CD reviews: Azealia Banks; Deerhoof; Arca
Broke With Expensive Taste
It’s strange to think that this is Azealia Banks’ debut album – she has been on the scene for so long (since the release of 212 in 2012) that she already feels like an old fixture.
Her debut was meant to drop in the autumn of 2012, but it was consistently delayed, until – voila – a surprise album à la Beyoncé.
Like 212, Broke with Expensive Taste is bombastic and theatrical.
Like rooms in a warehouse rave, each song is lit in a different shade of neon. It is indebted as deeply to rave culture as it is to hip hop and trap, and peppered through with 1990s nostalgia (think: Notorious BIG references). There’s also a total outlier: the cover of Ariel Pink’s Nude Beach A Go Go.
The album is cutting-edge sharp, and the 23-year-old rapper is a formidable presence, but at a certain point it all gets a bit repetitive. Banks never gives her audience room to breathe on relentless tracks such as Heavy Metal and Reflective and Yung Rapunxel. But then come moments of genius, such as the twinkling Ice Princess and hypnotic Desperado.
The album doesn’t exactly meet the promise of 212, but it’s enough to supply another season of club hits.
La Isla Bonita
Deerhoof don't care what you think. The opening song (Paradise Girls) of their wonky new album, La Isla Bonita, is a jangle of squiggly noises and melodies. "Girls!/Who play the bass guitar/Girls!/Who are smart," sings a cute little nonsensical voice (Satomi Matsuzaki, sounding ridiculously like BMO from the meta-cartoon Adventuretime).
It's not hard on the ears, but it's weird and a little unpredictable - a fey little number.
The album grows more layered and interesting from there, even though it never quite loses that slight preciousness. The second track, Mirror Monster, has real elegance. But the album, like all of Deerhoof's music, swings on a pendulum between cute, groovy melodies and dissonant aural chaos. No sooner have we settled into a melody than it's gone, noise and clash in its place.
This gets frustrating. At times the salt and the sugar work in tandem (Tiny Bubbles, Black Pitch), but at others, it's generically annoying (Oh Bummer, Exit Only).
Deerhoof toss off their tunes with the greatest of ease, but underneath there's incredible method and skill to the madness.
You may not know that you know Alejandro Ghersi, aka Arca, but you know him. You know him from four tracks on Kanye West's Yeezus, from the fabric of FKA Twigs' ubiquitous LP1, from the trappy beats of queer rapper Mykki Blanco. In a world of celebrity producers, Arca is an auteur in hot demand.
But don't expect finely crafted hip hop from Arca's debut album. Xen is a much stranger beast - somewhere between noise and symphony, a collection of hyper cool, hyper aware music that seems to herald a new future. Is this what our kids will be listening to?
At times, the music is cutting. Pitchfork likened one track, Tongue, to the shower scene in Psycho. Arca's notes have an incredible, resonant clarity that conjures diamonds in space, or floating shards of glass. The song titles are vicious: Sad Bitch, Slit Thru, Failed, Family Violence. But there's no palpable anger on the album; it leaves you feeling cold.
And it's thrilling. Xen offers a range of bizarre, otherworldly emotion we haven't seen before. Arca doesn't just subvert musical cliché, he transcends it. The future has arrived and he is Arca.