Lettermans

What Kinda Music – Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes

Peckham, London, UK
2020

I discovered Yussef Dayes a couple years ago as one half of Peckham-based Jazz duo Yussef Kamaal (the other half being multi-instrumentalist Kamaal Williams). As a group, I thought their music was "cool" but also kinda sterile and inoffensive, almost designed to slot into those "chill lo-fi instrumental study music" playlists. It was alright, but just not my thing. So, when I saw that Yussef was doing a joint album with Tom Misch, I thought it would be a good chance to hear him play in a totally new, presumably more vibrant context. "What Kinda Music" is the first single off their namesake album, and I think they've definitely got one here... At first I thought it was weird to credit a drummer so prominently on a pop record, but it's mixed in a way that makes Yussef's drums the single most piercing layer of sound; when he really gets going, you can physically feel it in your ears. The production in general also just feels expensive... The string orchestra that comes in around ~2:49 brings a sweeping movement that might've been pulled straight from one of Radiohead's In Rainbows sessions. Tom's vocals aren't bad too, yeah? If this is the general palette they're running with, and if Tom continues to try his hand at being Thom, I definitely won't be mad at it.

Fading Love – George Fitzgerald

London, UK / Berlin, Germany
2015

When I was in the 5th grade I had some cousins from Iran move in with me and my immediate family, and with them, they brought a ton of euro-trash techno music that all the Persian kids were up on in 2005. That was my introduction to electronic music. I'm not gonna lie, I was into it, and I still have some of those Tiesto mixes from way back. They're still good! Nonetheless, there was a stretch from about 2009 to 2017 where I didn't even touch anything electronic in the slightest. But then I spent a good 5 months in London... bro... London... it wasn't until I came back that the digging began. One of the dance records that I'd saved the following summer was George Fitzgerald's Fading Love. It somehow stayed out of my rotation for 3 years, but I finally got around to it and... it's incredible. Normally I'd scoff at this sort of vocal-heavy, pop-y, almost Scandinavian-sounding dance music, but track after track, it manages to win me over despite itself. The pulse on "Full Circle" is just undeniable. That synth on "Knife to the Heart" is more like a tractor beam. At under 40 min, the pacing is almost flawless, and yet, on some listens it's taken me over 2 hours to get through because of tracks I just couldn't let finish. One of the most universally accessible dance records I've ever heard. Guaranteed to get a room moving.

Summer14inBrazil – Floating Points

Manchester, England / Minas Gerais, Brazil
2014

Back in 2015 I was on a road trip with my family and needed to put something on to help me fall asleep in the back; I threw on Floating Points' Elaenia, and what I got instead was one of the most meticulously-crafted, slow-burning electronic albums I'd ever heard. I was up from start to finish, probably making that cringe face people do when listening to something really good. Since that first spin, Elaenia has grown to become arguably my favorite electronic album, and likewise Sam Shepherd my favorite artist of his kind. No matter how deep I've dug into his catalog over the last 5 years, I've always found some sort of hidden gem that I somehow missed on previous searches. Last week I went digging into his SoundCloud and found a handful of mixes from 2013 and '14, one of which was an 86-minute compilation of classic Brazilian records... I rarely find music this tailored for me, and bro... it delivered. Highlights include Tim Maia's "Contato Com O Mundo Racional" (17:50), Simone's cover of "Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser" (28:46), Azymuth's "Melo Dos Dois Bicudos" (59:10), and a ton more. For those of you who are into ripping .mp3s, there's a download link in the track description and also a guy in the comments posting a link to the tracklist. I'm not going to make separately-dedicated posts, but I also recommend his "Summer13at45" mix, and obviously Elaenia, Shadows, Crush, Vacuum Boogie, etc.

