Spanning roughly 6 years, 2 apartments, 2 practice spaces, and a whole box of Maxell XLIIs, which were run through 2 different four-tracks, Will Glass’s solo album debut Beat Fields is now available via Alighting. Ever since around 2000, when a slew of unique hip hop masterpieces came out (Voodoo, Things Fall Apart, Fantastic Volume 2, Mama’s Gun, Madvillainy and Angles without Edges), Glass has sought to create something original in this vein. However, since he played all the instruments on this project himself — combining top-notch drumming with un-trained experiments on keys, bass, guitar and turntables — recorded haphazardly to tape, and kept a spurious, loose, improvised approach to songwriting throughout the whole process, what came out sounds nothing at all like these albums. But it is a reflection of an original artist making a unified statement: music vaguely in the genre of J Dilla’s Donuts, made with the production means of Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand.
Comprising 24 tracks in 31 minutes, Beat Fields is a crunchy, head-nodding vortex, that you can hear and purchase digitally or physically here. Below, Glass gives a guided tour of a few of the songs, charting the evolution of the album.
In 2003, just before moving to New York, I remember looking at a map in the now-defunct Scratch Magazine that depicted the birthplace of Hip Hop, in the South Bronx. The little red star was about a finger’s width from where my new home would be, in Washington Heights. This proximity excited me.
Shortly thereafter, living in a fortuitous student-housing situation with my girlfriend of the time, in an 8th-story one bedroom apartment overlooking the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge, I started recording little things here and there on a four-track I had accidentally liberated from a rock and roll band-mate. I had to play quietly, because of all the neighbors. They were strictly hip hop beats, reflections of the mind-caverns Jay Dee had drawn me into since Welcome 2 Detroit came out.
This track Percival is the only tune from this era to make Beat Fields. It’s a simple, slow groove made with a rim shot, a broken kalimba (only 3 keys) and a glockenspiel. In 2011 I edited out bits of the glock, by simply turning that track on and off. I also added a subtle sound of traffic passing by my current home on Amsterdam Ave.
At a certain point, some years later, after my band the Octagon had finally settled in a comfortable practice space in North Brooklyn, I set up the Tascam and recorded beats. I’d play drums, making up structures mainly as I went along. Then I’d play the gorgeous 1970s Wurlitzer electric piano that a friend’s mother had loaned us, making some kind of song on top of the beats. This one, Weave Patter, is reflective of that approach (though I only left in about half of it for the final version. Keep it simple yo!). The little tag segment is a story in itself that I won’t bother to go into here, except to say it all started with the rhythm the kids were all clapping in ciphers uptown during the summer of 2008.
One day, seeking to get away from the Wurlitzer habit yet lacking much acumen on other instruments, I looked at my 2001 Kona Fire Mountain bicycle, a spry little cro-moly off-roader I had rejiggered as an urban single-speed, and elected to smack it with drum sticks. I was shocked at the timbre, tone and range that came out of just the three main tubes of the frame. (And was also, being a longtime cyclist, a little surprised I’d never thought of this before). Laying just these sounds over a beat, it had its own little melody-domain. The title — Inexpensive Whip — is in answer to a track from the mildly disappointing Jay Stay Paid, and displays a cyclist’s pride.
Relative to my 20+ years as a drummer, my songwriting/composing output feels small. Of the songs I’ve written, only a few times have I had a something specific in my head that I then figured out. (I guess usually I kind of improvise my way into things). The central little repeating ascending thing on the Wurlitzer on the title track was one such motif. It was stuck in my head for years before I put it over these drums, added xylophone and bass, and, later, edited little bits of it out.
Slowly, over the course of many radio shows on WHFR, I became comfortable with the idea that I could be a sloppy turntablist, the same way that, the world over, there are many sloppy drummers, guitar players, bassists, who nonetheless manage to get their ideas across and in so doing often sound better and more interesting than highly trained automatons. Thus little experiments like Continental Echoes — featuring congas recorded in a basement on 171st street and a car-advertisement 10″ from my grandfather’s basement outside Detroit — and the many bits of vinyl-sourced ephemera that dot the album.
At one point during the mixing process I was keeping notes and, late one night, possibly under the influence of Jameson, I wrote that Rocker Uptown was the “purest statement of my being”. Despite the self-congratulatory hyberbole, I kind of knew, when re-reading this, what I was getting at, basically because this jam combines a steady//funky beat with a completely improvised guitar part that demonstrates my foundational influence, Dinosaur Jr (band #1 for me 91-96)(I basically taught myself drums by playing the live version of “Thumb” over and over). The bass and guitar are totally sloppy but I think you’ll get the idea. The tambourine used to dance across the stereo field, until I realized I’d mixed the whole album to mono.
After what felt like a successfully realized, taut, somewhat Afrobeat-inspired web of funkiness…
…I set out to replicate the effect over one particular drum track, the only one on my tapes to be uptempo four-on-the-floor. After striving for hours to weave some complex layers, I realized it wasn’t working, scrapped that approach, and dropped a gratuitous Wurly solo straight over the drums. Improvisation is usually the best policy.
Thanks to Mark Gallay for mastering, and being the one set of ears to hear all this before I could finally call it done. And thanks to you for reading/listening.