Dance

FLUME GETS UNDER YOUR SKIN
July 22, 2016 4:20 pm

Electronica, Dubstep, Trap, House and Dance are some of your standard groupings for modern EDM. Flume seems to achieve a transcendence of all this while mixing in some profoundly experimental sounds and strong hip-hop elements. His newest album Skin is this great achievement. Suffering from a handful of small issues throughout the album, Flume still brings new life to the genre.

Born in Australia, Harley Streten began making music with a basic production disc found inside his cereal box at 13 years old. At the age of 21, his first album, self-titled Flume, was put out through Future Classic and the next year, 2013, it had a strong US release. With songs like Some Minds that came out in 2015, tours and popular remixes, Streten has been one active young man.

This brings us to Skin. I’ll be upfront, it isn’t my favorite of all his music, but this does not mean that it doesn’t have some seriously impressive tracks that will find their ways to my personal playlists.

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From the beginning of Skin, songs like “Helix” and “Numb & Getting Colder” really show off his deep dedication to EDM and the art of music. He throws out the standard formula of builds and drops on many tracks for progressive pieces that feature very unique sounds and samples. Just like Skrillex and Daft Punk have explored what sounds can be made inside of software programs, Streten brings some surprisingly new sounds to the world. Listen to “Lose It”, “Free” and “Innocence” to better understand this impressive creative nature he has deep in him.

This is the main strength of the album, the ability to meld different sounds and use various samples in odd and interesting ways you’ve never imagined would work so well together. Flume is also a master of bass, seriously, your subwoofer probably hasn’t worked this hard in a long time. With pounds of drums and ambient bass lines, I haven’t heard songs with beautiful bass lines like this since Deadmau5’s 4×4=12.   

He also mixes in a lot more hip-hop than I expected and it makes his music even more appealing and more addictive. You Know is such a progressive hip-hop/rap dedicated piece, if it weren’t for the other similar songs, you wouldn’t believe it was actually on Skin. My favorite on the album is Smoke and Retribution featuring Vince Staples and Kučka, its rhythm is so strong and the pauses with light synth parts is downright powerful.

Skin takes some dedicated time to understand and appreciate. It does something that I haven’t seen anywhere else using very different tones and genre melding tracks even including the infamous Beck. It is a hit and miss though, some tracks are great and appeal to everyone, but others might be only attractive to a select few. But if you like any kind of EDM, you’ll find a new favorite song from Flume.

DELOREAN: A MUZIK TIME MACHINE
June 29, 2016 12:04 pm

Delorean has been through more things than your average band since they last released an album. After being kidnapped in 2013 while on tour in Mexico City, the Spanish indie dance quartet have given us their fifth album, Muzik. Dance music requires the ability to be audibly stimulating, but also physically experienced. The majority of the tracks heard on Muzik rely on the driving force of the kick drum and smooth aural landscapes painted by synthesizers. While not a complete departure from their previous sound, this album shows new growth for the band.

The album is nearly 100% electronic with real drums as the only organic aspect of the sound. For this record, Delorean chose to mix their knack for indie pop with their House music influences. In a recent interview, they explained what they meant by House music, “House is a very broad term, so we did not want to focus on a type of House, but to honor all its forms and productions that we have been absorbing throughout our lives.” Those House influences are very apparent on the title track, “Muzik,” opening with an atmospheric synth pad and Ekhi Lopetegi’s vocal part while slowly adding a kick and a snappy high hat before turning into a real dance track for the last half of the tune.

Their DJ mixing abilities that dramatically influenced 2010’s critically acclaimed album Subiza have culminated here on Muzik in an ultra modern fashion. They worked with remixer DJ Kigo to open a local club called Desparrame. This was the launching pad for their remixing skills. The 2013 effort Apar met the critical acclaim of Subiza thanks to a progression in those skills. Since 2010, Delorean has become as known for their marathon DJ sets as they are for their material as a band.

Standout tracks on the new album include “Contra,” “Muzik” and the closer “Parrhesia.” Throughout their career, Delorean have created their own blend of melody and emotions. The sound that they once pioneered is more commonplace these days, yet Delorean continues to deliver the sonic quality that is expected of them. As of now, the band is only playing a handful of tour dates in Europe, but should they announce a tour in the states, they should not be missed. They have toured with the likes of Miike Snow in the past, so it would be fair to expect them on a good tour this time around.