Best Interest – Tyler, the Creator

Ladera Heights, CA
2019

I grabbed dinner with some friends earlier this week and we talked about Tyler's evolution over the last 10(!) years; I was surprised to be the only one that preferred his more recent work. Don't get me wrong – his early stuff was always cool to me because I could tell he was a part of that lineage of my favorite weirdo rappers, and also that he had an appreciation for the music that came before him: Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers, Ronnie McNeir, Krautrock, whatever. You could also tell he was a real "music kid" by how he recalled his favorite songs by their track numbers. This IGOR era though... musically, it's just different. It feels lush and expensive in a way that pop music hasn't been since, well, the days of Pharrell. The way he layered the electric guitar with the soul sample here immediately took me back to the guitar solo at the end of "Christian Dior Denim Flow". If you ask Tyler though, his analogue is probably N.E.R.D. Nonetheless, it's all one and the same. It's pop, but it's also subversive. It's triumphant, but in a way that's intended to let you know he's not supposed to have the life he has now. All this for a song about being someone's sidepiece. And the video? Man...

The Ecstatic – Mos Def

Brooklyn, NY
2009

I remember exactly where I was when I heard "Auditorium" for the first time 10 years ago. I was in the 9th (10th?) grade and had caught the bus to my friend's house after school. It was ritual to spend 1-2 hours a day digging through YouTube and WorldStar for new music. Being a Persian kid who played the cello and who was deeply obsessed with production styles, the Bollywood sample here caught my attention in the most... natural way. The album in general is dominated by Middle Eastern sounds and internationalist, Pan-Islamic ideas, blending the conscious Brooklyn style you'd expect from Mos Def with the sounds of Indian, Brazilian, and Moroccan pop music. I'm sure I'm missing more than a dozen other geographic references. One of my favorite details is how it also served as a precursor to Kanye's whole Good Friday / Rosewood era. I was actually prompted to revisit the album a few weeks ago with the 9-year anniversary of MBDTF, accidentally uncovering so many details that I didn't catch the first time around: the loop on "History"; the way he guides the pulse of "No Hay Nada Mas"; the careful restraint of "Pistola"; the shameless positivity of "Priority"... It's just an all-round genius and lovable album.

Olha O Menino – Caetano Veloso

Santo Amaro, Bahia, Brazil
1977

I found this record by digging up the sample from Karriem Riggins's "Summer Madness". Earlier this year I'd already started to make the foray into Brazilian pop music with Milton Nascimento's Clube da Esquina, some random Arthur Verocai records, and the obligatory Madlib Flight to Brazil. All of them were good, but they seemed like foundational starting-point type records. I'm still trying to learn more, and this Caetano Veloso record might be the one to finally push me further into the rabbit hole. "Olha O Menino" fits right into the whole "Música Popular Brasileira" (MPB) canon with one of the most infectious, sun-bleached hooks I've ever heard. The bassline on this song is... not from this planet. Like pretty much all of my favorite artists, Veloso brings an unusual use of textures, like the random rhodes keyboard hanging out somewhere in the back, and the ornate string arrangements that would normally feel out-of-place on a record likely inspired by kids playing barefoot street soccer.

See Line Woman – Songstress

Detroit, MI
1997

Coming from more of a rap and soul music background, the Nina Simone sample here showed me a fusion of worlds that I never knew existed... This was definitely one of the first songs that got me into house music back when I first started going down rabbit holes on YouTube. It all started with the guys from Detroit: Omar S, Kerri Chandler, Norm Talley, Andrés, etc. They were able to take my favorite Motown textures and recontextualize them in a way that I didn't know was possible. On "See Line Woman", Kerri Chandler and Jerome Sydenham repackage the percussion and vocals from Nina Simone's 1964 original into one of the most tribal dance records I've ever heard. Sampling 30-year old records is obviously nothing new, but there's something futuristic and sophisticated about the way they layer the vocals and drums with the synths here. Insane record, all 7 minutes of it.

Smoke (Remix) – Blood Orange, Yves Tumor, & Ian Isiah

London, UK / Knoxville, TN / Flatbush, NYC
2018

I'll admit that I was really late on Blood Orange. It wasn't until Negro Swan that I gave him a spin, and even then it was only because of the Project Pat feature. I've never been too keen on the whole "bedroom pop" thing, but the album somehow grew into one of my favorites of 2018. The original "Smoke", which closed out Negro Swan, was one of the tracks that made me obsessed with the album; it's really an accessible pop song but Dev just twists your ear by making you wait a few minutes to get to the loop. For the remix, he recruits Yves Tumor, who adds an entirely new dimension over chopped up patois samples. It's just a crazy, crazy amalgamation of references and textures that no one else could even try to imitate.

