Essential Tracks: Death Grips, N.E.R.D., Cairo Liberation Front

Randall Roberts
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
Death Grips has been amazingly prolific since its announced breakup. And other Essential Tracks

Death Grips, "Fashion Week" (free download). Getting a bead on San Francisco experimental rap team Death Grips is becoming increasingly difficult — which is saying something. The group, whose work since 2010 has resided at the intersection of hip hop, noise, punk and synthetic dance music, announced a breakup last year but followed that with a new record. Then they announced the arrival of another, "The Powers That B," to come in February. Last week they dropped "Fashion Week (instrumentals)," a dozen new experimental electronic and/or rock tracks that illustrate why Death Grips fans are so devoted. Quite the impressive afterlife.

Called an "instrumental full length soundtrack," "Fashion Week" moves with the frenetic waves of a film score, as if maneuvering along with unseen action. Though more aggressive and out there, the work is similar in vibe to Trent Reznor's instrumental scores with Atticus Ross for David Fincher's films. "Fashion Week" is more beat-oriented, though, and it's easy to imagine Death Grips' MC Ride delivering his yowling words along to any of the dozen tracks, each a variation with a title called "Runway." That such vocal augmentation seems unnecessary is a testament to Death Grips' aesthetic.

N.E.R.D., "Squeeze Me." Last year at Odd Future's endlessly entertaining Camp Flog Gnaw carnival and music festival, producer/pop star Pharrell Williams surprised the giddy crowd by bringing out the fellow members of N.E.R.D. The rock/rap/soul trio propelled Williams on the course to superstardom during its early '00s rise, and fans rejoiced at the midset journey back to his roots. Alongside bandmate (and Neptunes cofounder) Chad Hugo and secret weapon Shay Haley, the team did singalong songs from its classic debut, "In Search of ..." Turns out the gig was a tease for new music.

"Squeeze Me" is the first new song for the group since 2010 and is one of a number to come on a forthcoming soundtrack to the animated feature "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." As such, "Squeeze Me" is sopping wet, drenched with both catchy beat and melody. Like the team's work as the Neptunes, the track is heavy on tribal tom-tom beats, the kind with a propellent momentum that drives party songs. It's not as aggressively weird as the early N.E.R.D. stuff, but that's relative given how prescient N.E.R.D.'s sound was. It's like the world caught up with them.

Cairo Liberation Front, "Bring the Noise" mixtape series. The curious contemporary Middle Eastern music called electro-chaabi has been denting dance floors throughout Europe and the Middle East in recent years, mixing Moroccan beats, spiritual chants, Western-style raps and rhythms influenced by Chicago house, Arabic wedding music and hip hop into a mesmerizing modern sound.

On the just issued "Bring the Noise" mixtape series, the Cairo Liberation Front has dropped five samplings, each a springboard into a different aspect of the sound. They're about a half-hour each and reveal sonic globalism writ large. To paraphrase pop star Meghan Trainor, this globalism is all about the bass (and blaring air horns).

Based in the Netherlands, the CLF celebrates the Cairo sound of today, one that has morphed from the general chaabi style used in various regions during wedding celebrations and into its current, synthetic party-heavy amalgam. Throughout the five mixes, each issued on a different music blog (and gathered on the group's Facebook page), wildly manipulated voices and heavily echoed beats revel in tones that treat heartbeat rhythm and thumping electronic circuitry with equal affection.

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