With Muzik, you get a bit less of the indie rock heaviness and more of the 80’s disco vibes that make it easy to see why the band named themselves after a time machine from a classic 80’s film. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that Delorean can and will continue to make modern albums that take us back to a time when dance pop was king.

8 FREE MUSIC-MAKING IPHONE APPS
April 15, 2016 9:00 am

Everybody likes music, but not everybody can make it all by themselves. Well that’s okay, because technology has the answer! Here are a few solid apps:

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Soundprism App

Tonepad: Picture a 16 x 16 matrix, each point representing a note in the pentatonic scale. Time is horizontal, pitch is vertical, and the instrument is a cool, muted synth, pure and serene. The program cycles through the matrix like clockwork, a measure of music before repeating. Couldn’t be simpler! Start with a blank slate and build your masterpiece from the ground up, or shuffle everything around and take it from there. Go crazy! You can even flip or rotate the matrix, just to see what happens. Sounds totally different, right? Weird! Notable downsides include ads (yuck!) and just the fact that it’s pretty basic when you think about it. Not sure how it got on this list. [3/10]

Beatwave: Boy, do I wish I had known about this little gem before bothering with that last one. Beatwave totally blows Tonepad out of the water. Not only can you add a drums to the matrix, but you can layer that onto the synths for a richer texture, and you can string along different sections all in a row, just like in a real song. Reorder those verses and/or choruses however you see fit. It’s intuitive, musically stimulating and ad-free. Now we’re talking! [6/10]

Figure: Where Tonepad and Beatwave are calm and linear, Figure is an energetic and versatile EDM paradise. Start with a highly customizable beat, throw down a phat bassline and solo on top with the lead synth. Each instrument’s tone, range and rhythm can be tailored to any passing fancy, along with the global tempo, key and tonality, so your only limit is your imagination. Isn’t that just life though? [8/10]

Auxy: This is a lot like the first two in it’s loop/matrix dynamic, but it requires a little more technical knowledge. You might be able to get a handle on Beatwave more easily, but in the long run you can do more with Auxy. Jeez how many of these are we gonna get?  [7/10]

Soundprism: This one is a mindfuck, no doubt about it. We’ve navigated beyond the “oh this is nifty” plane and are now firmly entrenched in the “I’m writing The Great American MIDI arrangement” state of being. Look pal, if I’m making serious music for other people to hear for real, I’m not doing it on something I downloaded onto my phone. Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic, or get the fuck outta here (sorry Garageband).

That said, this app is absolutely amazing. It’s like a whole new kind of instrument. Like how with an accordion you get one hand playing the bass chords and then the other playing the melody on a keyboard, except the “keyboard” here is another matrix of chords, and you can modulate between them by cycling through the color-coded modes. Rows are arranged by thirds to create triads, leading columns to represent pitch and therefore inversions (it makes sense when you try it, I promise). Musically intricate yet intuitive and engaging. Forget what I said before about not making serious music on my phone–this shit is for real. [9/10]  

Launchpad: This little number is just a simplified DJ pad (and by “simplified” I mean “still very complicated but just not as expensive”). Mix and match a huge number of preset loops to create a cacophony of EDM madness (or, you know, whatever). Similar to the last one in that you can do a whole lot of serious musical stuff with this, but just not as original. A well-executed substitute for expensive hardware. [8/10]

Groovemaker: I don’t even wanna start with this one. Picture blacklights and glowsticks. You can do some cool mixing/looping/waiting-for-the-bass-to-drop kinda stuff here, but the music itself is pretty lame. [4/10]

Garageband: I know I was talking shit about Garageband earlier, but it came from a place of love. Garageband was, is and will always be a great place to start making music. Almost as serious a DAW as the rest of them, and already installed on every Apple product you own, you really should check it out if you haven’t already. I’ll give it an honest rating here (don’t wanna make Soundprism feel bad), but in my heart it’s a 10. Always has been, always will be. [6/10]

JOHAN ANGERGÅRD: SWEDEN’S INDIE-POP MASTERMIND
February 5, 2016 9:46 am

You know that unique feeling of gratification you get when you discover a new sound?  It’s an impulsive need, an addiction.  I’m constantly searching for that next infectious dose. Thankfully the freakishly endless Internet universe never ceases to deliver new sonic pathways.

Sweden’s bustling independent music scene is as robust as it gets.

