For the legions of neon clad, saucer eyed neophytes to the electronica movement, the ear-shattering four on the floor cacophony and its requisite desensitizing visual accompaniment are harbingers of the “next great thing.” With no apparent recognition that the phenomena is the product of a many-decade incubation in the vital cross-sustaining undergrounds of this fine nation and our limey cousins across the Atlantic, an entire generation has signed on to the notion that loud colors and heavy beats are the path to a new and lucid form of musical enlightenment.
Step back from the speakers. Replenish your body’s supply of serotonin. Behold the mighty parallax. What was a herd of Day-Glo buoys bobbing in a sea of enthusiastic troughs and crests is mirth, a great fog of apparent thoughtlessness where music falls into predictable if danceable ruts of rhythm and the slightest change in rhythm or introduction of clanking, metallic samples is greeted as a mind blowing departure.
Is there hope for us still? By God, yes. Out of the darkness comes a form. A great amorphous leviathan with metallic spikes, smooth, ever-changing profiles and an effervescent torch. John Tejada is back like some electronic statue of liberty calling out with his new LP The Predicting Machine to “give him your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
Grandiose allegory? Yes. But the strobing leads, meandering garnishes and fluid collection of rhythms that mark the Los Angeles based producer’s latest offering provide a welcome bit of illumination in a dreary world.
Tejada is no Deus Ex Machina, no deity set to suddenly appear and offer us deliverance. Quite the opposite. His pensive and often geometric assemblages of wave forms have been a prolific mainstay for fifteen years. Cerebral and eerie his music achieves through non-linear patterns and distinct production the feel of multiple sonic dimensions.
Where others construct songs that build in one direction only to rise and fall like a roller coaster, Tejada captures seeming chaos. Listen carefully to tracks like the peacefully dissonant “When All Around Is Madness” and you’ll hear a careful portrait of an explosion. Sounds and ideas collide and bounce off one another in a galactic waltz.
Standouts “Stabilizer” and the sticky “An Ounce of Perception” capture the sound of entropy as beats fall apart only to rebuild in shapes that are wholly new and compelling and hypnotically rhythmic.
The nuance of Tejada’s work sounds effortless yet is imbued with a sense of complexity that lends the listener more insight with each play. While The Predicting Machine garners worthy comparisons to the gliding work of Steve Roach or the messy, psychedelic wash of The Orb, Tejada’s meticulous craftsmanship create work that blends the ambient and the kinetic.
With “The Function and the Form” Tejada spins his predicting machine to a new height of elaboration. Pushy tempo and slow-erupting bass function as prisms through which immaculate synth lines bend and warp in a radiating pattern that moves the track ever outward.
It’s musical parable. Sonic wisdom where The Predicting Machine illustrates that with enough variables, every future is inevitably non-linear and predictable only on a massive horizon.
While not as sleek or ethereal as last year’s Parabolas, The Predicting Machine weighs in as a true heavy hitter. On every scale, from high concept to the most micro sonic pattern, Tejada weaves a complex bit of electronica that has both the pleasure of a finely crafted watch and the primal satisfaction of hitting that watch with a rubber mallet.
Out September 10, The Predicting Machine is the second release for Tejada on Germany’s Kompakt records.
Native New York quintet Caveman make music that’s easy on your ears, whose appeal doesn’t require much effort to understand. The 2011 debut Coco Beware made clear their ear for melody and moody disposition, drawing comparisons to Grizzly Bear and Vampire Weekend along the way.
Songs are directed by radiant sound doused in reverb, with lyrics nestling in between the gaps. Matthew Iwanusa’s ambivalent vocal keeps the brooding pace as percussion tries to move things along. With this band, emotion and atmosphere dictate thought, not the other way around, and what you hear is what you get.
Check out album opener “A Country’s King Of Dreams” as well as a video for “Easy Water” below.
Let me start off by saying this is reportedly an unfinished version. Okay, now, here is a new xx song. They are a crafty little bunch, that xx—the songs they’ve released, preceded by “Chained" and "Angels,” have been a deliberate progression, a careful moon landing between their debut to the upcoming Coexist, out here September 11.
If the price for digital consumption comes at a cost, it may well be our tendencies for disposable behavior, but human memory is much more stubborn than its digital kind (source/proof: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). “Sunset” is a lament on the way we treat each other right after it ends, how we put up walls to cope by attempting to erase people from our lives, out of pride, out of ego. The song that opens “I saw you again/ It felt like we had never met" continues "What have you done with the one I love? When I look into your eyes, I see no surprise" to depict stone-faced lovers detonating with conflict while ignoring one another’s existence. Us humans, we’re a crafty little bunch.
Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim’s songwriting is noticeably more personal (“I always thought it was the shit we had to play these games" is not a lyric you would have found on their last album), with a bit of that distant, mysterious cool peeled back for the sake of openness and vulnerability, and Sim’s mumbling through some of the tracks more tormented lines only adds to the intimacy of the mental dialogue.
