We think of our favourite albums as timeless; but music is the most durational artform. From the classical symphony to the field recording, music makes us conscious of the passage of time. When the needle hits the groove, it should move in one direction, steady as time’s arrow. Yet the turntable and the sequencer don’t always play by these rules. They can reverse time, relive short sections of it. Sample-based music can rediscover lost time. Digging for records time forgot, it rewrites history to suit its own style.
Fans of Odd Nosdam know he’s a temporal wizard, turning drawn-out ambience into head-nodding hip-hop. He perfected the blend as one-third of cLOUDDEAD, with Adam Drucker and Yoni Wolf. (The 2019 reissue of Nosdam’s Plan 9… Meat Your Hypnotis (1999) will delight connoisseurs of this period.) His solo mix of off-kilter drum patterns, oddball samples, and fuzzy psychedelia matured with Level Live Wires (2007) and Pretty Swell Explode (2008). Both records have a beat-free second disc, smuggling crazy kosmische into hip-hop collections.
Over the second decade of his career, Nosdam never lost sight of his original brilliance. He did sterling background work, as Kenny Dennis LP Instrumentals (2013) made clear. But it sometimes felt his own releases were more throwaway, less fully baked than yesteryear’s. To my ear, this changed with Flippies Beat Tape (2018), Flippies Rock Tape (2019), and Flippies Good Tape (2019). On each release, Nosdam created an infectious collage of 27 tracks, processing the sounds of rare records through a distressor and a Roland Space Echo. Flippies Best Tape now collects, reorders, slims down, and gives physical format to this material, forming a full-length, 66-track album.
The Flippies formula was instantly addictive. But Flippies Best Tape stakes a claim: that this mass of little tracks makes a substantial project. Nosdam works with a kaleidoscopic array of materials: soul and gospel sermonising; funky guitars and electric organs; swirly prog textures and hard rock riffs; 1960s folk transfigured into dreamy space rock; even a few moments of jazz and reggae. Personally, I could scratch out the comedic skits from this fine recipe. But the overall miscellany is stitched together by Nosdam’s mastery of boom bap beats and danceable basslines.
At other hands, this treasure trove of rare samples would be absorbed seamlessly into a turntablist set or a rapper’s backing track. But Nosdam leaves his seams very visible, giving us a psychedelic patchwork quilt. It’s a cosy and inviting quilt. It’s also great enough to be hung on the wall: a testament to crate-digging, effects-tweaking skill.
The new album from DEADBEAR also travels in time. Sampling world music rarities from the 1950s onwards, Nick Donovan creates a slick and cohesive album of contemporary electronic music. But as Einstein taught us, time is inseparable from space. World Music Market therefore crosses whole continents, each track drawing from two or three disparate countries. The real trick is making these traverses without leaving Berlin. Donovan insists this is a record about that city and its multiculturalism, which enabled him to experience such exhilarating sounds.
On a previous offering, The Trees Are Dancing (2017), DEADBEAR’s sound was a little unclear. Touches of brooding dubstep were mismatched with post-rock crescendo structures. World Music Market is a big leap forward. While miscellaneous in its materials, the overall vision is lucid. Amid the chants, grooves, and percussion of various traditions, a newly unified shape emerges. The framework of beats ranges from a clattering shuffle to a throbbing pulse. But the overall effect is a colourful, blissed-out downtempo.
Unearthing world music as source material, DEADBEAR raises complex questions. Ethnographic sound-capture brings wider appreciation to vital music cultures. But the artists themselves are often exoticised and anonymised. Mining indigenous sounds for his own art, does Donovan perpetuate this? Does he add or subtract from the value of the originals? Luckily, this is a ponderous record which gives time and space for such questions. Furthermore, all profits will go to refugee charities.
When we listen to the music of others, we absorb, we reflect, sometimes we talk back. It takes an artistic temperament to go one step further: to construct something new from the artefacts of the past. These two artists forge alternate realities in their music, folding spacetime to touch distant points together. Next time you hunt through a record shop, Odd Nosdam and DEADBEAR would make great companions. (Samuel Rogers)