Johan Angergård is the founder of Stockholm-based Labrador Records.  He’s a DJ, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and producer.  His career spans back to the early 90’s and his prolificacy is profound, having been a key component of several noteworthy bands including Acid House Kings, Club 8, Pallers, and The Legends.

Labrador specializes in a particular brand of indie-pop classified as “twee”.  Quaint, naive, cute. There’s a distinct nostalgic nod to early 80’s indie-pop bands like The Smiths and the cheerful innocence 60’s rock. But that’s where any easily drawn comparisons end.

Labrador is first and foremost, an electronic music label with a sleek,  distinctly Scandinavian twist, an off-the-cuff repertoire of bright, audacious, and irony-tinged pop.  Labrador’s sonic pallet encompasses the so-called “balearic Sound”, popularized in Ibiza night clubs in the early 90”s. A notable manifestation of Labrador’s nuanced grooves can be heard on the The Radio Dept.’s highly acclaimed 2010 record Clinging to a Scheme.   These influences are the glue that make Angergård’s vision come to life.

If you’re in need of some new tunes, Labrador’s SoundCloud is a vault of music worth excavating.  It’s crammed to the brim with singles, EPs, remixes, and playlists that encapsulate Labrador’s touchingly off-kilter world.  It feels like an exhibit curated by Angergård himself, which I suppose, is part of what makes indie labels like Labrador great.

According to Labrador’s Facebook page the label is gearing up for an exciting year with “something like a handful of new artists” releasing music.  In the meantime, his own band Club 8 released their 9th full-length album Pleasure.  The leading single, “Late Nights“, is a sleek synth-pop that defines both where Angergård comes from and also where he intends to take us next.

MANSIONS ON THE MOON GET SHIT DONE
December 30, 2015 5:27 pm

In the music biz connections are your lifeline. No, that doesn’t mean you can’t establish yourself purely on the merits of your own raw talent or dedication to perfecting your craft. It’s just, competition is fierce. In a world saturated to the bursting point with MIDI laptop DJs and YouTube divas, it doesn’t hurt to know someone.

Mansions on the Moon are your textbook example of how to get it done. Back in 2011 they jumped on the festival-centric EDM hype train and rode it for the victory lap. Although they attracted an avid fan-base with their brand of hook-friendly synth pop, again, it doesn’t hurt to know someone.

Mansions are the collaboration between Pnuma Trio members Ben Hazlegrove on keys and Lane Shaw on drums, along with guitarist and singer-songwriter Ted Wendler. Pnuma Trio achieved a considerable following sharing stages with live music heavyweights such as String Cheese Incident, Disco Biscuits, and Michael Franti, eventually culminating with the release of 2007’s Character via Columbia. Upon forming Mansions in 2011, high-profile acts were eager to help the startup find their footing.  Again, it doesn’t hurt to know someone.

Their first release, Paradise Falls, was ‘presented’ by DJ Benzi and Diplo. The album is packed with collaborations from other notable names such as Xaphoon Jones of Chiddy Bang and Big Gigantic.  In 2012 the group followed up with another EP, Lightyears, this time teaming up with N*E*R*D.  Believe it or not, being produced by Pharrell Williams can dramatically boost your grade on the Hype-o-Meter.  Did I mention it doesn’t hurt to know someone?

In 2014 Mansions self-produced their Full Moon EP to commemorate their move to LA.  Most recently it seems Mansions has been someone dormant–while their Facebook page is rife with news of other EDM peers, very little recent actively can be accounted for other than a timely vinyl pressing of a few of their singles just in time for the holidays.

ST. LUCIA KISSES DEATH ON THE CHEEK BY DANCING ON GLASS
December 18, 2015 3:37 pm

   The first thing I’m reminded of after listening to “Dancing On Glass,” St. Lucia’s new single, is The Lonely Island’s YOLO. It took the then used-to-death phrase that legitimized any and all reckless decisions and completely flipped the tone behind what “You Only Live Once” should mean. You only live once! So Stop being stupid! Be more pragmatic with your one allotted life!

    St. Lucia comes in with all of that awareness in mind, conceding that logic should win out in most situations. The mighty chorus even begins with a couple of rhetorical pro-safety questions: “how long until we find that dancing is dangerous?” and “how long until we find the devil inside of us?” Also,  Soda’s bad for you! Meat accounts for 50% of greenhouse gases! Put your seatbelts on!

