The track “Diagonals” opens with what at the time seemed impossible, a drumbeat that stayed in time but raised in pitch. It wasn’t until I started working at McEntire’s Soma in the coming years did I learn that the effect was called Frequency Shifting, a cousin to pitch-shifting. The sound is intoxicating and riveting against the frenetic marimba patterns and sets such an interesting and unusual tone for the tune. There is studio trickery ranging from subtle to overt around each and every corner and it still feels exciting almost 25 years later.
Stereolab embraced the album format, and the album-side track “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse” is a suite of gurgling pop confection that detours through outer space. It’s well worth a late-night listen. The blend of pop writing, Laetitia’s strong lyrics, and the production are still unmatched.
Wilco (Nels Cline)
Esperanza Spalding’s 12 Little Spells (2018)
My wife Yuka started listening to this wonderful outpouring of creativity, versatility, and imagination as soon as it was released, and together we have listened to it in amazement more times than I can count. Esperanza composed the music and focuses primarily on singing (though she does play some acoustic bass and other instruments) while backed by her insanely talented band (and guitarist Matt Steven’s superb articulation, harmonic sensibility, and tones certainly got my attention) for this concept song cycle/stage show (which we eventually witnessed at Town Hall. Jaw-dropping…).
The music’s freewheeling and often startling twists and turns often envelop the listener like a torrent of creative expression or fever dream that one never wants to wake up from, feeling simultaneously meticulously crafted and urgently spontaneous. Hence, it fascinates and inspires with every listen. I guess that means that it influences me! It is music by a powerful and prodigiously talented artist that is beyond category. The way I like it!
Zach Hill (Death Grips)
U.S. Maple’s Acre Thrills (2001)
I first saw U.S. Maple live in San Francisco opening for Pavement. This was at the Fillmore in 1999. Their album Talker had recently come out. Watching them that night, I could feel that I was gaining an access to myself that wasn’t available to me beforehand. In performance, they were second to nothing I’d ever seen.
I said to a friend afterward it was like a big pregnant snake on stage squeezing all the air from the room and doling out oxygen when it hissed. Then Acre Thrills came out in 2001, and I was consumed by it. As a fan, I consider their entire discography a consolidated masterpiece, but Acre Thrills fully peaked me.
In 2002, my band Hella opened for them at their Sacramento show date and I went on to reference that Fillmore performance when writing the lyrics to a Death Grips song called “Hacker”: “I got this pregnant snake, stay surrounded by long hairs, a plethora of maniacs and spiral stairs”—the pregnant snake being their performance, long hairs in reference to their first album Long Hair in Three Stages, and Spiral Stairs being the second guitarist in Pavement known as Spiral Stairs.