Sep 03

KELIS – “Game Show”

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KELIS – “Game Show”

I like to think of Kelis as an “ask Abby” for the hypermediated age. Her songs are often populated (lyrically, sonically) with bleeping, buzzing (the information age needs new onotomatopoeia) gizmos – planes, space shuttles and PDAs, all made to send us her love. On an ILM thread, someone said that “Game Show” (just such an exploration of digital love), from her essential debut Kaleidoscope, was an album low point. I respectfully disagree. Here’s why:

The melody – a caricature of, you guessed it, the game show jingle – is casio-synthetic in a way that’s actually quite nostalgic (for a child of the 80s, anyway). They don’t make ’em this cloyingly cute anymore. The tune remembers an imagined past when complicated times used to be simpler, even while Kelis longs for a break from the artifice of it all.

Helium-voiced Pharrel pitchshifting himself into the role of Kelis’s bosom-buddy in the intro.

It’s an inversion of the usual relationship trope – Kelis’s man, all hopped up on media-fed ‘dating game’ love hype- wants to get married, she wants to wait and see if this is the real thing.

The “Hold on!” of the chorus is ambivalent: don’t let the feeling go, if it’s worth it to you, it’s gonna take work to keep it permanent in an impermanent age. And also “hold on”, slow down, woah – this is her life we’re talking about!

Those blank robot voices repeating game show game show game show game show so many times that it goes beyond sense, feeling, reason. Zoot Woman’s “Living in a Magazine” done subtler and better.

In the end we’re left with these impossibly clear music box chimes – either finally delivering the clarity that Kelis craves, or another cruel simulation, another ersatz resolution.

May 03

ORIGINZ — “Family of One (BK Max Out Remix)”

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Arpeggiated guitar chords so clean they must’ve emerged from a scented bath in holy waters. Reverbed jazz keyboards that tinkle, tinkle, tinkle and finally disappear into thick cappuccino bass swirls. Metaphors that mix less like vodka and milk and more like blue in green… my god it’s TASTEFUL! Has South African hip-hop forsaken blood sex sleaze trash nasty dirt grot push bump gutta grind ooh I like it POP JOY to find itself in another ghetto (albeit one with gold-trim and working toilets)? In attempts to distance itself from the middle-body-happy hip-house hedonism of kwaito has it adopted jizzless jazz ‘culturally progressive’ “aesthetics? Or am I buying the wrong records?

‘Expressions’ is a SA hip-hop compilation. I’d heard two tracks on the radio, both of which I liked, and bought it on a semi-whim. When I’m in a better mood, I’ll talk about the record’s successes, right now they feel like happy accidents. So I’ll tell you about this track by Originz, it sounds like 7 other songs on the CD anyway (unsuprisingly, almost every track on the disc shares a producer in Tongogara — think Hi Tek mixed with… actually, just think Hi Tek). So it’s jazzy (moreso in remixed form than slightly bouncier version I remember hearing on the radio), flow’s slow, enunciated, Rakim-ish, some breathy r&b melisma round the edges. ‘Family of One’ is a morality tale, a melodramatic one, almost to the point of unintended hilarity in places. In summation: Mom and Dad made it through the struggle, but the kids succumbed to hypersexualized, hypermediated society. Brother runs guns in Cape Town, Sis 1 is an upmarket booty4bling Ho and the other’s a ‘kwaito fanatic’. No coincidence that it’s made to rhyme with ‘crack addict’.

About two years ago I was trying to relate my frustrations with my local music kwaito to Mr. Ewing. I thought the genre was stuck on the sonics of a ’92 YEAH!’ bargain-bin dance-mag cover CD house compilation (tellingly I wasn’t really listening to much kwaito OR house then). Tom couldn’t understand the problem. And now? A synth! A synth! My Keith Jarrett records for a synth!

Most probably I doth protest too much, some purchase-distance and repeated listening’ll hopefully lessen my desire to read the song, the record, as this monolithic mission statement. Still, at the risk of sounding pat, a little Ludacris goes a long way.

Feb 03

THE VOLUMES — Live Performance, JHB, Sometime in late 2002

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I haven’t had much luck with live music. During high school, it proved cost-effective and adolescently satisfying to define my tastes, myself, against the blockbuster pick-of-the-late-90s alternasomething concerts (Live, anyone?) I didn’t attend. After a year and a half of American hiphop and r&b gorging, I found my way back to local ‘urban’ music. Just in time, it seems, to witness South Africa’s own burgeoning hiphop scene making noise in clubs, venues and radio playlists. (The dynamics between this stuff and Kwaito, I’m still thinking [and hopefully eventually posting] about). Soon enough a trusted acquaintance tells me there’s a good group playing in a small venue, and I think: ‘it’s high time I attended a gig‘.

So I handed over some money in return for The (unfortunately named IMHO) Volumes. Contents: a better-than-okay MC (the kind that syllable-stocks every line) backed by guitar, cello, flute and maybe zither. The secret weapon, though, was the drummer- all toothy grin and elastic arms, his Bez-ian charms betrayed only by his actual possession of chops. Weird? Well (In much-despised [x] + [y] terms), think The Roots’s Black Thought fronting A Silver Mt. Zion and you’re close. Put the word ‘world’ in there and make an instant value judgment and you’re closer.

Now, the nearest I’ve gotten to loving a jam record is Hot Shots II (do I get points for paraphrasing Tom in my first entry?), so you’ll not be surprised when I tell you I found the band least intriguing in Grateful Dead Prez (sorry) mode. The most affecting moment came when the live instrumentation was pared down to a slight, spectral keen while the MC waxed cold, lonely and rain-soaked about urban spiritual isolation in Joburg (I think). Another highlight I almost forgot while writing this: rapper invites a girl whose name I can’t recall at present (this was months ago foax!) to be the Kelly to his Nelly, and her jaw-droppingly gorgeous voice (I’m no Dan Perry, but I know good pipes when I hear ’em) just swallows up everything else happening in the room.

However, when it came to pointing out the bounce, The Volumes were somewhat less adept. The give-it-your-all encore saw some vigorously plucked bows, pounded guitar-fx pedals and even rapider rap, but it took a lot of encouragement for the audience to unseat themselves. I’m biased, I’ll admit it: Everything I Needed to Know about Dancing to Hip-hop I Learned from a Timbaland Banger. Sometimes, a little sadly perhaps, even the sweatiest kind of ambition can’t make up for a well-programmed drum. (I should note that I heard a snippet of their recorded output, and everyone who wasn’t the MC sounded all but deleted. There were even jungle breaks!)

So results of experiment no.1 in reconnecting with the concert experience? Nice, but I hoped this wasn’t as good as it got. I’d have to wait for the new year for my real revelation.