Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus

Wanna develop an obsession with death? Create a life.

At some point after my daughter was born — I think a few weeks after — it sunk in that I’d just created something that it’s my duty to ensure outlives me. From a zoomed-out, biological perspective, it’s like “Duh, that’s the point of genes and stuff” but on a personal level, it was a weighty epiphany. I’m not an architect who designs buildings, so I can’t point to some big thing in the physical world that will still be there when I’m gone. You could say (and many have said) that writing is an attempt to create something that endures after death, but if someone were to pull the plug on WordPress/Tumblr’s servers, 98% of everything I’ve written in my life would vanish in an ebbing tide of electricity.

Baby YHT, though — she needs to keep going. Not because I think my genes are superior and the world desperately needs them (my wife’s genes, maybe), but because Mrs. YHT and I brought our daughter into this world, and it’s our job to make sure she lives a long, happy and fulfilling life. When Baby YHT cries, it’s hard not to think “Damn. I did this to you” regardless of what’s upsetting her. It’s a little like that moment in teen movies (I can’t think of an example right now, but I’m sure I’ve seen it) when characters at a sleepover take painstaking steps to summon a ghost, and when the ghost appears, they get this scared and guilty look on their faces that says “Ok, what now?”

My dad didn’t like to talk about death. Even near the end, he had a hard time talking about dying and the necessary arrangements, and he and I never had a final heart-to-heart. That’s partly because I didn’t spend enough time at home when he was sick, and partly because the cancer in his brain affected his ability to speak, but I know from conversations with my mom that he had little interest in talking about what was happening. I can’t blame him — I wasn’t in his shoes and it’s impossible to know how you’ll react to death until you’re staring it in the face — but I’d really like to be different.

Maybe it’s morbid, but I think about death all the time. I live with it. I think about how I can be healthier, so I can see my daughter grow up to be older than I was when my dad died. I think about the family members and friends I love and how much time I’ll have with them. I don’t want death to be the elephant in the room — I want to shrink it by feeding it the attention and respect it deserves so that, eventually, it’ll be just as small and cosmically insignificant as I am. Or, better yet, something I can welcome when the universe decides the time is right.

I think that’s why I’m so excited about this Flying Lotus album. Musically, I’m enjoying it for a number of lighter reasons. I like that it reminds me of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and I like that it jumps around and serves as evidence that an idea doesn’t need to be stretched out across three and a half minutes to be considered a complete, valid thought. Kendrick Lamar’s appearance is fantastic, and Herbie Hancock’s involvement adds gravitas and grounds the album solidly in the jazz realm, which makes me happy because that’s how I read it before I heard that Hancock had contributed.

But the major rush of affinity came when I heard Flying Lotus interviewed on NPR and found out how intentional he was about the album’s themes. (In this case, context is everything.) Hearing that the album’s title is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the start of the first track is meant to represent to the moments after you die — You’re Dead stopped being an interesting and pleasing album and became something that recent events have made absolutely vital.

I don’t need to believe that something magical — or anything — happens after I die, but that warm swell in the opening moments of “Theme” lend hope to the notion that the moments before my own death will involve emotions that feel as good as that soupy drone sounds, if that makes any sense.

I hope this isn’t bumming you out, because You’re Dead is fantastic for all sorts of other reasons — give “Coronus, The Terminator” a listen below and click here to buy the album on iTunes.

Flying Lotus — “Coronus, The Terminator” [Spotify/iTunes]

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William Bell

William Bell

You look tense. How’s your week been? Cray? I feel ya. I think we all just need to relax a little bit.

I’ll tell you how I’m planning to relax tonight… William Bell. The Richmond Folk Festival. Just look at the album cover above — that dude is clearly qualified to help you find a more leisurely mindset.

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brb

Boulder

Thing one: I just landed in Denver, en route to Boulder for a friend’s wedding.
Thing two: Big Head Todd and the Monsters, I just learned, formed at CU-Boulder.
Thing three: Big Head Todd and the Monsters, I just learned, recorded an entire album of Robert Johnson covers with the help of B.B. King and Charlie Musselwhite, among others.

So there you have it.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters (featuring Charlie Musselwhite) — “Come On In My Kitchen” (Robert Johnson cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

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Brooklyn Rider

Brooklyn Rider

The first time I listened to The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, I had no idea what was going on.

OK, that’s not entirely accurate. I knew who Brooklyn Rider was, and knew I liked the quartet’s last few releases, especially Seven Steps. And I knew the title of the album was “The Brooklyn Rider Almanac,” but that’s it. When I loaded the album on my iPod and went for a long run, I was stepping into a world free of context.

This doesn’t happen often. I usually end up reading about albums before I listen to them. If unfettered listening is like walking through fresh snow that just finished falling in your yard, the fact that I love reading about music almost as much as I love listening to it means that there’s usually a crowd of opinionated people eager to make snow angels before I do. It’s rare that I can dive in first.

It’s especially rewarding to be the trailblazer when instrumental music is involved. Lyrics and voices allow context to flood in — which language is being used, the emotions the singer conveys, the stories that are being told. But with a string quartet, you really do get to invent things as you listen, things like the composer’s nationality, their inspiration and goals for the piece. Even the form is up for grabs, if you didn’t check to see how many mp3s there were and which ones were grouped together.

I loved my freewheeling stroll through The Brooklyn Rider Almanac. Given the diversity in both style — everything from long, sentimental notes to choppy math-mindedness — and technique — clapping and even some vocals — it really felt like anything could happen. And it was all filtered through the quartet’s signature approach to production, which is both big and crisp, with enough reverb to make passages more momentous but enough energy to make the whole exercise feel immediate and personal. The album had already earned two thumbs up by the time I made it back to my house and learned how ironic that stroll had been.

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Shovels & Rope

Shovels and Rope

Wanted to check in quickly and say something here that I said on the radio last Saturday when I joined Doug Nunnally for his Sound Gaze show on WDCE:

I really like this Shovels & Rope album.

That’s the short version, at least. The long version won’t be all that long, but I did want to point out something that I think is really special about what Shovels & Rope are doing.

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Sound Gaze

Sound Gaze

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining Doug Nunnally for an hour of his Sound Gaze show on WDCE. We had an awesome conversation — both while we were on the air and in between interview segments — covering everything from Fall Line Fest and Richmond music in general to the value of negative criticism and my Spotify stalking habit. I’d never been a guest on someone’s radio show like this (you’ll hear me exhaling before answers in an attempt to calm my nerves), but Doug asked really thoughtful questions and made the whole experience an incredibly positive one. Getting to talk to someone who loves music as much as Doug so clearly does is a rare treat, and I’m looking forward to the next time we can chat like this, be that on the radio or elsewhere.

Take a listen below — I come in around the 30-minute mark, but I recommend listening to the whole thing, because Sound Gaze is a great show and Doug’s a great host (he’s also a great writer — check out his recent Foo Fighters piece for rvamag.com here).

Sound Gaze — September 20th, 2014

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Blake Mills

Blake Mills

Big week, y’all. I’m writing this on Thursday night, immediately after confirming that my silver 64 GB iPhone 6 is still scheduled to be delivered sometime on Friday. Given that my current phone qualifies for not one but two recalls — one concerning a sleep/wake button that no longer works and the other concerning a battery that just kind of says “fuck it” and shuts the phone down randomly — you’ll understand why I’ve been looking forward to this Friday for some time.

And yet…

…I might be even more excited about Tuesday’s Heigh Ho release.

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