Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Live Review - Hot Sugar - God's Hand

Hey, you just reviewed something!

Well, I wanna review more stuff! It's just the mood I'm in right now, I guess. I hadn't reviewed any albums in 2015, and I needed to change that.

Okay gimme some Hot Sugar

This guy is one of my favorite producers out there. He's been doing stuff with Greedhead mainly. His range is insane, he makes basically every sort of beat you can think of, and all of them sound good. He's amazing at making a sound that's obviously inspired by some aesthetic, so much so that it almost seems cheesy, like, a little cloying, but also making it sound so good, so actually unlike anything you'd heard in the mode before, or maybe an evolution of what you'd heard before. Then sometimes he hits you with something that still feels that way, that same "evolved sound", but is completely unlike anything you'd ever heard - the evolution of some unseen ghost sound. Like, listen to "Blessed", off his killer Made Man EP - have you heard anything like that before?

I'm mainly in to his hip hop production, like the aforementioned EP, plus his tracks are usually among my favorites on projects from rappers like Big Baby Gandhi, Heems, and Lakutis. He has two DJ that I've listened to a bunch, too - Seductive Nightmares 1 and 2... I think maybe only Shlohmo's DJ sets top them in my book. What I haven't explored so much is Hot Sugar's purely original and instrumental work, which is what we're getting in this long-awaited debut LP. I think if you were to say Hot Sugar has a "specialty", it'd be the unorthodox samples... in a lot of interviews, they focus on his crazy found sound experiments, where he does stuff like crank up the mics in a seemingly quiet catacomb or sample a mouse's heartbeat. And I mean that's kinda neat but I think it sells short the quality of the work if you just think of it as some sort of "can I make a good beat out of this weird crap?" challenge. I think what you have to embrace is the sort of aesthetic relevance of the sample choices - not that "omg that'd sound so weird!" but more "the process of making this song involved obsessively listening to this strange sound", which sort of says something.

I think this is the feeling we're supposed to get from this surreal and awesome promotional video, which he put out a few months ago. I'm pretty sure and even more hopeful that this is a list of everything he sampled on this album. But I think what we're supposed to get more hyped up for than "wow this will sound so crazy" is "wow the process of creating this album is completely surreal and each bizarre aesthetic involved in capturing these sounds will be represented in the album". That's my hope, at least. The aesthetic is this sort of distancing-nostalgic 90s computer thing that I love in all sorts of art right now, and Hot Sugar has nailed it in his recent videos, and especially in this crazy web game. Wow, he really did a pretty amazing job hyping me up for this album, actually. And God's Hand is just a great title... Okay I think I'm ready, let's go with this.

Hot Sugar - God's Hand
Live Review

1. Trauma
Aw yeah, here we go... here we god. uh. Nice creepy-ish night sounds, nice wind, sounds a lot like Radiohead wind. Yeah, that's a sentence I just sincerely said. I feel like these noise-elements, which are normally just the intro to a track, are actually gonna form the rhythmic base of this track. Ohh yeah I can hear it coming on now. Wow yeah, the way things are forming into chords, hnnnng, I can feel the wonkiness starting up. These shifting sounds, and then woah at 1:30 haha sweet, I like how the patterns in the back are getting "corrupted" too. I love the little melody in the high register, and the stuttering "grainy" elements. Everything is just popping and exploding in all directions, I love it! It has a certain closeness to it where everything feels like it's occurring right in your head, or moving in the space between your head and 2 inches away from your head. Almost a dizzying sort of effect. I love elements where there's a sense of him sort of just absently but spontaneously noodling along the keyboard, a sort of strange confidence in the ability to just plunk something beautiful out. Oh man the big buzzy almost guitary noises around 4:00 are super solid, this is like, super wonk, wonky overload, I love it. That great burst of intensity at the end just secured a great arc for the overall track. And then we fade back out into the spooky night. Sweet. S+

