Bells & Whistles, Vol. 2: dltzk szn

Welcome back to another volume of Bells & Whistles. Hope you had a good Thanksgiving if that’s your thing. This newsletter is mostly about dltzk, but in the spirit of the holidays I’ve also linked some music writing I’m thankful for. Hope you dig it, check out Vol. 1 here. – Mano

P.S. are y’all rocking with the new logo? Let me know, ok bye.

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Notes on Frailty

Like some of you, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and thinking about dltzk’s album Frailty the last couple weeks. In my review for Pitchfork, I got into some of my underlying ideas about it, but there’s a lot here–too much for me to fit into a concise, coherent piece. Given that the album’s now reaching a new audience due to some big co-signs, I thought I’d publish some of those scattered thoughts, gathered while writing the Pitchfork review and in the days since:

  • So Fantano reviewed this album (!!) and his main gripe was dltzk’s vocals, which made me think about how digicore vocalists in general are understood. Because I don’t know…I think dltzk’s vocals on this album are great! Yeah, they’re not singular, but they sound much better than they did on Teen Week. The processing on their voice simultaneously conveys warm and cold, soul and steel, and like the production, toes the line between digicore, shoegaze and emo. dltzk’s voice feels crushed-up and intimate, like the lyrics are being muttered to you through Facetime late at night. I don’t think this record would work as well if they were a conventionally talented singer. I’m mostly saying all this because of the Fantano review but also because I think this is going to be a criticism that follows Zeke into their career.
  • There’s so much knotty, cryptic writing on Frailty. I love how dltzk describes the butterflies in their stomach turning into tapeworms on “champ.” I love all the cold, static imagery: dltzk lying in bed under the sheets, sinking into snow, trying to run but being immobilized by the weights on their tongue. I love “movies for guys,” just all of it. 
  • Kieran Press-Reynolds said that when he asked dltzk about the Pokémon Gen 4 and 5 soundtracks for his Insider profile, they immediately beamed up, before telling him about how hearing “Emotion” in Black and White made them cry. Hearing the influence of those games seep into Frailty is so, so cool. Video games lead artists in directions they might not have picked up through traditional music consumption/discovery avenues. And I could imagine role-playing games in particular inspiring a kind of musical world-building, full of side quests, secrets and surprises. That’s sometimes how I experience dltzk’s music, especially when paying attention to the tiny sound design things and recurring motifs they sneak into their work. This all isn’t exactly new—Mexikodro said that Paper Mario inspired his plugg beats, Porter Robinson was inspired by JRPGs for Worlds, etc.—but it’s becoming more common to hear the close connection between gaming and music. 
  • Frailty and drive-by lullabies live in my mind as sibling albums–not just because they’re the two major digicore releases of the year, and not because they sound alike (they don’t) but because they share a similar ethos. I imagine dltzk and quinn’s producer brains have a lot in common. Both artists pack tons and tons of ideas into their projects, running different kinds of musical glue through them. Bits of found sound and cultural ephemera float through the mix of Frailty and lullabies, conveying feelings of home and nostalgia. Their musical ideas and influences are different, but between these two albums, you can hear digicore maturing into something more focused, contemplative and immersive. It’s been magical to witness.

Dariacore turns one

We’re approaching a key date in music history. No, I’m not talking about the 11th anniversary of Diddy’s late-period classic Last Train To Paris–in stores now–I’m talking about “S1 E1 ricky bobby,” by dltzk’s alt account leroy, which turns 1 on December 1st. (Dear lord that’s an internet-fried sentence.) This is the first leroy song, and the first song with the #dariacore tag, so for my money, it’s the first dariacore song. Ever since, dariacore has sprouted into a whole community of young folks blowing their favorite pop hits of yesteryear into Jersey club oblivion. There’s a lot of music—over 420 songs on @billdifferen’s staggeringly exhaustive playlist. And even though Billy Bugara is helping showcase and shed light on dariacore with their great new compilation tape daria vs. core: it’s giving charity!, the scene still feels extremely insular, untainted by the observer effect. I mean, see for yourself. Type in “#dariacore” on SoundCloud—it’s a secret portal to insanity. There are recurring digicore samples and references that outsiders initially won’t get, and leroy’s freewheeling breakbeats and stuttering synth machinery snake and seep into everything like tendrils. daria vs. core is a primer for new fans and a victory lap for people who’ve tagged along all year. Unlike other compilation tapes, it actually feels like all the artists went their hardest on this, knowing they’d get more eyes and ears. All the main figures, including leroy themself, taking turns sending Imogen Heap and midwxst waveforms through a trash compactor. It’s good stuff; I’m glad this scene remains totally unhinged. 

I’m thankful for music writing

Here are some of my favorite pieces from this year:

Cat Zhang on city pop.

Alphonse Pierre on Speaker Knockerz’ Married To The Money II.

Sophie Walker on the life cycle of internet scenes.

Paul Thompson on Mach Hommy’s Pray For Haiti.

Millan Verma’s profile of Rxk Nephew and Rx Papi (yes it was for No Bells idc)

Brandon Callender and Harley Geffner’s Rap-Up column.

Andre Gee on Kanye.

Thanks for stopping by. As a music publication we’re contractually obligated to to drop a bunch of year-end lists in December so I guess we’ll do that.

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