Experimentation in music takes many forms, and it doesn’t have to sound like John Cage or Flying Lotus to qualify as such. Among the many luxuries afforded artists by the advancement of recording technologies is the ability to pick and choose whatever sounds they can manage to imagine, but the real beneficiaries are the listeners. Whether it was the advent of the electric guitar and PA systems or sampling machines and sequencers, how instruments sound and function has undoubtedly inspired what they are used to play, and the listening experiences should certainly not discount that fact.
Warning: Some lyrics are explicit
In the hands of meticulous Mano Le Tough (aka Niall Mannion), the cheesy shoreline sample is there with good reason. The island guitar smoothly introduces equally tropical hand percussion, and as the music grows louder and the sound of water recedes into the background. It doesn’t disappear completely for another 90 seconds, but the overlapping sounds gently transform an impeccably crafted soundscape into an island paradise. The meditative nature of the repeated figure insists on an introspective listen, which I hope takes you to “The Sea Inside,” no matter where you may be.
In a genre where the spoken word is as powerful an instrument as any other, sonic adventures are bound to be lyrical to some extent. You wouldn’t expect a song about fellatio and disliking groupies to be particularly listenable, but maybe it’s the Coltrane sample that has me listening to “Wendy N Becky” on repeat. The very importance of fellatio – the motivation for the song – emphasizes the personal quality of the rap, which transforms it from rap’s habitually callous misogyny to a statement of personal preference. Whether abstinence or Club Vandersexxx is your thing, everyone has their own taste, right? Even in the crudest moment on the track, Joey refers to his genitalia by their anatomically correct name. The outro, which uses the word b*tch as liberally and casually as it tends to be used in rap music, only emphasizes the cleverness displayed Joey Bada$$ and Chance the Rapper’s verses.
A dance music remix of an instrumental original has become largely mediocre gimmick, and DJ’s and producers seem to have a monopoly on the practice. Perhaps it is a disconnect, of many within their ranks, from traditional instruments which accounts for the uninspired interpretations. It is precisely Pyramid’s characteristic attention to the instrumental quality of his electronic productions that sets him apart, but on this remix of Two Door Cinema Club’s “New Year,“ he transforms the disco-rock original into something decidedly electronic. The opening figure, almost unaltered from the original, speaks to the electro influence lurking beneath (TDCC is signed to Kitsuné, after all), but also signals to Pyramid’s focus on harmony –the indie pop-rock outfit’s greatest strength.
The song title indicates what we might expect the song’s musical figures to, but the fact that it’s obvious doesn’t make it any less impressive. The delicate transitions between the song’s segments are facilitated by the even-keeled melodic progression, lush but measured production, and Little Boots’ graceful vocal range. The verses’ stretch into the horizon but never stagnate, aided by the rapid BPM and the barrage of sixteenth note synth arpeggios. “Motorway” drives so smoothly that the consistent upward trajectory to the song goes almost unnoticed. The gentle shock of the final chorus’ first note is like the feeling of looking down at the speedometer to realize you’re speeding and the accompanying surprise that you didn’t notice sooner
Despite an immediate aural and technical likeness to Nico, Marika Hackman’s voice strikes a fascinating balance between feminine strength and tenderness more in the vein of Florence Welch. Forget these comparisons - I’d rather listen to Hackman. Though she’s a skilled guitar player, and the instrument is at the center of all her songs, the layers upon layers of sound can’t be ignored. Thanks to wizard producer Charlie Andrew (Alt-J) nothing ever sounds out of place, and every song is an incredible journey (I’ll let you tackle the lyrics). As soon as I heard “Cannibal,” I can say I’d be hard pressed to name an artist whose trajectory I’ll be following more closely.
Be sure to check out “Cannibal,” “I’ll Borrow Time,” and the entire “That Iron Taste” EP.