    But despite knowing all the hazards, excess is simply way too fun to pass up on. So let’s just keep chugging along until the train derails, who cares. It’s an often discussed topic, especially in the world of intoxicatingly fun Synthpop, St. Lucia steers clear of the usual carousel of platitudes spun out and seems to be the only one in the club with enough foresight to at least know how shitty tomorrow is going to feel on all of their slowly decomposing bodies.

   At this point, I find it necessary for me to mention that I’m usually the person in the back of the dance floor, using my crossed arms as a makeshift coat rack for all my friends’ jackets. So for everyone else, “Dancing On Glass” probably doesn’t need to come with as much existential baggage. It’s a super fun song! You’ll love it! Who cares if you’re gonna die soon!

NEON INDIAN BACK ON THE ROAD
December 8, 2015 6:37 am

Neon Indian is finally back on the road with his new album Vega Intl. Night School and proves that it was worth the two year wait. Who knew he’d be flying halfway around the world to play for a Japanese crowd? Apparently it’s his “favorite place to be on earth.” Maybe he got some of that “popstar” quality from his father who was quite the musician in Mexico back then. Either way, I got the chance to enjoy how he rocked the crowd in Japan last week.

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Photo by Youka Nagase

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Photo by Youka Nagase

As Alan Palomo stands on stage you could feel the excitement in the room. People were shouting all kinds of stuff from “Neon Indian!”, “You’re awesome!” to “I love you, you’re hot!” His feet start dancing to “Annie” and shows us some bold dance moves to the reggae guitar beat and the girls in the front row are mesmerized by him. Very much like his album, it felt like a drunken memory with echoey vocals on top of the overlapping synth and flashing rainbow lights. The kind of drunken memory that I wanted to last forever. The Glitzy Hive is that song you just uncontrollably dance to like you’re at an 80’s party sporting a neon jacket. I mean, the lyrics literally say “Party, she’s at the monster party. Party, party” with the perfect beat so how could you even stay still during this song?

Unlike other musicians he doesn’t pull the kind of “bullshit” and tease his fans telling the crowd that it’s the “last song” when there’s clearly 3 more important songs that everyone’s been dying to hear. Instead he cruises through the set and tells us that the supposedly “last song” isn’t the last one because let’s face it, the encore is the best part and nobody wants a good show to end! Of course he leaves everyone’s favorite “Polish Girl” towards the end, leaving everyone on a high from all the chillwave.

NEW GOD BLESSES US WITH SWEET HARMONY
November 26, 2015 2:13 am

“Two Brothers: Playing Music, but Not Normal Music that You’ve Heard Before, And Also a Newer Album that Does Sound Like Some Stuff You’ve Heard, as Well as Some Cool Videos”

That’s what the title would have been if it weren’t way too long. What can I say, Baltimore natives New God inspire a little outside-the-box thinking.

Curt and Kenny Tompkins made an impression with their 2012 debut album Motorcar.  The lo-fi record brought a nice blend of indie, electronic, and folk with a solid driving energy. Its blissful harmonies drew comparisons to The Beach Boys. Wilco at times, Dan Deacon at others, Motorcar was a refreshing blend of catchiness and creativity.

The brothers followed their pleasant opener with another strong showing, 2014’s Firework. The album demonstrates a couple changes, but not all of them are objectively for the better. The album does sound a little better—it has a higher production value. However the lo-fi sound of the first record is so good that it leads to a small step up. Firework sounds better, but not that much better.

More importantly, the great energy of Motorcar is not present. In upping their production quality, New God made Firework sound a little more mainstream. The interesting and unique blend of sounds present on their first record is toned down. While the melodies and harmonies are still super strong, the songs are less dynamic. Where Motorcar feels live and real, Firework can feel a bit canned.

Firework is also notably more downbeat, but this isn’t why the energy is lacking. One of the best tracks on Motorcar is “Liar Liar,” a slow burn of acoustic guitar and vocal harmony, evocative of Fleet Foxes or Peter, Paul and Mary. The song feels very present and very personal. Firework has a sort of gloss-over that imposes a distance between the band and the listeners.

Firework does have some high points. Much of the album was written and recorded in an abandoned racquetball court, lending a spacy reverb to some of the tracks, most notably the closer, “Dumb.” This effect gets blended with clean electronics to create nice soundscapes. There is also the catchy-as-fuck single “Summer Girl.” Really the only driving song on the album, a simple back beat compels the airy vocals forward. Fuzzy guitars provide snappy riffs to grab on to. This is where New God is at their best: soaring harmony driven by danceable rock beats.

