Paul Bowles traveled throughout Morocco in 1959 making field recordings of the traditional music he found throughout the country, in the beyond and the back of beyond.
The music is incredible. It is hypnotic, for starters, and the voices of men and women throughout are haunting. It reminds me—with my scant knowledge of most international music—of the ghazals of Pakistan, and there is, surely, some relation between the forms (though ghazals, I think, are usually intended as romantic songs, and the music on Music of Morocco has widely varying purposes).
This collection represents the sounds of another world. It’s one far removed—in time and place—from most of us. This music is so rich in detail, so vibrant and so social, too, that it can make you long for the chance to go back to that time and place to hear it and see it in person.
I went to see Junior Boys play in San Francisco recently. This was the first time I’d seen them. It was unbelievably good. They played stuff from Big Black Coat, So This Is Goodbye, and Begone Dull Care (and It’s All True, later on), and then Jeremy Greenspan leaned down into the mic and said, “This is an old one, because I know there are some old motherfuckers here,” and that opening pulse from Birthday started. It was kind of mindblowing to hear this song live alongside the other, newer material, because it was a great reminder that Junior Boys have been so good for so long. They are the best (also the breakdown in this song will never get old). They’ve been touring with Jessy Lanza, who played an awesome set too. Go see them if they come near you.
They had a dream of dance music with a lurching beat. A dream of a beat that stumbled (like we all do). A human beat. A dramatic beat. It’s companionable music. This is music to dance to, yes, but it’s also music that will drink with you until 4 in the morning, maybe longer. Kompakt put out two compilations of this, under the name Schaffelfieber 1 and 2. I heard vol. 2 at some point in 2003 in the basement of an old academic building, and it enchanted me. Memories of this music—clumsy techno music, off-balance techno music—stuck with me for 13 years. Here is a representative cut from vol. 2, Paul Nazca’s Emotion (mixed by Michael Mayer of Kompakt).
There is nothing minor or niche about Into It. Over It.’s new album, Standards. It’s a big album packed with great songs; there are fast-movers like “No EQ,” “Required Reading,” and “Vis Major,” with high word counts and frantic percussion; pensive strolls like the opening “Open Casket” and “Your Lasting Image” (the latter of which reminds me slightly of the middle sections of Death Cab for Cutie’s “Styrofoam Plates” and “Transatlanticism” blown up to the length of a whole song—a good thing, in my opinion); and quiet meditations like “Old Lace & Ivory” and “The Circle of the Same Ideas.” When I listen to Standards, what I’m reminded of most are personal/confessional albums from the late 90s/early 2000s—Jets to Brazil’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary, Death Cab for Cutie’s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, Weezer’s Pinkerton (a little), Built to Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, and Quasi’s Featuring Birds (which to my mind is Standards’ closest predecessor in some ways)—which is all to say the music is smart, wordy, melodic, adventurous, playful, ponderous and energetic, sharp, and ambitious. You can spend a lot of time with it and enjoy yourself.
Lift up your eyes! Looks like rain. Lift up your hearts! Clots are serious. Lift up your arms! Grab that fruit for me. Lift up your feet! There’s toilet paper stuck to your heel, and I need to vacuum there. Lift up your lips! You should smile more. Lift up your fingers! You’d be a poor telegraph operator. Lift up your ears! Listen why don’t you, yikers. Lift up your pants! It’s starting to flood in here. Lift up your hooves! Step daintily around the sinkholes.
Sometimes, in everyday life, you just want to unfurl a quick little defiant tune. Like, at the office when a colleague asks you about the printer, you might want to sing them a brief jeremiad about the toner running low. Or when you’re trying to cross the street and a driver gets ever so close to slaying you—that would be an opportune moment for a trenchant song of protest. High Notes is like this. It is sharp and quotidian. It has a barbed guitar. It has a breezy (but somehow also impassioned) voice. It is there, and it is pretty.