The ever-changing landscape of what type of music bedrooms produce has another contender for future in the epic sleep chambers of Trabajo, a New-York-City-Once-Williamsburg-Now-Queens-based duo composed of the likes of TJ Richards and Yuchen Lin. When once this tale would begin with a hand-stamped burned CD changing hands in some steamy back alleyway, when I met up with TJ on my most recent excursion to NYC I received a Bandcamp download code. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the new homemade mixtape.
I first knew TJ as merely one of the best guitarists I know, and I, like you, know a heck of a lot of guitarists. But TJ was always a little different, seeking out new compound meters, new tunings, new non-Western traditions so he could stay at the forefront of his craft. I watched him go from Poet Named Revolver to brick walls of noise and shoegaze, eventually embracing sampled sonic landscapes in the form of Trabajo in 2011 with SLOWPAGEANT EP. While TJ had other live acts, all of which were at various levels of amazing, I watched with delight as he began dedicating his focus into Trabajo’s completely un-quantized, pseudo-electroacoustic-hip-trip-hop-indie-rock-noise-worldbeat sound.
The word for my reaction their new EP Gamelan To The Love God is in no way “surprise”. It has long been the habit of extremely talented guitarists in the modern era to move away from the actual guitar, finding other ways to coax music from the universe via their brains to their fingers. But in this case, I hear that certain type of humanistic dexterity that was in TJ’s playing, and a bit of a dawning excitement on his part that you don’t really need a guitar to play one, and that’s what makes all the difference here.
This is electronic music, but it’s also a series of performance recordings. The world rhythm samples, the non-equal-tempered tuning systems, the ancient traditions all merge seamlessly with a modern aesthetic in this case (where so many others fail) because the source materials were manipulated live, with respect and virtuosity and a really solid quartet of ears. Trabajo’s music succeeds where a bevy of chill/worldbeat mashups have not, because this music is not premeditated, but felt.
Gamelan To The Love God references the ancient Javanese love poem Smaradahana, which in the Western world would be roughly analogous to Romeo & Juliet in terms of fame. The album begins with a fairly recognizable gamelan mashup, then proceeds to add more changes and fucked-with-beats as each two-minute track unfolds. Both The Myth and I Am Tetsuo feature major changes about halfway through, adding some gorgeous melody or trunk-rattle kicks, then without wasting time moving on to the next track. In this way the album seems more in line with the J Dilla aesthetic. Indeed, that disregard for traditional structure, informing a new modern narrative for what we confusingly still call “albums” might be the overarching schematic for the future of sample-based music.
The album peaks structurally somewhere around Skidoo 23, a mildly ADHD succession of beats melded seamlessly and sometimes almost humorously. From there we are taken back down by way of several guitar pedals to end with the gorgeous wash of the EP’s final track, Mortal. It’s a perfect ending to an excellent EP, and I can’t wait for more from Trabajo in this direction. I just want to see where this performance-based electronic duo can take us. The EP is available for you-name-it price at their Bandcamp.