Text by Adam Lehrer
The best new record I heard this week, aside from The Life of Pablo obviously, is the newest release by London-based producer Brood Ma, Daze. A volatile collision of funk, noise, house, and techno, the album sounds viciously contemporary, indicative of the evolution of London and New York-based label Tri Angle.
Never in my life have I seen a label that has almost as much influence on the underground as it does on the mainstream. Label boss Robin Carolan has proven himself a gifted curator and arguably, an artist in his own right. Though the label has broadened its scope in its six years of existence, Carolan has a keen eye for fitting the acts he signs into his own world. A world where goth is funky and noise is fashion and anti-fashion is art. I sound pretentious here, maybe as per usual, but it is undeniable that the label has been profound in unleashing what are quite possibly the most excitingly contemporary forms of music: "alternative" R&B and abstract dance music.
It all started with 808z and Heartbreak, but before Frank Ocean, Drake, Kelela, and others all started breaking new ground in an R&B form, a Chicago philosophy student with a taste for the avant-garde and an angelic voice named Tom Krell found himself floored by Yeezy's baroque musings of self-loathe. Krell, re-named How to Dress Well, took the goth pop stylings of Kanye and Janet Jackson's The Velvet Rope and incorporated it with his love of Aphex Twin and avant-garde 20th century composition to define the possibilities that can be explored within the context of rhythm, beat, and voice. Krell never gets as much recognition as other geniuses like Ocean or the Weeknd, but his first album released on Tri Angle, Love Remains, was an era-defining record. Not only did it set up Tri Angle as a label that would be beautifully balanced the realms of pop and avant-garde, but it also made people think, "Holy shit, why haven't people realized how fucking cool R&B can be with crackling electronics, tape hiss, and gut wrenching philosophical lyrics?" Hello 2010s.
On the flip side, Carolan's taste for noise and weirdo techno paved the path for artists like Arca, who is in his own way blurring boundaries between popular and niche taste. The Haxan Cloak's record Excavation, released in 2011, approached dance music as sound design. Within it, beats weave through landscapes of thick pulsating drones. You can dance to it, but you can also just get really high and get lost in it. The best electronic music of today, from Surgeon to Jlin, all try and find a beat to dance to within a warped sonic scape of weirdo sounds.
It isn't surprising that artists like Bjork and Kanye, the more willfully experimentally of our most famous musicians, have something of a reciprocal relationship with the artists that record for Tri Angle records. Bjork especially, rumored to be dating Carolan, has been particularly vocal in her fondness for the label. On Vulnicura, The Haxan Cloak was co-producer and Carolan provided creative support. Tri Angle is good for the music industry, period. The success of the label helps scared executives see the value in stars that skew more experimental, like FKA Twigz or even Sky Ferreira. Not to diminish the success of those two gifted artists, but Tri Angle is opening eyes while in no way dumbing down their roster: Brood Ma is as atonal and all out strange as anything the label has released.