2. Raining Blood
Like Slayer! Wait what??? One of the samples mentioned in his promotional video was "blood dripping from a virgin" or something, is this that? At any rate, this is SICK, oh man, I love "water drop" sounds, and the way he so quickly and organically constructs a beat out of them is beautiful. And these scattering drums, contrasted with the heavy heavy toms in the back, this is so sweet, everything feels so liquid. And the way things "break down" and "solo", it feels like a "session" sort of track, like, there's a performative aspect of every element just sort of "having fun" on it. Awesomeeee aahhhh this makes me want to play some rhythm action game that doesn't exist. The "abrupt" noises around 1:40 are so good, I have no idea how a sound like that gets made. And now everything feels underwater... underwater waterdrop sounds... Spongebob sorta paradox. I love how some of the elements ran way up on the higher register, they sorta got "out of control". this is the sort of music i want to one day make. **

3. Mayday
Slower sorta song now, more heavy and synchronized in movement... wait nevermind now there's this SICK sound on the triplets, this bizarre skeletal beat, sounds like some bizarre hip hop mutant of Tom Waits??? And then the scope pulls back a bit and the sound feels very wide and spherical... I have no idea if these comments are at all sensible, lol. It's hard to express yourself about music like this, you can only really say "omg that sound". Now the "skeleton" aspect and the "wide" aspect are occurring simultaneously, and oh man, how do I even start? Woah, at 1:45, ohhhh man, the intensity and kinetics of these elements, I love when what was already the fast element of the song is made even faster, and it's made more melodic at the same time? That's just WAY TOO HYPE. Oooh and at 2:40, when everything feels more "solid", like the whole atmosphere is rising up alongside it, that's pretty sweet. Okay if this song makes you want to nod your head slowly and also tap your foot quickly in triplets then you understand wonky music. Woah oh man haha the way it slows down at the end is almost too much, Jesus. **

4. Sinkies
Woah geez... this sort of submerged, almost "drunk" acoustic guitar... I'm getting some Campfire Headphase flashbacks in the best possible way. And the way it "surfaces" around 0:30 in, that's such a neat effect... Everything feels very "sunbleached" and exposed, a "walking down a sunny street totally incoherent" sort of feel, a "blurry morning" sort of feel. Like, where your awareness of the rhythms of the city is sort of tangential to your focus, but clearer than ever. Uhh, not sure if this makes any sense... definitely something I've experienced, at least, lol. Wow at 2:10, there's this awesome icy piano solo, you feel the glacial white and black of the ivory, and the vocal samples ohh geez, so good. I love this sort of vocal sample, if they pull it off right... there's a really fine line where it almost becomes "pandering", the line between "minipops 67" and Pogo remixes, I guess. Okay but yeah another amazing track, geez. S+

5. Beer Cans & Bubblegum
Haha silly title, OH MAN I'm pretty sure I hear the sound of gum expanding. hahaha that's totally what that is. The phhhhufff. Wow. This sounds amazing, how did he know? How long did it take him to get that perfectly right? Ahaha at 1:00, just when I had thought "I wonder where this is going?" for like half a second, we get this awesome and focused driving melody. A lot of his tracks have these elements that come in really strong and focused and then just seem to get "lost" and sorta wander into the background, it's awesome, a really cool effect, I dunno how he's so good at it. The stuttered and "doubled" tones at 2:10 are super good too, that's another effect I fantasize about being able to do a lot. There's some sweet spot to how much you can stagger them and he knows it. I love all the "bent" notes, and the little riffs that end in a really "deliberate" sounding triplet, it sounds like... traditional music from some country I've never heard of before. I love how the more solid drums have really slowly been coming "into effect", really subtly. So now at the end, it's the same basic melodies and instruments, but it feels way heavier and more full and generally like oh wow. And haha the bubble sound given the focus at the end, super. *

