Undercurrents No.2: Hungry for Content Page 2

The Algorithm Saved My Life

JPEGMAFIA’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs (EQT Records) is an interesting album that combines modern hip-hop and R&B with adventurous production reminiscent of Childish Gambino, Kanye West, Drake, James Blake, and others. I like it and it probably should have made it onto last month’s list of 15 like-worthy new releases, but I had to drop something to make room for Vivian Girls’ Memory – a more sentimental pick. 

About two minutes after I submitted last month’s column, I sat back at our kitchen table with a bowl of Kashi Peanut Butter Crunch, launched TIDAL, and scrolled down to my homepage recommendations. Because I had listened to All My Heroes Are Cornballs, TIDAL suggested that I listen to Standing On The Corner’s eponymous 2016 release. 

Struck by the album art – a simple montage featuring a sepia-toned photograph, a keychain, a few neon-green palm trees, what appears to be a black-and-white photocopy of the old Twin Towers, and a little green coqui holding a little Puerto Rican flag – I clicked Play and proceeded to listen to the whole damn thing right out of my iPhone. And then I listened again. Sure, the album is only thirty-three minutes long, but still. I was captivated. 

With its gooey, chopped-and-screwed attitude, its saturated sunset hues, its stupid yacht-rock horns, its New York City noise, and its steady island pulse, this album is so right up my alley that I have no idea how or why it escaped me until now. It’s a mess and I love it – in part because I, too, am a mess, in part because I grew up in a big city, in part because I am partly Puerto Rican – and I might’ve never found it without TIDAL’s help. 

Kiki, do you love me?

I would like our daughter to grow up feeling that she belongs not only to this neighborhood, city, state, and country, but also to the countries and cultures of her more distant relatives and ancestors. With that in mind, I took to TIDAL to find any available version of a song called “Que Linda Manita” – a sort of nursery rhyme that Puerto Rican mothers, grandmothers, and aunts sing to their children. Its simple, gentle melody wafted into my head one day, but, as usual, I couldn’t remember the words. 

The search led me to a rendition by Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto Cachana, which takes the sweet children’s song and adapts it to the Cuban dance music pachanga – a precursor to New York City’s salsa that combines violin, flute, brass, and drums, often with a steady, slow-burning rhythm. It’s one of my favorite forms of Caribbean music – and perhaps my favorite, right alongside son montuno – so, again, I felt that I should have been familiar with Joe Quijano when, in fact, his name was completely new to me. 

When I Googled it, I was surprised and saddened to learn that the Puerto Rican musician had died on April 4th, exactly two weeks after our daughter was born. The Billboard obituary, written by Judy Cantor-Navas, begins, “Born in Puerto Rico, Quijano grew up playing mambo and stickball on Kelly Street in the Bronx, a breeding ground for New York Latin musicians of the era.” He formed his first band, Los Mamboys, Cantor-Navas continues, with Eddie Palmieri and Orlando Marín. He studied music at Columbia University and introduced his band, Conjunto Cachana, in 1957. Later, he founded Cesta Records, whose catalog includes The Cesta All-Stars Vol.1, featuring Cheo Feliciano, Charlie Palmieri, Willie Rosario, Barry Rodgers, Yayo el Indio, Barry Rodriguez, and other notable musicians of the NYC Latin-music scene. Quijano was an integral part of salsa, which is an integral part of life in my family. 

Cantor-Navas reports that, though Quijano had announced his retirement from music in 2015, his band reunited in July 2018 as part of Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing Series. Damn it. I had missed the opportunity to live in a world beside the man himself, but I would no longer neglect his music. I’ve begun tracking down his LPs and look forward to sharing them with our daughter. I’ll remind her of how we sung “Que Linda Manita” together and thank her for leading me to Quijano’s beautiful music. 

Question of the Month

In Fear of a 24-bit Planet Audiostream editor, Rafe Arnott, discusses “high-res envy,” in which “high-res” is inherently defined as digital music of resolutions higher than Redbook CD’s 16-bit/44.1kHz. 

Over at Darko.Audio, John Darko asked his readers whether they classify CD quality as high-res audio. John was surprised by the results: 31 per cent of those who responded on Twitter and Facebook said that they do consider CDs and CD-quality streaming as “high-res audio,” while even more respondents on YouTube – 46 per cent – said they considered CDs and CD-quality streaming as “high-res audio.” 

 What does this mean? Is it a matter of perspective or a failure on the part of the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) and Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) – the entities who endeavored to define “high-res audio” in the first place – to effectively communicate and educate? Are we disenfranchising all those audiophiles and music lovers who devoted time, money, and passion on their CD collections?

 And how is it that I was able to enjoy an entire album, two times over, played through my little iPhone with no audio enhancements? Even if it was streamed at 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution, it certainly didn’t amount to “CD quality” when played through my iPhone. 

What about you? Do you have “high-res envy”? Do you consider CDs and CD-quality streams to be high-res audio? 

Is there a significant relationship between resolution and pleasure? If content is king, is resolution queen, jack, or joker?


dysonapr's picture

Your can adapt to, and ignore, a bad smell in a matter of a few minutes. I suggest the same applies to deficiencies in sound reproduction. The most advanced and capable signal processor is between your ears.

audx's picture

I don't consider CDs to be high res. But one thing that they practically always offer is a booklet. iTunes will frequently provide one unless it's certain box sets...

But once you go with a high res download you're frequently out of luck.

As the higher resolution downloads cost more 192 is more than 96 and so on there is a connection between resolution and pleasure. I'll stream it to determine how much I like it and go from there.

grantray's picture

Glad to know I'm not the only one who didn't make it all the way through the new Bad Seeds album. I was super prepared for genius, but quickly felt like I was listening to day-old bagels. Have you heard that new Alessandro Cortini album yet, or the Nils Frahms All Encores album? Both are really great for staring out of the window, into the dark winter light that happens between day and night. ✌️

Anton's picture

Keep in mind Ghosteen in intended as an ambient work.

It doesn’t work well for walking to a certain place at a specific time, nor with one following the lyrics word by word.

Give it a last chance and go for a walk in the evening with no particular place to go and see where it takes you and how you feel when you get there.

Somewhere in the middle of track six, you should start to notice something, and you won’t exactly recall the first five tracks in any detail other than that they lead you to track six.

This disc also works better as a follow up to Abattoir Blues than it does with Skeleton Tree.