In times of yore, people like the characters in Mad Men listened to popular music on vinyl records. These records were easily damaged, which could affect playback dramatically, cutting out certain passages of music or repeating them indefinitely. If you were a fan of idiosyncrasy, this may have sparked your imagination. But listening to a damaged record skip was not, in and of itself, funky, or even particularly interesting. It took the unique aesthetic perspectives of several generations of DJs (you have your list; I have mine) to turn wrecking vinyl into the dominant soundtrack for Western pop culture.
And, if it’s not already an utterly forgotten phase, I think the same thing could happen for the sounds of damaged compact discs. Since the music industry forced CDs to the top of the market, some musicians have taken an interest in the sound of malfunctioning digital media. Granted, thusfar it’s been mostly Yasunao Tone, John Oswald and Oval — only funky to a certain, rare personality type. But, over the last decade, some of the most visible, prolific hip hop producers (Madlib, Flying Lotus and others) created music that was unmistakably hip hop, yet sounded less and less like boom-bap scratch and more and more like the chaos math of a damaged CD.
Add New York’s Vanese Smith, a.k.a. Pursuit Grooves, to that list, near the top. In less than half an hour, Fox Trot Mannerisms presents a collection of lopsided beats utterly infectious, deeply disorienting, and, while still “organic” enough, much more purely digital than pretty much anything that came before. At first, the beats seem to stutter and wobble, until your brain plugs into their still-weird post-analog math.
She’s also a damned good singer; her deep, raspy vocals anchor the first half of the disc. The last few cuts, given over to cryptic spoken-word and crazy-making Philip Glass-like hypnosis, are a long way from home.
Possibly weirder than FlyLo’s much-heralded Cosmogramma, and just as sublime and overstimulating.