Temps, “partygatorresurrection” (Bella Union)
James Acaster is not content to be one of England's funniest comedians. Nope, the British entertainer also wants to lead a music collective featuring an international cast of 40, called Temps, with membership that includes American rappers Open Mike Eagle, Denmark Vessey, and Quelle Chris, Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich, sitarist Ami Dang, singer Xenia Rubinos, and British drummer Seb Rochford (Sons of Kemet, etc.).
Now, Acaster is no musical dilettante. Before he ascended to comedy stardom, he played drums in groups you've never heard of (the Wow! Scenario and the Capri-Sun Quartet). If anything, stand-up was his side hustle that unexpectedly blew up. But Acaster clearly has music in his soul, and his skills are no joke. An esteemed experimental hip-hop group such as clipping aren't going to let just anybody remix one of their tracks, as he and Dieterich did with “He Is Dead and She Is Bad.” A respected label such as Bella Union isn't going to fund an album as a vanity project for a comic—even if it originated from an aborted mockumentary.
I've only heard three tracks from Temps' debut full-length, PARTY GATOR PURGATORY (out May 19), but they reveal plenty about Acaster's aesthetics. “no,no” is a strange hip-hop/electro-rock hybrid in an odd time signature, all aflutter with multiple off-kilter raps and vocals and spiced with unusual guitar and keyboard timbres. On “bleedthemtoxins,” a woman sings, “Do not fear mistakes,” setting the tone for a bold tune. Warped jazz-rock with oblique raps is not a crowded lane, but Temps inhabit it with panache. There's an incidental psychedelic quality to this song, a natural outcome from a mind as unconventional as Acaster's. The takeaway: Expect the unexpected.
The new single, “partygatorresurrection,” places a chiaroscuro of off-kilter vocals and chants and understated rapping with beats that keep teasing at funkiness, but that instead tumble in an algebra-wiz meter. Fans of Dirty Projectors and Tune-Yards will likely get shivers. The song's an oblong trip, proving again that Acaster and company are immune to predictability. A comic making music this idiosyncratic and good is a rare thing. Hear the drummer—whether it be Rochford or Acaster—get wicked... no punch line necessary.
Timothy Fife, “Clear Off” (SFI Recordings)
Timothy Fife was unknown to me until this year. But the fact that he had the imprimatur of Seattle's SFI Recordings piqued my interest, as Andrew Crawshaw's label has become a trusted name in synth-based music. He's building a legacy over the last few years that could make SFI the Pacific Northwest equivalent of Klaus Schulze and Michael Haentjes's influential Innovative Communication imprint.
After records on the respected Death Waltz and Library of the Occult labels, Fife makes his SFI debut with Clear Off. Recorded in 2019, but only now getting released (let's blame the pandemic), the seven-track LP further hones his aptitude for the sort of glistening, deep-space excursions and ambient bliss-outs that marked the prolific output of Pete Namlook's FAX label. Beyond that, “The Air That You Breathe” sounds like some kind of magical convergence of late-'70s Tangerine Dream and early-'70s Popol Vuh, as an intense, piercing drone quickly subsides into frosty, twinkling oscillations and majestic, arcing synth swells.
Fife offers another cavernous slice of interstellar, Doppler-effected vastness on “The Things That You've Done,” in which ink-black synth vapor whizzes by your head like asteroids. “All Clear” deploys methodical bleeps that pulsate and intensify as the track progresses, until Fife brings beats that form a complex latticework of machine funk. For a mostly ambient musician, he's rhythmically skillful.
“Clear Off,” the longest piece here at 10 minutes, is the record's highlight. Fife strikes a compelling balance between celestial tranquility drones and suspenseful arpeggiations in the lower and upper frequencies, with ominous thuds punctuating the elegant aural turmoil and a looped sample of a man saying, “I love the challenge.” Close to four minutes in, the beats accelerate into a techno gallop, proving that Fife could work a dance floor, too, if he set his mind to it. Set the controls for the dark side of the moon.
Too much ambient music suffers from idea dearth, a lack of interesting molecular sonic activity. Fife, on the contrary, displays a surfeit of interesting creative decisions on Clear Off, and directors of non-cheesy sci-fi films—as well as you—should take note.