Good morning / afternoon / evening everyone,
I hope you’ve all had a lovely week. Huge thanks to James for last week’s guest letter. It felt weird being on the other side, but what a playlist and set of notes! This week you’re back to being stuck with me, and this week it’s all about rhythm.
Before I let you have the playlist, I have a favour to ask ❤️ .
Roughly speaking, for every 20 new people that join us, I get a handful of new recommendations (both links and songs). These recommendations are invaluable, and I’d really like to keep adding more people to our club, in order to get more (and more diverse) recommendations. So ✨please✨, if you enjoy this letter, I would massively appreciate if you tweeted / posted / told some people about it ❤️ .
More people = more recommendations = more diverse playlists and letters 😃 .
HERE’S this week’s playlist.
As I mentioned above, this week is about rhythm. This doesn’t mean it’s 30 drum solos (that playlist is a personal one I’ll keep to myself for now), but it does mean that there’s a bit of a thread through the list.
Music this week comes from; Kaytranada, Pusha T, Gilles Peterson, Floating Points, Four Tet, Mount Kimble, Portishead, and Bjork. Among others, of course.
This week is the first week that I’ve felt like there’s been a sort of musical theme. We’ve had some abstract themes, eras, and I suppose a few instruments, but this week feels a bit different.
For a few years now, one of my favourite things to ask people is “what ties your music tastes together?”. It’s most definitely not my opening question, I’m intense, but not that intense. I think it’s a good question. My answer had always been that my musical tastes are tied together by the feeling of a song ‘locking you in’. Which, I think is a bit of a cop out. In his excellent RBMA lecture, Andrew Weatherall answers a similar question – and his response is that he looks for ‘rebel music’.
Over the past few months (and in part through putting these letters together), I’ve started to understand more about what being ‘locked in’ actually means. I think, for me, it’s about being locked into a groove, through clever use of repetition and contrasts. Maybe Gloria Estefan was on to something when she sang The Rhythm is Gonna Get You 😉 .
Anyway, I’m getting distracted.
There are a lot of different ways of talking about or explaining how rhythm works.
Polyrhythm’s (two different rhythms playing at the same time). Syncopation (switching the accented beats around). Playing on the back beat (jazz and funk drumming). Switching time signatures (lots of free jazz)… It’s pretty endless. But, to be honest, I’m not really that bothered about the techniques. I’m more bothered about the effect that they have.
I’m more interested in how rhythm can draw people into a song. How switching rhythms can trigger different emotions. How repetition of elements can create a sense of structure, only for contrasting elements to break it and move you in a different direction.
Rhythm. Repetition. Contrast.
These three are pretty primal constructs, and the rhythm section has been the driver behind music (and in many cases the lead section) for centuries. While it might be a primitive concept, I think it’s because it taps into a primal feeling inside of us. In his autobiography, Herbie Hancock talks about Miles Davis introducing him to the power of the rhythm section, and it being a total revelation for his playing (here). It’s almost like an unspoken rule that rhythm has this immense power.
Once a song has ‘locked you in’, the tinniest tweaks then make a huge difference. This is where artists use contrast to great effect – tempo, instruments, keys, volume, textures, breaks in repetition – these things can all be used to break the rhythm, and demand our attention. They convey plot twists, new characters, new feelings, different scenery. It’s trite, but this is how music is able take us on journeys. Even instrumental music tells a story.
In case of doubt, you can see examples of this everywhere. From Led Zeppelin’s epic Stairway to Heaven, to Coltrane’s Ascension, to Four Tet’s Locked. I watched Whiplash this week, and if you haven’t seen it before (trailer here), the final scene is a brilliant example of this too.
This is by no means limited to individual songs either. It’s what the concept album was created for. It’s why bands agonise over tracklists. It’s why DJ’s can command astronomical fees. Proper artists and DJs can stitch together multiple songs, using each song as a piece in a puzzle that’s only revealed over time. In the same way a player can use their instrument to create rhythm, repetition, and subsequent contrasts, so can a curator and a DJ – instead using whole songs as pieces, instead of instruments.
This is why you can hear songs twice and they can sound different both times (especially true of sampling culture in hip hop – and as a side note, I watched the Stones Throw documentary this week, it’s brilliant – full film here). The context within which a song is played (what came before, what comes after) can create huge changes in emotion. Creating that context is about spotting those different contrasts, and finding comparisons to draw different tracks together. Get it right and it can be revelatory, get it wrong and… Well, it’s not nice.
All of the songs that I’ve chosen this week I hope demonstrate the power of rhythm, repetition, and contrast.
As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️.
- Toto Bona Lokua – Ma Mama
- Ernest Ranglin – Surfin’
- Fatback Band – Goin’to See My Baby
- Kaytranada – Hot Jazzybelle
- Too Many Zooz – Warriors
- Pusha T – Numbers on the Boards
- Suff Daddy – I Need a Break
- Kraak & Smaak – Hands of Time (feat. Alxndr London)
- Dexter Wansel – Life on Mars
- Les Amazones de Guinee – Samba
- Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band – La Rumba Experimental (Motor City Drum Ensemble remix)
- The Asphodells – A Love From Outer Space (version 2)
- Floating Points – ARP3
- Four Tet – Locked
- Dudu Tucci – Canto A Exu
- Lee Gamble – Ignition Lockoff
- Mount Kimbie – Marilyn (Coby Sey remix)
- Portico Quartet – Ruins
- 30/70 – Nu Spring
- Soweto Kinch – Centricity
- Ben Hayes – Ala
- Archy Marshall – Arise Dear Brother
- Kid Koala – 6 Bit Blues
- Portishead – Only You
- Melanie De Biasio – Afro Blue
- Not Waving – 24
- Elisa Bee – Pulsar
- Lakker – Song for Rathlin
- Bjork – The Anchor Song
- Wadada Leo Smith – Seeds of a Forgotten Flower
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day