They can get away with these simple, almost weepy lines that are propped up by Jamie Smith’s deft, pithy production values in regards to tailoring the interplay of sound to word, back and forth forever in each direction. And “Sunset” is no different, in which he constucts a pool of mood to dissolve into, that starts at your feet and ends just below neck level. With help from Sim’s wading bass, it’s a full-fledged oceanic affair, at once liberating and gasp-for-air suffocating. A feeling of a complete loss of context, a single drop that could be swallowed up by Earth at any moment, it’s an internal, slow-motion panic attack triggered by the images of all that was.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, with their punchy gimmicks, pops with enough unmistakable style and punk fuzz to forgive most charges of corny-kid rock. Mature Themes ironically disobeys any presumptions granted by its title right off the bat, but it’s no mistake that Pink is poking at his own dwindling spotlight as a neon-haired, affably creepy mid-30s glamour fiend. It’s endearing, but its own brand of freakshow. Friendly, unobtrusive ventures in pop rock glisten the surface of this dance with discrepancies, because behind the charming surface is a riotous bounty of genre-bending and some fearless lo-fi.
Between the absentminded sidewalk dance in “Only In My Dreams” akin to Pavement’s summertime laze, and the gospel nod in “Baby” that closes the record with some questionable last words, the album travels through miniature models of pop valleys in a noise-making outfit apt only for the band that would surely have Brian Eno up in arms. It’s endearing no doubt, and we have no reason to expect anything less from Ariel Pink.
For years, the favored grunge-happy pioneer has been teetering on the blurry edge of what works in the hip comfort zone and what’s almost (but wittily not quite) too edgy. Meanwhile, his appearance toes the line between Courtney and Kurt, with hot pink locks and a taste for trashy good times to back the look.
Mature Themes fits into this saga of the rocker stuck between generation gaps, both thematically and in its unsteady stylistic footing. With loopy takes on 80s idolatry in “Kinski Assassin” and “Pink Slime,” Haunted Graffiti pilots a pompous Pink past the blandness that most buzzworthy, reverberant mediocracy can’t push through. It’s because Ariel has these bratty balls that are harder to stomach than the majority of forgettable alt frontmen, and it works like something high proof and low shelf to keep the cool kids jazzed. “I’m just a rock n’ roller from Beverly Hills. My name is Ariel and I’m a nymph” bellows the chorus of one of the album’s most memorable anthems “Symphony of the Nymph.” It’s lines like these that establish the extremes of contemptuous love between Ariel Pink and his wafting listenership, and the tunes stay silly all the while.
The reign does not seem to have closed with Mature Themes. It’s a well-polished, guilt-free record that takes itself places that couldn’t necessarily be expected. What Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti do, they do well. However, it would have been satisfying to see more boldness in production values and unforgiving song structures circa The Doldrums. Ariel Pink’s time is now, and it’s worth watching whether his glitzy SoCal throne is sturdy enough to endure something elderly, because maturity has proven worthy, but leaves some veins of badass uniformity hanging.
Cambridge quartet alt-J have been one of the more unexpected debuts of the year thus far. Arriving without much context, An Awesome Wave has been a refreshing 2012 release largely in part of its lack of genre confines. They have a quickly-shifting maze of sound, led by Joe Newman’s punctured vocal that spins on its head, whose total goal is movement more so than direction. The meandering sound is fixed around literate lyrics and compressed instrumentation that keeps everything tightly wound while allowing it the space to grow.
"Ms" is a song about dealing with the toss-and-turn end ("Close eyes, open, close again, forget to fall asleep”) of something you aren’t necessarily ready to let go, if only out of habit. Its ominous, hurried phrasing and cautious basslines are countered by a surprising, open-minded kicker that hovers above the fray, buoyed by an air of hopefulness (“We can’t lose touch but we can let go”) in resolution. It’s altogether a deep breath and a look up, with everything in mind.
Check out the track along with instrumental “Interlude II” that casually settles all your scattered thoughts back into place. An Awesome Wave makes its stateside release September 18 on Canvasback Music.
Our elders like to always tell us about “the good ol’ days,” when things were simpler, love was less tawdry, and the world less corrupt. And while I think this is mostly a human construct made from rose-colored nostalgia for youth, there are certain days I’m not so sure. Though more socially backward, there was an slow-burning optimism about the world, of new technology and its capabilities for human life. Not that it’s gone, but we’ve seen that peak of newness, of progress and its purpose steadily slow in our collective imagination.
King are twins Amber and Paris Strother, and Anita Bias, the Los Angeles trio who makes music that bends with direction of the air, and a backdraft of 1970s stardust. They draw out every ounce in the simple repetition of “hey,” shaded with calm, rooted affection, that finds emotion in the details of the vocals, without tricks. It’s a love song that longs for a time of real open skies, and a sense of wonder about what’s out there. Mostly, it stays focused on the essential things we need in this life, without the distractions of all we’ve amassed.
