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philip sherburne

++ Needle Drops is now an occasional music column that a number of Neumu writers take turns writing. All columns prior to March 2004 were written by Philip Sherburne.

++ Recently ++

Tuesday, November 29, 2005 = The Stooges Unearthed (Again)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005 = Documenting Beulah And DCFC

Tuesday, November 1, 2005 = Out-Of-Control Rock 'N' Roll Is Alive And Well

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 = Just In Time For Halloween

Monday, October 3, 2005 = The Dandyesque Raunch Of Louis XI

Monday, August 15, 2005 = The Empire Blues

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 = David Howie's Sónar Diary

Monday, July 25, 2005 = Hot Sounds For Summertime

Monday, June 27, 2005 = Overcoming Writer's Block At Sónar 2005

Monday, June 4, 2005 = Cool New Sounds To Download Or Stream

++ Needle Drops Archives ++

View full list of Needle Drops articles...

Friday, February 13, 2004

++ Something New Under The Sun

++ Sign of a healthy music scene? Arrival in my mailbox of an absolutely incredible CD from someone I've never heard of, on a brand-new label at that. My desk is toppling over with average-to-adequate-to-actually-pretty-good CDs, but it's items like this — a CD-R sent in a plain cardboard mailer without even a plastic sleeve, and a hand-scribbled note on the one-sheet — that prove that all the moaning about it being too easy to release a CD nowadays is a bunch of poppycock. Who cares if we're glutted with nicked plug-ins and nickel-a-barrel glitches? I'll listen to a thousand of 'em if it means that somewhere, deep in the dreck, is a four-leafer, a perfect sand dollar, like this one.

The CD-R in question is the first single on new label Hand on the Plow. It's called "Work," and it's by Laszlo Beckett and Steve Taylor. They have fancy credentials (well, Steve's worked with Planet Mu and Spymania) and they confessed to getting my name from Emma at No-Future, but all familiarity ends there. This feels like a Junior Boys moment.

Not just for the unexpectedness of the first hearing — like the Junior Boys, Laszlo and Steve (guys — new alias, please) take on well-familiar strains and slap 'em together in a way you'd never have thought to hear 'em. (Ezra Pound would be pleased that they'd taken his advice.) Gospel refrains, Herbertian gristle-chomping, Chicago house, SND-style 2-bit pipsqueaks, Akufen skip and Timbaland snap — Beckett and Taylor graft them all together and then erase only half the seams, until you can't quite decide which sound belongs to what source. You've heard the idea before, sure — in Isolee, in Geeez and Gosh, in Dabrye, to some extent. They all fuse and abrade. But this braiding seems somehow deeper, almost like that grade-school experiment where you splice the stem of a carnation, dip each half in a different shade of dye, and breed yourself a Janus face.

I love that the label is called Hand on the Plow and that the very first track here, "Work With What You Got," takes a vocal sample reminding us, or maybe the song's creators, "You gots to work/ with what you got." Talk about a pro-labor platform for aspirants to the throne of recombinant pop! It's a classic Chicago house motif, but here it's not only chopped and tweaked with more precision than in its usual incarnations; the voice itself is strange. It's hard to tell if the speaker is a man or a woman, and in that hesitation it calls the whole implied sexuality of the phrase into question, to liberating, post-libidinal effect. The beat is even stranger — a clattery, deadened syncopated rattle sets up a hiccupping rhythm that's part garage and part something else entirely; beneath is an organ line that sounds forced out a radiator, and a bassline so springy it barely touches ground, like one of Luomo's gelatin boogie-woogies turned to crystal. Shit just builds and builds, that weird pancake Hammond pogoing with the Superball arpeggios and cascading, utterly out-of-time handclaps and doorslams and whatnot. And then it ends with that damn organ making buckled, wooden waves and you realize, hey, it was about a skating rink all along. It's a fucking all-skate for a warped floor.

To say that the other three tracks are mere variations on a meme would be missing the point. "You Gotta Work" is a thinned-out mix of the lead track, same sample, but played on a tub-thumping garage rhythm and swapping in some drunken, vibey keys for the organ refrain. It's a tall, cool drink of skinny water, an oasis in a dancefloor desert rippling with heat waves. "Hand on the Plow" stakes out a middle ground between those two tracks; it's a dirgey plantation chant that tills the soil and turns up spiritual shards and cowbell fragments and dumps 'em in a glass case borrowed from Super_Collider. "Yonder," meanwhile, looks past the horizon and dares to dream of greener pastures. Even though its lazy earbones are locked around a single note, that scrap of melody gestures metonymically at the song behind it. It's a green chute periscoping the scene and sending data back to the eager-beaver roots below, radioing to report that the conditions are right: this isn't Mars, there's water everywhere, and the air thrums with rhythms for carrying seeds far and wide, the same way they landed in Beckett and Taylor's pasture in the first place. You reap what you sow, and this duo's garden is growing greener than just about any record I've heard this year.


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