Deeper Than Rap – Rick Ross

Miami, FL
2009

One of the things that's started to make me feel old as a music fan is having to defend Rick Ross. Kids these days are just not up on his catalog. From 2006 - 2012 dude basically lead the charge for mafioso rap with some of the most outrageously expensive-sounding music of our time. Between Port of Miami and Rich Forever, I imagine every beat cost north of $1 million. It's funny – I recently went through some old kanyeuniversecity archives and saw a post where 'Ye said Deeper Than Rap was one of the only rap albums he felt comfortable playing in his apartment, and it kinda makes sense. Ross's full orchestra and horn ensemble probably go well with Italian marble. Kanye himself actually stops by in full Louis-Vuitton-Don-mode, dropping one of the most flexed-up verses of his career. Although Ross is borderline delusional in his commitment to this whole kingpin fantasy, it brings out the absolute best in his ear for beats and features.

Limp Biscuit Anthem – Gerry Read

Suffolk, UK
2015

I know very little of Gerry Read, but I do know that he's affiliated with the "weird house" movement and that I'm very interested. If I wanted any confirmation that he was weird enough, "Limp Biscuit Anthem" was it. You could maybe get away with playing this on a dance floor, but the song doesn't initially feel designed for it... It kicks off with – no joke – a Tommy Wright III sample and other classic Memphis sounds you might recognize from the latest A$AP Rocky single (yeah, the babushka one). About halfway in, it somehow twists into an absolutely thumping house track. I've always been a fan of "outsider" music, so I immediately took to how rule-breaking the song felt. Needless to say, I'm excited to check out the rest of Read's catalog. Shoutout Pampa Records too.

What Kinda Music – Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes

Peckham, London, UK
2020

I discovered Yussef Dayes a couple years ago as one half of Peckham-based Jazz duo Yussef Kamaal (the other half being multi-instrumentalist Kamaal Williams). As a group, I thought their music was "cool" but also kinda sterile and inoffensive, almost designed to slot into those "chill lo-fi instrumental study music" playlists. It was alright, but just not my thing. So, when I saw that Yussef was doing a joint album with Tom Misch, I thought it would be a good chance to hear him play in a totally new, presumably more vibrant context. "What Kinda Music" is the first single off their namesake album, and I think they've definitely got one here... At first I thought it was weird to credit a drummer so prominently on a pop record, but it's mixed in a way that makes Yussef's drums the single most piercing layer of sound; when he really gets going, you can physically feel it in your ears. The production in general also just feels expensive... The string orchestra that comes in around ~2:49 brings a sweeping movement that might've been pulled straight from one of Radiohead's In Rainbows sessions. Tom's vocals aren't bad too, yeah? If this is the general palette they're running with, and if Tom continues to try his hand at being Thom, I definitely won't be mad at it.

Fading Love – George Fitzgerald

London, UK / Berlin, Germany
2015

When I was in the 5th grade I had some cousins from Iran move in with me and my immediate family, and with them, they brought a ton of euro-trash techno music that all the Persian kids were up on in 2005. That was my introduction to electronic music. I'm not gonna lie, I was into it, and I still have some of those Tiesto mixes from way back. They're still good! Nonetheless, there was a stretch from about 2009 to 2017 where I didn't even touch anything electronic in the slightest. But then I spent a good 5 months in London... bro... London... it wasn't until I came back that the digging began. One of the dance records that I'd saved the following summer was George Fitzgerald's Fading Love. It somehow stayed out of my rotation for 3 years, but I finally got around to it and... it's incredible. Normally I'd scoff at this sort of vocal-heavy, pop-y, almost Scandinavian-sounding dance music, but track after track, it manages to win me over despite itself. The pulse on "Full Circle" is just undeniable. That synth on "Knife to the Heart" is more like a tractor beam. At under 40 min, the pacing is almost flawless, and yet, on some listens it's taken me over 2 hours to get through because of tracks I just couldn't let finish. One of the most universally accessible dance records I've ever heard. Guaranteed to get a room moving.

