At 21, Choker Is Already A Jack Of All Trades

Choker

Photo by Tyler Smith.

There’s a kind of internal tug-of-war that takes place any time a listener discovers a new musician. They want the artists to succeed financially, sure, but only if they can remain our little secret. That struggle will doubtlessly go down the minute people start discovering Choker, an emerging 21-year-old jack-of-all-trades whose debut album, PEAK, is a deep dive into his brilliant mind.

Like other artists from Detroit, Choker’s music bears the influence of J Dilla and Slum Village, while opener “Mango (Mountain Version)” evokes shades of Frank Ocean. The beats are hazy and drowsy, and the lyrics reflect Choker’s vulnerability—he sings and raps about self-doubt and falling in and out of love. “I’m never stagnant emotionally,” he says. “So whenever I’m making music, it’s going to reflect how I feel at that moment.”

Though he is quiet and reserved, Choker’s talent is impossible to deny. He’s mellow, but excited when the topic turns to the possibility of people discovering his music. Consider this interview an introduction; he won’t need one for long.

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The Solo Work and Legacy of Dieter Moebius

Dieter Mobius

We credit Brian Eno with coining the term “ambient music” and opening experimental music to a mainstream audience—but it was largely the work of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, aka Cluster—that prompted Eno to do so. The recordings these two young composers made together helped define a set of stylistic benchmarks that outlined “krautrock”—German experimental rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s—as a genre.

Though it’s most often associated with a shortlist of groups in more traditional psychedelic and prog-leaning directions, or is used as a rather crude umbrella for any German music of the sort (Can, Popol Vuh, and so forth), krautrock may be best understood as early German prog. Though they recorded one of the genre’s foundational staples with 1974’s landmark Zuckerzeit, Cluster exhibited characteristics that positioned them as a stylistic outlier to that basic archetype. (It’s notable that the musicians labeled “krautrock” have never particularly embraced the label.)

They recorded some of the earliest iterations of German electronic music, often eschewing guitar in favor of the new technologies of the time—synthesizers, drum machines, and electronic sequencers. The result was a culmination of sonic circumstances too unique to be replicated. Through technological inquisition, Cluster blended musical structures that referenced African polyrhythms and psychedelic/progressive rock forms with the experimental sensibility of mid-century European composers to develop a new musical language.

The resulting work demonstrated an alliance to the avant-garde in terms of their approach to compositional construction; their methodology was brazenly inventive, intuitive, and freeform. This less concrete and linear instinct connected Cluster to other German experimental groups like Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream, a substrata of krautrock loosely called, as a marketing term, kosmische Musik (“cosmic music”). Kosmische Musik was the matrix to Eno’s “ambient music” exponent—an atmospheric, amorphous style of composition chiefly concerned with texture and mood over melody and rhythm. If krautrock was German prog, then kosmische Musik was German New Age.

Since 1969, Moebius has contributed to over 30 releases, and has joined forces with many of the most influential composers of the 20th century. In addition to his output with Roedelius in Cluster and with Neu!’s Michael Rother in Harmonia, Moebius also delivered a long run of productions with the legendary German record producer Conny Plank. A luminary unto himself, Plank engineered hundreds of albums in the ‘70s and ‘80s including hallmarks by Kraftwerk, Devo, Eurythmics, and Echo & The Bunnymen, even rejecting a bid to work on U2’s The Joshua Tree.

Over the course of decades spent composing, recording, and performing, Moebius revealed himself to be a gifted artistic catalyst. As he drove new projects forward, he altered variables like personnel, geography and his toolbelt of electronics in order to achieve greater creative purposes. He was so enthralled by the idea of collaboration that only a few solo ventures exist within his entire oeuvre.

The final four records Moebius composed as a solo artist appeared between 1999 and 2011. As digital technology and electronic production tools became more commonplace throughout the 20th century, a flood of new electronic artists upstaged later works by fundamental figures like Moebius. Though public attention may have waned in recent years, Moebius’s work flourished; his later albums have a bold clarity of purpose. Moebius doesn’t loom over electronic music as a figure of canonical authority; he’s more of a humble tradesman, consistently committed to his craft. It’s through these final works that his inherent nature is so vitally represented.

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Casa Fantasmes is the Finest Homemade Recording Studio in San Juan

Casa Fantasmes

Photo by Pamela Baez.

On a busy corner in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, right behind a restaurant that doubles as a small theater, sits an inconspicuous two-story house that is estimated by its tenants to be a little over a 100 years old. With its weather-beaten, off-white paint job, the house could almost disappear into the city landscape, overshadowed by the modern architecture of the newer, taller, and shinier buildings that surround it. But its humble facade is a bit misleading—inside the structure is Casa Fantasmes, the studio responsible for some of the most enthralling, grungy recordings coming out of Puerto Rico’s DIY music scene.

The space was established by the members of the psych rock group Fantasmes—Mario Negrón, Darío Morales-Collazo, Daniel Sierra, and Juan Arroyo—along with Gabi Sifre, the owner of the label Last Bummer Records. The group was looking for a way to record their music without the limitations of time or space that come with a typical commercial recording studio. The band—specifically Negrón, who’s an engineer—had a specific vision for the sound they wanted to achieve: lo-fi, distorted, weirdly compressed music aligned with the sound of ‘60s and ‘70s analog rock ’n’ roll recordings.

They recreated this particular sound on their first two records, Redness Moon and Thralls to Strange Witchcraft, with found, traded, and sometimes purchased vintage equipment (a 1959 Hammond M3 organ, 1967 Yamaha Spinet piano, an Indian harmonium, 1979 Realistic Stereo Reverb, Maestro Echoplex tape delays, among many others). It became a hit with quite a few musicians in the scene, some of them even looking to replicate the sound and vibe in their own recordings. It wasn’t just because it was different, but because it suggested new possibilities for what Puerto Rican music could sound like.

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The Best Metal on Bandcamp: June 2017

Best Metal

One of the most exciting things about trawling all of the metal on Bandcamp is discovering new artists through their debut albums. It’s incredible how many bands appear fully-formed, and it’s fun to think about what that means for their potential. This month saw the release of excellent debut full-lengths by Walpyrgus, Cavernlight, Necrot, and Green Druid. The four bands couldn’t be much more different from one another in sound, but they share a thrilling maturity that has come to be a defining feature of young bands in this column.

[View the Best Metal on Bandcamp Archives]

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Album of the Day: Bernice, “Puff”

Upon hearing “St. Lucia,” the first song on Bernice’s five-track EP Puff, you’ll find yourself in a deep, hypnotic groove. The feeling continues on the next track, “Don’t Wanna Be European,” sympathizing with lead vocalist Robin Dann as she debunks appropriation. But then the EP gets dark, and for those of us who’ve gone through some rough, depressive moments, it all hits close to home on the track “David.”

Here, Dunn muses: “Answering the phone / Closing the door / Everything feels awfully empty for David.” Hearing those words set to pausing tones brings a sense calm and hurt; the singer begs for someone, anyone, to “just give him something to believe in.” After so many listens, one doesn’t feel sad, but rather hopeful that someone close to David can help him find a way through the abyss.

Things turn around on the fast-moving “Talking About Her,” and mellow out on the final “Gemini.” Of all the songs, “David” feels most striking for its humanity, while “Talking About Her” and “St. Lucia” give a taste of what the band is best capable of—funk-driven instrumentals, dreamy falsettos, and catchy lyrics. The ups and downs that flow through each track give Puff an even pace, and, if this record indicates what’s coming next, Bernice will offer great pop, R&B, and electronic music for a long time. This is a captivating listen, a record that will put you at ease over and over again.

Erin Williams