There’s something satisfying about knowing that, even while many serious electronic musicians continue to compose “intelligent dance music” that’s meant to be listened to while sitting on a couch and feeling smart about yourself, a bunch of kids on the south and west sides of Chicago are making tracks that are not only way more daring and experimental but are actually meant to be danced to. In the past year or so, footwork music—the addictive 160-bpm-plus descendant of juke that soundtracks the blazingly fast routines of footwork dancers—has grown with unexpected speed, so that what once occupied a tiny niche in Chicago’s black youth culture is now a global phenomenon. Footwork music’s trademarks—stuttering hyperspeed beats and pitch-shifted snippets of pop and R&B songs—are turning up in mixes and original compositions by DJs and producers from Portland to Paris.
Like most dance-music styles, footwork lives mainly single to single, but DJ Diamond’s new Flight Muzik (on footwork-crazed London label Planet Mu) proves that it can work in the album format too. With 16 songs in 43 minutes, Flight Muzik moves quickly from track to track, giving each one just enough time to set the mood, wedge a hook in your brain, and get out. DJ Diamond—aka 24-year-old west-sider Karlis Griffin—has a more delicate control of dynamics than some of his peers, and many of the songs on Flight Muzik replicate the build and release of a good house-music single despite lasting only two or three minutes. A couple of cuts, like the ravey “Decoded,” likewise reach back into footwork’s lineage to pick up some of house’s filtered synth sounds, providing a little history lesson and at the same time sounding shockingly futuristic.
The thing about twee pop is that only a very small percentage of the human population can bear the stuff in its uncut form—the average person can only take about two minutes of full-on twee before putting on a Tragedy record to burn the gooey sugar glaze off his brain. Tiny Fireflies may be incredibly twee, but this local two-piece had the smart idea of crossbreeding twee with (The Best of) New Order, producing a hybrid that I can happily soak in for the entire 17 minutes of the Change EP. (It’s their second release, after a single last year that stuck too close to formula for my taste.) Singer Kristine Capua and multi-instrumentalist Lisle Mitnik, both of unreconstructed twee outfit Very Truly Yours, add heft to their pop confections by borrowing New Order’s combination of dance-music bounce and punk-rock drive (and perhaps a couple ideas for bass lines as well). They also give their recordings a grayish lo-fi tinge, probably inherited from Joy Division, to make the whole package more palatable for people with mild to severe cutesiness allergies.
Psalm One‘s outspoken political beliefs, connections to the backpacker scene, and background as a biochemist have earned her a well-deserved reputation as a smart rapper, and like a lot of smart rappers she seems to really enjoy fucking with people who think being intelligent and having fun are somehow mutually exclusive. On “Juke Me” she gleefully bags on naysayers (“You sippin’ bitches’ brew”) and celebrates her own geeky weirdness (“I’m building universes / I’m spilling different verses”) over a no-joke juke beat that’s just begging for folks to get raunchy all over the dance floor. If this is a sign that Psalm is looking to engage people’s booties the way she does their brains, I’m all for it. She released “Juke Me” online in late June, and it’ll also appear on her mix tape Get In the Van Vol. 3, which is due August 30.
Keep Out seven-inch
It’s hard to get excited about low-concept, guitar-based indie rock these days, when a Google search or Twitter link is all you need to delve into exotic corners of the musical universe that you may never have found without the Internet. Why spend time on the ten thousandth band to cite Pavement in their bio when you could be getting into Turkish psychedelia, Japanese art-punk, or any of the constant stream of new electronic dance styles coming out of the third world? In the case of Darling though, you might want to consider it. “White Is Night” and “Mako Sica,” the two songs on this new single, have a refreshing, low-key charm—they can help you catch your breath between keeping up on the latest next big thing in postdubstep and indulging Pitchfork-baiting bands who wrap themselves in anonymity in a desperate attempt to seem interesting.
Tony Baines and guests
The Bible Study series
Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Friday series of Internet exclusives, released in the run-up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, has inspired rappers and producers from Swizz Beatz on down to try their hand at serialization. Since early June local producer Tony Baines, aka BainesGod—probably the best beat maker that no one outside the Chicago hip-hop scene has ever heard of—has been releasing a new song every Sunday with the help of a diverse roster of mostly local on-mike talent. Throughout the Bible Study series Baines has played up his flexibility as a producer, offering smoothed-out crack-era soul (“Public Skool Terror,” with the ever-raunchy Mic Terror), Tims-and-hoodies gangsta rap (“Gettin Money,” with Jeff Jones and Stakk Gramz), and post-Kanye/No I.D. future funk (the Rick James-sampling “Yeeahhh,” with D’Ablo). The highlight so far is the ambitiously weird “Undress the Mannequin,” which pairs the revolutionary-but-gangsta MikeFlo with a minimalist synthesizer sketch that bears only the faintest resemblance to what most people think of as a rap beat. A full-length, The Gospel According to Tony Baines, is due in the fall.