Long time no see. I'd like to say a few words about one of my favorite albums of 2010. Since the untimely passing of J Dilla, and no doubt partly due to the wide interest in this kind of music his death provoked, the art of beat making has evolved in more directions than I'd care to try to count. Many of my favorite releases of the year fall under this general umbrella of experimental beat-based music, including Gonjasufi's hallucinatory A Sufi and A Killer, Dimlite's strange and colorful Prismic Tops, Teebs' stunningly beautiful Ardour, and Flying Lotus' undisputed masterpiece Cosmogramma. I'm happy thinking of this era as a new Golden Age of Hip Hop, with just as much vitality and a lot more diversity than the late 80's/early 90's.
But I digress; this post is really about a little gem of an album called F O R M by Manuel Moran, aka AFTA-1. Before I talk about the music, some words about the physical product are called for. AFTA-1, a painter besides a musician, came up with a very clever and appealing idea. He made a large scale painting, sliced it up into 100 equally sized rectangles, signed and numbered each one, and slipped them into cassette holders. So everybody who buys the cassette, which I think there are still a few copies of for sale, gets a piece of something special besides the music.
Oh, the music. This album has been in near-daily rotation for me since it came out in June. It was a release I eagerly anticipated, as AFTA-1's 2008 debut Aftathoughts Vol.1 was and still is a favorite of mine. That album features a super cool, spacey, laid back style, with a lot of infectious Rhodes and synth melodies, slick and tricky percussion, and absolutely beastly basslines. Basically it's your perfect kickback-on-the-moon soundtrack. F O R M works in the same general aesthetic, but this time everything is better, an impressive feat considering how good things already were. It is more mature, deliberate, cohesive, and concise than its predecessor; it is also simply deeper. There are rhythms on this album not quite like anything you've heard before, like the ingenious syncopation of snares, cymbals and bass throughout "Trust", the woozy, slowly lurching outro to "The Time In Between Suite", or the disjointed subdivisions of the gorgeous closer "Amor Es". All of the tracks are seamless, and the themes and harmonic progressions are so cohesive as to give the album the feel of one long song (with lots of nice changes). Raindrops intermittently appear throughout this long song, including at the very beginning and ending, giving F O R M a nice extra layer of unity as well as ambiguity.
Here's what AFTA-1 has to say about the concepts behind the album:
Form by definition is the mode in which a thing exists, acts, or manifests itself. It is the foundation by which all things are perceivable in the physical realm. Our reality takes form as we visualize to manifest it. Once it is visualized it can be created physically. Becoming part in building our exterior existence as a reflection of what we are within; Life, Love, Creation.As Pete Rock sez*, "Play Dis Only At Night". This is an extremely nocturnal album, equally good for city-crawling and for staying at home and examining the soul. It's vying for a spot in my Top 3 of 2010 along the likes of super-heavyweight contender Cosmogramma and the almost too pretty to be real Ardour.