Indulgent distraction through music helps navigate tough times

Illustration of “FIBS” album cover by Alison Rosenfeld.

Greetings from Los Angeles!
I’m sorry to say it’s been too long. Whether you’re an avid fan or casual reader of this column, perhaps you noticed my absence in December. Long story short: I proposed to my girlfriend at the beginning of the month (she said yes!) but then, soon after, she fell down a treacherous well (she said noooooooooooooooo!) where she now resides.

Everyone is okay—she has plenty of water and I’m able to send down food and clothes. She spends much of her time painting by candlelight, which I’ve now been able to use as the artwork for my segments.

However, despite my fiancé’s creative spark and enduring spirit, the nature of our relationship has changed and we’re now trying to coordinate a subterranean wedding ceremony. It’s been a very long six weeks, but we’re hanging in there as the fire department finds a ladder long enough to save the day. I’ll keep you updated.

One way to navigate tough times is to focus on routine, and now that 2020 has fully kicked in, I find myself grounded in my schedule. Wake up, shower, go to work, cook, clean, repeat; it’s the same old thing. Despite taking comfort in a sense of structure, I’ve yearned to deviate from the norm, to find a source of distraction that’s engaging and fun rather than merely utilitarian. Maybe that means going to the record store more often? Hitting the beach (although I most assuredly will burn to a crisp)? Trying some new restaurants? Frankly, I owe it to myself—and perhaps you do too.

Lucky for us, it’s award season here in LA which gives us the perfect excuse to get wrapped up in something outside of ourselves—and the perfect jumping off point to start talking about some new music.

There were a TON of fantastic movies this year, many deserving of honor and recognition, but one film was criminally snubbed in the Oscar nominations: Uncut Gems, the newest pedal-to-the-metal thriller from the New York City-based Safdie brothers. The movie follows Adam Sandler as a jeweler and gambling addict in New York’s diamond district, placing bets and dodging debt-collectors at breakneck speed. Sandler’s performance is his most compelling and gripping to date, allowing co-stars Idina Menzel and Lakeith Stanfield to shine alongside Hollywood newcomers Julia Fox and Kevin Garnett (of Boston Celtics fame).
While the casting, pace and pressure of Uncut Gems steal the show, the unsung hero of the film is Daniel Lopatin, whose soundtrack underscores the movie’s overarching anxiety with a mixture of drunken implied rhythms and synthed-out serenity. Fans of the stranger side of electronic music might recognize Lopatin’s moniker, Oneohtrix Point Never, whose work is celebrated as leading the charge in introducing avant-garde music to new audiences. He also worked on the Safdie’s previous film, Good Time, providing pulsing John Carpenter-esque drive to accompany the equally manic visuals.

Lopatin’s soundtrack for Uncut Gems further builds on his own sonic universe while propelling him into an uncharted limelight. Many critics have described the score as bombastic and intense, although I found that it balanced the chaos of the film. The height of Sandler’s character’s inexplicable behavior is often met with calming sustains and swirling, warm tones. Dreamlike musical phrasing, speaking for the characters when they can’t find the right words, bolsters rare moments of contemplation and minimalism in the movie. Three cues in particular, “The Bet Hits”, “Windows” and the film’s title track, best summarize the dynamic nature of Lopatin’s score: futuristic orchestral elements interacting with fast-moving urban pallets. Go see the movie and check out the soundtrack – there wasn’t anything else like it in 2019.

On the topic of scores, Anna Meredith, the artist behind the soundtrack for 2018’s indie film darling Eighth Grade, released her fourth full-length solo album FIBS toward the latter half of last year. Much like Meredith’s previous releases, FIBS brilliantly articulates complex composition through electronic sensibilities; the record finds an intersection between the windy indie rock stylings of Broadcast, the playfully mountainous works of Sufjan Stevens, and with colorful renditions of Terry Riley. Her music remains high-art yet readily accessible to newcomers.

I recommend tracks “Unfurl,” “Ribbons,” or “Killjoy” as a starting point—three tracks compositionally adventurous yet still rooted in familiar structures tonalities. After getting comfortable with Meredith’s sound, give some of the wilder cuts on the record a spin. My personal favorites are “Sawbones” and “Divining,” both of which play with unexpected time signatures, builds, and bright peaks at their most climactic moments.

Did we get off track? We were talking about treating ourselves to indulgent distractions.

Naturally, I take deep-rooted pleasure in searching for music, especially when I stumble onto something relatively new, untouched and, often, tastefully unpolished. Enter La Timpa, a Canadian artist by way of Nigeria who specializes in music for the late night. Equal Amounts Afraid, La Timpa’s latest record, was quietly released in the dying days of December while critics were putting together their year-end lists.

Much of La Timpa’s art derives from his upbringing; his sound finds solace in life’s quieter moments. Growing up surrounded by farmland and ample free time, his do-it-yourself endeavors derived from an elixir of boredom, long days and a desire to create. The result feels pure and honest—stripped back Thom Yorke-esque vocals cut across instrumentals drawing on African drum patterns and modernized stratus-shaped soundscapes. Check out “Rattle Shake”, which finds an underlying robustness in its percussive simplicity and earnest vocal delivery.

Equal Amounts Afraid is perhaps best digested alone and on your own terms. Perhaps the best musical self-discovers should be first heard this way.

In case these songs find themselves just a hair out of orbit, I highly recommend the latest singles from Thundercat and Australian sound-wizard Tame Impala, Steve Lacey’s funk-covered new cut “Black Qualls,” or “Checkin’ My Colonies,” a fantastic and unexpected tune from legendary big-band bohemian visionaries Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

In case these songs find themselves just a hair out of orbit, I highly recommend the latest single from Australian sound-wizard Tame Impala, Thundercat’s funk-covered new cut “Black Qualls” or “Checkin’ My Colonies,” a fantastic and unexpected tune from legendary big-band Bohemian visionaries Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Signing off,
John Moses
Visit Spotify to hear the music.