6. Athena
Woah this is super eerie... a real abandoned sort of feeling, and these sort of "back alley drums". I like how the beat expanded but still feels very distant and mysterious. Oh maaaaaaaan at around the minute mark like five cool things all happened at once and I have no idea and OMG at 1:10 a BUNCH OF OTHER COOL STUFF just happened, okay wow, wowowow. How do I even begin to describe why I like this so much? Each sound has so much appeal, and each melody does too, and the juxtaposition of any two melodies... Wow around 2:10 there was a really strong BoC style "native" sound, no idea how better to describe it, but now we get like a guitar solo in 2:30? Is this man crazy? Now back to this AMAZING snaking sort of melody, with these really cool intriguing vocal samples sprinkled in them. The way the melody doesn't aim for any sort of "escape trajectory" but instead for some "groove" is quintessential wonkiness. And I don't think I can explain that any more at the moment. Oh man, as we move into the finale, and the drums in the back get huge and hollow, wowowow. No words about this atm, just can't do it. **

7. The Child They Left Behind
Aha, thunder, of course. But it sounds kinda like a sample of a sample of thunder, and these piano tones sound eerie... too much like themselves? Does that even make sense? It feels like this song is going to "pull back" and reveal that we've been looking into an old TV this whole time. ooooh though this is pretty cool. So dark and grimey, just sort of scraping a long, haunted by this piano riff. Ahh, at 1:40, there's a really slick "break through" sort of feeling, he managed to widen the scope so much without losing that very claustrophobic tension that was driving the song at first, wow, how, amazing. I love all the fuzzy, staticky effects, I can't imagine what sound I'm actually hearing, like what the source is. Again we get what I keep thinking of as the "Tom Waits" "bone xylophone", which I'm sure there's actually a reason I think of it like that but I can't remember. I love how crazy active all the melodies have gotten at 3:00ish! This is the sort of escalation I love in music, a weird escalation of complexity that doesn't compromise the aesthetic. All these songs have such an excellent arc to them, I feel such satisfaction at the end of these. *

8. Do What Thou Wilt
That's the Satanism thing, right? Haha wow this is the last sort of sound I would have expected from that title, though... I guess he'll just do what he wilt. This is like... Cowboys riding on balloon animal horses or something. Riding into some disoriented sunset... This is a goofy sorta song, I have a big goofy banana grin. The ticking drums and such feel like they're a little lost. I love it. And yet the aesthetic, no matter how bizarre and seemingly at odds with itself, feels rich and whole and "explorable". Neat! S

9. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down
Ohhh man piano captured with the mechanical squeaks of an old instrument hnnnnnnnng, he is almost overfeeding me on this very rare personally fetishy treat. Especially when it's this sort of soulful melancholy echoey piano melody omg. Ohhhh man and then at 0:50, I could not brace myself for that, it was like spilling a bucket over the whole thing. I love the amount these new elements interact with the piano... usually holding some distance but sometimes distorting it, often "aping" the melody... and that unusually stark snare pattern, I love it... Pretty slick. *

10. Slaughter
Ooooh, another sppoopy sorta one... the vocals coming in at 10s or so was pretty chilling. He loves to occupy the spot right between b-movie corny and genuinely unsettling, and then the way he can take this normally corny place and escalate it into something that sounds rich and legitimately banging is nuts. Witch house still lives in all the right ways. The sort of melodies that sort of just trail off on the way down, he's doing a few in a bunch of instruments... there's a really creepy-crawly cat-and-mouse thing going on between the two main melodies, again... he's making it so direct that it seems like it ought to be corny, but's wrapped in such gorgeous and flawless production... Good stuff wow. S+

11. Not Afraid to Die
Oh, I think I heard this one as a single before. It had a really crazy music video iirc. The song itself is pretty nuts too... the melody at the start feels really insanity-inducing, that perfect level of catchiness and yet unpredictability. This carries over some of the same motifs as the last song. Oooh, the higher range melodies at 1:10 are really pretty, a really crystalline sound. And this sense of a machine not quite revving up, not quite turning over... I dunno how to describe it. There's a "breathing" sort of rhythm to a lot of this song, makes it feel alive in a vaguely unsettling way. Ahhh, and at 2:40, when they bring back the melodies, but with that really breathy choral ambiance behind it, sounds so lovely, sounds like we're coming out of a darkness. Really interesting in the context of the song title... so are all the songs, actually, lol. prolly should give them more focus. S+

