMs relationship to hip hop has changed. A decade ago, rap had yet to fully take the reins of youth culture, or at least middle American white youth culture. A decade ago, we were still in the tail end of the indie rock phase, your Arcade Fire’s, your Grizzly Bear’s and the like. EDM, though derived from black Caribbean music via British dubstep, became a new extension of caucasity. Hip hop, though wildly popular, was still not the center of white attention. Jumping on an EDM track became a way for rappers to expose themselves to a wider, whiter, audience.

But now EDM, although still wildly popular, is not at the center of the white gaze. Hip hop, and especially the trap sound, has eclipsed EDM almost entirely. There’s no reason for a rapper to jump on an EDM beat, so why then does Chief Keef’s latest mixtape/album/data dump, The Cozart, include multiple EDM beats that sound like they were burned off a Ibiza club mix CD-RW?

Whether it was wholly Keef’s choice, or was forced on him by his bizarre manager, Greek billionaire David Alki, we don’t know now, or at least we won’t know until Keef writes his autobiography. All we have is the record, and despite it’s best efforts, the record is good. Imagine the sound of the phrase “euro club beat” and you can accurately describe what this beat sounds like without even hearing it. It sounds like something an obscenely wealthy man in his mid 40’s would play on the deck of his yacht party, tight polo shirt on, chest hair squirming out, oversized cigar in hand. But yet, Keef miraculously navigates it and does what alchemists have been trying to do for centuries, turn absolute shit into gold. [editors note: it remains unclear what record Sam listened to, but we at POW have commenced a thorough investigation in our attempt to figure it out]

Jlin – “Blue I”

When your previous two albums have been radical testaments to the musicality of ferocious rhythms that bridge the gap from the Eastern hemisphere to the West, from North Africa, to India, to Chicago, what’s next? For a good part of Autobiography, Gary, Indiana’s Jlin’s soundtrack to Wayne McGregor’s ballet, Jlin answers that by giving her footwork meets North African drum circle compositions a little more room to breathe than on previous albums.

There’s a little bit more space for the snares to crack, for the hi-hats to crunch, and the various indecipherable percussion instruments to whip, whoosh, shake, and smash together. There are also a couple of interesting interstitial ambient tracks that are nearly without percussion. And there’s a lot more room made for synths that buzz, and saw, and even bloop along, melodic devices that were almost completely absent in Jlin’s previous releases. But “Blue I” sticks out to me as the most interesting track on this record. It starts with an almost soft jazz feel of someone confidently plinking out a melody on a piano one note at a time. Dry ice-like foggy ambient arpeggio synths hang in the background while Jlin’s signature timbala footwork rhythms ring off. It’s a beautiful stylistic addition to Jlin’s repertoire, and one I hope she, and others in the footwork community, continue to explore.

Eat Paint – “S O L A R”

If you’re a big fan of cold skittering techno hi-hats then you’ll love the first 50 seconds of Eat Paint’s “S O L A R,” if you’re not a big fan of that sound though, wait for that 51st second to drop. Right after the track goes silent for a half a second, an explosion of a bright, rich, synth power chord punches through the mix, almost stunning the hi-hats into silence. Like the title suggests, it is like a burst of sunshine melting your face off, and it’s one of the coolest surprises I’ve heard in a techno record this year.

Foodman and Machina – “Clock”

For the past couple of years Japanese producer Foodman has been fucking up the “what the hell is this music? Is this even music? I’m confused” game. Taking millisecond splices of found and sampled sounds from anywhere and everywhere to construct cartoonishly silly percussion and melodic sounds Foodman has tested the boundaries of tempo, rhythm, texture, ambiance, melody, and just about every other element of electronic music, including his listeners patience. A lot of his tracks have the tendency to fall along a spectrum of “super smart kid goofing off with Fruity Loops” to “Hmmm, that’s weirdly funky.”

But even when he’s almost trying to be off putting, Foodman still manages to lace his music with a heart and a soul. The quickest way he does that is by roping in a Japanese singer to croon in a monotone over one of his beats. On his most recent release, Aru Otoko No Densetsu, that honor belongs to Machina. Over a clattering, unwieldy beat, Machina manages to rein it in and make it all make sense with a angelic, Julie Cruise-like monotone lullaby. At one point the beauty of Machina’s voice causes the percussion to go quiet for a couple of seconds, leaving a distant, dampened, ambient church organ suspended alone in the mix. It’s like taking a much needed deep breath.

But as soon as you can take it in, the percussion snaps back in, and you remember where you are, listening to a wild ass Foodman record.

Yves Tumor – Safe in the Hands of Love

Safe in the Hands of Love starts off with a looped sample of regal horn hits gritted with a little distortion. It’s the type of loop that sounds like Prodigy is going to jump out of the mix at any second (RIP). The track, entitled “Faith in Nothing Except Salvation,” is only a minute and 30 seconds long, and as soon as you think the track is heading to its climax, Yves Tumor drops it, and plunges you into the dark ambiance of “Economy of Freedom.” That’s the experience of listening to this album, an experience of being wretched from one musical style to another, from one mood to another, from bright optimsm to the pits of despair and nihilism.

It’s not so much like Travis Scott’s constant catch and bait beat switching, it’s more like Yves has the ability thru his music and lyrics to subtly switch between and call on a wide array of musical styles and emotional ideas. For example, while “Economy of Freedom” starts with that brooding dark ambiance, it ends up halfway through as a luscious club ballad with Yves longingly singing through that dark ambient haze like a shoegazer singer through a wall of guitar noise.

Other tracks like “Noid” sound like classic Massive Attack beats getting overdubbed with noise guitar feedback. The chorus of the song exemplifies Yves ability to blur the line between emotional polar opposites; “They call it a sickness/PTSD/depression/safe in the hands of love/that’s where I feel the pressure from/911.” As the album leaps between emo-Portishead inspired tracks like “Lifetime” and satanic pep talks like “Hope in Suffering (Escaping Oblivion and Overcoming Hopelessness),” it can seem random, alternately depressing and life affirming, kind of like scrolling through your Twitter feed on any given day, but if you can hold on, it works as an interesting thesis on embracing the spectrum of human emotions, and finding hope and meaning in the darkest of times.

Prison Religon – Resonance in Exoplanetery Hybradization

San Antonio, Texas’ Halcyon Veil collective makes electronic music to burn down a private prison to, so when they link up with Richmond Virginia’s primal scream industrial noise rappers Prison Religion, just remember to grab a balaclava before you go out to get your destruction of this inhumane patriarchal, racist, system we live under, on. Essentially an album length remix of a couple of Prison Religion tracks by the Halcyon Veil crew, with notable affiliates Lee Gamble and Rabit contributing, it’s a noisy, industrial, mess of cathartic raging. Hardcore punk music for club kids. While some producers like Bonaventure try to contextualize Prison Religion’s rage in a dark carribean club beat, it’s the remixes that lean into that rage, and add their own list of grievances to the ordeal, like the remixes by Lee Gamble and Geng, that really hit hard and make this record something special.

Meitei – Kwaidan

This month, October, of course, is the spookiest time of the year, but Japanese producer Meitei hooked up the spooktastic vibes a month early, because Meitei is for the people. Intending to capture the specifically “Japanese mood” of old Japanese ghost stories, Meitei constructs tracks out of Japanese percussion instruments, chimes, ghostly humming, blocks of hollow wood shifting in the wind, disembodied voices manically chatting, and various textural nature sounds. All of the tracks on Kwaidan sound like they rose up out of a bog, fully formed, and recorded themselves on an old laptop. It’s not exactly dance music, but it is fantastic music to envelop yourself in on a spooky rainy day.

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