In full disclosure, I do tend to believe that humanity, that most things at its base level stay the same within a context that changes, but still it can be nice to lean back into an idea of a simpler, rocking chair past that may or may not have existed.
With some punchy guitar licks and enough Rickroll to keep the 80s vibing, “Funny Heartbeat” taps into a corny love that certainly doesn’t credit itself too much. With this lack of black leather pomp, the song’s a jammable, friendly nod to the airy adolescence of Durans and the like. But there’s also something endearingly simple to this tune, as if rekindling the tried pop trademarks lends an “awww” inspiring quality on its own. It’s not pity though, because for a band called Kisses these guys could be a lot less badass.
Jessie Ware is the UK songstress whose music is always caught somewhere between resistance and devotion, a slow-motion battle between the head and the heart. She’s been compared to both Sade and Aaliyah (whose upcoming Drake-produced posthumous release has been recently causing a stir), and her silk soprano borrows from her “sweet but street” vocal stylings that keep even the carnal still classy.
The Julio Bashmore-produced track “Sweet Talk” is the latest from her upcoming debut that does its best to lay out all the rational reasons to walk away, but stays honest with the fact that she’s still, as the saying goes, “under it.” It’s a relationship that’s not quite toxic but unbalanced nonetheless, leading to late nights of free-flowing bottles and impulsive (compulsive) chicken scratch. An unwinding bath of a beat is gently punched by guitar lines that prescribe caution in continuing down a dead-end road. It leaves a space free from judgement, that understands the complications of human connection, where the words “right” and “wrong” are as subjective as they are meaningless.
Devotion is out August 20.
Following her fantastic, frothingly spooky debut release we caught up with the enigmatic, trans-Atlantic XOSAR to ask her five essential questions about her beats, rhymes and life.
1. How does it feel to finally have your tunes down on wax? Have you been building up to this for a while or was it something you only recently got stuck into?
I am ecstatic to have my songs immortalized in vinyl form. It’s something I’ve anticipated, hoped for, and visualized for years, so naturally, the manifestation is quite pleasing. It was really cool to go to the pressing plant in Brooklyn to see where all the magic happens, it felt like one of those episodes of Sesame Street when they show you how different factories work.
"Tropical Cruize" from the Tropical Cruize EP
2. What single track from the 90s would you choose to represent your artistic muse?
From the sinister bass stabs and contrasting new age chant-like pads to the epic vocals and weird lyrical content, this track conjures all the magical elements necessary for pure enchantment. Not to mention the mysterious music video. I wish Juan Atkins or anyone could give me a detailed analysis, decoding the video’s symbolic significance. Who is the man in the suit and why is he summoning Juan Atkins to prepare his submarine? Who is the stoic robed figure and why does the businessman-turned-scuba diver kneel before him? Who are the kids that approach the ocean’s end only to be wilfully beamed into outer space? If anyone has any information please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP.
3. Some of your tracks sound a little mystic — do you have an attraction to or a fear of fairies, goblins or ghouls at all?
I have a deep fascination of all mystical creatures and paranormal entities. I probably acquired this interest from my mom, who is an actual member of the Cold Mountain Paranormal Society.
"Ghosthaus" from the Ghosthaus EP
4. Leading off that, if you were caught trick or treating what kind of candy would you be hoping for?
I would choose the candy CocoGnome. Cleverly devised by Legowelt, this candy contains a strawberry and a mini Bounty. First you cut off the sides of the bounty to increase desirability levels of the coconut-to-chocolate ratio, then you put a strawberry on top. However, you must take a strategic bite out of the top of strawberry first so that it forms a perfect arch shape that fits onto the top of the bounty like a puzzle piece. The upside down strawberry resembles the hat of a gnome, thus the term “CocoGnome.”
5. Now you’re an adult, whiskey or wine?
Neither. I prefer Bloody Marys. The bloodier the better.
With the arrival of “Blow” earlier in the summer, it was clear that Ghost Loft shared The Weeknd’s penchant for narcotic sentiment, filtered through minimal electronic arrangements that slip right on down.
"Seconds" starts off a bit like The xx’s “Intro,” but it’s those cooled-off vocals in the verses that emulate the sound of ice cubes at the bottom of the glass, vision slightly blurred. It pleads through its own intoxication, leaving you to wander around a crowd of faceless bodies, whose collective conversations drown themselves out as you fixate over the light off the screen of your phone (“Be there in seconds flat/ Just tell me where you at”). By the time you reach your eventual comedown, the apparitions have already settled, giving Ghost Loft its horror-chic name.
Give this one a spin, but be careful with it, there’s no telling where you might end up—and don’t say we didn’t warn you.