12. Pills
The little separated chimes, are those the pills? Okay maybe I'm overthinking this now. I like the persistent and distinct rhythm of this piece. And now wow these guitar licks, sounds a lot like Blacksploitation-era funk riffs? Really sweet sound. This one is super groovy, makes me wanna drive a car at night. So you KNOW it's a banger. S

13. Vengeance
Woah the way this melody came together, and this sound, and the violins sorta nonchalantly in the background, and then these weird jungle noises? What aesthetic is this? What planet is this aesthetic located on? Ohhh man the way he brought his low drums into the high register around 40s, i LOVE that. This song feels sort of duel-y, like, the "windy" sample and this "flute"y sample are in conflict? And then omg around 1:20, that scattery glitchy sort of noisey sound... ahh, I love it, I don't know how to begin describing it but I love it. Ahahaha wow, now it's like the one song has leveled up and is crushing the other one! I feel like I'm being crushed by a very light static, like being crushed by a whole lot of smoke, by the sheer volume. Unsure if that's how physics work. And the way it's getting scattered and choppy near the end, how could he possibly layer those two sounds and still manage to get distinct rhythms? Awesome awesome wow. *

14. Dead Inside
This is a weird one... the ambient noise and these sort of rhythms... sounds like we're at the start of a samurai music and the samurai is chopping wood out back. The way these originally simple rhythms are progressing and expanding is really neat... feels both organic and deliberate... like sculpting the path of creeping vines. Okay that was maybe one of my more coherent analogies. Ooh and at 1:30 we now progress into what seems to be the song proper... the "vines", having been given such a substantial intro, now plunge ahead into this complex wonky atmosphere. This is like, unimaginably lush, like a whole rainforest growing around you. Ohh, and at 2:20, something very strange happening again... we leave the rainforest?? And this sounds like music that plays in RPG areas where you meet some ancient healer water sage. Oh man the way those trap snares rush up around 3:30, it's like... you're confused for like half a second and then it makes perfect sense. Pretty sweet oh wow. *

15. No One Will Know Where I Went
Okay that's a pretty amazing title. Super minimal intro. And this really nostalgic-feeling piano and...electric guitar chord? But the drums feel "modern", giving the nostalgic elements a feeling of being "on TV". I hope that makes sense because it's a really cool effect. There seems to be a lot of these "nostalgic" elements sort of wandering through... oh man, when the melody on the piano is answered by that very quiet and "meek" violin, wow that's just... adorable? Super endearing? This feels like a very sentimental track. Around 2 minutes, I have no idea how to describe what's happening lol. It sounds like they're trying to figure out what to do, suggesting different ideas, an interesting effect. Now we're back to a very minimal thing... I love the way the violin shifts around, it sounds both "real" and "not". Good one, geez. *

16. You'll See Them In Your Sleep
Oh god wow okay yeah this is the exact feeling even stronger, of this "distorted nostalgic broadcast". This is a really anxious sort of sound, with the wavering... And other elements sounding like little points of light. The closeness and abrasiveness of those piano notes is perfect, feels like a cold cut right into the song. But I don't mean a slice of ham ooops. Feels like we're gonna ride out on this one. Oooh, at 2:30, when it quiets down for just like, a beat, that's a really cool effect. Woah haha sweet, around 3:20, when the beat comes in like that, that's really great, that's just perfect. This is such a fitting ending to this excellent album... back to basics, sorta haunting, with that wonky infectiousness. *

Okay that was really really good

Like, I knew it'd be good, but I don't think I was ready for it being that good. I think I sort of just default to this hierarchy in my mind where I don't expect other artists to do things that Shlohmo does as well as him. And yeah I dunno, I wouldn't put anything here on the tier of "Later", but this is a really solid contender to Dark Red. And while Shlohmo seems to be moving further into this crazy place of like, post-wonk, Hot Sugar is content laying down some straight-up wonky grooves in a range of never before seen aesthetics.

