Great Music Made by <= 21 Year-Olds (Part III) | Article by Indie Accent

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Great Music Made by <= 21 Year-Olds (Part III)

Writer Rizki Asasi

Cover Image from The Fader

Greetings and salutations, on this (extensively delayed) third part of my series that revolves around remarkable work by young musicians, I will be stretching my under 21-year-old parameter. Including the sophomore album by Ratking, whose de facto producer, Sporting Life, was in his late 20s at the album’s release, the pained optimism of Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle, and the deafening silence of Nicolas Jaar’s 2011 breakthrough, Space is Only Noise.

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7. Ratking - So It Goes (2013)

Artist’s age at release: 19-20

Musical polymath Pierre Schaeffer coined the term “reduced listening” to expand upon the general artistic intentions behind musique concrète, a form of experimental music originating in France in the 40s that emphasises the use of environmental, pre-recorded non-musical objects (train-related sounds seem to be most prevalent for some reason). He asks the audience to repress the “information-gathering” aspects of listening or the part where you try to figure out how a particular sound is made and where it comes from and to recognise a composition for what it is while attempting to redefine what constitutes as music in your mind. About 6 decades later, New York hip-hop group Ratking’s de facto producer, Sporting Life, describes how the layered sounds he encounters on a daily basis walking to and from his Harlem locale inform the way he structures beats, and some of those sounds eventually made their way into So It Goes. A Schaefferian mode of expression runs deep in “Snow Beach” where a collated mess of indeterminate samples evokes an overwhelming inner city soundscape that threatens to swallow you whole before it dies down and segues into a more traditional saxophone-driven boom-bap beat over which Wiki and Hak lay down their verses and hooks. Similar to how Sporting Life’s production toys with the line that separates “sound” from “music”, their stream-of-consciousness raps betray ubiquitous rhyming conventions in favour of something that resembles coherent thought as much as an incoherent bathroom graffiti or the criticisms of a homeless man directed at NYU kids after dark. Everything about Ratking’s neighbourhood feels fully integrated into the music, yet it doesn’t seem like they’re trying at all.

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8. Julien Baker - Sprained Ankle

Artist’s age at release: 19

When you’re putting together a “favourite albums of all-time” list, you’re subconsciously putting together a “albums that resonated with my life the most” list. There’s always room for you to elaborate on the musical qualities that make those albums noteworthy in the grand scheme of good music, but if you can’t tie them to a specific memory or person, chances are they won’t even be liable for consideration. When I listen to Sprained Ankle, I was back in my room at a local hospital in 2012, coming down from a heavy dose of anaesthetics after undergoing a nasal surgery to correct my deviated septum. The incredible part is, I didn’t even listen to the album until about 3 years later while surfing Bandcamp, perfectly healthy and not on any drugs. With a modest set-up of clean electric guitar, the occasional piano, a loop pedal, an angelic voice, and a whole lot of space in between them, Julien Baker creates lethargic singer-songwriter music for empty hospital hallways and the feeling you get when a nurse tells you it’s all going to be ok. “Lethargic” has an uneventful connotation to it, but I can’t think of another word to describe the “floating”, understated nature of her songs that are reminiscent of a chemically-induced high. Your consciousness lies in a purgatorial state, but there’s some level of awareness there that you can never quite recall afterwards despite how emotionally intense you remember it being. This presentation proves to be apt as you delve deeper into her lyrics that deal with physical as well as mental turmoil and how people try to live with them, be it via prescription drugs, friends & family, or nothing at all. The heaviness of these themes are nicely counterbalanced by a said presentation and are turned into exercises in humility; you might not be feeling too hopeful today because it’s been that way for all the yesterdays so far, but you will never know for sure if you don’t stick around until tomorrow.

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9. Nicolas Jaar - Space is Only Noise

Artist’s age at release: 21

In an age where electronic music production technology is readily available to the public at a more-than-reasonable price, the amount of variation you can encounter in the genre grows at an exponential rate. Ironically, this doesn’t mean you will also find an equal amount of artists that are making original music. The very fact that there’s too much originality necessitates a recalibration of what the word means, and we as listeners are invited to think about the music at a deeper level where any preconceived notions do not apply; maximalism might no longer go hand in hand with compositional depth, and minimalism might suddenly be exciting. With Nicolas Jaar’s music, the latter seems to be the case, and on Space is Only Noise, the smallest sounds can have the most substantial impact. The sampled monologue in English and French that opens the album is as ominous as it is enigmatic, a contextless piece of audio that establishes a mood more than it outlines a theme. As the track progresses, unsettling clips of percussive noise and toneless vocalisations oppressively clash against a subdued piano melody, climaxing in a moment of vulnerability as the piano finally breaks and goes neurotic. Even though such sparse, manipulated electronics primarily characterise Space's emotional gestures, Jaar doesn’t shy away from using the human voice. On tracks like “Colomb” and “Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust”, his voice provides some measure of comfort amidst the constant push-and-pull within the dynamic range, suggesting a pop song without assuming the form of one. Tracks like “Keep Me There”, however, lie on the opposite end of the spectrum where the voice is but another fragment in a snowball of sounds that barrels toward a grand finale. In this case, is made up of sampled horns that dissonantly and consonantly augment each other, often at the same time. Moments like this are what make the album singularly thrilling even after all these years, and not a single one of them utilises a “drop”.

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Great Music Made by <= 21 Year-Olds

Part I


Great Music Made by <= 21 Year-Olds

Part II