Tuesday, August 17, 2004

After all of my iPod prep for my flight last week, what I ultimately ended up listening to was Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity which I was too distracted to really follow, that Lilys album that I recently wrote about (I guess this means I am a Pink Floyd fan) and the forthcoming Dizzee Rascal album Showtime.

In most ways I'm the wrong person to write about Dizzee, since I don't listen to that much hip-hop and I'm pretty clueless when it comes to the ancestors of Grime, so forgive me if I'm overly impressed by how distinctive his albums sound. (But keep in mind that it's kind of nice if he can have appeal outside of the usual audience).

Here's what I loved about his first album Boy In Da Corner: when I first heard the song I Luv U (I somehow accidentally heard it long before the album started to get hyped in the US, so I had no idea what it was) I thought it was a joke. It basically sounded like someone was just punching buttons at random on a drum machine, way too fast, and then adding on the most irritating vocal sample in the world whenever they got bored. It's not that I'd never heard any Garage or Hip-Hop, and I live right on the edge of Flatbush in Brooklyn, so I hear a surprising amount of what I assume is Dancehall music blaring from vans and sidewalk shops and so on, so I am pretty familiar with how it sounds, but I wonder if being introduced to Dancehall by having it blasted in your face through distorting speakers while you're walking to Veggie Castle is really the best way to get to know the music. Maybe it is. I just don't know. Regardless, that first Dizzee Rascal album was the most incomprehensible-sounding thing I'd heard in years.

So after all the fuss started about Dizzee last year, I made a really huge effort to figure out the album, basically by not allowing myself to listen to anything else for several weeks. Sometimes that works, sometimes not (see Fiery Furnaces/Blueberry Boat). In the case of Boy In Da Corner it really worked...pretty quickly I found that it made literally everything else that I own sound old. Like I said, I'm coming to Dizzee's stuff from the wrong direction, but what got me excited was that he sounds as unlike the hip-hop that I know as, say, Sonic Youth sounded unlike just about every other guitar based band in the early 80's. Of course there's all sorts of dispute about whether Dizzee is related to hip-hop, but that's another story. Regardless of what his music is or isn't, it gave me that great experience of hearing something that sounds awful slowly resolve into something that sounds wonderful, which is one of my favorite experiences with new music.

With the new album I'm not getting the same sensation of plunging into the unknown, but I still like what he's doing. To me Dizzee's voice sounds goofy in a really interesting way, and I actually wonder if that's going to keep him from massive success in the US: I find it hard to imagine Eminem fans cottoning to that voice and accent. I love the fact that nothing Dizzee does reminds me of funk or jazz or whatever, since (to be honest) I've just never liked hip-hop based on that. In some ways he sounds (to me) closer to some weirdo experimental music than to anything that normally hits it big in the mainstream. Like what?

Ok, don't laugh. Here's my favorite song from Showtime: Graftin'. Sasha Frere-Jones had this to say about it:

"Graftin'": Mugwump limp. Yet more of the Snoop-derived meme: "In the LDN." Hey, someone found the Pitch Bend function. Again. Not the RZA. Not even the platinum dragonist lyricist can save a half-assed beat. Billy Squier is on line 2.

As far as I can tell, that means that Sasha doesn't like it so much. I'm not entirely sure.

Anyway, I love that song. Had it on repeat for a lot of the plane flight. And while I was listening to it for the umpteenth time I decided for sure that, in a strange way, it reminds me of the Starfuckers, an Italian group who pretty much established the absolute end point for abstracting guitar/bass/drums/vocals. The album on which they do this, Infrantumi, is kind of hard to take all the way through, but I think everyone should hear at least one song from it at least once, just to get some perspective on things. So, from that, here's Ostinato. I'm not saying that it sounds "just like" Dizzee, and I'm sure that Dizzee has never heard them and vice versa. But the way the sonic elements sound so cold and disconnected seems very similar to me. Of course Dizzee ties things together more with his vocal, and his beat does have a beat, and the Italian whispering kind of bugs me after a while...

I know it may seem dumb to draw this connection. Most articles I've read about Dizzee take the approach of trying to explain the history of Grime, in order to place him within some sort of a musical context for American listeners. But the thing is, he's really caught on with a very unexpected crowd in the US, i.e. people like me, and I tend to doubt that it's because we were all secretly fans of underground UK dance music. Dizzee does a lot of things (a very different sounding track may still be available over at fluxblog) and I can see him appealing to different people for very different reasons. The main reason for this whole spiel is that I think he's worth checking out even if you don't usually like the genres that contribute to his sound.

(The Starfuckers album Infrantumi looks to still be available in the US from Aquarius Records. It was licensed here by Drunken Fish records.)

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