It must not be difficult to launch a record label, otherwise you wouldn’t see just about every band signing other bands in their own image. See also: Deathwish, All Black and Third Man. What you don’t see are very many fringe cartoon studios getting into the game. In fact, there’s only one: Adult Swim.
Adult Swim already carved its tributary out away from mainstream television, and in 2007 founder Jason DeMarco decided to do the same with music via Williams Street Records. Three years and a handful of Adult Swim programming-related releases later, Williams Street launched its first Singles program, a series of free weekly music downloads from artists all across the genre spectrum. “Why” you ask? “Because we’re music nerds, and we love exposing artists to our audience,” DeMarco answered.
Fast-forward to 2014 and you have a formula for an episodic experience to music consumption. Strung across the summer, you had a new track to look forward to each Tuesday and a new glimpse at the eclectic taste explosion curated by Williams Street. There isn’t a bad single in the bunch, but that’s of course for your aural taste buds to decide. Below are some highlights from this year’s offerings.
If you’re not familiar with Diarrhea Planet, your knee-jerk exclamation to Spooners may be “Is this a pop-punk song from 2003?” The initial palm muted, Blink-182-ified chord progression certainly lends to that, but the verse hearkens to Jim Ward’s (At the Drive-In, Sparta) sore throat and the shout-along chorus leans heavily on a Japandroids and Titus Andronicus feel. Then out of nowhere, the melody spreads out into a spacey, Explosions in the Sky-like bridge. It’s like a 2000’s-era alternative smorgasbord of sound.
This Singles program marks the return of Sleep as their track The Clarity squeals to a grinding, sludge metal halt. While their seminal track Dopesmoker clocks in at an hour and three minutes, The Clarity concludes at a more palatable ten minutes. Listen below to fill your ear canals with mud and attach your consciousness to the specter of a Matt Pike guitar solo.
After a year and a half, I’m still not tired of listening to Deafheaven’s Sunbather and surprisingly I’m not tired of writing about it either. So you can imagine my delight as I listened to their first release since last year. From the Kettle Unto the Coil confused me at first. The track plays like the floor of a metal office building. There’s a cubicle for blast beats and Kerry McCoy’s patented bright guitar tone, there’s the breakdown department, then a curious trip to the break room with a Radiohead homage. Each subsequent listen, however, brought me to deeper appreciation of the composition. The track is a music lover’s scrapbook. It feels like the band wrote a song that they would want to gush over themselves, and coincidentally fanboys like me are gushing too.
So I have to cut my teeth on rap blogging, but I feel like I’m cheating by doing so with Adult Swim. Almost a third of the singles are hip hop based and the Williams Street bunch are self-professed hip hop addicts. The song to gravitate to is Future’s auto-tuned rant about his Coupe. Future’s track along with Run the Jewels’ Oh My Darling Don’t You Cry and Captain Murphy’s Cosplay have made my permanent artificial confidence inducer playlist.
The Weird Ones
Maybe my weird meter is set to a high tolerance, but only two singles really tipped the scale. First is Fatima Al-Qadiri’s Star-Spangled which is simply a really slow, spaced out synthesizer rendition of the national anthem. I’ve never been more creeped out by confronting patriotism. Ok maybe I have. Then there’s RP Boo’s RP Technic, a glitchy, syncopated loop of ultra lo-fi vocal tracks and drum machines. It’s got some kind of hip hop sound I guess. You tell me.
Now I did say at the top of this piece that none of these songs are bad, but some of them just didn’t do it for me. I’ll admit that I only know who Giorgio Moroder is because of last year’s Daft Punk exaltations, but hearing Giorgio’s Theme made me think that maybe the rest of synthesized music has caught up to his legacy and perhaps swallowed it whole. I just couldn’t distinguish his sound from any other retro synthwave I’ve heard. I had the same musically camouflaged reaction to Tim Hecker’s Amps, Drugs, Mellotron and Machinedrum’s Want Me. The latter made me feel like I was shopping for t-shirts at H&M. What disappointed the most was Williams Street’s own Atlanta neighbors Mastodon, whose aptly titled Atlanta thrashed wildly but ultimately was lost on me. Perhaps I didn’t quite appreciate the collaboration with Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes. You can play me the Hurdy Gurdy Man cover from the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack any day though.
Overall, the Adult Swim Singles program gave me something to anticipate every Tuesday this summer. Even if it was a track I didn’t like, the individual artwork was always incredible and the presentation was mesmerizing. Also you can’t beat the price of free. If more entities went the way of music curation from the angle of maximum artistic expression and minimum pandering like the Adult Swim Singles, the music industry would be better off. Or at least elitist music nerds like me will have our nice little alcove to live in each summer.
Download all sixteen tracks and check out the artwork here.
Adult Swim never misses the opportunity to encase some new music in a weird cartoon.