Dale is the drummer in Brooklyn-based duo YVETTE and the Director of Special Projects and Other Provocations at GODMODE music. He is also a freelance writer. His work has appeared recently in the New York Daily News, Complex, The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Village Voice, Noisey, The Awl, Fader and elsewhere.
My fandom is obsessive, possessive and largely static. When I am lucky enough to identify with a piece of music, I cling to it like a relic. There’s no use trying to convince me that my artifact is something other than my own personal Dead Sea Scrolls, something to help me parse or articulate where I fit in the world. I’m kind of a troubled person, having suffered various traumas, family tragedy, substance abuse and a general sense of regret. There is so little music that connects to my state of being. I don’t think many fans, beyond the mass media Beyhives, get nearly as defensive as I do about why something is important. And that’s been admittedly to my detriment as a critic and, sometimes, a friend.
This fandom has led to an elite-populist approach to music. It’s hard to impress me, it’s hard to shake me and it’s hard to strike a resonant chord with something deeper in me. I seek a perverse “X factor” that rings true with the state of things but somehow also gives some comfort. I’m not sure if I’m talking about taste (a system of judgment on an artifact’s “worth”) or preference (deciding if I “like” something) or both. But when the hoodoo emanates like vapor from an album, especially one I’ve discovered on my own, the spell is cast deeply and permanently.
And that’s how I felt in 2007 — the year that I turned twenty-one — when I discovered Fog’s Ditherer. Those were my formative BitTorrent days and I was feverishly snatching up any new tunes that popped up on the Web. I had recently failed out of music school at Boise State University and was trying to take writing more seriously, still plowing forward with a fledgling music career in Idaho. Ditherer — released, surprisingly on the Los Angeles avant hip-hop label Anticon — was billed as the “debut” album from Fog, although he had previously released three LPs of broken big-beat, mangled turntablism, spoken word and the occasional “song.” His first two records came out on the British electronic label Ninja Tune, and the third came out on Lex Records, an intensely curated outfit with a small catalog. The variety of the three labels mentioned tells you plenty about Fog’s ability to cross musical borders. But because of that “debut” billing on Ditherer, I didn’t dig any deeper into his back catalog than the spellbinding record I already possessed.
It’s been more than eight years since the previous Fog record. Over the course of that time, I’ve gone as far as getting wasted and sending inflammatory tweets to writers who were praising Menomena’s similarly spirited Friend and Foe (2007), but seemed not to even register the incredible Fog record from the same year. It’s been more than eight years of this! Annually, I think to myself, “Why didn’t that record get the credit I believe it deserved?” I try to show it to people and it just hasn’t connected with anyone in the same way. But for that very reason I’ve pulled it even closer, owned it as mine, hiding away a resentment of the world that isn’t validating the music — or maybe I resent the world that isn’t validating me. That’s my kind of fandom: loneliness.
Fog is the stage name of 37-year-old Andrew Broder, a genre-crossing multi-instrumentalist from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who also plays in bands including the Cloak Ox and Hymie’s Basement. And although you might not guess it from the towering, cinematic, excellently voiced eight songs on his new record, he is not a classically trained musician. He fell in love with music at twelve or thirteen years old and came up through a mishmash of sounds. Notably, when the Rhymesayers/Midwest underground thing was starting to pop in the mid-’90s, he started deejaying, writing graffiti and publishing a zine called LIFE SUCKS DIE — all at the tender age of sixteen. It is my understanding that his Fog project has been his mechanism for dealing with depression, which I certainly understand. You gotta see through the fog.
Ditherer was a bit of a career misstep for Broder. That album suffered, critically, I think, for a couple of reasons. Namely, following his own taste or preference at the time, Broder grabbed a guitar and stepped up to the mic, morphing the project into an “indie” band (at least superficially). The foray into more typical live instrumentation allowed detractors with a casual understanding of form and tone to disregard it as simple rock music. People see guitar and drums and, despite the finer points, it’s a “rock band.” It’s a frustration I shoulder with my own band, Yvette, as we try to push what instruments are “supposed” to do toward new roles. Broder’s spirit inspires me on so many levels: there’s an integrity there, an honesty, a refusal to compromise and a tacit claim to all his music as explicitly “his.” Although he fell off the map as Fog for almost a decade, releasing, like, nine ambient records under his own name, I held Ditherer close. That is the possessive quality of my fandom: I jumped in really late in the game and I wasn’t going to compromise my adoration just to admit that his earlier work was “better.”
The record opens unassumingly enough on the title track’s piano flourish and Broder’s now-refined falsetto. It could be confused for a Tobias Jesso Jr. cut until strings and horns bend around invigorating synthetic percussion, as Broder pivots to the central interrogation of the album: “I wanna know/ is it like this for good?” From there, things spiral into a beautiful racket of sounds not necessarily associated with each other — which is what makes this music so exciting. Pairing piano (the instrument with which Broder writes all of his songs these days) with electronic production and processing across the album — credits include Dntel and Martin Dosh — has made this an essential record for this year. It’s what I would call defamilitarization, where the cues we’ve become so used to (for example, guitar and bass and drums) imply something completely outside of their inheritance. It makes this album so engaging and just that much more effective.
Just try to erase the cascading chorus of the track “Kid Kuma” from your mind. It’s so sticky, and it comes out of such a moment of desperation: “Grease on the crown/I can feel the days chase me down/how many ways/can I say that I am afraid?/I am afraid.” Suddenly there’s a steely acoustic guitar, arguably the most boring instrument of 2016, that wonderfully drives the whole song, with mutant-funk electric bass making all of it dance. The lyrics get personalized and narrative in a way that could satisfy fans disappointed by Mark Kozelek’s recent dickish behavior. On “Cory,” we hear some turntable samples and backing vocals created with Gabriel Hearst, who performs under the name Gabi. “Jim” moves into utterly symphonic territory, with percussion loops flinging impossible rhythms straight into hurricane harmonies. On “Trying,” an explosive global love story written for the cinema of the mind, the turntables almost drive the melody. I find this remarkable for its musicality: Broder’s ability to make those sounds that are so familiar in rap sound so unfamiliar in this avant-singer-songwriter miasma.
As a fan, I feel vindicated in a way. It’s been hard for me over these last eight-plus years to understand why others haven’t been as excited about Fog as I was — or haven’t even registered the project. And then I think of the wildly different impressions his first few records may have left for those discovering them individually. Maybe they’d already discovered a different Broder record and kept it just as close. If someone had driven an overwhelming campaign for a different record, I probably would have shied away. That’s not how my preference works. But my taste tells me now to go back and examine every aspect of Broder’s output. It all seems equally relevant now, which is what is so remarkable about For Good: where does the music start and where does it end? To revive this project now is so insightful on Broder’s part. There are so few borders left, musically. The prescience Broder exercised a decade and more ago, melting genres through backend methods, was not just common practice. It was a rubric done right. And For Good is the thesis statement: we often find ourselves suspended between worlds. But at least we get to find ourselves. I’m a big fan.