Do Androids Dance With Electric Sheep?: An Examination of Music For And By Robots

Recently Squarepusher released an EP called “Music For Robots” on Warp Records. The EP featured typical Squarepusher tropes: frantic breakbeats, virtuoso jazz bass and guitar, and those melancholy chords. What makes this Squarepusher EP so special is that while it was written by Squarepusher, the EP was performed by The Z-Machines, a trio of robots. “Music For Robots” wasn’t just for mechanical men, it was also by them.

By now Squarepusher has said he wanted to challenge the perspective of how we view music with this EP. The idea was that music played by robots could still be emotionally engaging is the idea spurred out of this, but let’s be honest, it still had a human touch. The writing was done by a human, specifically Squarepusher, but played by robots who are essentially giant sequencers. As Squarepusher pointed out in an interview with NPR, it’s not much different than when he used drum machines on his 1997 album Hard Normal Daddy, these drum machines just hit real drums.

Furthering this, the younger generation is presently obsessed with electronic music, which often lacks the traditional instrumentation that gives the “human element” to music. So the real question is why does a distinction matter? Sure, the music you might hear your favorite DJ playing is coming from their laptop or CDJs, but that doesn’t make you any less likely to dance than say a full band running through funk classics.

Consider Tycho for just a second. His last two albums Dive and Awake are sun drenched and sand covered trips to the coastline that evoke more emotions than a bland generic band with your typical bass, guitar, drums setup. So why does Squarepusher feel it necessary to try to make a distinction between music by robots and music by humans? Would it be any different than Tycho programming a drum machine through MIDI because someone doesn’t “actually play” an instrument? While Squarepusher and The Z-Machine’s “Music For Robots” is a fun project, it really isn’t causing waves in a technological generation.

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Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks

 

Since their 2009 breakout release Meriweather Post Pavillion, Animal Collective has served as a gateway group to usher casual music listeners into the realm of experimental psychedelic music.  In response to their mainstream success, AC released 2012’s Centipede Hz, which delved straight back into their deeply experimental roots, distressing many of their newfound fans with its inaccessibility.  The digestible melodies and glossy synths of “Meriweather” were replaced by the cacophonous abrasion that one would typically find in their earlier albums.

    Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks serves as a kind of consolation prize for the confused fans lost in AC’s rekindled love affair with deep psychedelia.  Made up of AC founding member Avey Tare, former Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian, and ex-Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman, the group manages to maintain the “poppiness” of Meriweather Post Pavillion while keeping to the experimental tendencies of Avey Tare.  As the name suggests, “Slasher Flicks” draws from the tongue-in-cheek eccentricity of classic cult horror films, harnessing its energy to produce a delightfully fun album.  Despite the accessibility of Enter the Slasher House, the album still has plenty of weird to go around.   Songs like Strange Colores and Little Fang feature alien-like vocal melodies accompanied by relentless synth beats which lock the listener into a hypnotic dancing abstraction.

The greatest challenge Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks faces is defining its identity outside of the context of Animal Collective.  The comparisons between the bands are unavoidable for obvious reasons, but if Enter the Slasher House were experienced without the preconception of an AC piece, it is really quite good.  “Slasher Flicks” succeeds in meeting fans’ expectations while treading some new creative ground on its own.  Enter the Slasher House is out now, stream below and enjoy!

-Denali

 

Leather Corduroys -“Porno Music Vol. II”

leather-corduroys

Amidst all the internet April Fools’ Day BS and subsequent fallout, Chance The Rapper (or whoever updates his reddit profile) uploaded SaveMoney’s anticipated collaboration between Kami De Chukwu and Joey Purp. None of this seems to be a prank, or maybe this is the point, however the release is indicative of where we’re headed in today’s internet age — especially hip hop music. Whether it’s icons like Beyonce or middle-finger-to-the-industry alternative acts like Death Grips, unconventional/unexpected releases are becoming the norm. Free streams and downloads are now commonplace, and record sales seem to have fallen by the wayside in favor of overall exposure.

SaveMoney is no stranger to this. Chance’s Acid Rap was an official free download, as was Vic Mensa’s INNANETAPE on DatPiff, again representative of the power of internet buzz. The duo that comprises Leather Corduroys get less than a fraction of the shine of Young Money’s general Chance and his doppelgänger Mensa, even though they’ve been rapping for just as long. Some of that makes sense. Chukwu has a funny name, and it’s hard to fathom his intense flow situated beneath the jazzy sun-soaked and sedated vibes of Acid Rap. However we have seen stuff like that out of Joey Purp before on some of his mixtapes, so perhaps it’s only a matter of time and output that SaveMoney as a whole really starts to take off.

Porno Music Vol. II doesn’t exactly sound accessible and it doesn’t have a title that will be pasted all over publications, but regardless there are some great moments here. The intro “Bleed” begins with an emotive piano roll and a deepened/distorted vocal sample that picks up just a bit towards the end. Kami De Chukwu compliments the music with an equally escalating flow. The beat drops and a muted soul sample acts as a bridge towards the next song “Dat Strong”, a grimy anthem of shit-talking and threats.

After an admittedly lukewarm interlude, the rapping starts again on highlight “Nightmare on Chicago Ave”. The synthed-out beat is gloomy and melancholic, and the rhymes are intense gangsta tales of women, drugs and money. “Irie Trill Vibes” closes the brief EP, a trap banger with aggressive yet ultimately monotonous lyrics.

The production on Porno Music Vol. II (especially on the intro and “Nightmare”) is quality. The beats fit the mood of the lyrics, but the interlude and the final track are missteps — albeit missteps that are easily forgiven on a project of this length. Kami De Chukwu outshines Joey Purp more often than not, but the chemistry is apparent. These guys are all still damn young which is nothing new for hip hop music over the last couple of years. Check out the five track EP below.

-Daniel