Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Pitchfork 2020 album of year / track of year blurbs

 Beatriz Ferreyra, “Echos”

Argentinian composer Beatriz Ferreyra is renowned for the disorienting spatiality and shapeshifting abstraction of her electronic and tape-based work.  Which is why the human scale and raw intimacy of “Echos” startles so. Recorded in 1978, but released for the first time this year via Lawrence English’s Room40 label, the piece is woven entirely from the voice of Ferreyra’s niece Mercedes Connu, who died in a car accident. Snippets from Latin American popular songs and non-verbal sounds like breathing and coughing are cloaked in reverb, multiplied into a choir-of-one, or juddered with manual shakes of the tape. In places, the young woman’s voice flickers and trembles with playful delight, sounding impossibly alive. At other points, the melted murmurs and shimmered syllables feel soothing and psalm-like – as though the girl’s ghost is mourning herself.  Listening to “Echos” is as poignant as stumbling upon a roadside shrine of flowers, candles and photos left by family and friends at the site of a collision. Ferreyra goes beyond creating a memorial to Mercedes, though: she defies Death itself and resurrects her lost dear one as an aural apparition. Heard at any time in the four decades since its making, “Echos” would be touching. But in a year like the one we’ve endured and that is not done with us yet, it breaks your heart. 

Burna Boy, Twice As Tall

Back in the 20th Century, we imagined the music of the next millennium as a harsh, mechanistic grind or an overdriven frenzy of twitchy glitches.  Afrobeats is a prime example of the future-pop that actually transpired, a hyper-digital sound far easier and oozier on the ear.  As befits an artist obsessed with being a superhero, Burna Boy’s music is thoroughly posthuman: much of its super-sweet succulence comes from the way the singer’s lilting cadences and sinuous melodies mesh with Auto-Tune to exquisitely tremulous and twinkly effect. Rhythmically, his Afro-fusion concept is outward-facing, connecting Lagos to Kingston, Atlanta, New York, and London.  The historical sweep of the music is equally broad, not simply focused on this-minute sounds but drawing across several decades for influences and collaborators, the latter ranging from ancestral icon Youssou N’Dour, through Nineties legends like Timbaland, Diddy, and Naughty By Nature, to more recent stars like Stormzy.  Lyrically, Burna muses on fame, destiny, striving, and, on “Monsters You Made”, the legacy of colonialism in Nigeria. But these Fela-like or Marley-esque moments tend to melt into the glide and glisten of the sound. “I no be politician / Me no like no politics”, Burna admits, and that rings true. Twice as Tall ultimately triumphs not so much for its substance as for its shimmering surface - a landslide victory for the politics of pleasure.

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