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I’d never heard of…but they were awesome!

Sometimes, when I was younger, I used to love to walk into a record store and find something I had never heard of, buy it, and hope that it was amazing. This could lead to some fairly hit and miss outings. I quickly found that The Charlatans were not to my taste, but that Mogwai were fantastic. Of course, musical taste is idiosyncratic, so feel free to disagree.

Among other things, the digital age and the proliferation of YouTube (self-)promotion has meant that the ability to do this kind of thing has diminished. Why would you go and randomly buy a CD or (wowsers) an LP when you can get it (all but) free on the internet? Why not listen to everything first, then spend your money if you like it.

But, after a recent solo trip to New York, CIA brought back for me a slim, velvety case, with embossed gold lettering. The Sub Pop label had me thinking of Fleet Foxes, so imagine my surprise when Shabazz Palaces oozed bass-y goodness out of the speakers. The song construction felt well-crafted but with a hefty dose of the haphazard (no verse-chorus-verse here) and had me hooked almost from the first minute. The heady drift into gamelan instrumentation was (and is) a wonderful and unexpected punctuation from the dull thud of the beats. You can hear the whole glorious thing here:

Pitchfork went pretty crazy for them. The New Yorker has a review I can’t read (maybe you can). My favourite quote comes from the Guardian:

“Every track is lean and muscular, never losing sight of the fact that hip-hop should move forward.”

I completely agree with the first half (lean and muscular music is just an irresistible image for me); I am probably not qualified to remark on the second part. Nevertheless, the Guardian informed me that, upon hearing Shabazz Palaces for the first time the ex-General Manager of Sub Pop said that it was a little like hearing Nirvana for the first time. If I knew that before I listened, I would have been even more sold!

This is Sub Pop’s first hip hop outing, but it feels more interesting than that. “Yeah You” descends into a kind of impromptu jazz jam, at other times the album melts into a kind of electronic fuzz that makes the room feel small, dark, warm and comforting. I haven’t yet played it through headphones, but I am really looking forward to it.

Writing about music is, for me, a difficult thing to do. Comparisons between artists often feel strained, adjectives feel inadequate, and the medium feels much more subjective to me than writing or painting, the rules of which are much clearer to me. But I love Shabazz Palaces, and I am so happy to have had a chance to hear them sight unseen, and sound unheard.


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I reckon you’re doing an amiable job at writing about music. You’ve got to remember that music isn’t just the melodic, tonal and rhythmic ins and outs of the music itself, it’s also about the culture, criticism, technology and economics surrounding it. Talking about that stuff is equally valid. You’re already doing it, so keep at it!

    Plus, sometimes it’s just a matter of “Hey, I dig this. You’ve found yourself here at my blog, so maybe you’ll like it too”. I’ve found some good music using that method and this is not exception!

    I’ve played record store roulette a few times, although the albums usually have to fall below some sort of dollar threshold before I start playing. I bought The Loon by Tapes ‘n Tapes because the cover intrigued me (the album and I are now tenuous acquaintances), and Collapsing Cities (a relationship that didn’t work out) and Twenty One by Mystery Jets (we’re firm friends) only because I had head of the bands. Funnily enough, I think I bought Blinking Lights And Other Revelations (my first Eels album) based largely on a newspaper interview and the hyper-Instagramed cover.

    May 17, 2012
    • It’s also abut contrapuntal basslines, right? Sorry I have taken a little bit to get to replying to this comment – what with life and other distractions getting in the way. So, hey, I dug this, and here you are at my blog, you might dig it too (did you, by the way?).

      Can something be hyper-instagrammed before there was instagram (was the album before instagram? I assume so). Also, I absolutely must write a post about the absolutely awful awfulness of instagram. Or, rather, the awful awfulness of the bland sameness of the photos instagram users produce.

      I agree, that in terms of record store roulette, there is a price point at which you have to say, ummm, no thanks. I think the best thing I ever found this way was Interpol, from whom I heard one song on JJJ at 4:00 am, and then couldn’t remember if I really liked it, or was delusionally tired. It turns out that the first album was stellar. It seems a pity they have been on a downhill slide of increasing incline ever since…

      June 16, 2012

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