Loraine James, “I'm Trying to Love Myself” (Hyperdub)
Since 2017, London producer Loraine James has been creating electronic music that eludes easy categorization while stacking up a veritable mountain of positive reviews. You can hear the distinctive quality of her music from early works such as 2018's Detail, which abounds with melodically beautiful and strange tracks in the vein of what we in the '90s called IDM, a terrible genre tag that nonetheless resonates with millions of geeks.
Two releases from 2019—Button Mashing and For You and I—revealed James's proclivities for harsh noise and brutal beats, as exemplified by the track titles “Glitch Bitch” and “London Ting/Dark as Fuck.” “Bite Me Bit” from Button Mashing is a mad blurt of distortion, vocal squeal, and beat splatter that reveals James's freewheeling inclinations. “Lost My Train of Thought” comes across as a bizarre combo of footwork and nuanced gabber—a true oxymoron. By stark contrast, the eponymous 2022 album that James recorded under the alias Whatever the Weather is a phenomenal tangent into New Age bliss and luxurious ambience.
Now comes Gentle Confrontation (on England's excellent Hyperdub label), which leans more in the Whatever the Weather direction, albeit with way more emphasis on rhythmic sorcery. The PR copy cites Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello from the Postal Service) and Seattle producer Lusine as influences, and that rings true. James sings often here in a subdued manner that nonetheless exudes internal conflict and deep sensitivity, at times recalling Tricky, if he were a queer woman.
Tracks such as “I DM U” and “Try for Me” brandish beats almost as discombobulated as drum & bass iconoclast Squarepusher's while pushing diaphanous melodies that wonderfully counterbalance the rhythmic tumult. “I'm Trying to Love Myself” begins in low-key mysterioso mode before blossoming into a labyrinth of spluttering beats, glitched-to-heaven voices and synths, and beautifully blurred melodies. It's a compellingly disorienting listening experience. Loraine James may be trying to love herself, but her music makes it so easy for listeners to do so.
Loraine James performs Wednesday, October 4 at Barboza.
Hiroshi Yoshimura, “Something Blue” (Temporal Drift)
You can't swing a cat these days without hitting a reissued 1980s ambient album by a Japanese musician. And if Light in the Attic's revelatory box set Kankyō Ongaku taught us anything, this development is good news for people who like interesting ambient music. In a Slog post from 2019, I wrote, “The tracks gathered here coalesce into a Far East Asian twist on chillout music that stimulates even as it soothes. These exotic percussive timbres, beatific drones, and unobtrusively pretty melodies ought to be prescribed by mental health professionals... This is literally music for rational fantasies about a better way of living. You can't not feel clean and refreshed after hearing it.”
One of the breakout stars of this music-biz trend is the late Hiroshi Yoshimura (1940-2003), who made music for galleries, museums, train stations, and other environments. To date, reissues of his preternaturally pretty LPs Music for Nine Post Cards (1982) and Green (1986) have racked up stellar reviews, and for good reasons. Whereas much ambient music is content to drift by on one or two elements for extended durations, Yoshimura's more concise, eventful compositions contain fascinating timbres and gorgeous, poignant melodies. Now, Temporal Drift is re-releasing 1986's Surround, for some ambient fans a holy grail record, and one that's been out of print since its original issue. (It's released digitally on October 6 and on LP, CD, and cassette on December 1.)
Yoshimura recorded Surround as a commission from home-builder Misawa Homes, with the intention to serve as an “amenity” designed to augment the corporation's newly constructed living quarters. Right from the first track, “Time After Time” (not a Cyndi Lauper cover), Yoshimura submerges us in a becalmed wonderland of weirdly toned faux marimba ripples and mutedly celestial drones—the aural equivalent of angel sighs. The title track places a simple repeating pattern worthy of master OCD minimalist composer Phil Glass in behind a drone that arcs and wobbles in a surprisingly moving way. “Time Forest” offers quietly heroic wonder with only a gaseous puff of gentle oscillations.
The album's emphasis track, “Something Blue,” is a gorgeous mosaic of overlapping, pretty synth progressions in vastly different keys, sounding like a more extroverted Harold Budd. “Something Blue” epitomizes Yoshimura's mastery of wringing maximal beauty out of the barest elements. Will Surround enhance your dwelling space, as advertised? I think it has the home feel advantage.