“Summer Girl” also highlights the band’s knack for good, low-budget music videos. Green Screen images of 50’s/60’s summer fun slide across the background and the brothers’ sunglasses. The classic imagery highlights the band’s early Rock ‘n Roll influences, while the obvious use of technology illustrates their use of electronic sound. “I Know Something About You” shows another creative use of green screen. A couple with cardboard TV heads (very reminiscent of the robot royalty from Saga) “performs” the song while images flash across their faces. While it’s a great visual concept, that is about all the video has to offer. As with the album Firework, it needs a little more variance and/or substance to make it a true journey.

New God has shown us that their creative ceiling is very high. The two brothers are working on their third album, and hopefully this creative streak will overcome the tendency to move toward the mainstream. If they can find a way to capture the great energy of the first album, while upping the general production quality, we could all be in for a serious treat.

THE 1975 TRIPPED INTO THE 80S
October 23, 2015 12:38 am

 

Do you remember the 80’s? Do You? DO YOU?!

The 1975 does. At least the year or two of it that they were alive for. They’d like to show you what it was like.

The 1975 made waves in 2013 with their self-titled pop-rock debut. Walk the Moon with a nice, thick British accent. It seems they’re going in a bit of a different direction with their new single “Love Me.” A direction heavily influenced by Prince and the theme from Ghostbusters.

The song starts off with a promising guitar riff, illustrating what Daft Punk and Mark Ronson have proved: disco/funk rhythm guitar is still awesome. Then the rest of the band comes in, reminding us why Huey Lewis and the News is no longer a thing. Now, don’t get me wrong, Huey had his moments. But most of those moments came from Huey Huey-ing it up. In other words, unabashed 80’s power pop-rock. Huey didn’t also try to blind us with science, Thomas Dolby style. He knew that Dolby already did that, and you can’t blind someone with science twice. He also didn’t try to incorporate sparse Prince grooves into his music, as that would be diametrically opposed to his goal of blowing the top of your head off with his horn-infused party-pumpers.

The 1975 miss these points. “Love Me” sounds like the band just discovered 80’s music and crammed their favorite parts into a blender. While this is not an inherently flawed technique, The 1975 managed to produce a downright overpowering smoothie. The lyrics half-heartedly bemoan the plight of the successful musician (”fame, what a shame”), adding a stale dollop of Cool-Whip to an already bizarre creation.

Yet there is a great moment in “Love Me.” It’s the moment where the listener follows the band’s footsteps and says “Fuck it!” When you finally let go of all the reasons that this should be a terrible song, you’ll find yourself bopping your head. The ridiculousness of it all just washes over you, bringing a wry smile to your face. While I don’t foresee “Love Me” going down in any sort of history, I challenge you to get through the song without cracking a grin.

P.S. For the good version of this song, check out Jamie Lidell’sWhen I come Back Around.” It came out 10 years ago.

Years & Years Conquer NYC
September 21, 2015 11:54 am

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Years & Years made their return to New York for their 3rd sold out show at Terminal 5 and wowed the crowd. Since their first US show at Rough Trade in January, I’ve been hooked on Olly’s vocals and it’s undeniable that they offer much more than their record. I was so convinced that they were an incredible band that I even travelled to Boston to witness more of the magic they create on stage. One thing I love about this band is that they’re the most humble group of guys, looking genuinely shocked of their success and thank fans after every song. It truly impresses me how much love they get from their fans and they never fail to deliver a memorable performance every time.
Despite the fact that the view isn’t so great at Terminal 5 unless you get there early and secure a close spot to the stage, the band excited the crowd with their electro-pop tunes that made your body uncontrollably dance to the beat. Emry (keyboard) and Mikey (bass) looked calm and collected as always keeping straight faces while Olly showed some of his effortlessly rad dance moves. The set started off with “Foundation” which showcased Olly’s vibrant vocals hitting perfect high notes. Everyone had their phones out trying to capture this moment on video. Fans got a real treat when Olly jumped off stage and started mingling with the front row. A mass of people were pushing towards the front and reaching their hands out in hopes of having a chance to touch him. The band finished the night off with “King” while donning a paper crown, conquering every heart in the crowd. 

Years & years