Summer14inBrazil – Floating Points

Manchester, England / Minas Gerais, Brazil
2014

Back in 2015 I was on a road trip with my family and needed to put something on to help me fall asleep in the back; I threw on Floating Points' Elaenia, and what I got instead was one of the most meticulously-crafted, slow-burning electronic albums I'd ever heard. I was up from start to finish, probably making that cringe face people do when listening to something really good. Since that first spin, Elaenia has grown to become arguably my favorite electronic album, and likewise Sam Shepherd my favorite artist of his kind. No matter how deep I've dug into his catalog over the last 5 years, I've always found some sort of hidden gem that I somehow missed on previous searches. Last week I went digging into his SoundCloud and found a handful of mixes from 2013 and '14, one of which was an 86-minute compilation of classic Brazilian records... I rarely find music this tailored for me, and bro... it delivered. Highlights include Tim Maia's "Contato Com O Mundo Racional" (17:50), Simone's cover of "Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser" (28:46), Azymuth's "Melo Dos Dois Bicudos" (59:10), and a ton more. For those of you who are into ripping .mp3s, there's a download link in the track description and also a guy in the comments posting a link to the tracklist. I'm not going to make separately-dedicated posts, but I also recommend his "Summer13at45" mix, and obviously Elaenia, Shadows, Crush, Vacuum Boogie, etc.

Best Interest – Tyler, the Creator

Ladera Heights, CA
2019

I grabbed dinner with some friends earlier this week and we talked about Tyler's evolution over the last 10(!) years; I was surprised to be the only one that preferred his more recent work. Don't get me wrong – his early stuff was always cool to me because I could tell he was a part of that lineage of my favorite weirdo rappers, and also that he had an appreciation for the music that came before him: Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers, Ronnie McNeir, Krautrock, whatever. You could also tell he was a real "music kid" by how he recalled his favorite songs by their track numbers. This IGOR era though... musically, it's just different. It feels lush and expensive in a way that pop music hasn't been since, well, the days of Pharrell. The way he layered the electric guitar with the soul sample here immediately took me back to the guitar solo at the end of "Christian Dior Denim Flow". If you ask Tyler though, his analogue is probably N.E.R.D. Nonetheless, it's all one and the same. It's pop, but it's also subversive. It's triumphant, but in a way that's intended to let you know he's not supposed to have the life he has now. All this for a song about being someone's sidepiece. And the video? Man...

The Ecstatic – Mos Def

Brooklyn, NY
2009

I remember exactly where I was when I heard "Auditorium" for the first time 10 years ago. I was in the 9th (10th?) grade and had caught the bus to my friend's house after school. It was ritual to spend 1-2 hours a day digging through YouTube and WorldStar for new music. Being a Persian kid who played the cello and who was deeply obsessed with production styles, the Bollywood sample here caught my attention in the most... natural way. The album in general is dominated by Middle Eastern sounds and internationalist, Pan-Islamic ideas, blending the conscious Brooklyn style you'd expect from Mos Def with the sounds of Indian, Brazilian, and Moroccan pop music. I'm sure I'm missing more than a dozen other geographic references. One of my favorite details is how it also served as a precursor to Kanye's whole Good Friday / Rosewood era. I was actually prompted to revisit the album a few weeks ago with the 9-year anniversary of MBDTF, accidentally uncovering so many details that I didn't catch the first time around: the loop on "History"; the way he guides the pulse of "No Hay Nada Mas"; the careful restraint of "Pistola"; the shameless positivity of "Priority"... It's just an all-round genius and lovable album.

