Monday, March 14, 2016

Song of the Day #283 - Elysia Crampton - Axacan

Yeah!! What?! Okay!!

This is the final track on American Drift, the hypnotically cool but still boldly unconventional debut album of the genius Elysia Crampton. I first listened to it last year after I saw it praised on Pitchfork's 2015 honorable mentions, where I found that it not only lived up to this impossible-seeming distinction, but really was so good that it was hard to believe it didn't make the top 50.

The whole thing is this gigantic soundscape built on loops and samples... "traditional" midi-instruments that emphasize their midi-ness (reminding me of Giant Claw), the sort of reverb and bass boosted vocals you hear in stuff like movie trailers, DJ Mustard-style "hey!"s, loads of effects that you might find on cheapo electric keyboards, found sound of telephones... each individual sound is familiar to the point of cliche, of inherent parody, and no small amount of nostalgia, but the layering and balance is so subtly balanced that the whole thing manages to feel organic and unified, like it was somehow produced by a single instrument. And that instrument would be... America? As the title implies, the aesthetic seems to be that of all these minor elements that constitute the "sound" of America drifting together, settling naturally into this new concoction.

On the last track, she mixes up the formula a bit in a move that seems both "grand finale" and "genetic mutation". The switch up from generic trappy sounds to direct samples of the iconic Lil Jon shouts is what first really hooked me on the album, first made me realize that, beyond sounding cool, it represented a sort of "nothing off limit" ideology that made me love 18+ (with e.g. the sample on "Crow") or The Life of Pablo (with e.g. the playing of "Panda" during "Father Stretch My Hands pt 2 (although TLOP hadn't come out when I first heard this, I thought of it now)). And everything else feels more "direct too", the beat has become more singular, as if the track is narrowing down onto the final path. The drums are getting more aggressive and heavy, the strange vocal samples more distorted and distant.

And all of this is combined with some new elements... some horns that feel very "un-midi", like, very real, coming in with small melodic lines here and there. Same with the piano - it has that real piano "warmth". Best of all are the cricket noises, which shift the song into this sort of "real space", although the way they loop and pitch shift also reinforces a constructed artificiality... And like, even though it's also a "cliched" sound, it's one that predates any media-construction of "cliche", like, you expect that even cavemen would find this sound "cliche", would have an immediate emotional reaction to it, etc. It reminds me a lot of "positive drone" like the brilliant album Pop, it seems to be tapping into a sort of primordial response to certain sounds or patterns. It also seems sort of like the "drift" that has consumed the whole landscape of American culture is now reaching further back in time, showing that this sound isn't so new or different, but is only another evolution in a long chain. I dunno. It's hard to explain and I'm not sure if it makes sense. Luckily the song is great even if I'm being stupid.

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