The song opens with a southern-rock tinged Americana riff such as you might hear in Carrie Underwood’s “Before he Cheats” as likely as in much of Led Zeppelin, who drew so inspiration from the blues and early rock which inspired that sound. It’s worth mentioning the breadth of influence since Mount Moriah is a band formed “an outlet for a mutual interest in classic American folk & rock music,” by post punk singer Heather McEntire and metal guitarist Jenks miller. The remarkable musicianship allows Mount Moriah to seize the genre’s storytelling power, which has allowed this music to endure and is so rarely heard in today’s radio play maximizing, consumption driven “artists.” The instrumentation rises and falls with a power only an emotion could manage, and the urgency of McEntire’s voice is equal to the weight of a haunted struggle with redemption.
The hazy atmosphere of “A Lie” combines with the swing of Arthur Ashin’s voice, between resigned monotone and desperate wail, to capture complex emotion. The song’s premise is clear, but the overwrought instrumentation and vocal performance that suggests how much pain is felt in grappling with a lie, particularly when told unwittingly and to someone who you care for. The feelings that there’s “no holding back, you’re wonderful,” conflict with the inescapable admission that can only be made to them: “you’re fed a lie.” No matter how much the speaker may want to forget his past, he can’t. Ashin combines his own voice as if he were a one man 90’s R&B outfit, but the delicacy is traded in force unease. Verses and choruses are punctuated by guitars, strings and synthesizers you might hear on a soft rock or easy listening station, right in the vicinity of decidedly modern, programmed hi-hats.
The idea of writing a letter seems as out of place as Ducktails, silky smooth soul instrumentals in 2013. Groove conscious percussion complements an arpeggiated synth hook, funky palm muted guitars and sensual vocals, and suddenly there’s a synthesizer solo. The simplicity of the melody and lyrics with which two voices commit to each other belies the sincerity provided by the music and the old-fashioned, letter writing, chivalrous era it conjures. The perfect song to dedicate to a (music) lover, this would make a heck of a duet.
Signed to Skrillex’ OWSLA, The M Machine is surrounded by forward thinking electronic musicians, but as Metropolis Pt. I and Pt. II both show, they stand head and shoulders above any of their peers for the absence of any genre limitations whatsoever. Whether it’s techno, house, progressive house, electro house, dubstep, or in this case, everything I wish MGMT had been, The M Machine continues to make accessible electronic music that is bound to impress even the most staunch genre purists.
From the well-used horns to the rap by ensemble approach, “Today” puts The Procussions alongside alternative hip-hop heavyweights Jurassic 5. Embracing reflections of life instead of tired boasts and trite rapper’s life catch phrases, this crew lets their skills speak for themselves. Carpe diem has been warped and beaten to death with the YOLO hats and t-shirts that have made their way as far as Target’s shelves, but instead of condoning poorly thought out decisions, these veteran emcees lead by example, spitting wisdom about the fact that a full appreciation and enjoyment of life can only be gained with your brain turned on.
Lapalux’ Nostalchic (out on FlyLo’s Brainfeeder on 3/26) is one of the records I’m looking forward to the most this year, and “Forlorn” is a prime example of why. The methods behind electronic music and hip-hop production have a common ancestry, and as Trap music shows, are much closer than many realize. Busdriver’s flow, though impressive, is usually overwhelming and heavy handed in its intellectuality to the point of being nearly pedantic, but Lapalux’ presence seems to have tempered the flow, if only very very slightly. The manic flow is still on full display, but the flexibility of Lapalux’ production keeps the flow in check while providing the perfect beat for such a rapid attack. The song’s second half sees Busdriver drop out completely, allowing Lapalux to shine even more brightly.
I’ll spare you the full interpretations of the song through the lens of the concept behind Inception, but I’ll mention it because the concept of embedded layers applies all too well. Arpeggios are perhaps the most overused and underperforming (through not fault of their own) musical figures in electronic music, but the marvels of which they are capable are astounding (see Todd Terje’s “Inspector Norse”). “Dream Within A Dream” begins innocently enough, but careful listening reveals carefully composed variations that accompany the introduction of layers of percussion and transient melodies that are world in and of themselves. If you’re listening carefully enough, the song’s layers are yours, not necessarily to follow, but to get lost in.
On the Mix, Off the Mix