The High Five: Great New Jams from John Vanderslice, Porches, and More
If you're browsing for easily dissectible summer jams, look elsewhere. Each of this week's selections is a veritable cherry bomb of textures and statements. Be prepared for songs to end in completely different places from where they began, and to be pulled along for the ride. Don't let this feeling scare you off, though. It's how you know you've actually gotten somewhere.
Autumn de Wilde John Vanderslice
Porches -- "Franklin the Flirt"
What threatens to start as a sardonic slow jam quickly blooms into something beautiful, pained and unexpectedly intricate. Don't for a second think that the song's coating of morose grime has anything to do with a lack of upkeep. On the contrary, singer Aaron Maine's wordplay, atop the instrumentation's plod, carries all the stark elegance of a ballerina pirouetting on an oil barge. To wit: "The purple eyelids sag/There are diamonds in the weed sack/And love's a purple drag/I always go back." A band to be watched, ideally through the saline smudge of breakup tears.
John Vanderslice -- "Harlequin Press"
A hiccupping, off-kilter meditation from Vanderslice's recently released "Dagger Beach," "Harlequin Press" is producer porn at its densest and most rewarding. Those familiar with Vanderslice's studio work -- he's recorded artists like Deerhoof and Thao and the Get Down Stay Down -- know that he's a maestro of the sweet slathered atop the jagged. This tune is no exception, with layers of acoustic guitar fluttering above warped, crackling tom-tom thwacks. Even the lyrics seem to obey such a dichotomy: "She replaced the lovebirds with pornographers," Vanderslice sings. "The love scenes with brutal murder."
Kill-J -- "Phoenix"
Here's the agreement: We can all stop freaking out about Scandinavian synth-pop at the exact moment it stops being so goddamn good all the time. Until then, there's Kill-J, whose "Phoenix" ebbs and bends with a cyborg grace. Half machine gun vibrato and half vocoded trickery, the tune is similar to Vanderslice's in its alchemy; two otherwise incompatible sonic textures click into place with exquisite results. You end up feeling confessed to, seduced, and cold shouldered with the sort of rapid-fire nonchalance that makes this genre so enduring.
Schoolboy Q -- "Collard Greens," Ft. Kendrick Lamar
What sort of ground is broken with a statement like "Kush be my fragrance/We love marijuana?" What possible revelation lurks below a line like "Shot glass super-sized/She gonna get some dick tonight?" It's easy to write off Schoolboy Q's brand of rap as lazily boastful, nihilistic, and ultimately empty. But to do that would be to ignore an increasingly common (and interesting) struggle that's beginning to surface in modern hip-hop: How do artists address and dissect the blatant emptiness of certain luxuries when their genre thrives so steadily on them? In some cases, by an outright rejection. But more often, as "Collard Greens" suggests, by complex and problematic means -- by diving in headfirst, rooting around, and working through whatever surfaces.
Bosnian Rainbows -- Torn Maps
The waify, dweeby spirit of Geddy Lee skips freely through this Rush-inspired track, from the twinkling synths to the fuzz charred guitar to the indignant, howled lyrics: "Can we just stop acting like we don't know/Eating up your lies/Throw them out tomorrow." And that's precisely what makes it so much fun. Leave it to The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez Lopez (who's wielding the axe) to come out so staunchly in favor of the cheesiest prog tropes imaginable. That he inches toward reclaiming them makes his efforts forgivable and, at times, revelatory.