After 116 weeks, Some Thoughts of a Certain Sound is going dark.
When I began writing it two years ago, my goal was to shine a light on the Bay Area’s long-thriving world of underground electronic music, which existed for decades before me and will continue to exist for decades hence.
Speaking generally, the music I covered doesn’t offer a proverbial helping hand across the aisle, or make much of an effort to welcome new listeners into the fold.
Nevertheless, the music I covered is produced by people for whom passion and authenticity of expression outweigh accessibility and its corollary, commercial success. In today’s day and age, these considerations and the calculi surrounding them are changing or dissolving altogether. What once was arcane knowledge is now no longer the exclusive province of geeks who waste their lives in record stores, like Yours truly, but a 10-second Google search (and tab over to YouTube) away. As we approach 2017, “underground” — as an adjective, an attitude, an approach, a stance, an intent, or all of the above — no longer means what it used to.
And yet the sky remains in place, above our heads, where it has always been. Whatever the contours of this new musical ecosystem in which we find ourselves (a question many much smarter and wiser than I have struggled to answer), it is unquestionably characterized by richness, breadth of choice, and ever-increasing interconnectedness — between sounds, between artists, and between listeners.
All of this is to say: If I managed to alight a single reader’s musical curiosity or encouraged them to step outside of their comfort zone, I will consider my job well-done. The club is a strange, bewildering place, not easy for the faint of heart. Despite its reputation as a hotbed of debauchery — which, well, it is, and should be — the nightclub is moreover a locus for transformation, for connection, and for community.
Where I feel the freest and most in tune with myself is in the midst of a packed dancefloor listening to music that moves me viscerally, alongside similarly minded weirdos, an experience I discovered late in life and rapidly came to cherish. Through my writing, I hoped to encourage others to do the same — to understand electronic music and club music as more than just the soundtrack to a given night out but as a medium to better understand oneself, and perhaps even to discover parts of oneself previously hidden.
Ambitious indeed, but I’ve never been much for the easy way out. I close, per usual, with reviews of local music that I believe reflect the aforementioned spirit in some way, shape, or form.
And with that, I’ll see you on the dancefloor.
Notable Local Records
Invisible Island by Tyler Holmes; Ratskin Records
Oakland artist Tyler Holmes’ new album seems to defy all categorization. Mostly, it seems relentlessly contemporary in that it sounds like a little bit of everything all at once. Invisible Island is a synth-pop record steeped in hip-hop, informed by videogames, and proudly, unabashedly queer.
The through-line tying the album together is Holmes’ voice, which is as chameleonic as the music that is its backdrop. Across Invisible Island‘s nine songs, Holmes sings, croons, raps, spits, moans, and trills. His voice bends, creaks, stabs, lashes, and caresses. Meanwhile, the album flits about musically, paying homage to genre-bending modern electronica (“½”), old-school synth-pop (“Glitter & Glue”), and sparse, barely-there sounds not far removed from Arthur Russell (“Double Bottom Battle”).
On the B-side, things get stranger. Invisible Island “borrows imagery from cartoons, videogames, and sitcoms, [replacing] characters from these worlds with ours … to process the meta-hate of ‘real life,’ ” a very relatable conceit. The B-side’s three songs seem indebted to Donkey Kong Country, the Super Nintendo classic. No matter the theme, the songs are vividly heartfelt. Two plaintive vocal works bookend a long eponymous experimental suite, the album’s most out-there stretch.
Invisible Island is a fever dream of an album, a vivid, intensely personal glimpse into another world.
The Daisy by Pattern Drama; Das Sind Wir
House music was invented in Chicago, but the West Coast invented tech-house. That’s an exaggeration — myriad counter-examples from the U.K., Germany, and beyond abound — but certainly a particular kind of psychedelic, feel-good tech-house has always flourished over here. Nascent San Francisco label Das Sind Wir has held the West Coast tech-house torch high aloft, and their latest release, from Brooklyn’s Pattern Drama, is their finest yet.
Aimed squarely at DJs, the EP features three smooth, immaculately produced tech-house cuts. “Tell All,” a collaboration with Jon Lee, is its first track, featuring a simple interplay of delicate melodies that mesmerize the ear throughout its runtime. However, a long breakdown interrupts the flow early on with a dense vocal sample, a stereotypical dialogue on the nature of house music. It’s a completely unnecessary interlude, but it comes and goes quickly enough, allowing the melodies to return to the fore.
The next two tracks, “Rain Dance” and “Daisy,” are solo works that proceed in a similar fashion as “Tell All,” sans needless vocal interludes. In particular, the delay-soaked dub techno flourishes of “Daisy” make for an invigorating change of pace.
Savvy DJs should take note — this is hypnotic, hyper-focused stuff, not your standard tech-house three-tracker.