I keep saying "wonky" like it's a word that means anything to most people, so maybe I'd better explain what it is to me and the appeal and such. Okay, let's look at "Mayday", 'cause I think it's an absolute genius example of almost everything I love about everything I associate with this word. We start off with these two melodies that move with strange synchronicity to each other, like, they don't always move at the same time, but they don't always alternate. They shift from chord to chord, sometimes creating harmony, and sometimes dissonance, a weird mixture of unity and separation. I think what's key is that they both seem to have some "agency", that they're correlated, but somehow moving independently, and the overall melody is more just an incidental byproduct than the intent of each of their compositions.

Does that make sense? No? Okay, whatever. Then there's the purely rhythmic elements - you get a pretty standard drum line, but then also a really weird snare rhythm... and it feels like there's no mathematical way that they can work together, but they somehow do. And somehow you feel like both rhythms are infectious... this is the effect I mentioned when I first talked about this song, where you feel like you want to move your head slowly to one rhythm and your feet quickly to the other. And somehow by getting into the groove of these two predictable and yet "irreconcilable" rhythmic elements, you somehow get into the groove of the completely unpredictable melodic elements. And somehow all these disparate elements have a super infectious unified rhythm, one that you just want to move your whole body to, even though it's actually a very strange sort of rhythm. And the whole thing is drenched in this absolutely crunchy wonderful noisy but punctuated sound-aesthetic that I don't think I can really describe. That's like, the bare essentials of wonkiness.

It's a sound I don't think many can pull off, and yet Hot Sugar can get into this mode so naturally, so fluidly, from basically any starting point and with any sort of direction. And his wonkiness is so mighty, so infectious, that he's free to do all sorts of amazing things on top of it without losing that driving rhythm. Like, around 1:50, when he takes his already pretty crazy snare line and puts it into full on Mad Matt solo mode, and yet everything still has this lurching, wonky, rhythm, how does he get away with that? Or like... I tried to explain this earlier and I don't think I did a good job... sometimes he's able to operate with two entire "tiers" or "layers" of sounds, where one is providing a really solid wonky fundamentals, and the other is something "removed" or presented as an anachronism... like, he'll have some piano sample, which has really no wonkiness to it at all, and by "framing" it in modern, wonky, sounds, it has this awesome effect where the original isn't at all "corrupted", but the overall track feels super wonky and great. It's like watching it on TV, and "irl", things are wonky. Umm, probably I still haven't explained this well.

Even more difficult to pin down in any coherent way is the aesthetic of the album, which shifts a lot but still seems to have a "core" that makes everything feel very coordinated and cohesive. The "bizarre samples" play succeeded in just the way I wanted it to... you have some awareness of it, and sometimes you can pick out a sound and have a good guess as to what it is, but more often, you hear something really strange and implacable, and you think about all the things it could be, and the mystery makes the sound so haunting... most artists, they make some weird sound and you think "I wonder what that could be?", but here, you're wondering if it's like, the sound of cat's fur being petted or someone throwing drugs out the window of a moving car or two Bibles rubbing against each other or I have no idea what else. Anything you can imagine is possible - it provides another dimension to the experience without really distracting from the actual effect.

So yeah, overall, very impressed! Prolly second favorite album of the year so far after PBMTGR. This year is absolutely crazy, already I'm predicting that I'm gonna have to do top 20 or something at the end of the year. 


Anonymous said...

woo hot sugar is the best and you are one of the first results when you google search hot sugar gods hand review so good on you

Anonymous said...

great album, great review :)

now i need to check out shlomo