Supposedly, synthesizers are cold, dead things—electronic instruments you poke and manipulate that emit bleeps and bloops. Not-"real" sounds from a not-"real" instrument, because well, technology, I guess? I'm not really sure. It's one of these dying-out-but-still-pretty-pervasive old-fart arguments I intimately know because I still bump into it all the time, but it doesn't actually make much sense to me. Though that's the case with most kinds of institutionalized, toxic ideologies that we're told to just treat as a given like, say, capitalism. Still, why a bunch of goons in a garage somewhere rearranging rote rock 'n' roll chords is inherently more real and sincere or even actually music than, say, some kid slicing and dicing samples or rearranging sounds with some pirated DJ software, I don't know. Like, I know, but I don't know, you know? There is a guy that used to live near me that had a bumper sticker on his car that said, "drum machines have no soul" and I used to fantasize about taking a big shit on his hood. I'd do it for "fake" music and all of that.
Electronic music is very good at communicating anxiety and loneliness, rather than soullessness anyway, and what's realer than anxiety and loneliness? Dan Deacon's "Gliss Riffer" is about those things explicity via Deacon's rambling, mantra-like lyrics and more subtly by way of the 20-feels-coming-at-you-once freneticism of 'Sheathed Wings' or the hiccuping 'Meme Generator' purposefully putting you on edge. But "Gliss Riffer" is also hopeful about our potential to break the patterns that embed those things in our brains. As Karen Peltier said in City Paper's epic interview with Deacon, "Gliss Riffer" uses "repetition and meditation . . . to alleviate anxiety and stress."
Precise electronic loops, mathematically adjusted to change ever so slightly, point toward the way in which, ideally, one can put oneself at ease by breathing slowly or pulling back and feeling some gratitude. It will pass because all things pass. The last three tracks—'Learning To Relax,' 'Take It To The Max,' and 'Steely Blues,' which run about the same length as the previous five songs—are the album's post-panic-attack cool-down. The final act of your yoga class as scored by Tangerine Dream's soundtrack to "Thief" and Richard Wagner's 'Entry of the Gods into Valhalla' playing at the same time. There is also something, if not technophobic, then technologically aware about "Gliss Riffer," starting with the title of the record, which your iPhone would auto-correct to "Glass Riffer" (Deacon pointed this out on Twitter) and there on 'Steely Blues,' a song that riffs on the title of Steely Dan's 'Deacon Blues,' which for the longest time, Deacon told Noisey, trumped him when you'd Google "Dan Deacon."
The playful, productive technophobia of "Gliss Riffer" made me think of internet artist Yung Jake, whose emoji portraits keep popping up on my Twitter timeline and Tumblr dashboard and seem to be, in part, a way of dealing with the abundance of fun-though-exhausting tech stuff invading our lives. Using emoji.ink, a browser-based app that allows you to use emojis like stamps and essentially "draw" with them, Yung Jake creates "photo-realistic" portraits of Chief Keef, Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Wiz Khalifa, and more by piling on emojis. They recall the work of Chuck Close and Nick Cave's sound suits and those stupid magic-eye posters and bad images-made-up-of-tiny-versions-of-those-images posters that are in dudes' dorm rooms. Yung Jake's work is maximalist, like David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" or Ariana Grande's 'Problem.'
Emojis are fascinating additions to the language. They're like hieroglyphics or something: visuals that represent things, but they also mean so much more than just that thing. How fucking funny is it to send that Easter Island head emoji to your friend when you're super stoned? Are there really any words that communicate the shit-ton of 'tude expressed by way of the nails-painting emoji? Someone I was once seeing said jokingly but sincerely that, because I didn't have a smartphone and couldn't use emojis, we weren't fully communicating our feelings to one another, and I think she was right. If this technology is all around us all of the time, it only makes sense to redirect it or try and harness it and give it meaning.
This is what Baltimore club producer Matic does with 'Dress,' a ridiculous Bmore club remix that cashes in on and LOLs at last month's BuzzFeed-fueled meme of a dress that looks white and gold or black and blue, depending on who you ask. Supposedly, memes are pointless, stupid things. Again, I "get it" when people tell me this or SMH at Twitter and Yik Yak and all the rest (it's just the cutting-edge conservative opinion on technology really, a tweak to the anti-synths statements that are starting to go away) but really I don't, mostly because memes seem like the new monoculture: a uniting force, something we can all get behind and riff on and explore and make jokes about and invent new memes out of even if it's just for, like, six or so hours on a Thursday night.
All this material or #content that comes out of meme-riffing is regular-ass, non-"artists" creating and expressing themselves. How is that a bad thing? I'm not impressed by "bold" stances against technology and I'm not convinced technology hinders personal connection; I'm pretty sure it helps us connect at least as much as it "hurts," and I think most people who avoid Twitter on principle are kind of copping out. Twitter and Instagram and all of that is part of reality now. Deal with it dot GIF, as the kids say. It is always getting harder to connect and anything that helps humans on this garbage planet exchange ideas, even pithy ones, is fine by me.
But there's even something in Matic's 'Dress' for the wet sandwiches who are afraid of the internet too. The song's just the producer going, "What color is that motherfucking dress?" with the words "the dress" stuttering behind a bonkers "Blade Runner" OST-like beat. And on the song's SoundCloud page, Matic suggests how quickly and half-assedly it was constructed when he points out that he "recorded it all with [his] crappy phone," and then appropriately adds an "lol" to that description. Cheap content and DGAF form artfully aligned. How poetic. Matic gives as much of a shit about this remix as he probably should, which is not very much. He's embracing the craven elements of his career and viral club DJ personality with a wink, to get some clicks and ears to his song and still add something to a national conversation. He's also teaching local music history, reminding us that club music, which has always pulled silly elements from pop culture (at least all the way back to The Sounds of Silence's 'Kill Barney' in 1993), was remixing memes before "memes" were a thing.
Finally, my favorite songs and albums for February:
- Abdu Ali, 'Keep It Movin' (Negro Kai)' (listen)
- Carly Rae Jepsen, 'I Really Like You' (listen)
- Chiffon, 'Venerable' (listen)
- Schwarz feat. Gurl Crush, 'Up In The Club' (listen)
- Screaming Females, 'Hopeless' (listen)