Olha O Menino – Caetano Veloso

Santo Amaro, Bahia, Brazil
1977

I found this record by digging up the sample from Karriem Riggins's "Summer Madness". Earlier this year I'd already started to make the foray into Brazilian pop music with Milton Nascimento's Clube da Esquina, some random Arthur Verocai records, and the obligatory Madlib Flight to Brazil. All of them were good, but they seemed like foundational starting-point type records. I'm still trying to learn more, and this Caetano Veloso record might be the one to finally push me further into the rabbit hole. "Olha O Menino" fits right into the whole "Música Popular Brasileira" (MPB) canon with one of the most infectious, sun-bleached hooks I've ever heard. The bassline on this song is... not from this planet. Like pretty much all of my favorite artists, Veloso brings an unusual use of textures, like the random rhodes keyboard hanging out somewhere in the back, and the ornate string arrangements that would normally feel out-of-place on a record likely inspired by kids playing barefoot street soccer.

See Line Woman – Songstress

Detroit, MI
1997

Coming from more of a rap and soul music background, the Nina Simone sample here showed me a fusion of worlds that I never knew existed... This was definitely one of the first songs that got me into house music back when I first started going down rabbit holes on YouTube. It all started with the guys from Detroit: Omar S, Kerri Chandler, Norm Talley, Andrés, etc. They were able to take my favorite Motown textures and recontextualize them in a way that I didn't know was possible. On "See Line Woman", Kerri Chandler and Jerome Sydenham repackage the percussion and vocals from Nina Simone's 1964 original into one of the most tribal dance records I've ever heard. Sampling 30-year old records is obviously nothing new, but there's something futuristic and sophisticated about the way they layer the vocals and drums with the synths here. Insane record, all 7 minutes of it.

Smoke (Remix) – Blood Orange, Yves Tumor, & Ian Isiah

London, UK / Knoxville, TN / Flatbush, NYC
2018

I'll admit that I was really late on Blood Orange. It wasn't until Negro Swan that I gave him a spin, and even then it was only because of the Project Pat feature. I've never been too keen on the whole "bedroom pop" thing, but the album somehow grew into one of my favorites of 2018. The original "Smoke", which closed out Negro Swan, was one of the tracks that made me obsessed with the album; it's really an accessible pop song but Dev just twists your ear by making you wait a few minutes to get to the loop. For the remix, he recruits Yves Tumor, who adds an entirely new dimension over chopped up patois samples. It's just a crazy, crazy amalgamation of references and textures that no one else could even try to imitate.

Deeper Than Rap – Rick Ross

Miami, FL
2009

One of the things that's started to make me feel old as a music fan is having to defend Rick Ross. Kids these days are just not up on his catalog. From 2006 - 2012 dude basically lead the charge for mafioso rap with some of the most outrageously expensive-sounding music of our time. Between Port of Miami and Rich Forever, I imagine every beat cost north of $1 million. It's funny – I recently went through some old kanyeuniversecity archives and saw a post where 'Ye said Deeper Than Rap was one of the only rap albums he felt comfortable playing in his apartment, and it kinda makes sense. Ross's full orchestra and horn ensemble probably go well with Italian marble. Kanye himself actually stops by in full Louis-Vuitton-Don-mode, dropping one of the most flexed-up verses of his career. Although Ross is borderline delusional in his commitment to this whole kingpin fantasy, it brings out the absolute best in his ear for beats and features.

Limp Biscuit Anthem – Gerry Read

Suffolk, UK
2015

I know very little of Gerry Read, but I do know that he's affiliated with the "weird house" movement and that I'm very interested. If I wanted any confirmation that he was weird enough, "Limp Biscuit Anthem" was it. You could maybe get away with playing this on a dance floor, but the song doesn't initially feel designed for it... It kicks off with – no joke – a Tommy Wright III sample and other classic Memphis sounds you might recognize from the latest A$AP Rocky single (yeah, the babushka one). About halfway in, it somehow twists into an absolutely thumping house track. I've always been a fan of "outsider" music, so I immediately took to how rule-breaking the song felt. Needless to say, I'm excited to check out the rest of Read's catalog. Shoutout Pampa Records too.