Two releases from the further out-there
Girl Talk & Freeway
Girl Talk (a.k.a. Gregg Gillis) is known for masterful, breathtaking sample mix-up albums like Feed the Animals and Night Ripper with perversely eclectic assemblages, taking John Oswald’s “Plunderphonics” method from the avant-garde world into dance-party settings; here, snippets are treasured for their listener recognition and irony when overlaid slyly, dirtying up otherwise innocent songs and making the surprising matches seem oddly fitting.
For his latest project, Gillis reached out to Philadelphia rapper Freeway, wanting to make a mixtape that leaned to the hip-hop side. Freeway had a successful 2003 debut solo album, Philadelphia Freeway, with collaborators including Jay-Z and Kanye West; on the new collaboration, a six-song EP entitled Broken Ankles, available as a free download from the mixtape site DatPiff, Gillis changes his method, focusing on beats and yielding to let Freeway take the spotlight, with guests Waka Flocka Flame, Young Chris and Jadakiss. Although Freeway had faded from view with his subsequent albums, on Broken Ankles, he sounds more pushy and forceful and more like a badass than ever.
While the posturing is perhaps obligatory, Freeway’s vigor is such that it seems like his switch is always on, even warning the listener that “You’re not ready!” and not-so-gently making the suggestion to “Blow your brains out yourself, kill yourself!” This is not an unhinged word assault—Freeway always seems intensely focused and in control, with passages like “You taught this, I lived this, I want this, I need this, I’m up this, I am this” burying themselves deeply into the listener’s consciousness.
Gillis doesn’t employ his all-out splice-happy way-way-short-attention-span-satisfying ways but instead complements Freeway with fitting, interesting beats, allowing himself to use infrequent breaks to spotlight his sample diversity; among the sampled are Kansas, Aretha Franklin, Iannis Xenakis and Notorious B.I.G.
Those expecting an insane dance-oriented cut-up page of madness may be disappointed, but in the hip-hop realm, it’s a successful collaboration.
Drone architect Jon Porras, known as one half of the San Francisco outfit Barn Owl, has tackled previous solo albums each with distinct aural concepts in mind; Black Mesa evoked the American West like an underworld version of an Ennio Morricone Western soundtrack on Robitussin, and Orilla Oscura used tape manipulation and electric guitar patterns with glorious returns, being simultaneously wistful and unsettling. His latest effort, Light Divide, contains no guitar explorations and instead focuses on synthetics to shape his atmospheric vision.
“Apeiron” uses entrancing, gentle pulses atop sustained notes, with deep subwoofer-range bass tones pumping warm blood throughout the piece with its steady heartbeat while electronic ocean waves crash softly and dissipate; signal beacons end the track amid the sound of tape hiss cutting in and out and reverberating taps, creating drama from otherwise innocuous sounds.
“Recollection” is hazy and grey, following a similar audio-frequency profile, with the boom of an ersatz bass drum acting like metronomic water torture; halfway through the track, features seem to decay away, like a statue weathered by the elements, gingerly panning between the left and right channels. “Pleiades” slithers into the listener’s consciousness with mounting tension and a light yet insistent three-tone pattern, breaking the drone monolith with a tiny melody.
While Light Divide has a few touchstones of ambient music and ostensibly has a neutral attitude, ultimately it has a slightly sinister grip and disquieting undercurrent that doesn’t make for totally easy listening. With only five tracks, Light Divide doesn’t stretch its ideas too far, as a relatively short 31-minute album, and like its predecessors, the album’s selections are like suites of a single-minded work.
It is a specific sensation, perhaps like dwelling in an isolated chamber in a spacecraft hurtling through the galaxy accompanied by the sound of one’s heartbeat and the hum of technology.